The Wisdom of the Crowd - I'm Asking Your Opinion

I was asked for a technical definition of trolling and universal rules regarding trolling that could be implemented in an IT system or adopted by an AI. The problem is coming up with a universal definition. Therefore, I'm asking a very ideologically diverse crowd for your opinions.


What is the definition of a troll?


This should be ideologically neutral definition. Actively debating people wouldn't be trolling, though they may have an opposite behavior. Ad hominem attacks on a regular basis probably is an indication someone is a troll. What would you put in this category?


What is the definition of trolling behaviors?


What actions constitute trolling? What behaviors should, when done by anyone, get them banned on a platform?


The Problematic Nature of "Hate Speech"


"Hate speech" for example doesn't count as trolling, because those in power determine what is officially "love" and can ban everything else as hate speech.

"To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize." - Voltaire

 This is currently a problem of the authoritarian left censoring even moderately conservative opinions as rude, evil, offensive while the far left actively calling for violence against targets or coordinating action is tolerated by censors. They are  not the only target, though, as ex-Muslims, ex-gays and ex-liberals getting censored on Facebook and Twitter demonstrates.


Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 11:33am
Sunshine Kid Posting totally unrelated comments can be trolling - or spam.
The problem with "polite" is the issue I've already mentioned - liberal elites already define kind and love as their political dogma, so a polite conservative opinion is labeled hate speech.
Example: a conservative and liberal had a polite discussion on Twitter on gun control. The liberal faced no consequences, but by defending gun rights, the conservative was banned from Twitter.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 11:34am
I don't think commenters responding to each others' comments is trolling per se. If I respond to someone's comments with a source or correction, that isn't trolling.
If I were attacking the commenter personally - the ad hominem definition already cited - then it would be trolling.
Bill H. Added Jan 5, 2019 - 11:37am
"In Internet slang, a troll () is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll's amusement."
Probably the best example here on WB is our own Ryan Messano.
Mustafa Kemal Added Jan 5, 2019 - 11:44am
"What is the definition of a troll?"
Good question.
To me, a troll is someone who does not fully engage the thread. Instead, they find entry points for disruption.  Although they do not have the welfare of the thread in mind, they often contribute in a positive way. 
I dont see profanity or personal attacks as trolling, although both are popular with trolls.
Not with this one though.

opher goodwin Added Jan 5, 2019 - 11:49am
Tamara - I think trolling is rude, abusive comments made towards an individual. They are personal and can be threatening or bullying. They are intended to upset, demean and undermine.
On WB we have a number of trolls whose ambition is to undermine posts, deride individuals and pour scorn on them both as people and for all they stand for rather than engage in intelligent debate.
Trolls are sick, slimy cretins who are unable to engage intellectually. I suspect they have been damaged and abused and seek to try to assert themselves above others in the only way they can.
We see it with childishness (infant school behaviour) such as playing with people's names or other types of name calling. They operate on an emotional level rather than cerebrally. Their intent is to create an emotional response which satisfies their psychological need. They are usually too full of themselves to recognise their own shortcomings and nastiness. We should feel sad for them but in actual fact they are too unpleasant and pathetic to feel much for them at all. They are best ignored.
I hope this is helpful.
opher goodwin Added Jan 5, 2019 - 11:49am
BTW - I agree with Bill. The only person I now block is that abused child.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 12:09pm
opher goodwin The issue with defining "rude" is that those in power always define their worldview as educated, smart, moral ... then the words used to define trolling are too easily co-opted to mean "you're bad if you don't agree with political dogma as defined by those in power".
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 12:11pm
Is profanity something that should always be banned?
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 12:12pm
 Mustafa Kemal What is a way of defining "disrupting" a conversation?
John Minehan Added Jan 5, 2019 - 12:18pm
An "Attention seeking behavior" might be part of it. 
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 12:23pm
 John Minehan Posting a link to your own blog is obviously an issue, though I'd classify that as spamming. The hard part is "when is it trolling?"
There's a joke that any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a kook. Don't ban the kooks or censor them - respond to bad speech with good speech.
opher goodwin Added Jan 5, 2019 - 12:23pm
Tamara - there's nothing wrong with passionate disagreement as long as it is aimed at the content of the post and not abuse towards the individual.
A classic example is with George. He doesn't like the idea of any global body to control the activities of the global elite. Rather than intelligently explain he started accusing me of being a seven year old. That's when he crossed the line into becoming a troll.
There are many contentious issues that require debate but once one gets into personal attacks then there is neither intelligence nor debate.
Profanity and blasphemy are fine with me. 
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 12:27pm
Calling you a seven year old is an insult and personal attack.
Mustafa Kemal Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:08pm
" What is a way of defining "disrupting" a conversation?"
If the comment contributes nothing to the main subject of the post, and if that comment sidetracks interactions off the subject, that is disruption.   It is often accomplished through the use of ad hominems that get peoples emotions going.
If the goal is to find a definition of troll which  could be used to filter the trolls out, it will fail. Trolling,  by my definition, should be considered a natural part of our environment.   
It would be better to try to educate people on 
when are you being trolled?
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:11pm
Ad hominems are obviously trolling, especially if repeated.
The "getting emotions going" is the problematic part - it is too subjective, too often context based, and subject to censorship by those with power to say X opinions are unacceptable for public expression.
Example: Ex-Muslims are getting murdered in Pakistan and censored on Facebook because simply saying "I left Islam and became atheist" is considered offensive, blasphemous and unacceptable.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:21pm

Sunshine Kid As the ex-Muslim Iranian preacher Ramin Parsa learned when arrested for preaching Christianity to Muslims at the Mall of America.
Mustafa Kemal Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:21pm
"Is profanity something that should always be banned?
If we use Webster:

not concerned with religion or religious purposes SECULAR

2not holy because unconsecrated, impure, or defiled UNSANCTIFIED

3aserving to debase or defile what is holy IRREVERENT
then since this website does not have religion as part of its charter, then it should be allowed.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:22pm
I wasn't talking about applying trolling limits to Writerbeat but an effort to develop a tool to address trolling elsewhere.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:25pm
The simplest way to limit profanity is have a saved list of words and censoring comments that contain anything on said list. The challenge is coming up with a generally accepted list.
For example, the term f-ck is so commonly used that many consider it to no longer be profane.
Conversely, referring to illegal immigrants as illegal immigrants or using other terms the far left now considers "toxic", and they'll react as if you called an ethnic minority a racial slur. And without any self-awareness, the far left is trying to create racist insults to use against whites like "cracker" to demonize a racial group.
This means that the list of "profane" terms is essentially subjective - or based on the demographics of your site's audience.
Dino Manalis Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:44pm
 My opinion isn't technical, but my comment shouldn't have been deleted.  The definition of trolling varies, but it ought to be simple, just debating persuasively and effectively may be considered trolling.
Ryan Messano Added Jan 5, 2019 - 1:49pm
Great article, Tamara, as usual with your excellent political insight.  There is a website on women you may be interested in.  
I don't get too involved with the word trolling, since it is a very subjective term, and typically is used to describe the person who uses the term troll, disagrees with. 
I also don't give any credence to hate speech designations, since it has some pretty sordid origins.
Personally, I always delete profanity, lies, and obscenity.  It taints conversation, and has zero redeeming value.  It is also the sign of a weak mind or a weak argument, and WB has plenty. The people who use profanity, rarely like to be corrected, are often demagogues, and are rarely reasonable.  By banning their profanity, you give them the opportunity to either improve and avoid it, or to take their nonsense elsewhere.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 2:12pm
 Dino Manalis - You said "just debating persuasively and effectively may be considered trolling".
No, it shouldn't be considered trolling. Words have meanings.
Expanding the definition  of a negative term so you can ban something that you don't like by equating it with something that most agree is bad is both abuse of language and oppression.
The redefinition of "sexual violence" is a good example of this. Lindsay Sheppard is a Canadian teaching assistant who in a communications class showed a pros and cons debate clip to her class. She didn't take a side, just presented the political talk program. She was dragged in front of a Canadian school tribunal for the crime of "gendered violence". To show the clip with the debate on bill C-16 and "you will use their preferred, made up pronouns" was classified as violence against transgenders.
A similar example are classic liberal women like Christina Hoff Sommers that wrote critiques of fainting couch feminism and banning words over ending forced marriages and FGM ... brought before Title IX tribunals and investigated for "sexual violence" for their writing.
By redefining the term "sexual violence" to include criticism of feminism, liberals get a bailey and motte argument. They can claim they're defending women from rape by having tribunals order women to issue apologies or lose their jobs. And if you demand due process for the accused or not use it to enforce political dogma, then they say "you support sexual violence, women getting raped."
Don't appropriate serious terms to cover minor offenses. The creeping expansion of these terms lessens the severity of the charge and allows innocent people to be severely punished for minor (if actually any) infraction.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 2:13pm

Ryan Messano The website link looks interesting, but the inclusion of it could be classified as trolling by some. I'd say that's spammy instead. Then again, I've dealt with link spam that some thought was a search engine optimization improvement tactic.
Ryan Messano Added Jan 5, 2019 - 2:16pm
Tamara, yes, and the ones who would say that is trolling or spamming have a world of problems with their own moral outlook on the world that are far more dangerous than anyone 'spamming' or 'trolling'.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 2:25pm
Ryan Messano I looked at the website. I sympathize with a few elements, disagree with some of the prescriptions like the suggestion women shouldn't go to college.
I wouldn't consider my comment on your comment trolling, though some would consider such a side-bar "trolling".
Nor should someone else's comment on your post be "trolling".
Neil Lock Added Jan 5, 2019 - 2:27pm
Tamara: The simplest way to limit profanity is have a saved list of words and censoring comments that contain anything on said list. The challenge is coming up with a generally accepted list.
Why bother, Tamara? You, as a WriterBeat author, have the right to censor any comment on your threads here if you so wish. Isn't that good enough for you?
I see that you have, superficially at least, backed away from the idea of applying trolling limits to WriterBeat. But do you really want to censor what you consider "unacceptable" comments on other sites? When, as you argue yourself, "profanity" is subjective!
And this has nothing to do with "left" versus "right." Personally, I tolerate both Jeff Michka and Ryan Messano, because each of them occasionally says something that genuinely contributes to the discussion. But I only respond to them when they make a point which is worth responding to.
I dislike ad hominems as much as you do, Tamara. Using them is like punching someone in the nose, then running away. But don't you see that thinking people - and most here are thinking people - can see through that crap? And more or less gradually, those that use those ploys, in a forum such as this, will eventually be ostracized?
But unlike some here, I don't delete bad comments unless they threaten to hi-jack the thread. I leave them up as a monument to their authors. He who has eyes to read, let him read.
Inane or off-topic comments are a completely different issue. But again, how to deal with them should be up to the individual author.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 2:53pm

Neil Lock What triggered this discussion (pun intended) is that I was asked to help formulate the logic for a system to censor "trolls" somewhere else.
I figured a relatively open site like Writerbeat was a good place to get a variety of answers from an ideologically diverse group.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 2:54pm
In short, this theoretical discuss is driven by the professional request I received to help implement such a system.
Ryan Messano Added Jan 5, 2019 - 3:21pm
Thank you for that Tamara, well, college is responsible for $1.5 trillion in student debt, and women carry the load.  This prevents them from marrying young, and having children, and this stifles and eventually destroys a society.  Besides, you well know the liberal nonsense most colleges are full of.  Do you still think avoiding college is such a bad idea for young women.  Also, many young women try to pay their way through college with their bodies.  I've met many of them.  Very tragic.  When they ought to be using their bodies to have families, they are wasting their beauty, and will be lonely and miserable in old age.  
Neil, I normally avoid you, because you, like the other deceived conservatives on here, which make up the majority of conservatives, cannot understand the ties between virtue and the fiscal conservatism you espouse.  And you are bullheaded about it. Also, you are, like most who are deceived, arrogant, and think avoiding those with opposing opinions and sticking to your echo chamber will win the day.  It makes you a coward, which is what you are.  You've likely never publicly defended any idea on your own in your life.  You are a sycophant, and have to be dealt with sternly to roust you out of your stubborn delusions.  Putting me in the same category as Michka is a sign of insanity.  It's frankly hilarious to me, but your stubborn intransigence and pride overwhelms your reason.  You dislike ad-hominems because you don't welcome learning about yourself.  You'd prefer to continue in the delusion you've been living for quite some time.
Mustafa Kemal Added Jan 5, 2019 - 3:32pm
re"s that I was asked to help formulate the logic for a system to censor "trolls""
But since
"What is the definition of a troll?"
implies we dont necessarily agree on what a troll is, why would someone want to censor them? Or better yet, how successful could one be?
Coming from a long distinguished line of trolls, I guess i have a different view on the evils of trolldom.
Neil Lock Added Jan 5, 2019 - 3:45pm
Tamara: Now I re-read your first sentence in the light of what you just said, I understand where you're coming from.
While I suppose it might be reasonable to agree a "dictionary of no-noes" among a group of like-minded people who frequent a particular website, I don't think it's reasonable or desirable to try to enforce a definition of "profanity" or "trolling" on a wider scale. Personally, I think Autumn's approach is as good as any.
Oh, and Ryan: I found your diatribe hilarious! Thanks for that.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 7:47pm

Mogg Tsur If it is truly that subjective, then we end up with Facebook's solution - an army of underpaid foreign arbiters barely keeping up with a long list of what's allowed and what isn't.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 5, 2019 - 7:47pm

Mogg Tsur Thank you for the response.
Neil Lock Added Jan 6, 2019 - 4:38am
Tamara: Thank you for your kind words. BTW, you have two different threads with the same title. This one has more comments but the other (whose URL is the same, but with 28539 at the beginning instead of 28538), but the other one is higher in the rankings! You might want to consider amalgamating the comment threads in some way.
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 6, 2019 - 10:38am

Neil Lock  I know. Writerbeat duplicated the post, and comments started on each. I've continued the discussion on each since there is decent feedback on each thread.
Ward Tipton Added Jan 6, 2019 - 2:44pm
What if the profanity is merely a quotation from a separate party? How does AI differentiate between the twain? 
Tamara Wilhite Added Jan 8, 2019 - 1:30pm
 Ward Tipton AI in general wouldn't be able to tell the difference.