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Dealing with Internet Trolls - the Cognitive Therapy Approach
March 6, 2011 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Author Shlomi Fish offers advice on how to more effectively disarm Internet trolls using techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
posted by ChrisHartley (56 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Since this is Metafilter, I'm just going to sit back and let the mods give him a time out.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:41 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reads like advice from an out of touch mom on how to avoid/deal with bullying. Like in Freaks and Geeks when Sam's mom makes them all sit around the kitchen table and tell compliment him because he's afraid to take a shower in gym class.

"Lindsay, tell your brother he has a beautiful body."
posted by nathancaswell at 3:41 PM on March 6, 2011 [19 favorites]


But... isn't this a way to essentially waste your time letting someone hostile define how the conversation operates? Even if the troll is acting in good faith (which seems pretty often not to be the case), you spend all your time educating rather than, you know, having a conversation that you might enjoy....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:41 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do not pamper the troll!
oh, horseshoes
posted by clavdivs at 3:44 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fish's advice can be summed up as "assume no malice," which is pretty much my moderating mantra. (I think I got that from Wikipedia's guidelines, but that was a while ago.) If someone is being intentionally difficult, you'll give them no satisfaction. If they're unintentionally being problematic, you won't start a needless flame war.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Trolls, by definition, are not acting in good faith.

He's talking about how to deal with 'angry people who disagree with you'.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2011 [18 favorites]


I use some of his techniques when interacting with some strong personalities on IRC. I don't see it actually doing much more than putting off the inevitable.
posted by clvrmnky at 3:48 PM on March 6, 2011


FFFishes' advice is fuck 'em.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:54 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm... In a lot of ways metafilter is a lot more like IRC then threaded discussions like slashdot or reddit. One troll can 'derail' the conversation and basically ruin it. On the other hand, if you have threaded discussions, there's no real 'rail' to get thrown off of.

But yeah this person doesn't really get "trolling" The point is to waste people's time and piss them off. Engaging with them only furthers that, if you're trying to be positive they may get bored.
posted by delmoi at 3:56 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, Perl fundamentalist Christianity is a nice language religion, and I agree that Python Islam has its downsides and/or trade-offs in comparison to Perl fundamentalist Christianity. Would you agree that some people like Perl fundamentalist Christianity better and some like Python Islam better? (And some may like both equally.). Maybe you can still write Python code tolerate Islam and be productive in it while still not in love with it. Who knows, maybe you'll even grow to like it. Feel free to stick around and ask questions.

That should do the trick.
posted by scody at 3:58 PM on March 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


This sucks and so does Perl.
posted by caddis at 4:08 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Jesus, that's a lot of work.

My method of dealing with trolls on my site: Once I've identified them as trolls (and after close to two decades of being online, my troll sense is pretty damn good), I expunge their comments. When/if troll comes back to troll again, I expunge a second time and put the troll on the ban list. Not that they usually come back after two deletions, since trolls live to be assholes, not to bang their head against a moderation wall. Troll problem solved.

Some people are just assholes badly expressing an opinion, not actual trolls. Those people I generally tell to try again, more civilly, or they get the mallet. Some do and are fine. Others don't and out they go.

It works for me.
posted by jscalzi at 4:09 PM on March 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


... but we will still accept him here.
posted by caddis at 4:11 PM on March 6, 2011


The single best way to deal with a troll is deletion. Nothing makes pests go away faster than knowing all their effort will go into the void - ideal before it sees the light of day.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 4:11 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Give them an inch and they'll take a mile.

Hmm, Obama should learn that too.
posted by Max Power at 4:15 PM on March 6, 2011


I'd find this whole idea a lot more convincing if he could give an example of its ever having worked.
posted by moss at 4:16 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


The single best way to deal with a troll is deletion. Nothing makes pests go away faster than knowing all their effort will go into the void - ideal before it sees the light of day.

Yup. Just like vandals: keep removing their work until they give up.
posted by davel at 4:18 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with banning trolls is that they know they've been banned. If they're committed griefers, they'll sign back up under a different name and continue to piss in the well.

Seems like a better way would be to have an "invisible man" setting, where they can interact with the site as usual, but nobody else sees their posts. Some would eventually cop to the fact that they've been invisiblized, I suppose.
posted by adamrice at 4:20 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've found that the other CBT is more effective in this sort of thing.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:20 PM on March 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


Well, that or use the Jay and Silent Bob approach from the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 4:21 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does this mean I should stop going on the rare chicken breeders forum and requesting information on which birds fight the best?

All I can think of when I read this is how to use this as a troll.
posted by Felex at 4:22 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd find this whole idea a lot more convincing if he could give an example of its ever having worked.

I've seen it work, although I don't think I could find you links or anything.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:23 PM on March 6, 2011


We don't get too many people here who I would consider out and out trolls, though we do have some people who are abrasive about their unpopular opinions which sometimes makes the indistinguishable from trolls to most people.

The basic way we deal with troll-seeming people here is pretty simple. We don't let people call other people trolls to the extent that we can manage that sort of thing [i.e. we'll delete those comments if we see them earlier, we'll shut down a derail about trollishness or divert it to MetaTalk if we can't do that]. This way random troll-name-calling isn't a way to tell people to shut up. If someone's really holding a thread hostage and not giving it up we'll usually step in and try to do something about the taking-on-all-comers behavior and not the unpopular opinions. We'll try to get people to take stuff to MeMail. We stress thatbeing part of a large community means that basically no thread should turn into a referendum on one person's opinions [and interrogation of same, if it can be helped anyhow].

Finally our last weapon in our arsenal is basically saying in as dispassionate a way as possible: "People seem to think that you are a troll. While you may not be trolling MetaFilter, you seem to be having some sort of communication problem with other people here that is causing them to think this. At this point, now that we've pointed this out to you (and everyone else in the thread) it's sort of on you to make some changes so that you no longer seem to be a troll. That is, if you are not a troll. Let me know if you need some help with this."

It's a really rare situation where this sort of thing doesn't work. We have members who are having good weeks and bad weeks. Or people who have sworn enemies who they occasionally mix it up with. And I'm certainly not a pollyanna "assume good faith, always" person; we'll ban your ass if we think you're fucking with us. That said, I think we have a decent record here and while I like the ideas that this essay puts forward about not dehumanizing trolls and trying to have adult conversations with them, I do think that letting the troll set the terms of the discussion is a bad first move. I think you make trolling against the rules and then act pretty openly with people to help them not be mistaken for trolls. People who can't or won't put in the effort are shown the door and the Brand New Day policy if they want to try again.
posted by jessamyn at 4:23 PM on March 6, 2011 [15 favorites]


Must. fight. urge. to. write. trolling. Shlomi. guide.
posted by klangklangston at 4:30 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has helped me deal with trolls.
Since I've been undergoing it I troll less and get less irrationally angry.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:31 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I used to troll LJ Debate (because they're such earnest libtards and Randroids), as well as a handful of Christian fora and, of course, /b/ (though trolling /b/ is more like call and response raps), as well as some local newspaper article comment threads.

What he's talking about isn't really trolling, and if it is, it's inept. Trolling isn't Bevets, it's going for the hilarious over-reaction, ideally one that shows that the supposed protectors of all that's right and rational are just as clueless and emotional as the people they ride on.

There are a couple of problems with his premise, the first being that it's possible to beat a determined troll. For the vast majority of places, you can keep disrupting the conversation, pulling what the kids call "teh lulz" out of clueless interlocutors and mods… The exceptions really are, like, private fora and places with significant barriers to entry.

The second problem is that his methods really only work on drive-by trolls or the equivalent of internet hecklers. Like, one of the most consistently entertaining patterns of trolling is the patient, reasonable person who disagrees with you, because they'll keep the focus on the troll and allow the troll to control the conversation. Reasonable questions are easy to ignore, counter-examples are turned into intentional misunderstandings, and when someone attempts to find common ground, you just turn it into both of you agreeing to something moronic or extreme ("So, I think what we're both saying is that Hitler was a devout Christian.").

Metafilter's mods do a good job, the $5 means that it's easier to troll somewhere else for free, and weirdly, the unthreaded nature gives fewer places to have those weird one-on-one trollings that routinely yield the best stuff.
posted by klangklangston at 4:51 PM on March 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


The best way to deal with trolls is to sic Jessamyn on them.
posted by bwg at 4:52 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


RAWR. Never doubt that earnest clueless sincerity can change the world. In fact it's the only thing that ever has!
posted by jessamyn at 4:57 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Don't feed the trolls" doesn't mean "don't respond to people you think are trolls". It means don't give them what they want; don't argue against them, don't get mad at them. If you can't respond without doing one of those things, sure, best not to respond at all. But if you can respond like a reasonable person, then if they're really a troll, it will become immediately obvious.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:00 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The way to deal with trolls is to trick them into arguing about how best to cook a meal of hobbit and dwarves until the sun comes up and they turn to stone.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:15 PM on March 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


This reads like advice from an out of touch mom on how to avoid/deal with bullying.

I had the exact same sense. Only a classmate bully has to be lived with on a daily basis, and so you're forced into some kind of accommodation.

A troll, OTOH, is someone you can very easily not have anything to do with ever. The best way to deal with a troll or a bully is just to refuse to play their game in the first place. Do not engage. Don't feed the troll.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:18 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went to Oberlin and there was a guy in my class named Tom Wooding (God rest his soul). Tom looked like he should go to Oberlin: very crunchy granola, but he had this skill where he would sit down with a group of people and ask some morally ambiguous question that would turn people against each other in seconds. Tom sat back and enjoyed the show. He had it down to an art. He sounded so sincere and so naive, but he could figure out exactly where the buttons were and come up with just the right thing to get everyone else to push them.

I miss Tom. Tom wasn't just a troll - he was an artist.
posted by plinth at 5:25 PM on March 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


The best way to deal with trolls is to sic Jessamyn on them.

Although this is hard on jessamyns, who are not necessarily a renewable resource....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:26 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The natural enemy of the troll is THE BANHAMMER.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:39 PM on March 6, 2011


Outside the blue I enjoy counter-trolling trolls. The circumstances have to be right (it has to be a subject I'm pretty knowledgeable about, I have to have tons of free time and it can't be a total derailment of any actual conversation (so Mefi is out 99% of the time).

The technique is straightforward, as LogicalDash points out: you disagree with them as politely, constructively and intelligently as you possibly can. It's more like a staring contest than an actual debate; they want you to lose your temper and freak out so the calmer and more absolutely fascinated in their point of view you can appear the better.

It's absolutely sublime when you know they're trolling, they know you're trolling them, you know they know, etc yet everyone is participating in a sort of surrealist performance art interpretation of a game of chicken.

I don't have the free time lately to engage like that lately and obviously it's not a solution for the trolling problem in the general case (ban the fuckers) but man, trolling is a art.
posted by Skorgu at 5:41 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, all that sounds sensible, but deeply unsatisfying.

FUCK YOU TROLLZ!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:49 PM on March 6, 2011


"Repeat that a few times and the troll will eventually calm down and will become more friendly and hospitable."

Have Internet trolls become completely pathetic in the last few years? Or does this person have absolutely no idea what a troll is? Or perhaps the only trolls he's dealt with are bored 12 years olds who aren't even trying.

Because these techniques are pure win from a trolling perspective. In fact his techniques actually work better as trolling techniques.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:55 PM on March 6, 2011


Because these techniques are pure win from a trolling perspective. In fact his techniques actually work better as trolling techniques.

Really? Why do you say that?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:58 PM on March 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Outside the blue I enjoy counter-trolling trolls.

and the best way to do this is to trick them into contradicting themselves or overreaching

but these days, the pickin's are slim - most of the trolls out there are so bald and unsubtle about it and so unable to carry on a coherent conversation that it's hardly worth replying to them
posted by pyramid termite at 6:16 PM on March 6, 2011


I wonder how well using an Eliza like approach would work against a troll.
"How does that make you feel?"
"Please go on"
"How do you think python sucking has effected your life?"
etc.
Has anyone ever seen this done and if so, what were the results like? I tend to think the troll might just ignore the person, but if you try to treat their trolling as a psychiatric disease, it might be interesting.
posted by Hactar at 6:20 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is this article actually a clever troll?

Seriously, with proper trolls, like Adequacy they would love this guy until they got bored of him at which point they'd come up with some other way to annoy him.

This guy is, in essence, encouraging people to give trolls attention, just as they'd like.

Troll can even be useful. For instance before posting any current affairs related topic at MeFi perhaps the poster should be made to read and answer questions on Why the bombings mean you must support my politics.
posted by sien at 6:58 PM on March 6, 2011


It means don't give them what they want; don't argue against them, don't get mad at them. If you can't respond without doing one of those things, sure, best not to respond at all.

It's tough, but once I started doing this, I found myself much less aggravated about what trolls do. Killfiles work, too. Out of sight, out of mind.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:10 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fundamental issue here is distinguishing a real troll from an obnoxious poster.

Trolls, by definition, are not acting in good faith.
He's talking about how to deal with 'angry people who disagree with you'.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:45 PM on March 6


That's exactly it. It's important to not rise to the bait in either situation though.
posted by Xoebe at 7:15 PM on March 6, 2011


It looks like not everyone here is using the same definition of troll. A troll is not some loud, angry person; the really masterful ones are just as plinth described. When they strike, more often then not, you don't even realize that they've sabotaged you. They're like thread ninjas. Metafilter, with it's fairly draconian moderation policies, has bred several highly skilled trolls.
posted by indubitable at 7:17 PM on March 6, 2011


Metafilter, with it's fairly draconian moderation policies

I can tell you are trolling because of the apostrophe.
posted by jessamyn at 7:20 PM on March 6, 2011 [15 favorites]


I wonder how well using an Eliza like approach would work against a troll.
"How does that make you feel?"
"Please go on"
"How do you think python sucking has effected your life?"


I thought that was the Cleverbot approach. I have been spending too much time on the interwebs.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:37 PM on March 6, 2011


From the article:"Why do you feel that Python is so bad? What do you find wrong with it?"

Ugh. I can picture some creepy, new-agey twit saying this, with raised eyebrows and an overly mild tone of voice. It feels gross and manipulative.

That's also not how you deal with people who are not acting in good faith.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:00 PM on March 6, 2011


Seems like a better way would be to have an "invisible man" setting, where they can interact with the site as usual, but nobody else sees their posts. Some would eventually cop to the fact that they've been invisiblized, I suppose.

I set up Facebook's new comment widget for a client just today. The moderator panel includes two options:

1. Hide the comment
2. Ban the user

If the moderator opts to hide the comment, it can still be seen by the hidden user and his/her friends.
posted by mph at 9:15 PM on March 6, 2011


Advice on interpersonal relations and making people like you more/bully you less from an Objectivist? Yeah, that'll work.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:09 PM on March 6, 2011


Exterminate the brutes.
posted by Artw at 11:14 PM on March 6, 2011


nathancaswell: "The way to deal with trolls is to trick them into arguing about how best to cook a meal of hobbit and dwarves until the sun comes up and they turn to stone."

Hah. I originally read this as a legitimate anti-internet-trolling method. Then I re-read the last half of the sentence and got the LOTR reference. Then I realized that getting a troll to start debating LOTR would, in fact, be a rather elegant anti-trolling method.

Nicely done.
posted by Arandia at 11:55 PM on March 6, 2011


Seems like a better way would be to have an "invisible man" setting, where they can interact with the site as usual, but nobody else sees their posts. Some would eventually cop to the fact that they've been invisiblized, I suppose.

Yes, that is the rumored "NinjaBan" I hear about on Reddit.

One thing I have found through lengthy experience on the internet is that some trolls have a demented persistence that can only be discouraged in real life by an unexpected meeting with a hired Private Detective and part-time bouncer named "Tiny."
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:03 AM on March 7, 2011


NPR tightens moderation in response to trolls. "About two percent" of their commentators break discussion rules.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:08 AM on March 7, 2011


Here's another article about the same decision and moderation in general over at Poynter. Fair warning: they interviewed me, and say some nice things about MetaFilter.
posted by jessamyn at 8:10 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Confession: Sometimes I want to create a sockpuppet account and troll just so I can see jessamyn's Deep Magic at work. BTW, thanks again for the great insights for the article, jessamyn!
posted by grrarrgh00 at 8:29 AM on March 7, 2011


For instance before posting any current affairs related topic at MeFi perhaps the poster should be made to read and answer questions on Why the bombings mean you must support my politics.

Adequacy.org provides one of those rare historical archives of Classic Trolling, juxtaposed against the era of Slashdot (when it was readable), kuro5hin and other slashcode-y sites. It's late-vintage classic trolling, since it's on the web and not Usenet, but something like this is masterfully done.

I've long wanted to see the term migrate from the realm of online discussions and be applied to "traditional" media: the deliberately provocative op-ed or book, the cablenews show that baits its viewers. I also think that it would challenge some of the one-sidedness of this discussion: newspaper/mass-media site comments are generally atrocious, and some require decontamination after reading, but there's also a long history of trolling from on high.
posted by holgate at 10:31 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


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