Computers, Freedom, and Privacy

Resource page for the social network workshop.



  • troll: An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion. (source: Wikipedia) Some 'trolls' have been known to introduce racial terms to otherwise agreeable conversations as an appearant attempt to incite others to respond in similar fashion, sometimes resulting in the responder's removal. They can often be found to use multiple accounts, which has inspired various websites dedicated to identifying and tracking them across social networks.
  • flaming is the hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users.... Occasionally, flamers wish to upset and offend other members of the forum, in which case they can be called "trolls". Most often however, flames are angry or insulting messages transmitted by people who have strong feelings about a subject. (source: Wikipedia)
  • hate speech: Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, socioeconomic class, occupation or appearance (such as height, weight, and hair color), mental capacity and any other distinction-liability. (source: Wikipedia)
  • disemvoweling: In the fields of Internet discussion and forum moderation, disemvoweling (also spelled disemvowelling), which appears to model the word disemboweling, is the removal of vowels from text either as a method of self-censorship, or as a technique by forum moderators to censor unwanted posting, such as spam, internet trolling or rudeness. (source: Wikipedia)


  • have a clear description of your moderation policies -- and act in accordance with them: if you don't enforce whatever rules you've chosen, you're likely to lose control of the discussion
    • describe the group's primary goal; the flaming isn't promoting the goal
    • don't be over-specific, which may encourage gaming the system
  • provide (or link to) a required reading list. As The Angry Black Woman says, "Why is it Required? Because if, in the midst of a heated debate, you refuse to educate yourself on the topics by reading what I and many others already had to say, then you’re probably not worth engaging with."
  • consider disemvoweling posts as an alternative to deleting them
  • get assistants to help moderate; for example, MiniMSFT has some "mini-minis" who help, Firedoglake has volunteer assistants
  • have a private group where you can discuss things without the trolls interefering
  • start up a "troll registry" thread so that everybody in the group knows who the trolls are. make sure to give people accused of trolling a way of defending themselves, either in that thread or elsewhere
  • make sure to have an "emergency warning system" where you can get the word out if you're under attack or a quick reaction is needed for some other reason: a mailing list, a group on Facebook that's small enough you can send a message to everybody)
  • if a bully is running amok and the moderator won't do anything about it, and you feel safe in confronting him or her, consider doing so. get feedback on your post before making it. don't be alarmed if people you know agree with you don't come to your defense when the bully and his or her friends attack you.
    • have a callout area -- SomethingAwful's "helldump2k"; it keeps the other areas from being derailed
  • think of it as community response
    • if the first thing people see is reasoned high-quality discourse, people are less likely to mess with it
  • mocking and ridicule of trolls works
    • "I used to get threats. I started grading them: here's what's implausible, here's what's bad about your grammar ... I give you a D"
  • view banning as a last resort
  • enlist the "community elders"
    • it's often more palatable if it comes from members rather than the moderator
    • help newer users

Annotated References[]

  • Take back the blog! host page, by Bruce Godfrey on Crablaw, April 2007, with numerous exceprts and links. "The Take Back the Blog! Blogswarm supports the rights of women to participate fully in all aspects of our society, including specifically online in the world of blogging but indeed everywhere and at all times, day and night, without fear of harassment, intimidation, sexual harassment, online stalking and slander, predation or violence of any sort.
  • Don’t Feed the Trolls by Dana Huff on huffenglish, advice targeted at teachers, January 2008
  • Don’t Flame me, Bro by Michael Marshall on the New Scientist’s blog, November 2007.
  • Trolling wars, in "Trolling lore" by fravia+, 1952-2032 (?). Describes a battle plan for invasions by an old Usenet trolling group. Signs of victory include "Regulars/legit people abandon invaded newsgroup". Even without specific agreements, informal groups of like-minded trolls in a forum often behave in similar, albeit less-disciplined, ways; and as fravia+ points out, these tactics can also be used by lone wolf trolls.
  • Herring, S. C., Job-Sluder, K., Scheckler, R., and Barab, S. (2002). Searching for safety online: Managing "trolling" in a feminist forum. The Information Society, 18 (5), 371-383.
  • Susan C. Herring’s Gender and power in online communications, 2001.
  • FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jeffrey Feldman: Outright Barbarous, led by Amanda Marcotte, with participation from Feldman as well as David Neiwert and others, discussing violent language and metaphors, with some discussion of the blogosphere, May 2008.
  • Frank Pasquale's Disparate Impact in the Blogosphere on Concurring Opinions, December 2007
  • 'We see you, Lee. We see you.': The self-destruction of Lee Siegel, late of The New Republic, James Parker, Boston Globe, September 2006. "SPREZZATURA. If there's a word guaranteed henceforth to discomfit the editors of The New Republic, that'll be it. For it was under this romantic alias that Lee Siegel, TNR's television critic, made some now-notorious appearances in the comments section of his blog, 'Lee Siegel On Culture,' pseudonymously engaging his many opponents, heaping slurs upon his detractors, and praising himself to the skies."
  • Experts Say MySpace Suicide Indictment Sets 'Scary' Legal Precedent, by Kim Zetter on Wired's THREAT LEVEL, May 2008.
  • Clay Shirky's A group is its own worst enemy, July 2003. Includes historical perspective, as well as three things you have to accept and four things to design for. "Now, when I say these are three things you have to accept, I mean you have to accept them. Because if you don't accept them upfront, they'll happen to you anyway. And then you'll end up writing one of those documents that says "Oh, we launched this and we tried it, and then the users came along and did all these weird things. And now we're documenting it so future ages won't make this mistake." Even though you didn't read the thing that was written in 1978."
  • Clay Shirky's Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software, November 2004. Views flaming as a "tragedy of the conversational commons". In retrospect, "Weblogs are relatively flame-free" seems a little over-optimistic.
  • The Irony of Free Speech, Owen Fiss, Harvard University Press, 1996. "How free is the speech of someone who can't be heard?"
  • Changing the Bully Who Rules the World, Carol Bly, 1996. Discusses empathic reading of literature as a way of understanding and discussing ethical situations. The approach can be useful for discussions in the blogosphere as well.
  • Topix data on anonymous comments, January 2008. Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, provides numbers on the 83,000 posts the site receives across all its forums on a given day: "While anonymous posts have a roughly 50% higher kill rate, they also account for 3X the comment and commenter volume."
  • International Network Against CyberHate, based in Amsterdam, with network nodes in 15 countries. As well as a blog, the site has links to legislation and publications.
  • Hate on the Net - Virtual nursery for In Real Life crime (pdf), prepared for the OSCE Conference on the relationship between racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes in Paris, June, 2004.
  • Hate on the internet: a resource guide for educators and families, by Partners against hate, a joint project of the Anti-Defamation League, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, and Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence
  • Trolls, by Paul Graham, February 2008. Discusses trolling in technical forums.
  • Moderation isn’t rocket science, by Teresa, on Making Light.
  • Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities, by Andrea Rubenstein [tekanji] on Official Blog, March 2007. Includes sections on "Silencing through Content", "Silencing through Community" and "Silencing Through Trolling", describing how trolling contributed to The Geeky Feminist blog shutting down.
  • Popular blogger ignites uproar over Twitter harassment by Caroline McCarty on The Social on CNet, May 23; links off to Ariel Waldman's Twitter refuses to uphold (its) terms of service, and Twitter founder Biz Stone's reply on Getsatisfaction. Other related threads include Jeffrey Zeldman's A Tweet Too Far on, with comments from Stone and Waldman as well as others, and Melissa Gira Grant's Ariel Waldman, Twitter, and the "whore" algorithm on Valleywag, and Blogger Incites Outcry Over Twitter Harassment on Slashdot, Twitter Enforces ToS, Cares About Users on the official Twitter blog, and Ariel Waldman's Twitter responds. Aldon Hynes' A Human Face and Due Process Online on Orient Lodge discusses in the context of the CFP session on hate speech and trolls which was going on at the time.

Blog moderation policies and strategies[]

In the aftermath of the Kathy Sierra incident, Tim O'Reilly released a Draft bloggers code of conduct (based in part on the BlogHer work linked to below) and followed it with Code of Conduct: Lessons Learned So Far. Dave Winer responded by calling Tim a bully. The Blogger's code of conduct wiki was formed to follow up, but has been relatively inactive. Jon Garfunkel developed a Creative Commons-style modular and flexible commenting policy mechanism in response called Comment Management Responsibility which O'Reilly describes as "way more comprehensive than anything I'd thought so far".


Sample social network codes of conduct/speech codes[]

  • LiveJournal's new policies, along with extensive user discussion and review (does anybody have the links?)