Sequestering the Troll in an Online Discussion Group

deal with manage discussion online trollIt seems like an inevitable part of the online conversation nowadays: Regardless of forum, there’s often one person who just likes to stir the pot. They post deliberately inflammatory comments just to get everyone else upset. But they have their rationale, they’ll cite (typically dubious) sources, and they’ll reflect back any criticism and claim that they’re the victim, their “freedom of expression” is being violated, or even just jump straight to name calling and hostility.

Sure you can ban them from an online forum or, as in the case of my local newspaper’s Web site, you can simply shut down all comments to sidestep the issue, but aren’t there better solutions? Turns out that there are.

Recently in a discussion group here in Colorado, our local raconteur posted yet another vitriolic message accusing a local group of being hate-mongers. Was what he posted accurate, truthful and factual? We had no way of knowing. What was obvious was that it really wasn’t the type of conversation anyone wanted to have in the group, which is focused on local resources and references.

how to interact with others - from wikipedia

I called him on his post and ensured that the group administrator was involved in our email interchange. After a few messages, the admin sent me a message asking whether to ban the troublemaker, respond to them in the discussion forum or simply ignore him, hoping it’ll just go away as a discussion. My response was thus:

You’re paying the hosting bill, and it’s your company’s name on the banner. There are a zillion places for a raconteur to spread his or her thoughts, so I suggest that you have the absolute right (including legal right) to ask them to take it elsewhere.

If you want an interim step, why not create a new forum group called “Debates” or “Talk about it” or “Share Your Thoughts” and tell anyone who posts inflammatory rhetoric in the other groups that the new group is where those discussions belong. Then remind them that as needed you’ll delete their posts anywhere else on the site and even ban him/her if they can’t play by the rules.

Then put the icing on the proverbial cake by posting a nice, thoughtful and positive note in all the other groups introducing the new debate and discussion group and inviting people who enjoy online debate and discussion to join up. 🙂

Done deal. And pretty easy too. Now, how would you handle this situation if it was your company sponsoring or hosting the discussion?

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