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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

The Troll Whisperer

by Ken Newquist / May 15, 2007

Cory Doctorow's posted some thoughts on how to deal with the trolls that inevitably show up in online forums and proceed to sow chaos, poison and discord among a previously happy community. It's partly in response to Tim O'Reilly's suggestion that we have an official "Bloggers Code of Conduct" establishing rules for posting comments to a site (such as no anonymous posting) designed to prevent trolls from getting a foothold.

Doctorow's point, and I think he's right, is that if trolls don't obey your site's implicit social contract not to be idiots, why would they obey the explicit one? Instead, he suggests employing "troll whisperers", people with a knack for knowing how to handle trolls, be it banning them, deleting posts or removing all the vowels from their messages. A good troll whisperer, he says, knows just went to use these different techniques. He argues we should try and learn from them, and develop technologies -- like the ability to quickly remove vowels from posts -- that complements their efforts.

I like the idea of a social/technology solution to the problem (though perhaps solution is too strong of a word -- perhaps "approach" is better, since I doubt trolls will ever be wiped out) and wish some of these more subtle techniques could have been employed to save some of my favorite forums, such as Greytalk, before they were reduced to a scorched, troll-ladden wasteland.