Saturday, June 20, 2009

Community Open Thread: Trolls

-- by Sara

"But Orcs and Trolls spoke as they would, without love of words or things; and their language was actually more degraded and filthy than I have shown it. I do not suppose that any will wish for a closer rendering, though models are easy to find. Much the same sort of talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong.” -- JRR Tolkien

It's been a rough few weeks here in Orcinus's comments threads. As has always happened in the over six years we've been here, big doings by right-wing radicals have brought their defenders and apologists out in droves. This is nothing new, and we're well used to it by now.

But something's changed, and I'm hard-put to know what it is. I'm perfectly willing to allow that it may be just me. I'm back in the hard ruts of my Lyme treatment for next few months. Taking high doses of four heavy-duty antibiotics all at the same time is making me tense and tired and a little short with people in Real Life, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to find that showing up in my online interactions, too.

Or maybe it's that shift in tone we've all been noticing since the Inauguration. The right-wingers really are wrapped a little tighter these days. And not without reason, given the way the GOP is imploding before their eyes. High-flux situations aren't their strong suit (that's why they're conservatives in the first place), and it's easy to see how they'd be looking for people to take some of that out on.

There are also persistent and well-documented rumors that somebody on the right is funding a large pajama army of professional blog disrupters. If true, given what we discuss here, we'd be on the short list of people with targets on their backs, and I can readily imagine that we've probably seen a few come and go already. (We also have at least one troll who has returned on a regular basis for years; and have gotten reasonably good at recognizing him when he reappears.)

Whatever it is, we seem to be inundated right now. And I'm feeling like our usual policy isn't covering the situation nearly as well as it used to. The policy, by the way, is that we generally let these people have the run of the place unless they are a) making ad hominem attacks and/or b) clearly attempting to disrupt all reasonable conversation, and making no positive contributions, and/or c) are generally annoying enough for long enough that people just have had a bellyful and start complaining. Offenders get two warnings of which rule they're violating before they're bounced. And then they're bounced.

I've had to use the "ban" button more in the past month than I have in the past three years. And it's bothering me. Part of what we all cherish about this site is the large, long-established community of brilliant people, who often have incredibly intelligent, wide-ranging conversations about what it means to be American in the 21st century. There's a fine line to be walked between letting potentially disruptive people have their say, and maintaining a safe and welcoming space for the rest of us.

So, since it's a weekend and quiet anyway, I'd like to open a conversation with regulars and newcomers about what they'd like to see in our comments threads -- and from me as the moderator of them. How do we raise the level of discourse? Is there some way to fine-tune our troll-handling policies? Should they be given more rope, or less? Is it time to develop a more coherent set of strategies for dealing with them?

We've been here long enough to become a community, and this is a problem that would seem to demand a community solution. Your thoughts welcome.

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