Some data on Trolling

Kind of the usual stuff, sure, but a handful of interesting observations based on actual research data are sprinkled in the article. Which I will summarize for you here so you don’t even need to read it!

They learned that being in a bad mood makes a person more likely to troll, and that trolling is most frequent late at night (and least frequent in the morning).

Huh. Bad news for night owls like me.

They also tracked the propensity for trolling behavior to spread. When the first comment in a thread is written by a troll—a nebulous term, but let’s go with it—then it’s twice as likely that additional trolls will chime in compared with a conversation that’s not led by a troll to start, the researchers found.

The power of controlling the conversation early and starting it out on a positive vibe. Hugely important. If you’re going to devolve, do it later in the topic for so many reasons. If a discussion starts out bad or negative… I don’t want to say doomed, but the prognosis is considerably worse.

On top of that, the more troll comments there are in a discussion, the more likely it is that participants will start trolling in other, unrelated threads.

Broken windows, maybe? “Oh, trolling is what people do here, so why not?”


If we apply this result to Discourse itself, would this imply that a thread should auto-lock due to too many comment-flags faster, if those flags occur early in the thread’s lifetime?

I imagine that you’re already tracking statistics for how many threads get locked, and flagging frequencies inside them. If so, do the observations made in the article approximately match your own information about what’s happened over the last four years on BBS? Or are we different than the norm?


Possibly! It’s an interesting idea I hadn’t considered, but rings true. Mostly there is a lack of flagging across the board, so I doubt it would help a lot.

Mostly it’s “trolling is bad, m’kay?” which we all knew.

One thing that does strike me, when we originally started this project with BB in the era of Disqus (rip) the editors mentioned how much they hated having the first comments on their articles be negative ones. So much so that they wanted comments taken off articles entirely and put behind an “x comments” link.

(We had originally proposed more of a “show the best X comments on the article only” deal but they were so unenthused by the concept of comments anywhere near articles at that point, that they quickly came down hard on the side of shuffling them all behind a link. This is compatible with the Discourse worldview, which is that there is the “editorial” side, and the “community” side, and they are intentionally different rooms in the house, maybe even two adjacent buildings with a catwalk between them even?)

Turns out, they were right to be upset about this negativity showing up near the top of comments – the data supports it. As to what the BBS community can/should do, I’d seriously advise people to avoid posting negative stuff early on in the topic, at least not in the first … let’s say… three posts … and that should be frowned upon as a general rule.


Which begs the question: what’s a negative post? To me trolling is way past being “negative”, it’s being nasty. If Gamergate had simply stopped at critiquing Depression Quest and debating the points raised in Feminist Frequency videos, it wouldn’t have been considered a troll-fest (along with all the other things it turned into).

Trolling includes the intention to hurt, and the topic at hand doesn’t matter much. That’s why trolls get accused of not reading the article: it’s because they’re more interested in attacking than having a discussion.


So hang out on the other side of the world.


I’m amazed there is a link back to in the title bar now. Amazed. Not even sure it’s a good idea, because I agree with the PTB on that one. The older system was getting out of hand, and both Cory and Xeni attract haters, bigly.

I think possibly a 1$/year membership fee (or some sort of work it off project) would do a lot to weed out the worst trolls (or at least let the committed ones who have to register repeatedly pay their way)

Comments by brand new users could show up in 24 hours if approved by the community (the regulars would be quick to approve a comment which is super additive to the conversation, and likely to flag abuse so it never shows up, and everything in between shows up after a day (or 6 hours or 1 hour or whatever))(and that work could comp the membership fee, and more than one regular would have to agree in order to speed up the post approval or shut down the post). Just a concept.

We may never agree what constitutes ‘trolling’ precisely, but we could share the load of figuring out what our community standards are. We’re a pretty clever bunch, but this isn’t a democracy, is it?


Or how about just not offering “wrath” as the default topic?


From my experience, trolls can only win when they outnumber regulars. A community with strong norms and useful tools provided to judicious moderators shuts that shit down fast.

Back when voat launched, it had a chatroom feature. Default room was overrrun by spammers in minutes, so we did the logical thing and invited non-spammers to a different room. Some even got involved in a video/voice call (lasted 12 hours).


It’s there because I asked Jeff for it. It’s pretty much a basic UI necessity for sites that are linked like these - you want some “air gapping” to avoid the crap that goes with comments “below the line”, but bb is the raison d’être of bbs. It is going to be fairly common to read a thread, then head back to browse the articles. (It is, at any rate for me. I use this link a lot.) The bb link is fast, convenient and it works.

For the PTB, it shouldn’t matter a great deal: the link dumps the reader back on the home page where all that is really possible is browsing the articles. The links at the top of each thread do a much tighter job of tying article and comments together, but the very fact that the comments are on a separate site, separate page provides sufficient air gap. I’m very sure that what was bothering the PTB was that the comments could poison the articles.


I see you asserting that, but I don’t think you got my point. The link back to bb from the bbs title bar was not there for a reason (as codinghorror mentioned). The community was, rightly, put at arms length, by those with the right to have such an opinion about the site. The owners, which you and I aren’t, and for whom Jeff works. We are guests. Guests don’t tell hosts how to throw a party, but we can surely make suggestions! You made a good suggestion, imo, and yes, it works well.

I don’t mind that it’s there, heck I agree that for most sites it makes sense. I was just surprised that that decision got reversed, based on the length of the arm the comments got pushed away with by the site owners. I’m pretty indifferent to it’s presence, but I’m glad you suggested it and had that taken up, that’s a win right there.

That sounds arrogant to my ears. I don’t tell other people what should matter to them. Not starting shit, just asking if you meant to speak with authority, in a place of equality. Not a personal insult, I am sure I sound arrogant at times too, and I appreciate people saying so, as long as they include a ‘how’, so I can assess my own choices and see if I’d make a different one next time, or not.

Also I am always open to suggestions on how to share my opinion that something said sounds arrogant, and concretely how it strikes me that way, in a kinder more civil manner, one most likely to yield a non napalm-based response.

I agree. I’m also amazed they put a comment counter on the articles. I appreciated the arms length, because it allowed the boingers to disengage from this place as part of their creation for which they took personal responsibility - because taking responsibility for what other people say, letting it reflect on you or your creation is gonna make you miserable, in my experience.

Did he? I can’t find that. Jeff mentioned above that comments were linked off the article pages for a reason. He didn’t mention that the bb link was left off for that reason when we initially discussed it in one of the bbs improvement threads. I rather got the impression that it had been overlooked, although he’d be the one to confirm that.

And the above is borderline to mine. “Should” in this context betokens an hypothesis. It’s a fairly standard sentence construction for that: “This should fix this problem,” and so forth. You are assuming one thing; I meant another. I could ask them if I have it right, I suppose, but I’m not going to disrupt their workday for something that trivial.

If you think there’s a possibility of a transgression, It’s probably wiser to ask for clarification than to assume.


Quite possibly my misundertanding, but I asked early on too and got the impression I have. [quote=“PatRx2, post:11, topic:98128”]
“Should” in this context betokens an hypothesis.

“Could” does too. “Should” leaves an implication of one side being an expert and the other needing suggestions. I just prefer “could” because it covers all the bases and doesn’t imply that anyone is wrong.

I tend to do exactly that, I would like to think. I don’t feel any need to ask a sugarcoated question when someone (not you, here, to be clear) is using aggressive language. I tend to speak to people in terms they understand, based on the ones they are using.

I’ve had to deal with a lot of lazy communicators, crap people, lots of aspies too, and some actual psycho’s. It’s pretty easy to tell them apart.

It is also pretty easy to tell who isn’t getting their ego too involved, and I thank you for falling into that ‘category’. :slight_smile:

I would argue that finding a heavily moderated online community is the rare exception these days. The boom in social media included a “free to say whatever” attitude and the companies purposely put the curation and moderation on the shoulders of the individual user and not mods. It’s why facebook groups are better than just using the timeline or wall or whatever it is being called now, and it’s why Twitter cannot generate revenue.

The internet I got used to was a series of walled off areas with communities that have active policing, and I’m not sure when exactly that changed but I suspect it was in the mid 2000s. Before 4chan was a bizarre cultural exception, but now it is considered the normal level of moderation (at least blue boards).


Did you ever hang out on Usenet?

None of this is new.


I suspect that it’s partially just competition between trolls. From the perspective of someone trying not to have to deal with them, trolls look pretty monolithic(and even if one is aware of their internecine struggles, it’s very hard to care); but since trolling involves inflicting yourself on the attention of others, it’s inherently a competition for a relatively scarce resource.

An already-trolled thread has existing trolls in most of the best spots; and, depending on how the forum handles post arrangement, they are either impossible or high effort to displace. That’s a lousy prospect for a would-be troll; and since trolling isn’t topic-specific, finding a new thread, with plenty of unclaimed territory, makes much more sense.

There might also be changes in perceived norms; but even without those, this is basically “the less grass remains in a given pasture; the more likely the herd is to graze elsewhere”.


Or - so-called “social media” could involve formal elements which give it some structure. Such as having actual goals. Like having actual debates instead of a free-for-all of bickering people. But since sites strive to maximize revenue, they opt for vague one-size rules and TOS instead of anything community-specific. So with no real shared community values, expectations, goals etc, there tends to be - surprise! - no community.

I figure I identified with this for a reason, so let me say this in response.

For my part in trolling - I troll trolls. Gently at first, buy I do try to waste the time of time wasters and egotists. It’s what they understand. They’re trying to waste your time, because they find it offensive when theirs is. They will say offensive things, and when trolled in resposne, well nobody has ever been so offended as they. Many don’t come back and i’m not sorry for that.

I may come of looking like one, and oh well, your perceptions of me are not something I am trying to control, personally. I’ve no need for popularity, personally. The general principle of mine is that ideas are ideas, and the people that hold them are the people that hold them. I respect people. I do not respect all their ideas. If someone can’t not take offense at being disagreed with pointedly, they really might need to get over that. If someone can only seem to return a degradation in return for a disagreement (disrespecting dignity for their authority being disrespected) I don’t see any loss in their leaving. This dynamic has been in effect here for >15 years now. It’s evolved from the mods doing so themselves, to the mods policing behavior, which is an improvement.

I am sometiemes sorry that some bandwidth is likely wasted in the process, though I don’t control what you choose to attend to, so I can’t apologize for wasting your time, and I’m not likely to be silent in the face of lies and calumny - just to not potentially annoy someone who chooses to watch. I’m not actually considering your opinion first and foremost when talking to someone else about their behavior. I’d rather do it in the open and not a PM, since bullies work best in the dark, and I’m not going for bullying. I’m going for boundaries. I think that’s pretty normal. And if I violate norms and someone wants to say not just that they think I am but ALSO -how so-, I am open to that and happy to moderate myself.

Most people don’t see themselves as a troll, so unless you address them directly and individually, just talking about trolls is just talking about anyone but them. As I identify as a troll (a good natured one who adds plenty, I’d hope) because I’m a grown up and a curmudgeon with a spine, I go out of my way to say nice things to those who are really adding and going for the win-win.

IRL and here, and on reddit, and Usenet, etc… I’ve had enough people come around to behaving like adults, even sometimes pulling me aside to thank me for challenging them, that I have no intent of changing my approach. As I said though, open to refining it - with input from people setting a good example. People saying ‘nobody wants to watch that’ chose to watch that, and I’m not going to do a thing to stop anyone who wants to but says they dont want to watch, from watching, or not watching. I can’t save people from themselves! I can point out bad behavior. I can mimic it without going so far, and mock it, and I choose to.

I will meet a person where they are (you talk down, I will talk down. You accuse, I will accuse to show you how absurd it is, etc… ), and encourage them to approach things with a more win-win attitude, because a lot of folks have a win-lose attitude, and in the end they’d rather us both win than both lose. Lots of people can tolerate you winning, so long as they don’t lose. I’ll go lose-lose if someone else is win/lose and unrepentant. It’s the only way to move them, and my 40+ years on this planet have taught me that my approach, while not popular, affects positive change. Not all change is pretty to watch.

I prefer a win-win approach. Anyone who believes otherwise is, to this self identified happy mutant, a ‘lion’ bastard. And capable of change.


I think it works here because the community is small, and they are benevolent dictators. But that on a larger scale, it reflects the same problems of social values for the masses being imposed/constrained by the ownership of a removed elite. When there is no truly public online commons, we get businesses striving to be de-facto commons as a rent-seeking measure, and backed by venture capital.

It might be cynical of me, but I see the proliferation of online trolling as a consequence of a model which is like friendly-staff/riot-police who guide a population around and keep people from getting hurt, while not being imposing enough to scare the masses to another mall.

A different approach might involve being a cooperative, where the values and goals are more cohesive because they were actually agreed upon by the participants. It is not run for the benefit of some aloof “others”, marketing data, etc. That it is a community because that is a valid goal in itself. It works for the participants, and does not strain itself by trying to be all things to all people.

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I used the party analogy for a reason. It’s one thing to tell the host you don’t like the music. It’s another thing to tell them their taste in music sucks, when you could just leave and party somewhere else. See the difference?

I prefer this model, because they’re good hosts, not because they’re benevolent. I can’t judge their intent, only their behavior. And I like the way BB and BBS management keeps the place up. As freeloaders we have the right to complain, thats just like everywhere else. As community members we have limits we agree to, staying isn’t imposed on us. Just like everywhere else!

Good standards, good people, occasional ego trips. Just like everywhere else. Better results here.


I understand what you are saying, but I don’t know how to reconcile it with a non-hierarchical, non-propertarian perspective. If music is participatory rather than a commodity “provided”, then each of us is just as responsible for our portion of the musical quality wherever we go. I consider music “merely” aesthetic, so unlike discourse one has only to gauge how they feel about it, how it meets or thwarts their expectations, rather than how functional it may be.