Moderating, trolls, soup ladles and Ethics.

If you’re running a blog, one of the chores that has to be done on an ongoing basis is moderating comments. I operate the common system where a contributor’s first comment is held for moderation. If I approve it, then they can comment freely thereafter. If I don’t, then they’re effectively shut out. I may have to put up with trolls and time wasters on other people’s blogs but certainly not on my own one.

The basic policy is; keep them out and everyone else comes in, irrespective of their opinion on the topics being discussed here. All that’s required is common civility and a willingness to contribute honestly to discussions. On my part, there is also a duty of care consideration in ensuring that comments made and any links they may contain, are not offensive, illegal or potentially harmful to the blog’s contributors and readers.

This comment arrived in my moderation queue from a new poster calling themselves Sumo. They wanted to comment on a topic I’d posted called ‘Is there a moral dimension to being anti-environmental?

Fascinating! Could you be more precise as to what ` being anti- environmental´ is. You have really got me thinking about this and it would be useful to define the term in order to answer your question- `Is there a moral dimension to being anti-environmental?´ It could be useful to look at specific examples of anti-environmentalism to give weight to the argument that it has a moral dimension. Definately worth pursuing further- I look forward to more of your thoughts on this important question. Thanks for raising it!

After a read through it, I move the mouse pointer to the delete button. The “what’s your definition” manoeuvre is the oldest trick in debate; if you can’t think of a reasonable response to a line of argument, pick a noun out of it and ask for a definition of it. Basically, it’s a way of getting the initiative back and grinding the discussion to a halt. But that’s not the reason my mouse is hovering over the delete button.

It’s the sheer amount of sycophancy being applied so excruciatingly badly to my ego. Why is this being done? “The guilty flee when no man pursueth”. My reading of it is that this is a person who for some reason, is afraid I might spot their intentions and have therefore decided to flatter their way in outrageously so they can just execute whatever cunning plan they have in mind. They’re trying to kick down an open door. A time waster and what’s worse, a manipulative personality who looks to be a passive aggressive. They gave themselves away immediately.

It’s a slow day and I could possibly have some fun with them. Funkspiel. The cunning plan may just be the definition ploy or maybe something else. Let’s find out but before that, let’s start identifying who they really are.

Looking at their fist, they definitely don’t know how to spell definitely but unfortunately, that misspelling is very common. They like their exclamation marks but obviously have never heard of semicolons, so they use hyphens instead and always type hyphen space. This appears to have given them a typing “tell”; they added a space after the hyphen automatically when they attempted to type anti-environmental. That might be useful. There’s not a single comma in the whole paragraph. They use speech marks when they should be using quotation marks but then again, they probably don’t know there’s a difference. Yet another product of education lite…

Profile wise, there are indications that I’m dealing with a woman. The “she stoops to conquer” manoeuvre being used here is mostly utilised by women on men since, more often than not, it works remarkably well. Reading it again at a conversational pace, the cadence does suggest a woman and one who speaks quickly and breathlessly in broken sentences. Clever enough but not the Brainiac I get the impression they think they are; notice the logic hole about “specific examples of anti-environmentalism” somehow strengthening the argument?

It’s an aspect of the manipulative personality that they’re easily manipulated themselves but only if you give the appearance of being successfully manipulated by them; in effect, since you’re under their control, they take their eye off you. So Pointy, chin up you Schmuck and look as if your’re walking into the ambush; you’ve done it before. Let’s do it but give them a prod as well. I reply –

@Sumo

Hello Sumo and welcome. I suppose being anti-environmental means you exercise the moral courage to say no to it in your everyday life. I do. When someone rattles the collecting tin in your face and tells you it’s for the environment, say no. When Greenpeace lends their name to a product, boycott it. When your local politician campaigns using environmental issues, don’t vote for them.

Above all, don’t go with the flow and believe me, it’ll be against you. Rather than sitting in company listening to someone prattling on about being green, pull them up on it. You’ll soon get used to stunned silences. You’ll always be asked why and the simple and most effective answer is to state that you don’t care for their politics.

Pointman

The reply comes back very quickly. They obviously can’t wait to kick off the cunning plan. I wonder what it is.

Yeah I  get you.-thanks Pointman. We have an environmental group in our area who have campaigned to  save a local wetland, they hand out `bags for life´ to use instead of plastic bags. They expose illegal flytippers, regularly turn out to clear up rubbish and have ensured that. the area stays clean  and  thus remains an important tourist destination. They aren´t really into politics per se-they are just practical community minded people, whose main aim is to conserve and protect our very pretty rural idyll and the tourism it generates. I´d feel a real heel if I pulled them up on it as you suggest- in fact the stunned silence would probably be mine as no-one would ever speak to me again!

However, your question still intrigues me. I don´t believe that you were refering to the moral courage to say no to these people in the phrasing of your question , but rather something implicit in acts of anti- environmentalism – whatever those may be, that give those acts a moral certitude.

It is hard for me to judge the actions of this particular group of people as evil- as you suggested in your article- when on the face of it they appear to be doing good. So there must be a deeper connotation or meaning to the evils of environmentalism. Which perhaps you could elucidate  further in your inimitable style….. and help me out a little!

So, that’s the cunning plan then. Baldrick would be proud. Keep jabbing with the definitions but steer me into a succession of inter-personal moral dilemmas concerning really really nice people doing ever so goody goody environmental deeds, all the time larding on the compliments wholesale. As a plan, subtle it ain’t.

On the fist front, they’ve repeated the hyphen space tell again. Once more, hyphens everywhere, even when two commas were what was actually required. Given their fondness for hyphens, you’d think they’d have hyphenated “community minded”. Two spaces have been typed between words in several places; possibly something they do under pressure. They do know about commas after all but their ideas on the correct placement of them are rather idiosyncratic. There are other things, such as the misspelling of referring but the real find here is the peculiar spelling of no one as “no-one”.

The use of the phrase “Yeah I  get you.“, suggests someone youngish. The use of “I´d feel a real heel” is interesting. It’s American idiom and although its meaning is understood in Europe, it’s never really entered common parlance. American background? But they use the word “rubbish” where an American would have more naturally used the word trash. Possibly one of those pseuds who affects a mid-Atlantic accent.

There are certain other more subtle identifiers to this person’s fist but I think I’ve got enough to kick off my search spiders. They need the exercise. I made them myself and I’m very proud of them. Each and every one of them is a bright shiny-faced latest-generation survivor of a genetic algorithm farm that churns away on an old computer I have. I give them the starter for ten and they scurry off into cyberspace. Good luck lads.

Back to the great manipulator. Judging from their reply, they’re in their comfort zone; happy they’re in control and I’m behaving according to plan. The trick here is for me to get off their plan and put them onto my plan without them actually noticing it. Let’s hope their reading skills are as poor as their writing skills. I dismiss the minor moral dilemma they’ve presented me with and then, feigning to be still trying to define what I mean by anti-environmentalism, construct my own major moral dilemma for them, adding a sting in the tail just to distract them. I reply –

@Sumo.What those people are doing is older than Environmentalism; it’s called community spirit. I regularly come back from fishing days with my pockets full of other people’s discarded litter.

What’s important is where a thing’s heading for, not any immediate benefits it appears to be offering. Let’s take a different approach. Your country’s in ruins, you, like everyone else, are unemployed with no prospect of a job and inflation is rampant. A politician comes to you and says he can fix it all in five years. You whip out your crystal ball and indeed it shows you that he did all of those good things he’d promised. His name is Adolph Hitler. He looks to be the man you’re going to vote for then but hang on; what’s the ten year forecast? Bad times and 50 million dead. Will you still vote for him Sumo because he’s going to do some good things?

Pointman

The answer comes back quickly and they sound offended.

No- of course not! What possible reason would I have to vote for a murderous dictator who would lead my country to ruin? No good things came from that- it was an aberration and an insult to the spirit of humanity. What a peculiar question. But if you look at The USA- what brought that great country out of the depression of the thirties? The US was spared the likes of an Adolph Hitler riding to power on the desperation of his countrymen. America and the allies defeated Hitler, I should know- my father went to war against Germany. And we live in peace with Germany now.

But we are getting off the point rather. What has this to do with the question you posed, which at the heart of my enquiry?

You would go down well with with our local environmentalists, bringing back discarded litter- specially other peoples´- scores high on their list of green responsibility! It hardly qualifies as an anti -environmental act, quite the opposite- so why do you do it? Dropping litter would perhaps be anti-environmental act- but not one you could qualify as `moral´.

So you are a fisherman- a man after my own heart. Good fishing with you?

Oh Boy. The sting in the tail has certainly worked. This is a person with a very high idea of themselves; how dare I even suggest they’d ever consider voting for Adolph Hitler? How very dare I? They put all the effort into the first paragraph. The second and third ones are a rather weak attempt to get back on plan and the last one a return to ye olde affiliation mode. They haven’t spotted what’s just happened; they’ve just lost the initiative and I’ll make sure they never get it back. There’s that America thing again, it was “America and the allies” that defeated Hitler, not the more usual phrase “the Allies”. Also, the curious capitalisation of “the” in “The USA” in the middle of a sentence. Maybe they’re already heading for the last refuge of a scoundrel or it’s just a cack-handed attempt to align themselves with my supposed right-wing politics. That’s the way pattern-think works.

There’s a few other things but the most intriguing is the last sentence. It’s simply odd English, especially the “with”. It looks like a Spanish construction and indeed, if read with a rising inflexion, would be good Spanish. There is this thing that happens when you’re immersed in a foreign culture and speaking their language; their grammar constructions tend to creep into your own mother tongue. Out go another wave of spiders. Anyway, no more Pointy the Schmuck. When you’ve got the initiative, bloody well use it. I reply immediately –

@Sumo

It’s Winter 1935 and the local party in your village in the Hartz mountains decides to do a free handout of soup to the local poor people. It’s a good thing, a good deed. They ask you to help. Knowing that it will be good propaganda for the party, will you ladle out soup for them?

Pointman

I rather suspect there won’t be a quick reply to that one and there isn’t. The great manipulator has just realised they’re now staring up into the twin barrels of the moral dilemma I walked them into. However, I also know their ego dictates there will be an answer eventually but it won’t be any time soon. Sumo has to wrestle with a real ethics problem for a change.

With time on my hands, I start going through the links the spiders are sending back. I’m reminded of Suvorov’s maxim about training hard so you can fight easy. They do need a lot more training but they’re definitely getting better. Out of the rubbish, a real name does begin to emerge. Their fist is by now very familiar. Female and an environmental activist. Also involved in local fringe politics and I do mean fringe; we’re not just talking off Broadway but off off Broadway. Interestingly, one of the spiders picked up some posts by them in a rather obscure language. Emergent behaviour and in a totally unexpected direction too. Daddy’s very proud of you Sunshine. Your genes are definitely going back into the hopper for the next run of the farm.

After a long delay, they reply late in the afternoon of the next day.

Would you? What is your point?

Not much flattery in those six words, is there? The master plan has obviously been abandoned. All they’re doing now is trying to wiggle out of the dilemma and I’m not about to let that happen. I reply immediately –

@Sumo. It’s a simple question. Those poor people could certainly use a hot meal. Will you ladle a bowl of soup out for them or not?

Pointman

After another long delay, they reply.

Pointman- it´s not a simple question- it´s a loaded question. You are asking me if I would help the Nazi party give food to the poor. While feeding desperate people is of itself an act of goodness, the motive behind it is not.
In that situation however, much I despised the Nazi party and their ulterior motives, I would help to feed those hungry people.

If, on the other hand, I was myself one of those hungry people and somehow knew what we know now, I would take their soup and throw it in their faces. I would rather die hungry than be fed that poison.

What would you do?

I’m initially hopeful about this reply but the third paragraph dashes all that. A hungry person throwing food in the face of a provider? This person knows bugger all about being hungry and using that just to claw back some shred of moral superiority because they’ve been forced to make a hard ethical decision for once in their life? There speaks a person who’s never seen a hungry day. That comma after the “however”, rather than before it, really pisses me off. That’s it, I’ve had enough of scrutinising their car crash English. Like Popeye said, I can’t stand it no more. They’ve had their fifteen minutes and this silly game is drawing to a close.

@Sumo.

After 48 hours of struggling, you’ve finally came back with an answer. You will feed hot soup to those poor wretches and advance the cause of a political movement you already know, courtesy of your crystal ball, will lead to the loss of 50 million lives. I don’t have the advantage of your crystal ball so I have to look at the politics and the trends and make a judgement.

It isn’t a ‘loaded question’. It’s what’s called a moral dilemma which is at the heart of the topic above. Ethics. Remember? It’s what you were trying to waltz me into but somehow I waltzed you into one instead. There is no ‘correct’ answer, just the one each of us will make in those circumstances and either way, learn to live with. Not many people are unfortunate enough to have to make those types of decisions but I’m one. I made mine and on the Environmental movement, I’m making another.

Pointman

Sumo does manage a two-word reply to that. Not very ladylike I suppose but being a bloke, I simply don’t have that piece of crudely named female anatomy, so I see no point in either calling me it or sharing it with you, gentle reader.

If they’d just been honest and said in their first comment that they were a climate activist who wished to debate the topic, they would be in and commenting now, as long as they abided by the comment guidelines, but they did no such thing. Lies, dishonesty and misrepresentation are their stock in trade. I certainly don’t have the time or the inclination to keep an eye on them and their activities here. I simply do not have any trust in them. They can play games somewhere else.

@Sumo.

BTW. I really don’t have to put up with people being blatantly dishonest contributors to my blog and to add insult to injury, insulting my intelligence. You’ve served your purpose though and now you’re banned.

Pointman

So, what was the purpose?

I suppose there were several but the salient one is my attitude to trolls, time wasters and the assorted personality defectives that plague blogs; zero tolerance.

©Pointman

Related topic : Is there a moral dimension to being anti-environmental?

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Comments
26 Responses to “Moderating, trolls, soup ladles and Ethics.”
  1. meltemian says:

    Heavens Pointman, I wondered what that was all about at the time. I couldn’t see why you were banning them. I’m obviously very naive when it comes to blogs!
    Must watch my punctuation – see….. I use hyphens a lot myself, sorry.

  2. Denis of Perth says:

    As a ‘wannabe’ blogger you have given me a damn fine lesson.

    • Pointman says:

      Hello and welcome Denis. Moderating isn’t really a big chore if you’re blogging. The vast majority of new people commenting do so because they have a viewpoint on something they’ve read here. The loonies tend to give themselves away very quickly.

      Pointman

      • Rereke Whakaaro says:

        It is better to be in the position of having to moderate inappropriate comments, than having no comments at all.

        Talking to an empty room can be an ‘interesting’ experience.

  3. meltemian says:

    Deal!

  4. Pointman says:

    @Mel,

    Off to a swanky nightclub to celebrate the deal!

    Pointman

  5. Blackswan says:

    Pointman

    I once likened you to a surgeon expertly wielding a scalpel to expose the guts of hacking in the cyber-world, though I wasn’t aware then that you also indulged in the vivisection of live specimens. A most intriguing analysis of your readers. Having recently been warned that the Internet was a trap for the naïve, the gullible and those of us who take people and situations at face value, while fitting all those criteria, I still venture to participate in the process.

    Why? Sure beats me.

    I’m guessing how Merv ended up; skewered on a pin while you clinically examined his every move. I suppose that one way or another we have all seen the best and worst of what this medium of communication has to offer, but as a microcosm of any society in any culture there are the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s just up to each of us to decide who we are and how we fit in – or don’t.

    As always, most interesting.

  6. MikeO says:

    Interesting I wondered what it was all about. Even searched your blog for who Sumo was and found you had banned them. If you wonder about me please don’t set the spiders onto me I will tell all privately just ask. I own a couple of domain names and can readily change my address. I stick to the one address with blogs, I hope I don’t slip up and I promise to watch my punctuation. I have encountered many trolls and wish we could put a stake through their heart or something. I frequented a site run by a Jennifer Marohasy now sort of defunct. She allowed people who I thought were trolls. One key feature was that there would large numbers of long comments that would come in apparently from the same person in a short space of time. I think it was a team and said so as did others on the blog. Eventually I think the blog shut down because the moderation became too hard.

    Congratulations on taking a firm line and guarding against losing control of your blog.

    I do know a Jewish lady who survived the death camps. From what she says in 1935 she and her family would have helped with the soup because they were unaware. It must have been about that time her cousins left for Australia. The rest of the family told them they were crazy.

    As a side note do you have any links where more information can be found about the spiders you talk of?

    • Pointman says:

      Hello again Mike. The spiders just find people, if they’re findable. As I said, it was a slow day and most trolls hide behind the delusion that they can’t be traced on the internet, so I was sending an message to any potential ones; I can find them – one of the several purposes of skewering Sumo. I do think it’s important to discourage the timewasters. This wasn’t done at the Daily Telegraph UK and it destroyed the blog as a place where an adult discussion could take place. It’s just a screaming match nowadays.

      I’ve lived in Germany for several years and your Jewish lady’s experience, though it may sound strange to other people, is all too common. Evil comes cloaked in good intentions every time.

      On the spiders front, they are home-brew and so there’s no technical documentation of them on the internet. I started doing an abbreviated explanation of them, knowing your IT background, but realised I’d lose the general reader so it got bigger and bigger. For that reason and a few others, would you mind if I did it as a topic in itself in the near future?

      Pointman

      ps. To all. Have a look at my fiction. No prizes to the person who can find the most gramatically incorrect sentences. Content trumps punctuation, spelling and grammar every time …

      • MikeO says:

        Fair enough I did not realize they were your invention. I have done some screen scrape programs so maybe I have an inkling.
        The Jewish lady was in Prague actually, the family owned a building on the main square. Her whole family died and she post war ended up in Australia to be taken in by the cousins, ironic.

  7. orkneylad says:

    Most interesting Pointman.

    I don’t think Sumo has ever been either poor or hungry………having experienced both I know I’d take the soup.

    • Pointman says:

      Yes Orkney, you get to understand people and yourself when you’ve been at the bottom of the pile. There’s a long long drainpipe and you’re at the end of it and you know nobody cares because you’ve seen them look the other way. You’re on your own so you do whatever it takes to survive. Meeting the odd person who helps, is a life changing experience. They’re never the goodie goodies. Oscar Schindler et al. Flawed but fine human beings. I’ll take them over the goody goodies any day.

      Pointman

      • orkneylad says:

        P – A hungry man is an angry man. He’s also beyond caring about the idealogical nuances & just needs some sustenance in his belly. Radical idealogues -be they deep green or whatever- tend to forget the more ‘primal’ drivers of the human condition……[until they hit that wall or reality, that is].

        Best,
        OL

  8. Pete H says:

    An interesting explanation of what goes on behind the scenes!

    Having watched ZDB trolling over on Bishops Hill and destroying any topic, I for one would like to see the scalpel used! If only people could resist the urge to feed them they soon get bored and go away. I know it is hard to ignore their comments but just try…please just try!

  9. opit says:

    BTW On need for spiders,moderation,etc. Backtype and CoComment are a couple of handy toys. I leave Disqus open to handle comments and don’t seem to have many problems…but then I seldom get comments, running an information retrieval blog rather than personal op-eds. That could change rapidly as circulation seems to be taking off, of course.

  10. creeper00 says:

    Pointman, I am grateful to you for this post. For three years I’ve been dogged on various blogs by a troll. It was responsible for the closing of one blog a couple of years ago and a mass exodus from another more recently. It then moved on to a third blog where it disrupted every conversation and kept the blog owner busy moderating comments when he should have been posting new content.

    This weekend it was identified by one of the posters on the third blog, with a link posted to a website the troll maintains anonymously. Dead end? Not quite. On that site was a link I followed to yet another where the hapless troll, unable to overcome its own narcissism, had posted notice of a concert he was giving…complete with full name and more in the profile.

    After three years I can put a name, face and location on the troll. While I realize having this information doesn’t mean much, it’s somehow satisfying to know.

    This post of yours, though not explaining exactly how to track a troll, gave me to understand that it could be done. Until I read this I would not even have attempted to follow the trail. Reading this empowered me to pursue the clues.

    Thank you so much.

    • Pointman says:

      Hiya C. I’m glad you found it useful and maybe helped put a name and a face to the troll. What makes them even more antisocial is they believe the internet cloaks them in anonymity; it does no such thing, they can always be found. They nearly always turn out to be quite sad people.

      The policy here is zero tolerance of them and with regard to the sort of cyber stalking you endured, the policy is to trace them and hand over their details to the law enforcement authorities in their locale. No exceptions.

      Sometimes we all lose it when the debates hot up but not often I hope and I do understand that. As a community here, the only things we ask of each other is a portion of politeness and civility with each other, irrespective of how emotive the topic my be. I’m lucky in that people contributing here just want to discuss things in a civilised forum. It’s our local, our bar where you can pop in to just shoot the breeze.

      Pointy

  11. Peter Crawford says:

    Hello Pointman,

    I’ve been enjoying your blog for a few days now. I chose this topic for a first post as the whole business of trolls fascinates me, not least because I have been falsely accused of being a troll myself despite always using my real name at all times.

    There’s no need to release your spiders. You can find me on many UK hiking blogs. Try The Peaceful Hiker for starters. The trips’n’pics section is open to all and has some good bits.

    Hope to make a useful contribution to your blog.

    All the best, Pete

    • Pointman says:

      LOL. Hello Peter and welcome.

      You are what you do,
      Never, what’s said of you.

      Not bad for a bit of off the cuff rhyming and my spiders are friendly little fellows. Enjoy yourself here and please contribute. I spend a lot of time myself on foot, it’s the only way to find out what’s really in a place.

      Pointman

  12. Reisen says:

    The Godwin’s Law tactic wasn’t really needed. I would’ve used something like: “Alex Jones and his Reptilians”. It sounds better, don’t you think?

  13. Art Lee says:

    You make a person think. Not sure I agree 100% with all of your views. You are a bit intimidating and as a product of the US public school system. I hesitate to comment. I love the way you put her on the horns of a dilemma.

    • Pointman says:

      Hello Art and welcome.

      Blogging for all participants is a leisure activity that I feel should be mellow but considered. Keeping the trolls out and making an example of one every two or three years stops the whole place descending down to a war zone.

      Given the dire state of higher education these days, I find the insights of people who’ve attended the University of Life give me a lot more food for thought.

      You comment away mate.

      Pointy

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