[linux-elitists] Request for Comments: How to Deal with Internet Trolls - the Cognitive Therapy approach

Jason White jason at jasonjgw.net
Fri Mar 4 15:17:48 PST 2011

Shlomi Fish  <shlomif at iglu.org.il> wrote:
># '''Ask him what he means.''' ; interrogate him:
>#* "Why do you feel that Python is so bad? What do you find wrong with it?"

Fine so far.
># '''Agree with him''' (but use a softer language):
>#* "Yes, Perl is a nice language, and I agree that Python has its downsides 
>and/or trade-offs in comparison to Perl."
>#* "It's OK to prefer Perl, we'll still accept you here."This will make the 
>troll lose steam and help you find a common ground.
># And eventually '''negotiate a common ground:''' "Would you agree that some 
>people like Perl better and some like Python better? (And some may like both 
>equally.). Maybe you can still write Python code and be productive in it while 
>still not in love with it. Who knows, maybe you'll even grow to like it. Feel 
>free to stick around and ask questions."

The above responses work for the example in question, but I don't think
they're appropriate if you happen to disagree entirely with what was said.
Suppose it's a series of highly prejudiced statements that discriminate on the
basis of nationality, gender, disability or other characteristics - it isn't
reasonable even to pretend to agree with those.

I think there's a line to be drawn here that also requires the avoidance of
dishonesty and misrepresentation. Suppose you've argued in an earlier thread
that your favourite programming language is vastly superior to that other
alternative (and that you've done so politely and respectfully) - you can't
reasonably contradict yourself for conciliatory purposes now, especially if
the troll is likely to take advantage of the archives.

Thus, while I don't have any difficulties with the suggested strategy in
general, I think there are other considerations that need to be borne in mind
and which can constrain responses.

It is also an interesting question, to which I don't know the answer, of
whether therapeutic strategies intended to be effective in cases of mood
disorders are likely to work in an online environment in relation to trolls.
There seems to be an assumption here that such people share characteristics
with those who have mood disorders - a question that could be investigated
empirically. I'm assuming that there is solid evidence of the effectiveness of
the techniques in a clinical setting. In that case, the strongest argument
which can be made is that these strategies have proven successful in what
appear to be similar contexts and may be transferrable to this application.

To find out what really works (in a range of scenarios), one would have to
carry out a properly designed study.

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