by Carol J. Bova

In March 2022, The Atlantic published an article, “Trolls Aren’t Like the Rest of Us,” by Arthur Brooks, a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the host of The Atlantic podcast “How to Build a Happy Life.

Brooks wrote:

If you use the internet, the odds are about even that you’ll be mistreated there. A 2021 Pew Research report found that 41 percent of U.S. adults have personally experienced some form of online harassment. Fifty-five percent think it is a “major problem.” Seventy-five percent of the targets of online abuse say their most recent experience was on social media. I can’t think of any other area of voluntary interaction—with the possible exception of driving in rush-hour traffic—where people so frequently expose themselves to regular abuse.

But we are not helpless in the face of either online abusers or the ones flipping us off on the highway. In fact, they are mostly one and the same: bullies with personality disorders. And you can protect your happiness by dealing with them both in some tangible, practical ways.

He points out that “people try to reason with trolls or appeal to their better nature” and shares this link to research that explains why those approaches don’t work. Why? Because trolls usually want “to attract attention, exercise control, and manipulate others.”

I might have some strong notions, but I wouldn’t presume to diagnose a stranger’s mental quirks, so I suggest you read the research paper and the article for details on the maladjustments that lead people to engage in trolling.

What I will share here are the three strategies he offers.

1. Nonreceipt — A version of a Buddhist strategy for dealing with insults. You don’t have to reject the online abuse. You simply refuse to accept it.

2. Nonresponse – Not responding in any way (beyond perhaps, blocking and reporting an attacker.)

3. Non-anonymity -“As both research and common sense attest, allowing users to hide their identity abets abuse.”

When I posted that I would use my best judgement in moderating the Bacon’s Rebellion blog, I also said I would not explain my reasons for deletions and added a note that said, “The rules cover all of them.”

For those who missed the posted rules, here they are:

The rules are simple:

  • No profanity… No clever efforts to evade the restriction by substituting characters or using synonyms.
  • No ad hominem attacks; no insulting other commenters.
  • No wandering way off topic. Stick to the topics raised in the post or logical offshoots of those topics.
  • No snark. Well, exceptionally witty snark might be given special dispensation, but routine, run-of-the-mill snark will be deleted.

Commenters are welcome to disagree vigorously — that’s what makes the comments interesting to read. But the dialogue must be civil, and it must introduce new logic or new evidence to the discussion. Be assured that all points  of view are welcome. They just must conform to the rules of civility and relevance. After certain commenters abused the opportunity to express their concerns on that blog post, I deleted most of them as off topic and not adding to the discussion in a positive way. (See Brooks strategies 1 and 2.) And in case certain parties haven’t figured it out yet, multiple postings of the same link beyond the original one objecting to an article’s validity will be deleted.

Take the time to read Brooks’ article. It might help you have a happier time on the internet this year. I know it’s already improved my mood and restored my confidence in moderating the Bacon’s Rebellion comments.

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39 responses to “Dealing with Trolls”

  1. Carter Melton Avatar
    Carter Melton

    Amen x 50

  2. Good morning.

    I have a question regarding: “No wandering way off topic. Stick to the topics raised in the post or logical offshoots of those topics.”

    How do you decide if something is off-topic?

    The people who post comments here have unique outlooks, perspectives, approaches and, in some cases, basic thought patterns. Sometimes things that may appear to have nothing to do with the subject of the article are actually quite germane if one looks a little deeper.

    My hope is that you will take a “liberal” approach when enforcing this particular rule.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      What happens when the contributors themselves lead the comments off-topic (like maybe by counting and commenting on the number of liberal comments for a particular article)…?

      1. Liberal comments are fine if they are on topic or closely related. By controlling those that are not, or are repeated with no new input, contributors won’t have to respond in that way from now on.

        1. James McCarthy Avatar
          James McCarthy

          The observation was NOT directed at liberal substance of comments but applying a liberal approach in determining whether to delete a comment.

          1. Yes. Thank you.

          2. James McCarthy Avatar
            James McCarthy

            De nada. I fear this misreading is an example of future application of the rules and standards for commentary.

          3. The misreading was yours. To be clear, there is room for judgement calls in borderline situations.

          4. The reply to Eric was on him specifically saying number of liberal comments.

          5. Thanks for the clarification. I misunderstood you as well.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    So you sorta have to ask yourself why some blog authors here in BR don’t end up with comments the same way as other authors here do? Same group of commenters, different commenting depending on who wrote the blog post and their interaction with commenters.

    1. (edited) Larry, you are correct. It is most frequently the same small group of commenters trying to bully and manipulate certain contributors –and moderators.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Carol. I’d be curious to know in the 300 billion thread, which comments you considered “bullying” or “manipulative”. You put these accusations out there. At the least, explain what you think are so that
        folks can not do that particular behavior that you consider “bullying” and “manipulative”. Quite a few
        of the comments were cites from other studies that refuted this one. I just don’t that as “bullying”.

        1. Last reply Larry: Meaningful comments related to an article are acceptable. Repeating links with no new information or saying the same thing again and again does not add anything to the blog and becomes irrelevant. Reposting deleted comments is an attempt to manipulate. Because this article was about trolling does not give anyone the right to troll. And yes, I get to decide–that’s that’s the point of moderation.

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        indeed. Notice how Sherlock has gone quiet on his personal attacks? Gotta give Carol some credit!

  4. AlH - Deckplates Avatar
    AlH – Deckplates

    One of my life’s experiences is to learn that bullies are cowards, and certainly have a character problem if they need gratification by, well, doing stuff to others. Info in the article provides useful tools in dealing with bullies.

    My purpose in writing comments, in Bacon’s Rebellion, is to provide pertinent information, if applicable, which may allow another paradigm to be exposed. I do not believe that going after the author is appropriate. However, it may be useful to expand on the subject, provide new or different info, or even disagree with the info. All contributed only if it can be substantiated.

    “The wise are free from perplexities, the kind from anxiety, and the bold from fear.” Confucius

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Thank you, Carol, for taking this task on. I don’t envy you.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    we’re making it up as we go along and actually when we start off talking about “trolls” in the context that Carol is speaking, sounds a little like name-calling to me.

    This is why many Conservative blogs just don’t do comments. They really don’t want them if they do not agree. They WANT the echo chamber!

    1. “Many Conservative blogs just don’t do comments…. They WANT the echo chamber!”

      Are you referring to Bacon’s Rebellion?

      I defy you to name a blog anywhere, of any ideological stripe, in which the publisher has put up with as much invective directed at him (or her) personally as Bacon’s Rebellion. To insinuate that I want an echo chamber is manifestly untrue to anyone who reads this blog. I could block you and other critics any time I want, yet I continue to tolerate your insults, insinuations and what I consider to be your unfounded and irrational arguments. All I ask is that you abide by some basic rules of behavior.

      Go to Blue Virginia, insult and/or misquote Lowell Feld daily, and see how long until you’re booted off his blog! … Oh, I’m sorry. Almost the only person you see posting comments on Blue Virginia is… Lowell Feld! Where are all the conservative trolls?

      1. Almost the only person you see posting comments on Blue Virginia is… Lowell Feld!

        You’ve got that right. For the most part, the only one who comments on Mr. Feld’s articles is Mr. Feld and the only one who responds to Mr. Feld’s comments is also Mr. Feld.

        There is a somewhat crude term for this behavior which, out of respect for the rules, I will not even try to name here.

        Compared to BR, Blue Virginia is a boring, one-note, snooze fest.

  7. Randy Huffman Avatar
    Randy Huffman

    I appreciate your and BR efforts, believe the rules are reasonable, and that it has to be understood by everyone that it takes judgement to moderate any comments, just like a referee at a game. There will be arguments and dissent, we just have to deal with it and try and learn from it.

    Question, when I post a comment (and I use Disqus) and someone responds, I get a message sent to me with the response. If a comment is deleted (or edited), will I get a message? It would be good to know, as it might happen and the commenter doesn’t know and consequently has nothing to learn from it. Of course there will be a percentage of those who could care less, but regular commenters and readers will.

  8. While I disagree with the claim, to me that looks like it comes very close to censoring criticism of the government.

    In my opinion, we should have leeway to criticize our government, and criticize it much more harshly than we criticize our fellow commenters here, even if we do not personally agree with a particular criticism.

    For instance, would you consider it inappropriate for a person to refer to certain federal government officials from previous administrations as “gun smugglers”? It’s an accurate description, of course (see Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious) but apart from a potentially specious link to Virginia, would it be inappropriate on this blog?

    1. Not if it’s in the context of the original post.

  9. In response to LarrytheG’s suggestion, the rules on comments have been added to the Comments page.

    1. Is there a comments section?

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        Would it matter to the person referenced, he’ll deny till the cows come home he engages in ad hom’s. Even on this very thread he engaged in an ad hom, complaining about the moderation.

      2. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        Would it matter to the person referenced, he’ll deny till the cows come home he engages in ad hom’s. Even on this very thread he engaged in an ad hom, complaining about the moderation.

      3. Charles D'Aulnais Avatar
        Charles D’Aulnais

        Better comments than on most sites. This will keep them clean at any rate.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Thanks but shouldn’t you also say that all comments are now moderated and if any of the four rules are broken, the comments WILL be deleted?

      There also seems to be some lack of agreement as to what an Ad Hominem is or not. Might consider giving an example of where it is and where it is not so we do know and will comment according to YOUR definition of it since there seems to be some disagreement here among commenters as to what is or not.

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        Is calling a Leftist a Leftist an ad hominem? I don’t think so. It is descriptive.
        Is saying a comment is stupid an “attack?” Again, wrt the comment, it is a descriptive opinion.
        Is calling Larry stupid an ad hominem? Besides me claiming truth as a defense (having fun here Larry use my name instead), I think context matters.
        Just like calling someone a Nazi, I don’t think it is warranted, absent a real Nazi, and only discredits the accuser. I have shaken off being called quite a lot – saying I wanted to see people die was probably the worst, and I hate being called a liar, because I hate lying (which explains a lot of contempt I have for public figures. Now to preempt the coming stupidity, a lie is telling something you know is not true is true, not getting a fact wrong. Biden telling people about his great academic accolades 40 years ago was lying. I do not know if he has the mental capacity to lie currently, but his wrong statements have increased. He is so addled he may even believe what he says.)
        I think the line is when it turns personal and full of invective. Accusing one of pedophilia, incest, bestiality, but again context matters. Like saying the West Virginia family tree doesn’t fork is a joke (mostly! That’s a joke).
        So, like snark, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think the labels can go pretty far – they reflect a short form of stating an opinion, like saying woke or DEI is Marxist.
        We’ll just have to see where the line is.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Hey… do your thing! I’m actually surprised that your comments don’t get removed! 🙂

  10. killerhertz Avatar

    Trolls are the lifeblood of the Internet

  11. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    This is highly amusing. What a bunch of crybabies! Try being a conservative. Have your NoMandatesUVA page banned on Fakebook. Your YouTube impressions go down. Being called an anti-vaxxer, a conspiracy theorist, an anarchist, an election denier, etc. – and that is assuming your content was allowed to be up!
    The “rules” aren’t hard to understand. And, unlike Twitter and Fakebook, which appear to be government censors, this is a private company, and can be unfair if it wants.
    Why not see if the “rules” are enforced uniformly? You know, “equity” as you Lefties love to pontificate about (while acting inequitably)?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I don’t want to hear any caterwauling from you when it is determined that YOUR comments are deemed “inappropriate”! iNo more name calling for you!

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        You won’t. I see the rules, and I am used to being censored. For being right! As in correct.

  12. disqus_VYLI8FviCA Avatar

    Why all the crying about the rules and splitting of hairs over definitions stated in the rules? No one has a “right” to post here. Don’t like the rules, don’t post. Pretty simple if you ask me.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      There’s no “hairsplitting” at all. It’s using clear and consistent rules that are applied equally to all comments AND authors no matter who they are or their political views or leanings.

      Just a level playing field for all.

      I actually think these rules, if applied consistently, are going to be harder for some who have been advocating for them.

      I give JAB credit for keeping his blog open to all and not emulate other sites like Blue Va but I think also that some of the coarseness here has appeared in the blog posts themselves and motivated responses in kind.

      There are about a half dozen authors who DO keep things level and don’t engage in narratives that incite the kinds of responses that are the focus of the new rules.

      Folks like Matt and Dick and Kathleen among others manage to author blogs that are mostly fair and objective and don’t incite tough responses.

      The new rules offer some promise to improve both blog posts as well as comments if they are applied uniformly.

      We don’t have to agree with the moderator as long as the moderator shows no favoritism towards anyone and calls them as she sees them, no matter who.

  13. When I find the topic is getting emotional, I write the post I want to write. Then I discard it and write another one which is kindler and gentler, but no less brilliant. That’s the one I post.

    Years ago someone said that Twitter is where narcissists go to be exhibitionists. That seems to apply to posts also. Many posts seem to be virtue signals.

    The hardest challenge in life is not keeping up with the geniuses, but putting up with the idiots.

    Thank you, Carol for undertaking what will surely be a daunting task.

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