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A Request to Our Commenters:

I've been trying to block a commenter who goes by the unlikely name of ReVonna LaSchatze; the commenter has personally insulted other commenters, and in a pretty vulgar way. Unfortunately, LaSchatze's posts come from different IP addresses, and don't use a fixed comment account that I can block. (To make things convenient for commenters, I don't require people to set up comment accounts, though I may have to change that.)

My solution to the problem has been to delete LaSchatze's comments, which has required me to delete or edit other comments that respond to LaSchatze. I'd rather not have to do that, because those responses come from valued commenters and took some time for them to post. So the request: Please don't respond to LaSchatze's comments.

By the way, just to remind people why I take the view I do about the need to maintain civility in comments, and the propriety of deleting commenters: Comment threads (unlike, say, all the videos on YouTube or generally even books in a bookstore) are a coherent conversation; for the conversation to be readable and pleasant to participate in, people have to maintain some minimum level of politeness. The analogy I give is a party that I host -- if people are rude enough to other guests, they won't be invited back, because that's how one keeps parties pleasant. I generally don't try to exclude people for their viewpoints, though I reserve the right to do that if the views are nasty enough. But I have and will exclude people who express their viewpoints in needlessly offensive ways, for instance by personally insulting fellow commenters.

fffff:
It may be helpful in the future if comments and commentators such as these weren't simply deleted, but were designated as persona non grata (inasmuch as possible) -- that way, all commentators to the boards will know not to invest time in responding to their comments or people using a variant of the names at issue. (I appreciate Eugene is effectively doing this here: I'm suggesting we start doing it as a matter of course in the future.)
2.12.2007 12:41am
Randy R. (mail):
Kudos on trying to maintain civility. It's pretty rare on the blososphere, so it's quite welcome here, and those that engage in just insults and not reasoned argument are not entitled to have the dignity of a respons.
2.12.2007 12:44am
llamasex (mail) (www):
The Internet is a rough place, the registering isn't a surefire solution to keeping out the trolls. It helps by adding a layer of work, but E-mail account are free all over the place and registering only takes a second. Another layer to add is registering with a wait time involved (a couple days before you can post) of course that adversely affects the site and again doesn't stop the trolls.

The something awful forums, as well as the straight dope have a fee based registration system. That is almost a sure to work solution to keep the trolls out (or easily remove them without having them sprout up) but would kill any comments on this website (sorry I know I wouldn't pay to post here, no offense)

Another option is farming out moderation to trusted people who police the site, this of course will lead to egomanics and more drama. Not to mention the loss of control you will face.

There really isn't a good solution.

As for people not responding to a insane or offensive poster, I think those pleas will sadly fall on deaf ears. People love to ignore the nuanced and go for the easy response. I am sure you could prove this with a little experiment in the next Israel thread, have someone post a nice response, then have the next person say at least is isn't bad as the genocide Israel committed in Lebanon. Guess where the rest of that discussion will be about.

I hope something works out for you.
2.12.2007 1:25am
Lev:

Another option is farming out moderation to trusted people who police the site, this of course will lead to egomanics and more drama. Not to mention the loss of control you will face.


That could actually work. The Management sets who is to be deleted upon any occurrence, and the trusted people then go forth and when they happen upon a deletable, delete them. But Management is the only group that determines who is totally deletable.
2.12.2007 2:02am
Stating the Obvious:
Could JT Thomas be another alias ReVonna uses?
2.12.2007 3:17am
Visitor Again:
Could JT Thomas be another alias ReVonna uses?

Sure, why not use this as an excuse to get rid of people whose views you don't like?
2.12.2007 7:02am
lucia (mail) (www):
Does your blog's spam filter permit you to block words, or at least give those words bad karma points? Spam Karma won't let you actually totally block anyword, but you can enter both the very unusual first name and very unusual last name and give each really high bad karma points. (Granted, she might then just go to an alias. That's the web for you.)
2.12.2007 7:51am
Eli Rabett (www):
If they are coming from all over the world the poster may be using Tor
2.12.2007 8:37am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
EV is selling you a pack of lies.

I use only one computer and one IP address, as I've said before. I'm not a liar either, in fact, just the opposite. My comments are brutally honest, and often critical of EV's reasoned conclusions.

He either can't figure out how to permanently ban commenters, or...
he realizes the value of creating a commenter "enemy" who often disagrees with him. Plus, it helps that on many posts (gun control ie Hackett, mandatory vaccines ie "icky" HPV, etc) others too disagree with the wise but not so worldly EV's conclusions.

The scary thing is... the less regular commenters who disagree with such self-appointed genius as himself, the more likely his wonderful musings will hold up in his head... but not in American reality.

EV is no libertarian, and truth be told, except maybe on paper, he's not even the smartest man writing for this blog. Keep him fat and happy locked away in a well-comped academia, no problem. Let him and his ideas out here in the real world with no special protections, that's where the danger comes in. He really believes every single thing he writes, and thinks you can "delete" honest critics. (if you can figure out the "banning" procedure and track down the one and only ISP being used. You think if I provided it to him directly, he'd still choose a semi-ban ... better to build "controversy" against a common enemy?)

Don't be a liar EV. That's all I'm saying.
Admit your banning errors, or your strategies...
Lies/errors usually catch up to you. Stick with the truth, my friend.
2.12.2007 8:57am
Richard Riley (mail):
ReVonna LaSchatze's comment above is adequate justification for Eugene's blocking his/her/its comments. (Guess what, ReVonna? If Volokh says you're using multiple IP addresses and you say you're not, I believe Volokh.) Still, I've always thought ReVonna LaSchatze is a cool-sounding name.
2.12.2007 9:09am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
EV, I just want to say that I appreciate the effort. This is the only blog I've come across that isn't either (a) a yes-fest, a la LGF, or (b) a flamewar every time, like just about everything else. Sometimes the trolls get a few crumbs, but overall the quality of comments is very high here.
2.12.2007 9:10am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
Guess what, ReVonna? If Volokh says you're using multiple IP addresses and you say you're not, I believe Volokh.)

You're a damn fool.
I haven't been on another computer in weeks.

Either your Prof V is lying to you, or else his banning program does not have the capacity to go for more than a few days.

Computer folks: look into this one? Because he's either lying here, or not quite so competent with computers as he'd lead you to believe...

Kinda makes you wonder what other "facts" have been brought to his attention, and then ignored. Maybe he's lying to himself, and believing it?
2.12.2007 9:23am
toby928:
I haven't been on another computer in weeks.

Who to believe, the host of the party or the hobo that wandered in from the alley?

On topic, while I think that your desire not to delete commentary is praiseworthy, seeing their spew in lights, so to speak, is the only reward the uninvited guest receives. Take that away and they will find someone else to bother. Do it as quickly as possible to prevent google capture.

Tob
2.12.2007 9:51am
Smarter than ReVonna (mail):
Geez, as if it takes a separate computer to change the IP address you are entering a message from! ReVonna, the only fool around here is you if you think your excuse holds any water.
2.12.2007 9:53am
Blasphemer:
ReVonna LaSchatze is an anagram of "Savant Hazer Clone."
2.12.2007 10:00am
cirby (mail):
Please note that it doesn't take different computers to cause multiple IPs.

Almost all cable-based internet providers use non-static IPs (I know mine automatically resets every couple of days), so people can't host web sites from their home computers on the cheap. Same for many other types of providers (phone and wireless, for example). Even some business internet providers change the IP of their system to cut back on hacking attempts (and to keep people for running unauthorized web sites from their work machines).


RVLS probably just doesn't know.
2.12.2007 10:21am
frankcross (mail):

Comment threads (unlike, say, all the videos on YouTube or generally even books in a bookstore) are a coherent conversation


You haven't been reading the comment threads, have you?
2.12.2007 10:31am
Houston Lawyer:
I see that even in a post asking people not to respond to her, people just can't help themselves. I find it helpful only to respond to those who truly seem interested in a dialogue. Since I post anonymously, I should be immune from taunts, but I don’t claim perfection in that regard either. I often see the admonition “don’t feed the trolls”. I can state from experience that the lack of response to a provocative post is disappointing.
2.12.2007 10:34am
WHOI Jacket:
I sympathize with Charles. Back when LGF had open registration, it wasn't as much of an echo chamber. Heck, one of their rotating banners celebrates one of their legendary trolls (Home of the nodroG). I was a regular commentator years ago, back when View from Ireland was banned. Sadly, I think that Charles would be overrun with the Kos or SadlyNo crowds where he to fully reopen registration.
2.12.2007 10:38am
lucia (mail) (www):
Lev's idea sounds good in principle. But, I think if EV liked the idea, he'd want someone to write a plug-in to help implement the method. Once implemented EV could pick a few people he trusts to be the ones who ban the ReVonna's of the world. (I know EV used to program, but I imagine these days he doesn't want to spend his time writing an easy to use plug-in that meshes with whatever blog software he's using. )
2.12.2007 10:41am
Dave N (mail):
As someone who had a post deleted (and a previous post on the same thread edited--to provide an EV editorial comment), I know I was less than thrilled when it occurred. However, on reflection, I realized that the deleted post was intemperate and that Eugene was quite right to delete it since it did not move the conversation forward. As for the edited post, I disagree with Eugene's editorial comment but I realized it was made more in context of the deleted post than the edited one.

After all, to use Eugene's metaphor, this is his party and we are his guests. As a result, we should be prepared to follow his rules.
2.12.2007 10:56am
New World Dan (www):
Ah, an area of personal expertise...

I used to run a BBS system which had a mechanism for dealing with obnoxious users. You could declare them a "twit". When twitted, they would see their own comments, but no one else would see their comments. Of course, once someone figured out that they were twitted, they tended to be obnoxious and do their best to trash the board. This usually required putting the BBS into "fortress" mode which only allowed new accounts with operator approval. While this tended to solve the problem, it also discouraged new users and caused a decline in use.

Of course, if you really want to escalate things, may I suggest Cal. Penal Code § 502. 18 USC 1030 would be quite a stretch on a public blog/forum. Not sure why I'm researching this for a law professor's blog, but if you wanted to do the leg work and ID Revona IRL, I would imagine that you could scare him/her off with a threat of federal charges. Such action might also get you a bad rep on the interwebs. Regardless, it's your system, but I don't think there is a particularly good solution.
2.12.2007 11:17am
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
It's rather amusing that half the comments to a post requesting that people not respond to ReVonna LaSchatze are people responding to ReVonna LaSchatze.
2.12.2007 11:18am
RainerK:
Prof. Volokh, for what it's worth, my advice would be to simply delete the blatantly abusive posts if and when you see them, but not to sweat it to the point of disrupting your life. Editing replies may not even be needed, to people of good will it will not be a problem.
As long as there are only a few trolls, we can all ignore them. As in life generally, we are better off not to believe we can attain 0% defect. It is a no-winner.

I personally highly appreciate the opportunity to listen to, learn from and occasionally converse with some interesting people.
2.12.2007 11:20am
Kent Scheidegger (mail) (www):
Houston Lawyer, nearly every rule has an exception. Given that this thread is about the commenter in question, leaving "ReVonna's" comments in the thread and responding to them is in order.

On my organization's blog, we require that comments be individually approved for the first comment or two, and then we designate the commenter as "trusted" so that the comments post immediately. It's easily done with the Movable Type software. It has worked well for us, but it might not be practical for a blog with a much high volume, such as this one.
2.12.2007 11:23am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Oh, this has nothing to do with abusive comments, but I finally caved in and ordered "Old Man's War." Hope it's as good as everyone, including EV, says it is.
2.12.2007 11:36am
William Spieler (mail) (www):
llamasex, get thee back to thine dungeons and discussion forum so that we can partake in debate and dragons, advanced style.
2.12.2007 11:47am
Seamus (mail):

I've been trying to block a commenter who goes by the unlikely name of ReVonna LaSchatze



Reminds me of a line from Wodehouse: After Bertie Wooster and one of his friends have come before the beak for misbehavior on Boat Race Night, and Bertie has been fined five of the best, the beak turns to Bertie's friend, saying (and I'm quoting from memory, so don't hold me to the exact words), "The case of the prisoner Leon Trotsky (which I strongly suspect to be a false and assumed name), presents a much different case."

(The beak then gives the friend (Pongo, or Gussie, or whoever) 30 days without the option of a fine, because he wasn't merely drunk and disorderly, but committed the lese-majeste of stealing a policeman's helmet off the latter's head.)

(BTW, one of the more delightful things about that story is the fact that the characters could routinely go out in public without carrying ID, much less the identity card that the Blair government wants to impose on the once proud and free people of England.)
2.12.2007 11:49am
Adeez (mail):
If I may, for those who use the term "trolls" here: what do you mean exactly? I always thought of a troll as someone whose views are opposed to that of the blog itself and who thus makes nonsensical comments in order to goad the serious commenters.

Am I wrong?

If I'm correct, then isn't this blog mainly for lawyers? And more specifically, lawyers who lean libertarian? If so, what would a troll even be? As libertarianism contains both "conservative" and "liberal" ideas, wouldn't everyone, left-to-right, be welcome?
2.12.2007 12:04pm
Flydiveski:
A troll is both the ogre under the bridge, and someone trolling for a response. They may or may not oppose anything. They are merely incindiary.

And I hope this blog isn't just for lawyers. I have too much fun reading it, and IANAL.

Advice to the prof: just delete the troll. Yes, it will leave other responses hanging, and the thread will look a little threadbare (how's that for a pun?). But the benefit of further editing will be much less than the value of the effort you will expend. It works; I've experienced it elsewhere.
2.12.2007 12:13pm
Orielbean (mail):
She trolls by jumping into an argument, and once the discussion stops having a new angle, or perhaps she feels threatened in some way...she opens up with an ad hominem attack.

I remember her comment in the HPV mandatory vaccine thread against Kovarsky(?) - she alluded either to a "small penis" joke or "you are a bad father because..." rather than defeat his argument on its own merits, even though he was battling about 3 or 4 other commenters in the discussion and was holding his own quite handily.

I have no problem with people that I disagree with. You can defend the actions of Jim Jones or Jeff Dahmer, but don't call me stupid or ignorant or a fool simply because you have nothing to counter with...

On the bannination note - the Fark system works well - it has you register via email, then you get the confirm email in 24 hours. Makes it easy to join once, tough to keep rejoining. And to those who would simply use multis or clones or 10 free email accounts? More power to you! If you need to spend that much time trying to prybar your trolling into a law blog, then congrats on your life's work.

Adeez, a troll here is someone who thinks that reasoned discussion of current events and specifically laws is a bad idea or not worthy of discussion. It would be tough to assign a party designation or leaning as this blog usually runs the whole spectrum from gun nut ultra cons all the way to Bucky-dome-dwelling bleeding heart Nanny-staters. That's why I like it here.
2.12.2007 12:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Adeez, the problem isn't the politics of the sock-commenter known as RL (who, incidentally, doesn't appear on a Google search anywhere except this blog, making it very likely the name is fake). The problem is, as you say, "nonsensical comments in order to goad the serious commenters." The sock-commenter's 8:57 AM post is representative of many of its posts. Antagonistic and nonsensical.
2.12.2007 12:28pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Adeez:
If so, what would a troll even be?

Suggesting someone's position reveals their penis size is considered trollish over the full political spectrum. For details see ReVonna's style.

EV specifically asked ReVonna to stop insulting people; she continued to argue by insult. As far as I can tell, EV doesn't ban people for disagreeing with his political opinions and he's fairly reluctant to ban people at all.
2.12.2007 12:30pm
Respondent (mail):
I generally don't try to exclude people for their viewpoints, though I reserve the right to do that if the views are nasty enough.
Could you please enlighten us on which viewpoints are too nasty? Is it OK to defend the assassination of abortion doctors on the grounds that you believe it may save lives? Or genocide on the grounds that that the race being annihilated is inherently evil? Or a viewpoint that [insert your public official here] should be killed because of the harm he/she has done or is likely to do to serious harm to the country? What about defending Timothy McVeigh as aperson with a good motivation of trying to strike back against tyranny? Or the Unabomber because you believe that his fear of technology is well founded? What sort of opinions are too out of the box to warrant the right to express them on your blog?
2.12.2007 12:57pm
uh clem (mail):
For a good overview of the meaning of the word "Troll" please see this entry in the urban dictionary.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a troll. (Def. 1)
2.12.2007 12:59pm
Respondent (mail):
By the way, my last post is a perfect example of the dangerousness of allowing the government to keep dossiers on people who express viewpoints which some government officials have an irrational fear might be some kind of threat. (Think of the semiannual stories of people contacted by the Secret Service because of letters they wrote to the editor.) I certainly have no desire to end up on some FBI list of interested people or get harrassed by the secret service or have my phones tapped, etc., so I avoided naming any specific public offices in my hypothetical. (I can only hope that suffices.) IMO, my point would have had a slightly better flourish, however, if I was able to give more pointed examples of specific public offices and specific harms people might use to justify assassination.
2.12.2007 1:10pm
John Noble (mail):
Anonymous speech is a constitutional right. That doesn't make it a good idea, and I don't think it contributes anything to VC. On every listserv/blog that I've ever joined, the useless antagonist (there's always one) has been anonymous. If it was my blog, the publication of comments would require a verifiable identity, subject to exceptions in the owner's discretion.

John Noble
2.12.2007 2:09pm
bob montgomery:
I find it somewhat amusing that in the comments for the very post in which EV asked folks not to respond to RL, several people couldn't restrain themselves from...responding to her! Too funny. :)

And I'll submit this as the best comment policy ever:
However, this is not a public street corner. While I am a rabid free speech supporter, your natural right to self expression does not require us to publish your opinion and spend bandwith and resources doing so.

We will ban for any reason and for no reason. In order to ban people who are lame, we will inevitably end up banning people who have done nothing wrong. There’s no appeal process. Bans may be permanent, and they may be adjusted to better target specific people, or repealed entirely.

Seriously: no reason will be given. No explanations will be given on who’s banned, why, or when.

The “no reason” section done, here’s my guess at the kind of things that will get people banned.

Abusive behavior towards others. When you post in reply to people, pretend that you are arguing with an umpire.
“You blew that call, he was safe by a mile.” = Okay
“You blow.” = Ejected

Or, if we had a U.S.S. Mariner get-together, we were all eating pizza and drinking beer, having a good time, would yelling your comment get you punched, then or later?

As with anything relating to tone, this is obviously a subjective and lame standard. It will be applied inconsistently: you may see someone get away with something one day and the next week someone’s gone for the same thing. It’s going to happen.

There's more and it is just as sensible and just as funny.
2.12.2007 2:34pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
Anonymous speech is a very good idea when people who have sensitive knowledge want to write on background (I'm using "sensitive" in the non-intel sense here). Requiring verifiable identities essentially means there will be no whistleblowers. The idea that only people who want to be trolls need anonymity is akin to the claim that only criminals should desire privacy from government surveillance.

This is a problem in some professional, limited access forums I use. I am pretty open about who I am and what I believe, but there are a number of professionals, particularly those in the public sphere, who are hesitant to express themselves for fear of reprisal. Often these folk ask *me* to post their thought as my own, since I am already on the record about so many things. It would be better if these folk had a way of expressing themselves anonymously rather than either having to find someone to act as sock puppet for them or lose their job.
2.12.2007 2:38pm
David W. Hess (mail):
Having maintained my own forums from the hardware up and moderated others I have some experience with this problem.

Blocking by IP address or originating source (Tor, Proxy, etc.) is not a complete solution for this type of problem because at some point it will no longer be possible to avoid blocking desired traffic. The best I have done is to block IPs by geographical region but even something like that is only moderately effective and can carry an unacceptable price. Blocking by IP signature is a possibility in some cases but requires low level access to the web server and can also be completely avoided once the target becomes aware of it and has sufficient technical competence.

My preference is to use a combination of a threaded forum (I do not understand why so many web forums use a flat organization) allowing entire sub threads to be removed easily along with delegated moderation if necessary. As you suggested, various account requirements like a valid email address and captchas can be used to raise the cost of creating new accounts if such are required for posting.

As I have pointed out to other forum maintainers in similar circumstances, forum moderation and maintenance is often a thankless job with little recognition of the difficulties involved. It is often painful enough that I see more organizations forgoing forums completely.
2.12.2007 2:47pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Maybe some of you would change your tune on ReVonna if you knew that I was the most recent poster to whom her outlandish remarks were addressed. :)
2.12.2007 2:58pm
Cornellian (mail):
EV must be doing a good job deleting the offending comments, since I can't remember ever seeing any of them other than in this thread. And at the risk of appearing totally self-centered, I wonder if I qualify as a "valued commenter."
2.12.2007 2:59pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Cornellian,

I'll vouch for Eugene on this one.
2.12.2007 3:07pm
SeaLawyer:

Maybe some of you would change your tune on ReVonna if you knew that I was the most recent poster to whom her outlandish remarks were addressed. :)



Well that changes everything! j/k.
2.12.2007 3:12pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
I would suggest a policy, by those who post comments, of ignoring anyone who posts offensive comments. He or she simply wants a reaction by posting something very obnoxious and rude. EV can delete them when he has time, but my guess is that if the person who posts the rude remarks gets no reaction, he or she will go somewhere else, even if his or her posts are not deleted.
2.12.2007 3:14pm
Adeez (mail):
Orielbean &Uh clem: thanks. That does clarify things for me.
2.12.2007 3:16pm
Hoosier:
I sure am happy to hear that the post about penis size was just trolling. I was worried that Revonna had access to very personal information about the rest of us.
2.12.2007 3:42pm
BT:
Whatever happened to Freder Frederson?
2.12.2007 3:52pm
Jamie (mail):
The troll may be using proxy IP addresses. When I helped run political sims, one of major problems was certain people who tried to circumvent the rules and integrity of the game by having different personalities or characters. It was akin to treason in the sim world, and was a major thorn in the side. We had to keep a massive database of known IP addressed, both of our members and known trouble-makers, along with known aliases. It was a major headache.

I don't suggest you do that, but if there's anyway you can block proxy IP addresses or the ability of commenters to spoof their IPs, it might help.

Anyway, good luck. I run my own online forum with what's approaching 1,100 members and I know how frustrating it can be when people troll.
2.12.2007 4:14pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
The most effective way to get rid of an unwanted commenter is to make fake comments under that person's name diametrically opposed to what they really believe.

I'm not saying it's an ethical strategy, but it certainly works.
2.12.2007 5:58pm
advisory opinion:
Whatever happened to Greedy Clerk?
2.12.2007 6:08pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
I've been doing online since the mid 80's. Back then Compuserve's service with threaded discussions in ASCII text was the best and imho most informative place to be online. The discussions on compuserve were entirely different than the discussions on the internet of today. The discussions were always moderated, and more importantly Compuserve new who you really were (so they could charge you exorbitant fees) and there was no way getting around the fact that your real name was going to be attached to every post you made. There was no anonymity. No handles, etc. allowed.

I believe that most of the incivility of personal ad hominem attacks on internet forum are the direct result of the much greater anonymity afforded to posters/commenters.

I agree with those who said, that if there was a way of making people post under their real names incivility would be greatly reduced. Combined with moderators who enforce whatever rules for content of comments the particular forum host decrees and the banning of habitual violators would virtually eliminate trolling and incivility.

I really don't buy the argument that posters need to post anonymously or risk losing their jobs. At least not on a forum like this. This isn't a whistleblower web forum, and if a whistleblower wants to get something out into the public domain, there are far better ways of doing so than an anonymous comment on this or any other web forum.

Says the "Dog"
2.12.2007 6:33pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Dog:

I am just curious, why don't you use your own name when you post?

-Chris
2.12.2007 7:29pm
Russ (mail):
Being that the blog belongs to Prof Volokh, he is free to delete whatever he wants. You can shout whatever you want w/o the government stopping you, but that doesn't obligate others to listen to you. Nor does it give you the right to barge into someone's home and shout insults in their face.
2.12.2007 8:07pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Freder Frederson - yeah- now *there* was a troll...
2.12.2007 8:37pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Also - does anyone remember Frank Drackmann? That guy was spectacularly offensive.
2.12.2007 8:40pm
Fub:
Flydiveski wrote:
A troll is both the ogre under the bridge, and someone trolling for a response. They may or may not oppose anything. They are merely incindiary.
I think the second definition (someone trolling for a response) is the original definition on internet fora dating back to pre-usenet email lists. Over time, and I think especially during the AOL invasion of usenet in the middle 1990s, the definition of a bridge dweller insinuated itself into 'net lingo. Maybe there is a linguistics or sociology paper in that definitional shift crying out for a writer.

Trolling is not as recent a phenomenon as many think. It has a rich, and too often overlooked, history. It existed long before the intarweb existed. For example, it is arguable that Commander Joseph Rochefort's cleverly constructed troll was the intelligence lynchpin that made America's WWII victory at Midway possible. He asked the radio operator at Midway to broadcast a short message in the clear that the freshwater still had broken down. The Japanese encrypted traffic response, "AF is short of water", identified Admiral Yamamoto's target as Midway.

So trolling's purpose is not always ignoble. One high point (or low point, take your choice) in the history of usenet trolling was a semi-scientific experiment carried out in the middle 1990s using trolling as a method. Although the trolling character was fictitious, his name was that of a real person. I'm still uncertain if the name choice was coincidental as the researchers imply, or reflected institutional rivalry, or possibly even collusion between the researchers and their fictional protagonist's namesake.

Nor are all trolls offensive in the sense of making personal attacks. Regular readers of The Volokh Conspiracy might be shocked to learn that a respected commenter here was once reputed a master of trolling in usenet days of yore. He also made (and makes) excellent contributions to discussions. My lips are sealed as to his identity, but it's almost trivially easy to determine.

And no, I'm not him.
2.12.2007 8:59pm
Bleepless (mail):
Once in a while, I run into Freder in the cheap-seats portion of the blogosphere.
A new low in trollery was set a couple of months ago when one despicable pile of filth threatened a blogger's kid with violence. The troll, an academic, resigned before (apparently just before) it could be sacked.
2.12.2007 9:50pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Being that the blog belongs to Prof Volokh, he is free to delete whatever he wants.
Does this phrasing grate on anybody else's ears the way it does on mine? What's with the "being that"? How about "Since"?
2.12.2007 10:06pm
Anon Y. Mous:
Trolls usually enjoy building up their bad reputation. So, if you were to block the poster's nym, that would probably take some of the wind out of their sail. True, it wouldn't stop them from posting, but they would have to keep on inventing new identities, making it more difficult to get the attention they are seeking.
2.12.2007 10:12pm
Joshua:
Anon Y. Mous: They wouldn't necessarily have to invent new identities, just alter the spelling or even use "leetspeak" or other ciphers, as spammers do. R370^^@ L@5c#@t23, anyone?
2.12.2007 10:20pm
Another Virginian:
I understand why Ravonna was banned, but I'm sort of sorry it happened even though I would have probably taken the same action.

Until (s)he (though I'm assuming a "she" given the nature of the attacks) got to her attack line(s), her posts generally had productive commentary.

I rarely post and read in spurts, with the frequency depending on how much I want a distraction. Nonetheless, I recognize many of the "voices" here and came to value much of Ravonna's contributions when she wasn't being so nasty.

I've read that men generally tend to communicate/bond/exchange information (take your pick) through "can you beat this?" exchanges, sometimes devolving (from a female perspective) into what is commonly referred to as a "peeing contest." I have observed that pattern here, though not in every thread.

Nonetheless, from my perspective, a lot of boxing about the ears goes on here. The difference with Ravonna's comments, as I see it, was more in intensity than in kind. To flip an expression, it seemed as if she would bring a gun to a knife fight. (Such as the penis remarks.) The attacks on EV seemed of a different caliber and motivation altogether, as if she was the student who got a lower grade than expected and than she felt she deserved.
2.12.2007 11:04pm
lucia (mail) (www):
David N,
You're advocating since?!

A technical editor once lectured me on the use of "since". Evidently, it should never, ever, ever, ever be used to mean "because"; such use was entirely ignorant and also confused any non-native speaker who might think the writer meant to imply a passage of time. (The technical editor had many other theories about technical communications; some made some technical writing nearly impossible. She eventually switched to PR department. )
2.12.2007 11:12pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Another Virginian,
Can I give another female perspective? Yes, some pissing contests seem to erupt. I've been in some myself.

But that's not the problem with ReVonna. ReVonna was launching into adhominems everywhere. She called Bernstein a chickenshit. She's calling guys real dogs if they disagree with her positions. She's suggesting she can detect men's penis sizes by their comments. I'm sure if I had access to the comment database, I could find other outlandish sexist insults.

Not one person here has ever suggested my arguments indicate I'm flat chested, fat, or ugly, or that my position on HPV vaccinations suggests I'm a skank or made any other stupid sexist comment.

My female perspective tells me what ReVonna is doing is qualitatively different from what other commenters are doing.

Why should ReVonna get a free pass? EV is right to ban her and anyone who starts doing that sort of thing.
2.12.2007 11:46pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
This is why comments are turned off on my blog. I wouldn't mind civilized and intelligent comments even by those who disagree with me, but having to police the trash--and even more difficult--figure out when some crossed the line from snarky to unjustified vicious personal insults--that would be a somewhat time consuming task, certain to be wrong as often as right.
2.12.2007 11:52pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Christopher Cooke (mail):

Dog:

I am just curious, why don't you use your own name when you post?




Its not the modern internet way. Or put differently, if almost everyone else is going to avail themselves of anonymity then I see no point in being one of the few who participate with their real names.

I participate in several news groups where most people use their real names (or appear to be using their real names) and I use my real name as well, and EV might note that I *sign* all my posts with my real name even though my name is at the top of each post.

If this forum went real name, I'd have no problem participating with my real name, and doing so would probably make me and others moderate some of my or their more colorful accents to mine and their posts.

Says the "Dog"
2.13.2007 12:12am
Hans Gruber:
"Whatever happened to Freder Frederson?"

I believe he's trolling Althouse now.
2.13.2007 3:59am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
She's calling guys real dogs if they disagree with her positions.

I think when Kovarsky threatened to sleep with another poster's 11 year old child -- as a reason to convince a man his daughter needed the HPV vaccine young -- he acted like a dog. Good thing the Prof. is protecting you folks from hearing such views -- which surely exist in the RealWorld. Would love to see tuff guy Kovarsky tell someone offline they'd be worried for their daughter if he were sleeping with them. What a dog!
2.13.2007 7:02am
Shawn-non-anonymous:
I'm not a lawyer, but I am a programmer.

Dynamic IP addresses (DHCP) rotate on most broadband providers. However, they generally rotate through a block of addresses. If your filtering software is good enough (and on this blog, I'm betting not), you could filter through just that block. There are several services on the net where you can take the offending IP address and do a lookup (reverse-DNS) to get the domain name they are posting from, like atlanta.rr.com (roadrunner). This information is often useful to get general location. Assuming, that is, the person isn't using an anonymiser account and routing through more than one machine.

The bottom line here is you're likely forced to hand-edit the responses. After all, can you filter "ReVonna LaSchatze" one week then "R. LaSchatze" the next? Distributing the workload may be your best option.

As for "Trolling"... :-) "Troll" is a noun and a creature of myth. "Trolling" is a verb and it's where you cast a net in the sea and drag it along and see what sort of fish you catch. As long as I have been on the internet (1990, which is pre-AOL for those that track such things), a "Troll" is a person that uses inciteful words to create controversy. They flame people or say things known to create problems and then watch to see what sort of havoc they create. (A lesson I learned quickly hanging out in soc.motss.)

The best way to deal with an internet troll is to ignore it.

EV, if this blogging software is custom or you have pull with the coders, suggest they create a polling mechanism where *trusted* users (non-anonymous accounts) can rate speakers in much the same fashion as people "Digg" articles. People with scores deemed too low are simply filtered out. The net effect should be a wash for those that provide positive conversation, even if they have controversial ideas, but over time it would discourage the trolls who would be forced to create new accounts often to keep themselves heard. (And IP address changes wouldn't help.)
2.13.2007 8:26am
Orielbean (mail):
Shawn - not to nitpick, but the version of the troll word where fish and boats are involved - trawling. :-)
2.13.2007 9:20am
uh clem (mail):
Orielbean,

Acgtually, they both are.

trawling is a method of catching fish by dragging nets behind a boat.

trolling is is a method of catching fish by dragging baited line(s) behind a boat.

With trolling, the fish are caught one at a time as they strike the bait - I think the analogy is clear, eh?

See www.marinematters.org/bulletin/apr2003.html , scroll down to "The Trouble with Trolling"
2.13.2007 10:12am
Daryl Herbert (www):
What I wrote earlier: The most effective way to get rid of an unwanted commenter is to make fake comments under that person's name

Here's an extreme version of what I suggested (link is to Patterico's site but is possibly NSFW)

Like I said: it's effective and highly unethical

The upshot: all those dumbass comments you made under your real name, scattered across the web: now no one can prove they were genuine. You can deny everything and suggest you're the victim of a conspiracy.
2.13.2007 3:18pm
Shawn-non-anonymous:
Orielbean ... eek. You are so right.
2.15.2007 7:57am
William Oliver (mail) (www):
"I really don't buy the argument that posters need to post anonymously or risk losing their jobs. At least not on a forum like this. This isn't a whistleblower web forum, and if a whistleblower wants to get something out into the public domain, there are far better ways of doing so than an anonymous comment on this or any other web forum."

Tell that to a couple of people who just resigned from the John Edwards campaign. In fact, this is exactly the kind of forum where those threats are real -- ones that involve the discussion of current events. I've been involved in trying to fight the lynching of one of my colleagues in forensic pathology for making a politically incorrect diagnosis (for the story see http://www.billoblog.com/billoblog/?p=271). One of the things that has struck me in private conversation is how that other FPs in Florida are afraid to say anything for fear of losing their jobs. In contrast, those who want to crucify him are quite able to post at will on opinion blogs.
2.15.2007 9:27am