Strong opinions, weakly held

How not to handle trolls

Andrew Brown noticed that Pluck Site Life, a community software package for newspaper Web sites, handles obnoxious commenters in an unusual way: it enables moderators to put them in a ghetto where they see their own posts but nobody else can see them.

Here’s why it’s inhumane:

But in all these cases, the public punishment of bad comments serves to encourage better behaviour, which is what we ought to be trying to do. People go online to show off, and they will respond to incentives about what sort of behaviour gets them admired.

The Pluck method removes all that. The loonies are robbed of their dignity and don’t even know it. It is entirely corporate. It comes from the world of the Marching Morons, which is, increasingly, the world in which we discover we were living all along.


  1. I disagree. I think public punishment is exactly what they’re looking for, as proof that they’ve upset someone, somewhere with their stupidity. It’s how they know they’ve been successful. They don’t want anyone to admire their ingenuity, wit or wry commentary; they want to piss people off. That’s all they want. If nobody bites, they’ll get bored and move on.

    While I don’t think it would solve (or even affect) the problem of trolling in general, it sounds like a not-so-bad solution for a single site.

  2. I share rnb’s disagreement – not feeding trolls is the most effective way to get rid of them. Public “punishment” just doesn’t exist unless the threat of being kicked out of a community is real — what other effect could any website operator have on an abusive user?

    Unfortunately this leaves you powerless when the people either don’t like your site and want it to die (e.g. the political/religious fanatics) or actually seek out and enjoy the negative reactions. Ignoring them is a good start; what we need is something like the distributed spam lists where like-minded sites can share the information about the names & IPs which they’re blocking. Getting rid of anonymous comments is also starting to appear almost mandatory.

  3. I also disagree. It might be ‘inhumane’, but the traditional/’humane’ methods don’t work because that’s what the trolls come for. Trolls want attention, they want people to get mad, and they want to change things. By interacting with them, you’re incentivising them to keep trolling. This way, no-one can interact with them.

    And, of course, those obnoxious commenters who aren’t intentionally obnoxious will stop bothering anyone with their accidental obnoxiousness.

    What I find interesting is what happens when there’s a larger community that learns about this feature. How much angst will there be about having been ghetto’d? How many irritating calls to be reassured that they’re not will there be?

  4. I also disagree, I don’t even see how this is inhumane.

  5. hahahaha,

    i gotta agree with the other dis-agreers here. some people have no desire to be constructive members of a community. i’m assuming that the guy in the first blog post is projecting his own perspective of being an actual “decent human” onto others who’s motivations and incentive structures differ fundamentally from those that one would expect of “decent humans”.

    it does suck to censor people, but at times, depending on your priorities, you simply have no choice. if our bodies were truly libertarian, we’d all have died of cancer before we ever got out of whatever mysterious womb that magically managed to survive long enough to attempt to gestate us. biology made its compromises to promote survival. perhaps, social systems must sometimes make their own as well.

  6. I’ll have to go with the crowd.

    There is a different between opinionated and obnoxious and trolls, flamers and spammers. Engaging with a troll or flamer to deliver “brutal and public moderation” is never going to achieve a positive outcome.

    If a community is only seen to consist of reasonable people, most folks will be reasonable. If they trolls and flamers realize no one is paying attention, they’ll either change their behavior, leave or continue to be ignored.

    As for the Slashdot method, you have to have your threshold set to zero in order to be a moderator. So, there is no way to moderate only the “good posters”, you have to moderate everyone and then other “meta-moderators” get to judge you on your moderations. Complicated, but it works.

    As for inhumane? Hardly. Waterboarding is inhumane. This is akin to sitting a misbehaving child in a timeout corner for 5 minutes until they apologize for whatever they did.

  7. As far as moderation goes, I’m not opposed to deleting comments or banning people. What I don’t like about this system is that it shuts people out of the system but doesn’t let them know they’ve been shut out. Yeah, it may take care of the worst of the worst, but it doesn’t give people who aren’t lost causes a chance to be rehabilitated. Hence, inhumane.

  8. All too many sites, such as Pandagon, use the monicker “troll” for anyone who disagrees with the author, or the majority of commenters.

    I’ve been called a troll there for agreeing with the author, but just not agreeing heartily enough.

    Sites like that are the rule, not the exception.

  9. A bunch of us suggested something like this for The Well a few years ago. I think it’s totally brilliant. I see your point, but I’m afraid I disagree, Rafe.

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