Trolls and Free Expression

I thought it might be useful to discuss the whole issue of how to deal with trolls in a community such as this. This discussion is of course related to the Hive Moderation thread, but that relates more specifically to moderation and how it has been applied.

So are there in fact active trolls, or do they simply represent an "alternative viewpoint?"

This post from DailyKos is instructive:

As is this site:

So how should a site respond to trolling? I analogize this to a human immune system - when it detects what it assumes to be a "foreign invader" the immune system responds with inflammation and a direct attack on the invader. Sometimes the immune system overreacts and starts attacking its own cells - then it is termed an autoimmune reaction.

So clearly there is a delicate balancing act needed.

Here are two relevant stories from today's NY Times:


Documentation, open reasoning and keeping posts to a small number (<= 3) of bullet points at a time. You can't troll if you are expected to do your homework and respond to criticism with logic and reason. Tolling is most effective when it is spread thinly over the thread with few facts and lots of assertions. Trolling is mostly all offense and little or no defense.

And if a real breathing, thinking right winger were to stumble in here, we would be wrong to drive them out.


Thanks, @newton123 for taking the next step.

And we shouldn't. It would be a good thing.

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I don't disagree., but really most of us are not sympathetic to their views and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, there are good people, sincere people, not trolls, who honestly believe that gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage. That a trans person in the restroom will assault their daughters. That this is a Christian nation and was founded that way. That welfare makes people lazy and not work and causes women to have more kids for more money. That taxes are theft. That the military has been decimated under Obama.

It's very hard to argue with that person w/o them because to us it seems so obvious why they are wrong.


So in response to my asking:

So if this Nadia critter (or her ilk) were to pony up the $50 and arrive on the Hive and attempt to sow discord, how should the community react? No easy answer to that.

We get one suggestion:

But the whole issue is that we don't actually know that this is Nadia. All we see is an (apparently) strongly pro-Bernie (or perhaps anti-Hillary) poster. We don't know that the poster is just trying to sow discord - for all we know they are expressing their own true beliefs. And really there is no sure way to tell.

Now of course if you have a troll and some sock-puppets then administrators can start looking at IP addresses and the like, but even those can be disguised by using proxies. (If you look at browser fingerprints then that might be more telling).

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Do we have any evidence that this is a problem here?

I believe you mentioned, @newton123, in the other moderating thread, that on another forum, creators of a topic had the ability to block out other users from that thread, and that over thousands of posts, you only to do it twice over many years. It seems to me that the ability for comments sections/forums to turn toxic is very real, and problematic, as well as the echo-chamber effect of an environment to drive out well meaning people who don't agree with the orthodoxy of a site. I wonder if this approach might not be a good way to balance these competing concerns.

If someone wants to start a thread about how awesome Martin O'Malley is, they can, and if someone wants to block people who only want to attack him from posting more on their thread, that doesn't seem so awful, if that poster can in return start their own thread of why O'Malley is such a jerk, etc. It might encourage people to be a bit more polite when joining a conversation, and give the OP a feeling of ownership for the topic, and encourage them to moderate it themselves. I've seen that on other threads recently, where people will gently redirect posters if the conversation is veering too far in one direction, or people are getting too personal, and that seems preferable to forcing a moderator, who's volunteering to do the work, to come and decide what's OK and what's not.

Sorry for the short post - maybe more later when time permits - but I think it important to distinguish between trolls and parasites.

I don't worry too much about trolls. We can handle them. But there are parasites out there who bring nothing to the table and whose only purpose is to distract and disrupt.

I have a Friday night dinner, scotch and cigar buddy who is a real right winger - sometimes Tea Partier. He is, nevertheless, a very decent, intelligent and intellectually honest individual. Good debates go a long way. Sometimes they are vigorous. I'm not going to convert him, nor is he me, but it does go a very long way to getting back to common ground on a lot of issues.


In practice, it is not so hard to distinguish between 'the person with an honest contrary opinion' and 'the person seeking to disrupt' (Troll).

The honest person will cite legitimate sources, rebut arguments, stay on topic, be aware that his is the minority view, understand there may be some middle ground; the Troll will cite RW Conspiracy Theory sites or just make assertions, ignore rebuttals, continually make new assertions, maintain an absolutist viewpoint, and pop into numerous threads.

We don't know whether Trolls are a long-term problem in The Hive. There currently a couple of folks making problems, but, if permitted, the community will likely isolate them. The main board is a different issue; and, as the election nears, we may see increased efforts at disruption. The Management should have mechanisms for dealing with that possibility.


There is a long history of fending them off on TPM forums previously. But they weren't usually an irresistible force, just an aggravation.

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I did say "thinking" because I believe that our arguments need to be tested in a way we can't test them ourselves because in many respects this is an echo chamber.


Really wouldn't surprise me in the slightest...but then with all these things, the way to win mind games is to play it straight. As noted above, clear writing, clearly presented ideas...the nutty will reveal itself quickly.

The thing about "trolling" is this: it's emotional. That's what it's all about: evoking an emotional response - spittle on the screen, and furious typing. Tune out and ignore the ridiculous...don't worry about proving or persuading the other guy - go through the steps to persuade others who are watching (reading).


Some of those are either true or false. "The military has been decimated under Obama," for example. It's 100% true or 100% false and there's no room for opinion. But others are more -- probabilistic? -- There are no doubt some people that take advantage of welfare. But they can't do it for long and on the whole, the question is whether or not it's a helpful program.

So good people can believe that welfare could have the tendency to make people lazy, and that gay marriage could have a tendency to weaken traditional marriage. But if you insist against all evidence on believing that the military budget has been slashed or that the US was founded as a Christian nation then we have a problem.


This would be just somebody here for kicks, right? Spend $50 to annoy the liberals in their secret garden? I mean, nobody thinks this is some sort of professional operation, right?

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I'd simply like an ignore list so I could add users to it and not see anything that they post, responded to or quoted. If you had that along with an area that listed out the most ignored users then the community would effectively banish them into oblivion...


I prefer to scroll past, otherwise the conversations get weird.

There are only one or two that push every button I have and even they will sometimes come up with something thought provoking.




Run that by Josh and see what you get in return...

Most likely you'll get the sound of crickets.



Yes, it has worked really well in my experience. In addition to the two actual bans, I've also had to threaten a ban on a couple of occasions and that has served to keep people in line. All the regulars (which includes a smart right-wing evangelical) are very well behaved, but every now and then things get heated on a particular topic (like climate change) when denizens of the rest of the site also make an appearance. (Quite different overall population of posters though - my thread started as a biotech stock investment board but has broadened over the years).

The only difference is that nobody has an incentive to disrupt my board, while here some might actually have that incentive. I have no ability to hide or delete posts, but can flag spam etc. for deletion by moderators.


Hey Hey Mike...

Something along the lines of this may lighten the load?

The “Prime Two-Holer” at the Hive ...

It's hard to believe that that was originally posted at the old Cafe some 9 years ago.