How to stop trolls from closing threads?

Continuing the discussion from Closed GQ Thread:

I’m sure this has come up before; it’s certainly a problem I’ve seen before. Someone wants to discuss an issue, maybe a sensitive one. Several posters talk about it in an adult manner. Then someone posts something provocative and only vaguely related to the topic. All it takes is one other poster, but sometimes more respond, to engage the hijack. And the thread is derailed, seemingly unrecoverably. The thread is closed and the malicious poster wins by cutting off the original topic.

Yes, another thread could be started, but we’re interrupted and lose the immediacy of the previous contributions. And there’s still the risk of hijackers shutting it down, again.

Is there any way to prevent this? Some mods seem very proficient at separating out posts within a thread to send off into a new thread. Would it be possible to shunt the hijacks to the Pit where such things can be responded to appropriately? And thus let the adults discuss their topic without interruption?

Is there some other solution?

And some mods will simply warn the posters involved that they are to cease the hijack, which also works.

There have been some posters who have been issued “topic bans” by the moderators, as they have shown a repeated tendency to sabotage threads on certain topics which are their personal hobby-horses.

Or the moderators could, you know, just suspend or ban posters who repeatedly display troll-like behavior.


I haven’t participated in the recent brouhaha and don’t know the posters involved well - so I’m not going to comment overly specifically.

However, there is a certain class of person who is just a natural, unintentional, talking, walking and typing de-railer. They are not limited to messageboards - anyone who ever attends meetings knows of “that person” who always manages to say something inane or inapt or otherwise problematic, which de-rails the business of the meeting for some period of time.

I’d be a bit hesitant to say such people should be warned or banned - I think they are often just hopelessly non-linear thinkers and/or lacking self-awareness etc. Such people often end up making a place interesting - when they aren’t getting in the way.

They are often people who are interesting in a social context - even while they are people you would lock out of the boardroom with maximum prejudice if you could. This place is a mix of serious and social so warnings and bannings could be counterproductive.

I really don’t think that is the class of person being discussed in this thread.

The line between “troll” and “person with controversial views they aren’t hesitant to express” can be a fine one.

Minimally it would be nice if a thread closed due to one or more posters’ behaviors included some specific mod action to the poster(s) who caused it. A note in some cases, but in some cases a warning. Either they will then in good faith learn, or if unwilling/unable to learn have the case built for their expulsion.

FWIW kudos for the effort the mods do make to keep discussions on track and to facilitate thread salvage when possible.

If you start the thread, follow it and report any such conduct to the forum moderator as soon as you see it. Isn’t that standard operating practice here?

Why not use Behavior Modification techniques? If, in the mods judgement, a post is off topic or ad hominem, it’s deleted. Perhaps a note is left in a Lost and Found section. The poster can clean up the content and repost. Minimum burden on the Mod and maximum burden on the offender,

  1. We don’t know if that solution is possible.
  2. It would still generate a shit-ton of complaints about “unjust modding” in this forum, along with a slew of “what is this message board trying to hide from us” threads.

I thought I’ve seen mention of invite-only threads. Is that possible?

I feel a lot of times, people labeled trolls are really just people with strong views that are contrary to the majority on the board. They are not saying controversial things just to get their jollies or rile up people. They sincerely hold those beliefs and are engaging in debate. Invite-only threads would be one way to have discussions just with people who generally share a particular point of view.

Yeah, this is what I was thinking. That and I have seen a moderator temporarily close a thread to pause the discussion while the hijack is under review, then return to open the thread, warning about the hijack and to get back/stay on-topic. That seems reasonable, but I get it requires extra work on the moderator’s part.

I think this is likely true in many cases; I don’t think we have a large number of intentional trolls at this point.

But conversely, I think that, from what I’ve seen at least some of those posters also have a tendency to jump into every single thread on their topic of choice, and make the same arguments again and again.

In most cases I’ve seen as you describe, this is not the full picture. These posters also tend to engage in ways that at least appear disingenuous. This can involve moving the goal posts, as hominem, selective replies and ignoring other people’s responses, making increasingly poorly supported claims, asking for help understanding but then debating, or claiming to believe things that are increasingly absurd.

Do I always think said people are trolls? No. Being passionate about something can lead to disingenuous argument, as you are also trying to convince yourself. But there is a line

What I would actually suggest is allowing us to report such digressions as hijacks and moving them to a different thread, even if they are arguably part of the topic. Any time one particular aspect or one particular poster is taking over, we could report it for a new thread.

It would be great if the mods would move over the posts, but they wouldn’t absolutely have to.

The point is to keep the original thread going, and put the added friction on the digression, rather than those interested in the original topic.

Yes, this is a succinct way of putting it.

I don’t love that idea in a broad sense. We already do it sometimes for games, and I could see good cases made for things like formal debates (with an accompanying open commentary thread), but as a general rule a message board should be a place for open conversation so long as everyone adheres to community standards.

You can be sincere and still be a troll. If I went to a far-right message board and stomped into every thread with my bleeding heart, derailing thread after thread as they piled on me, that would be trolling. My sincerity isn’t relevant.

This would represent a very big shift in the way the boards are moderated. Generally posts are only deleted when socks/trolls get cornfielded very quickly.

It is the policy that behavior that is indistinguishable from trolling is treated as trolling, because it has the same negative impact as trolling, and mods aren’t mind readers. It’s an unimportant distinction.

Also, “people with strong views that are contrary to the majority on the board” is a broad umbrella that can apply to just about anyone who misbehaves. A person who wants to insult people in GD, for example, is just a person who has the strong view that personal attacks are a valid debate tactic. A person who advocates strongly for illegal behavior and tries to give advice about it fits under that euphemism as well.

What matters is the disruption they cause, and whether or not they are able to change their behavior or if they insist on repeating it.

I think disruptions are just going to come with the territory when discussing certain topics. Unless it’s just with a group of like-minded people, there will be distention. I think that’s unavoidable. And especially here, where being well-versed, pedantic, and verbose are some of the entry criteria. Heck, a thread about something like “What are the worst chess openers?” would have a 1000+ post flame war, multiple mod notes, and a few suspensions. But if someone is being too disruptive, then mod intervention can shut it down.

One thing that might be nice is if mods could cause certain people’s posts to be collapsed or spoilered automatically. That way if someone wants to read what they wrote, they could click and see it. But otherwise, people could ignore it. I’m not sure if Discorse supports something like that.

Only briefly. Once the posters realize that their most brilliant composition will get zapped if it includes even the slightest ad hominem reference, they will clean up their act.

Off topic is more difficult, but that’s always mod judgement.

Way back before the earth cooled CNN had a forum. There were two moderators who ran a tight ship. A hint of ad hominem or an obvious hijack and ZAP - quick fix. The result was meaningful and well mannered discussion