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Gaming Website Modifies Its Comments Policy – What to Do About the Trolls?

Gaming Website Modifies Its Comments Policy – What to Do About the Trolls?

The issue of how to handle abusive online comments has come up often and has raised broader issues of speech and anonymity online.

This post from IGN, a popular gaming and entertainment site owned by Ziff Davis, reminded me that such issues are good to debate from time to time.

So there’s this problem with IGN. A lot of the comments lately have been terrible.

Horrifying is probably more like it.

While most IGN comments are respectful and productive, we’ve let the abusive comments get to a point where they dominate our discussions. When even just one hostile comment is enough to ruin an entire thread, we’ve got to take our job as curators of our site more seriously. The best way to create an appetite is to feed it and, by letting these abusive comments live on IGN, we’ve been encouraging more of the same. It’s long past time for that to stop.

Some of what we’re dealing with is an extension of the trash-talking that’s part of a competitive gaming culture. Some of it is just the bold lack of empathy that the facelessness of the internet allows. Some of it is just the natural tendency of some people to find happiness in making other people miserable. The excitement over next-gen consoles and the increasing popularity of games in general means that we’re seeing more new users on the site each and every day. When you add all those factors together, it’s clear we need to pay more attention to our interactions with each other.

I think this accurately depicts the larger state of online society today.  It’s not limited to the gaming culture, not by a longshot.

I cover a lot of social media and technology stories, so I am always looking at studies that analyze how social media and the internet in general have affected our culture, in both good and bad ways.

Many are quick to blame social media and the internet itself for the negative sides of people’s behavior online (I’m guilty of it myself sometimes and have to catch myself).  But the truth is, such tools are merely vehicles through which people express already existing traits online.  In other words, it’s the person, not the tool they use.

A recent study found that boredom and feelings of power are primary causes for trolling behavior online.  Another found that rudeness and throwing insults are cutting short friendships – online and in real life.  Juxtapose those with another study that found social media is a cause of anxiety and insecurity for many users.

There are a multitude of other studies out there that anyone can pull to fit their purpose, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there are simply a lot of people online who simply enjoy being jerks.  While it may be useful to psychologists and marketers alike, I myself don’t particularly care why jerks are jerks.  They just are.

Many often suggest passing laws to regulate comments and postings that are more damaging and dangerous, especially given the more extreme reports of cyberbullying in the media.

Personally, I don’t think that this is necessarily a viable solution.  First, it’s not addressing the problem, which is the people posting such information, who are going to find a way to do so regardless of what laws may be proposed.  Second, many laws already exist to deal with the more extreme cases, whether they be criminal or civil matters.  Lastly, there’s the concept that more speech, not less, is the better alternative.

Other suggestions often include doing away with anonymous commenters altogether.  While many abuse anonymity to simply be jerks, to others, the security of anonymity is a life and death need, especially in countries where freedom of speech is not a cherished human right.  It’s a difficult balance, but one that I think is best left to individual online communities to manage in a way they believe best suits their needs.

Much of the problem lies in the culture today.  Just as IGN points out, it’s more a matter of paying attention to our interactions with one another in our online communities, and calling out the bad behavior when we see it (though I don’t think giving them national coverage on CNN necessarily helps!).

Even this has its own challenges however, especially for blog and website owners.  Differentiating between what’s trolling, what’s bad behavior and what’s simply disagreement can walk a fine line.  While some of the clearly abusive comments that serve no purpose other than to disrupt and insult are easy to set apart, others aren’t so clear.

These issues come up often and always leave me wondering about where the proper balance lies and how social media and blogs will work all this out over time.

But you have to start somewhere.  Perhaps managing ourselves and our own online communities, and trying to insure a comfortable place while allowing civil disagreement is the place the start.  Maybe other blog owners have some thoughts on this.

In the meantime, there are a few tips on spotting and handling blog trolls in this post over at TheOtherMcCain.


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Part of the problem with moderation is that its either done haphazardly (floating standards of behavior) or with bias (double standards) when the perp is drinking buddies with some VIP or BMOC.

    J. W. in reply to Fen. | July 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I agree. Since there are so many problems with moderating, sites should seriously consider implementing a Slashdot-like system for comments. Users rate comments, and comments that fall below a certain threshold (set by individual users) don’t show up immediately, requiring an extra click to appear. (The site could set a default threshold for non-users.) Moderating could then be reserved for removing posts that include someone’s personal information, etc. — and even then, such posts could be found through flagging by users. In short, crowd-source your moderation!

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Fen. | July 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm


    RE: “(floating standards of behavior) or with bias (double standards)” as found on some sites – not this one.

Ann Althouse is going through a blogging meltdown over this issue, but it was less about abusive commentators than her having disagreements with her commentators and freaking out. But she is entitled to do that. A self inflicted wound, but that is her call.

But the way to solve abuse is to ban those who are abusive. I generally let anyone post, with the exception being if it is obviously harmful spam or comments I just cannot tolerate (I know it when I see it). But I am all for free speech and people can do their own thing on their own platform so it is all good.

I don’t think Althouse gets it. Yes, she has a sharp mind and starts interesting topics. But its the *conversation* that people went there for. Dinner parties invite interesting guests because no one wants to hear monologue by the host.

And mocking guests that are being ruined by bogus Alimony and Child Support payments wasn’t her smartest move. To their credit, they didn’t walk out, they instead tried to reason with her. Then she kicked everyone out.

    Cynewulf in reply to Fen. | July 13, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    “And mocking guests that are being ruined by bogus Alimony and Child Support payments wasn’t her smartest move. To their credit, they didn’t walk out, they instead tried to reason with her. Then she kicked everyone out.”

    heh, did she have a Little Green Footballs moment?

    Calypso Facto in reply to Fen. | July 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    At Althouse the interesting thoughts were primarily found in the comments, whereas at LI, they’re most often in the post itself (no offense, fellow commenters). With Althouse’s comments off and Professor Jacobson’s excellent Zimmerman trial coverage, he’ll easily have the number one law blog this go-round. Well-earned!

Carol Herman | July 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Ann Althouse married one of her commentators.

Also, just because you don’t like what someone posts, doesn’t make them a troll.

Now, I don’t go to Althouse’s site because I was sure, a few years ago, that my old computer here got a virus. And, it cost me a fortune to fix. Since I’m not interested in buying a new machine. After my tower came back from the shop, I just erased the bookmark I had for her site. And, I’ve never gone back there.

Also, if you want my opinion, about this site, the most important stuff is posted by Jacobson and Branca. Then? I read through all the posted comments. Some are terrific. Others not so much. But it’s like being in a public square where people gather. When I was young no such thing was available. The best you could do was go to the park, and listen to someone giving their opinions from a soapbox.

Thomas Jefferson would have said the more varied the opinions you hear, the more free we are to understand the First Amendment.

    JerryB in reply to Carol Herman. | July 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I agree that the discussion here is generally quite good, but at the least it doesn’t get ugly. I think Prof. J. sets the tone, as he is very measured and respectful. He obviously keeps the comments clean. There are few sites where I’ll even read the comments. For example, Ann Althouse, who pointed me here during the Wisconsin melee. I stopped reading her commenters immediately and eventually stopped visiting.

Andrea Harris at the pre-Telegraph Tim Blair blog was a terrific moderator and hell on trolls.

    “Andrea Harris at the pre-Telegraph Tim Blair blog was a terrific moderator and hell on trolls.”

    You can say/type that again, for sure. In fact, I’ll say/type it for you..

    “Andrea Harris at the pre-Telegraph Tim Blair blog was a terrific moderator and hell on trolls.”

    I was El Cid @ Tim’s Classic blog..

    Blair still has the link to El Cid, but ’tis now another blog I put together with a varied group, American and Aussie, Tizona (one of Cid’s favorite swords. The other sword was Colada.

    My lesson learned. Don’t evah think of starting another Group Blog! 🙂

      I am a sometimes commenter at Tim’s blog – him being Aussie :). I sometimes comment on Andrew Bolt’s blog. I spend a lot of time with MichaelSmithNews. I have my own blog to attend.

      I am the one who is very tough. Trolls do not get a chance on my blogs and on top of that if anyone is being abusive because I have a certain pov and I let fly about a certain female former PM of Australia, then that person is not going to be allowed to comment. I am not going to take their guilt tripping.

        Aussie..Yes indeed you are. Good Onya.

        Terrific virtual friend of mine from Cid time AND Greg still is, a Terrific virtual friend

        In emails, Greg still may refer to me, as

        BannedbytheGuardian in reply to Aussie. | July 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm

        I don’t see why you need to bring your hatred of Julia Gillard here. To my knowledge she has never been mentioned at LI.

        Australians who are actually facing death for the country unlike you – hold her in good stead. She has made many very personal & unpublicised visits to corps especially on a death in Afghanistan . Something her 2 predecessors never did.

      Spiny Norman in reply to JP. | July 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Hey El Cid! I was, well, “Spiny Norman” on Tim’s old blog. Not only did Andrea not suffer trolls, she usually let them have it with witty invective that was a thing of beauty.

“But the truth is, such tools are merely vehicles through which people express already existing traits online. In other words, it’s the person, not the tool they use.”

As an on-line gamer, I see this in action all the time. A person who goes out of his way to help another player with no hope of getting anything out of it reveals a spirit of generosity that most likely manifests itself in the “real” world as well. Likewise, a person who blows up and derides other players over the smallest of things betrays a different spirit altogether. Usually, it’s what you do when no one is watching (or while under an anonymous cloak) that reveals your character.

As for moderating comments on blogs, the owner of each site should have their own house rules prominently displayed and enforce them as they see fit; it is their site after all.

    Correct about the “revealing character”.

    As I’ve often pointed out to trolls who tried the “it’s just for fun” defense: There’s no difference whatsoever between getting your jollies behaving like an asshole online, and actually *being* an asshole.

      Phillep Harding in reply to Ichneumon. | July 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      The punks “playing” the beat down game “don’t mean any harm”. But people die anyhow.

      Dr Weevil in reply to Ichneumon. | July 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Yes, I’ve said it before (on Althouse, in fact) but it’s worth saying again: On the Internet, everyone know’s if you’re a dog. We may never know your real name, sex, age, profession, gender orientation, education, location, or any identifying fact about you, but if you post enough comments under the same pseudonym, we can very easily and accurately judge what kind of person you are.

Funny, but the analyses you present about bad behavior remind me of my moving to the Boston area from the midwest 25 years ago. Driving a car out here was a shock. The thought occurred to me that the relative anonymity of a driver allowed them to behave in a way that they wouldn’t face-to-face.

My choosing to be anonymous online is because of the bad behavior of others, but also because of real threats of reprisal. It’s not unheard of for persons to lose their jobs for posting politically incorrect ideas online. It’s an unfortunate environment, more like communism than freedom. Even at work, although a look at my office reveals that I’m a Catholic, I bite my lip rather than speak my mind.

As for commenters, I helped at a blog that tried to allow anonymous comments to accommodate those who would rather not register. I’m one who is reluctant to register. It required constant moderation. There is no easy solution.

Phillep Harding | July 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm

I prefered the old newsgroups with the ability to plonk file people and filter posts with certain words. The difference between a ng with a well thought out set of filters and Deja (or Google Groups) was astounding. Easy to read vs full of junk.

I’d really like to be able to filter the comment stream on a blog.

The awesomeness of filtering blog comment streams is so blindingly obvious that its non-existence becomes a matter for enquiry. Do trolls drive traffic or something?

Oh how I’d love like/dislike/gag thingies.

Henry Hawkins | July 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I had a website that ran for over a decade, focusing on applying scientific methodology to paranormal claims essentially, but also provided lessons on critical thinking, logical fallacies, etc. It had an accompanying message board with over 20,000 registered members.

Trolls operate where topics are (1) arguable and (2) emotion affective. Recipe sites don’t get a lot of trolls. Politics and religion, just as in ‘real life’, generate the most of the requisite emotions and opinions and get the most trolls.

Trolls are sometimes in the eye of the beholder. The hero from a conservative site becomes a troll at a liberal site for the exact same posts. The hero of a religious site becomes a troll at a science site for the exact same posts.

Most trolls leave no doubt – they are clearly out to cause a ruckus, upset people, start fights, and disrupt the normal course of the site.

The only two sure-fire cures are for posters to immediately ignore every troll once identified. This rarely happens, as there is always one or more people who return fire, thereby feeding the troll precisely what it wants. The other way is to ultimately ban the troll, after some preset number of warnings.

At my site, in the section on Posting Rules, I outlined my rules for trolls or otherwise abusive posters. Once identified, you got two warnings. Upon the third infraction, you got banned. Yes, many trolls came back under new pseudonyms, and got banned under the same rules. I made it very clear that any ban decision was mine and mine alone, and acknowledged that my sincere intent at fairness would not always be met – tough shit, I’m busy. This worked great for the entire 11-12 year run.

Legal Insurrection is a prime site for trolls based on the emotions + opinions quotient, and yet we suffer very little with it. Much has to do with the maturity and knowledge levels of the regular posters, their reluctance to do much more than slap a new troll around a couple times before simply ignoring it. But mostly, it’s because of the typically calm response and swift scalpel of our host – in my 2.5 years here, I believe I’ve only seen one troll get banned, and it didn’t take long once its trollness became obvious.

It is my sense that ongoing significant problems caused by inevitable trolls are the fault of site owners and/or moderators who mismanage handling them.

Trolls are trolls, and pretty much the same everywhere. The variable between emotion/opinion sites who do and do not experience significant problems with trolls is not the trolls – it’s management.

Kudos to LI for getting this aspect of website management exactly right.

    Cynewulf in reply to Henry Hawkins. | July 13, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    “Politics and religion, just as in ‘real life’, generate the most of the requisite emotions and opinions and get the most trolls.”

    You can add music to that list. Some of the worst trolls I’ve seen have been on music videos on youtube. Come to think of it, youtube in general…

Carol Herman | July 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I go to REDDIT all the time. What most fascinates me, (besides the category tags), is the number of comments in a particular post. Sometimes they have thousands and thousands of people who dropped by there and left a comment. Yes, sometimes the comments are absolutely useless. And, sometimes? Really great additions to the posts I’ve opened to see and have read.

I’ve even saved one to my desktop. Someone posted a photograph of the night sky, where the clouds are fluid. And, the landscape looked like something Van Gogh painted.

I think the way to measure the sites we like is by how frequently we visit, there. Besides not having a TV, I haven’t opened up a newspaper in years and years.

I’m very grateful for the sites I love.

Trolls, unchecked, have the ability to destroy thoughtful exchanges of ideas. They are the equivalent of trying to have a serious discussion face to face if you are surrounded by onlookers who react to every comment by jeering or heckling. In fact they are essentially online hecklers.

The problem is real. A complete solution is obviously not easy, but that does not mean there aren’t clear-cut steps that can’t be taken to reduce the problem. The willingness of site-owners and moderators to delete posts, give warnings and then ban the obvious vandals would go a long way towards cleaning up the mess. Problems that remain can be dealt with on a more nuanced basis.

I think some sites don’t address it because they want a free-for-all atmosphere which attracts larger numbers which probably enhances their ad revenues. At least that is my thought.

I am not troubled by the idea that cracking down would somehow implicate free speech concerns. Privately owned sites don’t owe anyone a forum protected by constitutional doctrines to engage in any debate, much less an abusive one.

Aside from a site being infested with trolls who are given free rein, the next most irritating trait, and one which has driven me from at least one forum, is the double standard where favored people are permitted to do anything they wish and others who respond in kind are removed.

I’m with everybody on trolls, and I usually don’t read comments on sites. But what really gets me is when I do follow a comment thread and feel to post, and then my post never shows up. As if it was abusive or off topic, instead of merely disagreeing with the crowd or site owner.

Twice I’ve posted a comment, checked it to see if it gets posted. Seen it. Then checked it again from a different location, and . . . “what happened to my comment?” Go back to my original computer, and there it is. “Whew, I was just imagining things”. Then on the second computer, “Wait, no it’s gone again”.

I’m slow, but I’m not stupid. Some forum/comment software has a feature to allow subtly removing comments without letting the commenter know. Only I wasn’t trolling.

One of the instances was on a older, somewhat famous SciFi writer’s site. I disagreed with his younger wife’s opinion that the NRA controls the GOP and the NEA is politically powerless. I spent a fair amount of time coming up with a well reasoned response. I know at least one other person did the same (but better). Neither comment ever showed up on any computer other than my own.

I felt betrayed and lied to. Someone was posing online as offering open conversation, while offering anything but.

Which is why I’ll probably won’t be visiting Ann Althouse’s site. I never made her site one of my regular reads. I found her a little offputting as a lawyer, a professor, a liberal (she ain’t crazy, but definitely to the left of moderate), and a feminist.

Oh, I’m sure I’ll get there once in a while if only by accident. Instapundit strikes me as the type that will let a little unfair criticism and misbehavior stop him from linking to her.

Anyway, I got to the comments here because it was my best fix while at work for the Zimmerman Trial.

No kidding. How hard is it to design an interface that allows me to click on a poster’s name and select “ignore”. Even FB has this function.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to Fen. | July 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    So someone you don’t like for some comment they made can never state anything worth reading ever?


BTW, this site could use a better system. That last post was supposed to be nested to the 4:57 comment.