Great Debates and trolls/crackpots

I just wanted to rant a bit about a gripe I’ve had with Great Debates.

It’s against the rules to accuse people of lying, being trolls, or calling them names. I fully understand the *intent *of these rules. The point of a debate is to focus on the debate and not deviate into ad hominem attacks.

However, there have been a few times over the past few weeks that I have encountered people in GD who have not necessarily been focused on ad hominem, but instead just flat-out intellectual dishonesty.


  1. Asking for cites but then ignoring them/not reading them
  2. Ignoring vital counter-points even when repeated numerous times
  3. Blatant fabrication of past statements (e.g. “You said X/argued Y” when X was never said or Y was never argued).
  4. Moving the goalposts (and/or lying about the context of earlier positions)
  5. Baiting other posters (not necessarily with ad hominem or insults, but snide/dismissive/disrespectful remarks that are consistent with people just trying to get a rise out of others)
  6. Citing overly speculative sources or exhibiting the characteristics of cranks/crackpots (championing unpopular/unsupported/unfalsifiable views with an unwillingness to acknowledge counterevidence, but also with a desire to accept tenuous evidence supporting their position no matter how weak or unsubstantiated)

I’ve reported people who I have felt were exhibiting qualities of trolls and nothing was ever done about it. In other words, as long as a troll isn’t obvious about his intentions, he’s free to derail debates as he so pleases under the guise of plausible deniability and obstinate ignorance.

If we are to create rules that prevent namecalling and accusations of lying for the sake of keeping things focused on the debate, then why not also uphold a certain standard of intellectual honesty also so we can better focus on the debate?

It’s just not a debate if the other person isn’t even pretending to hold together an argument.

What is your definition of troll? It’s not someone who derails a thread. And its up to you to call them out, not the mods. If you can’t get by with destroying their derailing and dishonest arguments, take it to the Pit and talk bad about their mother.

I never said it was up to the mods to call them out. I said I’ve reported them to the mods (how is this not the same as “calling them out”)? Unfortunately nothing tends to get done because the mods tend to err on the side of the reported person not being a troll for some reason.

In my opinion, a troll in a debate forum is not interested in intellectually honest debate, but instead simply wants to waste time by engaging in poor debate practices for the sake of riling people up and wasting time.

It just seems odd when I see multiple longtime members (plus mods) taking the bait from someone who I am fairly sure is trolling.

It is permissible to argue in bad faith on this message board, though of course it is also frowned upon. The odd part is that certain bad faith posters retain a degree of popularity here. Some even whine in this forum.

My point is why there aren’t any rules that at least aim to uphold debates in good faith? Isn’t that ultimately the point of the other rules pertaining to not accusing others of lying/etc?

Generally speaking the mods do not moderate for content. Much to my chagrin, they also do not generally moderate for intelligence, integrity or rationality. The best you can hope for is that those reading along on a thread recognize that you’ve kicked the ever lovin’ snot out of your opponent and, if you get too frustrated, that you can craft a good Pit thread that has onlookers saying “yeah, so and so really is a sorry fucker of syphilitic goats, right on!”

Trolls on this site are, often, dealt with sooner or later. Usually later. Usually a lot later. Sevastopol, for instance, was engaging in racist trolling (albeit in small bursts) for something like 8 or 9 years before he finally stepped over the line and got banned. Even folks who troll relentlessly and blatantly (look up posters like Smashthestate and Commissar) can last months if not years. The mods are over cautious, but it’s at least kept some of us from bannination when they get itchy trigger fingers.

Obviously the only solution is to rest supreme authority in me and let me create The List of 100 Posters Who Finn Thinks Should Go Fuck Themselves… And Also Be Banned.

What Finn said.

First of all, I’d like to thank you for collecting your examples of bad faith behaviors in one place. It’s a helpful list.

Trolling is interpreted more narrowly here. The sort of behavior you outlined has plausible deniability behind it. Worse, rulings by the moderators here in practice have to be demonstrable which is a higher hurdle. Basically you need to have a number of specific clearly objectionable posts in order to be banned. Without that, we get pages of drama in ATMB. Heck, we get that anyway, even in fairly clear cut cases. So skillful smoke blowers can evade the moderators for decades.

The other solution is to pit members for their horsepucky. That works for some, though not all.

I would say that the solution is to have members fight bad speech with good speech. On occasion I will do that, but in practice it’s a matter of mopping up the mess certain clowns leave behind. It’s easier just to let others handle them.

On a deeper level, there’s another definition of bad faith which involves lying to oneself. Check out this thread. There is all manner of bad argumentation that isn’t quite intentional. This makes moderating even harder.
OTOH, all is not lost. Most trolls aren’t especially skillful. So the chaff can be dealt with in a perfunctory manner and better posters can skillfully spend more time with the better arguers. As it says on the front page, the board consists of, “…thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.” The former simply have to learn to deal with the latter.

Litigate this!
Heh. Over at Giraffe, they have looser standards than this board: I find it hilarious that there is overwhelming demand for such an environment. But maybe TPTB@Giraffe could set up a subforum with tougher rules. I’m not claiming that the result would be attractive, just that enforcement might be entertaining. Managing civilized discussion (ha!) with the crude instrument of a ban-stick is inherently difficult.

Indeed. We Mods alternate between amusement and murderous frustration watching over threads in which equal numbers of posters on both sides of an argument continuously flood our in-boxes with Reported posts accusing only the other guy(s) of trolling.

For the most part, we look for a level of insincerity. The original definition of troll indicated a poster who had no belief in his own arguments, simply running a line to get reactions from other posters. Our working definition is actually a tiny bit looser than that; we have taken action against posters who did appear to be sincere, but who were willing to keep a thread going with nonsense just for the fun of it.
On the other hand, we also look for patterns of behavior. A poster who is showing signs of trolling in one thread, but who may be fairly sane in other threads, might simply have landed on one of his or her hot button topics. It has not been the practice at the SDMB to ban posters for occasional lapses of intelligence.
And, to the objection that some fools/trolls/whackjobs are given way too much slack to run for months or years, I would note that quite a few, (not to be confused with all), of the posters who routinely Report others as trolls are, themselves, frequently accused of trolling by different posters with opposing viewpoints.

Bad faith, dishonesty, a serious lack of awareness or of discernment or of judgment, and a number of other failings are identified according to partisan definitions on an amazing number of occasions, here.

I didn’t realize that. I thought a troll was someone who was clearly trying to deliberately upset people rather than make solid arguements.

Thanks for the clarification.

See my above objection to the fact that y’all don’t moderate for intelligence among the teeming millions :smiley:

Pray they don’t start moderating for spittle volume, distance, and distribution pattern, eh?

They generally do moderate folks who are actually having freakouts in forums other than the pit, which is designed for screaming matches anyways. Well, to be fair, they generally lock threads rather than ban posters, but that’s useful too because there are few things more satisfying to clean one’s claws on than a cocksure idiot who don’t have a clue and won’t wait to get one before they expound on a subject with maximum vehemence.

I’ve recently posted in a GD thread where one of the people on the opposing side simply refuses to accept the brilliance and obvious truth of my point of view. In fact, said poster seems to be acting deliberately obtuse. Rather than thinking the poster is a troll, I assume it’s more a case of child-like ignorance on the subject, and the poster will benefit by my ever increasingly simplified repetition of the same points until I can finally simplify them enough to penetrate a thick skull.

To be fair, I have no doubt the other poster believes my posting style to be condescending, that my arguments have been brilliantly refuted and it’s I who am being deliberately obtuse.

This is true to such an extent that I’ve stopped (or tried to stop) calling people insincere, when it seems totally clear to me that they’re lying their fool heads off. It is far likelier that…
…they’re deceiving themselves about their opponents, for a variety of reasons (e.g., they originally misunderstood what someone said, and rather than having to admit to error, they double-down with an insistence that their original misinterpretation was correct);
…they’re misunderstanding what they’re reading;
…I’m misunderstanding what they’re saying;
…I’m deceiving myself about my debate opponent, for basically the same reason that they might deceive themselves.

People on this board, and in life in general, are really pretty bad about evaluating arguments dispassionately and rationally. I’m not excepting myself from that judgment. People see dishonesty in many, many cases where it just doesn’t exist.

I’d call that person a “dick”, rather than a “troll”. Semantics.

Under what category would you put people who believe that the last person standing is the winner of the debate? They are there to push an idea, and all opposing ideas are not to be considered, but crushed. When that topic comes up again later in another thread, they will push their original idea unaltered, as if all prior discussion had never happened at all.


Apparently holding a position consistent with the Washington Post, The NY Times, and USA Today is “crackpot”


Not challenging you, I just don’t understand the argument.

This isn’t the place to re-hash the argument in question, which is taking place both in both Great Debates (the thread about race and college admissions) and in the Pit. This is a discussion of more general moderating and posting in GD. As far as that goes, I agree that we usually don’t moderate for the content of a post unless a poster is being particularly disingenuous or annoying, and I think tomndebb’s post is very good. Especially the murderous rage part.