Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Manifesto For Trolls: the Radical Announces A Policy Decision In Advance Of the Election

Does anybody ever think that their trolls are all the same person, taking on different personalities? Recently, I asked this guy to stop posting endless quibbles on my blog, and he had a little hissy fit. He claims he will never visit me again. I sort of doubt this -- he will visit me in one form or another, because he seems to have made it his life's mission to harass me. This is why I suspect he is someone else, who I actually know: I think he has a lot of online personae, including a female one, and he thinks he is just too clever to be caught.

Why did I ask him to stop? Because there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- I can write about without him (and I assume it is a him, but who knows? People change gender on the internet like snakes change skins) arguing with me. Currently, he is a pipeline for a lot of anti-Obama claptrap; he also has a Horowitzean tendency to go on and on about the liberal conspiracy in the academy. But these things he could write about on his own blog: why use mine? And why engage with me, unless he has personal reasons for doing so?

I could write about Fred Flintstone and he would find a way to get back to the idea that Barack Obama is a socialist, or that I am a Bear of Very Little Brain. Or asking me to "prove" this or that, while posting all kinds of nonsense himself. Or, when I refuse to engage his nonsense, citing this as "proof" of my intellectual inferiority. Ugh.

So why did I ask him to stop posting? Because he is not the audience I am interested in, and he discourages comments from the readers I care about by making my comments section a volatile, dangerous place for other bloggers who just want to talk and write, not fight or defend themselves. Another time when I had an attack of trolls a very diverse crowd of commenters, many of whom were anonymous, simply vanished. I think they don't want this person on their blog, particularly since conservative zealots (not to be confused with regular conservative bloggers who have manners) are well known for targeting people by writing horrible things to colleagues, university officers and trustees, as part of their mission to cleanse the academy. This would be a disaster for an untenured person who is writing pseudonymously: am I right kids? Check in anonymously and say so if I am.

In any case, from here on out, I will delete comments from anyone who appears to be picking a fight just to hijack the blog: picking a fight is not the same as disagreeing, and if you don't understand the difference, ask me. Fair warning and invitations to communicate off the blog will be given before the deletion policy goes into effect. People who are real -- as opposed to anonymous or pseudonymous -- may be invited into dialogue of a different kind on the blog itself concerning issues likely to produce new ideas, as opposed to "he said-she said" exchanges.

But my writing is too important to me to allow cowardly, mean people who hide behind pseudonyms, to waste my time, particularly hysterical folk on the right who are seeing their ideological world go down in flames and want to take the rest of us with it.


Anonymous said...

You are correct, RWP is someone you know.

GayProf said...

Just to clarify: GayProf is not a pseudonym. It's my given name. My parents were very forward thinking.

I do think the constant comments that have little content, but lots of harassing language, are a means to wear down lefty bloggers so that they will simply shut up.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Gayprof:

Of course they named you Gayprof: this is a well known fact that needs no proof. And the tiny little bracelets with which you warded off your enemies in kindergarten were a gentle, but firm, way of pointing out your destiny.

You are right about the shut up part -- doesn't the right wing know that queer people never shut up? Let me clarify: My critique of pseudonymity is aimed people who are pseudonymous as cover for evil, not as cover for doing good, as you do.



Anonymous said...

I think this is endemic to women's blogs, especially if they blog about feminism, politics, and/or feminist politics. And you're exactly right that they discourage thoughtful and reasonable people from posting, because most reasonable and thoughtful people don't want to get into arguments with random strangers on the non-peer reviewed internets. It's just not worth it. (And for the record, not all trolls are right wing. Yours have been--so far--but I had a problem commenter who claimed to be a left/liberal, except of course when it came to leaving tedious, patronizing, and obnoxious comments on feminist blogs of course.)

I blogged about this a few months ago: http://www.historiann.com/2008/07/22/gender-sexuality-and-commenters-on-feminist-blogs/. It was interesting: after I banned one problem commenter, a whole garden bloomed in my comments in his absence.

Pseudonymously yours,


Notorious Ph.D. said...

I had one of these, too, back in the days of the post-Berks brouhaha. They're a pain in the ass. Thankfully, my insightful and oh-so-attractive commentariat knows better than to engage.

Sadly, when it comes to the 3.5% of trolls who don't slink away for lack of reaction, deletion is the only option. It's your virtual living room, after all, and you get to decide who is invited in, and define the line that divides intelligent dissent from reactionary spew.

Anonymous said...

Gracefully done. You could have been much tougher on the Conservative Prof's apparent lack of basic academic integrity and standards. The comments do not seem to come from someone with academic training.

Robert Zimmerman said...

I've been following the TR feed for quite a while without checking in on the comments. After a quick look through some recent threads it does seem like RWP shows up pretty reliably to drop a hand grenade. According to his counter-post that's "the spirit of bipartisan discussion." Maybe you should just let him post, as a comment, a link to his own blog and let him host the "bipartisan discussion" over there.

His contributions over here might be useful as a caveat when the idea of "intellectual diversity" comes up: not all intellectual diversity is good intellectual diversity. One that's not is the kind that can't (or won't) tell the difference between a thought-out criticism or objection and partisan fearmongering on YouTube.

Belle said...

Asking him to leave is a nice way of discouraging, but will it work? People with no manners might well simply ignore such requests. So deletion is a final response. Good-o.

Anonymous said...

This is disappointing - I'd always found it refreshing to see a left-leaning academic blog with regular right-leaning commenters. I hadn't been reading lately so I didn't see what's been going on, but it really seems a shame to remove this part of the discussion.
-untenured P.

Jarrod Hayes said...

RWP is a wingnut, no two ways about it. I do agree with your assessment regarding the intellectual 'honesty' of his posts (what I mean here is that he is not being honestly intellectual in what he posts...often little argument and even less support). Too bad. Your posts invite discussion, and it is a shame that there are those who would damage that.

No pseudonym here!

Tenured Radical said...

Dear anonymous,

I used to have other conservative commenters -- I ended up with only one, since the entire diversity of my comments section disappeared.

And by the way -- I have no objection to RWP returning as long as his comments are productive and not kneejerk hostile in a way that is intimidating to my audience, right, left and -- where I think the bulk of my readership falls -- center.



Anonymous said...

I agree with the latter anonymous above, can you give an example of one of these kneejerk hostile, intimidating comments? I read back a little ways on the blog and I don't see it, maybe I didn't read far enough back?

Tenured Radical said...


Look back at the last month of posts and see who is the dominant voice, who always contradicts whatever is said, and who fails to address the post as a whole but nitpicks at a point or two -- or brings up something that was not, or barely, in the post at all. This is bad blog behavior: kind of like coming to someone's dinner party, and talking loudly about yourself, interrupting, and changing the subject whenever another point of view is introduced.


Clio Bluestocking said...

If I might add to the last anonymous: see the Little Berks post. He came in with some sort of agenda question that had nothing to do with the post. When TR pointed this out, he became offended and edged toward the insulting.

I confess, I didn't like merely reading the comments because of such behavior. There is a difference between debating an issue from different points of view and picking a fight.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any posts on the list that have a title remotely like "Little Berks", which one is this post?

Profane said...

Anonymous and TR,

At least one openly Republican untenured male academic will remain an occasional commenter - myself. Of course, as a Northeast RINO, I cannot very well make the claim to conservatism!

Susan said...

I think this makes lots of sense. And it's important to draw the distinction you do between serious disagreement -- which involves a willingness to debate -- rather than hostile pronouncements which preclude discussion.

Is it an accident that my word verification is proper? This is the proper way to do things!

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, I see where you're coming from -- RWP was persistent and sometimes over the top. But then, aren't we all, sometimes? I am reluctant to see any kind of censorship other than for libel, slander, or namecalling. I think it is a subtle insult to (at least some of) your readers to assume that they are so timid that they will be frightened away by controversy. And I think as proprietor of this blog, you should grow a thicker skin. If it were me, I would encourage all comers (with the exceptions listed above) in my comments section, in the interest of fostering diversity. I like it when people argue with me -- helps me clarify my thoughts -- but maybe that's just me.

Anyway, you can expect to continue to see conservative comments from me -- unless and until I too am banished in the future.

Robert Zimmerman said...

There's some loaded terminology there, Jack, like "censorship." If you tell Uncle Ralph the rabid Republican and Aunt Frida the fanatical feminist that they better keep a lid on it if they come for Thanksgiving, you're not censoring anybody. If the city tells them to take down their yard signs, they're being censored. Excluding a problematic commenter from a blog falls somewhere in between, but more towards the Thanksgiving dinner side. Certainly the connotations of suppression in the public space by some official (e.g., governmental or corporate) entity don't fit.

And then "controversy." There's every indication that TR welcomes controversy and debate. The issues are obtrusiveness, relevance, and judgment. And finally, "fostering diversity." Simply accepting all but the most extreme comers is not fostering anything. TR's claim, anyway, is that "trolls" reduce diversity. That's debatable, for sure. It seems quite plausible to me.

It's not a trivial matter to strike the right balance between, on one hand, insulating a blog and its loyal readers from challenging opinions and, on the other, fostering open conversation and debate. It's a problem worth framing in realistic terms. There might be more subtle ways to manage it, but the more hands-on they are the more effort they take. I can say from experience that managing controversial comment threads can take a good bit of time and energy.

John Poole said...

Anonymous @ 10:20 AM EST:

Here is a link to the little berks conf. posting referred to earlier...

JackDanielsBlack said...

Dear reharmonizer, I hate to take exception to your definition of censorship, but the online Merriam-Webster definition does not say anything about "suppression in the public space" by a government or corporate official; see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/censor%5B2%5D

I believe that the definition in Miriam-Webster supports my use of the word in my comment.

As I said in my comment, I understand why TR did what she did, but the idea of running folks off who disagree with you makes me uneasy.

Heidi said...

First-time commenter here.

I have some experience with the troll issue from a professional tennis blog, of all things, and people go insane over their "right" to post on a privately owned blog because it's 'public,' as all free internet sites are. That being said, everyone has a "right" to a clean discussion in that case; kind of like traffic cops keeping the public space navigable.

If you are very lucky, TR, and have a trusted friend with time, having anonymous moderators other than yourself can help a great deal here. If not, readers will simply have to trust your judgment. Probably, as your moderation becomes clear (if you leave warnings in the comments, etc.), people will understand what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, I see two comments by RWP at that post. They were totally unrelated to the topic of the post. However they were not rude or insulting as Clio suggests, just totally irrelevant. But it's TR's blog, she can kick out whomever she likes I suppose.

Paris said...

Whew! I'm glad to see that you aren't proclaiming an out and out ban on pseudonymous commenters. I cling to my pseudonym (despite it being hijacked by a certain celebutaunte!) because it provides me with a rare opportunity to rub elbows with academics as a transperson and a scholar without worrying about the potential repercussions at work. My RMP listing is libelous enough as it is.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Anonymous, entering a discussion space dedicated to a particular topic, changing the topic to suit your own agenda, then, when reminded that your agenda is not the topic of discussion, demanding a response and suggesting that the blog author is unreasonable for keeping the comments on topic -- all of that is rude.

Anonymous said...

you are right. I had promised to come back to one of your posts with a link to a well documented piece on McCain's voting record but when I saw all the drama brewing, I decided against it lest your trolls come over to my blog. I think this often when I am here. And after what I witnessed happen to a friend of mine (made b/c of this blog) when she stopped commenting anonymously and put her real name and professional website down, I swore I wouldn't comment here under my blog name or with link to my blog unless it was really important. Honestly, banning the trolls doesn't make me feel any less certain that they are lurking and taking names to cause conflict and silence elsewhere and yet experience says banning or not approving the trolls who want attention does make them move on eventually. Posted communication guidelines help at least on all of the blogs tackling controversial subjects I've seen.

Anonymous said...

ps. that anon comment at 10:59 came from me prof black woman. I didn't mean not to sign it; I was being lazy. sorry.

Anonymous said...

RWP reponse was
"right-wing prof said...

I've posted my question on several liberal blogs that have discussed the debate. So far I have not received any answer. Since you seem intelligent I thought you might either tell me the answer or tell me that Biden was just nuts in that response.

I wouldn't call that "demanding an answer," it seems polite to me.

Clio Bluestocking said...

It's a comment that is phrased as polite, but with the intent of pursuing the off-topic agenda. That is rude.

The comment also contains the veiled suggestion that, by not answering RWP's question, TR and the "other liberal bloggers" are the ones being rude and un-intelligent.

You'll also notice, he did not apologize for attempting to highjack the comments for his own purpose.

Tim Lacy said...


Good for you. And for what it's worth, I agree with historiann's comment. Those who blog on clearly controversial (in light of our ongoing culture wars) indirectly invite a certain "element" of the virtual world: namely, reactionaries.

Still, TR, I applaud your policy decision. The trick for you is to obey it! I know how hard it is to not reply.

- TL