The Troll Situation, Continued

I’ve had a flood of suggestions from you good folks about my troll problem.Some are, at the moment, technically not feasible. Others are a good possibility, and I’m forwarding them along to our tech folks.

Some of you have said you won’t miss the comments if they disappear entirely. But I still believe the conversation is important, for all of us, when it works right, and I do want to bring it back.

Incidentally, several of the people who wrote with suggestions are among my more fierce critics on this page. They still think I’m mistaken on the issues (we agree to disagree). They aren’t here to cause trouble, but to truly discuss the issues, and they hope we can restore that discussion for those of us who aren’t here just to play troll games.

I hope so, too, and while I’m thanking everyone individually who wrote, here’s my public appreciation for the ideas and, most of all, good will.


Posted by: Jeremy on July 13, 2004 06:55 AM

I, for one, hope you keep the comment sections open. With this big push into participatory journalism, well, it isn’t really participatory if comments are disabled. It’s my biggest point of disappointment for the Denton properties (Gawker, Defamer, Gizmodo, etc), which are great reads but have topics I want to comment on once in a while.

If I just want to read columns, I can read some of the other blogs out there that have no comment abilities, and then feel like I’m being lectured to.

Keep up the good fight, Dan.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 07:14 AM

Moderate, don’t censor.

For example, Slashdot doesn’t delete stuff that’s obviously junk. It just gets moderated down (typically below everyone’s theshold).

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 13, 2004 07:17 AM

Comment moderation takes time and resources that I don’t have, unfortunately. We’re working on solutions, as I said.

Posted by: Bored Huge Krill on July 13, 2004 08:32 AM

The problem with moderation in the style of Slashdot is that most of the time it doesn’t work (sorry if that seems blunt, but it really doesn’t). Making the moderation distributed among contributors necessarily results in a perpetuation of “groupthink”.

However much the moderation guidelines state that moderation should be based on the quality and relevance of the content and not whether you, the moderator, personally agree with it, that’s not how it really works. Perfectly well written but unpopular views are habitually moderated down, but popular dreck rises to the top.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 08:47 AM

I can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Let the trolls post, and let everyone else ignore them.

I never saw anything offensive or objectionable in Al’s rants. But I have to admit that I got to the point where I probably only read 5-10% of them. I went back and looked at a few of his more recent posts after he was black listed. Some of them were obviously unsubstantiated theories and opinions, but then again so are many of Dans’ posts.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:11 AM

Said it before in this space and I will say it again. Why is it that liberals are all for free speech – unless it’s free speech for a conservative.

Others who post here regularly go much further over the line between fact and fiction than any post I have ever seen from good old Al.

Posted by: Bored Huge Krill on July 13, 2004 09:16 AM

I tend to agree with earlier posters on the most appropriate solution: do nothing and stop worrying about it.

If trolls choose to post, just ignore them. If people post unsubstantiable “facts” and cannot respond when challenged, it’s quite obvious what happened.

Free speech is ugly sometimes, because some of the most enthusiastic (or loudest) participants can be arrogant and unscrupulous. But that’s what free speech looks like…

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:17 AM

What about a community-based moderating system? This “Whack-A-Troll” technology would allow us readers to “rate” a comment on a sliding “usefulness / relevance” scale. The end user can filter comments so that only those rated say from 3-5 stars/hearts/flowers show up in their entirety, displaying only the titles/subjects of the posts outside of their preferred threshold (which of course can be clicked on and viewed). A reader can vote only once on how to moderate a comment – special designations such as “off-topic, but interesting” could also be included in order to encourage the natural flow of conversation. Of course, this wouldn’t be a completely fool-proof system – none of them are.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:21 AM

RE Bored Huge Krill – The problem with this is that most of us don’t have time to wade through the crap just to find out it’s crap

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:24 AM

The “sticks and stones” response seems most appropriate for most of the jerks who stop in, but then again most of the really bad stuff was directed very personally at our host, and we don’t know what kind of really objectionable content may have been excised.

I think the point Dan’s been trying to make is that when personally abusive speech, false accusations and misrepresentations escalate to a certain point, the hospitality of the house can’t reasonably be extended to the guest any longer. That’s understandable, and it’s unfortunate that some people aren’t housebroken.

Rick, I know it’s a matter of perception, but I’ve not noticed a greater permissiveness towards some of the visitors from the far left…a troll is a troll, and many middle-of-the-roader correspondents inthis blog have been uniformly critical of trolls of all colors. Al’z has simply been much more offensive than anybody else.

BTW, it’s probably worthwhile to review the terms of participation at the bottom of the page…Dan’s simply doing what he said he would do under the circumstances.

Posted by: sbw on July 13, 2004 09:30 AM

Assuming we’re dealing with trollery, not spoofing:

When Olmsted created Central Park in NYC, I understand he didn’t have paths put in until later… where people walked. I believe it would be technically feasible to set up a system where the first people who stroll through comments would be able to tick a “Trollery” button.

On hitting submit, the color of the table cell containing the “Trollery” tick would grow one shade darker. That way, future viewers could skim over, or ignore, the ever-darkening boxes. You might even allow passers-by to lighten an entry with a tick if they thought it had redeeming social value.

That way the Blogger wouldn’t have to waste time moderating. Readers would judge.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:31 AM


I feel that Dan has been crystal clear on this point. He does not object to people who hold different views then him, but he does have a problem with people that impersonate others, and deliberately mischaracterize his views and actions. Any argument otherwise is not supported by facts (witness plenty of conservative posters other than the trolls), and futile imho. If Dan really did not want conservative posts, why wouldn’t he just simply delete them? It’d be a heck of a lot easier than trying to rebut all the trolls.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:40 AM

sbw —

I like the color-coding idea, way more elegant than numeric scores. But the problem with reader moderation is that it is trivially swamped with scripting or by invoking the masses from a similarly minded (to the troll) board.

There has to be some threshold of trust that moderators must acquire. Slashdot does it by requiring moderators to have been positively moderated a certain number of times. Smaller sites can do it via the board owner simply selecting a few people he/she has come to trust. Maybe Dan can detail an intern to moderate? Does the news biz still have interns?

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 13, 2004 09:57 AM

Rick, I’ve been more than tolerant of all shades of speech here. I haven’t complained about the most virulent disagreements with what I’ve said, except when they’ve been accompanied by outright lies about me. I’ve let people insult me in ways that are deeply offensive. In general, this was supposed to be an open place for all.

Many people asked me to ban you-know-who long before now for the offensive way he/she was using the forum. I declined repeatedly, on the principle that even someone as disruptive and basically mean as this person should have an opportunity to speak. I and most people came to dismiss what he/she was doing, in part because it was being done in such a laughably crude style that more than once made me wonder if some left-wing disinformation specialist might be trying to poison the well by posting such bizarre right-wing cant. People were also offended by the poster’s cowardly manner: anonymous, vitriolic sniping from the bushes. I was especially reluctant to ask him/her to leave, too, because, deep down in the crud, there were elements of intelligence and worthwhile topics of dispute, and an occasional fair point.

I drew a line when the postings turned into repeated statements that were false and probably defamatory about me and my employer — reposted after my explaining that they were false. If you have a weblog with comments I’ll bet you don’t tolerate that, either.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 10:13 AM

Thanks sbw for taking my idea and making it your own – work for Microsoft by chance?. As for Peter’s comment – you are apparently not color-blind, just how is color-coding “way more elegant?” and what does this mean “trivially swamped with scripting” – Is it too much to ask the end-user to select a radio-button?

As far as setting the moderator’s credibility – leave this to the end user – their preferences could be set to ignore votes cast by certain people.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 10:17 AM

Correct me if I am wrong, but what seemed to push you over the line was Al/Mc’s interesting argument that your paycheck from Knight Ridder for promoting liberal, anti-Bush points of view should be treated like any other ##soft-money corporate campaign donation##, as your opinions so often mimic those of the DNC and the Kerry campaign, you are paid by corporate money, and corporate money funds distribution of your newspaper and the maintenance of this web site.

Is it not a stretch to call such an argument “defamation”? That is a serious charge, and you shouldn’t make it so lightly.

And no, I am not Al/Mc. Just a reader who values him for pressuring you to be more honest about your prejudices and ideology.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 10:19 AM

“Why is it that liberals are all for free speech – unless it’s free speech for a conservative.”

In a private forum, the operator gets to choose what speech is allowed. In a public forum over which the government has control, limited methods may be used to censor speech. If you try to walk into R.J. Reynolds headquarters and start engaging anyone who passes in anti-smoking rhetoric – however politeyly – you will be ejected, probably arrested, probably convicted of trespassing.

If you do the same thing in a public space, like a park, a city street, etc., government has tried to constrain this speech, but often loses. The “free speech” zones, which are an affront to civil disagreement, are opposed by both conservatives and liberals, but often not by Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter, if it serves their purpose).

Speech in this forum has guidelines. Speech on the Internet has few. If you hate the guidelines in this forum and have your remarks deleted, it’s not censorship. It’s the exercise of control over private property, a cherished principle held by conservatives back to the founding of this nation. Ask Will Buckley about that one and he’ll talk your ear off.

However, because the Internet has few limits on speech, technical or legal, there’s nothing to stop you from forming your own forum in which there are no rules or in which you post only things that would offensive in this forum. Or that follow your own rules.

The trope about liberals-this and liberals-that doesn’t hold up. Dan is behaving entirely like a conservative here, actually, and I support it.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 10:45 AM

Ann —

Changing the concept a bit, I like the idea of the text getting fainter and fainter as more folks moderate a post as “troll” or “abusive”, until it fades out completely leaving just plain white space.

On open reader moderation, anyone as obsessed as Al’s and his mutants could write scripts to swamp a reader moderation system with 100s or 1000s of “votes”, overriding the single moderations performed by individual readers. Yes, there are ways to detect scripting, but there are also ways to hide it or make stopping it exclude legitimate readers. That’s why I say it comes down to a moderator having to achieve a level of trust before being allowed to influence others’ posts.

Maybe require a time period between first posting and access to moderation? A 3 month delay would discourage most moderation-hackers, especially if their moderation access was terminated immediately after abuse.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 10:52 AM

Scott, please explain how is Dan has been dishonest about his prejudices and ideology?

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 11:01 AM

Paul, I am not going to fight Al/Mc’s battles for him. He seems quite capable of doing that, himself, if given the opportunity.< /p>

The question of this thread is something different: whether Dan will ridiculously hide under a rock from comments he finds uncomfortable, distasteful or unacceptably revealing.

For some reason, does not have faith that the marketplace of ideas will take care of the rest unless it is controlled from above.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 11:12 AM

Peter – again, you could set your preferences to ignore votes cast by certain people, so that their input is rendered completely irrelevant in the way articles show up on your end. You should also be able to ignore their posts if you should so choose.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 11:16 AM


You stated that you are:

“Just a reader who values [the troll] for pressuring you to be more honest about your prejudices and ideology.”

I can’t help but read your statement as indicating that Dan has been dishonest his biases.

Throw me a bone and point out an example of outright dishonesty on Dan’s part. Something obviously rubbed you the wrong way and it would be nice of you to share it with the rest of the class.

The troll was getting libelous. Dan’s reputation is his livelyhood. THAT is serious stuff. BTW, how can one libel an anonymous troll? How was poor Al’s really defamed?

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 11:22 AM

Ann —

When the offending people keep changing their ids, the “ignore individual” options gets less effective. For example, look at the Marsh McLennan stock board at (warning, profanity in some userids) . The chuck/shemp and other socket puppet users’ job is to fill the board with noise immediately after anything informative is posted, making sure the useful post is pushed off the first page. They keep changing their ids, and yahoo limits you to about 10 ignores.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 11:45 AM

I agree that this is Dan’s play house, and he gets to control the door.

But here’s an interesting, and applicable, quote of an interesting, and applicable, quote (credits at the link):

“Rather than shying away from controversy we should be running toward it! That is the lesson of online and of the era of opinionated news: We live for controversy. We should welcome it precisely because we’re smart enough to watch any opinion and decide for ourselves what we think; we don’t need Big Brother or Big Mother deciding what we should and shouldn’t hear or see or read.”

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 13, 2004 12:32 PM

Don’t know why I have to keep saying this, but one more time: I welcome controversial, opinionated discussions, especially with people who disagree with my own views. There’s a pretty think line between that and what our troll was doing.

I am tempted to say at this point that people who continue to claim that my motive has been to shut down conservative opinion on ideological grounds are themselves trolls. They don’t seem willing to take yes for an answer.

This thread is so familiar, isn’t it? Most of you are discussing the matter in a civil way, even though there are disagreements. But a couple of people here are resorting to the kind of behavior (albeit in a much less offensive manner) that caused me to shut down comments on other threads, at least for the time being.

We’re looking into technical solutions, but trolls are determined to disrupt whatever they encounter.

Anyway, let’s keep talking here.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 12:55 PM

Each comment gets 3 radio buttons and 3 attached counters: (1)I agree, (2)Disagree, (3)Think you’re a troll

When the troll count exceeds a threshold set by Dan, the comment gets moved to a troll’s corner. It is not censored. Anyone who wants to look at troll comments can still do so. They merely have to click into the trolls’ corner. This will be a form of democratic, public rebuke without censorship via what is known as the tyranny of the majority. Freedom of speech is respected and freedom from trolls is also respected.

What do you think?
(1) Good idea
(2) Dumb idea
(3) Go away, you’re another troll

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 01:06 PM

Scott, one of the problems with trolls like Al’s/whatever was that HE “hide[s] under a rock from comments he finds uncomfortable, distasteful or unacceptably revealing”. He didn’t show himself to be as capable of defending his ideas as you credit him; on the contrary, when questioned about his statements or asked for elaboration (as Dan often did, and as Paul repeatedly asked you), he resorted to abusive responses, shrill accusations, hypocritical evasions and offensively smug putdowns — and wouldn’t address the substance of issues.

Personally I thought of him as an Al Franken without a sense of humor. I don’t consider that kind of verbal pissing to be adding value either, and I’m pretty tolerant of people’s ideas. Al’s and Al are the worst enemies of their ideas, for the same reason.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 01:07 PM

Let’s use the CPAN system! Give readers troll-in-a-corner’s “3 radio buttons”, either: (a) Democrat, (b) Republican or (c) Independent.

Reorder the postings grouping Democrat (at the top, of course, and as close to Dan as possible), after that Independent (in the “middle”) and Republicans at the bottom.

Or just give the Republicans a separate web site. Republicans are not welcome here, so let’s just be rid of them!

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 13, 2004 01:19 PM

On the off chance that the above is not a joke: Republicans are very welcome here.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 01:29 PM

In what way aren’t Republicans welcome? The fact that Dan has a point of view different from yours, mine or Al’z is the strength of this forum. If all we want to do is listen to people who think like we do, we can just listen to Fox News. And please, don’t tell me that Al’z is the new prototypical Republican — there are Republicans who despise the far right’s blindness, stupidity and faux moralism as much as we do the far left’s excesses. I have little in common with Tom deLay, Rick Santorum, Trent Lott, Orrin Hatch, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney and other Congressional and administration leaders, but that doesn’t automatically put me in bed with the Kerrys, Clintons and others on that side of the aisle.

We need to have our perspectives opened and consider ideas that are more than labels. That, not lockstep uniformity with a political party, is what is needed for better governance. I often
disagree with Dan’s positions, but I respect his intelligence and his willingness to expose those ideas to thoughtful discussion…and that’s a hell of a lot more than Al’z ever did.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 01:31 PM

Sorry, Dan.

Republicans who support George Bush, the War on Terror, the Iraq occupation, low taxes, Microsoft, the DMCA, the Patriot Act, the CIA, sexy black conservatives like Condi Rice, and Apple pie aren’t welcome here!

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 01:33 PM

Dan, what exactly is this “thick line” between the banned troll’s behaviour, and opinionated discussions? Maybe it is a clear to some of you, but it is not obvious to me. That’s the part that worries me. Where is the line? Is its location different today than yesterday? Does it depend on your mood? The phases of the moon? How do I know when I have crossed it? From the tone of your last post, it seems as if you think I am getting close. Maybe I am already over it. Or maybe you are talking to someone else. I don’t know. But you most definitely ARE having a stifling effect on my desire to express my opinions here. Is that your objective? I hope not.

There are people who might have something intelligent to add once in a great while. Will you ban them based on the 80% of their previous posts that are drivel? What if a person has trouble communicating, for whatever reasons, and you just don’t “get it”? Maybe others readers will. What’s the harm in letting it all flow? Bandwidth problems? Pressure from your MIS folks to cut back on disk space requirements? Valid reasons (maybe), but if so, where do you draw the line in deciding who “makes the cut”?

I think that I am having intelligent discussions here, or at least attempting to. I can think of almost nothing that I have in common with “Al’s”, other then the fact that I am disagreeing with you on your decision to ban posts of your choosing. But others might see it differently. If I am understanding your post correctly, your perception puts me in his category. I find that objectionable myself. Not that that should necessarily matter to you. But I fear that you are starting down the slippery slope to becoming the proverbial “echo chamber”. I am becoming more and more convinced each day that such is the natural tendency of web based discussion groups. Please, say it ain’t so here. Considering that this seems to be an area of both personal & professional interest to you (as it is to me), I would think you would strive to go above and beyond the call of duty to avoid having that happen in your own personal blog.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 01:45 PM

… Republicans who support … SDI, Dick Cheney, straight marriage, Our Troops, crackdowns on virtual porn, bunker-busting nukes, the Yucca Mountain dump, Arnold, concealed-carry permits, the “V” chip, Ann Coulter, liberal rules of engagement, unilateralism, Executive Power, the ban on Partial Birth Abortion, privatizing social security and medicare, real estate development, and vouchers … aren’t welcome here!

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 01:51 PM

Looks like I picked an interesting day to wander back by.

There seems to be considerable confusion as to what is or is not censorship and whether speech within limits is truly free speech.

The bottom line is that when adults are trying to have a conversation and a child throws a tantrum, there is only so much “just ignore him” that will be tolerated. Eventually if the adults hope to continue their conversation the child must be removed from the room. That’s not censorship and it’s not an abuse of free speech. It even applies if the conversation the adults are having is a heated disagreement.

I’ve criticized Dan’s positions sometimes (I think he makes far too much of “blogging” — time will reveal whether it changes everything as he predicts or whether it’s CB radio for the new millennium’s first decade as I predict) and I’ve agreed with them sometimes (Congress needs to remember that the companies giving them money are not the parties on whose behalf they are to work). In neither case has he attempted to stifle my remarks. Civility is a hallmark of all healthy web journals. I salute him for trying to restore it.

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 13, 2004 01:56 PM

llcoolJJ, here are some examples.

In one case, the person in question falsely claimed that I was a paid shill for the Democratic Party, and that my employer was essentially a political action committee in disguise. I didn’t delete his comment, but rather responded that his assertion was false and that he should not repeat it. He kept saying it. At one point he tried to evade the issue by saying this was his “opinion” as if that somehow changed what he was doing.

He also alleged that my postings about Bush called the president and his administration a bunch of fascists. This was another blatant and ugly lie. I told him to stop. He continued.

Still another person (I assume a different person) forged my name on postings. They were right-leaning in tone, but I’d have booted anyone of any political leaning who did that.

These are not mere differences of opinion.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 02:02 PM

You quote this, llcoolJJ: “Rather than shying away from controversy we should be running toward it! That is the lesson of online and of the era of opinionated news: We live for controversy. We should welcome it precisely because we’re smart enough to watch any opinion and decide for ourselves what we think; we don’t need Big Brother or Big Mother deciding what we should and shouldn’t hear or see or read.”

But you’re not reading it. The power of the individual, in this case Dan, allows him to decide what’s appropriate for this forum. The power of the state — i.e., Big Brother or Big Mother — shouldn’t intervene in deciding what he thinks is appropriate or not. Sure, Dan works for a company that’s a giant media enterprise, but this is Dan’s sandbox, not the company’s nor is it mine or yours.

We can create our own sandboxes and express our own opinions. The reason a number of people are down on Dan’s decision is that they think this forum is important. It is. So they want Dan, who created and makes this forum important, to not have any say over how the forum is run. Wrong.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 02:09 PM


If you shut down comments then the trollerists have won. (sorry, couldn’t resist)

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 02:20 PM

Dan writes: “He also alleged that my postings about Bush called the president and his administration a bunch of fascists. This was another blatant and ugly lie.”


“It’s a fact to call the Bush administration a radical right-wing operation on most issues. It’s not factual to call these folks fascists, even if some
of them might like that kind of power.” -Dan Gillmor, June 29, 2004.

So, Dan is saying that they’re only fascist *wannabes*, because they haven’t overthrown our system of constitutional government yet.

Sorry, Dan, your infamous troll is not the one telling a blatent and ugly lie. You plainly suggest with these words that some members of the Bush Administration *aspire* to fascism.

That is a terribly divisive and mean spirited thing to say, just because you find yourself on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Shame on you for trying to cover it up.

Posted by: Gary Santoro on July 13, 2004 02:23 PM

I think there is a kind of “Napsterization” occuring in the book business – “Napsterization” in the the deep, literary sense of the word.


Posted by: on July 13, 2004 02:23 PM

Voting the idiots off the island is a misapplication of democracy. The highest and best form of government is the rule of a wise king (when it can be had). I’m for a more active moderation. Dan, I’d love it if you’d treat any posts that you find to be vacuous, or malicious, or flat-out wrong as spam. Delete them without a second thought. The end result will be a better blog.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 02:34 PM

OK, Dan that helps. Thanks.

Putting false words in another’s mouth is not good in any case, and “forging” someone’s name is highly objectionable. Repeating the offenses magnifies the problem, and also makes it easier to justify “banishment”, especially after a warning. Those are good points.

And to clarify my thoughts, I do feel that this blog is your baby, to do with as you see fit. No argument from me on that perspective. You have the right (and responsibility, as they say) to control its destiny. I personally fear the risk of your throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and that’s why I don’t like any added controls. That is just an opinion, and I do appreciate the opportunity to share it here.

Posted by: Susan on July 13, 2004 03:41 PM

My blog seems to attract more trolls via email than comments (I’ve gotten some vicious emails from extreme right-wingers, and I don’t have that many readers). I can only imagine how bad it gets with a more popular blog. Almost makes me grateful for obscurity 🙂

I don’t generally comment here, and a few other blogs I really like, as a lot of the time it seems right-wingers are just sitting around waiting to pounce. I don’t mind being challenged, but frankly I don’t find the tone they offer very intellectually stimulating. I’m tired of arguing the same basic points over and over again. I have better things to do.

I think Eric Alterman’s edited letters format, in lieu of comments, has a lot of value. Filters are important; things that are filtered are usually worth more than things that aren’t. Filter away, I say, and the sooner the better. Those who want to spew are welcome to put up their own blogs.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 05:07 PM

I would hate for anyone to give up the freedom of calling the right wingers fascists. At least the leaders. I thought that you couldn’t libel public figures in the US. Seems like a good rule for a robust democracy.

To libel private individuals or even companies is different, of course.

Posted by: sbw on July 13, 2004 07:29 PM

Susan> “a lot of the time it seems right-wingers are just sitting around waiting to pounce. I don’t mind being challenged, but frankly I don’t find the tone they offer very intellectually stimulating.”

I’ve just said essentially the same thing about the left-wing nuts that inhabit the blogs. What I wrote on another blog was: “I’m no fan of some Bush policies, but don’t you find it the least worrying that those presenting arguments against Bush dance around like water drops on a hot skillet whenever the logic is cut out from under them?”

So undoubtedly it’s true about both sides.

I followed it up concluding, “If we’re going to get civil discussion back on track, it’s time for us to begin to laugh at those who consistently resort to baseless canards.”

Posted by: Bored Huge Krill on July 13, 2004 07:37 PM

Ann’s Cooter wrote:

“RE Bored Huge Krill – The problem with this is that most of us don’t have time to wade through the crap just to find out it’s crap”

yes, I understand the problem, and just letting it go is far from a perfect solution. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any really good solutions. I’ve already indicated why I don’t think a distributed moderation scheme is a particularly good solution either: moderators are, in practice, often tempted to flag as “trolls” posts they simply don’t agree with. That’s to be expected, given that we’re dealing with a situation in which regular posters cannot be relied upon to behave themselves; that is, in fact, the very essence of the problem.

It’s unfortunate, but it looks very much like the choice is to pick the least objectionable solution. Considering all the alternatives, I think “just let it go and ignore the trolls” might just be it. I don’t like it that much myself either, it’s just that I can’t see an obviously better solution out there…


Posted by: sbw on July 13, 2004 07:38 PM

Ann’s Cooter> “Thanks sbw for taking my idea and making it your own – work for Microsoft by chance?”

I overlooked your earlier post. It is, however, a suggestion I had made some months back on an earlier topic in Dan’s comments. So, you must have “Microsoft”-ed my idea. That’s okay. As a youngster once asked friends in our car, bickering over irrelevancies, “What does it matter?!”

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 08:18 PM

I’m an another “Al”. (I don’t know many Al’s post here!) I’ve posted a few dozen times (I’m guessing) and I’m wondering if I’m considered a “troll”. I have to ask, though: what is a “troll” in this context? Is it someone who disagrees with Dan’s views? If it goes down to some of the infighting, then there are trolls on all sides.

The reality is it’s Dan gig. He can do what he wants. If he wants to shut someone off, he can and he probably isn’t technically obligated to tell anyone about it.

With that said, it could backfire on him because it might turn some other people off. I dislike the infighting, the one-upsmanship that goes on, but aren’t these civility problems one of the problems we face as a society? It could be several discussion topics by itself.

Civility is important. We’ll never get our problems solved if we’re fighting.

Civility, however, takes effort. I think I try to be civil. The one thing that I deal with is resolving Dan’s journalistic approach with his pointed, seemingly partisan, views. I think it’s a valid issue and I’ve tried to be civil about it. On the other hand, I’ve made come “cracks” that might be considered by some to be too strong.

Anyways, this Blog is good. Even though Dan is a lefty, I think there is room here for dissenting ideas.

For making the Bl
og better, I guess I’d focus on the civility angle. I’m sure you all have some ideas on how to do this.

In a lot of ways, this is a microcosm of freedom itself: with freedom comes responsibilities. Civility is one of them.

(This could be an example of why morals and ethics are important for our society to function. For this Blog to work, there has to be some rules; for society to work, there has to be some rules. For the Blog, it’s Dan’s rules to a point; if he wants a strong Blog, then he has to deal with the “cumulative rules of behavior” that have developed over time for guiding many different peoples in how to interact with the Blog and it’s readers.
Society has the same issues and it’s why conservatives feel the left abandons the “cumulative rules of behavior” that have developed over hundreds of years. It’s the culture war.)

Thanks for listening!

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:15 PM

As much as troll’s suck…banning sucks more.

Having tried to honestly participate on some of the web’s most ideologically unappealing radical sites (freerepublic & democratic underground), I now find the policy of banning dissenting troll opinions even more unappealing.

IMHO, let the trolls make asses of themselves and make the rest of us (on both the left & right) look like we actually know what we’re talking about.

Now…about the FMA…..

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 09:31 PM

Al’s asks and answers the most critical question for this track: “What is a troll?” I think his answer is congruent with Dan’s definition (which a number of us have supported in our reactions): a troll violates the group’s — not just Dan’s — rules of civility. A troll betrays the social contracts that allow us to disagree without being disagreeable. Savagely derogatory comments, personal attacks, lies, sabotage and misrepresentation are not tolerated in polite company anywhere. Bad manners are simply not conducive to productive discourse.

The majority of contributors have demonstrated the capacity to debate issues with power and passion but without stooping to juvenile or bullying behavior. A very few have not, wherein lies the crux of the problem for Dan.

This issue of following basic rules of civilized human behavior is critical to our democratic (small ‘d’) culture, and the loss of civility is a key to the breakdown in legislative bodies across the country.

In this microcosm of that environment, Dan states his opinions and welcomes, even promotes, alternative viewpoints. It’s not an intimidating environment, and clearly there are articulate advocates on both sides. That’s why many of us come back in spite of the few trolls.

Posted by: on July 13, 2004 11:25 PM


If Al’s made posts that attacked you or your employer in a personal matter I guess I missed them. Maybe you deleted them before I could read them. That type of post would be over the line.

I post on here because even though conservatives are in the minority you can usually have a civil discussion. That isn’t the case on a lot of other political forums or blogs that I visit.

I still believe though that in a lot of cases the left’s notion of “free speech” only applies to them. How many university campuses have no problem with a campus group inviting Al Franken but refuse to let one invite say Clarence Thomas?

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 06:09 AM

Rick, I don’t think any of my posts have been deleted. I could be wrong and I haven’t really checked, but I don’t think they’ve been bad enough to censor! I was just “thinking aloud” about the things I’ve said that could be considered a problem (by Dan).

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 06:15 AM

btw, if any of you guys live around Chicago, I could be dragged out for a few beers.

Posted by: sbw on July 14, 2004 06:48 AM

What is a troll?

Confucius honestly did advise people not to do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you. It was a more practical “Golden Rule”.

A troll doesn’t follow Confucius’ good advice and could be looked at two ways: In the first view, the mythical troll is inconsiderate of others. In the second view, the troll, for self-validation, is fishing (trolling) for reaction that, even if it is negative, gives the troll a sense of self-worth.

In both instances we are dealing with mentally sick people who cannot themselves see it.

Also, both instances deserve to be separated from others who simply haven’t learned to use rhetoric constructively or have forgotten, in the heat of an argument, that ideas stand apart from the person who thinks them.

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 07:49 AM

What I haven’t seen in suggestions above (but may have missed) is a feature analogous to Amazon’s “people who bought x also bought a, b and c” – where you (the reader) would use “positive moderation”, and see only those comments that others _whose opinions you trusted_ had considered to be “adult” (in the original sense of the word)

Or maybe website owner could somehow designate certain readers as “trusted moderators”, whose opinions (via IP address) would count more than others – and whose ranks could grow or shrink depending on quality of their judgement.

Alternatively, require that posters be in the fMRI while posting, and verify that the appropriate area of their brain is active. (I think this is a “future feature”)

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 08:10 AM

I’d be concerned about a rating system like e-Bay or other commercial and public opinion sites, for a couple of reasons:
1) They are subject to manipulation by unscrupulous parties…probably the same kinds of minds that cause the current problem.
2) Like All-Star voting, they can reflect numbers and popularity, not quality. Many, perhaps most, of the contributors are decidedly liberal…should they be expected to objectively rate the value of opposing views. Oh, if we humans were so good!
3) They complicate what should be a relatively simple on-line exchange of viewpoints. Instead of taking place informally as it currently works. In business terms, it move water-cooler discussions to the Board Room.

I’m a fast reader, and I found myself skimming through and ignoring some of the most strident postings from both sides. I still think that laissez faire approach is best, but also understand Dan’s dilemma when people abuse our trust.

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 14, 2004 08:25 AM

Rick, I agree with you on the issue of intolerant behavior by the left. Incidentally, in a posting someone cited above

I said so.

Posted by: sbw on July 14, 2004 09:29 AM

You do need the opt
ion to nuke a malicious troll — one who impersonates the moderator or another comment maker. Subverting the system revokes the right to use the system.

However, most trolls are best treated first by ignoring them. It frustrates the hell out of them. [Dan’s been doing this for a long time.]

A second step was used by Jay Rosen of “pressThink” who let a troll carry on for a very long time, tried to communicate with him privately, and then, in the comment section, dissected the techniques used by the troller to explain why what he was doing was anti-social and unacceptable. Only after even this failed was the troller banned. [It has to be done sometimes… I’m sure that to this day the troller mistakenly thinks he was mistreated.]

So there are stages between the velvet glove and iron fist. We believe in our business that by the time someone is fired, they should have ample understanding so that, if they were prepared to look, they could have seen what was coming.

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 10:04 AM

It has been fascinating to watch the comments roll in and evolve. The ideas on civility are good ones (good old fashion ones). Keep them coming.

It seems everyone is in favor of “freedom of speech” –as long as it is not given to those whom we think we disagree with.

Echoes from the Tower of Babbel resonate strongly here. Just slap a one-word label on the other guy (or gal) and then you are sure you know exactly who they are and where they come from.

Why you are nothing but an intolerant Republican! Oh yeh, well you are a soft-hearted, money-wasting Democrat, and besides, your mother wears Army ….

There was a time when a “conservative” was someone who tried to slow civilation’s encroachment on Nature’s wilderness.

There was time when people had long, substantive discussions rather than flinging one-word or one-grunt epithets at each other.

That was then. This now. Where has all the civility gone?

Posted by: sbw on July 14, 2004 10:28 AM

no-on-censureship> “Where has all the civility gone?”

Oh, yeah! Says you!


Posted by: on July 14, 2004 10:45 AM

Whoah! Straw-man alert! Both Al and spelling error are trying to cast this as a censorship issue. This is not about censorship: This is about removing a disruptive jerk from an otherwise civil discussion, no different from the regular ejection of certain left-wing wackos from Santa Cruz City Council meetings when they act sufficiently obnoxious that city business can no longer be discussed.

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 11:03 AM

Sorry that link is wrong, your system won’t let me post the correct one. Keeps saying that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website is of “questionable content”. I am sure they feel the same way about your newspaper :<)!

If you remove the www. out of the URL it works.

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 11:13 AM

Like that Dole voting reporter at the rally in 2000, Dan is cleary being a ” MAJOR LEAGUE ASSHOLE…” here as he also called for Grey Davis to be recalled and replaced by a Republican. It’s so obvious he is a lefty. ( in the Forth Reich of Amerikkka )
He should ” GO FUCK YOURSELF ” as our Vice President might put it so succintly.

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 11:50 AM

SPAM the guy’s Email or ISP.
Publish the “data”.
I will help to deluge too.

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 12:15 PM


You started off with a first sentence that we all can agree with: civility is good. After that, I heartily disagree.

But many others here would disagree about disagreeing. The problem is not with contrary opinions, it is with the delivery. See sentence 1.

The troll[s] are may be contrary, but that has *never* been complained about. It is the method and conduct of their behavior that has *consistently* been a source of complaint.

I think the best solution of all is to disallow *any* anonymous contributions. If you can’t stand up for what you are saying *face to face* you should sit down and shut up. Of course, there are niggling little technical issues implementing and enforcing this, but the price to speak should be standing behind your words.

p.s. I actually enjoy well-reasoned opinions contary to my own. Constant re-evaluation of beliefs is a healthy habit…. I believe there are many other participants here who share that feeling.

Posted by: on July 14, 2004 03:45 PM

Dear Paul,
You wrote: “If you can’t stand up for what you are saying *face to face* you should sit down and shut up.”

I heartily disagree.

Suppose I work in the advertising business. If I write something bad about one of my prime clients, even if it is true, there will be hell to pay for it. People are not above petty revenge and retaliation. Democracy is not as simple in practice as it is in concept.

Dear Peter:
Kick out the trolls like you do in Santa Cruz?
This is not the same environment.
If you don’t like a troll’s e-comments, you can simply skip past them. Don’t click open the comments section. It’s that easy. Commenting in e-space is not the same as commenting in a physical forum.

That’s why there is no hardly any excuse for complete censureship in e-space.

(Of course, if the troll downloads a 10Giga byte rant into the comment space, that would be another matter)


Posted by: on July 14, 2004 04:31 PM

Dear “no…”

Here we are discussing “trolls” and you don’t even use your name. So when are you willing to stand up for your beliefs? Your choice of profession is a *choice*. Money or free expression?

I understand that there are times when anonymity is neccesary (e.g., whistle blowing), most times it either feeds fear and repression or is abused (by trolls).

You also didn’t address my correction of your earlier misstatement regarding the membership of this forum….

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 07:48 AM

For those of you who are happy to just skip past the flaming posts, that’s great, but keep in mind that not everyone feels the same way.

A thought experiment: if, empirically, Studies Show that the majority of readers consider a comments section loaded with trolls to be less valuable (and less worth even bothering to visit) than one with without, do you think that evicting the trolls would be justified? (They’re not exactly an endangered species, there’s plenty of other troll habitat available.)

Actually, trolls have a lot in common with gophers. They live underground, given the choice between raw land and your lawn they prefer to deface your lawn (but hey, you can just skip past looking at those piles of dirt amidst the grass right?), and if not controll
ed they multiply and take it over.

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 08:10 AM

Is it possible to use the concept of the old “killfiles”? Each registered user would have a list of posters whose posts don’t appear on screen. The trolls see their own posts, but don’t know that the people who are annoyed by them can’t see them. Even if they change identity, all it would take for other users is clicking a button that says “Add this poster to killfile.”

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 08:24 AM

I have a nice, overly-complicated proposal.

Writing styles are distinctive to a degree (like our fingerprints). Measuring word frequency is one way to identify and partially describe a person’s writing style.

So take some of this guy’s posts and run them through a script that measures the frequency he uses distinctive words and short phrases. Select some of his most frequent characteristic words or short phrases, that you know most other posters don’t use.

When a post shows up that matches this word profile; look at it. If it is from this guy, don’t post to it but just put a link to it instead. Call it something like “gumball post” so everyone will know why the link is there. Squelched a few times, this poster will be discouraged enough to either go away, or to moderate his replies.


Posted by: on July 15, 2004 08:28 AM

How about a registration system, perhaps with some tracking of IP or computer information?

Then comments can be disallowed from users who violate the rules, and ID’s withheld from an IP/computer where earlier users have trangressed.

Not perfect, but it will make it harder for the folks who continue to violate the rules. That should bring the noise down.

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 09:18 AM

Dan – Long time reader, first time commenter. Freedom of Speech will never die. Your efforts to silence or censor abusive, trollish comments will never work. Only by including dissent will you ever succeed at opening minds.

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 09:42 AM

Speaking of “free speech”,
Note that Whoopee got whacked financially for making an apparently foul remark recently re the ruling regime.
On the other hand, Cheney got barely a slap on the wrist for discussing self-procreation on the Senate floor.
Where is the fairness and balance ?

Now ya all understand why some folk need to remain annonymous. Next time Whoopee, wear a mask when criticizing the ruling class. Oh, that was you dear, … wearing that Cheney mask on the Senate floor? You go girl.

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 09:59 AM

How do the financial repercussions Whoopee paid have anything to do with free speech? She signed a contract with those people to do advertising.

Like most contracts it has a standard clause that says if she does anything in her personal life that embarrasses the company they have the right to fire her. The customers complained and they did.

She was still free to say what she did even though she had to know there was a chance it would cost her financially.

Now what Cheney said was regrettable. But only those who have never told someone to f— off in their private lives have the right to criticize. Quite frankly it makes him all too human, quite rare for a career politician ;<).

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 15, 2004 10:12 AM

Dave, you said: “Your efforts to silence or censor abusive, trollish comments will never work. Only by including dissent will you ever succeed at opening minds.”

Do you believe dissent includes the right to repeatedly make false and possibly defamatory statements, even after being told the statements are false? Does it include the right to forge my name on postings? My answer to both is No.

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 10:32 AM

This just in from the US Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote:
The 1st Amendment does not cover forging Dan’s name.
It also does not cover yelling “fire” in the movie theater, even if the movie you are watching is Farenheit 9/11.

You miss your own point. Cheney signed a social contract to be civil on the Senate floor. He breached his contract. However, justice is not distributed evenly amongst those who break their promises. Whoopee is a left-wing commie Hollywood whacko, so she deserves to be whacked. Besides she’s not human, she’s female & black. Cheney on the other hand, is a well-connected white guy. Therefore he is “human”. He shows his human side by using profanity. It is refreshing to see such humanity on the Senate floor. I get it. I hope everyone else does also.

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 12:16 PM

No-on, Cheney’s contract is up for renewal this November. You may personally contribute to his “whacking” at that time. Assuming you are able to vote in the US, of course.

Posted by: on July 15, 2004 12:38 PM

I will forgive Cheney for his vulgar language,
… but not for his Words of Mass Deception (WMDs) and for their causing needless loss of life, needless maiming of the many more, including US soldiers who come back as damaged human assests via Germany so that the numbers of such casualties cannot be counted by the VA here in the USA, and for the needless waste of tax payer money. ($87 Billion here, another there, and soon you’re talking real money … but at least I’m not being terrorized. That made it all worthwhile.)

Thanks cool-JJ

Posted by: on July 16, 2004 07:16 AM

Dan Gillmor continues to spread the nonsense that a troll here “repeatedly [made] false and possibly
defamatory statements”.

Two postings above shred that pitiful, Martha Stewart style spin to tatters.

Scott Jeffries wrote:

“what seemed to push you over the line was Al/Mc’s interesting argument that your paycheck from Knight Ridder for promoting liberal, anti-Bush points of view should be treated like any other ##soft-money corporate campaign donation##, as your opinions so often mimic those of the DNC and the Kerry campaign, you are paid by corporate money, and corporate money funds distribution of your newspaper and the maintenance of this web site.”

“Is it not a stretch to call such an argument ‘defamation’? That is a serious charge, and you shouldn’t make it so lightly.”

Howard Refeument wrote:


‘It’s a fact to call the Bush administration a radical right-wing operation on most issues. It’s not factual to call
these folks fascists, even if some of them might like that kind of power.’ -Dan Gillmor, June 29, 2004.

So, Dan is saying that they’re only fascist *wannabes*, because they haven’t overthrown our system of constitutional government yet.

Sorry, Dan, your infamous troll is not the one telling a blatent and ugly lie. You plainly suggest with these words that some members of the Bush Administration *aspire* to fascism.

That is a terribly divisive and mean spirited thing to say, just because you find yourself on the opposite end of the political spectrum.”

Dan, you’re no Martha Stewart. It seems here that among your readers there are those who suggest you ought to be regulated like a soft-money hack, if you behave like one. Another says (quite reasonably) that you insinuate Bush’s crowd aspires to fascist power.

They are reasonable arguments. I know you don’t like them, but it’s very disappointing and revealing that you censor such comments here.

Posted by: on July 16, 2004 12:31 PM


Let me defend Dan a bit, since he seems to be busy right now. First let me say that I am against banning anyone for any reason, but Dan’s got a right to do as he pleases. Dan claims that he banned this person for 2 reasons. 1) forging other peoples names 2) repeatedly stating that other posters have said things that they didn’t say. The person was apparently ignored several warnings to cease and desist.

I can live with that. Is it just a coincidence that the “banned one” also happened to be a hard core, right wing poster? Maybe, maybe not. But I am willing to trust Dan on this one. I don’t know how it could be proved one way or the other, but it shouldn’t have to be anyway.

And for the record, I think the soft money angle thing was an interesting angle. Is Dan a paid shill for the DNC, or John Kerry, or some other left wing group? I have to admit, that to me at least, he does APPEAR to be some times. But that doesn’t mean he is.

This whole episode has caused me to go back and read many of my postings here and at some other blogs. I have to admit that I can see how it would APPEAR to others here that I am a shill for right wing groups. But I can assure you, that is not the case.

The problem is that I rarely respond to any posts by Dan (or anyone else) with which I agree. Its not that I am a mean person, or that I just like to argue ( I hope). It probably has more to do with laziness, or maybe time management is a more positive word. Plus I really don’t like to just echo or “ditto” topics I agree with. I usually only post when I see something that is incongruous, illogical, or just plain stupid (in my opinion). There are very few occasions (like now) when I will just state an opinion or make an observation.

There are people at some right leaning blogs who are convinced that I am left of Dan, and for the same reasons mentioned above. I assure you, that most definitely ain’t so. But I make no attempts there, or here, to make myself appear to be fair and balanced. I don’t think that should be expected or required in such an environment. If that costs me credibility, so be it. Similarly, when writing for his employer, Dan might have an obligation to appear balanced, but he has no such oblilgation here in his blog. Its his call.

Posted by: on July 16, 2004 12:37 PM

llcoolJJ, the “repeatedly stating other posters have said things they didn’t say” was accusation was actually about the two items I referenced above, and explicitly led to comment deletions and banning, and this ridiculous “my troll problem” episode.

I happened to be fortunate enough to see the deleted postings before they disappeared, and Scott and Howard nailed it.

Dan banned Al/Mc/whatever because he/they posted what Scott and Howard accurately reference from Dan’s earlier postings.

These are reasonable arguments and interpretations of Dan’s own words, from a right winger.

He was banned because he’s/they’re a right winger

Posted by: Dan Gillmor on July 16, 2004 06:39 PM

Jonathan, he was banned for the reasons I stated. He wasn’t “interpreting” my postings. He was making things up, and when told to stop he kept doing it. You may believe his politics were the reason, but you are incorrect. If political views got people banned here, it would have happened long before now.

Posted by: on July 17, 2004 01:49 PM

The posters above nailed it.

Dan, you very clearly have in the past insinuated that members of the Bush Administration aspire to fascism.

And, it it fair to ask … if you behave like a soft money hack for the Democrats, while taking corporate money from a media conglomerate like Knight Ridder, all the while assiduously denying you are a “straight” journalist but a columnist instead … why you shouldn’t regulated like any Democrat soft money funded talking head.

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