There have been some discussion among the mods and I about trolls and trolling behavior. I'm writing this article about it in the hopes that it will help us discuss unusual points of view while keeping negative, divisive, and critical messages in perspective.
The best definition I can give you of a troll is:a person who posts outrageous or thought-provoking ideas for the sole purpose of baiting
others to respond in an emotional manner.Wikipedia
offers an excellent example of the kind of emotional responses trolls are after with this nugget -intended to illustrate an early use of the word:
You are so far beyond being able to understand anything anyone here says that this is just converging on uselessness. The really sad part is that you really believe that you're winning. You are a shocking waste of natural resources ó kindly re-integrate yourself into the food-chain. Just go die in your sleep you mindless flatulent troll.
Obviously, the person who posted this was at wit's end with another poster's refusal (or inability) to understand or rationally discuss an issue -and fell victim to the troll's probable agenda by letting those emotions color his response. The name-calling, and obnoxious order (die in your sleep) are just the kinds of responses trolls want to hear
Fact is, some people get a real rush from stirring up so much trouble that ordinarily rational adults begin acting like a gang of ten-year-olds with a can of spray paint. When they succeed, every topic is vulnerable to becoming a soapbox for someone's agenda or a springboard for nastiness and disputes. If it's allowed to continue, an entire board can become a poisonous environment, with seperate cliques of members that form "swarms" and collectively agree or disagree with other members solely on the basis of past behavior. It's "Us" vs "Them" and woe to anyone caught in the middle! Sometimes, people who have never posted before ask a perfectly valid question or state an opinion and are immediatly met by a hail of gunfire and name-calling. The veterans know the topic has already been done-to-death or the issue became a 75-page monster with two heads, but the poor newbie hasn't a clue what s/he's done wrong or how s/he offended.
There's another potential side effect of trolls. I call it "Emily Post Fascism". I don't know who coined the phrase, but it's quite popular on several boards I'm a long-term member of. It refers to moderators and admins who respond to trolls by over-correcting and insisting that every member be extra nicety-nice at all times and under every circumstance. Every rant is edited, every potentially hot-button issue is avoided, every unusual opinion is censored, and every topic that becomes divisive or argumentative is closed. Pretty soon, no one feels "free" to speak their mind, and anyone with an unusual point of view or a bad experience will be afraid to bring it up for fear of reprisal.
Here at SG, we hope to find a "happy medium" where many kinds topics can be discussed freely and openly, unusual opinions or perspectives can be heard, respected and argued, and every person is treated like a valuable member with a valid point of view.
It can be difficult to determine when someone is stating a legitimate -albeit unpopular or unconventional- opinion or just saying divisive things to start a war. A few of the things I typically watch for are:Posting an opinion or a question about a topic of little or no real interest to the poster.
A person who claims hand sewing is the best way to fix bald tires or that sewing machines will run longer if periodically dipped in the bathtub. When asked to back up these claims or show some kind of objective proof, they either respond by getting upset "you're all calling me a liar" or wandering to another topic to make another unusual claim.Painting a huge group with a single, narrow brush.
"Every person who voted for Bush is rich and fat". These kinds of comments have no constructive value, are only intended to invite dissent and counter-claims, and can only devolve into a fight. No mountain of contrary evidence will change this person's opinion, and it's useless to try. I should say here I've seen examples where this works a little differently. That is, someone holds out a brush, and others begin rubbing against it. Kinda funny to watch, but the result is the same - a war. A person who is utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or not) or refuses to respond to reason.
A simple request: "Ralph, every time you bring up President Bush, you insult someone here. Could you please restate your position about his policies so you aren't putting another member down?", is utterly ignored or seen as an invitation to fight, or followed by a claim that his right to "free speech" is being trampled on. On that note, while you may have the right to say what ever you want, you don't have the right to say it where ever you want. A fine distinction, but one that mods and admins everywhere take very seriously. We can and do have standards here, and will enforce them. A person who's mission seems to be not to discuss or even debate, but to end a rational discussion every time it appears.
- A person who only posts on one topic, and absolutely must have the last word -sometimes returning months after a topic has died to restart it, with the same statements and comments made the last time around or to respond to a simple notice that it has been archived or moved. This is different than posting new developments or asking questions (or for clarification) or even sharing a new idea.
I'm only referring to those who want to re-hash or relive the same conversation all over again.
- A person who posts complete gibberish, in a foreign language, or with so many spelling errors and type-o's the message is entirely incomprehensible. No offense to those who don't speak english very well or never learned to spell; I'm only referring to those who simply cannot get an idea across no matter how hard we try to decipher. This person usually posts sheer gibberish in several different places; each looking like it might be a sincere attempt to communicate, but utterly lacking in actual communication.
- A person who posts dozens of dead links or unrelated images or a laundry list of quotes that seem like they should make some kind of sense, but just don't.
This person kills the discussion because too many other members think "Gee, I guess I just don't know what to say to that". A person who repeatedly "forgets" simple things like obvious facts, earlier comments, and moderator requests.
"Gee DL, I completely forgot you asked me not to post any more pictures of dead children" comes immediately to mind. A person who derails topics by nitpicking other's grammer or spelling, or by being facetious.
"You asked if I
cut my hair. No, I had my hair cut. I didn't cut it, the barber did...."
This is usually just cause for an eye-roll, but I've seen it get really ugly. Especially when this person posts in like manner all over the board.
There are more -I simply don't have time or space to list them all. A search on Google will probably lead you to lots of sites with other examples or other definitions. In the end, the result is the same -someone tries to disrupt the whole board. And, the issue gets stickier with the fact that every ordinary, contributing member may at one time or another post something that smacks of one or more of the items on the list. It's hard to draw the line in the sand that truly seperates the good, the misinformed, and the trolls.
There's another kind of "troll" that I call the emotional vampire
. Instead of trying to make a whole board respond, this person targets a single member or group of members. Sometimes, there's some weird pattern -every member with a name that starts with "R" or every person who posted to a particular topic. They often "suck" their victim's good feelings dry.
"Thanks, Ralph, for your suggestion I take a Tylenol for my headache. Will it help my upset stomach, too? And what effect will it have on my liver condition? Huh? Maybe you think I should have a few glasses of wine with it? Or maybe you think I should just ignore my aches and pains and not post here at all?"
You may know a person like this in real life -someone who makes you miserable everytime you cross paths. And on a message board, that person's name can make you dread reading a topic. You just know everything they say will make you feel like hitting something.
So...what to do about it?
We need to bear in my that just because someone posts a potentially inflammatory or critical message, that person is not neccesarily a troll. Lots of unusual ideas lead to more unconventional thinking -and many times good things come of it. There have been lots of wonderful inventions, philosophies and religions that have been born of devisive ideas that a number of people didn't want to hear, couldn't comprehend, or felt went against everything they believed in. I don't want to stifle those kinds of conversations, or scare anyone away from hard issues. However, I do want to keep the peace, and let our exchange of ideas be healthy and helpful for the largest number of people possible. I don't want to see us divide into elitist groups or become close-minded toward new ideas, techniques, or methods.
Here are the best suggestions I can make for members when dealing with obvious
-What NOT to do:
Don't publicly label a person a "Troll" on the basis of a few unusual or divisive posts. The label can be very damaging, and can follow a person from one board to another. It isn't fair to have one's posting career shot down as a result of a few ignorent or uninformed posts. If a person is a newbie, or usually contributes in a reasonable and rational manner, and unconventional idea or inflammatory point of view about a few subjects is not reason to discount everything he or she has to say.
Don't post a Thank-You and Goodbye thread. If you feel you wish to leave us because of a troll, someone's trolling behavior, or hostilities a troll has created and must tell someone, please pm a moderator. If you post a "You all stink!" thread, you are feeding the trolls, and they've won something -your departure. Remember, this is just what they want! A real troll will see this as a rats-leaving-the-ship response, which will fuel hours of inane cackling, hand-rubbing, and further similiar posts. The ultimate goal is to disrupt, divide, tear down, and destroy. Every member who responds by leaving or changing their own posting behavior is ultimately encouraging a troll to continue trolling.
What TO DO:The only really effective way to deal with trolls is to fail to respond.
When you try to reason with a troll, he wins. When you insult a troll, he wins. When you scream at a troll, he wins. When you leave a board -for an hour or a year, he wins. The only thing trolls can't stand -and won't tolerate- is being ignored. When you pointedly ignore a troll, he may initially step up the attack. He may take his trolling behavior to another topic, another victim, to pm's or to another board. He may change -like some kind of evil mutant chameleon- from one tactic to another to another 'till he's used up his whole bag of tricks and every baiting technique he knows. But if you go on ignoring him, he will get bored and will go looking for greener pastures -and a group of people more compliant to his game.
Report the posts. There is a link at the bottom of every post to report a questionable or topic or message. Just click it, and our moderation team will receive a message to review it. We may not do anything right away, but we will look it over, and decide what action -if any- is merited. We try very hard to be open to suggestions, to give everyone a wide berth, and to make sure everyone feels welcome to speak their minds. But if someone just wants to cause trouble, we will take action to ensure that SG remains a healthy and supportive environment for as many members as possible.
This gets more difficult if there are many posts to a topic, or numerous replies to a spammer or troll. We have to decide whether to close a topic that has many valid, contributory posts on the basis of one or more troublesome ones, or whether to edit replies that -intentionally or not- encourage a troll. Sometimes, it takes us several days or numerous posts before the line is unquestionably crossed, and a topic simply has to be closed or censored. Lack of immediate action doesn't mean we're ignoring it or failing to address the issue.
If a potential troll has started a topic that seems to have some merit for you, and you think you might like to discuss or debate it, you (or the moderators) may invite him to take it elsewhere. My other board, Reality Cafe
, is a fine place to continue discussions that are off-topic here - politics, religion, and other "hot button" topics that may have to be closed or discouraged here are welcomed there. A person who is decidedly a "troll" here may be a welcome and contributing member with unusual insights and fresh ideas there.
And, one final note:
I know that on some forums members often claim they enjoy troll-baiting & troll-bashing. I'd like to ask everyone with that hobby to amuse themselves with it elsewhere. This is a sewing site, let's keep it that way.