Theodore A. Hoppe


This conversation is closed.

What are we to do with "Comment Trolls" here at TED?

Stephen Downs writes on his blog that I subscribe to, "OLDWeekly. He recently wrote on the subject of " comment trolls."
"We'll use the word 'science' a little loosely here, but meanwhile there's an interesting survey on the consequences of comment trolls: "it appeared that pushing people's emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their preexisting beliefs." The author offers an explanation, "the psychological theory of motivated reasoning," akin to Hume's dictum, but I think the interplay between thoughts and feelings (if they are even distinct things) is a lot more complex than that. That said, I can attest first-hand to the way comment trolls can drain the life out of a discussion, out of a website, out of living itself. Which, of course, if their intent."
The author Downes is referring to is Chris Mooney. His article in Mother Jones observes:
"In the context of the psychological theory of motivated reasoning, this makes a great deal of sense. Based on pretty indisputable observations about how the brain works, the theory notes that people feel first, and think second. The emotions come faster than the "rational" thoughts—and also shape the retrieval of those thoughts from memory. Therefore, if reading insults activates one's emotions, the "thinking" process may be more likely to be defensive in nature, and focused on preserving one's identity and preexisting beliefs."

Have a look at the article and share your thoughts.

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    Jan 19 2013: “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.” -- Hermann Hesse

    Something to think about when we are getting angry at someone.
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      Jan 19 2013: Very wise Arkady:>)

      We are mirrors to each other...reflections of our "self" all the time. When something "disturbs" us, we might want to look "internally" for the reason:>)
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    Jan 20 2013: How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.
    Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881), speech, January 24, 1860
    If someone posts an idea or a question on a public forum, they are willingly seeking responses from various points of views and experiences. The author takes on the responsibility to choose who, how and what responses he or she needs to react to. After all the author opened the question here.
    Some comments will aim to ridicule, some may be ignorant, some out of context, or some would take one word off the subject and dissect it out of proportion. But there are some comments that are intelligent, contributing to the discussion and at time brilliant but with a tinge of sarcasm. In any case the author should assume the responsibility on what is valuable and not the person who comments. Should the author aim for a specific kind of response, then the question should be posed to a specific kind of audience, not in an open public forum. After all everyone has an opinion and any fool can comment, criticize or speak up..they have the right to do so! So do I .. 
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    Jan 19 2013: I'd second Mark Kurtz's opinion. Nobody can make me feel insulted without my permission. TED community is great at curbing emotions. I have participated in some rather hot topics here - abortion, gun control, Israeli-Palestinian relations. All were great discussions - very meaningful, educational, and respectful.

    You don't deal with trolls. You deal with yourself. There are plenty of topics and people to get angry and frustrated about. None are really worth it.
  • Jan 19 2013: Self mastery! The evidence for seeking mastery of self, emotions and reasoning seems abundant. Is mastering oneself the underlying topic here? Or is it trolls?

    Good topic you introduce here!
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      Jan 19 2013: Kurt, have you read a post war on climate change that has deteriorated to a insult slinging match by some very intelligent people? It's amazing to read as it also turns into a "link" war.
      • Jan 19 2013: No, I haven't read, but I know of some of it observing here. TED's moniker is ideas worth spreading, note the word worth. Someone feels something is worth their words. What is evident here is the definition of worth is subjective. Someone posts links to offer their stance on something worthy.

        Self mastery is a worthy concept and it is worth a separate idea conversation. Loving your fellow humans will always be the right pathway to better relations. You cannot love people by striking them physically or verbally or through the written word.

        I am not aware of a world wide rule that trolls must act like trolls. The question above asks what are we to do. I don't know the answer to Mr. Hoppe's concern. It does seem right to promote mastery of self which in love will result in patience and tolerance of others. It's all about good quality, civil behavior. More of this happens with love and this must be accepted deep inside a person. I know this is true because of my own ugly behavior in the past. Love is the better way.
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          Jan 19 2013: Sometimes I love reading these wars for the knowledge of the two combatants is brought to bear if they don't resort to throwing links at each other and starts a round of knit picking at the veracity of the links.

          Yet you can't beat what you stated. "Self mastery"
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      Jan 19 2013: Yes, we can learn to own our feelings
      Others do not make us angry. we get angry.
      There's a big difference.
      • W T

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        Jan 19 2013: Typing away is sometimes easy, and doesn't require much thinking at times.
        Noone interrupts our written response, so it's easy to....."let it rip"....

        Whereas if we were face to face with a group of people, surely one or more of them would interrupt us in mid-sentence to correct us, or put up an opposition.

        There is also the factor that what you write might be perceived wrongly by the reader, and thus contribute to the trolling behavior. Although some people, like the example in your link, need no excuse for their harsh words.

        I have had comments, which I felt were in harmony with the other party's thoughts, perceived as an attack.....and then I've had to go through explaining how they were misunderstanding me.

        I have also commented in direct opposition to what is being said, and the other person perceived it as my validation of their own thoughts....Go figure?

        There is a site I use where you can even block the persons you consider to be trolls. You'll see their name, but you are in control of whether or not you read their comments....Funny thing is, you'll start to see a pattern, and usually all the members will block the same individual.....Nobody likes on-line trolls!

        Conversation, of any type, is an is to be mastered.......Like Mark said, perhaps this is all about self-mastery.
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    Jan 22 2013: The question of online trolling was featured last night on Al Jazeera news, as this is an extremely international problem. Here is a link for anyone interested.

    There is also an infographic about how to identify trolls and what some large online venues, like Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, and Huffington Post do to try to keep real exchanges of ideas flowing, despite the attempts of trolls to stifle this.
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    Jan 20 2013: Great article! The resulting conversation is awesome, too. The manner in which people have discussed how to react (or ignore) to trolls rather than "fix" the trolls is delightful.

    I think my favorite line from the articles is: "In other words, it appeared that pushing people's emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their preexisting beliefs." It seems the troll method of attempting to bully others to believe similarly simply because the troll believes is counter-productive.

    One of my favorite professors said "Beware the ipse dixit." Now there is research that reinforces the quote!!
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    Jan 19 2013: TED had a real issue with trolls when they had a "thumbs down" button. It didn't long for people to figure out how to attacked others by having their comments TED Cred destroyed using multi accounts. I am sure some of us remember those days. Since then TED revised its commenting practices and its also very diligent about abusive commenting.
    Still, we might all admit to being "bothered" by folks with contrasting opinions, It not hard to find comments like, "Stop throwing verbal bombs and listen up" and "so glad that you have come down from your throne." Remarks like, " You keep stalking me and asking for more...." indicate a problem. Comments such as this are not outrightly "abusive" but contribute to a dynamic of hostility. And its hard not to be drawn in by such commenting.
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      Jan 19 2013: Great article, I might have to reread it a few times to fully absorb it.
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      Jan 19 2013: What you describe is an excellent reason not to have a thumbs down button! I think many don't mind at all contrasting opinions and in fact come to TED or any other conversation site precisely to be invited to consider a variety of viewpoints and world views. In contrast, comments that show a pattern of hostility in the effort to silence voices or to prevent the critique/questioning of claims and ideas are, I think, suitable to flag to the TED staff. We should all want, I think, to keep people around who engage in critical thinking and who "keep people honest" rather than have them run out of town by rudeness or accusations of stalking.
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      Jan 20 2013: I have to agree with Fritzie on this Socratic thinking and all.

      Theodore with a score of 1 point for every 6 posts has to be some kind of record. I don't know how this cannot go to your head, which may influence you tolerance of trolls such as myself?
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        Jan 20 2013: You are not a troll. Just terse sometimes.
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        Jan 21 2013: What is a Troll?

        I've seen on blogs groups of people accuse each other as trolls and conspirawhako's but I have noticed that when people indulge in this online typing behavior they tend to use capitals a lot.
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          Jan 21 2013: it is getting out of hand these days. originally troll meant a person that is not interested in the conversation, but rather interested in provoking reactions just for the sake of it. they go in forums, and insult people or drop comments which they do not agree with, they just use them as a tool to create as much turmoil as they can.
    • Jan 21 2013: Trolls seem to have evolved as species :)
      How would you define 'troll ' in the context of this conversation ?
      Who is this beast we are talking about ?
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        Jan 21 2013: In Internet slang, a troll (pron.: /ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is someone who posts inflammatory,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[3] The noun troll may also refer to the provocative message itself, as in: "That was an excellent troll you posted."
        While the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, media attention in recent years has made such labels subjective, with trolling describing intentionally provocative actions and harassment outside of an online context. For example, mass media has used troll to describe "a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families."[4][5]

        Read more here:
        • Jan 22 2013: So, you refer to 'troll' in its original meaning as Krisztián described in the comment above.
          In this case , it's pretty simple. Using Marshall Mcluhan terminology , who famously said: " the medium is the message" , troll phenomenon,among many others, which we may like or don't, is a message of a new media, such as forums, chat rooms, or blogs; it is recent and has emerged quickly. Open online discussions is a kind of an intellectual entertainment and people do tend to entertain themselves differently. It's also an opportunity and opportunity always comes with a potential of abuse.
          So, i would suggest to tolerate trolls as a wall paper in a hotel room ; they belong here. Maybe there are ' professional ' really mean trolls, but i guess , in the most of cases they are just people in a troll mood, which is allowed/created/supported by this particular kind of media inside democracy. It's a kind of a protest , empowered by the possibility to stay invisible and unidentified.
          ( btw. i haven't met them here on TED )
          But, correct me if i am wrong, you seem to be more interested in people ' with convictions ' or strong beliefs, who ' feel first '. This phenomenon is much more complex.
          Didn't you mean to discuss this old aged phenomenon in the context of new media ?
          Thank you !
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    Jan 22 2013: We all have issues that we are strongly passionate about, and can come across overly passionate about, irrational and even as a blockhead grief troll.
    Also we need to accept that other posters here are also only human and have their own issues that they are strongly passionate about. Let’s face it when you can’t change others, you have to change how you respond to others.
    We should keep in mind that people don’t become members of the TED community to be grief trolls; instead we are here to be part of a unique community.

    I hate to see when a conversations becomes argumentative instead of productive, and hope we all (myself included) can pause before submitting our post and think about rather it is argumentative are productive.

    P.S. If you are arguing a point of view, please include facts (with links) to back it up, or at least reasoning behind your viewpoint.
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      Jan 22 2013: "people don’t become members of the TED community to be grief trolls"

      how do you know that? most obviously don't. but there might be some that do.
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        Jan 22 2013: There are always exceptions;
        But considering grief trolls are doing it for the responses showing that they upset someone, and generally speaking TED members are not the type of people to give them their desired response.
        I say it is likely that when a troll does came here looking to grief, he/she would move on looking for easier prey.
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          Jan 22 2013: probably you are right. i could not tell a single troll as of now. but i could name a person from recent history that probably was a borderline case. left already.
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    Jan 22 2013: Of the many possable solutions to comment trolls I wish to address two.

    1) If TED required a name and a location for each community member then your name and location are stamped on each of your comments. That is a form of taking responsibility for your comments. If I remain Jake from no place I can be as negative as I wish and rain on everyones parade and still be Bob here at home. Just by recognizing pet phrases I am sure that many members here at TED have multiple sign ons. They are here for the fight not to contribute.

    2) What would happen if TED allowed more that two options on the FLAG symbol. I have never used it because it limits me to SPAM or inapproperiate.

    In my limited time here on TED I have seen it go from a debate site that made you defend your argument based on factual and respectful responses. Responses now are ... what are you smoking ... your full of sh*t .... a BS reply ... brainwashed conservative teabaggers ... you get the picture.

    The difference I see is then everyone then had a name and location ... now the people I think of as "comment trolls" do not. I have made these suggestions to TED but I do not think they took me serious. I do maintain that there are more cheap shot artist now than ever before.

    I have become selective in who I respond to ... my choice. I select a fake name and no location and if the reply is cheap shots and smart aleck I simply reply no comment and do not respond to them again ... my choice. I have never used the FLAG because I am not for sure what is inapproperiate these days. Many comments on religious topics I consider way out of bounds ... however are considered good taste and even funny to a athiest ... that would make it very hard for a judge to determine what is right and wrong because there are so many filters to view through.

    I accept that the majority of TED community members are liberal and athiest ... if I was offended by this I would have left a long time ago.
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      Jan 22 2013: You are right, it's difficult to determine what is inappropriate or not, as not everybody gets offended by the same remarks. My suggestion is to ignore those comments that we find to be ill-intentioned, that way we don't feed the trolls and they will eventually go away.
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        Jan 22 2013: Louis, Yours is a very christian attitude and mature ... turn the other cheek. I have many years working in law enforcement and no matter what direction you take the conversation they will find in their mind a means of declaring it a victory. If you ignore them they have defeated you because you cannot make a argument against them ... if you argue they will make assumptions and again claim victory .. they will bate you and change the issue and then you are on their turf and again they "win". They have no honor and seek to "win" at any cost. You can usually tell them as they resort to name calling and cursing soon into the conversation. At that point there is no further discussion .... when you argue with a fool after a while it is hard to tell which is which.

        We need a better vehicle to identify and remove the "trolls". However, in the time being yours is the best solution awaiting a resolution.

        Thanks for the reply. I wish you well.

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          Jan 22 2013: This is my reply to a response you made just now to me elsewhere in this thread but which lacks a reply button.

          I too sometimes look at those flag options and feel that the behavior is not clearly either innappropriate or spam. In that case, I would probably check inappropriate.

          But there have been times also when a particular comment standing alone is not the problem but is part of a clear pattern of trying to provoke or harass a person for sport or to silence him.

          If the situation is not simple but still clearly affects discourse negatively by threatening to silence or drive away thoughtful and sincere people who are trying to shed light on a subject, I would send aan email to the Conversations staff flagging the problem.
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          Jan 22 2013: Thanks for your sincere opinion, Robert.

          I know what you mean when you say that for some people it's difficult not to respond to certain comments, but that's because we let our egos to come into play. Why should we worry about who claimed victory? I personally don't mind losing those battles, I don't go into forums to "defeat" people, but rather to help them if I can and learn new things.

          I think it's a matter of egos. If trolls think that they have won the "battle" just because I did not reply to their flaming, good for them, but I won't feel bad about it.

          Well, that's the way I see it.
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      Jan 22 2013: I am glad, Bob, that you wrote you give the anonymous poster a chance before deciding not to respond. People protect their identities- name or profile- for multiple reasons. One may be to make it easier to be obnoxious. But another poster may live in a context in which she cannot speak her truth online without threat of offline retaliation. Some have been victims of unbalanced people attacking them online and have every reason to fear such bullying will follow them if the bully can locate them by name and place. Cyberbullying is real and sometimes also moves offline.

      Aja posted some research some months back to the effect that allowing people to be anonymous makes people more likely to express their views in online discussion than if they must identify themselves by name and place.

      Ignoring trolls denies them the attention they seek, so that many sites send a message Please Don't Feed the Trolls. But trolls know this strategy and often harass their targets by making accusations that the target feels he cannot let stand - that ignoring it can convey the impression he has no defense against the charge. For some people using their real names, even a hint of accusation can be highly disruptive of their professional lives or relationships. A potential employer or client may not take the time to check whether it is true- easier to retain another person.

      I agree that if someone is simply being rude, one can often simply not respond.
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        Jan 22 2013: I see your point, real names do pose some problems.

        For example, let's say that a forum user calls a retailer a scammer. Obviously, he is either telling the truth or slandering the retailer. But who is to decide? Maybe the retailer is actually a scammer and the poster is doing potential costumers a favor. On the other hand, If he's lying, he should be brought to court.

        Anyway, I think cyberbullying is quite a different matter from the classic trolling that seeks to ruin conversations out of fun. Although, It is a problem that should also be addressed in some way.
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          Jan 22 2013: I mentioned this case in part because the solution of requiring names raises this bigger and very serious problem.

          In the link that Theodore gave us, the trolls were not just trying to have fun, I think, but to derail the conversation so that ideas could not be exchanged and considered in a thoughtful way.
    • Jan 22 2013: The problem with expecting a bio is, what does it have to do with the topic at hand? The short answer is : NOTHING.

      There are plenty of people on forums like these that would prefer to make ad hominem attacks (attacking the arguer, not the argument) in lieu of actually making sound arguments for or against a position.

      If a debater lists in their bio that they are young, do we dismiss them because they are inexperienced? If a debater lists that they are old, do we dismiss them because they are out of touch? If they are from California, do we dismiss them because they drink the bong water? If they are from the south, do we dismiss them because they might be religious?

      None of these reasons are valid, and yet people actually DO these things.

      What is truly important is to debate the merits of a position, nothing else.

      Robert said: "If TED required a name and a location for each community member then your name and location are stamped on each of your comments. That is a form of taking responsibility for your comments"

      Users can simply lie on their bio, so what would be the value of it? Answer: NOTHING!

      Read my Bio everyone, and you will see what I mean...
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    Jan 20 2013: Perhaps, watching Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" video needs to be required to open an account in a forum :-)
  • Jan 19 2013: Nothing.
    Keep them involved. (keep me involved. I guess I am a sort of troll, especially since I cannot always get back to a topic soon after, and it makes me look like one)
    Sometimes one doesn't have internet time so they quickly punch out a response.
    My internet is always failing, for days.
    Everyone is of a different age, with different experiences, ideas and buttons, and it takes some time to learn what all my buttons are and how to deal more effectively with them.
    Sometimes it's good to be emotional, other times not so.
    Let people be people. Let them be who they are.
    Why label them? That seems a way of trying to control them.
    I am very guilty of that myself and I do not feel very smart or even intelligent.
    Certainly no where near as intelligent or smart as many on Ted are (or seem to be)

    That always makes me look like a troll, but I don't feel like one.

    Not ever having anyone to talk to for most of my life, many times evokes spurts of ideas from me, comments and so on.
    I have to let them out as best I can and as best I know how.
    I always have to look in the mirror during the day and know that ultimately I am then looking at the real problem.

    For some, this is a new experience, reaching out into the world where many others will see, read and even ponder what they think. That is a risk, thrilling at times, embarrassing, irritating, supportive and not so well accepted.
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      Jan 19 2013: Great comments. I seeing that this is becoming a community building discussion where we get to learn about ourself and each other.
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    Jan 19 2013: I am not sure, Theodore, what is included in the term "comment troll." I feel like people accuse others of being trolls in quite different sorts of circumstances. Is a troll someone who uses his comments to prevent people/distract people from working through ideas together in a thoughtful way (because the person doesn't value such discourse or the idea of a venue for such discourse)? Is it anyone who uses rudeness or nastiness or personal attack to try to drive away from a site those who question the person's beliefs or the holes in the person's arguments? Is it those who participate in a site under a host of different names so as to gang up on someone whose ideas they don't like?

    What are you using the term to include?
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      Jan 19 2013: Good question, but I am going to leave this open ended and suggest people refer to the article's interpretation.
      But I will add that I've found myself dealing with trolls and, I'll admit to acting like one at times, so for me, its about letting my emotions interfere with the discussion. And maybe we all get caught in that trap sometimes.
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        Jan 19 2013: Are you not obliged to offer your definition of what you mean by the nebulous word "Troll"? I get the feeling (and, subsequently, the thought) that this is about global warming, or climate change more than about vague, subversive, irrelevant, ill-meaning, recognition seeking contributors. You ask what can be done about a problem, but you have not defined the problem. Please define your terms, and thanks for the post!
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        Jan 19 2013: One reason I asked, Theodore, is that situations are so different.

        Lets take the case on any site in which someone spreads misinformation. Sometimes the person might do so maliciously or strategically, but sometimes the person honestly doesn't know it is only a mistake/misconception, a rumor, propaganda, or something of the like.

        Let's say another discussant points out the mistake or misconception and the person gets defensive. A certain ego investment in being right it pretty typical in social settings (including on TED). Does this person become a troll?

        Some of these behaviors wouldn't be tolerated in a professional or scholarly setting, but in social discourse the standards are often different. Most people learn over time whose claims tend not to be valid in particular areas and know to check for reliable sources, while other people are considered more credible on the subject or less likely to over-reach dramatically in their claims. To some degree people's decisions on how much they interact and with whom in different settings depends on their tolerance for these sorts of situations. It shapes who participates in a site (we don't often see professional scientists here, for example, talking about science) and in what they participate there.

        Consistent, unproductive harassment of others is a different and clear case, in my opinion. I think the TED staff works on this issue privately with the culprits in addition to deleting comments meant only to harrass or intimidate.
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          Jan 22 2013: Fritzie, I have jumped the gun on several conversations based on the first glance or initial report. I have even refered to a subject matter expert when they were not.

          I am sure I will be wrong again .... but each time I have had someone I respected tell me that I was in error .... or guided me in another direction .... crow is not my favorite dish and I have eaten my share.

          What I do appreciate is that on those occassions I can tell the difference between the lurking vulture and the person who wished to correct an honest error.

          I have read some comments that I thought went over the line, in my opinion. With the thousands of comments the staff does quite well. Perhaps a revision of the FLAG to include more that just inapporiate and spam ... maybe a comments block to state your case against the reply. Then that could be reviewed and judged accordingly. There should be some standard of how many substanuated complaints you could receive before disciplinary actions are taken against you.

          Just a thought. Bob.
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    Jan 24 2013: This is just a comment but trolling looks viruletic in nature. Hammer through the cell wall if it's a spike injector and flood the cell with it's own data. Bored individuals.
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      Jan 24 2013: Ken,
      I wanted to acknowledge your comment about fraud in science research. picked the story up also and supported it with an article from "Nature". It is obviously a problem.

      "Fraud, plagiarism, cherry-picked results, poor or non-existent controls, confirmation bias, opaque, missing, or unavailable data, and stonewalling when questioned have gone from being rare to being everyday occurrences. Just look at the soaring retraction level across multiple scientific publications and the increasingly vocal hand wringing of science vigilantes. Hardly a prestigious university or large pharmaceutical company is immune, with the likes of Harvard, Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, Ohio State, University of Kentucky, and the University of Maryland recently fingered byRetraction Watch."

      "A surge in withdrawn papers is highlighting weaknesses in the system for handling them."

      A third related story puts an interesting twist on it.
      "The data seem suggest a certain laxity in behavior that might accompany tenure and a stable academic job. At the same time the findings may again illuminate the intense pressure and battles for funding that often tempt academic scientists to stray from the righteous path. Ultimately, studies like this may put the spotlight more on the dysfunctional aspects of our current academic research system rather than simply on gender bias."

      This was what I found note worthy:
      "What was also interesting was that the misconduct depended on the rank of the researcher; it seems that 88% of faculty members committing fraud were men, compared to 69% of postdocs and 58% of students."
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        Jan 25 2013: This is great Theo thanks.

        I was given the link by someone on one our politico blogs who has fallen with fearist fervour and started weaving a great story of climate change science, the bilderberg group to our local ice cream manufacturers. It was that one link that peaked my interest. So I thought i would ask someone who regularly reads papers and who has a vested interest in it.

        That last link was interesting, it raises a lot of questions but it's good to see the science community quickly adjusting and changing to suit, If this got out to the media it could be a potential for fearist mongering which I've fallen for quite a few times.
      • Jan 25 2013: Anytime there is a paycheck or profit involved, there is a potential for fraud and corruption, but that doesn't mean that everyone that earns a paycheck or makes a profit is corrupt.

        These articles actually point out what is great about science. Unlike matters of unquestioning faith, science is a process that doesn't rely on blind acceptance or appeals to authority. It demands objective data and rigorously defined and reproducible experiments. This is why falsified research gets exposed in the first place.
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    Jan 20 2013: Isn't pride and vanity at the source of this behavior? We tend to over-rate our own opinions - this is why we feel compelled to broadcast them, I have been guilty of it myself. Getting "likes" for my posts still tickles my ego. We take pride that our conversations become "featured" and cherish those "score points". We are very reluctant to let other people "have it their way". Well, I, mostly speak for myself, so if someone disagrees, we can have a flamed discussion about it :-).
  • Jan 20 2013: Theodore, wonderful topic
    I set up a conversation, which became "featured" conversation on an idea to try to figure out how to improve America's education system and it was going great for a week until a new user and comment troll "Brock Hardwood" showed up and sabotaged the discussion with misinformation and spin -- "drain the life out of a discussion... [which is his intent]". I come to this website to try to start conversations to figure out how to improve America's education and within a week end up with some troll and grief commenter stalking me. He uses rhetorical remarks and even follows my profile spamming me, I'll bet he shows up and posts here because he monitors my posts. It's absurd. The simplest way for TED to deal with comment trolls is to hire more and effective comment moderators, which includes banning people who ruin the discourse such as Brock Hardwood (they often cry first amendment and censorship).

    They could also give comment moderating powers to exemplar regulars which seem to be yourself, Robert Winner, Krisztián Pintér, Fritzie Reisner, Colleen Steen, edward long, pat gilbert, and others. Another idea would be to give the poster of the conversation some moderating power to remove disrespectful and destructive comments from their conversation.
    • Jan 20 2013: Censorship is never the answer...

      from Petar: " I'll bet he shows up and posts here because he monitors my posts"

      What is truly annoying about you Petar, is that you edit your posts AFTER a response....As you just did. Oh well, I can accept that you do that...(Which I am willing to admit that I edit my own responses too, after you do yours.) It is a pretty devious practice if you ask me. You could have just responded, which would have been intellectually honest, but apparently you are just not capable of intellectual honesty.

      On to my original response:

      Petar, just because you posted a conversation, doesn't mean your idea is a good one. A conversation involves more than just one person. It is an exchange of ideas, or even a debate. You claim that I drained the life out of your discussion. That might be true. However it could be just as true that those who may have supported your position given information only from you, simply realized that they don't after being exposed to an alternative point of view. That is what debate is all about.

      You may hate that I oppose your position, but that doesn't mean I don't have a right to oppose your position. You have adopted a character assassination strategy which has failed miserably, and shame on you for your ad hominem attacks.

      I welcome anybody to read my comments (and Petar's for that matter, because I don't fear alternative points of view), and ask themselves if I am on topic and debating the ISSUE itself. That is what TED is all about.

      Petar, I welcome comments and disagreement, because I am not afraid of them. I have no secret agenda that fears being exposed. Can you say the same thing?

      Just because YOU started a conversation, doesn't mean that YOU are not the actual troll, Petar, nor does it automatically make me one because I refute your BS points again and again.
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        Jan 20 2013: The point that many seem to agree on here is that we can't change others, we can only change ourselves, and the way we response to others.
        TED allows everyone to have their say (within the rules) no matter how wrong or right we may be.
        This community generally gages for itself what is meaningful and what is not.

        My suggestion is to reply to question and not to the person.
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      Jan 20 2013: I fear this thread will become derailed if people begin to use it to name names of individuals they believe are trolls.

      What you two raise is the trickiest issue. What one person sees as aggressively defending a point of view consistently in a way that gathers attention for it, the other may see as obstructing discussion and trolling.

      The situation may arise most often when someone believes the premise or assumptions which people accept implicitly without careful consideration are actually wrong and that they can make a real contribution to the discussion by exposing that. Examples might be strongly held religious or anti-religious beliefs, prejudices about people of particular faiths, nationalities, or professions, or pseudoscience. Richard Dawkins, I believe, uses the term "infectious repetition" to refer to the way groups of people can start believing something just for hearing it repeated often enough and without critical scrutiny.
      This sort of aggressive drawing of attention to a particular point of view or to a possible great flaw in the premise underlying an argument can greatly alter the course of the thread but is different, I think, from discussion practices such as name-calling, ridiculing people for beliefs they don't even hold to, labeling people with a category meant to be demeaning or insulting, and so forth.
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      Jan 20 2013: I'd like to share my experience, if I may... I have participated in some forums where I was considered a troll and even banned. I apologize in advance for being judgmental. My intent here is to help people avoid these situations. As I read your discourse, I see some phrases that, in my opinion, need to be avoided. They are simply asking for a flamed response:

      "Brock, please stop lying. 1. Competition lowers prices because it takes away a monopolist's rent. Most everyone (except for you?) knows this."

      Nobody likes to be called a liar, especially for voicing their opinion. Generalizations are never true and can never be shown to be true (which, of course, is a generalization). So, "Most everyone (except you)..." is a no-no for me. "Every kindergartener knows that..." - another example of a rhetoric language I read in another forum.

      "What is truly annoying about you Petar..."

      I edit my posts too. I like this feature. Once in a while, we say something that we regret or wish we had said in a different way or simply see a grammar mistake in what we wrote. For example, I'm not sure if I should be writing this here. In general (speaking of generalizations), I try to avoid expressing my annoyance at other people (look at me, how smart and wise and humble I am and better listen to what I say!) :-)

      I don't mean to pick on you, guys. I just thought that you provide a great illustration of how we can deal with a troll inside ourselves.
      • Jan 21 2013: "I edit my posts too. I like this feature. Once in a while, we say something that we regret or wish we had said in a different way or simply see a grammar mistake in what we wrote."

        A grammar mistake is a perfectly reasonable reason to edit. However, changing the content of a post in a significant way AFTER someone has responded is shady. It is also time consuming. There are no TED notifications for edits, so it forces someone to reread every post, again and again, to ensure that they are not being made to look like a fool...

        Consider this example: If I posted the question, "What is 1 + 1" and you responded with "2," you would probably consider the question closed and never bother to visit it again...What if I then went back and edited the original question to now ask, "What is 2 + 2?" Your response would still remain "2" and it would make you look like an idiot through no fault of your own. Furthermore, you would never know I did this unless you went back to reread my question.

        A good solution to this would be to only allow edits for a limited amount of time... ie 30 minutes or something practical like that.

        After someone has responded to a post, the proper way to continue the discussion is to hit the "Reply" link. Even if you said something you regret... You can always apologize or correct your mistake in your reply.
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          Jan 21 2013: That is another ethical rule of mine. If there are replies to my posts, I only allow myself minor edits that do not change the point.

          Again, I don't want to judge here, but you seem to take this issue too close to heart. The best way not to look like a fool is not to say anything at all. Once I post something, I risk being misunderstood, misinterpreted, insulted, etc. I just always keep this in mind when I write in a public forum. As Rene Brown has explained, vulnerability is a part of our life (

          But my point was not about editing posts. It was about expressing annoyance at other people for whatever reason. I treat my annoyance as MY issue. I have no control over what others think or say. I think, I have a much better chance controlling my own actions than actions of others. I may still feel annoyed, but choose not to write about it.

          Also, I'm always aware of my own hypocrisy. I can say "I do not want to judge" all I want, but this is exactly what I'm doing here. So, if you choose to be annoyed at me lecturing you, you are fully justified to do so :-).
      • Jan 21 2013: "but you seem to take this issue too close to heart...."

        I actually don't, but the ability to edit after replies is a subject that needs to be addressed, and as such, it is worth bringing up and illustrating its potential pitfalls.

        "It was about expressing annoyance at other people for whatever reason." or "Nobody likes to be called a liar"

        Sometimes people actually do engage in shady activities, lie, or have hidden agendas in forums. It is naive to think nobody does these things. I believe in staying on topic, but sometimes you have to challenge someone on their motives in order to keep a debate honest. Of course, challenging motives isn't the same thing as petty name calling. That is always a bad practice.
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          Jan 21 2013: Although, I do think that motives are important, "challenging other people's motives" sounds a bit aggressive. It implies the judgment of the motives not being honest or worthy, a hidden disapproval - don't you think? What is your motive for doing that? This attitude quickly backfires, as you may see.

          "Understanding other people's motives" - perhaps, I would put it this way. Would you agree?
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          Jan 21 2013: Just type the word "Edit" or "Edited" before the sentence or paragraph or adding to the post otherwise if someone picks up on this behavior and outs the person, that person becomes suspect but so does the person who was observant and all who get involved in the ensuing "battle"

          Typing "Edit" is a courtesy but not a rule and in no way am i conveying you must but it helps.
      • Jan 22 2013: ""challenging other people's motives" sounds a bit aggressive."

        A certain degree of aggressiveness can be necessary in debate. Consider the alternative: Standing by passively in the face of incessant misinformation. Sometimes a lie must be called out. Sometimes the liar must be called out.

        Motive is fair game. Take the voucher conversation I actively participate in as an example. Vouchers are about circumventing the 1st amendment and funding religion with tax dollars, pure and simple. However, proponents would never admit to that. Instead, they make absurd arguments about anything and everything except their actual motive. Even if their arguments are bad, even if THEY know there arguments are bad, they KNOW that the motive is even worse so they are forced to perpetuate the bogus argument instead. It is a con, it is misdirection, it is dishonest, and it is fair game to be called out.

        Think of it this way. If a used car salesman wants to sell you a car that, he knows, has engine troubles, does he show you the engine, or the vanity mirror and the stereo? In debate, it is vital that people demand to see 'the engine' even if that means being prudently aggressive. THAT is what makes debate useful and important.

        Note that I am not talking about it being OK to be a troll. I'm saying that we can't be afraid of a fight. Debate IS disagreement, and there is nothing wrong with that.
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          Jan 22 2013: Have you read the article in Theodore's link? It says that heated arguments are, in fact, counterproductive. They make people defensive and convinced in their preexisting beliefs more than before. Don't you think so?
      • Jan 22 2013: "It says that heated arguments are, in fact, counterproductive. They make people defensive and convinced in their preexisting beliefs more than before. Don't you think so?"

        That assumes that I am trying to convince the person I am debating with. I am not. Rarely would that ever be a worthwhile or even realistic goal. My focus is on making rational arguments for my position, and illustrating that their position is without merit. I do this for the casual reader who may or may not have made up their minds yet on a position.

        The person I am debating is only one person, one vote, and he/she may have an agenda anyway, so what would be the point in trying to convince them? - none! However, the people who read what I write, who haven't made up their minds yet, can be thousands of votes.

        People are smart. They can tell the difference between rational arguments and absurd ones. Especially after a thoughtful and full debate.
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          Jan 22 2013: There is a valid point raised here that is often overlooked. Unlike interactions or debates between two people on the telephone or a booth in a cafe, the goals or tactics in online interaction are often focused not on the person at hand but on third parties, a few or the many.

          Sometimes, as Brock writes, the goal may be to persuade others of a view rather than to persuade the immediate other person, who may be entrenched in his views. And comments meant to ridicule another may also be aimed at a listening/reading audience. The target may not really care what the perpetrator thinks of him or his views or reasoning but be very concerned about what those he respects may mistakenly accept about him.
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          Jan 22 2013: Re: "My focus is on making rational arguments for my position, and illustrating that their position is without merit."

          "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." -- David Hume.

          You simply rationalize your passion, your agenda. It's a very normal thing to do. But so does everyone else. Why do you believe that your position has more merit than the one of your opponent? Do you ever question your own motives or agendas?
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      Jan 20 2013: I like what you said in your second Paragraph but might i add that the term "Comment Moderator" has now taken on negative as well as positive pending on whether you have been moderated? before.

      How about an unofficial office that has no power other than an impartial "judgement" (for lack of a better word) upon the subject argued but this office must be respected by all in the community, it must be given gravitas and mana otherwise it will not be taken seriously. Who ever holds this office must be considered by most to be fair and relatively impartial and if this office is comment attacked by an individual then a moderator will step in.

      Basically all what you said with a bit more detail. How about "Post Mediator" One or both parties can call for a mediation as a quick exit out of a devolving situation.

      Edit This "Post Mediator" might choose not to participate if the calling has been deemed as a manipulation of said service
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        Jan 21 2013: This idea of "moderating" may work at other sites but TED is a hopefully more evolved community in many ways. It really does come back to self awareness and self regulation, a little bit collective consciousness within the group.
        Many that have commented here are frequent contributor to the discussions and it is in all of our interest to act as a community and demonstrate respect toward one another, and to be open to learning and growth.
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    Jan 20 2013: Flaming and trolls don't disturb me at all. If I happen to disagree with someone's opinion, then I either reply to it or just ignore it. That's all. Why should I get upset about comments made by people that I don't even know? Some people take forums a bit too seriously, in my opinion. After all, heated discussions are part of our world and shouldn't be swept under the rug unless people were glaringly promoting illegal activities. Every voice should be heard.

    Other than that, I think it's important to prevent people from flooding and spamming all around. Nobody should be allowed to take over the forum.
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      Jan 20 2013: i'm kind of sure you also take some things seriously, and you are probably upset about people deliberately try to ruin those things out of fun.
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        Jan 20 2013: I never get upset on a forum, I just state my opinion and read others'. That's all. And if I don't like the forum rules and policies, then I just go onto another one. I never take things personally.
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        Jan 20 2013: I thought it was implicit, that's where trolls live and thrive, right?

        Anyway, outside a forum, it's also easy for me to ignore hurtful comments by random people. Of course, I may answer back for the sake of it, but I would never take it personally. I usually give my reasoned opinion without expecting those bullies to change their minds. But if they do, good for them. Regardless of the result, it's easy for me to move on.

        I don't mind hearing different opinions at all, even if they are malicious and insulting. What I don't like is people taking over. I don't want to hear the same opinion over and over again, so I try to avoid such tiring people. Ill-intentioned criticism cannot ruin anything for me.
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          Jan 20 2013: listen. it would be easier if you did not try to derail the conversation. i was not talking about comments either. listen again:

          i'm kind of sure you also take some things, any things, seriously, and you are probably upset about people deliberately try to ruin those things out of fun.

          am i right about it or not? or you continue playing hide and seek?
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        Jan 20 2013: Alright, I do take some things seriously, but certainly not ill-intentioned criticism (and I thought that's what this thread is about).
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          Jan 20 2013: no it is not. it is about people who deliberately try to ruin the conversation. that is trolling. it is the same as walking on a football field throwing stones to the water when a guy tries to catch some fish. tell me if you don't mind those either.
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        Jan 20 2013: As I said, I do mind if they are spamming and taking over the conversation, thus silencing other people's views. But if they are just making insulting remarks, I don't mind them, I just move onto the next comment.
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          Jan 20 2013: and i don't care if they ruin your flower garden, or your football match, or your movie experience, why would i care then? we don't care about each other. nice thinking.
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        Jan 20 2013: I did not say that I don't care about others, I just stated my opinion on this matter. Trolls are not much of a problem for me.

        I also came to this thread to read about what others had to say about trolling and I guess many users care more than I do.

        I also think that if most people care about trolling, the mods should do something about it, but I personally don't care (except for spamming).
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          Jan 20 2013: next time if you don't care about something, don't tell those that do that they should not. accept that some people might care more. just like you would in many other situations. this conversation is over on my part.
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        Jan 20 2013: I never said that. I only shared my view on trolling and how some people react to it. Of course, people are entitled to think and act differently.
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    Jan 19 2013: You said "Loosely" so i'll take it that not all out there are in agreement which is only fair.

    It's sobering and only brings to mind of past postings i've done that though not expletive they were emotionally driven and can be cast as trolling, not good.

    He's right about the climate change war and how both sides tend to gravitate towards insults. Thought provoking article.

    More to the point why?