Feeding the trolls

May 31, 2011

Today, after reading Zed Shaws latest blog post, I did something really stupid.

Of all internet phenomena I’ve come in contact with, trolling is probably the worst. And although I think Zed is not helping the situation by being so harsh, I can understand why he is really, really pissed off.

In response to this, I started a repo on Github of known trolls. I tweeted about it and Mentalizer correctly pointed out that my repo was more or less an act of trolling in itself. Such a list is worthless without some kind of public criteria for who goes on there, or at least some sensible definition of “trolling”. I offered neither, and I wasn’t prepared to put in the effort, making my initiative decidedly half-assed.

So my public repo of trolls was a bad idea. What do we need instead?

Another bad idea

Here is another well intended but probably really bad idea. I’ll build a site that allows you to propose trolls and allows registered users to vote up their troll-ranking. It will be complete with an API to retrieve someone’s troll-score and automatically blacklist them from your site.

Why is this a bad idea? Well obviously, if I actually built such a site, I would be the first name on the list, voted up by hundreds of actual trolls. So by my own definition, I’d be a troll. If this became popular (which it would have to in order to fullfill its goal), it would become a warzone of mudslinging and attempts to destroy people’s reputation.

Conclusion

This is not the first time I have thought about how to help the internet getting rid of trolls, but hopefully it will be the last, because I feel like I’m wasting my time. I think it would be a huge accomplishment to reduce the amount of trolling to a tolerable level, on the same scale as what Google is doing to fight spam or what Stack Overflow is doing to fight ignorance.

But it all comes back to the old advice: Don’t feed the trolls. By creating any public list, voting based system or whatever, I would be feeding the trolls. My problem is that I don’t really understand the psychology of trolls, so I keep thinking up all kinds of elaborate systems which all fail in the same way: By acknowledging the trolls, feeding them.

Fighting something by ignoring it is really hard.

8 Responses to “Feeding the trolls”


  1. You have mentioned Stack Overflow which is quite successful in getting rid of meaningless discussions and posts by promoting meaningful ones. I guess its the way to go.

    Your mistake is you cannot do such things globally. It would be socialist-like. Don’t want. Every community has its own rules and I can imagine ones that consist of trolls only and enjoy it🙂

    • chopmo Says:

      A trolls-only community…now there’s an idea! The rest of us would then piss them off by trying to force decency into it😉

  2. Kevin Lyda Says:

    opt-in.

    That’s the solution to this problem and several others. Don’t allow user A to add user B to a project without checking with user B. Adding a user to a project changes an aspect of that user’s page on the site – therefore the user should have a say.

    The general rule should be as follows: if an action will cause something to be viewable by others on pages associated with a user, make sure the user has given permission for that action. If not, ask the user. Allow the user a way to say yes/no now/permanently.

    This does not seem complicated and yet for some reason it is for many people.

    • chopmo Says:

      Yes, for the Github issue that started this discussion, that seems to be the obvious solution. To me it looks like an oversight which they should just fix as soon as possible.

  3. Sam Cook Says:

    I’m not sure if it’s still used but the slashdot “random person now has mod points” system was pretty good; as is the system stack overflow uses I think ultimately though you just have to work hard on having an non-anonymous community and if possible keeping an outflow for dicking around and trolling and make sure that it’s not the serious discussion.

    • chopmo Says:

      I agree, the SO system is great and their success is well deserved. I wonder how that system would work internet-wide? In cases where a canonical identity can be established, of course.

  4. Darren Says:

    No system will beat trolls imo, by my definition trolls are people who go out of their way to cause troll. Why do they do this? To get a reaction for their entertainment. I think in most cases is to try and ignore them, try and minimize their impact to make this easier but they usually do lose interest. The biggest mistake you can do is lose face, and bring your pride into it.

    Thanks my opinion on trolls!


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