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Journal word munger's Journal: More on trolls

In addition to the "seemy underbelly" trolls, many slashdot trolls are subtler. Regular slashdot contributors have identified certain biases in the slashdot community: Anti-Microsoft, Pro-Apple; Anti-copyright, Pro-open source; Anti-Establishment, Pro-individual liberties; Anti-newbie, Pro-technophile. These biases are so pronounced that even a well-formed argument that flouts the basic biases of the community will be regarded as a troll. This comment is an excellent example. While it's well-argued, it's also a comment that has been posted several times, to several different slashdot articles. It's there to "rock the boat," and many readers have taken the bait and actually responded to the comment. At the same time, it's been modded down to a "-1 troll."

But what if the comment had not been repeated? Does commentary such as this promote healthy debate, or is it merely a distraction from the more compelling issues at hand? If members of the community have a known set of values, doesn't it make sense for them to exclude those who don't share their values? Should a gun-club admit gun control advocates to its membership? The main point of the club in this instance is to share with other gun owners--obviously there is a time and a place for gun control debates, but probably not in the day to day workings of the club.

On the other hand, users rely on slashdot not only for camaraderie, but also for news and answers to technical questions. Perhaps an open exchange of views is important in such a context.

In the end, it's important to remember that slashdot is in many ways self-defined, but it's also still a constructed community. Its editors created the code that runs the sited, including the moderation system itself. Editors select the stories that appear on the slashdot front page. Yet in certain critical ways, the editors have chosen to place much of the control of the site in the hands of its users, making it a very unique community indeed. I hope my analysis has shed some light on the workings of this fascinating community--a community I will continue to be a part of in the forseeable future.

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