Feed a fever, starve a troll?
June 12, 2010 6:02 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with trolls on your forum? I have a fairly low volume site, with one recurring irritant.

I run a website for a series of trashy pulp fiction men's adventure books. Given the content of the books, it is not surprising that they often attract a particular demographic that can be problematic in a functioning web community. For the most part, though, things chug along nicely and the regulars treat each other with respect.

There is one particular person, however, that returns again and again. He will create a new sock puppet account, and then start posting prolifically in all the same topics using all the same grammatical and spelling errors. He almost invariably starts with a post along the lines of "hey, I'm new here, please be nice to me, I'm just learning my way around". Also invariably, in short order he starts a flame war and becomes abusive to other members of the website.

Like clockwork, I ban him and then within the next few hours I get a series of ranty emails all about how I am just silencing him because I disagree with his opinions (so not true it isn't even funny). This last time around he actually sent an email saying I didn't have to worry about him coming back, he didn't want to hang out with a bunch of losers like us anyway, while simultaneously creating yet another sockpuppet account and posting five times in under an hour. This morning, as a variation on the theme, he found me on Facebook and sent me a ranty message there.

I do not feel physically threatened by him (he is in a completely different region of the country), but he is becoming increasingly annoying. I do not engage him by replying to any of his rants. I would really prefer not to close my site to new registrations. Can you offer any suggestions on how to better deal with this kind of behavior and both save my sanity and improve the overall quality of my website community?
posted by Lokheed to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any way of IP-banning him? Short of something like that, I find relentless mockery to be an effective deterrent.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:05 AM on June 12, 2010

Can you try banning his IP?

Also, instead of banning his socks, can you make his posts invisible to everyone but him? That might confuse him.

The other option is to close sign ups or require an invite or application to join. How many new members do you get per day?
posted by delmoi at 6:08 AM on June 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Many forum services offer "banning by IP," as a setting in the admin panel. Is that an option for you?
posted by Alt F4 at 6:08 AM on June 12, 2010

You can also publicly make everyone aware that the new account belongs to the same user and try to get the rest of the members to either ignore him or join in the relentless mockery.

Wouldn't it be cool if the forum service had a setting to provide instant translation that allow you to set language settings for one user? That might be funny to have him start posting in Italian or something. Any forum service software developers out there?
posted by CathyG at 6:26 AM on June 12, 2010

Threaten to sue him under the spam act?

I keep going back to this discussion.

I like the Daily Kos solution of having members post recipes in response to trolling.
posted by mecran01 at 6:31 AM on June 12, 2010

Can you manually edit his posts? Allow the fist 140 chars and then add "I'VE BEEN SILENCED ALL MY LIFE" to the end.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:35 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know what CMS your forum uses, but Drupal has the excellent Misery module

I certainly would never use it on my sites *wink wink* but what it does is rather than banning users, it disincentivizes their use of the site by throwing random seemingly innocuous errors and slowness. You might get email that your site is having issues from persons you've submitted to misery and you can just email them back saying that you aren't having problems, so maybe it's their browser/ISP.

I don't know if they had a similar thing for other CMSs/forum software, but I love this.
posted by melissam at 6:50 AM on June 12, 2010 [15 favorites]

"I like the Daily Kos solution of having members post recipes in response to trolling."

I want a really great way to make Chicken Florentine and you all can suck a bag of dicks!

I like the idea of a sticky at the top about this guy, telling everyone what you've just told us and to ignore him.

Depending on how low-volume it is, can you set it up so that you have to approve new people before they can post?
posted by EtzHadaat at 6:50 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best approach I've ever heard of was the "silent treatment"- not sure if your forum software supports it. Basically, the troll makes their posts, but they are the only ones who sees them. The trollposts are automatically hidden from all of the other users.

Eventually the troll gets sick and tired of ranting and raving to themselves (and wondering why no-one ever responds to them) and goes away.

The cave module does this for drupal, while vBulletin called it "Tachy Goes to Coventry", which is delightful if not self-explanatory.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:51 AM on June 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

That sounds an awful lot like Scojo, recurring troll on the 2000ad forum (also the 2000ad Newsgroup, but since there is no banning there he pretty much drove everyone else off and it's an empty wasteland with him talking to himself in the middle of it).

They pretty much ban him as soon as he is positivly IDed, and the community is pretty good at spotting him, but other than that there isn't much to be done about it. TBH I've started feeling bad whenever anyone gets angry and starts throwing abuse his way because it's pretty clear he's mentally ill in some way and the forum is part of him mental illness. Also it's led to some initial hostility to genuine new users when they are under suspision of being him, which is pretty bad for the community.

As for actual solutions... not sure there is one. Using IP as method of identifying sock accounts and shutting them down more quickly, perhaps? Scorched earth policiy on all posted comments and threads?
posted by Artw at 6:55 AM on June 12, 2010

Can you set new users to moderated (e.g. all new users' posts and comments have to be approved by you for, say, the first 24 hours after their registration). That way you'd know right away which ones were him and you could ban him before his posts showed up. It might get a little tedious, but at least he wouldn't be wreaking havoc on your boards.

Back in the olden days of MSN Groups, I helped manage a popular site that attracted a few weirdos. We nipped quite a few problems in the bud by moderating new sign-ups.
posted by amyms at 7:09 AM on June 12, 2010

Do people have to input an email address in order to sign up? Can you ban multiple accounts tied to the same email address?

Obviously, he could get around this, but it would be a pain in the ass. Maybe enough of one to get him to stop.
posted by wwartorff at 7:10 AM on June 12, 2010

The repeast offense sockpuppet troll I mentioned above seems to have no problem turning up with email address after email address, so that doesn't work.

The approach amyms mentions has been effective at keeping out of some related Yahoo Groups that he's tried to bother. Time consuming though.

The cave thing might work on him, as he's very fond of his own voice and would probably just keep replying to himself ad infinitum without realising nobody had replied to him, and not realising that anything had happened would stop him starting a new account to get around it. I'm going to be suggesting that whenever the next outbreak occurs.
posted by Artw at 7:18 AM on June 12, 2010

You can encourage members of the community not to feed trolls.
posted by emilyw at 7:25 AM on June 12, 2010

Like others have stated in your forum software you should have a way to ban his ip.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:40 AM on June 12, 2010

I'd put a bounty on his head. Does your forum have some sort of flagging mechanism? Sometime when he's been recently banned, have some sort of mention of "problem users" [if your forum is small enough, people will know who you mean] and offer some sort of... I don't know, gold star for finding him quickly.

First and foremost I'd try banning by IP address. Secondly I'd try setting new accounts to manual approval [sort of a manual "ban by IP address"]. Third I'd make sure that you never reply to him (you seem to be doing that). Fourth I'd block him on facebook and anyplace else where he shows up. Fifth and only if things are really intractable or he is seeming threatening, I'd think about contacting his ISP. This is not at all a cool thing to do, but generally people's Terms of Service include not harassing and threatening people and this could cause some problems for him and possibly cause him to go bug people elsewhere.
posted by jessamyn at 8:18 AM on June 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

Ideally: an IP ban. There are ways around it, but he doesn't sound terribly technically proficient.

I think hellbanning (they can post but no one can see it) works well, mostly because it forces other users to not "feed" him. This guy doesn't have any specific gripe against your community, other than it gives him what he wants, which is attention. No matter what community policy you try to put in place, other users responding (even stuff like editing his posts) gives him attention.

If your forum software doesn't support hellbanning, then making him look ridiculous might work, although he'll probably still feed off of the victim mentallity, and the attention that it gives him. Some examples may be replacing any post he makes with a picture of a dinosaur, or disemvowling him, like boingboing does.

Alternately you could just let him be. Conflict is the spice of life.
posted by codacorolla at 9:12 AM on June 12, 2010

Also: I just thought of an idea that might actually be very, very bad. Every time you find one of his sock puppets, post a thread in general discussion with its username and password.
posted by codacorolla at 9:17 AM on June 12, 2010

Boing Boing deals with troublesome posts by disemvowelling them, i.e. deleting all vowels from the postings.

But IP banning is best, other alternatives are a quarantine period when they can read but not post or comunity moderation where users can vote posts up or down with down ones disappearing from normal view. All depends on your forum software of course
posted by epo at 9:20 AM on June 12, 2010

Also does he sign up with accounts from disposable email services? If so ban registrations from those services if you can.
posted by epo at 9:23 AM on June 12, 2010

Be aware that IP addresses aren't unique identifiers or even static to one person and that by banning his IP you may be blocking a legitimate user while not affecting the troll at all.
posted by Mitheral at 9:37 AM on June 12, 2010

- I don't really like IP banning because IPs can change in most home services, and all you have to do is move to another coffee shop... I guess it can't hurt, unless he happens to be posting from an IP where legit users are.

- I *do* like quarantining new accounts/requiring manual activation, although that depends on how obvious the dufus is in his throwaway account setups. I've had trouble with people who could seem normal/random enough that I had trouble deciding whether to activate new accounts.

- I also like hellbanning - avoids the confrontations that these nuts seem to feed on. Especially if they're the sort that just like to chime in, they can just do their thing until they get tired and move on. Although they will possibly eventually catch on, esp. if they thrive on stirring up stuff with the members.

- but I LOVE the Drupal misery idea. :-)
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:30 AM on June 12, 2010

Many sites check out all comments before posting them. I don't think this idea discourages non-troll type posters, as they (the sites/blogs I'm thinking of) still have a huge amount of comments. It would require more work for you, though, sifting through everything beforehand.
posted by marimeko at 11:39 AM on June 12, 2010

disemvoweling is just obnoxious.
posted by delmoi at 5:22 PM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would really prefer not to close my site to new registrations.

Metafilter did that for a while, and survived.
posted by iviken at 7:51 AM on June 13, 2010

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