Trolls (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

I’ve decided that life is too short for me to deal with any more trolls. From now on, I’m following the same zero[1] tolerance policy regarding blog comments as I do on other social media. Snarky trolling comments will lead to an immediate and permanent ban from my comment threads.

More generally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to look at the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ and what remains of the Republican intellectual class is the light of my experience as a blogger.

Put simply. the IDW and others are trolls. Their object is not to put forward ideas, or even to mount a critique, but to annoy and disrupt their targets (us). As Nikki Haley observed, a few months before announcing her resignation as UN Ambassador, it’s all about “owning the libs

Once you look at them as trolls, it’s easy to see how most of the right fit into familiar categories. They include
* Victim trolls: Their main aim is to push just far enough to get banned, or piled-on, while maintaining enough of an appearance of reasonableness to claim unfair treatment: Christina Hoff Sommers pioneered the genre
* Concern trolls: Jonathan Haidt is the leading example. Keep trying to explain how the extreme lunacy of the far right is really the fault of the left for pointing out the lunacy of the mainstream right.
* Quasi-ironic trolls: Putting out racist or otherwise objectionable ideas, then, when they are called out, pretending it’s just a joke. The alt-right was more or less entirely devoted to this kind of trolling until Trump made it acceptable for them to drop the irony and come out as open racists.
* Snarky trolls: Delight in finding (or inventing) and circulating examples of alleged liberal absurdity, without any regard for intellectual consistency on their own part. Glenn Reynolds is the archetype in the US, though the genre was pioneered in UK print media by the Daily Mail’s long running obsession with ‘political correctness gone mad’
* False flag trolls: Push a standard rightwing line, but demand special consideration because they are allegedly liberals. Alan Dershowitz has taken this kind of trolling beyond parody
From what I can see, the latest hero of the Dark Web, Jordan Peterson, manages to encompass nearly all of these categories. But I haven’t looked hard because, as I said, life is too short.

I’ve used US examples here, but most of them have Australian counterparts. Feel free to point them out.

fn1. Not quite zero. Commenters with a track record of serious discussion will be given a warning. But, anyone who wastes my time will be given short shrift

32 thoughts on “Trolls (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

  1. I wonder if trolling is becoming so common place that some people don’t even know they are doing it. The technology seems to enable it. Anonymous commenting and twitter are perfect for trolling and I can’t think of many good outcomes from either. On the other hand the malaise of western democracy, the mainstreaming of fascism and the indiscriminate data collection and profiling which seems to be a large part of tech companies make me less inclined to comment.

  2. Another category, in general forums: the footsoldier troll. This person copy/pastes from wacko sources, without even understanding their inconsistencies, incoherences, and so on. They have been congratulated by their fascist-fellow-traveler “friends” for “occupying the debate space”… for “crowding out the libs”.

  3. I make this enquiry in the context of a general view that bloggers have no obligation to give any explanation of their decisions about deleting comments or banning commenters. I can think of a couple of blogs that don’t host comments at all, which is equivalent to banning everybody, and if there’s nothing wrong with that then I figure there’s nothing wrong with less comprehensive restrictions. You’ll give as much explanation as you feel like giving and there’s no reason you should do more.

    That said, I hope it’s okay if I ask whether you mean that all sarcasm is now banned. I’m pretty sure I have made occasional use of sarcasm in past comments, but it’s not something I need to do. If there is a complete ban on sarcasm I will have no difficutly complying, but I’d appreciate knowing whether that is part of what is meant.

  4. Australian (sarcasm?) continuous trolling examples:
    http://loonpond.blogspot.com/
    For a morenacademic view: (I can see a jq troll flavour & cost paper);
    Under the bridge: An in-depth examination of online trolling in the gaming context
    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1461444817748578
    “However, despite its prevalence in cyberspace, trolling as a subject of academic study is a confusing space, with different researchers using different criteria to describe the same phenomenon. This is likely due to the fact that it is such a new field of study: existing studies are few and far between, and nearly all of them have been atheoretical due to a lack of empirical basis upon which to build any theories (Herring et al., 2002; Shachaf and Hara, 2010; Thacker and Griffiths, 2012).”
    Although this is a study conducted in the online game world, it provides a basis for extending to other domains. Lots of references.

  5. Alas it has come to this. I was excited about the possibility of open discussion when the possibilities of the internet were described in Ender’s Game which was published in 1990. The reality is of course much different with trolls drowning out constructive debate.

    Well done John.

  6. Several years ago, I had Professor Haidt as the leader of my ethics class (and Jared Kushner as guest ethics speaker!). He, like Professor Peterson, attack cosmopolitanism as being a drag on their idealized attributes of individual heroism and bravery as described in legends or myths. This approach is similar to Taleb’s recent book ‘Skin in the Game’. Our ethics course would have been better served by a discussion on the increasingly complex nature of society and business rather than exploring ancient heroic texts. It certainly felt trollish.

  7. Sorry I didnt read closely enough… You do consider Peterson part of the IDW and you do think hes a troll.

    I think you need to provide some specific examples then because otherwise this just comes across as censoring/silencing anyone you don’t like for unknown reasons. I’m not even sure Peterson puts forward any ideas that you would disagree with?

  8. >Concern trolls: Jonathan Haidt is the leading example. Keep trying to explain how the extreme lunacy of the far right is really the fault of the left for pointing out the lunacy of the mainstream right.

    I don’t think this is Haidt’s position. Where has he said such things?

  9. Fierro @11

    Here’s a fairly typical example of Haidt – not precisely matching my paraphrase, but definitely blaming the left for the increased authoritarianism of the right.
    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/15/13593670/donald-trump-social-media-culture-politics

    The new sacred values on the left are about anti-racism and fighting discrimination — this has been at the heart of the progressive projects since the 1960s. And this is the force behind multiculturalism. And the best way to understand this moral worldview is to look at the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”: “Imagine there are no countries / it isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too.”

    So this is one side of the new divide, the multiculturalism side. You may call it the globalist side, although it’s not so much global trade as the free movement of people and the unity of all mankind, all humankind.

    As multiculturalism is emphasized more and more, there emerges a reaction against it on the right, which is attractive to the authoritarian mind and also appeals to other conservatives. And this, I think, is what has happened, this is what Trump is about — not entirely, of course, but certainly this is a big factor.

    Multiculturalism and diversity have many benefits, including creativity and economic dynamism, but they also have major drawbacks, which is that they generally reduce social capital and trust and they amplify tribal tendencies.

  10. @Duncan I’m not censoring or silencing, just ignoring. That entails excluding trolls from discussion on my blog, where I want to discuss things of interest to me, not hold an open forum for the world.

  11. One day in the near term, trolls may be replied to with this “live transcription claim-spotter”;
    “”A bioengineer by training, Babakar is in charge of developing digital tools that could allow Full Fact to check more claims, more quickly. Babakar and her team’s live transcription claim-spotter (which I saw in action during PMQ) is still pretty rudimentary software: all it does is match BBC subtitles against the group’s database of fact-checks. But soon it will gain the ability to analyse claims and automatically retrieve the pertinent primary data from the Office of National Statistics’ API. “”
    https://www.wired.co.uk/article/fake-news-full-fact-fact-checking-news

  12. Its not a level playing field. How can we make progress in a debate when one side is committed to compromise and the other sees that as the problem ? We give they take. The mainstream Left went along with the Rightist agenda decades ago. Now its time for the Right to compromise and wind back the Neo-lib project a bit, but no, its not in their nature to do so. As Trump says and does ,winning is all that counts .The Left values process ,the Right does not. The Left has faith in human nature ,the Right does not. A main part of being Left is valuing the other , trying to see their point of view and to accommodate it and them .Most of the commenters I see on Right wing blogs/websites are simply confused, frightened, and angry, they have given up on truth and dug in .They are beyond caring now, they think people like me are just fools who are going to get their faith repayed by having their heads cut off .
    Its difficult when you have people like that being used by the powerful Capitalist class in a mass distraction divide and rule effort. Unfortunately when enough act in that way their world view becomes a self fulfilling prophecy . Also – it is interesting how the extreme Right has learnt to rely on plausible deniability .

  13. Socrates trolled the authorities of Athens. Having said that, very few if any trolls have the wit and wisdom of Socrates.

  14. As regards Jordan Peterson he came to my attention by refusing to use the preferred form of address for another person, then (at least according to his fanz) bamboozling a TV interviewer. I’d say that makes him a troll.

  15. Jordan Peterson didn’t want to be forced by the government of Canada to use the preferred form of address for another person. It was more about government control of what we can and cant say.

  16. “Last November, fellow University of Toronto professor Ira Wells called him “the professor of piffle” – a YouTube star rather than a credible intellectual. Tabatha Southey, a columnist for the Canadian magazine Macleans, designated him “the stupid man’s smart person”.

    “Peterson’s secret sauce is to provide an academic veneer to a lot of old-school rightwing cant, including the notion that most academia is corrupt and evil, and banal self-help patter,” says Southey. “He’s very much a cult thing, in every regard. I think he’s a goof, which does not mean he’s not dangerous.”” – The Guardian Online.

  17. I dont think Jordan Peterson is claiming to be a victim. He was just standing up to a government that was overreaching. This whole post has me worried. It seems like you are just labeling people you want to ignore as Trolls. Are you saying they don’t really have a point of view, but are just trying to upset people?

  18. I don’t think you understand the meaning of troll. It is not just a person with a contrary view to yours. Reading contrary views is a very good thing . How would you ever change your mind if you didn’t read contrary views.

  19. So what is a troll?

    It just worries me that John is saying that the best way to deal with people saying things you disagree with is to ignore them (or worse silence them). I would of thought the idea is to try and change their minds?

  20. Duncan, if Jordan Peterson is asked personally face to face to call someone their preferred pronoun, does he?

    And pardon me if posting this seems inappropriate, yet this disinterested interested ContraPoints has Peterson nailed down. What is he actually saying? Good points about the left and excellent points about what ‘western civilisation’ needs to include.
    Jordan Peterson | ContraPoints

    Warning: drag queens, bathroom scene, lobster mask and swearing. Still the best half hr about Peterson I’ve read or seen. If it bores / annoys you go to 21mins. Tell me if you go back to watch the rest.

  21. @KT2 that video is great 😉

    I agree a lot of what Peterson says doesn’t make much sense. I find most of the 12 rules to either be just common sense or possibly wrong (the kids one bothers me). But his point about the government getting involved in speech issues seems valid. Just dismissing him as a troll seems odd to me.

    The irony is I heard about J Peterson in the same place I first heard about J Quiggin:

    http://www.econtalk.org/jordan-peterson-on-12-rules-for-life/

    http://www.econtalk.org/quiggin-on-zombie-economics/

  22. The very issue Duncan cites is good evidence Peterson is a troll. Peterson says he’s fighting against the government’s requiring him to use gender neutral pronouns. The government is doing no such thing. When someone uses imaginary restrictions to get a soapbox – from which they announce their free speech is under threat – they’re very likely a troll. When you have to confect the threat, you’re not serious.

  23. I propose a new category of troll called a Llort. Here is a good example of a Llort:
    “Democracy Dies in Darkness
    ‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America
    …”Christopher Blair, 46, sits at his desk at home in Maine and checks his Facebook page, America’s Last Line of Defense. He launched the political-satire portal with other liberal bloggers during the 2016 presidential campaign.
    “The more extreme we become, the more people believe it,” Blair replied.
    He had launched his new website on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign as a practical joke among friends — a political satire site started by Blair and a few other liberal bloggers who wanted to make fun of what they considered to be extremist ideas spreading throughout the far right. In the last two years on his page, America’s Last Line of Defense, Blair had made up stories about California instituting sharia, former president Bill Clinton becoming a serial killer, undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore, and former president Barack Obama dodging the Vietnam draft when he was 9. “Share if you’re outraged!” his posts often read, and thousands of people on Facebook had clicked “like” and then “share,” most of whom did not recognize his posts as satire. Instead, Blair’s page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55.”

    Q: does a llort anihalate a troll?
    A: I doubt it, yet if you have time it maybe worth $14k a month.

    So I propose a Llort factory to fund this:
    “But soon it will gain the ability to analyse claims and automatically retrieve the pertinent primary data from the Office of National Statistics’ API.”
    https://www.wired.co.uk/article/fake-news-full-fact-fact-checking-news

  24. Jordan Peterson is charismatic and he appears cool and in control in interviews but he says nothing new or interesting as far as I can tell.

  25. Pr Q said:

    At least in his early appearances, Haidt presented as a liberal with concerns that his fellow-liberals were failing to understand that conservatives had a deep and complex moral code, valuing loyalty, authority and sanctity, incorrectly seeing them as motivated by (dominant white) identity politics and downward envy. That claim was pretty thoroughly refuted when conservatives voted for and enthusiastically supported Trump who shows no loyalty to anyone and happily violates any notion of sanctity (to loud cheers from his audiences).

    Pr Q misunderstands both the political appeal of Trump in particular and the relationship between personal character and political ethics in general. In doing so he does an injustice to Haidt and Peterson whose work stands up well in the “genersl rot” of the replication crisis-ridden professon of social psychology.

    Trump won over the populist base of the REP party because he spelled out the demographic writing on the wall and its partisan implications: vote for Clinton and face “the coming of the minority majority” and with it “the emerging Democratic majority” or vote for Trump and at least win a reprieve.

    For the REPs, 2016 was “the Flight 93 election”:

    You charge the cockpit or die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain.

    Demography is political destiny in a “woke” democracy. When you threaten a national demos with a political extinction event they are unlikely to be too fastidious about their means of survival.

    So its false to label Trump supporters or apologists as “trolls”. Although Trump himself is a kind of meta-troll President.  His popularity does, to a large extent, depend on his capacity to, as Pr Q puts it, “annoy and disrupt” the kind of people who conservatives dont much politically care for. Thats a side benefit from the main aim, which is to obtain a stay of execution whilst hoping that something more palatable turns up. A Bannonite Nixon to Trump’s Wallace, as Ross Douthat suggests?

    Pr Q said:

    Rather than revising his position, Haidt lined up explicitly with the conservatives, saying that their support for Trump was all the fault of the liberals for pushing multiculturalism and diversity. See for example, this account from the conservative side https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/haidt-inside-the-head-of-trump-voters

    Haidt is justified in having “lined up explicitly with the cobservatives” considering the intellectual corruption of the “liberals”. The science of human nature and social structure must be based on Darwinian-Durkheimian fundamentals to be even half-way credible.

    Yet virtually all social-psychologists subscribe to the discredited Boasian model, garnished with half-digested bits of Foucauldian post-modernism. Hence 95% of practioners are, as Haidt reveals, Left-liberal in ideological orientation, The result is, as Stove predicted, an intellectual “disaster area…of the active kind, like a badly leaking nuclear reactor, or an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle”.

    Haidt and Dreher are quite correct to argue that the Trump phenomenon is “all the fault of liberals for pushing multicultural…diversity”, in the sense that absent this push, there would be no political demand for Trump.  There are no Trumps in Switzerland or Japan, which countries seem to be travelling well based on their conservative social solidarity.  But Rotherham voted 68-32 for Brexit. Suggesting that the Right-wing Culture War is grounded in “lived experience” and survival instinct, rather than “downwards envy”.

    Right-wing populism is an ideological outcome of a polarised society/hyper-partisan polity where every SJW action generates an equal and opposite Alt-Right reaction. As Dreher, paraphrasing Haidt, points out:

    Most people are not naturally authoritarian. But the latent authoritarianism within them is triggered when they perceive a threat to the stable moral order.

    In the US, most white Christians regard the imminent prospect of their demographic replacement by non-whites and anti-Christians with some combination of fear and loathing.  Yet these past 50 years Democrat strategists have tirelessly worked for it. And now liberal ideologists triumphantly celebrate it, when they are not vindictively relishing it.  This is legitimate cause for alarm.

    Which is why many white Christians are, with varying degrees of reluctance, tending towards authoritarian “white nationalism”, with all its attendant evils, as the lesser evil. They have no place else to go.

    More generally most voters, when it suits them, are able to make a Machiavellian distiction between a candidates obnoxious personality and the worthwhile aspects of his policy. US conservatives put the glass to their blind eye and voted for Trump in spite, not because, of his obvious lack of “loyalty” and “sanctity”. Just as US liberals held their nose and voted for Clinton in spite, not because, of his propensity to exercise “droit du signeur”.

    US Republicans intuit that the nature of the polity depends more on the kind of people that compose it, rather than the kind of politician that leads it. Thus it is perfectly possible for US Republicans to vote for Trump on Flight 93 tactical grounds whilst still holding fast to some version of Haidts shopping list of conservative moral values. They did the former to save the latter.

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