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It Ain't Me, Babe (or is it?)
January 4, 2007 12:58 AM   Subscribe

. . . a group of us were talking about a particularly irksome message board contributor and the subject of sociopathy came up again. This particular person seemed to be oblivious to the rules of the board, didn't pick up on the social cues of other participants or moderators to modify his behavior, and was making public personal attacks against others while complaining that others were doing the same to him, even though they were not. Anyone who runs a community site, has comments on their blog, or participates on a message board knows this guy -- and it usually is a guy. Maybe he just suffers from cyber-disinhibition. One guy has some ideas about the problem.
posted by landis (60 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
One guy has some ideas about the problem?

So do these guys.
posted by duende at 1:21 AM on January 4, 2007


"The internet is turning us into psychopaths". "Friends Reunited ruined my mariage." Yadda yadda.

No-one these days blames the post office for crazies sending letters, nor if their partner is writing love letters to others do they blame the mail for ruining their marriage.

There's always crazies and they will adapt the tools that society uses to their crazy aims (message boards, guns, spy cameras etc).

Other than the anonimity and effectiveness of these tools (meaning you can annoy, shoot, spy on more people depending upon their thing) I don't think it leads to a qualitive change in sociopaths or psychopaths behavior or increases their number.
posted by Gratishades at 1:47 AM on January 4, 2007


The most pleasant community site I check in on from time-to-time is one which requires real names be used--the site operators even do a very minor cursory check to weed out the "Heywood Jablomes" and clones. It really is remarkable how much more civil a board is by that simple requirement.

But some places anonymity is OK. Here, I generally find derail threads amusing because there are so many smart people to poke holes in the balloons of the idiots...and lord knows I post stuff deserving a poke, too. But if you go to a board hoping for health or financial insight, or even model building tips, nothing is more discouraging than seeing nothing but flamewars.
posted by maxwelton at 2:16 AM on January 4, 2007


LOL noobs.

I think that pretty much everyone using message boards for the first time gets a bit antsy. It's only later when people become attached to their internet identities that things stop being so "sociopathic".

This current rash of bad behaviour is nothing more than the world joining the internet and using it for the first time. Given a few years it'll settle down to more normal behaviour.

/my opinion. Of course.
posted by seanyboy at 2:23 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can't be the only one who saw this post and immediately had a mefi user come to mind.
posted by beth at 2:30 AM on January 4, 2007


I can't be the only one who saw this post and immediately had a mefi user come to mind.
Quit copying me, Beth, jeez.
posted by dong_resin at 3:03 AM on January 4, 2007


Trolls are a problem is any anonymous forum, but that's not a new phenomenon. Surely USENET was every bit as fractious as any "Web 2.0 user-generated content... blah... blah" site is today.
posted by mr. strange at 3:59 AM on January 4, 2007


I can't be the only one who saw this post and immediately had a mefi user come to mind.

shut the fuck up, bitch.

Trolls are a problem...

that word does not mean what you think it means.
posted by quonsar at 4:14 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is about me, isn't it?

Troll.
posted by EarBucket at 4:25 AM on January 4, 2007


But instead of finding common ground, we’re finding new ways to spit on the other guy, to push them away. The Internet is making it easier to attack, not to embrace.

In the physical world you spit on someone you get your ass kicked. The person you spit on isn't bigger? Then they get their big friends, or perhaps the cops, to go kick your ass. On the internets they just spit back. Ass kicking seems to work better as a form of social control.
posted by caddis at 4:37 AM on January 4, 2007


I can't be the only one who saw this post and immediately had a mefi user come to mind.
Only one? or only one recently?
posted by adamvasco at 4:38 AM on January 4, 2007


You liberal appeasers wouldn't know a troll if it blew an orange flame out of Saddam's capacious well-hung asshole and jet-propelled you squidgets into the oughties.

I'm also pushing for mandatory tie-wearing for contributors for this board. Standards have slipped far enough as it is.
posted by Wolof at 4:39 AM on January 4, 2007


Your an idoit.

Made me immediately think of a Mac user board where there's a guy who's evaded bans at least 150 times. Changes IP addresses, comes back makes a new login, then proceeds to harass and harangue whoever it was that caused his last ban (usually by pointing him out to a mod) until he's banned again. It's been going on for FIVE YEARS. He's gotten 3 or 4 other people lathered up enough to get them banned for general bad behavior, too. I've had to stop visiting altogether because of him, and one other sociopath who's got more nuanced skills and manages to harass everyone politically to the left of Barry Goldwater to the point of distraction, but does so in a way that very carefully walks the edge of the forum bannination guidelines. For 13,000 posts.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:40 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


/obviously drubk
posted by Wolof at 4:41 AM on January 4, 2007


You are all idiots if you disagree with me.

That said , a couple of MY theories, the most precious of the universe, but it goes without saying you assholes. POOP.

1) Anonymity doesn't cause "lack of common courtesy" or "attention whoring" . In my opinion, it may allow whatever is causing these behaviors to surface more easily, as people don't feel -constricted- by debateable unwritten social rules.

For instance take a kid that is so much in fear of others (unconsciously) that he constantly approaches others with irony, sarcasm or looking for "a weak point" , showing a defensive behavior hidden behind the joke-aggression.It may as well happen that ,in a real life situation, he/she couldn't handle the stress of constant attacking, nor be able to handle the likely comebacks/responses to his attitude.

Therefore as this behavior, if repeated at libitum, becomes too stressing he may choose to self isolate and adopt what is really the behavior of a timid person, unconscious of the cause of the stress that is troubling him.

On internet or in similar settings these people do leave a track, expecially in forums ; the _relative_ anonymity setting allows them to CHOOSE a behavior, eventually experimenting new behaviors or, with a stroke of luck, meet somebody that can point the elephant in the room or just have them notice the incongruency of their tought.

2) Exposure to irritating, in your face, no social conventional barriers behavior doesn't always imply negative consequences.

In "real life" argumenting may not be a socially tolerated or encouraged behavior, because some focus only on its emotional aspects, expecially knee-jerk reactions. Many people also think that arguing their tought is the same as arguing their person and take any arguining as a persona l attack, consequently showing fight or flight behaviors. As they can also be irritated by what they deem to be uncomfortable toughts or displays, they usually label the arguer as "a polemic person"

On internet, thanks primarily to anonymity and the impossibility of just punching your "opponent" or silencing him under a torrent of ONONONONONONONONONOASSHOLE ( look at any lively politician debates, they talk over each other) people can find a ground to express whatever goes in their brain and maybe find a way to express their tought.

It seems to me that all this freedom, the _lack_ of normation and the ineffectivenes of many fear based techniques (such as "you don't get paid if you write against my sponsor" or "if you don't agree with party line, your are fired") is a significant social blessing that embodies part of the idea of "freedom of speech"

I'm also pushing for mandatory tie-wearing for contributors for this board. Standards have slipped far enough as it is.
I concur, but I deem your opinion to be stupid because you are not wearing underwear on your pants, so I can't know if you change it regularly you nasty boy.
posted by elpapacito at 4:44 AM on January 4, 2007


Surely USENET was every bit as fractious

Now there's an interesting bit of research - who can find the earliest electronic evidence of the troll? This would seem to me to be a watershed moment in archaeology, like the laetoli footprints or the Olduwan toolmaking of Homo Habilis.
posted by CynicalKnight at 5:11 AM on January 4, 2007


USENET was way worse, on average, than any forum I currently read. It probably still is, only more so.

And quonsar, either you have the most delicious sense of irony on MeFi, or you should be on USENET.
posted by spitbull at 5:14 AM on January 4, 2007


i'm wearing underwear on my pants , do i get a prize?
posted by nola at 5:16 AM on January 4, 2007


Meh. The last link in particular ("One guy has some ideas ...") is a joke - this isn't new; online rudeness has existed since Morse code, I believe, and I think it's a stage that alot of us go through (and some stay stuck in)

Yeah, early on I was occasionally a usenet jerk too. After a couple of smackdowns where it turns out I was wrong, and after thinking about why I was letting myself get agitated about debates with anonymous text, I sort of reformed myself. I try to avoid any pointless debates, and in general conduct myself as if I was in the same room with the person.

Which isn't to say that i never argue online anymore... I will debate occasionally if it's important, or for fun :)
posted by Artful Codger at 5:40 AM on January 4, 2007


I think one's sensitivity to this sort of thing may be swayed by one's professional proximity to newspaper story-comment threads, which are among the worst cesspools.

MetaFilter does pretty well. Wikipedia does pretty well, actually. So it's very possible to overcome this, but you need either strong moderation or strong community.
posted by dhartung at 5:47 AM on January 4, 2007


It is the eternal September.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:01 AM on January 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


*Confessor waves*
posted by The Confessor at 6:02 AM on January 4, 2007


I used to frequent this message board out of St Louis blighted by an obnoxious troll. Other posters complained constantly about this guy even as they rushed to respond to his trollisms.
posted by wrapper at 6:03 AM on January 4, 2007


More than fifteen years ago I actually removed the modem from my computer for awhile after leaving a farewell message on the local BBS over this very sort of thing. I'd post that message somewhere if I wasn't at work; I think I still have it. While I (obviously) recanted my abdication of electronic media, I still think my conclusions from that early time were spot-on.

I think the problem with online communication is that the feedback mechanisms that inhibit such behavior in RL are not present. And I don't just mean the possibility of your victim punching you out (though in a lot of cases it does come to that). I think it starts at a much subtler level.

Online life feels like RL to us in many ways, so much so that we are comfortable coming here to form communities. But OL doesn't provide all of the cues and sensations we are wired to expect. And so when our behavior drifts in an antisocial direction, the little feedback mechanisms which would cause us to correct course in RL -- the disgusted glance away, people getting up to take a toilet break, the voice raised not in anger but astonishment -- none of these come through. It's so modulated, unless it blows completely over the top, that for some people it doesn't seem real unless it does blow completely over the top.

There is a clean break between the deliberate trolls and normal people in that the former believe there is a bright line between RL and OL and that what happens OL stays OL; normal people (rightly IMO) draw no such distinction. But it's also possible for normal people to drift into trollishness without realizing why, simply because when you get passionate and RAISE YOUR VOICE and want to frantically emphasize your point, you can end up turning into a site vandal without even realizing how much distress you're causing or how counterproductive you're being. It's a hazard of this kind of space that I observed even on BBS at 1200 baud, and I don't think it's going to change any time soon.
posted by localroger at 6:21 AM on January 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


People can be assholes online, I don't think that makes them psychopaths or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 6:21 AM on January 4, 2007


a 37 signals round-up on the issue from a week or so ago.
posted by empath at 6:27 AM on January 4, 2007


I miss that satisfying "kick" sound in IRC (Mac, Ircle). With the problem gone, that sound snapped you to attention and brought everyone back to the original discussion. Because there's nothing worse than those idiots who... derail...

nevermind.
posted by hal9k at 6:41 AM on January 4, 2007


To the untrained eye.... it appears that someone is attempting to single someone out. This almost sounds personal. *checks number of comments*, no, no, no it ain't me babe.
posted by winks007 at 7:02 AM on January 4, 2007


It annoys me the way people throw around words like "psychopath" and "sociopath." I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm as annoyed by online trolls as everyone else. However, to my mind, if you're just annoying people on a message board, and not, say, raping or killing or starting unjust wars, you're not a psychopath. You're just annoying.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:04 AM on January 4, 2007


You're so vain, you probably think this post is about you...
posted by clevershark at 7:09 AM on January 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


I run a large community site and damn, I wish I could understand some of the things people do there, why it's so important to them to carry on the way they do. It's just mystifying why this type spends so much time and energy being destructive to a community that they obviously feel connected to enough to spend that time and energy there. Y'know?

(I don't think these people are sociopathic or psychopathic though. They may have sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies or qualities but as I understand it those terms have clinical definitions.)

Usenet was super-fractious. The groups I was in regularly were very volatile. Most people joining were reading the group without posting until they understood the dynamic -- I don't think that happens much now. So much of the (useful) structure and conventions of earlier Internet have just been worn away. But then I'm a bitter old hag who dies a little bit inside when I have to top-reply in Outlook at work.
posted by loiseau at 7:11 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just following up on Afroblanco and delmoi:

"Normal" covers a broad range of traits and behaviors, many of which you may not like very much. The presence of such a trait or behavior is not necessarily evidence of a deep-rooted personality disorder.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:15 AM on January 4, 2007


Everyone knows the internet invented jerks and jerks invented the internet.

Before this evil existed we all lived in harmonious tightly knit communities. Like the Eloi. But then the evil Morlocks gave us this versatile communication tool, oh but at a terrible cost. As we innocently and naively traverse this ever expanding catalog of knowledge, the morlocks lurk in the shadows, waiting to strike.

"N00B!!!"

OMG. There's one now.

In as much seriousness as I can possibly muster, I am so very tired of this snowballing theory that the internet is a haven for antisocial behavior. When you use words like "sociopath" and "psychopath", you're talking about antisocial behavior. But the root of much of the activity on the internet is social. It is a network. It is a web of people connected by a great external nervous system interacting in ways that couldn't be fathomed when my parents were my age. The internet is a quantum leap forward in the evolution of human interaction. If trolls, flamers, and people who subject us to poorly thought out FPP were truly antisocial they'd probably avoid the internet.

I probably don't understand the concepts of sociopath, psychopath, and antisocial as well as I think I do, but I damn sure understand it better than people who keep this ridiculous theory going.

Besides, I know I have my fellow Mefites to help me understand the terms better. Their input will help me reshape my arguement and force me to reconsider my thoughts. Which helps me communicate more effectively both on the internet and IRL.

Can't believe I used IRL. Have at me kids.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 7:16 AM on January 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Funny thing about online trolls is that you just know that trolling fills some sort of personal need for them. I wonder what they did before the internet/usenet/bbses?
posted by Afroblanco at 7:27 AM on January 4, 2007


All these modern diagnoses of "x rage" and sociopathy are just another manifestation of the "restless leg syndrome" syndrome -- the result of an overwhelming desire to see all sorts of normal human traits as diseases.

Do you think the guy who shows signs of "road rage", "web rage" or "parking lot rage" (my favorite) is a perfectly balanced individual at home? I think not. But he's not the prey of some abnormal psychological problem -- he's just an impatient asshole who doesn't want to do fuck-all to change his own behavior.
posted by clevershark at 7:28 AM on January 4, 2007


seanyboy writes "Given a few years it'll settle down to more normal behaviour. "

I think the September that never ended kills this hope. With half a million people being born every year in the States alone we're always going to have clueless noobs floating around.

spitbull writes "USENET was way worse, on average, than any forum I currently read. It probably still is, only more so."

Agree. Probably because it was 1% college staff, 1% compuserve, 1% hackers, 12% assorted goverment and contractors and 80% college student (and probably half of them were 1st year students who weren't yet buried under work).
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 AM on January 4, 2007


It annoys me the way people throw around words like "psychopath" and "sociopath."

people throw the word "troll" around too much, too

There is a clean break between the deliberate trolls and normal people in that the former believe there is a bright line between RL and OL and that what happens OL stays OL

no, localroger, that's too gross a generalization ... pirates and file sharers get upset when that line is crossed also, many nontrolls think there's a bright line, too (witness all the outrage whenever someone gets fired for a blog), and i'm not sure all trolls think there's a seperation

you don't, and you trolled k5 once or twice, didn't you? ... therefore, not all trolls believe as you say they do ...

Funny thing about online trolls is that you just know that trolling fills some sort of personal need for them.

maybe, maybe not ... the best trolls are those who get their targets to reveal parts of themselves they otherwise wouldn't reveal ... and don't be surprised that the expert ones operate in rl, too ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:19 AM on January 4, 2007


Can't believe I used IRL. Have at me kids.

Would you like a cookie? I made them and haven't even eated them yet. They're maliciously delicious.
posted by loquacious at 8:20 AM on January 4, 2007


> one other sociopath who's got more nuanced skills and manages to harass everyone
> politically to the left of Barry Goldwater to the point of distraction, but does so in a
> way that very carefully walks the edge of the forum bannination guidelines. For 13,000 posts.

Who and where? I want to take lessons.
posted by jfuller at 8:28 AM on January 4, 2007


However, to my mind, if you're just annoying people on a message board, and not, say, raping or killing or starting unjust wars, you're not a psychopath. You're just annoying.

As with most things there is a spectrum of sociopathic behaviours.

'Many mental health professionals refer to the condition of little or no conscience as "anti-social personality disorder," a non-correctable disfigurement of character that is now thought to be present in about 4 percent of the population - that is to say, one in twenty-five people. This condition of missing conscience is called by other names, too, most often "sociopathy," or the somewhat more familiar term psychopathy. Guiltlessness was in fact the first personality disorder to be recognized by psychiatry, and terms that have been used at times over the past century include manie sans délire, psychopathic inferiority, moral insanity, and moral imbecility.'

1 in 25. How many are in here at the moment?
posted by asok at 8:28 AM on January 4, 2007


I've heard that the use of IMG tags in online discussions generally improves communication, encourages friendlier discourse, and reduces sociopathic behavior.
posted by cenoxo at 8:31 AM on January 4, 2007


Note: not all annoying people on the Internet are trolls. The difference is intention. Trolls are deliberately annoying because they want to get the rise out of you. Other annoying people include conceptualists, jokesters, n00bs/AOL/WebTV users, the socially stunted, and bumbling idiots. Two distinct groups dealt with two distinct ways.
posted by loiseau at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2007


jfuller writes "Who and where? I want to take lessons."

Take them? You should teach...
posted by clevershark at 8:39 AM on January 4, 2007


I blame Al Gore.

You guys keep talking about me and I'm taking you to the MeTa woodshed.
posted by nofundy at 8:45 AM on January 4, 2007


I can't be the only one who saw this post and immediately had a mefi user come to mind.

I was thinking about this as I was reading the comments, thinking, "Nah... everyone here is pretty civil most of the time. Even when they get frustrated they still don't resort to the kind of name-calling and..."

and then I read *Confessor waves* and I almost fell out of my chair.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:47 AM on January 4, 2007


the best trolls are those who get their targets to reveal parts of themselves they otherwise wouldn't reveal ... and don't be surprised that the expert ones operate in rl, too ...

And these people are called.... assholes.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:59 AM on January 4, 2007


I hear Hitler was a sociopath, too -- but perhaps there are some mostly-forgotten observations that could apply here.
posted by jdfalk at 9:13 AM on January 4, 2007


And these people are called.... assholes.

or journalists ... or policemen ... or intelligence agents
posted by pyramid termite at 9:57 AM on January 4, 2007


landis is trolling for trolls. Interesting.

Hand-wringing about the loss of manners and politeness is borne solely from a self-absorbed fear of harsh criticism. If you can't take other people disagreeing with you, get off the internet and comb your hair.
posted by koeselitz at 10:07 AM on January 4, 2007


Pyramid Termite:

no, localroger, that's too gross a generalization ... pirates and file sharers get upset when that line is crossed also, many nontrolls think there's a bright line, too (witness all the outrage whenever someone gets fired for a blog), and i'm not sure all trolls think there's a seperation

you don't, and you trolled k5 once or twice, didn't you? ... therefore, not all trolls believe as you say they do ...


I was thinking more of people who self-identify as trolls and rise up to defend their "hobby" when it comes under criticism. Of course there are exceptions in both directions.

As for people who get fired for their blogs, I can't believe some of the self-identifying and potentially self-destructive shit I've read in blogs. As you suggest I don't personally think there's a line there and my term for those people is "dumbass."
posted by localroger at 10:20 AM on January 4, 2007


Baby_Balrog

I actually don't see myself as a troll. Contrarian, perhaps, but not a troll.

I don't engage in ad hominem attacks, I try not to hit-and-run, and the 'emote' thing is a bonafide habit; it's long been a part of how I engage in conversation on the Internet.
posted by The Confessor at 10:23 AM on January 4, 2007


I recently left one messageboard because of a sociopathic troll. Multiple identities, multiple accounts, deliberate misinterpretation, deliberate misstatements to rile people up - the guy was a master. In the old days of Usenet he would have been legendary. Now that the entire outpatient population of Western Psychopathia is wired, he's just another drop in the bucket.

Devils Rancher - is that Mac board guy - is it SteveJack? The dude who used to troll the MSNBC boards back in the day? If so I am impressed by his obsessive staying power.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:37 AM on January 4, 2007


all right you ^**&^%#(& i've had enough of your $($^* so you can just @!&%(#)$ up your *#_@!&&$* unti it %%(#!)^$*.
my own form of internet disinhibition occasionally compels me to holler out "any interesting wimmen in here wanna get 2gether w/one of the pacific northwest's most fun, sexy studmuffins?"
posted by bruce at 10:49 AM on January 4, 2007


There's no shortage of assholes in the world, that's for sure, but I've seen perfectly polite people flip out in online discussions on occasion. Even I've done it.

And that's one reason why I generally operate online using my real name (and when I use a user name, I use one which is easily tied to my real name). I'm also relatively forthcoming with details of my personal life. As a result, I'm more likely to think twice before opening my mouth, and when I DO go out on a limb, it seems I'm afforded a little more respect... perhaps because others see me as more of a real person? I know I tend to pay extra attention to the ideas and opinions of those who use their real names online and/or are forthcoming about who they really are, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with them.

Anyway, it's worked well for me, although I do occasionally worry it'll come back to bite me in the ass someday should I really piss someone off.

As for honest-to-goodness trolls, most of the forums I frequent are full of people with thick skin and/or a sense of humor, so we either ignore them entirely or taunt them to the point they wished they never set foot in the place. As for the one forum I moderate (for the past eight years), I generally ban them hard and fast. I don't have much patience for people who are committed to being jerks, and I'd rather not provide them the opportunity to make a mess out of things prior to getting the boot. I'm not much interested in trying to "change" a troll or teach him/her a lesson... I'd rather just be rid of 'em. Humor them too much early on, and you'll eventually pay the price, I think.
posted by jal0021 at 11:14 AM on January 4, 2007


So, does this mean Canada isn't a pathetic piece of shit?
posted by forrest at 12:00 PM on January 4, 2007


"I guess I never noticed how many fat people there are, until I sat next to one on a plane, and his pale, sweaty forearm pressed against me the whole flight." - anonymous
posted by rush at 1:16 PM on January 4, 2007


On the other hand, FPP has a nearly-entire-paragraph link AND it's from Kottke, yet none of the normally expected disparaging remarks about the FPP style (or esp. Kottke himself) have ensued.

Given this, maybe things are getting better.
posted by First Post at 1:23 PM on January 4, 2007


Bad FPP
posted by hellphish at 2:11 PM on January 4, 2007


I flagged it but there wasn't a category for "Harder to read than all caps because the whole post is underlined" so I'm unsure whether matt knew what was irksome about the post.
posted by Mitheral at 5:43 PM on January 4, 2007


is that Mac board guy - is it SteveJack? The dude who used to troll the MSNBC boards back in the day? If so I am impressed by his obsessive staying power.

This guy mainly haunts the lounge at MacNN, and is known as Ca$h, as that was his first account, at the beginning of a long string of banned accounts. Him and the other unmentionable dude (I don't want to get stalked) are really something else. I had a mod there turn off access to the lounge for me a few months back-- I just couldn't take it any more.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:13 PM on January 4, 2007


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