It used to be the case that anyone around long enough to become a trusted user would automatically have a pretty good idea of how things worked, from a community standpoint. I'm not sure if that's changed -- I don't think so -- but it is certainly the case that in the ongoing fight about "troll hunters" and whatnot, people are using the ratings incorrectly in a few very fundamental ways.
To Troll Rate something has exactly one meaning. When you Troll Rate something, as a trusted user, you are stating that the comment should be made invisible to all site users. You're saying that the comment is so bad -- so disruptive or damaging to the community -- that it isn't worth even a debate, but should be deleted from the discussion as being simply inflammatory, simply off-topic, or simply a lie.
Remember that, because that is the only use of the troll rating. It is an editorial vote to delete a comment from the conversation.
Conversely, there is one particular reason troll ratings should never be used: to express disagreement with a poster's opinion. If you disagree, you can say so, but so long as the commentor is stating their opinion civilly, merely disagreeing with your own opinion does not constitute being a "troll". This is true of gun control; Nader fights; Hillary vs. Not Hillary; DLC vs. Not DLC; energy policy; Senate strategy; House strategy; campaign strategy. Merely having a different opinion and stating it differently from how you would like does not constitute "trolling". Having honest and frequently passionate discussions of the issues is an imperative, if we are to obtain a progressive movement marked with actual successes.
Here's two more tips:
- Troll Rating multiple posts by the same poster -- that is, preemptive multiple troll-rating strikes -- is not the intended use. Rate individual posts individually, don't just go down a thread knocking off troll ratings to a particular poster because of one or two comments that pissed you off. It is entirely possible for a valued site contributor to have, on one particular issue, an opinion that drives you absolutely nuts. Well, they're entitled, as long as the conversation stays remotely civil.
- Retaliatory troll-ratings -- troll rating someone simply because they troll rated you -- is forbidden. Period. Do it with frequency and you stand the chance of getting your rating ability taken away.
That's it. That's the intended use. If you use troll ratings in any other way but to explicitly hide certain comments from the conversation so that they will not detract from the more substantive threads of the conversation, you're using it wrong.
- "Democrates suk" or any of the other derivations of true trolling by those of enfeebled brain. Don't argue, just zap them. More on this in a bit.
- Advertisements or other thread spamming. Zero them out. Especially if a user is posting the same comment to multiple threads. The cause may be just; the behavior isn't.
- Off-topic posts. There's entire threads devoted to being off-topic: the Open Threads. In other conversations, it is rude to interrupt a diary or story conversation with your own unrelated "threadjacking".
- Proven-false information, conspiracy theories, or debunked talking points.
- Personal attacks on other site users, including following them from thread to thread.
- Attempting to "out" the personal information of other site users. This isn't just trolling, but is expressly forbidden and will almost certainly result in immediate banning.
What all these things have in common is that they represent content that is irrelevant to the thread, or intentionally disruptive of the goals of the conversation, or seek to poison the atmosphere in which conversation can take place at all. That is trolling.
There are a number of major types of actual bona fide trolls that tend to pop up on this site from time to time. Learn to know them:
- Troll Trolls. The most primitive kind, these unhappy denizens are characterized by bad spelling, lots of CAPITL LETERS, and a fondness for phrases such as "you liberals", "America haters", or "Kennedy". They have the lifespan of fruit flies, and are usually dispatched within a few hours of their first posts. You have permission to troll rate them explosively in every comment they make, and let the autoban algorithm take care of them forthwith.
- "Concern Trolls". Marginally more clever, they pretend at being progressive Democrats, but at every turn seem to suggest the most obviously damaging or boneheaded or offensive thing they can. These are easier to catch than you might imagine: since it hardly matters whether someone is an obvious concern troll or just an unmitigated idiot, sometimes it doesn't pay to think about it too hard.
- "Conspiracy Trolls". Anyone who repeatedly posts badly sourced stories here. All diarists and frontpagers are responsible for the accuracy and legitimacy of the things the post: posters that have a history of ignoring basic rules of journalism or evidence are not welcome here, because they detract from the reputation of the site and damage the authors who do put a great deal of effort into their articles. What the topic is -- 9/11 theories, Israel theories, whatever -- is irrelevant, it is the quality of the evidence presented that matters.
- "Purity Trolls". These are trolls from the left. Otherwise known in reallife as drama queens. No matter how pure your position is, their position is more pure. No matter how compassionate or informed or skeptical or vigorous your opinion is, theirs is more of it. These trolls are insistent that they are the true spirit of liberalism, and spend their time being quite put out that the rest of us don't turn over our resources, our audiences, and our respect to them, regardless of how thin their positions may be on the merits. Drives me nuts, personally.
The first three kinds are easy enough to deal with. The fourth is more pesky and more irritating, since they won't take the hint that if they're really so far left that they think Howard Dean and Al Gore are fascists, we don't want them here, and there are other sites that would welcome them more openly, and good luck with that.
There is also a fifth kind of troll: the simple asshole. It doesn't matter how pure your motives are, if you can't get along with other users, you're not doing yourself, them, the site, or anything else any good. 90% of all trolls are banned because of their behaviors towards other users, not because of their opinions.
Of course, the line between passionate disagreement and trolling isn't always that easy to see, of course, and the grief lies in the details. Here are some additional guidelines for those wide gray areas.
- Don't judge a poster based solely on how long they've been here. Conversely, though, if you've only been here a short time and insist on making your very first conversations hostile, contrary and insulting, don't expect people to be generous enough with their time to "get to know" you. They'll just rightly conclude you're an ass.
- Language is not generally policed here, in terms of "shit", "fuck", or any of those other terribly uncivil words. There are times when a little creative incivility is much needed. Sexist or racist language, however, is not welcome.
- Don't post recipes or pictures or other retaliatory humor if it's going to disrupt an otherwise informative thread. If it's a bona fide troll diary, knock yourself out, otherwise, it's best to ignore the attempt to derail the thread, not assist the effort.
- Don't have long off-topic conversations accusing someone of being a troll. If it's not patently obvious to most comers, then they are NOT trolls. And if you're following the rules and rating the posts and not the poster, the question of whether someone is or is not a "real" troll shouldn't come up. Judge them based on their actions -- don't disrupt entire threads worrying about whether or not they might disrupt threads themselves. I mean, geez...
- If you're the only one troll rating something, and most other people aren't, you might have your calibration off. If you're troll rating a user who has been here since the early days of Internet cavemen, you might also have your calibration off.
- If you find everything you say being troll rated in a certain thread -- and it's more than one person doing it -- stop commenting. You're only digging your hole deeper, people aren't suddenly going to start treating you better the more inflammatory you get. Take it as a very direct sign that you need to step back and reevaluate how you're talking to people.
- If someone has clearly been unfairly troll rated, you can use a 'recommend' to unhide a troll rated thread: but think about it before you do it. It takes only one "recommend" to unhide a comment hidden by three troll ratings, and you're essentially vouching on your honor that you think the comment is not trollworthy. If you thwart responsible troll raters by rating threads up that quite clearly should be hidden according to the guidelines of the site, e.g. consistently act as an accomplice for a true troll, you may find your own ratings abilities removed.
Annoyingly, there's been an accepted practice of returning a retaliatory troll rating on someone in an argument who is very, very clearly abusing the ratings rules themselves. In that this is a nice Darwinian pressure that tends to remove overactive troll raters from the Trusted User pool themselves, I... can't see fit to argue with it. If the troll rater is quite clearly breaking the rules as laid out themselves, it is generally accepted practice. But breaking the rules to punish someone for breaking the rules is a dangerous game, and one likely to backfire on you. Be warned.
Once it gets into an all-out ratings war on a thread, most of us simply stop reading the thread; it's ruined, as far as useful information goes. But I and other frontpagers certainly tend to keep aware of who gets into these arguments most often.
My one argument with the Troll Hunters is that it really shouldn't be about "hunting" trolls, it should be about enforcing basic site standards: see the above general definitions of trolling. If you do that, the trolls will be quite apparent without making a scene about it. So stop calling it Troll Hunting, for starters.
My one argument with the anti-Troll Hunter crowd is that determining the cutoff point beyond which a stated post or opinion is so offensive as to be unworthy of the site is a delegated responsibility of the users of this site. It just is, and it is sometimes a very difficult judgment. You can argue that people are doing it to aggressively, but don't argue that it shouldn't be done. We have certain community standards here, and we require those standards to be enforced, and it requires personal judgments.
As any thread about certain topics can attest, we are in no current danger of becoming an echo chamber. Nor are we in danger of being overrun by anyone. So leave the venom out of it.
Banned Users. Here's one more important tip. When someone is banned from the site, they've been banned for a reason. In 90% of the cases, it's because of behavior: they've proven to be so disruptive in conversations that it's just not worth whatever contribution they think they're making to the site. Banning people is a decision that rests entirely with Kos, although the frontpagers will frequently give their own opinions or bring particular disruptive posters to his attention.
The thing about it is this: banning is permanent. You don't get to come back under a different name. Many people try, and are surprised when their accounts are again yanked pretty much as soon as someone bothers to look for them. If you've been banned, go to a different site and contribute there instead.
We are all guests here (each other's guests, if you want to think of it like that), and behaving respectfully towards other posters is not optional. Arguing is fine, even verbal slapfights are fine, but at the end of the day, if a poster is doing nothing but fighting, they're wasting their time, and your time, and my time, and distracting from the efforts to contribute things of actual substance and value here. Kos has made it quite clear, over the years, that babysitting incessant whiners is not among his top priorities for the site.
As I said above, the line between disagreement and trolling often isn't an easy one to define. There are circumstances in which everything a person says is, by the definition for this specific site, trolling. It may even still be civil, but it still may not be relevant to the goals of this site. The goals of this site are specific, and this site, like all sites, has certain rules and objectives.
This site is primarily a Democratic site, with a heavy emphasis on progressive politics. It is not intended for Republicans, or conservatives. It is not intended for third parties, either, although it happens that the goals of progressive third parties and progressive Democrats tend to align in mutually beneficial ways. The community, however, is currently self-selected to be a moderate-left, progressive, and almost exclusively Democratic site. That's who Kos tends to focus on; that's the kind of people he chooses as guest editorialists for his site; that's who the site caters to.
This is not a site to debate conservative talking points. There are other sites for that. This is not a site for conservatives and progressives to meet and discuss their differences. There are other sites for that, too. This is not a site for discussing how to create a third party. Knock yourself out bitching about the Democrats, but the stated goals of the site are trying to fix them, as a party, not dismantle them.
This is a site for progressive Democrats. Conservative debaters are not welcome simply because the efforts here are to define and build a progressive infrastructure, and conservatives can't help with that. There is, yes, the danger of the echo chamber, but a bigger danger is becoming simply a corner bar where everything is debated, nothing is decided, and the argument is considered the goal. The argument, however, is not the goal, here. This is an explicitly partisan site: the goal is an actual infrastructure, and actual results. Put simply, we aren't here as a fully representative slice of the world, we're here as a place for progressive Democrats to hang their hats and get things done.
So that's it. Trolling is narrowly defined. You have a responsibility to act with civility towards others, and Trusted Users have a responsibility to police the general tenor and content of conversations. The site caters to progressive Democrats, and others are welcome to the extent that they wish to make themselves welcome. And don't be an ass.
It isn't always easy, but community dynamics never are. If you approach it with honest care for the actual goals of the site, you will find yourself doing the right thing more often then not.