Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Quick Guide to Blog Trolls

Long ago, in the misty dawn of the Blog Age, someone coined the term "troll" to descibe commenters whose only evident purpose in commenting was to disrupt the discussion. "Don't feed the trolls" -- that is to say, ignore them and hope they go away -- was one approach to this problem.

Eventually, however, most political bloggers realized that the trolls weren't merely nuisances or distractions. Rather, they were bandwidth bandits, hijacking other people's Internet space for purposes in direct opposition to the intent of the proprietors. That is to say, e.g., liberal commenters using conservative blogs to spread messages intended to harm the conservative movement.

This has, over the years, resulted in restrictive policies on comments at most political blogs. Let a conservative register an account at DailyKos, start posting blatantly disruptive comments and see how long it takes before the troll-hammer comes down. Your account will be deleted, along with every comment you've posted. Allahpundit wields a might troll-hammer at Hot Air (where commenters must first register), and Ace does the same at Ace of Spades HQ (where commenting is open to all, but e-mail addresses and ISPs for all comments are logged).

In case you haven't experienced the troll phenomenon before, let me describe some basic varieties of the species:

  • Regular Troll -- This guy is openly 180-degrees opposed to the purpose and/or ideological orientation of the blog. Whatever you're for, he's against, and vice-versa. If you're doing a free-market blog about tax policy, he's yelling that tax cuts are evil, "globalization" is wicked, and throwing in snarky anti-Republican messages, even though the blog is expressly about policy, not politics.
  • False-Flag Troll -- This guy pretends to be on your side, but he's really not. Claiming to be a conservative, he inevitably advances messages that are anti-conservative. His purpose is to sow confusion, discord and demoralization.
  • Concern Troll -- A subspecies of false-flag troll. The Obama campaign deployed a swarm of concern trolls in fall 2008. They were recognizable by the 3-point argument that went something like this: (1) I'm a committed conservative/lifelong Republican, but (2) I'm concerned about [something the Republicans had said or done], and therefore (3) I'm thinking I might vote for Obama on Election Day. The Concern Troll often specializes his message to his audience. On a site for pro-life Catholics, he begins by vowing that he is a pro-life Catholic; on a Second Amendment site, he begins by saying that he's an avid hunter and NRA member.
  • Agent Provocateur Troll -- Another false-flag subspecies, who aims to elicit unsavory or disreputable comments from other commenters, which can then be quoted to discredit the blog. This happened at the Team Sarah site, where Agent Provocateur Trolls posted racially-tinged anti-Obama messages which they then called to the attention of their liberal blogger friends: "Look, Palin's supporters are racists!"

Exactly how much planning and organization goes into these left-wing troll plagues is a matter of conjecture, and the expression of suspicion on this score will result in accusations of conspiracy theory. ("Look! Those right-wingers are paranoid kooks!")

Here, meanwhile, comments have been moderated from the start. Although I seldom reject comments, I actually deleted two comments today on my post about Steve Benen and Oliver Willis, since these comments bore the clear imprimatur of "false flag" operations: "I'm a loyal reader but . . ." and then proceeding to derogate my blog-fu with a message that showed he hadn't actually been reading the blog.

The objection was that I had said "Fuck you" to Benen for his pushing Willis's lie about the Tea Party protests. I've said "fuck you" to others who've arguably deserved it less, as any regular reader would know.

The first troll comment had been initially approved without a close reading, and after I deleted that one, the troll came back with a second comment, acting as if his feelings were hurt. Zap -- good-bye troll!

I was born at night, but it wasn't last night. The fact that the troll commented not once but twice on the same post -- the one where I took on Oliver Willis of Media Matters -- is the first clue that this wasn't an accident. And give the troll credit for cleverness: It wasn't until I'd read the comment closely that I recognized it for what it was.

Notice that my post on Benen and the Media Matters smear was posted at 2:14 p.m. and that the troll commented at 3:37 p.m. Which is to say, in a little more than an hour on Easter Sunday, the Left's troll operation was ready to push back. This should tell you a bit about the size and sophistication of their team. And the deleted comments were, as I say, clever in their form and content.

Notice something else: Nobody on the Left linked that post, and they won't link this one, either. The Left manipulates and deceives its own followers, and they're not going to send their readers to a post describing their methods of deceit. The mere mention of JournoList is enough to ensure nobody on the Left will link.

UPDATE: When Oliver Willis files his 1040, he must list his occupation as "troll." Here he is trolling at Blog P.I.:

Almost every sentence in this blog entry is followed by one that contradicts it. I know you wrote the headline to linkbait, and that worked, but your overall thesis seems to be that liberals aren’t on Twitter, which is not the case. Do conservatives have more of a hashtag culture on twitter? Yeah they do. La-de-freaking-da. Cons were on the web long before the left was, but they have mostly failed because the people leading them have been the same-old Republican political consultants vs. regular people. Who are some of the top conservative Twitterers? Patrick Ruffini, Soren Dayton, Saul Anuzis… also known as… Republican consultants.

This is not an actual argument, just non sequiturs and ad hominem. Oliver Willis, a full-time inside-the-Beltway operative for Media Matters, nonetheless postures as an expert on "regular people."

UPDATE II: I'm going to have to ask the Blogospheric Neologian to consider expanding his Blogger Mood Disorder (BMD) list to include trollmania, defined as the compulsion to comment disruptively on other people's blogs.

In the grips of this dread malady, also known as mobyism or Oliver Willis Syndrome, the trollmaniac suffers from the obsessive fear that someone somewhere is disagreeing with him. Patient Zero feels compelled to try to have the last word:

"Professional" propagandist? I thought I was an amateur! Pretty funny coming from someone who writes for The American Spectator.
Let me explain something to you, Oliver Willis: I am a professional journalist, which means I write for money. I have been paid to write about football, music, movies, sex, art, history and many other subjects. Unlike you, I am not a political hack, and I don't see everything through the narrow prism of, "Will this advance The Cause?"

Your manic devotion to the "progressive" cause explains why you, like your fellow obsessive Jane Hamsher, are a chump, the kind of sucker who should never be given an even break.

Speaking of people who've written for The American Spectator, Mr. Willis, how's our old friend David Brock? Where was Brock and what was he doing while you were spending Easter weekend promoting The Cause?

In terms of his compensation package from Media Matters, what is the ratio between what Brock makes and what you make, Mr. Willis? Is it 5-to-1? 10-to-1?

Do you know or care, Mr. Willis? Have you applied your investigatory skills to the question of what the founder of a "progressive" non-profit makes, compared to what he pays the hired help in their little cubicles? And what about the others toiling away at the Media Matters shop? Does a regime of economic justice prevail among "progressives," so that you and Max Blumenthal profit equally from your non-profit labors for The Cause?

No, don't start asking questions like that, Oliver Willis. Don't begin wondering what kind of travel, food and lodging David Brock and Eric Burns bill to their Media Matters expense accounts. Don't concern yourself with the kind of "swag" freebies and useful connections they accrue as executives atop the pyramid where you remain down at the wide base.

You just keep toiling away for The Cause, Oliver, and let the bosses worry about stuff like that.


UPDATE III: Allahpundit suggests a "Troll Hole" at Hot Air.


  1. Being I'm fairly new to this blogging thing I appreciate this crash course in Trolls!!!!

  2. Is it just my imagination or was there a lesson in there for me? Sounds like good advice that I should take but the truth is, despite my good girl, southern genteel upbringing, I'm a bit of a barroom brawler at heart. Trolls, aka weasels, should be called out at every opportunity, for many reasons but most of all because its fun. Anyway, I'll try to behave.

  3. As a lifelong reader of your blog...
    er, at least a devoted devourer of all prurient rule #5 posts, I...

    That's gotta be a brand new category of troll, no?

  4. Yeah, we deal with these idiots all the time on RedState. Luckily, 90% of them are obvious on first viewing; they lack the ability to identify with their target that is the hallmark of a really good deceiver.

  5. I've noticed over the last couple of months that the first comment on a lot of righty posts will tend to be a forward, pushy comment by someone who shows up and disappears. I don't know if that's part of the plan or not--but those comments sure show up quickly.

  6. Then there's the commenter who decides to classify all the other commenters.

  7. I have noticed that the flag trolls are starting to creep into my beloved (damn that open registration). Thanks to your quick lesson, I am going to start calling them out!

  8. This post was full of great information. Great stuff.

    A week ago I wasted some time fighting with a troll, to the tune of 33 posts, until I finally blocked him from further commenting. Yes, if they can waste your bandwidth and your time, they have won. Don't let them do it.

  9. Robert Stacy McCain grows more narrow minded and paranoid by the day. Here he is spouting a short but chagrining rant about the horrors of . . . wait for it . . . PEOPLE WHO DON’T AGREE WITH HIM.


    Once again, McCain manages to sum up in one post everything that's wrong with today's conservative movement: Knee-jerk suspicion of debate, reflexive hatred of difference, zero tolerance for those who stray from the party line.

    Up in the Good Place, conservative icons—gracious conversationalists like WFB and Russell Kirk—must be pulling their hair out.

  10. Over the short life of my blog (8 months) I've had a couple of trolls; what I'm noticing about mine is that they always come in under "Anonymous".

    I've got to change my registration policy! Of course, then they just make up a name.

    I wasted a lot of time arguing with them and defending myself at first and now I just ignore them. Sometimes their attacks get personal and they attack ME rather than my position and this REALLY pisses me off, but for the most part, I stand back and ignore them.

    I've only deleted one troll-comment.

    If I had more time, I'd punk-smack them, just for fun.

    I actually have a wonderful commenter now who punk-smacks them for me.

  11. I have to take issue with AP at Hot Air..

    any troll on a Sarah Palin thread is warned repeatedly (When AP gets enough email to put him on notice).. but the threat is never carried through..

    I think it's the only way he can achieve an erection is to get a flame war going on.

  12. A notation on nomenclature: The typical shorthand for "Agent Provocateur Troll" is "Moby", in honor of the highest-profile proponent of this particular technique for smearing political opponents.

  13. As a lifelong committed conservative troll, I'm concerned that I've checked your site this morning, knowing that Easter is over and you have finished observing Lent, and there is STILL no post bashing the holy dogshit out of Ross Douthat. Don't make us wait too much longer, it's killing us.

  14. Philip, if you've spent enough time here you'd know that Stacy doesn't mind disagreement. It gives him a good reason to address the topic again.

    A solid, well-argued disagreement will get an even better presentation of the subject from him. And on his happy day an excuse to whack someone like a pinata. Yes, he enjoys that. If you were clever and pithy he'd answer you in that way and get you some traffic.

    What's objectionable are the dishonest posts. The lefty bigots posting to conservative blogs and forums to get some racism in there where there was none before. This is a reasonable objection, doncha think?

  15. I don't doubt every one of these tactics dates back to the 30's and the CPUSA, like the "diamond" tactic for meetings.

  16. A couple of years back I tried to post some comments on the DailyKos and was attacked by most as a troll. A couple of folks there defended my post and tried to clarify it to no avail. Needless to say I never went back.The fucking idiots over there are unbearable.

    Recently I've noticed a backlash over at C4P against HotAir.Palin freaks are disappointed that opposing views concerning Sarah are allowed at all.
    The premise of "trolling" is flawed. An open forum is an open forum and not a private discussion. If you seek to engage each other in an echo chamber then you should set up a private chat room.

    I like the mano-a-mano that I encounter on blogs like RSM.
    Blogs like C4P seem flustered at having to defend their positions and frankly seem incapable of defending their POV's. I remember some time back when RSM himself was attacked by C4P goons for giving us his honest opinion about Bristol.
    Contrary to conspiratorial speculation, there is no organized effort to demoralize or disrupt. Suggestions of such activity is as ludicrous as suggestions that the Tea Parties are corporate funded publicity gimmicks.
    It makes sense that no matter what kind of troll you encounter, convictions in your ideas and your ability to defend them is sufficient enough ammunition.
    Talk of silencing dissenting voices is...un-American.

  17. @Y4E,
    The premise of "trolling" is flawed. An open forum is an open forum and not a private discussion.
    Ah, but for a public discussion to exist as such implies a two-way exchange of ideas with an attempt to persuade.
    Trolls are either peddling contradiction or abuse, neither of which is welcome.
    Those seeking enlightenment enjoy having the tires of their ideas kicked by people with actual questions or additional information.

  18. Bobby Baby, keep the lines of attack consistent at least - either I'm a toiling cubicle worker under David Brock's iron fist, or I'm the online coordinator of the Sorosnet Anti-Tea Party Crusade (tm). It can't be both! I look forward to more from the journalistic mavens at the (lol) American Spectator for further details.

  19. Hey, Mac, you forgot one: The Traffic Whore. This troll posts links to posts on other blogs (generally their own or one they frequent), sometimes accompanied by excerpts of the posts, in an attempt to get someone, anyone to click them, even intending to go deride that blog, and send traffic to the other blog. The detour links occasionally have some germane topic, but the posts they appear in almost never include original material. I would opine that this class of trolls, especially the sort that post links with absolutely no relevance, are the lowest class of trolls since even the standard bomb-thrower has to have the intelligence to identify what statements will provoke a response.

    As for the "The premise of "trolling" [being] flawed", I heartily disagree. There are thoughtful, respectful posters with contrary viewpoints, and then there are trolls. The difference is mostly in intent: While worthy posters seek to express their own opinions and/or provoke consideration and discussion on a subject, trolls exclusively desire to cause disruption. They add nothing to a debate and serve only to waste time, space, and bandwidth.

  20. Great post. I was just discussing blog trolls with my kids. I'm an editor of a rural town paper in New Zealand. Our farm blog now and then gets them. I had a classic from some idiot in the UK over Craig Busch aka the Lion Man of the TV Series if anyone has heard of it. I guess so. An obsessed fan probably. IQ less than their ideal shoe size.