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Trolls

April 15th, 2008

I’ve become much less tolerant of trolls lately and have banned several, here and at Crooked Timber. Simply put, after blogging for six years, I’m no longer interested in, and no longer have time for, dealing with people who are rude and insulting, particularly if they are rude and insulting to me (biased I know, but I do the work to produce this blog and it comes with my biases). I’ve given such people lots of warnings, but in most cases it hasn’t worked. So, from now on, trolls will get one warning if I’m feeling generous and none if I’m not.

Anyone who would like to whine about censorship is welcome to do so, but not here. There are many services offering free, and easily established, blogs where your complaints about being silenced can be published. This is my blog, and I publish what I feel like publishing.

I am interested in serious discussion from all reasonable points of view, from classical liberal to radical socialist in economic terms, all kinds of different positions regarding environmentalism, and so on. However, I no longer have the patience to deal with recirculated talking points from the rightwing parallel universe on the Iraq war, climate change and so on. If people sincerely want answers to such points, I’ll try to set them straight, but I’m not going to engage in prolonged debate on this kind of thing, or encourage it in comments threads.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:
  1. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 15th, 2008 at 21:08 | #1

    The “Iraq War” and “Climate Change” are clear enough but what is encapsulated by “so on”?

  2. jquiggin
    April 15th, 2008 at 21:44 | #2

    Terje, I’m not forbidding discussion of these topics, just pointing out examples where argument by silly talking point has been particularly prevalent. The range of such topics is large, but what matters is whether people are interested in serious discussion or are just trying to score points with stuff they recycle from somewhere else. I’m really not interested in the latter any more.

  3. may
    April 15th, 2008 at 21:45 | #3

    so does that mean i will be able to remark on the given subject(however uninformed-edly(sorry))without personal attacks,pre-formed spin and so on?

    good!

  4. jquiggin
    April 15th, 2008 at 22:10 | #4

    That’s the idea. As I mentioned, like most people I’m more inclined to notice attacks on me, so if you feel other commenters are attacking you unfairly, please advise me, and I’ll try to pull them into line.

  5. April 16th, 2008 at 01:19 | #5

    John: Thanks for alerting us to the right wing talking points about DDT. California has retrograde amnesia about Montrose Chemical Company, the subpavement of their DDT waste in the sea between Los Angeles and Catalina Island, and the long term inability of bald eagles to breed in that area, etc. Your attention to the node of misinformation on the legacy of DDT has been a great help for leading my students to an understanding of our recent environmental history.

  6. John Mashey
    April 16th, 2008 at 01:53 | #6

    Congratulations, I wish more bloggers would be as clear. Useful blogs self-destruct without such policies, in a kind of Gresham’s Law of online posting.

    For those newer to all this, long before blogs, USENET groups (now Google Groups) have been widely used starting in the mid-1980s. Some groups were moderated, some were not.

    Some newsgroups were filled with interesting, information-dense discussions, in some cases by people who were actually world-class experts. Then, AOL came along, and there was a flood of less-well-informed folks babbling opinions, but that calmed after awhile, Sadly, by now, some of the unmoderated groups that used to be excellent are now totally useless, because the bad has almost totally driven the good out.

    The “newsreader” programs often supported “killfiles”, wherein if you decided someone as wasting your time, you could arrange not to see anything they posted, and maybe not see any thread from when they posted, so that you could avoid seeing unwary responders to trolls.

    Since such features are not generally available for blogs [although Firefox+greasemonkey+killfile does work for some], either the blog owner of an interesting blog:

    a) Gets really ruthless with trolls

    OR

    b) The blog *will* degrade over time, and as signal-to-noise ratio declines, thoughtful posters go away.

  7. Jill Rush
    April 16th, 2008 at 01:58 | #7

    Life is too short for dealing interminably with wilfully ignorant people. It is your blog and visitors should abide by your rules.

    I thank you for offering it as a service to the intellectual development of the nation. I have sometimes been surprised by bloggers with no manners who claim the moral high ground and who get sniffy when you point out politely the error in their thinking processes.

  8. Paul G. Brown
    April 16th, 2008 at 05:49 | #8

    Snark On!

    I find it ironic that a man with pink/purple hair is complaining about trolls! Can’t handle the heat? Get out of the climate!

    *mumbles random incoherent thoughts about stuff I know little about, which is most things really*

  9. Uncle Milton
    April 16th, 2008 at 09:25 | #9

    Excellent idea. The anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in some people’s characters.

    And as the saying goes, if you argue with idiots, soon people can’t tell the difference between you and them.

  10. Joseph Clark
    April 16th, 2008 at 09:52 | #10

    I don’t know the exact definition of a ‘talking point’. Sounds like it could be any argument that you have heard before and didn’t like.

  11. wilful
    April 16th, 2008 at 09:52 | #11

    Better give em a refund, you authoritarian Stalinist. Can’t handle the criticism, or something like that.

    I know this is pointlessly ideological, but it is my very clear experience that the nastiest blog habitués are a certain strain of US inspired conservative. Found here in Australia too, they tend to roost overnight in Tim Blair’s warren before flying off to ruin a conversation.

    There are two types of libertarian around. Thankfully the dominant Australian flavour is articulate and polite, people like “tay-ay” and Club Troppoites and some of the ones at Catallaxy. The rest are up with the true loonies.

    I’ve not really come across any typical centrist or centre-left sorts who don’t conduct themselves decently. There are the rather odd far-left ones, but they normally write far too much with very poor grammar and never get read anyway.

  12. April 16th, 2008 at 10:33 | #12

    wilful,
    Any of the catallaxy commenters you have in mind with that one?

  13. wizofaus
    April 16th, 2008 at 10:33 | #13

    wilful, that’s certainly my experience too. The association in my mind between “right-wing”/”conservative” and nastiness/looniness is strong enough that even though I often find myself very open to many generally right-wing economic arguments I would feel entirely uncomfortable ever considering myself to be “right-wing” in any way. So I consider myself something of an “economically liberal left-winger”, contradictory as it might be.

  14. wilful
    April 16th, 2008 at 10:49 | #14

    Andrew, decent or loonie? I think I’ll avoid that one. You’re in my rational list however, whatever your politics.

  15. swio
    April 16th, 2008 at 11:20 | #15

    By far the easiest way to frustrate a troll is to refuse to acknowledge them, even to the extent of refusing to acknowledge that you have banned them. Watching their comments disappear without any explaination or response will make them feel like a child banging a drum that makes no noise. They’re seeking a reacation to their noise. Without it they quickly get bored.

    I would also recommened you broaden your scope of deleted comments to include the plain boring ones. If its tedious for you to read then its tedious for us too. Trolls can be just as annoying without being insulting or rude, but they can’t avoid being boring.

    Please be as aggressive as possible in your enforcement. I would like to think that when I see a post has 50 comments I click on it immediately because it represents a conversation well worth my time to read rather than something that I avoid because its full of tedious drivel. Please remember that your readers have to put up with these trolls as well. They waste our time too.

    If you undertake this policy aggressively I am sure the quality of comment threads will improve enormously over time. You attract a good selection of commenters including the best collection of right/libertarian commenters I have seen on left or centrist blog and it is frustrating that they often get drowned out.

  16. April 16th, 2008 at 12:56 | #16

    I think disemvowelling (or any other opt-in method) is a better option than banning. This makes it easy to ignore the trolls but still allows people who are interested in the comment (or are interested to find out why it was deemed trolling) to decipher it.

  17. Tony G
    April 16th, 2008 at 13:00 | #17

    If you want a balanced unbiased blog;

    What about banning “recirculated talking points from the leftwing parallel universe” as well.

  18. Mark Hadfield
    April 16th, 2008 at 13:21 | #18

    Tony G: “What about banning ‘recirculated talking points from the leftwing parallel universe’ as well?”

    For instance?

    I’m not trying to start a debate about any such talking points, I’m just curious as to what they might be.

  19. wizofaus
    April 16th, 2008 at 13:44 | #19

    Oddly enough a google search for that phrase only turns a single hit – for an SMH blog, from commenter “Edwin”, who claims “The left wing parallel universe is simply stuck in “I hate the US..I hate the US” chanting it like a mantra”.

    I swear I’m not trying to start a debate either, but hating the U.S. hardly puts you in a parallel universe. Of course the hatred is often directed at some sort of parallel-universe version of the U.S., but I’d suggest most forms of strong negative feelings seem to involve a poor understanding of the target of those feelings.

  20. jquiggin
    April 16th, 2008 at 14:36 | #20

    Obviously, the term “parallel” implies a reflexive relationship. The leftwing universe in which there were no WMDs in Iraq, DDT use against malaria was never banned, science is generally correct and so on is parallel to the rightwing universe in which the opposite is true.

    But, in keeping with ordinary convention, the real universe is treated as such, and the delusional one is referred to as “parallel”.

    There was once a leftwing parallel universe with a lot of talk about the Trilateral Commission, the 50 ruling families, and so on. You can still find remnants of it in obscure websites. But it never really made it to the blogosphere.

    These days, organised delusionism is a rightwing monopoly.

  21. SimonJM
    April 16th, 2008 at 14:56 | #21

    A recent Science Show talked about Cultural Cognition when looking at peoples views on the risk of Nanotechnology.Basically people just went with their own cultural beliefs and listened to experts that came from their cultural background. Evidence seems to have little to do with it.

    More of their work can be seen at

    http://research.yale.edu/culturalcognition/

    BTW being a troll can just depend on being in the minority at any blog.

    I remember being mocked by Libertarian atheists who scoffed at Global warming or any adverse harm by humans on the global environment even when presented by the scientists. But saw no contradiction thinking Creationist supporters are trolls when they dismissed evidence by evolutionary scientists.

  22. wilful
    April 16th, 2008 at 15:00 | #22

    Tony G, I’m not sure Pr Quiggin has said he wants balanced and unbiased, so much as he wants civil and rational. Which he gets from just about all of us, there is one specific strain of irrationality that tends to pollute the waters around here.

  23. Tony G
    April 16th, 2008 at 15:12 | #23

    Mark,
    a quick perusal of most blogs will find many ‘recirculated talking points’ They are prevalent to most flourishing blogs like this one.

    To state one side has a monopoly on‘recirculated talking points’ is delusional.

  24. Tony G
    April 16th, 2008 at 15:23 | #24

    “The leftwing universe in which there were no WMDs in Iraq”

    If this was the case, why was labours amendment in 2003 “Insisting that Iraq must disarm under the authority of the United Nations”?

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2008/04/15/trolls/#comment-209668

  25. Tony G
    April 16th, 2008 at 15:24 | #25
  26. wilful
    April 16th, 2008 at 15:29 | #26

    Sorry, the ALP count as leftwing these days? Since when did this occur?

  27. Tony G
    April 16th, 2008 at 15:38 | #27

    Wilful,

    Some people’s rational allows them to label it “Left Wing”

    To me there is no left or right, just straight over the middle.

  28. FDB
    April 16th, 2008 at 15:59 | #28

    Excellent news John.

    None of your intelligent, incisive, genuine interlocutors – yea, even though they be critics – need fear a thing. Swio says it well:

    “I would like to think that when I see a post has 50 comments I click on it immediately because it represents a conversation well worth my time to read”

    I’d like that too.

  29. Pedro S
    April 16th, 2008 at 16:05 | #29

    The parallel left-wing universe has Cuba as a paradise, only damaged by the US, genetically modified organisms that have been solidly scientifically shown to be dangerous to health, we’re about to run out of energy and where all companies are largely evil and where all legislation is well intended and well executed.

    You’re not part of it, but it exists.

  30. wizofaus
    April 16th, 2008 at 16:34 | #30

    The debate we really didn’t want to start…

    Actually, Pedro, GMO are dangerous to health – but so are natural organisms. It remains to be seen whether testing procedures for GMO’s will remain sufficiently adequate to ensure nothing really nasty ever gets released.

    As far as “about to run out of energy” goes, the very small fringe that really believes that all the world’s fossil fuel supplies will dry up in the next 100 years is just that…a fringe, and not an obviously left-wing one from my experience. But general concern about potential energy crises is hardly a left-wing phenomenon either.
    I’ll grant you the “big corporations are largely evil” line, but I don’t believe there’s a person alive that seriously believes “all legislation is well intended and well executed”. Whereas I’m pretty sure I know at least a few examples of right-wingers that subscribe to the belief that “any legislation always makes things worse due to unintended consequences” (of course, legislation over personal decisions such as marriage or abortion is exempt from this rule).

  31. jquiggin
    April 16th, 2008 at 16:47 | #31

    #23 is an example of the kind of silly talking point I don’t intend to deal with.

    #28 I agree with wizofaus that there’s room for legitimate debate about GM policy, but I have already banned one insistent anti-GM troll, so I guess you have a point. But, while some people have these views, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of blogosphere/internet machine generating and circulating talking points for them, or, if so I haven’t seen it.

  32. Peter Wood
    April 16th, 2008 at 19:32 | #32

    I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus this is looking forward to no longer reading dumb and insulting comments, and no long reading whining about so called ‘censorship’.

  33. Domino
    April 17th, 2008 at 14:53 | #33

    JQ Says:
    “Obviously, the term “parallelâ€? implies a reflexive relationship. The leftwing universe in which there were no WMDs in Iraq, DDT use against malaria was never banned, science is generally correct and so on is parallel to the rightwing universe in which the opposite is true.

    But, in keeping with ordinary convention, the real universe is treated as such, and the delusional one is referred to as “parallel�.

    There was once a leftwing parallel universe with a lot of talk about the Trilateral Commission, the 50 ruling families, and so on. You can still find remnants of it in obscure websites. But it never really made it to the blogosphere.

    These days, organised delusionism is a rightwing monopoly.”

    I say:
    “Smack!”

    I hate to troll, but I really want to plaster that all over the world! :)

    (good to see someone who actually reads the comments on their blog too – good on you, JQ)

  34. April 21st, 2008 at 09:00 | #34

    I remember discovering Usenet in the 1990s and trying to use the rec. pets. dogs forum. Such forums are enormously useful, because vast numbers of people acquire dogs every year and large numbers of those end up in the pound or euthanised because, really, of lack of knowledge on the part of their human owners.

    This forum was pretty much single handedly ruined by one troll, called Jerry Howe. I checked back briefly a while ago, he was still there and the forum was still a ruin.

    It’s a pity, because people really need information on their animals. Sorry if this seems like a threadjack – another usenet term!- but it’s just a really egregious example of what JQ is talking about.

  35. Hank Roberts
    April 22nd, 2008 at 03:45 | #35

    Oh, yes, yes, we need threaded newsreaders and killfiles. Perfectly usable 1980s technology.

    As I posted elsewhere:

    If [anyone does] know a place programmers read, suggest an open source tool?

    If [anyone does] write [a threaded newsreader tool for weblogs, with killfiles], oh please, do allow a killfile to look to a shared list of known IP addresses (to which science bloggers could contribute) — as a way to filter known sources of blag* (call it a “blaglist�).

    For those too young (sigh) here’s how it worked:

    Show me nothing posted by this user
    Show me nothing with this (wildcards allowed) in the subject line, to eliminate people _replying_ in re the killfiled comment.

    It was wonderful.

    The only people who got huffy and offended were either clueless newbies, or those who intentionally _wanted_ to get offended after recognizing what offended them.

    And everyone who wanted a conversation could just killfile all the threads and the people who had mistakenly come there to have an argument.

    Cone of silence. Bliss.

    ———–
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=blag

  36. 2 tanners
    April 22nd, 2008 at 11:05 | #36

    Go for it JQ. Full support.

    Parallel to usenet was a network called fidonet, run through the bulletin boards – very amateur stuff. The creationists were the major hazard there, but fortunately individuals could killfile them. But it JQ is going to do the signal favour of saving me the time and effort, then so much the better.

  37. Hank Roberts
    April 23rd, 2008 at 06:15 | #37

    > USENET groups (now Google Groups)

    Nononononono … Usenet is still in place.
    Google’s just providing a frame through which you can view (some of) Usenet.

    There are better (older!) tools — at least for those who like keystroke commands and killfiles:
    http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/software/nn/getting-started/

    “The underlying philosophy of nn is “no news is good news” and “nn” actually stands for “no news”! … nn makes it easy to efficiently read only articles and newsgroups you’re interested in.”

    Hunt around:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=usenet+newsgroup+access

  38. Joe Blow
    May 1st, 2008 at 05:24 | #38

    Tony G: “What about banning ‘recirculated talking points from the leftwing parallel universe’ as well?�

    For instance?

    I’m not trying to start a debate about any such talking points, I’m just curious as to what they might be.

    Those would be the ideas that man is responsible for “global warming” (or “climate change”, or whatever they’re calling it this week), no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq (they were), waterboarding is torture (it’s not), and Al Gore invented the internet (he didn’t), just to name a few.

  39. May 1st, 2008 at 08:46 | #39

    Isn’t it quaint when people use the word “man” to denote the whole human population? I remember that from old primary school texts. You don’t see it much in the wild now though, and when you do you tend to make a few assumptions about the speaker (or writer).

  40. Hank Roberts
    May 3rd, 2008 at 10:51 | #40

    Chuckle. It’s as dumb as the way people say ‘Google Groups’ when they mean ‘Usenet’
    —–

    Apropos that, newsreaders are being enabled to filter out anything posted from ‘Google Groups’:

    http://improve-usenet.org/

    For blogs, I can think of only one possible improvement — that would be for the author of “killfile” to enable it to notice and react to codes inserted by the blog’s host and killfile on those codes as well as on the user’s name. I wish it’d notice IP numbers but doubt they’re available to it.

    If a host took the trouble to go back and insert some kind of tag, say to mark off-topic posts generally (or perhaps even to mark ‘side thread 1, side thread 2 …?) and Killfile would react to those … hmmmm. Guess I better suggest it.

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