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Journal: Welcome to Political Troll Opt-Out

Journal by PoliticalTrollOptOut

Slashdot is full of political trolls. These are people who advocate political ideas dishonestly and disrespectfully, and abuse and insult users who question or threaten their (often dubious) worldview. We cannot help the deficiencies in America's educational system, nor can we force people to have morals or civility, nor can we stop them from abusing the moderation system, and (this being America) we would fight to the death to defend their right to speak their mind (no matter how depraved their impulses), but, and this is the important thing, we are not obligated to listen to them, either.

PoliticalTrollOptOut is a service. Simply, we identify political trolls and add them to our Foes list. This allows others to use our work for study, or, more importantly, to enhance their slashdot experience.

Anyone who wants can make us their Friend will see all the trolls we identify as Foes of Friends. This "warning signal" can save you a lot of trouble. And if that's not enough, you can use your slashdot preferences to hide (or make prominent, and study) posts by the Political Trolls we identify, by adjusting the score modifier for "Foes of Friends." It's that simple.

Do you hate getting sucked into pointless arguments by people who actually derive satisfaction and enjoyment from your outrage? Tired of arguing with people who are knowingly and smugly being dishonest? Need a break from the growing wave of nutty reactionary posting and moderation?

If slashdot's moderation system isn't cutting it for you, we can help. Just crank their scores down and watch them disappear. Just imagine, if we all did it, they would be left talking to themselves.

Are you a moderator today? Switch it the other way, and use PoliticalTrollOptOut as a quick reference for known troublemakers.

One thing we don't encourage is moderating with trolls filtered out. Where's the fun in that, anyway?

So I just make you my friend? It's that simple?

Sure! If you like, though, we encourage everyone using our service to spread the word by linking to this journal in their signature, with something like this:

Tired of Political Trolls?
<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/~PoliticalTrollOptOut/journal">Opt Out!</A>

We know what you're thinking: what constitutes a political troll? How can we make that call? And, how can any one person or group possibly catch them all?

Let's be realistic. What crosses this line is not something everyone is going to agree on. Furthermore, as is the style these days, everyone actually will disagree on it. Anyone we flag will assume we're their political opposition. Conservatives will call us liberals, and vice versa. We know who we are dealing with; we are going directly after slashdot's worst of the worst. They will not politely disagree with us. They will say we are biased, crazy, hypocritical, that we flag anyone we dislike, that we even eat babies. They'll claim every person we haven't flagged yet is proof of our failure, bias, or evil. They will call us censors and Nazis and child molesters and every other evil thing they can think of. Some of them will put more energy and creativity into derailing and destroying us than they put into their homework, spouses, or jobs.

If the trolls weren't really this bad, we wouldn't need to bother with this in the first place.

All you are really doing is deciding to pick us as an editor. You can look at every decision we've made so far, look at our Foes list and read what is written here, and decide for yourself based on the evidence whether you think we're useful, and if you trust us to keep it up.

We make these decisions based on some basic tests. We do our best to be fair and non-partisan, and apply our standards without any regard for whatever position anyone is actually advocating. Of course you could have a "ConservativeOptOut" or a "LiberalOptOut" - in fact, I encourage it! But that's not us. We flag them all, whatever stripe they claim to be. They're really not that different anyway.

What are those tests?

  1. There are many trolls; is this one clearly a political advocate, crank or ideologue?
  2. Are they being abnormally personal, rude, condescending, disrespectful, or mean? Do they engage in stalking (following "enemies" into other threads to harrass them) or threats?
  3. Are they propagating widely known and discredited misinformation or propaganda (i.e. "Who was behind 9/11 again?"). Note that we tend to apply this one only when it's really blatant, not for things that could conceivably be legitimately disputed.
  4. Are they being clearly disengenuous, arguing in bad faith, using debater's tricks, misquoting or lying about foregoing posts? Are they engaging in slander/libel? Making big claims and refusing to cite sources?
  5. Are they conspicuously imitating, plagiarizing, or attempting to use as authoritative citations, known political propaganda organizations, bent think tanks, "*-wing" blogs, or other discredited or disreputable party mouthpieces?
  6. We consider this project to be reasonable and fair. People we flag will disagree and will naturally troll us too, in a variety of ways, for instance, falsely reporting others as political trolls. We will not refuse to flag people just because the object of their political trolling is us.

This is it. We're not attorneys; if you want a more precise definition for what we do and how we do it, look at our track record.

Obviously, we can never catch them all. Even if we could, anyone can stop posting from one account and make another. There is a little penalty for that - no karma, no karma bonuses, and inconvenience - but it's not enough to stop them. Slashdot generates more text in a day than most people can read in a week, and this is a volunteer effort.

That means that any troll can (and will) point to another troll that hasn't been flagged yet and cry "unfair," "biased," etc etc. They're hoping you'll be fooled, but I'm sure you're smarter than that.

None of these problems are so serious we shouldn't try, and try we shall. We will never flag them all, but if we can get quite a few. Over time we will continue to improve, and fairly quickly what we offer will become substantial enough to be useful.

What? How are we supposed to talk about politics without being labeled a political troll?

That's easy. We've been doing this for many millenia, and it's the source of almost all of our progress as a species. Nerds: try to think about a political idea like a software engineering idea. You may believe in it, you may even have thought of it yourself and be really attached to it, but you can't really swear it's perfect and bug free, can you? In other words:

  1. Be absolutely, scrupulously honest
  2. Be respectful, tolerant, and keep your sense of humor
  3. Be forthright; clearly say what you mean
  4. Be prepared to be wrong
  5. Be prepared to be right but part as friends with someone you haven't convinced of it
  6. Don't make judgements, ask questions (This works so well you will end up swearing by it!)
  7. Don't imagine your ideas or beliefs are obvious to anyone
  8. Pretend you are a scholar. If you already are a scholar, pretend you are a great scholar. Never say something is a fact unless you can back up with references.
  9. When citing sources, use reputable ones. The more reputable, the better your argument looks. Something isn't automatically a lie because it comes from a particular place; simultaneously, it's silly to use a shady, discredited, or obviously biased source. Citing the Enquirer doesn't make your Batboy argument stronger, neither can Bill O'Reilly or Dan Rather help your case much about the Bush family or the "vast left-wing conspiracy."
  10. If you get something wrong, apologize and admit it. (You have no idea how classy this looks, or how stupid you look lamely trying to cover up a mistake)
  11. Refrain from immediately assuming an error on someone's part is malicious. If it's an accident, you'll never help them without respecting them, and if it's not an accident, it'll become pretty clear soon enough. Don't jump on it, just keep asking questions.
  12. When conversing with a stranger, pretend you are talking to your grandmother. Unless you hate your grandmother. Then, just pretend you are talking to your best friend who may really agree with you, but is playing devil's advocate
  13. You will be mocked, insulted, slanedered, misinterpreted, and otherwise abused in every conceivable way. That's life. Keep speeking the truth; if you've got that covered there really no need to get that nasty in return. (You have no idea how much better you'll look than the other guy)

When you talk politics with somebody, you and they are on the same team. Your goal in this game is to both learn and advance your knowledge by pooling your resources, finding the weak points in your ideas, adapting, and growing.

You're like good attorneys practicing old-fashioned adversarial justice. You may want your side to win, but you are not trying to win at all costs. You all want the truth to win in the end, or you both lose. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true!

I found a troll! Quick, flag them!

For the time being, we maintain a separate user that usually has an open journal. It's here. You can use it for the reporting of new candidates. We used to have a journal on this user, below, but they expire, and then making new ones messes up the order, etc etc.

We make no guarantees. The journal may be open or it may not. We may read it, or we may not. We may follow it, or we may not. We generally do not reply to suggestions.

So far, the suggestion box has been most useful for trolls to report themselves by trolling there without being anonymous. Almost the entire contents of the reports are typically trolls doing predictable things: pissing, moaning, false reports, accusing us of various nefarious acts of bias and conspiracy, posting gay porn, etc.

If your post doesn't include a detailed description, with links to the best examples you can find of their behavior, we ignore it.

If you say "so and so is lying, trolling, etc." without providing links to back it up, we ignore it.

You only have so many foes slots.

That's right. As we run out of slots, we'll create more users. We'll post a notification if/when that happens.

It's impossible to be unbiased!

Not at all.

It's impossible to be "perfectly fair." But you can do a good job and get close enough for everyone's needs.

Anyone who claims they are unbiased, is not trustworthy.

Technically, it's anyone who makes illogical arguments who is untrustworthy.

Some people are fair and unbiased. Others aren't, but claim they are.

The only way to tell them apart is to evaluate their claims with observable facts.

Luckily, if you are evaluating PTOO, all the facts are right here, at your fingertips. Follow some links and make your own conclusions.

You have more people from one party than another in your list. This is proof that you're biased.

I imagine we'd have to maintain exactly the same number of party X versus party Y trolls to make this one go away.

Why just political trolls?

People act like asses for a lot of reasons, that's true. Maybe a plain old "TrollOptOut" would be useful. If you think so, go for it, don't let me stop you. I track the political ones because I find them particularly insufferable. Maybe it's the egomaniac, control-freak mentality that draws people into politics. Maybe it's just that there are more of them. One big thing about them is that they tend to resist the moderation system the best. Since they rally around a cause, a like-minded group of them will often end up with mod points, and they never use them impartially. The best of them sometimes make surprisingly sophisticated (and labor-intensive) attempts to game the moderation system.

By contrast, I kind of respect the straight-up hardcore anarchist trolls. Those guys don't give a crap about karma or winning friends and influencing people. They have no agenda at all, except to piss off or freak out as many people as possible. Many would disdain and even avoid stooping to politics to twist somebody's tit. Sometimes I find them kind of funny, actually.

Most of what this user posts is not trolling!

Of course not.

There are a few rare ones who do nothing but troll. Most are normal, friendly even interesting people who can make highly informative posts about Sendmail configurations or Thai venereal diseases. It's just that once every 100 posts the editors release a political story, and the full moon comes out, and then you better look away, it's ugly.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who participate here. I am perfectly happy to lose the ones who have engaged in political trolling, even if they don't do it "that often." There is plenty left over.

A troll has sucked a bunch of people into an argument. One of the responders get nasty. Are they both "Political Trolls"?

Not really.

I like to start with the low-hanging fruit: the people who instigate the fight. The ones who go over the top. There are plenty of these without going depth-first into all the debatable cases. I do usually watch the ones I'm not sure about for a while to see if they have a pattern.

What can I do if I disagree with a decision?

Someday there will be software that lets us get into a giant automated election about every decision we make. For now, decisions are made by me, and in the future, anyone I choose to share this account with. You can assume any such person will make roughly similar judgements as I would.

I've been flagged as a troll! Not fair! Waaaaah!

Yes, we are aware that you disagree with everything we've said about you, and that none of you believe you have been judged fairly.

Duh. This is rule number one in the political troll's playbook.

You have not been censored. We, and our friends, may choose not to listen to you, and you have no right to force us to.

You got flagged because you were caught engaging in political trolling. You have your opinion about what you said, and we have ours. Goodbye.

Surely you must admit you are not infallible. Is there any process for appeal?

The problem is abuse. There are not many ways to do this that are scalable and sustainable against the kind of abuse generated by a large group of professional abusers.

Thus, the short answer is, no. We rely on our judgement, and we give you the opportunity to as well. That's all we can offer.

This place just isn't big enough for all of us. We've got to find a way off this planet.

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