From the Book of FAQ, Revised Standard Edition:
Rule 1 (from the Exigesis of Hunter): 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.
1. Do not troll rate people for expressing a contrary opinion, so long as it is expressed in a civilized fashion. The exceptions are for conservative talking points or debunked or false information; this isn't a site for conservatives, they have entire swaths of the internet in which they can regale each other with their reality-impaired fantasies.
4. The exception to the normal troll rating golden rule of "rate the comment, not who makes it" is for people so disruptive to the community that they need to be quickly autobanned. This is a very difficult threshold to reach, and is reserved almost entirely for freepers or other trolls here only to disrupt. "Troll rate on sight" is not intended to be used against anyone but the most obvious and egregious of trolls -- if your definition of obvious and egregious is not the definition used by the rest of the community or by the site administrators, expect your rating ability to be suspended.
Rule 2 (from the Book of Trolls): Some posters create accounts at dkos strictly for the purpose of causing disruption. It is considered acceptable to hide all of the posts made by such people, even the ones that are not in and of themselves trollish. It should be emphasized, however, that this should not be done lightly. Before rating comments en masse, you should be very very sure that the author is really a troll, and not just a regular poster who is having a bad day. If there is any shadow of a doubt as to whether a person is a dedicated troll, you should refrain from mass-hiding their comments. To reiterate, this "hide on sight" approach should be used cautiously and rarely.
Like pretty much everything else in the entire godforsaken world, the meaning of these rules do not unpack themselves. It matters that the rules be good; it may matter even more that the rules be agreed upon. Reasonable people can disagree on the meaning of these rules. When they do disagree, though, they should come together, ideally under the wise tutelage of The Powers That Be, and figure out where they stand and how to proceed. This diary invites such a discussion among us guests and such tutelage from our hosts.
"... or else it gets the HOS"
I should admit right up front: maintaining the currency of the FAQ is not one of the shining accomplishments of this site. Comments (from kos, from Meteor Blades, from Hunter and others) are strewn throughout the site and seemingly collected only by a few "street lawyers" who want to have them at the ready to brandish as "rulings." I have my doubts that even these noble figures remember and feel bound by what may have been an off-hand remark of theirs from the last Bush II Administration, but they certainly have some role in the mix. (I think, though, that if it ain't in the FAQ, you can't charge that people should be familiar with them. Reading the entire corpus of FAQ-related comments in the archive would take several days. Maybe Jovian days.)
As indicated in the above rules, Hiding On Sight (HOSing, which you might say is conducted by HOSers, who sing HOSannas when they succeed and grumble like imprisoned HOSni Mubarek when they don't -- then again, it might be better not to say all of that, but I'm trying to lighten the tone here) is a necessary part of site maintenance. When someone comes here intent on disruption rather than contribution, when they are here to sell their penis pills or gimcracks or Randian philosophy and conspiracy theories unbolstered by extraordinary evidence, what we want to do is get them the hell out of here fast fast fast -- and so, as the Good FAQ says, we can Hide On Sight and HOSe them off-site. No one (who has much say) disagrees with that.
HOSings occur all the time. I've been known to HOSe people off myself, when I am "very very sure that the author is really a troll" (see above.) If there is "a shadow of a doubt," though, we are supposed to "refrain from mass-hiding their comments." If others are HR'ing someone's comments -- even if HOSing, which means that the comment at hand need not itself be considered offensive, something that may confuse bystanders who weren't invited to the HOSenanny -- then you're not supposed to uprate them ... supposedly. I actually don't see that in the FAQ, but people believe it there and quote it to those with the temerity to uprate. What the FAQ says is, under Rule 3 of the Exigesis:
Do not give positive ratings to people having fights in the comment threads. It is insulting to a diarist to hijack a portion of their comment threads in order to have a fistfight between two or three users. It is insulting to the rest of the community to have to scroll past a fight dozens of comments long in order to get back to the topic at hand. If the fight is off topic or otherwise egregious, it should be trollrated in order to remove it from the thread, but there are almost no circumstances in which users should be rewarded for having a fight. Behavior like that isn't worth positive mojo -- don't do it.
which so far as I can tell may be the basis of the purported "don't get in my way when I'm HOSing someone to death" rule. Now this may be one of those dicta I mentioned being strewn around the site, but if we believe it, I think we ought to say it clearly. (I also think that we shouldn't believe it, for reasons I'll state below.)
Unreeling the HOS
Who decides that someone needs to be HOSed? It's unclear. One thing we know for sure is that it's not the Site Administrators, because they don't need the HOS. If they think that someone needs to be put on the express bus to Banning, to sink into the Rivers of Babylon with Boney M (that's "Boney Mojo" to you, the malnourished soul you see on the mojo gauge of people you ain't seeing again), they can just do it. They don't need permission (from us) or consensus (from us), all they need is web access. So the HOS is a tool for Trusted Users, either through autoban (if it works, when it works, however it works, about which I have little idea) or as a sort of Bat Signal to the Admins. ("User Miss Creant has received 4000 HRs in the past twenty seconds. Perhaps there is a problem.")
We know who can ploink down a single HR: any TU. Is there any limit on who can declare a HOS status (which I think of, for lack of a better word, a "fatwa"? Recognizing that as I understand it the concept of "fatwa" goes way beyond declaring someone to be fair game, theoretically extending to matters as mundane as "eat your vegetables" and "don't mistreat your pets," I think it's probably the most recognizable word I can use for the concept of declaring a general individual duty to punish someone, so I'm going to use it.) I think it works the way that Shi'ite fatwa works: any cleric (and I guess that's what we TUs are, in a sense) can issue a fatwa, but the extent to which it gets honored depends on how many adherents it picks up. Some of us clerics are more prone to issue fatwas than others. And so what happens is: some entrepreneurial sort, who either believes that the "is a troll beyond a shadow of a doubt" criterion is met or doesn't know or care about it, declares HOS and others follow, often en masse. (A diary's tip jar got 125 hide rates the other day. I'm on record as saying that I don't think the guy's a troll, but when I see that even I have to say "yeah, maybe I'll go onto to another comment and see if I should uprate it instead.)"
That's what piling on is about. It doesn't actually help summon autoban (or it didn't back in 2006 when the relevant section of the FAQ was apparently written), but it does make a statement: "we really, really, really think that this poster is a troll." And the problem is that that conclusion may still, sometimes, be really, really, really wrong -- at least in the eyes of a TU with a shadow of a doubt. So what happens then?
Upraters are often accused of disrespecting the judgment of those intent on laying on the HOS. But, it seems to me, this has it backwards. Each HR is a vote: "no shadow of a doubt," "no shadow of a doubt," "lizard people," "no shadow of a doubt." Each potential uprate is like a holdout juror: "I have a doubt." The uprater had better be prepared to explain why, and a lousy explanation won't cut it. Not respecting the view of the uprater -- something I've (cough, cough) recently experienced, has to be an open option for people.
I do think that when an uprater is willing to say "put down the HOS," though, others should be expected to address their concerns, even if arguably loony, because the HOSers have another option: anyone who can be autobanned can be manually banned, and if a "juror" is simply nuts the judge can be beseeched to dismiss the juror. So I have no problems with an appeal to authority, and my guess (though I don't know) is that authority doesn't have much of a problem with that appeal to authority. It doesn't happen all that often, after all, that a TU is willing to go through the very unpleasant process (trust me on this) of standing against the will of the many.
In general, though, the guideline I propose is this: if a TU is willing to stick their arm into the machinery to jam it, it should be very very rare that a user should be HOSed. Remember, that doesn't mean that the user can't still be autobanned. It only means that only those comments that themselves merit HRs should receive them. I think that any TU should be entitled to try to pull the "emergency brake," the "doubt shadow," and eliminate HOS status. (They should probably leave a comment saying that that's what they're doing when they do it, to allow people to abuse them to their face. As in the real world of public transportation, pulling the emergency brake should be physically easy but emotionally daunting.)
So, no, TUs should not be told "we're in the middle of HOSing someone, get out of our way." If they feel that they're really right, and want to take their lumps (which they will), they should be able to. If the alleged troll is making enough trollish comments, it won't matter -- there will be plenty to HR. But if they aren't making many malignant comments and most of what they have to say is benign, then it will matter, and it should matter. And, again, they can always go to an Admin and say "get rid of this one now!" And that works too.
HOS status should only exist, then, so long as someone has not pulled the emergency brake and taken responsibility for their opposition. If no one does -- or if whoever did can be talked out of it -- then HOS away. If not, hide comments as they merit it and/or call in an Admin. HOSing should be -- what's that term from the FAQ again? -- "rare."
Applying the HOS
I've been involved in two HOS controversies in a week -- more, I think, than I'll usually see in a year. One is notorious, one is ongoing. I've said pretty much all I had to say about the notorious Aidos, most of it at least 2-3 times, and I think that it actually led to some useful propositions (well, I think so) by the end. These include: (1) the basis for HRs should be explained in as clear detail as any TU requests; (2) what should matter in evaluating a fatwa is the evidence on hand at the time it is issued and acted upon, not that which may be found and distributed later, and (3) even if a comment is nor clearly HR-able by its content, the tone of the comment may justify banning. Others have taken different lessons from this, and I won't have a lot more to say about those, because my greater concern right now is the ongoing controversy.
The ongoing controversy involves a user named "Red State Ambassador," which depending on your viewpoint is either a pretty funny character name or a taunt that the person can't be banned quickly enough to keep them from leaving comments all over the place, nyah-nyah. "RSA" showed up a couple of days ago, purporting to be an emissary from Red State who claims diplomatic immunity to say contrarian things (and more recently offers to return the favor to some opposite number -- who, I'm betting, is being set up for the pranque de pranques if he or she actually presents credentials to Erik son of Erik.)
RSA, who claims to be a television writer and is not entirely unlike Jeff Lieber (though I make no such accusations) made some uncomplimentary comments about the ignorance of Kosters that were either (a) dunderheaded, (b) unsuccessfully satirical, or (c) successfully satirical. (Interest declared: I go with a mix of (b) and (c), tending towards more of the latter.) RSA is completely willing to challenge progressive and site orthodoxy, though so far as I can tell never in a crazed or malicious way, and the assertions that people make in grounding their arguments -- in, for the most part, a reasonably fair (though occasionally wrooooong!) way. His comments often belie progressive sympathies and frequently belie a quick wit, as in this exchange he and I had (in which I implied that I didn't think he was here to wreck the site, but wondered if he was here to be a goad to progressive responses to his less-progressive challenges:
Me: I don't think that you're a sociopath -- but are you a homeopath?
RSA: I'm a seeker. I haven't yet found my path.
Yeah. Not a troll. They're just not that witty -- and not that quick at it.
So where does this leave us? A bunch of smart, wonderful, honorable Kosters are convinced that this guy is a troll. I think he's a bit of a troublemaker -- but it's the kind of trouble that we should welcome, if someone cares to make it: it keeps us honest. But some people admit that they aren't sure he's real and some can't get past his name.
So, what do we decide? Hide On Sight?
Simple answer: NO.
The "score" on his second-ever tip jar (prior to updates, largely the same as his first diary, which was vaporized, except that the embedded bolded letters spelling out "S-N-A-R-K" were closer together so as to be harder to miss) is roughly even. Does that mean that he's not a troll. No. But it does mean one thing:
He can't be Hide On Sight.
He can't be Hide On Sight because there is, clearly, as evidenced by about 30 Kosters recommending his Tip Jar, much more than a "shadow of a doubt" as to whether he's a troll.
If people want to go after individual comments -- though I think that there's something unseemly about getting into an insult match with someone and then HR'ing only his insults -- they can. But, frankly, I'm going to uprate where I feel it's appropriate -- until and unless directed otherwise by a licensed direction-giver -- because it seems to be part of a HOS approach and I reject it.
I don't have any problem at all with their going to Meteor Blades this moment and saying "we think this guy should be banned." MB and Markos are like our Supreme Court: not final because they're right, but right because they're final. If they say he's a troll, I have to accept that he's going to be treated as one, justly or not.
But I don't think it's fair for Those Who HOS to tell me, or other TUs, to desist from taking part in a debate over essentially is there a shadow of a doubt as to whether this guy's a troll. We should be way past that now. Too many TUs (combined with non-TUs) think he's OK -- if they want him gone, it can't be through a HOSing.
That, of course, is just my opinion and my proposal. There's nothing official about it; I'm simply trying to persuade. But I've reached the opinion that too many potential innocents are getting beaten with the HOS, and now we have to set down some rules we can all live with -- grudgingly or not.