Most likely a huge aggregate percentage of posters on esoteric forums are trolls and most of the forum owners are government operatives of some sort. (Either that or the average person is stark, raving mad to a much greater extent than I had realized). This really shouldn't be all that surprising. Western regimes tend to have a very feminine way of dealing with opposition in that instead of outright squishing it they will attach their agents to it and co-opt it, and having managed to eliminate free speech in most offline contexts, it was only a matter of time before they went after the Internet.
The tactics their paid trolls use are easy to recognize once you are sensitized to them, the common thread being that they will be designed to waste the maximum amount their victims' time while requiring the minimum amount of the trolls' time. Hence the trolls will tend to avoid developing a positive viewpoint and instead confine themselves to generic objections to the viewpoints of others that can be recursively applied to subsequent posts. One way of doing this is to simply post insults, but this tends to have the trolls recognized as trolls too quickly, so they tend to adopt a variety of other tactics. A few I've noticed are the following:
1. Active listening objections: The trolls feed back their victim's posts in the form of stupid questions and asinine misunderstandings and simply repeat the process when the victim offers clarification.
2. Demands for (always unspecified) evidence: The troll will say that the victim hasn't offered enough evidence, that his sources are no good etc. and demand more evidence. The demands will always be open ended so that actually satisfying the troll's request for more evidence will be impossible.
3. Relativistic/nihilistic objections: The troll will say something along the lines that no-one knows anything, you can’t prove anything, it's all just a matter of opinion, just because something happened in the past doesn't mean it will happen in the future etc. (I suppose this is true at some philosophical level, but not very helpful to the progress of any discussion).
4. Diagnostic objections: The troll will claim that the victim is only advancing his position out of resentment of his own circumstances, some psychological problem etc.
Sophisticated trolls can mix and match these techniques and manage to fool the naive and stupid into believing that they are in fact urbane and perceptive social critics while making their victims look bad if they object. Using these techniques an experienced troll would be able to crank out posts as fast as he could type, while victims who took his posts at face value would have to spend a long time writing replies. Therefore a single troll working a forty hour week could potentially waste hundreds of hours of time belonging to opponents of the regime. This would have an effect equivalent to imprisoning several people at a much reduced cost.
I'd have to conclude that most anti-establishment forums have been reduced to a farcical waste of time by lowlifes using these tactics, and I'm not sure there is any good counter. Sincere posters should immediately leave a forum where the forum owner allows this sort of thing and join one that doesn't. However, even most previously sincere forum owners could be coerced by the regime into becoming disinfo agents, and those that can't would likely be put out of business by denial-of-service attacks and/or railroaded on trumped up charges like the raisethefist.com guy. It may be that we should give up of Internet forums and find other ways to communicate. Hey ho, the scum always win.
Posted by: Cornfed | June 09, 2006 at 06:33 PM
Want to see a real battlefield? Just go to any even remotely controversial topic on wikipedia. There you will witness the opposing sides continously editing each other's edits. Some topics are edited (or vandalized) every few minutes. It can be quite humorous to see people so obsessed about seemingly trivial details.
That's what I love about the Net. It's the one of the few places where you will still find "free speech" (which includes the opinions you happen to disagree with.)
The boards that I run and participate in allow the opposing sides to battle it out in a war of ideas.
Frankly, I like having people disagree with me as it forces me to become better at articulating my positions.
If the Netvocate trolls want to come to my board or blog, let them.
Posted by: Peter | June 09, 2006 at 10:14 PM
"Sincere posters should immediately leave a forum where the forum owner allows this sort of thing and join one that doesn't."
Good grief, that sounds boring. If you want a place where everyone agrees on everything, go to one of the forums for people awaiting Rapture.
I prefer debate.
Posted by: Peter | June 09, 2006 at 10:17 PM
^ There is a difference between sincere debate and using the shabby tricks I mention to waste people's time, you know.
Posted by: Cornfed | June 09, 2006 at 10:21 PM
I've been online since 1995. Back in the 90s, I spent a lot of time in Usenet groups where people argued passionately. Over the past 6 years, I have spent many fun hours knocking heads with people in several forums where people come to debate politics, Peak Oil, and the environment. I like the intellectual stimulation of debate.
A place where everyone agrees would put me to sleep.
Posted by: Peter | June 09, 2006 at 10:28 PM
A popular webcomic with gamers (Penny-arcade.com) ran into this recently, in their case it was people paid to talk up certain video games in online forums and blogs to increase the sales of crappy (or just low-selling) games. I'd imagine cases of this will only increase with time...
Posted by: petegala | June 09, 2006 at 10:29 PM
"[..]A place where everyone agrees would put me to sleep."
Is this supposed to be directed at my post somehow? If so, why do you not address the points I raise? You seem to be just flogging the same straw man fallacy over and over. That's another familiar trolling tactic, although I thought it to be too crude and obvious to include in my list.
Posted by: Cornfed | June 09, 2006 at 11:10 PM
Here's an idea, go set up your own forum and/or blog and apply your rules re what constitutes "acceptable" debating tactics. Ban anyone who dares to ignore any of them. Show them who's boss! Hell, you could just prohibit commenting altogether.
Most blog platforms are free, so there's no financial excuse not to do so. See what happens. Go for it. Let us know the URL.
As for me, I welcome anybody and everybody. It's more fun when we disagree and have ideas to battle over. It's all about thesis, antithesis, and finally, synthesis.
My preference is for forums where I will find people with opposing views to mine. I like to find out why they think the way that they do.
Posted by: Peter | June 09, 2006 at 11:36 PM
^ Both the original post and subsequent replies have been on the subject of people with ulterior motives using dishonest tactics to mislead people and impoverish discussion. You are trying to set up a straw man fallacy by talking as if someone is objecting to open debate, when in fact anyone of normal intelligence would realize this is not the case at all. Is it that you are too stupid to read and understand the above posts, or is it that you yourself have and ulterior motive to troll and think others won't realize what you are up to?
Posted by: Cornfed | June 09, 2006 at 11:49 PM
Already into ad hominem attacks, are we? I suppose those are acceptable under your rules?
Want to know the truth that I've been skirting around? Here it is: You come across like a control freak who wants everyone to play "his way" and agree with him so that he can feel safe and smart. Sorry, but that's not how it works in the real world where most people play by whatever rules happen to give them an advantage.
Like I said, go start your own little free blog and live out your fantasies about being the master of your domain.
Posted by: Peter | June 10, 2006 at 12:00 AM
^ These idiot posts from Peter actually serve a purpose by demonstrating the kind of trolling tactics I alluded to in the first reply above. Instead of specifically addressing points others make, which would take time and intelligence, the troll posts the same recycled timewasting generic abuse over and over. As stated, more sophisticated trolls manage to package the abuse in different ways so as to avoid detection as trolls, rather than essentially using the same straw man fallacy repeatedly, but the essential features of their tactics are variations on a theme.
Posted by: Cornfed | June 10, 2006 at 12:14 AM
No wonder you need everyone to follow your little rules. I simply dared to disagree and you go postal on me. If you don't mind my saying so, you come across like an incipient little commissar.
For anyone else reading this, I'll close of by saying that the people who run forums have enough on their hands deleting spam for pron, **** enlargement pills, and online poker sites to have any time or energy left over to parse through individual posts to see if they comply with a set of subjective rules such as those being proposed by Comrade Cornfed here.
I run two forums and have mod status on a third. The keys to success in building an online community are in letting people know that they are free to disagree and keeping the rules to an absolute bare minimum. Otherwise the form operator will be talking to himself.
Well, goodnight, everyone.
PS Comrade Cornfed, please do start a forum of your own so that you can go over every post with a jeweller's loupe. The sense of power it will give you will be quite intoxicating.
Posted by: Peter | June 10, 2006 at 12:32 AM
Lighten up, Petey.
Posted by: Mr.Murder | June 10, 2006 at 01:38 AM
Finally a rational argument along with the umpteenth restatement of the same straw man - moderating a forum properly takes a lot of time. Yes, so it may be that Internet forums are inherently vulnerable to trolls and therefore are not the vehicles for serious discussion. However, it would be good if people could at least recognize the familiar trolling tactics and not be sucked in to taking the trolls at face value.
Posted by: Cornfed | June 10, 2006 at 01:43 AM
Of course I'm nothing but a troll myself. So pay no attention to me.
Posted by: Mr.Murder | June 10, 2006 at 01:48 AM
Man, I'm so glad arguements like this don't happen on my blog - probably because next to no one reads it
For the record I think you have some good points to make in your first comment Cornfed. I used to spend time at the New Zealand Indymedia site and everytime a troll dissapeared (occaisionaly from being busted by another reader) another would pop up within a short time to replace them. Of course I have no evidence but it must have happened about 10 or so times that I saw.
Posted by: Aaron | June 10, 2006 at 01:54 AM
What a funny little coincidence that a troll should appear so suddenly in order to support someone attacking trolls?
Are we being trolled by an anti-troll?
Posted by: Scott | June 10, 2006 at 02:20 AM
I think the real question is are you a troll trolling by pretending to be anti anti troll trolls?
Posted by: Cornfed | June 10, 2006 at 02:57 AM
Hmmm - I noticed these guys (NetVocates) a few weeks ago (mid May) in my logs.
At the time they were trawling for blogs that mentioned "climate change", "earth" and "al gore" - so my initial guess was that they were doing advocacy / monitoring work for the forces of reality
The CEI "carbon dioxide is good for you" ads came out shortly after which left me undecided about their purpose though.
There are lots of firms doing this sort of stuff and to be honest I couldn't care less about them (as long as they don't come knocking on my door at 2am anyway !).
My view is that all debate is good - if paid trolls (and there are plenty of them out there - I used to bait them for sport for a while) want to leave comments and spark debate let them do their best - its good for honing your own understanding of the world and learning how to mitigate various dishonest talking points when you're simply being bombarded with propaganda.
This doesn't happen often in my little soap box for some reason - presumably because I take the "wrestling a pig in ****" approach - I (like the metaphorical pig) quite enjoy all the muck while the rare troll that visits usually learns one of the basic PR lessons - don't give oxygen to viewpoints you vehemently disagree with...
I was tracking these sorts of blog monitoring and tuning companies for a while - the weirdest one I've seen in my logs is a cross between Douglas Adams and Harvey Keitel - the "brand cleansers" at vroomfondel.co.uk
(though I never worked out whose brand they wished to cleanse).
Posted by: Big Gav | June 10, 2006 at 10:18 AM
I know that this will come as a shock to the system to those with a delicate constitution, but sometimes the alleged "trolls" are actually your forum's best members. Why? Well, because they take the effort to stir up debate and get people thinking and talking, instead of merely patting one another on the back.
The good trolls do this with a sense of humor and often end up being far more entertaining than the deadly earnest types. Over the past three months, I have observed the poster who was branded a troll by the regs at a popular blog evolve into the group's best contributor. What was his crime initially? Well, he had refused to play by the rules set forth by a few old regs who had come to think that they owned the blog.
Posted by: Peter | June 10, 2006 at 11:36 AM
Technologically speaking it's easy enough to remove the Http-Referer (sic) URL from a request by a minor browser modification. Any trolls worth their salt are not going to announce themselves as trolls -- or if they are, they'll get more savvy about it soon.
Posted by: Wesley | June 10, 2006 at 02:13 PM
in my experience moderating an indymedia site, i can say that trolling is more likely to close down debate rather than open it up. i suspect that all the talk of how it can contribute to robust open debate is by folks that haven't experienced the worst of it.
i really enjoy discussing/arguing with people of different opinions. but trolls are not simply people of different opinion, they use the type of tactics mentioned by CornFed, usually with an insideous brand of negativity, which scares off anyone who values their time and sanity. on the indymedia site there were a couple of obsessive individuals who i doubt were in the pay of anyone, but at least one cop who didn't identify himself (or bother to mask his ip address) posting snide comments, but also numorous others who might have been paid - so diverse were their tactics at disruption.
some sites/mailing lists seem to escape it, and develop a strong culture which is hard for trolls to upset. best to not waste your time and stick with these i reckon. the internet is still a really useful medium.
Posted by: adam f | June 11, 2006 at 09:09 AM
Well Adam, we will have to disagree then. In my experience, the label "troll" is all too often is used against anyone who dares to disagree with us. (See above example)
I have also seen too many communities deteriorate into dull, pointless, circle-jerks where members only spout the party line and then applaud each other for doing so.
To each his own.
Posted by: Peter | June 11, 2006 at 12:17 PM
Dull, pointless circle jerks that don't get anywhere or achieve anything is exactly the kind of list the scumbag trolls are generally aiming for. Unless they are kicked out immediately they will invariably succeed in achieving it.
Far more insidious than trolls are people who pretend to support the list purpose but are in fact spooks trying to keep people within the tent, gather intelligence and prevent any substantive action from taking place. As stated, it is likely that most of the owners of esoteric lists and forums fall into this category.
The way they go about their business is generally to ingratiate themselves with real freedom supporters and offer them assistance of some kind. So say you had written several pro-freedom essays. They might e-mail you and say something along the lines of "Wow, my friends and I were really inspired by your writings. With your permission I'd like to set up a forum to discuss your work". Or they might offer to host your site for free. In meatspace, they might offer you the use of a hall to hold meetings. If you are lucky, they will use the leverage they gain over you and your group to keep you under control and prevent you from using your time productively. At worst, they will try to railroad you for this or that crime.
How do you differentiate the scum from genuine helpers? For one thing, you should do your homework by, for example, goggling on the e-mail addresses they use and browsing the forums they are associated with. If they are fakes, inconsistencies will likely show up. Then you should monitor their subsequent behavior. If they are spooks, the time pressure they are under can make them quite "bipolar". For example, they might be quite disrespectful to a committed member in public (to keep him from steering the group into doing something useful) and then apologetic to him in private (to stop him from leaving the group and therefore falling outside their control). Or they may be very nice to a member to try and ingratiate themselves in the manner described above, and then suddenly turn on him and disassociate themselves from him (because they realize that he won't fall for their tactics and so have decided to move on to easier marks).
People, don't let yourselves be played for chumps, and take stock of your current situation
Posted by: Cornfed | June 11, 2006 at 09:06 PM