Social Software

The final solution for persistent trolls?

So what do you do when nothing else has worked and you’re left with a board that is at the mercy of a persistent troublemaker? There aren’t very many options. Firstly there’s taking the situation to the ISP or workplace of the person concerned. But if they’re that persistent, then it’s not unlikely to think that they’ll just take such a move as an escalation of hostilities. Contacting the police might be appropriate if you think you’ve got enough of a case to push for harrassment or something similar – but again, it’s more than likely that it would just be read as an escalation of hostilities – and that’s likely to make everything more serious and difficult to deal with in the long-term. At the other extreme, you have the option of just learning to live with them, but that comes with a range of costs – the most significant of which is that your authority (and those of the system you’ve built and the people who occupy it) has been openly challenged and you have failed to resolve the situation. This will encourage other trouble-makers either within the population of the board itself or real-life friends of the ‘conquering troll’ to come and populate your community. Backing down, fundamentally, is only an option if you were wrong in the first place. Under those circumstances you should confess pretty much immediately. This is embarrassing, but not normally catastrophic. Backing down when you’re right because you can’t enforce your decision – however – is.

One extreme – and totally uncommercial – solution is to build upon the social networks of individual culpability and responsibility that already exist within your community. For example – by making it impossible for the unregistered user to see what’s being posted, you limit their ability to check up on what people are saying about them. By making it impossible to register without having been directly invited, you not only get the benefits of a web of trust-style selection process for new members, but you also have someone responsible for bringing the new member into the midst of the community. That person can be held accountable if they invite someone particularly troubling inside. Unfortunately this has a number of problematic elements – firstly it’s commercial suicide if you’re running the board as part of a business (unless you are getting people to pay for your messageboard on the basis of who is on it), secondly it will increase the cliquey aspect of all online communities and finally it will mean that the content produced by your community’s members can’t easily be used as a resource for anyone other than the community members itself. Nonetheless, in many circumstances it can be the only practical way to move forward…

6 replies on “The final solution for persistent trolls?”

One common solution is to make a troll’s postings invisible to the rest of community once they’ve been recognised. The troll gets no reaction, but doesn’t know why – he can still see his posts sitting with the others. But nobody else can. Trouble is, of course, that the troll just has to try browsing around in an unregistered state and suddenly he can’t see his posts any more. So how about making the posts visible to unregistered users too? You’re still protecting the people you care most about, namely your registered community. And you can set a timer to automatically delete the troll’s posts after 24 hours. Knowing your experience with trolls, though, I bet you’ve tried something like this already – what happened? Does the troll just keep re-registering under too many usernames to keep track of? (BTW, Tom, it’d be great if you could implement *some* kind of paragraph formatting in the comments…)

Also trolls that operate with friends – which is surprisingly common when the they’re a recurrent problem (which most actually dedicated ones are). We thought about that approach for UMS Conversations but it simply wouldn’t have worked with the representative trolls we were working with.

How to solve trolls
Tom Coates of plasticbag has an interesting post on how to solve problems with message board (ab)users. I think that having an ‘ignore’ function is an extremely simple yet effective way of solving the problem of misuse, because the more annoying trolls…

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