troll-spotting (3): rules of the game

Yes, this is a game. With rules. The only way to play this is by the rules. 

Well: there’s more than one game; or a game with levels, some of which flow into and through each other. There’s trolling (of various sorts). There’s counter-trolling. There’s playing with trolls. And there’s meta-counter-trolling: with intent to convert and reform trolls, so as to learn from them and from why they’re trolling, making the internet a better place, and spreading peace, love, tolerance, and other hippy lefty greeny gynocratic shizz.

But back to the trolling game.

This game is deliberate, malicious, cruel. Out to harm and hurt. Targetting specially-selected individuals. Harrassment and abuse. Picking, picking on, stalking, and in some cases grooming appropriate victims. Bullying. It’s just like fox-hunting: a sport, whose aim is to seek out, hunt down, torment, and tear to shreds. With as much spectacular gore as possible.

These guys are playing a game. They’re used to playing games. They’re aware that games have rules, and that where one can’t cheat, one tries to bend them. Some use and abuse the “letter of the law” approach, and therefore flag anyone else who’s OT.

Abstraction, patterns, rules: Unikko poppy fabric: Marimekko, 1964

The recent batch of MUA trolls were out to get people kicked off MUA for breaking rules. Insofar as it’s been remotely intelligent, it’s been cunning passive-aggressive entrapment moves–“no, not me: SHE was the one who went OT and OTT…” Don’t rise, it counts as troll-feeding and can only count against you.

Don’t respond to anything else on a trolljacked thread, or you’ll be OTing too. If you find yourself responding, go back and edit your message to “no message,” “oops,” “oops–sorry, accidentally fed troll, message removed”

At least on a moderated forum (like MUA), one can ensure that this particular game does actually have rules, and that they’re rules that everyone knows. That’s an assurance and a reassurance, and gives some control over how it runs. But stick with those rules. It’s the only way to win, stay OK with the mods, and keep the whole socio-political entity good and clean and so on too.

–like poppies IRL, also exists in ginger/orange form

Remember: main rule: don’t feed the trolls. Even if they say “chicken” or play chicken. Or you’ll be falling into trap, lose moral higher ground, and lose points in the game that is virtual political life.

But: there’s nothing in the rules against setting a counter-trap. Spot a regular troll? Wait and watch. If you figure out that a troll has taken up squatters’ rights under that particular bridge, and is waiting for people to cross it/her. Thread-watching isn’t too hard–tick a box to get email updates whenever there’s activity on it. If the troll jumps on someone, jump fast and flag. Silently. Do nothing else: apart from telling the moderators why you’ve done what you’ve done, because that’s polite, good form, and The Rules.

It’s very Wild West. Whoever’s got the fastest trigger-finger from email to board, and a flag, wins the round.

Decent computer, decent email alert system, maybe a couple of bots: and this can be dealt with out of the corner of your eye, with next to no interference with work: provided that you can actually maintain focus on work (or whatever you’re doing online). Remember, though: the purpose of anti-trolling must remain philanthropy, solidarity, and protection.

If MUA and thread-watching become disruptive, intrusive, obsessive: be careful. You’re in danger of turning into a troll yourself…

So: the best defence against trolls is avoiding interaction with them. Because trolling is a disease, and it’s contagious.

wild poppies, various sorts


1. I’ve seen plenty cases over the years where old-timers give short answers (often curtly). Especially obvious on a discussion board that’s about information and advice, like MUA. I understand why: having been guilty of this myself. It’s the nth time the same question has been asked & same answers given. Some answers don’t change (facts, stupidities).

But I also understand how that annoys other people:
(a) the curtness: rude. I was going to add “disrespectful”–but respect isn’t given, it must be earned–so “discourteous.”
(b) a short snappy answer implies authoritativeness, and thus authority. Be that assumed or not, it can come across as arrogant. Especially to someone who is depressed, fragile, angry, paranoid, belligerent, stupid (but smart enough to spot non-stupidity in others), jealous, and generally out to hate on others. Whatever combination of the above.

I’ve seen that annoyance on the BB discussion board, and it is, to my mind, valid criticism.

Avoiding pissing people off might help to avoid being hand-picked for trolling. Unfortunately, the other specific characteristics that get picked on, that would draw you to the attention of a troll–or a troll-board– may be harder to manage.

2. Being on the board a lot, popping on and off it all the time, weighing in with a comment on everything you know about or have a view on (or anything at all): careful. It’s also bordering on trolling. And it’s near board-addiction. Yes, even if you’re a genuine multitasking genius…

3. 2nd-ing what certain people say, and not others: this suggests that there are factions, gangs, and cliques. It may not be true. But if you’re an insecure sort of person, it’ll look that way. Remember: put yourself in the prospective troll’s shoes. You’ll look like a yes-man, part of a defensive circle around the original poster. The impression of posses may best be thwarted by restraining yourself from 2nd-ing, unless you have something to add, or if adding “weight” to their case might help. There are such occasions–very rarely–though usually this really isn’t worth the effort, unless it’s a life and death situation: like not buying prescription drugs online without a prescription. Usually there is no need: if the OP said something sensible, useful, true–that should be able to stand up on its own merits.

lone tall (ginger) poppy

4. Being very serious: taking a more serious line on a question, but actually going off on a tangent. Again, sometimes this can border on trolling. I’ve been guilty of this, and of not answering the original question. If it’s “should I buy Dove body-wash or the Olay one?” it’s not appropriate to answer “they’re evil bunny-torturers.” That doesn’t answer the question. Even if them being evil bunny-torturers is important, and it is more important than a choice of body-wash.

There are other ways of including that information in an answer that does answer the question: list the ingredients of both and current prices, compare and contrast, add note to the effect that they may well be fine but that you don’t use them yourself, for ethical reasons. No need for any more than that. And certainly no need to rehash your whole statement of belief every time a question like that comes up. It’s not going to help your case: only hinder it. I have nothing but disdain for peope who do this with religious fundamentalism or right-wing politics. The situation is exactly the same here. Also, it can be boring.

5. Being very serious: earnest: taking the question and its discussion too seriously. Especially true on MUA. This may already be ridiculous, without necessitating any troll action.

6. Taking yourself very seriously. Having no sense of humour, or of proportion.

more tall poppies

7. On BB, we’ve seen that some bashes are simply “tall poppy syndrome”: bashing someone for sticking out from the crowd. Unfortunately, sometimes that can’t be helped: giving sound advice and gaining a reputation for this, for reliability. Haters gonna hate. Yes, you’re doing good, and doing it for others. But haters still gonna do their thing.

8. Another kind of “tall poppy”: knowing stuff, looking stuff up, being informed. Yes, this is an internet discussion board we’re talking. Yes, you would expect it to be full of geeks and nerds. But knowing a lot can be (mis)read all to easily as showing off about it.

This usually indicates that your misreader knows little, and shows off about what little they know. They’re not used to hanging out in intelligent adult company, with people who all know lots of stuff, and assume others do, and talk about knowledgy-stuff all the time. For some of us, this is normal everyday life and we’re just behaving exactly how we usually do.

There’s not much to do about this one: wearing one’s knowledge lightly is a rare talent. I know and know of  very few people who have it. And we’re living in one of the most viciously anti-intellectual cultural climates ever.

Best solution here would be to find a gentle way of including the troll in the conversation, without patronising them, but dealing with big ideas in layman’s terms and opening up a monologue or a conversation to them. It’s educational–not least for their social skills, but also for one’s own. [Ed.: sometimes that’s not possible; if behaving in an a-social, pre-social, anti-social way: treat accordingly. In the Naughty Corner with the dunce’s hat on. At least the other kids might learn.]

happy group of tall poppies soaking up the sun together

9. Going on at great length and in possibly tedious detail about something. Guilty as charged. Get a blog and put the extra stuff there. Unfortunately, you’ll then not be able (on MUA) to link to it. But get it out your system, before formulating a response on a discussion board. Your response will be all the better. Also, you might find yourself wondering if it’s really worth doing at all, if you treat this as “drafting” and part of a whole writing process, rather than just (engaging brain,) opening your mouth and replying.

After all, it’s a discussion board. Like a chat-room, or a forum, agora, market-place: it’s a place of fast talk, flowing conversation, quipfire. Not for lectures and rants. Yes, I know, some of us think and talk in complete sentences, and indeed in well-formed paragraphs. And there’s lots of dumbing-down, lowest common denominator, philistinism, and idiocracy going on. But still: dramatic monologues generally ain’t dramatic, even when they’re in a theatre in front of a hushed audience. I mean, am I the only one out there who’ll be watching a play and feel like joining in, or butting in, or at least find themselves nodding along and saying “yes, quite so” or “no, you fool” under their breath?

10. The other “tall poppy” thing that’s going to be tricky and will get you into trouble: being smart. I mean, independent of whether or not you know stuff, or can figure out how to find it out. Basically the simple fact of having a brain. For people lacking in brain, this is like a red flag to a zombie.

The only way around this is to use brain to your advantage, and as a self-defence mechanism. It can also work out for The Good. Humour is generally helpful. Heck, someone might even like you for it, you might change a troll’s mind.

But be careful: wanting to be liked? Against the geek code of honour. Wanting to be cool? One of the gang? Down with the kids? Wanting to be liked by people who are / are behaving like obnoxious teenage bratty girls? Congratulations: you’ve just fed the trolls, fed right into their hands, and officially labelled yourself a Sad Git.

sad droopy poppy without any petals


1. Assume all questions are intelligent and sincere.

2. If a question obviously isn’t: ignore.

3. Don’t respond to a troll except by flagging, with no further comment, except a message to mods saying why you’ve flagged. (If you have no flag: send a message to the mods alerting them to the trollish activity.)

4. If trolling isn’t immediately obvious: change the subject at a certain point, especially if things turn seems irrelevant / inappropriate / bizarre.

5. If in doubt, LOL (sometimes I’ll do that near the start anyway). Turn the trolling comment into a joke. Check first if the comment actually was a joke in the first place… even if it wasn’t, most things can be turned in a more comic direction anyway. Lightening things up, defusing tense situations: always beneficial. (I have actually been flagged for being facetious. True story. Me.)

If in doubt, think: will this increase the sum of human happiness? If you’re not sure, insert joke. Whatever else you might have been thinking of saying, and however right it might be, at least a joke is guaranteed to make some people happy.

if in doubt, aim to fascinate–or at least distract attention from zits, figurative and otherwise

6. Only feed the trolls alcohol. Do not otherwise feed them.

7. Be ready to ignore. Sometimes, just walk away. Sometimes do it fast. Sometimes do it immediately (see 3. above). Sometimes have a shrug first, sometimes not. If in doubt, ask yourself: “can I be arsed?”

8. Otherwise, benefit of the doubt. Respond politely & tactfully, and peace-monger. Be prepared to change tack, and change your mind: someone may appear to be a regular sor of chap(pette) then turn out to be a troll, or vice versa; a really good troll will shift around between one and the other, never quite getting caught out. Remember: no self-respecting troll wants to be outed as an Obvious Troll. That’s the ultimate shame, dishonour, career disaster, and disgrace.

This is a variant on “do not feed the trolls.” Keep doing this until / unless trolling becomes evident. A variation on the counter-trolling measure in UD definition #4 right up at the top: trap the troll and kill with niceness and normality. Who knows, they might wake up to reality and stop trolling. Can’t do any harm, either way.

Also, this is fun. Like any normal person, I have some trollish traits–ranting and raving for one–

9. Include much YMMV, being careful and showing all due (and doubtless much undue) respect for differences… Again, not providing fodder/ammunition/fuel for those sorts of troll. I know some of BB’s issues are with strongly-worded didacticism, seen as bullying; with a certain intolerance of other opinions and choices (well, yes, they may be wrong/wrong-headed/stupid: but best to prove it, nicely and politely and diplomatically, using every rhetorical tool in the arsenal). Remember: your troll might have misread you. You might make a friend!

10. Outnice, outsmart, out-think. Not least so as to retain the moral and intellectual high ground of sticking to pure argument and reason–with all participants on an even playing-field.

happy harmonious poppies, tall and otherwise, coexisting with other flowers

Image at top: Matt Hagen: fleet-footed photographer (and a gentleman, generous of spirit).
The original post, “Great Expectations,” is well worth a click and a read: not least to see the thought, work, craftsmanship, and creative consideration that goes into such a superficially simple but striking image. I did my usual geeky Google image search, i.e “read” through thousands of images; this was the first to catch my eye as a nice visual summary of the whole “tall poppy” idea; many images later, its after-image was still lurking and haunting. Matt: all this is much appreciated! From one tall (well, OK, kind of medium-height) poppy to another…
Also, a note to anyone just taking screenshots of images online willy-nilly and not crediting them properly: stealing art is doubly WRONG and BAD as it also insults artists!!! .

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