July 13, 2004

Dan Gillmor vs. Trolls

Dan Gillmor has a troll problem on his blog, to which he's seeking a solution. Good luck.

I've been following the discussion with some interest. I've seen the troll postings, and it's not the worst as trolls go. Not the sort of Slashdot crowd that crapfloods or posts racist and homophibic slurs. Mostly it's "merely" a bunch of false partisan personal accusations.

I've been trying to come up with something useful to say to him, but I'm basically at a loss. There's a sort of stock sermon I know by heart, having had it preached at me endlessly. It'd run: "Dan, you're a distinguished journalist, AND an A-list blogger, influential and respected. The troll has no credibility whatsoever. TAKE IT! Ignore the attackers. Be above it all. Show your good character by how classily you react even to the most vicious provocation. Put on a big fat happy-face, and never let on that it bothers you. Just smile, smile, smile, through adversity." (One can tell I've got a lot of material to draw on ...)

But I hate it when people wag their finger at me that way. It doesn't help, it's just another burden. So I want to practice what *I* preach, and reach beyond the cliche. Which unfortunately puts me back at not knowing what to say. Misery loves company? Try being the target of domain hijacking by a Slashdot "editor" ? That probably wouldn't be welcome advice either.

If there's anything my years of netnews/mailing-list/blog participation have taught me, it's that good discussion is a hard problem. Many people seem to underestimate just how hard it is. Here we have an A-lister who is devoting two front-page posts so far to the baneful effects of (fairly mild, comparatively) trolls. Question: What Does This Mean For Democracy?

And I submit this as one more example as to why the preachers and finger-waggers should refrain from preaching and finger-wagging at me. You likely wouldn't do any better if it were you, remember that (but I know this trick never works :-().

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on July 13, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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I have some trollish thoughts...

1) Just smile, smile, smile, through adversity.

Grimacing works better sometimes.

I have a difficult time understanding how someone in power is tormented by the taunts of trolls. Let them eat cake. It's not a case of having to force a smile, how is it possible that such taunts are not funny? Your hand is on the porcelain knob to the memory hole...

Gillmour's problem (aside from ego), is trolls confusing commentors, and potentially poisoning the whole forum. Even committed members of a community tire of dealing with brush fires. One suggestion: a "sticky" FAQ comment (that is always appears first) which warns of trolling and counters the prevalent baiting. After that, it would be up to commentors to ignore obvious trolls.

Should every blog have to adopt a membership system to deal with trolls? There must be a middle ground somewhere between Talking Points Memo and billmon (because the site just threw off comments) and Slashdot. You have no ideas on potential compromises, none?

As to the case of power-vs-power, I am reminded of Lessig-vs-Manes, what value did matching petty-for-petty bring Lessig in that debate?

2) one more example as to why the preachers and finger-waggers

Fuck you, Mr. C-List.

Take the space elevator down to the blasted slums of blog addicted trogs, there are lots of us on the trash heaps who think you got greener grass.

Posted by: sean broderick at July 15, 2004 02:00 AM

As I said, it's hard. Whatever grand ideas I have, won't help Dan Gillmor with his problem now.

On Lessig/Manes, again, people want to defend themselves. Wagging a finger at them is too disconnected from reality to be useful, in my view.

My comment about people doing it to me wasn't about A-listery, but rather the moralizing I get for not being a good martyr to free-speech activism.

And even if it was about A-listing, so what? People are dying in Sudan. Yet, the failings of my life still affect me.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 15, 2004 09:21 AM

On Lessig/Manes, again, it's about putting your interests ahead of hasty retorts. One can defend themselves without allowing the distortion of their agenda or looking foolish. It's hard, but worth the effort.

Sudan? I slap the mat, you got me.

I have been trying to avoid becoming informed about Sudan because of guilt over not protesting the Bush Cabal's hawkery. I wonder what our President is planning to do? The Bible must have some clue, but finding it might require a nose for nuance.

If the Iraqis deserved deliverance, why not the Sudanese?

Posted by: sean broderick at July 15, 2004 09:55 AM

"It's hard, but worth the effort"

Arguably, so is eating right, exercising daily, not smoking or other drug addictions, getting enough sleep, and so on. But merely telling people to do things is notably unhelpful overall.

Iraq/Sudan: I was going to say "oil", but it's more accurately rendered "a strategic geoposition in an unstable but critical oil-rich region".

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 16, 2004 10:03 AM

You could always look at it in a positive light. Eg: When playing an online game, someone accuses you of cheating, when you obviously arnt, so take it as a compliment that your very good. Same situation here, your obviously so good, and so high up there that people feel the need to put you down all the time! Good on you!

ITIL Consultant

Posted by: ITIL Consultant at July 19, 2004 06:50 AM