2007 - 2021

Troll Hunter

Every now and again we have a clear-out of the Trolls who inhabit – and attempt to dominate Bella’s discussion.

We’ve done this again this weekend and we’d point people towards our Comments policy here which we’ll pin to our new About Us section.

There’s always a tension between having the complete liberty of a free-for-all and the realisation that not everyone is acting in good faith. Our definition of a Troll is someone who’s main motivation is not to put across their view but to wreck the site and undermine the debate.

There’s a continuum from the persistent lingering visitor who disagrees with almost everything we write but likes the argument (fair enough) to the professional troll who seems to spend day and night on the site and appears to be, shall we say, ‘well resourced’.

One thing that puzzles me is the regular visitor who has nothing in common with Bella’s values or outlook yet spends a lot of time on the site (to which they’re welcome). I just can’t conceive of what they get from this. I visit sites and read writers I disagree with regularly but I don’t dwell.

I struggle to understand this.

It’s not that right-wing sites and magazines don’t exist.

Explanations of this phenomena are welcome.

From our Comments policy:

“Bella has basically been one long massive argument argument for over a decade, and that’s exactly as it should be. We like to allow wide-ranging dissenting and sharp debate. It’s one of the things that makes Bella different, we don’t have a stagnant consensus of nodding heads all agreeing with each other.

But we’ve removed people who are just Trolls, people whose only purpose (and for some a considerable amount of time and expertise) is to attack every single article. Some of these people are clearly professional. But whether you’re amateur or professional, if your only purpose is to undermine and oppose everything we write, you will be tolerated for a period and then removed. It is the same as meeting someone in the pub who turns out to be obnoxious and abusive on every occasion.

Secondly, ad hominem attacks and personal abuse won’t be tolerated. If you don’t like an article that’s fine – but try and address the authors ideas – not the person.

Third, while we tolerate some people using pseudonyms, and this can be useful, if we feel you are doing this simply so you can spread bile, you’ll be removed.

Finally, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and selling stuff won’t be tolerated. Neither will climate change denialism.”


Comments (34)

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  1. Michael Marten says:

    Good move!

  2. Deborah Mulen says:

    We live in a disconnected age in which people can become desperate for attention. Many will direct their desire for attention, particularly for negative attention, towards strangers on the internet. Outrage, while frequently justifiable, is not in itself an element of debate, or at least not of successful debate. Perhaps we have lost the ability to express our views coherently? Perhaps we have lost the ability to form our views empirically? The way information is shared has also changed. Where we once were given information in a neutral format, we are now given opinion pieces and must work backwards to determine if they refer to things that have actually happened. It is a foolproof recipe for the creation of a permanently fulminating internet creature. They deserve our pity but not our time.

  3. Janet Fenton says:

    Fair enough. Its a tough call

  4. jehfuso says:

    Agree. I dont understand why people do it. I think its like energy vampire. They just need it for fun. Its like people who cannot live without chocolate and this type of people cannot live without trolling

  5. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    “One thing that puzzles me is the regular visitor who has nothing in common with Bella’s values or outlook yet sends a lot of time on the site (to which they’re welcome). I just can’t conceive of what they get from this…

    “Explanations of this phenomena are welcome.”

    Reactions are what trolls get from trolling. The aim is to provoke or annoy someone from a safe distance, just for a laugh (or some other form of gratification).

    Incidentally: the verb ‘to troll’ is often confused with the old Norse noun. The verb derives from the Old French ‘troller’, a hunting term, which means to go in quest of game without purpose. Back in the 1960s, it became slang for cruising in search of sexual encounters.

    I suspect there’s a strong sexual element to internet trolling too, like boys teasing girls in the primary school playground when they’re first gripped by puberty.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Which is just a round-about way of saying that trolls are w*nk*rs.

    2. Yeah I get that they want a response. Are there dozens of left wing people reading right wing magazines and spending hours trying to explain to everyone else why they’re wrong? I dont think there is.

  6. Gavin says:

    Your stated comments policy seems very reasonable.
    But your readers have to trust you to implement it fairly, as there’s something of a Catch-22 here: if you decide not to publish a comment because it doesn’t meet your guidelines, you can’t demonstrate this – as you are unable to show content which doesn’t meet the guidelines!
    I myself find Bella Caledonia a great resource, but I often disagree with some of the things which are published.
    Like many others, I’m more motivated to comment if I disagree with something, but this doesn’t make me a troll!
    I submitted a comment a few days ago which hasn’t been published, though it didn’t seemed to breach any of your guidelines.
    Is there any mechanism whereby somebody whose comment has been rejected could be notified, and told why?

    1. Hi Gavin – well people normally get a Yellow Card and a warning before they are booted.

      I’ll check for your comment.

  7. Daniel Raphael says:

    Appreciate this, Michael. I was both flattered and annoyed when I was referred to as the “American Lenin,” but more annoyed because the person making the remark was using that as his argument. Ad hominem, even in (unintended) flattery, is no substitute for some kind of coherent argument referencing facts.

    So, please carry on. It’s a considerable burden to have to “police” trolls, but it is definitely a public service.

  8. Alex Conn says:

    Don’t be a keyboard warrior, don’t say things to people or about people you don’t have the bottle to say to their face (unless you’re a really big strong guy or have a lot of really big strong mates and would say it, but it would be really stupid to do so- you can’t say it) Proper debate only, no winding up, no lies, no half truths. No racism, no homophobia, no anti lbgt hate stuff, no sexism, no misogny, no ageism, no perversion of any kind.

    Any of the above you’re out on your lugs!

    Got it! I’m on it! All over it!

  9. Derek Thomson says:

    I agree with Mike. Trolls should be banned, and it’s up to Mike to decide who comments on his blog. I speak as someone who was unfairly maligned by Mike, as he automatically assumed that because I was a Rangers fan, I was part of a “bitter subculture” with all the baggage that implies, and he was completely and utterly wrong. Still a great site though. There was a guy (GWC) on the Scot Goes Pop website whose whole existence seemed to be slagging Scotland and the Scots, and I couldn’t understand how he was allowed to get away with it day after day after day (TM Karen Dunbar.)

    1. Hi Derek – I’m sorry if I unfairly maligned you and I’m glad you are still here (!)

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        Thanks Mike – it shows your character that you’ve apologised – I’ve had many a time when I thought, I can’t support this team anymore after the action of the fans or the royalist chanting (and the sectarian chanting that I used to be part of many moons ago) but I thought, they’re my team and I cannae help it. Players coming on and crossing themselves has helped a lot I feel – it doesn’t seem to draw the hysteria that it used to, which can only be a good thing. I genuinely believe the culture at the club has changed – maybe it’ll take a while to filter through to the bigots – there’s quite a lot of young guys involved in the chanting and singing the dodgy stuff though, which is not so good.

        1. Derek Thomson says:

          Support I meant – red wine is supposedly my friend!

  10. Arboreal Agenda says:

    This made me think why I am here, on and off anyway. I’m not a nationalist, won’t have any vote in an independence referendum (I have always lived in England and am English through and through) and was against independence in 2014. Yet here I am.

    The reason is that I have always loved Scotland and the Scots for as long as I can remember so am simply interested in the country and its people especially since in many ways the Scots and English are so similar and yet different in crucial ways. I have a minor speciality in Scottish 1960s/70s documentary film and have written about it and given talks, including in Scotland and spent many hours researching obscure archives in Glasgow and Stirling. I therefore feel invested in the place to some extent and having been brought up, like everyone else, in the Union, in a way, it is a process of learning to let go and accept impending change.

    I have since 2014 moved from a position of accepting the right to political self-determination for Scotland but not wanting it and arguing against it, to more actively supporting it, not arguing against it but still deep down not really wanting it. Part of that transition is down to this site and its arguments as well as the political upheavals since 2014. There is an added realisation that independence might actually be good for England in the longer term. I have no ‘British nationalist’ leanings and would view the break up of the Union as simply part of the great tide of history and the inevitable result of colonialism and imperialism of many centuries: the centre will not hold forever even if the timescales are long enough for it to seem like it always would. Studying the history between the two nations, as I have done, gives a good perspective on the longer sweep of things and the realisation that an independent Scotland (again) is a perfectly natural, legitimate and doable contemporary enterprise.

    Comments I make tend to be questioning as much as anything, questioning some aspects of nationalism in Scotland, sometimes critically, but also occasionally pointing out that some views of England and the English here are pretty wide of the mark and seem to come from those who either actually know very little of England, or are genuinely prejudiced. This is probably annoying to some here but still occasionally worth saying.

    1. Deb Mullen says:

      This comment is wonderful. It’s exactly what one would hope for. Any reasonable debate should admit a variety of viewpoints. Those expressed politely and in the spirit of enquiry are especially valuable.

  11. Peter says:

    Yes Mike, a brilliant topic. This: “One thing that puzzles me is the regular visitor who has nothing in common with Bella’s values or outlook yet sends a lot of time on the site (to which they’re welcome). I just can’t conceive of what they get from this. I visit sites and read writers I disagree with regularly but I don’t dwell.”

    I could not agree more with your puzzlement. I think there are a couple of possibilities here; first is what was a long time ago called something like ‘lefty-bashing’ has now become a different kind of sport; and a career if you want it – – simply pointing out the ‘errors of the left’ to mass audiences; it can be made to be very funny, as well as very sinister – – and of course at its fringes the left has always been ‘looney’ so there is never any shortage of material for Carl Benjamin, Kelamaty, or whoever is creating content about this. I’m being a bit long winded, but I think the culture war creates an appetite for exactly what you have described. And I am not calling anyone here ‘looney’ and nor do I think Bella carries any material I would define as that! But – – perhaps the non-mythical characters under discussion here, hear about our crazy ideas (indy, climate change, #blm, whatever it is) and really want to ‘have a bash’ – – because simply put, there is a substantial body of moral authority behind them in the right / centre right place that they live.

    I am glad this wasn’t a dox article by the way. I saw the headline and thought ‘oh no!’ 😉

    1. Hi Peter – yes that may be it – elderly white men with a lot of time on their hands and a backlog of self-entitlement, over-confidence and little or no self-awareness. They are the online equivalent of the guys at the public meeting who dominate Q&A after the speakers completely unaware that the rest of the room is quietly seething/sobbing.

      1. Gavin says:

        Mike, your comment looks like lazy stereotyping – are you breaching your own guidelines and trolling your own blog?
        Where is your evidence that elderly white men are more likely to be trolls than any other age / ethnic group?

        1. My evidence is thirteen years of moderating this blog.

          1. Gavin says:

            But how can you tell?
            As many contributors use pseudonyms, you may not know their gender, age or ethnicity.
            Even when people aren’t using pseudonyms, you can normally gauge somebody’s gender – but not their age or ethnicity – by their name.

          2. Deborah Mullen says:

            Believe it or not, there is actual evidence out there. Overwhelmingly male, perhaps younger than the specific trolls on Bella’s site, but other features correlate to Mike’s anecdotal experiences. https://www.forbes5.pitt.edu/article/internet-trolls

          3. Gavin says:

            The article Deborah links to points to young males of unspecified ethnicity, rather than older white males – so it’s not particularly consistent with Mike’s observation.
            That may be because it’s only be talking about American trolls:
            ‘While trolls can be of any age or gender, most American trolls are male millennials.
            … millennials are twice as likely as older adults to troll’.

          4. Deb Mullen says:

            I did point out the age difference. What remains the same is the maleness abs the low self-esteem and desire to inflict harm. The combination of those factors and anonymity are what forms a “type”.

  12. SleepingDog says:

    Calling someone a troll is ad hominem, which perhaps illustrates allowable exceptional usage. A British-imperialist acquaintance, after describing persistently arguing against independence on a pro-independence site, expressed shock when I described their activities as trolling. A behaviour perhaps easier to see in other people.

    Anyway, I have no problem with these rules. Yet, there are other kinds of abuses, such as various forms of sophistry, misrepresentation and degraded argument, that I feel also needs to be occasionally called out (accepting the danger of subjectivity, mistakes over identifying bad faith, and over-responding). If the independence movement starts looking successful, even inevitable, false friends may increasingly appear in commentary. At least the pseudonymous are unlikely to be seeking political office and influence off the back of debates. I wonder sometimes if that makes it easier to get egos out of the way. There is a very interesting exploration of this in the highly-philosophical computer game The Talos Principle, where you communicate through terminals with unknown entities, and eventually have to make judgements on whose path to follow.

    But it is easier to detect incoherence, provocation and position-switching than agenda. And that is if you can tie one account to one person.

  13. John S Warren says:

    Glad to see this action. Debate is a fragile commodity, as Trumpism and Brexit have demonstrated. Fake news is not solely a social media phenomenon; it is everywhere.

    It is the inherent fragility of civil debate that attracts the trolls, who not only calculatedly destroy any informative debate, but are often able to lead some targeted victim to lose the place; which has the double benefit of destruction of discussion, while confirming the mainstream media’s public narrative that social media is a hell-hole that is incapable of providing either usable information or comment. The purpose of trolling is not just to destroy a targeted site, but often to undermine the credibility of social media as a civilised forum. Meanwhile mainstream media is able to carry on with its too often very low standards (such as the below-the-line comments of a typical broadsheet website), while heaping scorn on social media; which most journalists and media companies use and rely on extensively, in spite of their obvious bitterness at a technology that has almost made print media obsolete; save the reliance of licensed broadcasters on the print media to establish the ‘independent’ framework of the news ‘agenda’, without which the broadcasters’ news operations would be even more exposed to critical scrutiny, like a rabbit caught in the political headlights.

    I have long held the intuition, which I cannot prove of course, that trolling is much more organised than the public is aware. I was first aware of changing patterns and increased, apparently systematic trolling in the 2014 referendum; then it dissipated quickly afterwards, only to reappear in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Did I imagine these trends? I cannot say. An article in Bella Caledonia by someone well-informed in this area would be invaluable.

    1. Hi John, I dont think you imagined these trends. When we identified people organising professionally to disrupt us we removed them. Its a difficult balance because the essence of below the line comments is that is contested. If its not its quite boring. There are a number of sites where people just gather to have their existing beliefs confirmed and everyone agrees with each other. Its pretty stagnant.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Editor, the BBC documentary Scotland, Slavery and Statues employed a social media analyst who identified what looked like astroturfing in support of the Henry Dundas statue on social media:
        The apparently organised activity using otherwise-dormant accounts was not traced to any particular individual or organisation, as far as I remember.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Yes, astroturfing is an exciting development; the internet makes it much easier to thus activate small groups of aggrieved citizens and amplify their voices in public policy debates. It also shifts the weight of debate from the relative popularity of a position to its intrinsic merits (or lack thereof). Its capacity to do this makes it a useful weapon in disrupting the hegemony or ‘mental slavery’ of majority thinking.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, the unmitigated rubbish you come out with! Astroturfing is about faking popular sentiment, disguising the source of a campaign, nothing to do with examining an argument on its own merits. It is a species of fraudulent poisoning of democratic debate. Some things are simply beyond argument, values that may be held by a proportion of a population at any one time: such as positive view of hereditary privilege, for example. Pumping social media with fake pro-aristocracy views pretending to be from a mass of commoners is an attempt to pervert democracy.

            As the Wikipedia article points out, the practice is hardly new or unknown. Conspirator Cassius fakes support for Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, for example.

          2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            “Pumping social media with fake pro-aristocracy views pretending to be from a mass of commoners is an attempt to pervert democracy.”

            No, it’s not. Astroturfing is an attempt to amplify those pro-aristocracy (or any other dissonant minority) views, which would otherwise be drowned out by more numerous and, hence, louder voices.

            But you’re right: it’s not new; it’s been used by minorities of all sorts, down through the years, to amplify their voices in public policy debates.

  14. SleepingDog says:

    The New York Times has just published a story about FTI Consulting’s astroturfing on behalf of fossil fuel companies:
    About two-thirds of the way through the article, they post a section allegedly from “an internal FTI document laid out strategies to influence public discourse”. This lists a number of social media archetypes used to manipulate public discussion with these fake accounts, with colourful names like:
    The Derailleur
    The Drunken Conspiracy Theorist Uncle
    The Semantic Nitpicker
    The Skeptical Capitalist
    The Patronising Voice of Reason
    The Confused Time Traveller
    The Concern Hipster
    and not least
    The Dog Typing On A Keyboard

    There certainly seems to be a lot of funds sloshing about to pay for all these nefarious activities, although I wonder if they constitute major infringements of social media platform terms and conditions.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      In what sense do these *bogus* participants ‘manipulate’ discussion on social media rather than simply ‘take part’? Surely, they can only make claims and adduce evidence in support of those claims in exactly the same way that any other participant in the discussion can; and, surely, these arguments will be just as much hostage to the critical evaluation (i.e. the *philosophising*) of other participants in the discussion.

      If an astroturfer claims that all Scotsmen wear kilts, then that claim will be just as true or false as it would be had it been made by an *authentique* and any argument advanced in support of that claim will be just as sound or unsound. To claim otherwise would be to commit an ad hominem fallacy.

      I don’t see the problem. Providing we maintain our scepticism, we remain immune from being manipulated.

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