This morning I metamodded a post that claimed slashdot was going downhill because the editors were selecting more stories that favored Microsoft and other enemies of FOSS and the emerging postcapitalist  economy (my words, not his). The writer wasn't sure what was happening but suggested that maybe slashdot was bowing to economic threats from its advertisers or maybe it was trying to expand readership among people who held more centrist opinions than the old slashdot core. He thought the changes were ungood. He had been modded "insightful" and I concurred, though with many reservations. I think he hit close to the nail, but not quite straight on its head.
Now I wish I had responded to his post but I continued metamodding and I signed off without opening a reply. So I lost that opportunity-- I don't even recall which discussion he was involved with.
I think what may be happening to slashdot is that the news media have come to see this place as a credible representative of the FOSS and postcapitalist movement. Many suits and others who don't read slashdot themselves are now aware of its existence. When they come across a statement in the NYT or WSJ that says "...there was lively discussion on Slashdot with the majority appearing to favor X", they take this to mean that FOSSers and postcapitalists as a group probably hold this opinion. That's okay (so long as everyone is playing by the rules of honest discourse). In fact, that's good-- it advances public discussion of issues and means that some of those non-slashdot people are going to take our viewpoints into consideration as they think about their strategies and tactics.
But this also means that slashdot has now become a target for groups who oppose FOSS and postcapitalism. If they can game the slashdot system so that their perspective appears to be the dominant one on slashdot, then they have scored big points. If their gaming makes it harder for NYT or WSJ to identify the FOSS and postcapitalist concerns, then they have also scored.
We've long been aware of the MS astroturfing phenomenon, and there is no reason to believe that astroturfing could not evolve into something more subtle and destructive. While I think that minds exposed for too long to the Microsoft corporate culture lose an appreciation for both elegance in software construction and basic personal ethics, I see no indication that these minds are dulled. I think it is a self-evident truth that when ethical constraints are removed (or dummied down to pre-kindergarten levels) these people become willing and able to let their cleverness shine forth in all kinds of dazzling new ways (where others would tend to rein themselves back).
To bring this back to concrete, observable reality, I think there are now some very clever posters on slashdot whose motives are to disrupt certain discussions while they push their hidden agendas. They are neither trolling nor flamebaiting nor spewing obvious FUD; they are instead using more subtle tools. More on the tools below. But I also think it is not just the Minions From Redmond; from some of the posts I've seen, I think there are persons from the Religious Right who are also sometimes attempting to steal the slashdot soapbox (or at least bust it down).
Rhetorical tools that I'm seeing used more frequently are the "cloak of authority" and "begging the question".
In the "cloak of authority", the poster suggests in an almost subliminal way that he represents a large contingent or a respected contingent of the slashdot community. He is not writing to those involved in the current discussion; his intended audience is out among the silent people who are not slashdot members but have come across the thread while googling, or researching for the WSJ article they are writing, etc. When this technique is used by a shrewd disruptor, the post is on target and is valid by all slashdot rules. It cannot be modded as flamebait or trolling: the appropriate modding would be "over-rated". The appropriate response when you see this technique used is to force the poster to clarify his authority before you reply to the points he has raised. Let it become obvious that this guy is not speaking for FOSSers or postcapitalists. There's a 3 second sound bite for this: On slashdot, you should always challenge authority before you engage in argument.
"Begging the question" is an interesting technique of misdirection. The poster presents something that he knows is going to be challenged: it may be a strawman that he knows will be defeated or it may be something legitimate. He hopes his respondents will see the red cape he is waving off to the side of his main point and charge it, and not notice that the real issue is in the poster's unstated assumptions (the part that goes begging for a reply). When things go the way he intends, the discussion that develops lends legitimacy to the beggar's main point, even though it is never actually stated. The key here is to examine all of the poster's assumptions before jumping in with a reply, and challenge those assumptions rather than engaging in argument when that is appropriate. On slashdot, make sure the underlying assumptions are acceptable to you before you engage in argument.
 "Postcapitalism" is a word of my own coinage, though I think it is such an obvious extension to our language that I expect I am not the first one to use it. What I mean by "postcapitalism" is an emerging and still pretty much unformed economy where the entrepreneur and venture capitalist are replaced by community efforts. Linux and Mozilla are currently the shining examples in the software world, with IBM's new business model looming in the shadows. But I'm seeing a similar thing in other venues, like Portland's Community Cycling Center, which blends a traditional bicycle shop with volunteer recycling in a way that generates a living for several employees while donating more than a 1,000 refurbished bicycles per year to disadvantaged kids.