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.