Well, let me acknowledge that because of the nature of online blogging, one can't get rid of trolls one hundred percent of the time, but there is definitely a fireproof way to ameliorate their destructive effect.
Now, let me define what I mean by "trolls": In this case, I'm using it as an all-encompassing term for sockpuppets (paid trolls with multiple online "personalities"), political hacks (both, paid and unpaid), true believers susceptible to the cult of personalities (similar to religious fundamentalists in their outlook), and professional disinformation artists (they tend to come from intelligence agencies and corporate spying and surveillance networks, and hence represent the most danger).
Many people have written about the type of subject, narrative, or content that attracts many trolls (especially the professional kind). It usually happens when the subject and narrative is critical of the status quo. This is important because in a way what that does is attack the very foundation that ends up propping up the troll.
For example, if one goes after a politician who says and promises one thing, while doing something totally different, and one is able to show in a very systematic manner all the inconsistencies, lies, deceptions, etc., those who benefit from maintaining the lie, the perception the public has about that politician based on what he or she says vs. what he or she does, will go after you because you are threatening their status quo (even if in small ways).
And so my take is that when it comes to subjects like war (with a recent example being the massive propaganda we were subjected to from people trying to justify the illegal war of aggression against Syria), corruption, deception, profiteering, abuses of power (like the criminal actions by the for profit corporate-controlled national security apparatus), you may see the trolls come out in numbers. Other patterns I've seen is the defense of the rich and of high tech companies who have facilitated illegal surveillance of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans and people around the world.
The easiest and most predictable tactic used by trolls is the "attack the messenger" tactic. The purpose of that tactic is to cast aspersions on the critic. The typical attacks include labels such as conspiracy theorist (especially is one tries to connect the dots regarding corruption in the system power structure), hysterical, fringe, one that pushes for "purity tests," paranoid. Other attacks include calling the critic "dishonest," or any number of derogatory names.
As many who write about propaganda have noted, the idea of the "attacking the messenger" tactic is to damage their reputation (character assassination) and by doing so, discourage others from considering anything the critic has to say about any subject.
Those tactics have actually been quite effective, historically, in the marginalization of progressive and/or liberal critics.
Other tactics include the use of logical fallacies, or a term I learned recently, "nut picking." In this case, let's say you write something that gets the attention of the troll; the troll then searches for the weakest (or most vulnerable) link or aspect of your argument, even if it is not central to your main thesis, and then proceeds to attack that (minor) point with vehemence... This is also known as the "straw man" tactic.
Let me interject here and point out that I'm fully aware that a lot of this behavior can also be exhibited by "innocent" commenters; what I mean by "innocent" is that someone may just lob an attack on you, say something mean, nasty, provocative, inaccurate, inflammatory, for the simple reason they don't like you. As bad as those actions and attacks can feel, I consider folks who act out of their "natural emotions," innocent.
My focus is on the professional disinformation artists... My take is that the disinfo artists tend to be more disciplined, more persistent over time, following the number one rule of propaganda: keep repeating something (regarding of whether is true or not) over, and over, and over.
One good source of information about this topic is: “The 15 Rules of Web Disruption."
Within the context of this site, a couple of tactics I've seen involve "swarms." Here's how it works... You write something that attracts the attention of "potential" trolls. Invariably, one or more are going to write something that's going to rile you up (that's done on purpose); or they write something that doesn't quite make sense, or purposely misinterprets your message. That's the bait.
If what the troll wrote pushed an "emotional button," and you engage, you will be at a disadvantage, big time. Remember, if the troll is a pro, to him or her the exercise is just that, a tactic they use; there is hardly any emotion involved on their side. They are just "pushing your buttons."
In that situation, because the "swarm" is monitoring the exchange, the minute you make the slightest of mistakes in your "debate," you are going to see someone jump on it and write some kind of statement using faux-outrage, "how dare you," type of thing, and sometimes coyly mention that the comment should be HR'd. Within five minutes you'll see the first HRs... For the "swarms" one thing that benefit them is that they stay "with you" even after everybody else moved on to read new diaries. At that point you're basically alone in a dark alley facing a gang of five or six (?).
What to do? The number one rule is to never, ever, ever, engage in a debate with a "potential" troll. Do not feed them. You have nothing to gain from engaging them. Now, I acknowledge that it is very hard to ascertain for sure who is a "legitimate" troll, and who is just being a dick, in this site's parlance, and therefore that call is going to be "subjective." But be that as it may, there are some ways for you to get a pretty good idea about whether a user may be a "legitimate" troll. One of them is to notice if they use the same tactics over an extended period of time.
Now, here's a second suggestion (especially for those who tend to be targeted by trolls): Remember, one of the main objectives of the trolls is to discredit you (character assassination), and by doing so, discredit "your message," which is really what they are after. There are a few ways of doing this... One is to consistently turn your comment thread into a pie fight. But the troll tactics are most effective when an X number of readers are not aware about the presence of trolls in your comment thread. In other words, no matter how nasty the pie fight turns, as long as average readers think that the interactions are "legitimate," and are not aware of the tactics used by professional disinfo artists, then the trolls have an advantage.
So--and this is just a suggestion--if you have a troll infestation, it may help to put a brief note at the end of your diary calling attention to some of the usual tactics used by trolls. Because those tactics are pretty easy to spot, the troll is then forced to change strategy, sometimes using the "charm offensive," while still trying to get the "character assassination" message across. Either way, it makes it much more harder for the troll to stick around since now everybody reading will be aware of the tactics. Remember, these folks are used to operating behind the scenes, their true intentions hidden; they are cowards in the final analysis. If their tactics are exposed, then it is hard for them to do what they do.
Anyways, in my upcoming book, which I will publish on April 15, 2014, there will be a chapter on modern-day propaganda. I'll be conducting in-depth research on the subject and will also reach out to public relation professionals, academics, activists, and researchers.
UPDATE: TUE DEC 10, 2013 AT 05:00 PM PST - First of all, thanks to all of those who participated in the comments thread. Never in a million years did I think this diary was going to turn into such "teachable moment." If I had scripted a plan to write a diary that would so perfectly elicit the behavior I described in it, proving my point, I could not have been more successful. There was one comment by a user in support of my thesis which I think is right on the money. I encourage people to read it.
For objective readers, if you notice the manner in which I interacted with users, you will see that I was respectful, even thought I was bombarded with insults. I was called paranoid, delusional, worst than Jim Jones, and on par with Joe McCarthy, among other colorful insults.
Again, the comment thread displays such a perfect example of trollish behavior (feeding frenzy, actually), that I will add a link to this diary to the end of subsequent diaries under the "troll watch" warning.
Market For The People |Ray Pensador | Email List | Twitter | Facebook
Sockpuppets & Trolls Watch: Their aim is to disrupt, to annoy, to introduce "noise" in order to prevent meaningful discussions of issues. Their tactics include casting aspersions (attack on the reputation or integrity), and ad hominems, where instead of addressing issues, they attack the character of people. They also engage in mockery, and logical fallacies. A good source of information about the tactics used by sockpuppets, trolls and hacks is "The 15 Rules of Web Disruption." Once you familiarize yourself with those tactics, it is pretty easy to spot the potential troll. Once spotted, the best thing is to ignore them.