In the beginning, when Jane created FDL and the blogosphere was young, trolls roamed through the comments of the young Firedoglake. These Common Trolls were at times ignored, and at other times mocked mercilessly and punked persistently, providing much amusement and merriment to those who followed the discussion. Each bad (good?) pun would inspire another, and some truly groan-inducing photoshops sent more than a few people running for the brain-bleach.
As FDL grew, so did its disdain for trolls.The old-school “take a dump in the comments” Common Trolls were handled by mods, and the refrain “Do not feed the trolls” rang early and often in the threads of the Libby Trial live blogs, reminding newcomers that the mods would take care of things and we should not give the trolls the attention they craved. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of trolls? The Lurking Mod knows.”
Troll (UrbanDictionary): One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.
Along the way, FDL grew increasingly tired of a different breed of troll — the well-dressed, well-heeled Villager Trolls. Folks like The Pool Boy, Steno Sue, Judy Judy Judy, FFFHiatt, and the practitioners of Access Journalism rather than Accountability Journalism. When the folks at Tiger Beat on the Potomac (h/t Charlie Pierce) brag about “winning the morning,” they are laying the priorities of the Villager Media out for everyone to see. Shorter: “Look at me! Look at me! It’s all about me!!!” This is the language of trolls, the trolls of the Old Norse eddas . . .
Troll (wiki): In Old Norse sources, beings described as trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.
FDL, for as long as I’ve been aware of it (let alone written for it), has been focused not on itself, but on how to make our society better. In so doing, FDL has taken on elected and unelected (Hi Rahm!) government officials, K Street, traditional media outlets, political operatives of all stripes (“Who’s paying you now, Lanny?“) and Wall Street elites. The specific approaches have ranged from snark and humor that mocks and shames to the piling up of evidence that persuades to using political pressure that forces, all in an effort to make change in the world. The specific issues have waxed and waned — from the Iraq War and the trial of Scooter Libby to the banksters and the Lesser Depression to the push to reform health care (or should I say “health insurance”?) to Katrina to Keystone XL to fracking to Fukashima to marijuana laws to Gitmo and torture to Prop 8 and Marriage Equality to Chelsea Manning to John Kirakau to Wikileaks to Snowden to much, much more. The FDL Book Salons are a great place where smaller progressive authors are given a platform to get important stories and ideas into wider circulation, as well as a place for the community to engage with more established authors to probe them on their books, both admiringly and critically.
Through it all, the consistent theme is that FDL has unrelentingly pushed for honesty in the public sphere and a broader media that does the same. None of the “he said/she said” coverage so beloved by the Villagers, and no mindless cheerleading for “our team” (whoever that may be), but calling a lie a lie no matter who tells it and calling a crime a crime no matter who carries it out.
And now a new form of troll has appeared: the Tech Troll.
Tech Trolls — my term for the folks behind the DDOS attacks that Jane spoke of — are those trolls for whom trashing a conversation is not enough, but an entire conversation place must be disrupted. These are the larger version of the folks in your college dorm who blasted their speakers at full blast, making it impossible for anyone on the floor to talk to each other. These are the larger version of the folks at the movie theater who talk during the show, and talk more loudly when asked to be quiet. These are the larger version of the folks who intimidate those who are smaller than they are, simply because they can do so without consequences.
“Do not feed the trolls” does not work with Tech Trolls.
I don’t know how the tech side of things work around the intertoobz, but I don’t doubt that fighting back Tech Trolls is not cheap. I know that I’ve had the same experience that masaccio described, where I could not get in to write my posts or to read and comment on what others had written. If you value FDL and its voice, and you have the resources to help, now’s the time to step up and do it. If you’re not a member of FDL yet, now’s a great time to join. If you are and would like to make an additional contribution, it would be put to good use very very quickly.
The trolls don’t need to be fed, but the troll hunters do.
Photo by Christoph Grothaus under Creative Commons – Attribution No-Derivs 2.0 Generic license