Tag Archives: blogging

Inventive Ways to Control Trolls

To keep the peace on the ever-expanding Stack Exchange Network of online communities, owners Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood introduced the timed suspension of disruptive users’ accounts. Over time the transparency of the timed suspension process proved to be occasionally inefficient when discussions arose regarding the merits of certain suspensions. This led the administrators of the communities to investigate other ways of moderating problematic users.

What they found were three fantastically devious secret ways to effectively control trolls and other abusive users on online communities: the hellban, slowban, and errorban:

A hellbanned user is invisible to all other users, but crucially, not himself. From their perspective, they are participating normally in the community but nobody ever responds to them. They can no longer disrupt the community because they are effectively a ghost. It’s a clever way of enforcing the “don’t feed the troll” rule in the community. When nothing they post ever gets a response, a hellbanned user is likely to get bored or frustrated and leave. I believe it, too; if I learned anything from reading The Great Brain as a child, it’s that the silent treatment is the cruelest punishment of them all. […]

(There is one additional form of hellbanning that I feel compelled to mention because it is particularly cruel – when hellbanned users can see only themselves and other hellbanned users. Brrr. I’m pretty sure Dante wrote a chapter about that, somewhere.)

A slowbanned user has delays forcibly introduced into every page they visit. From their perspective, your site has just gotten terribly, horribly slow. And stays that way. They can hardly disrupt the community when they’re struggling to get web pages to load. There’s also science behind this one, because per research from Google and Amazon, every page load delay directly reduces participation. Get slow enough, for long enough, and a slowbanned user is likely to seek out greener and speedier pastures elsewhere on the internet.

An errorbanned user has errors inserted at random into pages they visit. You might consider this a more severe extension of slowbanning – instead of pages loading slowly, they might not load at all, return cryptic HTTP errors, return the wrong page altogether, fail to load key dependencies like JavaScript and images and CSS, and so forth. I’m sure your devious little brains can imagine dozens of ways things could go “wrong” for an errorbanned user. This one is a bit more esoteric, but it isn’t theoretical; an existing implementation exists in the form of the Drupal Misery module.

Taming White House Trolls

When the Obama administration embraced blogging, sans commenting, on the White House website there were a number of detractors saying that Obama had retreated from his campaign promise of providing a site enabling public discussions. The reasons why are fairly obvious, but Clive Thompson looks at how the WhiteHouse.gov blog could enable commenting and successfully/safely control trolls (the original link is currently 404. Google’s cache of the post is up).

If the White House were to use humans to filter posts, it could get into some dicey political situations. If it were to outright ban them, it could draw First Amendment lawsuits. So the genius of modern troll-taming techniques—leaving trollery intact, but mitigating its impact—neatly fits the bill.

Obsession and Writing on the Web

At SXSW 2009, John Gruber and Merlin Mann held a panel on “building a blog you can be proud of, trying to improve the quality of your work, reaching the people you admire, and maybe even making a buck”.

The talk, available as a 43f Podcast on Mann’s site, is worth your time whether you ‘blog’ or not. Gruber goes one further and expands on some of the concepts in a short post about obsession and writing on the web:

My muse for the session was this quote from Walt Disney: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.“ To me, that’s it. That’s the thing. […]

No one gets into something like [writing or publishing on the web] without an obsession, but if your obsession is with the money, and your revenue is directly correlated to page views, then rather than write or produce anything with any actual merit or integrity, you’ll dance like a monkey and split your articles across multiple “pages”and spend more time ginning up sensational Digg-bait headlines than writing the articles themselves. It’s thievery — not of money, but of readers’ attention. […]

The entire quote-unquote “pro blogging” industry […] is predicated on the notion that blogging is a meaningful verb. It is not. The verb is writing. The format and medium are new, but the craft is ancient.

The World of Web Trolling

The New York Times goes inside the world of online trolls, who “use the Internet to harass, humiliate and torment strangers”.

[…] Even if we had the resources to aggressively prosecute trolls, would we want to? Are we ready for an Internet where law enforcement keeps watch over every vituperative blog and backbiting comments section, ready to spring at the first hint of violence? Probably not. All vigorous debates shade into trolling at the perimeter; it is next to impossible to excise the trolling without snuffing out the debate.

If we can’t prosecute the trolling out of online anonymity, might there be some way to mitigate it with technology? [One possible] answer is persistent pseudonymity, a system of nicknames that stay the same across multiple sites. This could reduce anonymity’s excesses while preserving its benefits for whistle-blowers and overseas dissenters. Ultimately, as Fortuny suggests, trolling will stop only when its audience stops taking trolls seriously. “People know to be deeply skeptical of what they read on the front of a supermarket tabloid,” says Dan Gillmor, who directs the Center for Citizen Media. “It should be even more so with anonymous comments. They shouldn’t start off with a credibility rating of, say, 0. It should be more like negative-30.”

Of course, none of these methods will be fail-safe as long as individuals like Fortuny construe human welfare the way they do. As we discussed the epilepsy hack, I asked Fortuny whether a person is obliged to give food to a starving stranger. No, Fortuny argued; no one is entitled to our sympathy or empathy. We can choose to give or withhold them as we see fit. “I can’t push you into the fire,” he explained, “but I can look at you while you’re burning in the fire and not be required to help.” Weeks later, after talking to his friend Zach, Fortuny began considering the deeper emotional forces that drove him to troll. The theory of the green hair, he said, “allows me to find people who do stupid things and turn them around. Zach asked if I thought I could turn my parents around. I almost broke down. The idea of them learning from their mistakes and becoming people that I could actually be proud of… it was overwhelming.” He continued: “It’s not that I do this because I hate them. I do this because I’m trying to save them.”

via Mind Hacks

Usability Tips for Your Website/Blog

Tom of I’d Rather Be Writing—the ‘technical communication’ blog—has just written-up twenty usability tips for your blog.

I’ve been doing research on what distinguishes good blogs from poor ones, especially by reading “lessons learned” posts by bloggers. I’ve come up with 20 principles I think are worthwhile.

  • Encourage comments
  • Include an About page
  • Keep posts short and to the point
  • Link abundantly
  • Include a list of related posts beneath each post

The Resources section towards the end of the post links to a wealth of further information. Reading this, I was put in mind of Seth Godin’s recent call for web podiatrists.