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Paul Graham on trolls
February 19, 2008 12:21 AM   Subscribe

I've thought a lot over the last couple years about the problem of trolls. It's an old one, as old as forums, but we're still just learning what the causes are and how to address them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (77 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The third cause of trolling is incompetence. If you disagree with something, it's easier to say "you suck" than to figure out and explain exactly what you disagree with. You're also safe that way from refutation. In this respect trolling is a lot like graffiti. Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.

Except that graffiti is oftentimes artistic, whereas shitting in a thread is just shitting in a thread.
posted by amyms at 12:34 AM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


There's a sort of Gresham's Law of trolls: trolls are willing to use a forum with a lot of thoughtful people in it, but thoughtful people aren't willing to use a forum with a lot of trolls in it.

That pretty much explains the whole "communities tend to suck over time" thing quite nicely.
posted by tehloki at 12:38 AM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


The third cause of trolling is incompetence. If you disagree with something, it's easier to say "you suck" than to figure out and explain exactly what you disagree with. You're also safe that way from refutation.

Hmph. Never thought of it that way before. That's a good point.

There's a sort of Gresham's Law of trolls: trolls are willing to use a forum with a lot of thoughtful people in it, but thoughtful people aren't willing to use a forum with a lot of trolls in it. Which means that once trolling takes hold, it tends to become the dominant culture.

This is what I call my declining standards theory. Good people come and go from online communities. They have options; other groups will welcome them. In any community, you'll gradually lose some of the really great people to other places, but the people who are just barely good enough to fit into the existing society will stick like glue. This brings the overall demeanor down, and attracts new, slightly more assholish people. They stick like glue also. Gradually, the standards slip and slip, and when the original great people notice and complain, those barely hanging on set up a huge ruckus. People hate conflict even more than they hate watching a community degenerate, so nothing is done amid the cries of 'elitist jerks!' ... and more good people leave. Eventually, the original culture is drowned out, and only the lowest common denominator remains.

To some degree, I think this is happening here; when I first arrived, I was a very dim bulb indeed compared to most of what I saw going on. I don't feel that way anymore, and I haven't particularly changed. And I'm starting to get annoyed at the incessant dumb posts on the front page, ones with grammar and spelling mistakes so bad that my English teachers would have thrown up their hands in horror. Declining standards.

I'm hopeful the mod influence here will prevent the worst of it; I respect all three tremendously.
posted by Malor at 12:39 AM on February 19, 2008 [8 favorites]


trolls?

...one must seal the wounds with fire or acid to prevent regeneration. Because of this, most adventurers will typically carry some sort of implement capable of creating fire.
posted by juv3nal at 12:41 AM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


juv3nal: "trolls? "

I usually just tin them or eat them on the spot.
posted by flatluigi at 12:43 AM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


Droll.
posted by wendell at 12:59 AM on February 19, 2008


amyms, that specific concern was addressed in the footnote of that article.
posted by maxwelton at 1:03 AM on February 19, 2008


How I miss the good old days, when a billy goat could outwit these bastards.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:27 AM on February 19, 2008 [9 favorites]



Eventually, the original culture is drowned out, and only the lowest common denominator remains.


OH NOES THE LAWN

IT MUST BE EMPTIED

(Seriously, I've participated in a long series of online communities, and the narrative of continuous decline has been trotted out in all of them. But it's not true. You idealize the good old days, when you were new and so impressed with jonson's posts or jessamyn's answers or quonsar's pantsfish, and now you're just here all the time, and it's no longer exciting. Decline is a purely subjective feeling, otherwise there would be very few communities left. This place has been around for almost a decade; how long is this effect supposed to take to kick in?)
Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.
- Cicero (attributed)
posted by nasreddin at 1:29 AM on February 19, 2008 [21 favorites]


flatluigi, you could always tame them, or read a scroll of genocide.
posted by JHarris at 1:32 AM on February 19, 2008


And I'm starting to get annoyed at the incessant dumb posts on the front page

I knew I should've read this thread before posting today...
posted by hadjiboy at 1:34 AM on February 19, 2008


Personally, I never write a single syllable on this website that I would now proudly say at the facial appendages of the person or persons whose eyeballs are intended to suck upon the syllabic glyphs first-mentioned.

Why, only the other day I accosted mine own Vicar, Father Poonswaggle, ambulating his merry corpulence upon the pathway churchwards. "Noble flock-handler!" cried I, "perchance that you might make a chronofractional pause in your peregrinations to accept inside your vast ear trumpet some greets poured straight out of this your penitent's lustly mouth-hole."

"By the fungal ganglia of St Basil's withered hand, yes" sayeth he (and immediately ceased his velocitating forwards).

"Ell oh ell, Christian ecks," spoke myself.

And thus the poor parish-pumper was undone. Why, he deliquesced upon the spot and all that was left of him was a quart of sanctified goo, trodden through thereafter by oblivious sheep and bugs.

My friends, let that sound the klaxon for you lest similar words of catalytic power distress your own chemicular bonds like-wise and dribble you all upon your keyboards. Truly the safest way to see this internet is without eyes and hence our dear paradigm Oedipus Motherfucker is a sure guide to leading the life that's good.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:56 AM on February 19, 2008 [40 favorites]


The third cause of trolling is incompetence. If you disagree with something, it's easier to say "you suck" than to figure out and explain exactly what you disagree with. You're also safe that way from refutation. In this respect trolling is a lot like graffiti. Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.

amyms: Except that graffiti is oftentimes artistic, whereas shitting in a thread is just shitting in a thread.

Hence, the footnote that was appended to that very statement from which you quote in Graham's article:
"I'm talking here about everyday tagging. Some graffiti is quite impressive (anything becomes art if you do it well enough) but the median tag is just visual spam."
posted by ericb at 2:07 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've often thought that Paul Graham is a troll, so I was enthused to see his analysis.
posted by gsb at 2:12 AM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


More than a year lurking here in Metafilter and I came out because of that graffiti metaphor.

That's a bad metaphor and it sounds more like tagging. Good graffiti is creation, its art, and far from being a mark on the world it's very likely to have whizzed by in front of Paul Graham while he was stopped at a railroad crossing at some point. None of the great artists ever had that kind of exposure!
& I will now give my first ever favorite to amyms for calling that metaphor on the first comment ...... kinda cool to actually be able to do that after all that time reading ..


holy shit, I'm not the lowest common denominator am I ?
posted by mannequito at 2:17 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fix trolling the MeFi way. People ignore the success here. Sure, there are trolls and things get deleted, but that $5 charge makes a huge difference and the place is surviving without becoming slashdot, reddit, digg or kuro5hin.
posted by sien at 2:17 AM on February 19, 2008


Really, has there been a backlash against me? I hadn't noticed any change. I actually worry a lot that as I get "popular" I'll be able to get away with saying stupider stuff than I would have dared say before. This sort of thing happens to a lot of people, and I would *really* like to avoid it. — Paul Graham
Dabblers and Blowhards

I would say that Paul Graham has been a troll for some time. His longtime, much bloviated-upon project to make a BRAVE NEW LISP was finally unveiled recently, and it is a turd. It turns out to be just a few thousand lines of macros on top of Scheme. It's actually less capable than the Scheme it runs on. He intentionally broke support for anything but ASCII, really just as a troll move to create controversy and maybe to keep people from actually using it.

He's spent years blabbering about how awesome he is for SAVING LISP with his awesome new Arc, but it turns out to be just a bit of syntactic sugar that introduces no new language features and breaks existing ones. His rationale for limiting it to ASCII was that he "never want(s) to blow a year dealing with characters", as Guido van Rossum had to with Python. The only reason Guido had to blow a year dealing with characters was because he didn't really have Unicode when he started. Paul Graham should fucking know better.

I'm usually vegetarian, so I usually either use cockatrice corpses or put them in holes
posted by blasdelf at 2:20 AM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


On preview: What maxwelton pointed out well over an hour before I did: "amyms, that specific concern was addressed in the footnote of that article."
posted by ericb at 2:24 AM on February 19, 2008


Paul Graham Sucks! LISP Sucks! You all SUCK!

Re: $5 Solution. Isn't Something Awful more expensive, and Total Fark a monthly $5? How's trolling there?
posted by Dr. Curare at 2:34 AM on February 19, 2008


As soon as he mentioned 'karma' he lost all credibility, and deserves to be trolled into eternity.

Calling 'troll' usually denotes that a group is insular, cliquish, self-righteously pious, and conforms to some received wisdom. Exactly the attributes that makes computer and technology groups ripe for trolling.
posted by lilburne at 2:51 AM on February 19, 2008


QUIET YOU! YOU'RE SCARING OFF ALL THE FISH!

/me misses quonsar.
posted by loquacious at 2:54 AM on February 19, 2008


Fix trolling the MeFi way.

Denial?
posted by Ritchie at 3:08 AM on February 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


Everyone is a troll.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 3:16 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


As usual, this one link post is generating little real analysis. I suspect it's because the one link is pretty short on quality. Here's my thoughts on the article as I read through it:

1. "as people rose to the bait." I guess it takes two to make a troll. Thanks for stepping up and taking responsibility.
2. "people who behaved like assholes", which is anyone who disagrees or doesn't tolerate blather. Plus, I love the scientific description. A-hole. Beautiful. I suspect this guy might be a troll.
3. "The most important is distance". I wouldn't want to repeat any part of this guy's arguments to anyone's face. They are horrible. I would tell that to him to his face though. I don't think he has an editor, even a virtual one.
4. "abrupt". I think this is code for "people who don't make me feel good about my opinions".
5. "The third cause of trolling is incompetence." Well, see #1. Don't rise to the bait. You could, you know, try to figure out what the argument is and respond to it, or, if there isn't enough there to go on, you could ignore it. I should have stopped reading at #1.
6. "Gresham's Law of trolls". This is too stupid to be a law. Here's my law of trolls: ignore bad behavior. You don't have to censor the stupid, you just have to skip their comments.
7. I'm now disgruntled enough to consider trolling over to News.YC for a good time. But I have like 15 minutes a day to post, and I've wasted it here.

Bottom line: Don't comment on a troll. Just let it go. Discussion isn't a contest. Winning an argument is not like winning a foot race, because often in an argument you are racing for someone else, maybe even some dead guy. Let it go.

Bonus thought for the day: Avoiding road rage: Let drivers in a hurry pass you. Get off the road if someone around you is driving in a dangerous way. Hostile and incompetent drivers haven't reduced the use of roads.
posted by ewkpates at 3:23 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


blasdelf: that's great! You have the style down just right :-)

>>>>>>>
Also: After years as a lurker and only joining relatively recently, I continue to find Metafilter to be a fascinating and inspiring place. Thank you everyone.
posted by honest knave at 4:13 AM on February 19, 2008


Trolls did not spring up following the invention of the Internet. There have always been people who got a thrill from making people upset and angry. Internet forums just make it easier for them to do it, to more people.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:51 AM on February 19, 2008


Ultimatelly, a troll only reveals a weakness in the trollee. Trolls are the canarys in the deep mines of our mental constructs.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:04 AM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


CautionToWind is clearly winning based on brevity. Imitation is the best praise. Here's mine:

The sting of the gadfly does you good.
posted by ewkpates at 5:21 AM on February 19, 2008


And somewhere in their vast underground lair just to the south of the Mushroom Caverns, beyond the Lake of Flame and Soot, the Dread Masters of the Invisible Trollus College gather around their five sided table.

BLRAGOTTS, Troll of the North, Lord of the Pebbled Hide, peers over the Parchment of Forbidden Named before him. "Paul Graham must die!" exclaims his rightmost head. "For he has turned his back on our ways," agrees the left.

SHIMMERSCALP, Troll of the South, Lady of the Flaming Hair, nods in agreement from her mouse-bone throne. "Agreed! He is a traitor! He knows too much of our ways to live."

THE SEPTERLION, Troll of the East, Horde of the Eternal September, writhes and screams, its many-faced bulk twisting with agitation. "Fag!" a small face on its right flank shouts. Other faces quickly adopt the chant.

BEVETS, Troll of the West, Princeps of Lone Tack, says nothing because he cares not about this subject.

At a tie, the Four Dread Masters turn towards the Fifth, HE WHO TROLLS, a being of shadow and future that coils around its darkened end of the table. Writhing tentacles of nightmare and frustration, solid as smoke, move in an almost hypnotic pattern around its seething core. "No," comes its voice, the sound of a million dead forums flaming in pain, "for Paul Graham is the Prophesied One, He who shall lead our kind in the days to come."

Blragotts snarls, his opinion as unchanging as his stony visage. He resolves to test this Paul Graham with his stubborn, unyielding minions.

Shimmerscalp, crosses her legs daintily, silently pledging her army of spurious logic to Paul Graham's downfall.

The Septerlion breaks into a Rick Astley tune. Its numbers are legion, chimeras of nonsequitors and lulz. Surely some of them shall descend on Paul Graham.

Bevets still says nothing, because he does not care about this subject. Why he even comes to these meetings when he is constantly summoned elsewhere is a mystery.

He Who Trolls lurks and writhes around its shadowy core. It knows that the other Dread Masters will test and try the Prophesied One, for they did so to It in the past. A being beyond the temporal ken, It knows all for it has been all and shall be again, Paul Graham.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:23 AM on February 19, 2008 [23 favorites]


amyms writes "Except that graffiti is oftentimes artistic, whereas shitting in a thread is just shitting in a thread."

O RLY? I for one often thought that quonsar toed the line between art and trolling. All too often he tended to the troll side, but every once in a while he pulled out a one-line masterpiece.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:56 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


the place is surviving without becoming slashdot, reddit, digg or kuro5hin.

Actually, I've started reading Slashdot again. Most of the dumbs from there have graduated to digg, or grown up, or choked to death on their own tongues or something. Maybe their moderation system has improved too. In any case it's actually pleasant reading again.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:54 AM on February 19, 2008


Trolls are the canarys in the deep mines of our mental constructs.

Makes a good haiku:

Trolls are canaries
In deep mines, mental constructs
Revealing weakness
posted by bwg at 7:00 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I joined MeFi just as quansar was leaving. I joined everything2 just as DMan was leaving. In both cases, it seemed like the reaction to the departures involved (at least) one camp saying "he was pointlessly abrasive", a camp saying "you don't know his backstory, or what he contributed back in the day", and another camp saying "he made trolling an art form".

And here again, we have caution live frogs comparing trolling and art.

But everything is an art form. Some people make pedophilia into art. Regardless of the positive connotations that people have in their minds for the word "art", to say that something is art does not justify it or show that it is a net benefit to anyone. Simply being art does not give a free pass.
posted by Jpfed at 7:07 AM on February 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


Trolls exists everywhere not just Internet forums. I've seen a 70 year old friend - who never uses the Internet - "troll" in conversations just to get people talking and to make the dead silence a little more interesting. The Internet has magnified and amplified what was already there.
posted by stbalbach at 7:11 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Trolls were the greatest gift ideologues ever received, because the mere faint possibility that disagreement was insincere relieved them of any responsibility whatsoever to take such disagreement seriously.

If trolling didn't exist, it would be necessary to create it.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:18 AM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


You know what was really annoying? When all those uppity Negroes trolled the lunch counters.

Meanwhile, this guy has adapted the definition of troll to "anything I consider being an asshole" rather than any cogent definition.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:22 AM on February 19, 2008


That reads like an advertisement for News.YC.
posted by chunking express at 7:34 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people make pedophilia into art.

As in, people make art about pedophilia? Or are you saying some people are just really good at it?
posted by Bookhouse at 7:35 AM on February 19, 2008


look at their news news page - three things stand out

1 - they've only been doing this for a year and think they know all the answers

2 - in that year there already have been attempts to game the system

3 - the reward for being a good member with high karma is to be able change the color of the bar at top

they're just begging for it, in my opinion
posted by pyramid termite at 7:50 AM on February 19, 2008


As a hopefully reformed forum troll I find this article completely lacking in anything beyond the obvious. Any forum that would generate this simplistic an analysis would hardly be worth trolling. Variations of "you suck" are not trolling, they are just drivel that would be ignored in any large, stable online forum.

A large forum is a community. And any forum that can't handle garden variety assholes without breaking stride isn't really a community.
posted by Ragma at 7:53 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


"as old as forums"

Ah, yes, the ancient Roman troll.
posted by Eideteker at 7:57 AM on February 19, 2008


I find this article completely lacking in anything beyond the obvious.

Seriously. There's no there there. It reads like it's written by someone who just discovered newsgroups in 1994. Trolling is a refuge for those with no cogent arguments? Oh, you don't say!
posted by mrgrimm at 8:07 AM on February 19, 2008


Ideologues were the greatest gift trolls ever received, because the mere faint possibility that ideologues are sincere relieves trolls of any responsibility whatsoever for their behavior.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:36 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Trolling, taken in the broadest sense of arguing a position that most other participants vehemently reject, can serve a vital social function. It can be an opportunity for the troll to test his ideas, and for the trollees to confront something new. There can also be a cybernetic effect, with the troll acting to mitigate some of the toxic aspects of the meme he is attacking.
posted by No Robots at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Trolls did not spring up following the invention of the Internet.

If anything, it's time for the term and the discussion about trolling to gravitate to other media. There are print trolls, broadcast trolls, political trolls. Being able to say, for instance, that Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is a 'book-length troll' is helpful, not least because there's a mature discussion on internet trolling that can be used to compare and contrast the form in different venues.
posted by holgate at 8:46 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sometimes trolls are awesome!
posted by lattiboy at 9:01 AM on February 19, 2008


Some people make pedophilia into art.

For example, Vladimir Nabokov.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2008


It's like I've always said; Hitler had it right: you must declaw your cats or they will try to circumcise your children. I guess it's a good thing that he listened to God or we would all be screwed now, huh?
posted by quin at 9:32 AM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


[Searching internal database for Simpsons quote re: "troll"]

"Get rid of that Troll doll! I don't want you playing with something that has such bizarre hair."

[Contextual mismatch. Search aborted.]
posted by Sys Rq at 9:34 AM on February 19, 2008


[Identify alternate Simpsons quote re:"troll"]

Carl: You know, I was hexed by a troll once and a leprechaun cured that right up.
Lenny: Hey, you know what's even better is Jesus. He's like six leprechauns!
Carl: Yeah, but a lot harder to catch. Go with the leprechaun.

[Context applicable, but kind of stupid. Search aborted]

posted by quin at 9:44 AM on February 19, 2008


“I'm hopeful the mod influence here will prevent the worst of it; I respect all three tremendously.” posted by Malor

Really. I was hoping the rocker influence would prevent the worst of it. *eyes Malor’s clothing suspiciously*

Curious that Graham considers a practical joke something on the order of letting a bat loose in a roomful of people.

I would take any comment seriously until it’s revealed that the commenter is not in earnest. I would argue that for the most part many people engage, perhaps not in troll behavior, but certainly in a form of contrarianism such that they rarely apologize, admit a mistake or allow a rebuttle to reassess their position.
The other end of that is that if someone does reassess their position in light of a cogent argument it is held up as vacillation rather than entente.

Thus the typical response is to quit the field and allow silence to reign rather than come to an accord. Hence the feeling that the last word “wins” the argument.

It seems that a troll is an individual uninvested in making themselves understood or understanding others who wishes to spread this nonproductive discord.

But by the same token any community can reward or punish clarity of communication as they will. Where winning an argument is more important than understanding and allowing for the mutual elucidation of positions, trolling will occur.

Where there is more interest in reading and discernment and drawing out of issues rather than contesting them, there will be less communicative gamesmanship and less trolling. It will be seen as the noise it is and the accompanying silence will be seen as the harbinger of loss of reciprocity of understanding that it is.

/Being in dead earnest all the time can get a little dry of course and some jocularity is required to avoid that.

What is valuable to an online community is the augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent discourse (to borrow a phrase) since it is based so much on communication.

Once one, and one’s community, realizes that this reciprocity and augmentation of discourse is the point, that a deeper understanding of other viewpoints and thus a refinement of one’s own position is what is valued in these exchanges, rather than gainsaying, protection of such discourse becomes a natural extension of the discourse itself.

It requires a degree of commitment from individuals to maintain that environment and be mindful of what value they derive from participation. But expressions lacking such commitment in such an environment become obvious very quickly.

The intolerance must be expressed however towards the violating dialogue, not the individual. Otherwise you get a sort of cult of personality wherein some violators are tolerated for certain behaviors while others are reviled even when they contribute reasoned cogent salient points.
And you lose investment in the reciprocity of the community.

At least that was the admonishment the men’s room attendant was giving me when I was drunkenly singing in the stall last night.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 9:48 AM on February 19, 2008


Sometimes trolls are awesome!

Fake trolling like that, yes. That was genius. I've yet to be amused by a real troll, though. They seem to be more concerned with drawing attention to themselves and pissing people off than being hilarious by doing so. I'm not saying the real ones can't be funny, but they tend to have motives that undermine any sense of humor they may actually have. I'm sure some of them could be hilarious if they were less intent on pushing people's buttons.
posted by Tehanu at 10:26 AM on February 19, 2008


I didn't know 'roomful' was a word.
posted by Pecinpah at 10:50 AM on February 19, 2008


Is there a term for the complement of a troll, someone who shouts down any poster who deviates from the local norm?
posted by No Robots at 11:19 AM on February 19, 2008


Fake trolling like that, yes. That was genius.

But that's what trolling actually is. Posting bait to make people really angry with you.

As Graham points out, the word "Troll" unfortunately is now a synonym for "asshole". So the problem isn't trolling in the sense that people are calling Einstein out as traitor to Austria because he created Scientology. The problem is that people start name-calling and shouting instead of having a proper debate about their beliefs (whether their beliefs are real or not).

In fact, I'd much rather read a calm discussion with a troll about the Earth being flat than a bunch of people screaming about how Ron Paul is going to save/destroy America.
posted by Gary at 11:24 AM on February 19, 2008


Amazing how a post on trolling brings out all of the classic mefi elements:

*fabulism/absurdist mini-novella loosely related to the topic/puns
*haiku
*"get off my lawn"
*complaints about recent FPP quality
*intentionally contrarian (although descidedly sub-troll level) opinions on the consensus of the thread
*references to urban culture
*D&D/simpsons reference (natch)
*"ironic" (soft?) use of ethnic slurs
*personal stories identifying with the subject
*ron paul
and finally...

*well though out discussion which interweaves throughout

I personally advocate sealing this thread in platinum and shooting it into space as a perfect archival record of 'teh besssht of teh web' crica 2008. Its all down hill from here.

(also: what, no 4chan of lolcats?)
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2008


In fact, I'd much rather read a calm discussion with a troll ...

Except, by your own definition of "what trolling actually is," no accomplished troll would allow such a conversation to take place.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:02 PM on February 19, 2008


that should read '4chan OR lolcats',

before I get another classic element of mefi: fastidious policing of grammar and spelling :-*
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 12:06 PM on February 19, 2008


Except, by your own definition of "what trolling actually is," no accomplished troll would allow such a conversation to take place.

I suppose. But the problem is usually the other side snapping as opposed to the troll. So in an ideal world the troll could bring the argument to new and crazier levels while people - with too much time on their hands, admittedly - could calmly point out that the Free Masons don't have much to gain from Britney Spears losing her kids.

Sadly, no matter how obvious or insane the trolling is, someone will react to it poorly. Even a fake review of Marvin Scorcese's work has people taking it seriously even AFTER others have pointed out that the reviewer is being a smart ass.
posted by Gary at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2008


Amazing how a post on trolling brings out all of the classic mefi elements:

You forgot: "Seriously? You think this article was worth anyone's time to read?"

...an element that I am joining the ranks of.
posted by tkolar at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


maxwelton and ericb: Thanks for pointing out the footnote. *feels sheepish*
posted by amyms at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2008


posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 3:06 PM on February 19 [+] [!]

I would like to say that I Approve of your idea of establishing FPS-style clans for Metafilter.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:10 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


The real law of trolling is that "any discussion about trolls will include lots of pompous postees saying 'trolling isn't a problem, just skip the posts'".

I think the only solution is private boards. The ones I've been on have been manifestly pleasant, depending on how well membership has been managed. Public = nobbers with nothing at stake trundling along to be douchecarpets.

(And the other thing is that there are a lot of heavily damaged people out there who can type, and it's not as easy to spot the warning the signs until they've fucked up the party)
posted by bonaldi at 1:10 PM on February 19, 2008


But that's what trolling actually is. Posting bait to make people really angry with you.

Agreed. Pretty sure the My Little Pony guy was making up the whole incident:

So evidently while I wasn’t looking, half the Internet visited my blog. The prime reason for this was my old piece, So I Guess I Got Kicked Off Another My Little Pony Forum, which got Dugg a little over 7000 times a couple weeks ago. I guess that means most people liked it, although aside from filling my comments section with unadulterated craziness, none of them stuck around for very long.... As for the lunatic My Little Pony comments, it would appear the vast majority were either congratulating me for ruining some poor guy’s forum, or angry with me for posting something so blatantly photoshopped. Why the world is so delighted to see someone ruin someone’s else’s website is a bit of a mystery to me, although I suspect it has something to do with that Ashton Kutcher punk.

That's what I meant by fake trolling. So while the (fake) motive is the same, it seems to have been entirely fictional. And I imagine if it had been real trolling, it would have been less funny. While stating that the Khmer Rouge manufactured My Little Ponies is hilarious, I'm not sure it'd really get a real rise out of people. If pissing off My Little Pony fans was my goal, I'd have nastier bait. I think it's a rare troll that can be funny and effective at the same time, because drawing out people's anger and the stuff you need to use to do that require that you stick to stuff that people will take seriously. And most trolls aren't there to be obviously ridiculous-- they're there to piss people off.
posted by Tehanu at 1:18 PM on February 19, 2008


I'm hopeful the mod influence here will prevent the worst of it; I respect all three tremendously.

Uh, there are no "mods" on MetaFilter. However, there is matt, jess and cortex.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:38 PM on February 19, 2008


One mark of trolling is wilful misunderstanding, KokuRyu. Have that trio ever moderated a discussion? Why, fuck me, yes they have.
posted by bonaldi at 1:43 PM on February 19, 2008


That's what I meant by fake trolling. So while the (fake) motive is the same, it seems to have been entirely fictional.

That's vaguely disappointing. I guess it should have been obvious, but I've seen too many forums that are way too slow to ban obvious trouble makers. Plus, it was really funny.
posted by Gary at 2:05 PM on February 19, 2008


maxwelton and ericb: Thanks for pointing out the footnote. *feels sheepish*

No prob. By any chance, you from New Zealand?

I keed, I keed.
posted by ericb at 2:29 PM on February 19, 2008


That's vaguely disappointing. I guess it should have been obvious, but I've seen too many forums that are way too slow to ban obvious trouble makers. Plus, it was really funny.

At first glance, after seeing it linked from MeTa here, I thought it was real. But yeah on a second read, it seems to be entirely fake. The fact that I found it hysterically funny should have been a dead giveaway, now that I think about it.
posted by Tehanu at 2:41 PM on February 19, 2008


I think the only solution is private boards. The ones I've been on have been manifestly pleasant, depending on how well membership has been managed. Public = nobbers with nothing at stake trundling along to be douchecarpets.

Interesting. The tragedy of the commons operates even when resources are infinite.
posted by No Robots at 3:17 PM on February 19, 2008


Except that graffiti is oftentimes artistic, whereas shitting in a thread is just shitting in a thread.

Bring back the image tag!!!
posted by mosch at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2008


I think the only solution is private boards. The ones I've been on have been manifestly pleasant, depending on how well membership has been managed. Public = nobbers with nothing at stake trundling along to be douchecarpets.
Interesting. The tragedy of the commons operates even when resources are infinite.


Yep, that's why Metafilter is such a horrible place to hang out.

Oh wait, Metafilter is actually a pretty good place to hang out.

Cognitive dissonance has warped my fragile litle mind.
posted by tkolar at 6:27 PM on February 19, 2008


I think the only solution is private boards.

Moderated boards work. Some of the highest quality low-noise forums I ever saw were moderated USENET forums, where every single post was vetted by a mod before it went public. This basically eliminated most of the problems. But it took a very dedicated and people-skilled moderator. It's sort of like Linux, anyone can contribute, but a few people still act as authoritarian gatekeepers (at least for the kernel). That's why MeFi doesn't melt down, it has some good moderators who work tirelessly behind the scenes putting out fires.
posted by stbalbach at 9:16 PM on February 19, 2008


Tehanu, that was hilarious.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:35 PM on February 19, 2008


No Robot: I'm struggling to see how the Tragedy of the Commons applies to forums, and especially private ones, where I can't think of any infinite resources.
posted by bonaldi at 9:17 AM on February 20, 2008


I consider Anne Coulter and Bill O'Reilly trolls, but in other media. Personally, I've never seen any positive aspect to trolling. The problem of trolling is exemplified by the Coulter/O'Reilly trolls. No matter how outrageous a thing they say, some will believe them and proclaim them wise sages. They might not have thought of these outrageous, noxious things themselves, but when expressed entertainingly by celebrity trolls, they are received as wisdom, and parroted as such. These parroters have children, and they vote. And now something said to inflame and generate profit for Coulter/O'Reilly becomes "common sense" and even policy.
posted by Chasuk at 11:16 AM on February 20, 2008


My problem with the Coulter/O'Reilly subspecies of troll (which is closely related to the cave troll and is similarly flat-footed and toeless) is not so much that mind-boggingly many people believe and agree with them. While that's a pretty big concern of mine, it is dwarfed by the despair I feel when the response of otherwise decent people is to spew hatred back. The problem is not just that they make up horrible shit and people believe them. That's actually kinda easy if you understand people's buttons and want to push them. The real trick is turning people into the things they're supposedly against. And those two are masterful at that. I really wish they weren't.
posted by Tehanu at 3:03 PM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


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