Notes from the trenches.
Advocate for the kind of cyber space you want. Tell people flat out that their behaviour isn’t appropriate.
Set the standard yourself, don’t wait for someone else to do it.
Don’t just post your little comment and read a couple more and leave. Claim the comment space, especially if you’re being attacked or take exception to certain nasty trolls. Scan the comments, look for the repeat abusers and hound them. It freaks them out, it never occurs to them that people could be watching. It’s a simple tactic that works well.
If you’re keen on the research, familiarize yourself with the culture of 4chan and other sites where anonymous comment culture thrives. Go there and spend some time. This helps with identifying the way these groups function, some codes of conduct, what motivates them, what their particular ticks are, which includes:
Disruption for the sake of disruption.
Adherence to hive mind and a commitment to non-hierarchical anarchy.
Harsh, spare-no-feelings culture.
NYPA. Not your personal army. A common refrain when someone tries to enlist the hive mind.
Don’t assume anything about trolls, they’re comprised of all kinds from all strata of society.
Teenage trolls are easy to spot and easy to rebuff. Their style is generally the one-liner attack; most are used to online engagement that involves the modern version of trading cards, and excel at brevity: one word, one phrase, one line at a time.
Personal attack and fake outrage are the troll’s stock in trade.
It’s fairly easy to mess with their heads. Disrupt their disruption.
Do experiments. Post a comment that’s passionately in support of one side of a polarized argument and watch the pile-on. This serves a couple of purposes: pulls the agitators away from real discussion, identifies repeat posters, shows the percentage of trolls at work.
Foreign trolls give themselves away by the off-sounding English. Grammar is lacking and the comment looks odd—it’s been put through Google translate, which does a terrible job.
Tell them you’re conducting an experiment. Tell them your “team has been hired to gather names”. Get creative and sound authoritative.
Lie to foreign trolls so they’ll doubt themselves. Use all caps and tell them that doing so alerts Admin to a problem for investigation.
Reply to trolls. Ask them if they are getting minimum wage. Ask them if they’re being paid by the post. Make fun of their fake name if it’s something stupid, offensive or immature—like ‘Rams Herhard’.
Push back with force. Scathing humour trumps almost everything. Wit is respected. Appealing to niceness, manners or their better nature will only elicit derision and anger.
Foreign players whose first language is not English have difficulty holding up their position and will rarely reply back. Most foreign trolls aren’t there to engage with you, they might even be bots. Their job is to dump onto the comment thread, seeding it with whatever brand of poison they’re being paid to deliver.
Becoming more troll-savvy has important implications during elections where the fight for control of narrative is becoming fierce. Last month’s New Yorker magazine (February issue) contains an in-depth report about how troll culture is being copied, refined and weaponized. Check it out: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/02/18/private-mossad-for-hire
Last but not least. Any news organizations who are manipulating the current mysteries of social media must stop now. I’ve noticed that one particular news outlet was inundated with an army of nasty trolls over a period of several weeks. But the other news outlets of similar heft/import did not have the problem. Then, lo and behold, this news outlet tried to float the idea that because trolls were such a huge problem on their site it was time to change their comment rules and everyone would have to sign in/sign up and have their data managed by a savvy new internet company. Thank the god of bumbling Canadians because the initiative didn’t float and, voila, the army of nasty trolls disappeared. Hard to say what exactly was going on, but let’s go out on a limb: news outlets absolutely must not play the data mining game.