At what point do you label someone a troll?
Some of the discussions on my blog get pretty intense and heated. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. I appreciate it, actually. I learn a lot from people challenging my ideas or offering different perspectives.
I do have a problem with people who consistently violate Wheaton’s Law. But I’ve also watched people swoop into a conversation at Dick Factor Nine, only to eventually turn around and say, “Huh … okay, I guess maybe you have a point there. Sorry for being a dick.”
Yeah, it doesn’t happen often. But it has happened.
To me, a troll is someone who shows up solely to stir things up and piss people off. There’s zero interest in the conversation, zero interest in listening. It’s a game for the troll’s amusement, to poke buttons and see who s/he can piss off.
To me, clueless =/= troll. Angry =/= troll. Even blatant violation of Wheaton’s Law doesn’t necessarily equate to trolling. We all act like jerks sometimes. (I might still ban you for repeated offenses, but I wouldn’t automatically assume you were a troll.)
I think we tend to label people trolls too quickly. And from what I’ve seen, I think we sometimes do it as a way to dismiss people we disagree with. (I’m including myself in the “we” here, by the way.)
What do you think? We can’t read minds, so when do you decide someone is just trolling and no longer worth responding to?
- Is the “Men’s Rights” advocate who shows up in one of my rape posts to argue that “Rape is a weapon used by feminists to attack men!” a troll?
- What about the anonymous commenter who says, “I know it’s off-topic, but I wanted to tell you I read your latest book, and it was utter trash.” Does it make a difference if they aren’t anonymous?
- Does the guy who shows up using offensive language (i.e., “That’s so gay/retarded!”) count as a troll? What if he continues to use that language after being told it’s offensive?
It’s possible I’m overanalyzing this. But I’m curious what others think.
March 7, 2011 @ 10:28 am
As you said, it depends on why they’re commenting. Some who comes with the “Rape is a weapon” comment because that’s their opinion and they’re upset about a perceived injustice wouldn’t be a troll. The same comment from someone who wants to get a rise out of you would be trolling.
The problem is you don’t know the person’s motivations so it’s hard to label them, and before you could label them, a dozen other people would likely already have shown up screaming “TROLL!” anyways.
I say no mercy for repeat offenders, though. Someone who ALWAYS writes those sort of comments and never offers up anything else is not there for any reason other than to eat away your focus and your sanity.
March 7, 2011 @ 10:37 am
To me, what most screams troll is that person who isn’t interested in discussion — but is solely interested in being RIGHT. (Yes, all capitals.) There’s a difference between having an opinion (even if someone’s being a dick about it) and shoving it down everyone’s throat like crappy medicine, without the sugar.
Sometimes, a Troll will deliberately be critical — without being constructive. To me, if there’s nothing constructive behind a comment or observation, the Troll has reared its ugly troll head. And I secretly hope he/she tumbled into the Bog of Eternal Stench. But that’s me, and I am occasionally short on patience.
To answer your specific questions, I think those three examples are trolls. The first examples raises my hackles, because of the lack of sensitivity and factual basis. The second is just sad — because it’s so easy to say mean things on the internet, where you don’t even need to use your own name. Why comment that? The answer, unfortunately, is just meanness. And people can, certainly, just be mean. The third example is an instance where someone has no respect for others — and the fact that commenting is a privilege — not a right. I tend not to use excessive bad language (curses) when commenting on someone else’s blog. To me, that’s the equivalent of showing up at someone’s how and sounding like the proverbial truck driver.
Jim C. Hines
March 7, 2011 @ 10:40 am
Mind-reading would make this whole thing so much more straightforward…
I think I tend to err on the side of restraint, and it’s true that commenters do sometimes pop in to label someone a troll long before I would have come to that conclusion.
At the same time, I think it depends on the conversation. In a post about some intense rape-related issues, I might be quicker to block or ban commenters for the emotional protection of others in the discussion, whereas with a more neutral post about, say, e-publishing contracts, I’d probably give people a bit more leeway.
“Someone who ALWAYS writes those sort of comments and never offers up anything else is not there for any reason other than to eat away your focus and your sanity.”
Yep. And I need to remember that it’s okay to take care of my own sanity sometimes, too…
Jim C. Hines
March 7, 2011 @ 10:42 am
Heh. One of the fathers at my son’s last birthday party was a truck driver, and he was a very pleasant person. Very chatty, but nice. (I’m guessing the chattiness comes from being alone on the road so often.)
But yes. It’s basic manners. You’re a guest in someone else’s space, so you try to behave that way.
March 7, 2011 @ 11:14 am
Trolls are usually big and ugly and carry clubs or some other implement to tenderize their victims.
Other than that, though, I don’t think there would be one definition of troll that anyone could come up with that wouldn’t have exceptions to it.
Jim C. Hines
March 7, 2011 @ 11:16 am
And their toes, when pickled, are a goblin delicacy…
March 7, 2011 @ 11:22 am
Wow, I meant home — not how — in that last sentence. More coffee!
A friend’s dad, growing up, was a trucker. Sweetest person ever. 🙂
March 7, 2011 @ 12:01 pm
Having read the goblin books, I get the feeling that just about everything is a goblin delicacy.
March 7, 2011 @ 12:26 pm
I don’t know that I jump to labeling people immediately inasmuch as I tend to swat and thunk people for bad behavior first – if I know I am actually dealing with a person.
You say and do Bad Things without so much as an email address? You’re a troll and I harbor no guilt removing each and every letter without prejudice.
So, at my desk? If you’ve identified yourself – even with something as simple as a haxxor69 handle – I tend to be more patient. I do want to talk to you, after all – and that’s the first way you prove you want to talk to me too.
That doesn’t mean you get off the hook, however.
Spouting anything that makes one push back from the desk going ‘what the EFF is this #@$%?’ Hrm. You can reply with ‘that sounds pretty risky – you first, Indy’ and see what the response is, then biff and ban – unless it is a repeat offender (and that implies you have explained how the cow ate the cabbage at least once before) and then it’s a ploy for attention. I tend to dump and wag my naked finger at those folks offline.
Your space, your rules – and while some things are prima facie, not everyone went to traffic school.
But if your gut hates it on sight, hide it and let it sit for a few moments if you really think giving the benefit of the doubt is the best policy – my two cents.
March 7, 2011 @ 1:17 pm
A troll is someone who posts offensive things because they enjoy upsetting other people. Since that involves guessing at people’s motivations, it’s sometimes hard to tell…
I think some of the “quickly labelling people as trolls” is wishful thinking. That “men’s rights” example of yours, I’d rather assume it’s just some troll posting whatever he thinks will upset whoever reads it, than having to face the idea that there are actually people who think like that.
Going to an author’s blog to comment “your last book was trash” sounds like trollery to me. I can imagine things on a similar line that might not look like that immediately – something like, “Your last book was trash, compared to the ones before, please go back to writing books that I like”, which isn’t polite, either, but JUST slamming something, definite trollery. They could do that in their own blog.
I’m not sure about offensive language. Different social circles have different ideas of what’s an acceptable tone/vocabulary; what’s rude and unacceptable to one might be a normal way to emphasise their feelings to someone else.
Not playing by the rules of your host after being called out is bad manners, though.
Jim C. Hines
March 7, 2011 @ 2:19 pm
There is that, yes 🙂
Jim C. Hines
March 7, 2011 @ 2:22 pm
Anonymity is definitely one strike in the troll category. I won’t ban anonymous comments, but anonymous + bad behavior gets scored differently than identified person + bad behavior, like you’re saying.
I don’t even know if benefit of the doubt is always the best policy. I think a lot depends on content and context. My threshold is different on a post about e-publishing than it would be in a post about rape survivors, for example. I’ll moderate and freeze/ban faster in the second case, and I’m comfortable with that.
Jim C. Hines
March 7, 2011 @ 2:24 pm
The wishful thinking bit makes sense.
The book comment … I don’t know. I personally don’t want to get that sort of thing on my blog (obviously), but I also think there’s sometimes a sense of ownership? Entitlement? Something that makes people think that since authors are public figures, the commenter/reader/customer has the right to say whatever they like, no matter how rude. Not cool, but I’m not 100% convinced it’s trolling, either.
March 7, 2011 @ 2:50 pm
–Is the “Men’s Rights” advocate who shows up in one of my rape posts to argue that “Rape is a weapon used by feminists to attack men!” a troll?
Typically, I’d say yes. I’d have to see a specific example, but assuming that the person is self-identifying as a “men’s rights” advocate, and is making creepy blanket statements and not citing some specific examples, to me that is trollish behavior, whether they really believe it and are refusing to consider the other side or they’re just trying to stir up anger and emotions.
–What about the anonymous commenter who says, “I know it’s off-topic, but I wanted to tell you I read your latest book, and it was utter trash.” Does it make a difference if they aren’t anonymous?
Not sure if this is trollish to me. If they do it repeatedly, either on the same post or on lots of different posts, then it’s definitely being a troll. Anonymous comments like that also tend to make me think it’s being trollish (because it means you have no way to contact them to ask more about their opinions, should you wish to do so, and it means the conversation has ended with their statement). Also depends on if they use that exact language or not; if someone said “and I really didn’t feel like it matched the quality of the rest of your work” or something along those lines it would seem less trollish. And also if they give examples, to me that makes it less trollish. Inappropriate and out of place on a blog post, certainly, but maybe this hypothetical “they” didn’t realize that you’re excellent about actually reading and responding to email sent to you via your website.
–Does the guy who shows up using offensive language (i.e., “That’s so gay/retarded!”) count as a troll? What if he continues to use that language after being told it’s offensive?
Not necessarily, unless that’s literally all they post, and I speak as a gay person. I don’t like seeing it but if they’re actually contributing to discussion I’m willing to overlook some insensitivity. If it’s pointed out to them and they keep on, still not sure it’s trolling as long as they keep contributing intelligently otherwise, but definitely kicks them into the jerk category, possibly irredemably, and makes me less likely to read their comments. (Eventually I’d probably stop reading other comments, then the blog itself, then the author’s work if something like that cropped up on an author’s blog repeatedly and wasn’t dealt with at some point, because I’d start to wonder if the author’s other fans and the author felt the same way, but I’ve never seen that level on any author’s blog I follow. On a few webcomics I’ve dropped reading, but no authors.) If they aren’t actually saying anything useful but just using offesnsive language, that’s classic trolling in my eyes!
March 7, 2011 @ 3:26 pm
Context is everything in deciding whether or not someone is being a jerk. For example, on a few feminist sites I frequent, their comments policies preclude you from commenting with certain opinions – that feminism is unimportant or that all feminists are male-hating lesbians, that type of thing. They’re not saying you can’t have that opinion, just that they’re not interested in discussing it. So to post something along those lines anyway indicates either 1) you don’t respect them enough to read the comments policy first or 2) you read the comments policy but didn’t think it applied to you because you’re speshul/smarter than them. Posting that same comment on a different site, perhaps a Feminism 101 site, would be fine because it’s a context that’s willing to discuss the subject.
And honestly, the label’s not super important. It doesn’t matter if someone’s motivated by trollishness or by an honest inability to see your point of view. Failing to show basic respect and common courtesy to one another is not acceptable behavior in most places. I give people the benefit of the doubt when they look like they’re trying to understand your point and trying to engage you as an equal. But nobody’s owed the right to speak in another’s space and they’re not owed the right to a response from someone else.
In all of your examples, I’d say it depends on tone. Does the MRA jump in spouting off their opinion as if it’s the divine word of the prophets? If this is after a long post and comments thread, is it obvious they didn’t bother to read what other people had to say? If there’s a comments policy, are they abiding by it?
Your anonymous commenter doesn’t sound like they’re being respectful of you as a person but treating you like a book-manufacturing machine. It doesn’t really matter if they’re anonymous or not, although I’m quicker to assume they’re not interested in engaging if they can’t even provide a John Doe with which to address them. Even if someone is (perhaps ill-advisedly) trying to give you constructive criticism, there should be something constructive in there.
For the last one, again it’s tone. I’ve seen people be advised that their choice of words was offensive and reply that they’ll use it more because people who get offended over “minor” things deserve to be offended. I’ve also seen people apologize and then absently use the offensive word once mixed in with more neutral synonyms. I’ve even done it myself; typing a complicated response to why pairs of non-parallel gender terms (such as man and girl) are offensive, I screwed up and made the same mistake by losing track of what I’d said when. But from the context of my argument, it was obvious that it was an honest mistake and I’d not meant to offend.
March 7, 2011 @ 11:57 pm
>>Does the guy who shows up using offensive language (i.e., “That’s so gay/retarded!”) count as a troll? What if he continues to use that language after being told it’s offensive?
If someone keeps doing it, even after being told not to, then yes, it is a troll. And of course, it is your site. You can decide what you want to allow, or not allow. By the same token, I do think rules should be applied consistently.
I have seen people who were offended when someone used the terms ‘gay/retarded’, and yet they themselves used terms like dumb/lame/moronic/etc, and didn’t realize that they were being a bit hypocritical themselves.