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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Gone troll hunting

I am taking the day (or maybe even a few days) off.

Anyone who has been reading the comment board here probably has an idea why.  The problem is... I have a troll.  A couple of them, actually... but really just one who has invited a bunch of other trolls over to camp out under my bridge.

For those not familiar with the term, Wikipedia defines a troll as:

"... someone who comes into an established community such as an online discussion forum, and posts inflammatory, rude, repetitive or offensive messages designed intentionally to annoy and antagonize the existing members or disrupt the flow of discussion."

I usually delete troll comments within nanoseconds of their being posted, but this past week I found it really hard to keep up.  In the end I just threw up my hands and left the last few comments.

I know, I know... some of you are going to suggest I moderate comments. 

I'm not going to do that for a number of reasons, chief among them is that it would absolutely destroy the real-time exchange of ideas that has become such an enjoyable part of the journaling experience for me (and hopefully for you).

If it came down to it I would rather disable comments than moderate them.

So how do I deal with this?

The answer to that question is actually both childishly simple... and morally/ethically complex.  You see, my troll is a bit of an idiot and has left a trail of breadcrumbs a mile wide leading right to its doorstep. 

Using the Internet and some somewhat questionable sources, I have been able to piece together a staggering amount of rock-solid, incontrovertible information about who this troll is in real life.  The crazy part is that the troll provided most (but not all) of the information.

I know what the troll does for a living.  I know about this troll's nationality, current residency and ancestry.  I know the troll's marital status and number if children.  I know the troll's real email address, and I even know the troll's home and work address/ phone numbers.

I have to level with you... Instead of this 'Gone troll hunting' announcement, you were almost treated to an extremely detailed dossier on my troll.  In short, I was going to punish my troll by 'outing' it.

But I didn't.  This isn't to say I'm not going to.  But I realized that I have never regretted not publishing something right away.  Not once.  So I am going to mandate a little cooling-off period to see if 'outing' my troll still seems like a good idea in a day or two.

Oh, and so we're all on the same page, by 'out' I don't just mean posting the troll's info here.  I am also talking about forwarding copies of the troll's writing and blog postings (yes, the troll has its own blog) to its employer and to the local authorities where the troll resides.

I also realize that there is a tremendous pool of common sense out there among regular readers of treppenwitz, and it would be foolish of me not to at least ask the question before making a decision.

I should make it clear at the outset that I do not intend to be bound by the results of this poll.  However, I would be a bit of an idiot to veto a common sense landslide.

So, what say you?   Is it open season on trolls?  Is there a bag limit?  Are trolls a protected species?

220_54

Posted by David Bogner on July 2, 2006 | Permalink

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the hebron cave dweller calls others trolls?

why not kill me from the air?

or ban me like you do all disagreeers?

Posted by: attempt3 | Jul 2, 2006 3:29:01 PM

David, the best thing to do is delete and ignore him. "Outing" him only gives him more attention.

Posted by: westbankmama | Jul 2, 2006 3:40:27 PM

My goodness, he's back. I thought just the THREAT of being outed would be enough to make him slink back under the rock from whence he came, but apparently I was wrong.

I'm with WBM- delete and ignore. It'll take away all his fun, the poor pathetic schmo, and he'll eventually leave for good.

Posted by: RR | Jul 2, 2006 3:47:14 PM

Oh, dear, David. Your very own troll. What a drag. You haven't deserved this.

I'm with the "ignore it and it'll go away" idea. (Like they say over at Little Green Footballs: gaze ...)

Posted by: Rahel | Jul 2, 2006 4:26:17 PM

Honey, don't waste your time and energy on these mental-midgets! If these cowards really thought their ideas had any merit, they'd be touting their authorship like a badge of honor.

They fool no one.

Posted by: zahava | Jul 2, 2006 6:00:09 PM

I had a troll recently and I so I know how you feel. It sucks all the joy out of blogging. It outweighs all the wonderful comments left by reasonable people. It makes blogging a chore instead of a fun or meaningful hobby.

I deleted and ignored, and he went away (at least for now).

Try that first. You don't want to get sucked into his shtick. It's not worth it.

I know it's hard because just reading the comments before deleting them makes one feel dirty. But it might work.

Posted by: Sarah | Jul 2, 2006 6:01:05 PM

Actually, there are two ways:

1. Ignore and proceed. This measure usually takes the air out of them.

2. Attack, using a few tricks I would not go into here. This works with many. But I doubt that your lexicon contains the terms required.

Bother measures 1 and 2 cover a very wide spectrum, but there is always an exception that just should be deleted.

Actually I love trolls' visits. Are you there, attemptxxx? Come by.

Posted by: SnoopyTheGoon | Jul 2, 2006 6:15:48 PM

ignore...delete...
and if that doesn't work...
then you have to assume that his continued presence is just a request to have people know who he is.
Then you have no choice but to do as he is "requesting"...and let people know who he is.

Posted by: cruisin-mom | Jul 2, 2006 6:27:44 PM


Negative reinforcement rarely works. You need to practice extinction...ignore till the behaviour stops. The behaviour will usually escalate, taunting the person ignoring to intervene but stand firm. it will work but it takes time and patience.

Posted by: Marjorie | Jul 2, 2006 6:33:37 PM

When I get these types on my blog, I am able to change some settings in the admin so that anything posted by someone with their name, email or IP address is automatically moderated. For more extreme cases, I have entirely banned the IP range of the troll by making some minor changes to the .htaccess file - let me know if you would like more info.

Posted by: Yaakov | Jul 2, 2006 7:09:51 PM

Ignore and not even bother deleting.
There is nothing more powerful than letting someone know they are not even worth the effort of removing them. Plus you eradicate the whole 'he deleted my comments" crap that usually goes on which just fuels a sense that they had something useful to say.

Posted by: lisoosh | Jul 2, 2006 7:34:41 PM

I'd go with delete and ignore, and then maybe switch to forced-TypeKey for comments (which is what Heather Dooce uses), instead of it just being optional.

Yaakov: Sadly, TypePad doesn't allow access to the .htaccess file. I beat that to death last year.

Posted by: Tanya | Jul 2, 2006 8:34:03 PM

I have had more than one troll take up residence on my blog.

Swift extermination of their comments generally kills them.

Sometimes they manage to survive for a bit, but most of the time they don't last.

Starve them of their exposure and they choke to death and disappear.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 2, 2006 8:43:18 PM

Oh David, Please don't let trolls stop you from blogging! I love reading your daily blog and I'm inspired and informed by it. Don't let ANYONE convince you otherwise. Just delete the offensive comments. Don't give 'em the attention they want. But please, do NOT let trolls silence you.

Helene

Posted by: Helene | Jul 2, 2006 9:51:33 PM

Lisoosh-

FYI, leaving up their comments doesn't work, because then other visitors to the blog, not realizing that they are supposed to be ignoring the troll, engage him in a dispute.

Delete and move on is the best way. Let them complain about being erased. It really makes no difference.

Posted by: Sarah | Jul 2, 2006 10:03:20 PM

I have almost always erred on the side of leaving the trolls be, even leaving their comments up unless they crossed a line of vileness not even I could take. There is an exception to that rule, though.

If the troll is stupid enough to be performing his nastiness from work, and refuses repeated requests to desist, I have no problem shooting an email to the company and politely asking if this is the kind of thing they're paying their employees to do.

I've only done it once, and it was on my wife's blog, not mine, but things had gotten to the point where she was quite upset about some of the things this person was saying and I thought a little spousal defense was in order.

Generally, though, Tanya's method works just fine.

Posted by: Matt | Jul 2, 2006 10:34:45 PM

Is attempt3 a screen name or a comment on his sex life?

Posted by: Alice | Jul 2, 2006 10:51:54 PM

Dave my friend,
This is all yery disappointing to me.
First, not being particularly web savy, I must confess that yours is the only blog I EVER read, and I read it every day. So the existence of trolls in general is very disillusioning to me. I like the community of friends you have who comment every day. I like the idea of tapping into your thoughts and commenters on a regular basis (they're like Treppenwitz Rashi!) So the idea that someone goes to the trouble of annoying you is more than a tad sad for me. Especially since their comments are deleted and they even went to the trouble of commenting on a day you're threatening to "out" them(a term I won't even touch) I would assume they comment JUST to annoy you and don't care about the consequences. So I would strongly suggest you delate and ignore them. Eventually they will go away. If not, outing them will merely escalate the conflict. What's the point?

Posted by: jersey boy | Jul 2, 2006 11:24:13 PM

I'm not sure, but I do think that it's illegal to post another person's personal information publically on the internet, although linking to the person's public website isn't.

Really, unless the person is causing you some real harm or clearly harrassing you with ill-intent, I'd just delete the unwanted comments and let it go.

Posted by: liorah | Jul 2, 2006 11:51:26 PM

Here's another idea - it is taught that everyone who comes into our path is sent by Hashem for our benefit, even trolls, so figure out why Hashem sent the troll to your website.

Posted by: liorah | Jul 2, 2006 11:57:09 PM

Start with a private email telling him to lay off your site for good - or else (and give him some proof you can burn him).

If he doesn't lay off, then he's fair game.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jul 3, 2006 12:22:03 AM

Sarah - good point.
Wonder if there is a way to have a separate troll section at the end where a site owner could place them with a notice "do not feed the trolls".

Posted by: lisoosh | Jul 3, 2006 12:29:27 AM

oh my. looks like it's contagious... another blog i follow is beseiged at the moment as well.

Posted by: nikki | Jul 3, 2006 12:34:55 AM

As your guest the troll ought not to expect your normal hospitality in response to his tantrums. With a troll I always take the liberty of editing their comments... It's a creative and amusing activity. When he understands that this is your space and he is here only as long as you want to tolerate him, he'll either behave or disappear...

So, maybe try some creative editing.

Posted by: oceanguy | Jul 3, 2006 12:53:01 AM

Ignore the troll... I agree with the others with the opinion that 'outing' them will give attention which is what they want. Delete and ignore.

Posted by: val | Jul 3, 2006 12:53:04 AM

With a troll I always take the liberty of editing their comments... It's a creative and amusing activity.

I can get behind that.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 3, 2006 1:19:13 AM

I was moderator for a forum for three years and we had our share of trolls. We had the ability to ban their IP, but they always came back afterward with a different name like this troll is doing. In the end, we encouraged all the people on the forum to completely disengage and not respond to any of this person's posts and surprise, surprise it worked. They left and never came back.

I would suggest that we all ignore this poster and as irritating as it may be for you, Trep, to just continue deleting his/her comments as they come.

I'm not sure, but posting his/her personal information could potentially get you into hot water and I think I can speak for most of us here, we all think the world of you and wouldn't want you to be sucked into something that could cause you more trouble.

This person simply has too much time on their hands and probably does this to many people, not just you.

I say push the "ignore button" and move on.

Posted by: Tracey | Jul 3, 2006 2:50:22 AM

If you are asking, I say, delete and ignore for little stuff, and hope he goes away, as people say he will eventually. But since you have given him multiple warnings, if he does one more thing that is out of bounds or too far across the line of respectability, then level your sites on him with the big guns, provided it is legal. I might even like to help ;) ... well, I may not be the right one to ask for this kind of advice. Better to listen to your gentler readers.


Posted by: Seattle | Jul 3, 2006 7:28:28 AM

So sad, looking further around on the internet, on advice at how to deal with trolls, it is all about not arguing with fools, ignoring them, blocking them, deleting them, and so on. It is so contrary to my first instincts. Whatever happened to good old idea of crushing someone with the immense power you have when justice is crying out for it? LOL (joking around a bit, but not entirely ...)

Posted by: Seattle | Jul 3, 2006 7:46:44 AM

I have had a few myself (thanks to the marvel of "vanity Googling"), and I just let them do their thing and expose their idiocy for all the world to see.

Posted by: Lachlan | Jul 3, 2006 8:07:48 AM

I think I have to jump on the band wagon here and say ignore. The outing thing sounds like something to stay away from. That is just one-upping, and you don't really know the nature of your blog-troll, so, wouldn't it be better to take the high road, know that you played by the standards you expect from all your visitors and let time take care of it. He/she will go away when the interest around them wanes.

Posted by: nrg | Jul 3, 2006 9:56:40 AM

Westbankmama... You might be right. But I'm still not convinced that 'right' and 'correct' are the same thing in this case.

RR... No, it's not the same troll. This one lives in Cincinnati and is a copycat with a grudge.

Rahel... I"m not familiar with the LGF reference. Can you explain?

Zahava... Yes dear.

Sarah... You nailed it. It just saps ones desire to post (which is probably their goal).

Snoopy the Goon... always interested in new tools for combating the trolls. Feel free to email me (treppenwitz @ gmail . com).

Cruisin' Mom... It looks like I will be following your advice... for now.

Marjorie... You had me right up til you said 'it takes patience'. :-)

Yaakov... See what Tanya said. I'm not implying that I knew any of that but she's one of my 'go-to' girls when it comes to techie stuff. :-)

Lisoosh... I see your point but I hate giving them a forum. Removing troll comments takes that away from them. What do I care what they write on their own blogs?

Tanya... Well, if it's good enough for Heather... :-) Oh, and thanks for another tech lesson. Just put it on my tab.

Jack... That's been my policy up until now. But this one has figured out that I can't do anything about comments left on Shabbat and takes delight in posting then.

Helene... I'm not going anywhere just yet. I was just thinking out loud that the comments might have to go away for a while.

Sarah... Like I said earlier. Removing troll comments has become a real chore. I know almost every time I sit down at the computer that there will be a few of them waiting for me. [sigh].

Matt... that was part of my thinking. I know where this troll works. and there are potential occupational and legal consequences to a lot of what this person has written.

Alice... Please don't feed the trolls.

Jersey Boy... The ONLY one? Jeez that's a lot of pressure! If you contact me offline I can give you a list of really mediocre blogs you should start reading that will still allow you to hold mine in high esteem. :-) In all seriousness, thank you for the compliment.

Liorah... If it is already published/available in the public domain then there is no problem doing it. SO long as you don't make any libelous accusations about the person you can pretty much use publicly available information any way you like. As to your second comment, I have come to the conclusion that not every test Hashem gives me is meant to be passed.

Joe Settler... Kinda like a warning shot across the bow, right?

Nikki... Not so much that it's contagious but rather that there is no shortage of trolls.

Oceanguy... As fun as that might be, it would take more time than even deleting the offending comments. I feel like the trolls win every time I have to spend time deleting offensive comments rather than responding to civil/interesting ones.

Val... Noted.

Jack... Have I mentioned that I work for a living and have a family life? I don't want to start editing some cretin's hate-mail.

Tracey... This troll changes IP addresses almost daily. Like I've told others (including my wife) if this person's info is already out there in the public domain then my making it available on my site is not illegal. heck, most of the info about this troll was posted on the web by the troll herself.

Seattle... I sense a kindred spirit in you. :-)

Lachlan... You're talking about people bashing you on their own sites. This troll does that as well, but I'll be honest... I find that kind a flattering. If such sub-human scum thinks I'm the devil incarnate then I must be doing something right. :-)

nrg... Actually I do know the exact nature of my troll. She is much more vulnerable then she would like to admit.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 3, 2006 3:20:11 PM

You know if you had minions you could unleash said minions on the troll.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 3, 2006 6:57:50 PM

Late to the party (as usual), but I'd go with the "ignore ignore delete" method. So far, I've never had a troll last for more than a couple of days.

Posted by: Ezzie | Jul 3, 2006 10:04:35 PM

From the Acronyms section of the FAQ page at Little Green Footballs:

Q. What’s GAZE stand for?
A. It doesn’t stand for anything, it’s just “gaze” written in upper-case. On the LGF Prayer thread (another very funny one), poster davesax suggested using it to acknowledge trolls without feeding them (see also this post by Geepers).

(You can see the links mentioned on the page itself.)

I recommend reading the whole page. It contains excellent information, including some good points about trolls and how to deal with them.

Posted by: Rahel | Jul 3, 2006 11:24:21 PM

Posting folks' personal details on the web without their consent does not sit well with me ethically.

I'm a little queasy about forwarding trollish comments to employers, too. It isn't illegal to be a troll -- just brutish.

I like the disemvowelling approach

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disemvoweling)

but as you say, you have a job and a family.

Hmmm if you go here:

http://novalis.org/cgi/vowel.cgi

paste the offending comment into the box and press vowel, then you get this:

Pstng flks' prsnl dtls n th wb wtht thr cnsnt ds nt st wll wth m thcll. 'm lttl qs bt frwrdng trllsh cmmnts t mplyrs, t. t sn't llgl t b trll -- jst brtsh. lk th dsmvwllng pprch (http://n.wkpd.rg/wk/Dsmvwlng) bt s y s, y hv jb nd fml. Hmmm f y g hr: http://nvls.rg/cg/vwl.cg pst th ffndng cmmnt nt th bx nd prss vwl, thn y gt ths:

It took about 15 seconds.

Posted by: liz | Jul 4, 2006 1:14:02 AM

I forgot to say I routinely edit comments that have "words I don't allow on my blog" in them. The reason is I don't want somebody, for example, searching for my name and a vile word. Like "n1gg3r". I do leave a note that the comment has been edited.

I have never disemvoweled someone's comment, but I don't think it would require an editorial note.

Posted by: Liz | Jul 4, 2006 1:20:26 AM

OK. I'll have to be honest here.

My first instinct was just like Seattle's - to out trolls unconditionally if they are causing serious trouble. By "serious trouble", I mean bothering you personally. I would probably not be bothered to such an extent, and would take a different route, but to a blogger, for whom trolls present a great deal of annoyance, my approach wouldn't make much sense. But here's the thing... asa long as you have that contact information... you have power over that blogger. After you use up all your means and "out" the troll completely... the troll may get into a lot of trouble... but that doesn't mean the behavior will stop. On the contrary, it may actually get worse... and you'll have no weapons to fight. So if you decide to out the troll, maybe it makes sense to out him/her in stages. First, by publishing some of the info on this blog. Then by publishing the rest of it. And only then taking it to the next level, if the troll doesn't get scared and continues to harrass. Perhaps, it would be easier just to ban that particular IP address completely.

Posted by: Irina | Jul 4, 2006 6:56:44 AM

Actually, David, I was talking about them bashing me on MINE. Most of the entries with the really, really troll-like behavior are gone thanks to my site's implosion last fall. But I've had numerous sets of folks google themselves and then start ranting on the post I'd written that concerned them. Fun stuff- to a point.

Posted by: Lachlan | Jul 4, 2006 7:43:32 AM

Jack... That's so true. Now where can I get minions? :-)

Ezzie... So you are basing your advice on a sample group of... you? Just checking. ;-)

Rahel... Thanks. I think one of the reason I have never gotten around to making LGF part of my daily routine is there is so much tribal knowledge that needs to be acquired before the threads make sense.

Liz... I share your uneasiness about taking drastic action against a troll (which is sort of why I am talking about it among a group of people whose opinions I respect). It is worth noting that while it isn't illegal to be a troll or act in a troll-like manner, my current troll lives in a country where holocaust denial is a crime. In addition to that she is an civilian employee of the US government working on a military base and writing things that suggest she supports a jihadist agenda. This presents some potential security concerns that might be of interest to her employers. I'm just thinking out loud here. As to the whole editing/redacting words I don't like... that makes me equally uneasy. If it is simply a curse word I usually leave it. If it is a racial epithet I will usually email the commenter privately and ask if they would like the opportunity to use a less offensive word before I delete the comment altogether. By the way, thank you for the disemvowelling tip. I had never heard of that and will likely use it on garden-variety trolls in the future.

Irina.. You have a good point. Since reading your comment I have split my 'expose' post into two so that if it becomes necessary I will be able to 'out' the troll in two stages. Thanks.

Lachlan... Ahhh, sorry I was a bit dense there. I didn't get it because I am usually pretty careful to either omit other people's names from unflattering discussions about them, or alter them sufficiently that 'vanity googling' wouldn't bring them to my site. I also try not to provide links to sites about which I have said unflattering things for the same reason.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 4, 2006 11:51:39 AM

David, I know, and I thought about it, but these are NEWS stories in which some imbecile has brought the world on him/herself. Fair game, I say. And that in turn means they an find themselves reflected on my site, and not how they'd hope. And that's ok. They usually lose interest after a few go-rounds when they see I'm not going to cave and apologize. ;-)

Posted by: Lachlan | Jul 5, 2006 8:02:21 AM

I rather like the disemvoweler idea. Another, similar, thought would be to use the Dialectizer:

http://rinkworks.com/dialect/

and repost the comments as the Swedish Chef (from the Muppet Show) might have said it:

"Es tu zee vhule-a ideeting/redecteeng vurds I dun't leeke-a... thet mekes me-a iqooelly uneesy. Bork bork bork! Iff it is seemply a coorse-a vurd I usooelly leefe-a it. Um de hur de hur de hur. Iff it is a receeel ipeezeet I veell usooelly imeeel zee cummenter preefetely und esk iff zeey vuoold leeke-a zee ooppurtooneety tu use-a a less ooffffenseefe-a vurd beffure-a I delete-a zee cumment eltugezeer. Hurty flurty schnipp schnipp! By zee vey, thunk yuoo fur zee deesemfooelling teep. I hed nefer heerd ooff thet und veell leekely use-a it oon gerdee-fereeety trulls in zee footoore-a."

The Dialectizer also has a "Moron" dialect if you prefer!

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Jul 5, 2006 9:10:11 AM

David - A late comment given my pseudo lack of a computer for the 4th weekend.

A general rule I've found in internet communities (though not blogs) is thus:

'Do not feed the trolls.'

Though it's painful to deal with trolls (deleting posts/etc.), giving them recognition (even as much as you already have!) will only encourage them further. Trust me, I've spent too much time on internet forums not to know this. ;)

As for a better way to deal with it... do you have a way to block specific IP addresses from your comments list? Can you have a login system for commenters? I don't know specifically which setup your blog has, but I'm sure it's got to be possible.

*shrugs* G'luck with the troll cleaning.

Ender

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jul 6, 2006 9:55:28 AM

Yep! :)

Posted by: Ezzie | Jul 7, 2006 7:08:38 PM

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