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

Shlomi Fish shlomif at iglu.org.il
Sat Mar 5 23:04:49 PST 2011

Hi Jason (and all),

On Saturday 05 Mar 2011 01:17:48 Jason White wrote:
> 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.

Well, one possible solution to this is to make sure you're not a bigot of 
anything. In the chapter about anger in "Feeling Good" Dr. Burns mentions the 
fact that what we may consider as bad (e.g: someone blasting music), may be 
fine for other people (who like to hear that music). So it is a good idea to 
avoid thinking things like "Perl is the worst language possible." or "Python 
is the perfect language." or "The GPL is a criminal [= "unethical"] licence." 
or "BSD-style licences help proprietary software vendors." or whatever, 
because things are more complicated than that, and there are always some 
matters of taste, and flexibility. 

It's also sometimes OK to change your mind and appear to contradict yourself 
(see: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem-tu-quoque.html ), 
and you shouldn't become too paranoid about what other people will remember 
about you. To quote Linus Torvalds:

Which mindset is right? Mine, of course. People who disagree with me are by 
definition crazy. (Until I change my mind, when they can suddenly become 
upstanding citizens. I'm flexible, and not black-and-white.) 

-- http://www.linux.com/articles/45571

> 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.

Actually, Feeling Good is intended as a self-help book for people who suffer 
from periods of clinical depression. The handling criticism part is directed 
at depressive people who may be criticised by their family, friends, work 
colleagues, strangers etc. and may take that to heart in order to avoid it. 

I'm sorry that I have not made it clear enough.

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

Yes, you're right. I do not claim to be a psychology/psychotherapy expert, and 
I'm sure making a smart use of the various Internet-based mediums is a topic 
of active research in the Academia, but I just want to enlighten people for an 
alternative way that I found can often help a lot and seems to make a lot of 

But naturally, all caveats apply - use your own reason and judgement, and 
don't take my advice as gospel.


	Shlomi Fish

Shlomi Fish       http://www.shlomifish.org/
My Favourite FOSS - http://www.shlomifish.org/open-source/favourite/

I learned a lot from my teachers, and from my friends more than my teachers,
and from my pupils the most. -- Rabbi Hanina

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