The Economics of Trolling, the SDMB, and Moderator Decisions.

So, this evening I decided to become a non-payer, a “guest” of the SDMB. I’ve enjoyed this place and consider my ½ priced “Charter Member” subscription to be a fuckin’ steal at twice that price… and, you know, I don’t even have to pay it. I just want to.

Until now. And I think the mods are OK with this: with knowing that they are going to lose another paying member, as it probably doesn’t won’t register with them because, you know, I’ll still be here! Using resources, but no longer paying for them. Yay!

And I bring this discussion here in context of a message board which, just one year ago, asked its own members how to better monetize the SDMB. We were never given any guidance about how unprofitable the Board is/was, we were just told:

$2k/month under? $20k/month under? Who knew?!?

But we’re still here and I think it’s evident that the $8 or $15 or whatever subscription revenue is generated per user is irrelevant to the “business owners”, which is bizarre because it is completely antithetical to any business enterprise in the entire world, especially one publishing begging letters like the one linked above.

“Uh… you’re JohnT. You don’t complain in ATMB. What the fuck is this about?”

Good question! So let’s go further.

In the Impeachment thread, the following sequence of posts occurred:

Emphasis mine.

I reported the above three posts. I even “reported” another post, mentioning that this 4th post openly noted that Ditka was laying on the personal insults. (Sorry, Ravenman! :smiley: )

And crickets. Nothing. Silence. Not even a suspension while the moderators figure out what’s going on.

He’s been doing his thing, sealioning, derailing the thread, bringing Kavanaugh into it, and even admitting to trolling, but holy hell! The engagement! The thread has grown 10, 15 pages (30 posts per page guy here) since HD has re-entered the conversation, and it was already moving fast.

And crickets. Nothing. Silence. Not even a suspension while the moderators figure out what’s going on.

The SDMB has a production model where the output is effectively the same whether you pay or don’t pay for its services. Non-members see more ads, true, but anyone over the age of 15 understands how those work… but for paying members and guests alike, the rules are the same, the effort expended to read and write is the same, there isn’t much of a class difference between “guests”, “charter members”, “members”, and other titles in effect here (unlike other boards, as we have seen). It’s the same experience!

But there is one difference, as highlighted above, laid out below:

**High-engagement Guests can insult paying members and get away with it for years.

Paying members who insult High-engagement guests constantly get warned.**

Analogy time: I go to McDonald’s. I buy a hamburger for me, a hamburger for another person. The manager comes to me after 15 minutes and warns me for loitering, but ignores the other person who stays there for hours. That’s the SDMB experience – where you pay for others to get the same experience you’re having, and getting punished for doing so.

Ditka doesn’t pay for the SDMB. And he’s been a constant distraction here, people have left because of him, and as I hinted at above, if he’s still a member in good standing come May 15th or whatever, I’ll let my Charter Membership lapse and I’ll join Team Guest. Now this will lose the SDMB a paltry $8, true… but it’s the business decision implied by the moderators actions which fascinate me, not the scale of the issue, as the moderators judgement regarding our trolls implies that a high engagement guest, operating at a loss, is more worthwhile than direct revenues from a low-engagement customer.

So… thinking about this, what are the economics of trolling? The STM Reader, LLC, and the SDMB moderators are willing to lose paying members to keep guests such as Ditka… Starving Artist… God knows how many other assholes… This has been proven again and again.

The obvious conclusion is this: trolling pays for the SDMB, and it pays better than the subscription service.

Google advertisers spent an average of $2.80/revenue for every thousand ad impressions. Now I have zero confidence that STM Reader, LLC… fine people that they are… are getting Google-rates for the SDMB, but ½? I doubt it, but let’s go with that.

In losing my membership $, but keeping Ditka, he will need to generate, at minimum, an extra 5,714 page views from somebody in addition to what he’s already doing. And he can’t get these extra page views from the current audience as we are probably maxed out on our engagement with him, so the moderators are making the business decision… it seems to me… that having Ditka around attracts new members, and he does so at a rate which exceeds the loss of revenues from ex-paying members which he drives off.

But if he generates CPM revenues in excess of the lost membership revenue… why the begging post, linked to above? Why the lack of updates, obvious signs of money being earned… and spent.

The mods actions in protecting trolls like Ditka and others are increasing the reliance of the SDMB on advertising revenue, decreasing the revenues from paid memberships, and every fucking instinct that I have for making money tells met these decisions are flawed. Keep the high-engagement people, sure, but once they start losing you paying customers, get them the fuck out.

So, that’s the topic: The Economics of Trolling and how… or if… moderator actions impact the SDMB’s business model.

*Others can bring up how Ditka wants to out the whistleblower. That’s not my purpose in this post. But it’s fair game for this thread.

SInce I’m the topic of so much of this, I’ll chime in here on a few things in my defense. First off, in the posts you quote, I was striving to “attack the post, not the poster” as we’re so often admonished to do. Now, I suppose since you’ve reported it the mods can review those posts and decided if I succeeded or failed on that front. Secondly, I don’t recall ever “admitting to trolling”, and I suspect you’ve got that impression from a bad misreading of something I’ve posted. Perhaps if you could tell me, and the rest of us in which post this admission occured, we could judge for ourselves whether it’s real or fiction.

As for the economics of it, I don’t know, but banning posters because they’re unprofitable would certainly set an ugly tone for this place.

And lastly, I don’t particularly want to “out” the whistleblower. I’m of the opinion that that has already been done long before I ever typed his name here, and this collective pretending people are doing as if it hasn’t happened is absurdly silly.

I undercited the personal insults in this one:

6! 6 unwarned personal insults in one paragraph! And this done under a business model of voluntary payment! Seriously, guys, are revenue considerations a part of the moderation process? Because, imho, they should be.

I am directly stating to a financially underperforming message board that my Q&D business analysis is that either (a) trolling is profitable or (b) if not, then a system of voluntary payment for services while allowing personal insults and the constant derailing of discussions is a dumb financial model.

I want the members, of all levels, to be aware that “A” is a possibility, and I want the mods to know that “B” is the more likely case.

This thread is an attempt to determine which hypothesis is true. Thank you for your participation.

Reported for editing inside a quotebox. On a separate note, you failed to edit out the other mention of Ciaramella.

Reported for trolling in ATMB

Both of you calm down. Don’t bring a personal feud into ATMB.

JohnT, can you honestly not see the difference between ‘Nobody talk to Max S’ and posts where your arguments are described as being poor? That’s the very definition of ‘attack the post, not the poster’.

On another topic, remember this, every time you - or anyone - reports a post it is reviewed by all three of us independently and any of the three of us - Tom, Bone and myself - are empowered to act unilaterally. It’s a good chance that if there no action then the post you reported doesn’t cross the line. And lest you accuse us of political leanings and bias you should know that the three of us are all over the place politically.

On the ‘whistleblower’ thing? We actually discussed it - the full mod loop, not just the three GD and Elections mods - and decided that the name was out there. Given that it was fair to discuss it. Don’t delude yourself that having it on the SDMB is somehow going to be the thing that forces the issue at the Congressional level or move the actual media needle in any way.

In terms of the economics of trolling I have no comment. I can say that I’ve had long, substantive conversations with the powers that be - both Ed and, following his departure folks who replaced him as management - and not once has such a thing been brought up. We - at least I, the others can chime in if they have a different experience - have little knowledge about the finances and economics of the SDMB and there’s no indication that’s going to change.

Ditka, stop it. This sort of thing looks like you’re intentionally dragging a discussion from another forum into this one for the purposes of continuing it. Any more of that and you’ll be warned.

All the things you think are insults - aren’t. People are routinely talking about ignorance, confusion, or misunderstanding arguments. To curtail those as you would have us do here, would severely inhibit discussion throughout the board.

I mean, HD posts a sorta relevant response, gets confronted on the relevance, and says he’s comfortable with his answer. In your post report, you label this as an admission of trolling. Seriously? Some of the post reports (not necessarily by you) may have been close, but then I’m reminded of a previous post of mine:

As to the question of whether revenue is a consideration in moderation? It’s not for me, not a single iota. I stand on principle.

Is there any particular reason, Jonathon Chance, Bone for foregoing warnings given the previous?


Hurricane Dikta has not, to my knowledge, engaged in anything other than bad-faith arguments for quite some time now. Whataboutism (for example this post.) Sealioning, all through that same thread. Through it all, he’s received a number of “don’t do this” cautions from the moderators, none of them resulting in actual warnings.

Hurricane Dikta has not changed his behavior, nor will he. His sole purpose on the Board is to “own da Libz” - or at least, try to. Every thread he participates in becomes a swamp of bad-faith arguments, diversions, all delivered with sneering contempt. The Board can be a place of insightful debate, but any thread that he participates in degenerates almost instantly, as he is not interested in debate. He is only interested in spite and disruption.

I will not engage with him anymore, and I suggest that every poster do the same - except, of course, for the moderators.

I can speak – a bit – to the economics. Perhaps not as definitively as you would like but I can give some perspective.

The management of Sun-Times Media – our corporate parent – has been busy setting its house in order over the last year and change. They’ve been through some management changes, they’ve been instituting new ideas and policies, they’ve been resetting the tone of the paper, they’ve been very involved with all things Chicago. They have new partners and fresh content and they’re moving in all sorts of interesting directions all based around “The Workingman’s Newspaper.” You gotta love that.

(Didja see where Ed Zotti is now a regular columnist for the Sun-Times? On his other beat, which is urban planning. Good stuff too, go check it out, especially those of you who live in Chicago.)

They sold the Reader and spun it off to new owners.

Note that when they sold the Reader, they kept us. Not only that, they kept us running. They could just as easily closed down the whole deal – who does message boards today? What does that have to do with a hometown newspaper? But we’re still here. They let us stand.

We are not the biggest thing on their plate – the Chicago Sun-Times is their meat and it only makes good sense that they tend to that first before they look at any of the sides.

We are still here. The site still works, with occasional hiccups, but damn, it’s old. (Like a lot of us.) Life goes on.

Yeah, we’re asking you to be patient. To keep supporting us with your participation on this site, with your enthusiasm and energy, with your laughter and tears and occasional aggravations. To keep asking questions, to keep sharing your problems with us, to look out for your fellow Dopers and the odd new person that falls in the door from time to time. To keep putting your money where your mouth is and continuing to support us financially and in every other way. To keep playing these reindeer games.

We been at this in one way or another since 1996. We all built something here over all that time since. Coming up on 22 million posts. That’s a lot of history and a good sized place in bits and pixels. And as long as we got a place for two or more of us to meet – and if myself and the moderators have anything to say about it – we will always have a place. You will always have a place.

John, I’m sorry you’re so disheartened. It’s not easy times and there’s so many things out there that can make your head asplode being made manifest in this messed up insane world. it would be easy to look to this place as a refuge from all that, but we are not the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Much of the same stressors and aggravations and negativity and etc. live here too. Because humans bring them, like carrying in germs on your hands or dirt from your shoes. (This is why we can’t have nice things.)

We cannot promise you that this place will not have people you disagree with. We can promise you that there’s other people you can choose to focus your attention on for more beneficial outcomes. Because, you know, being happy is the best revenge.

I hope this long-winded post is some use to you.

your humble TubaDiva

I’m pretty sure it’s politics, not economics. Like nearly everywhere else there’s a double standard where right wingers can lie, insult people and ignore the rules while anyone else who did the same would be punished. And anyone who argues against them too hard is also punished.

It’s a reliable enough pattern that right wingers all over the internet have used it to take over or shut down forums by driving everyone else away; they can get quite organized about it.

It’s not a matter of disagreement - it’s a matter of a poster creating a toxic environment, a poster who refuses to argue in good faith.
Certainly, there are others to engage with. Does that mean that we must suffer the presence of this virulently unpleasant…person?
I keep seeing mods saying that this is not a democracy, and that’s fine. But I think that the mods should also pay attention to what the posters are saying about their conduct, and the conduct of other posters. When one poster has managed to inspire a 33 page, 1600+ post thread reviling him or her, I think the mods should take notice. There is certainly more than ‘disagreement’ involved there.

Congratulations, SDMB for helping spread the whistleblower’s alleged name! Even quoted by a mod, way to go. That brings us in line with the conspiracy sites that would, rather than defend Trump, bring danger to the whistleblower. I feel sick about that, and it’s no exaggeration. Oh, his name was already out there? Weak fucking shit.

Not accepted. That’s ridiculous.

No, disagreement is really all it is.

HurricaneDitka voted for Trump, and he doesn’t back down. That’s all there is to it.


Maybe the misogynistic victim-blaming is also involved? Just a possibility. Some folks really, really don’t like victim blaming and denigration of women for nothing more than speaking out about their experiences.

His suspension was for voting for Trump and not backing down? What about his standing mod instruction from Bone for sealioning? Just political, that one too? Every Trump voter on this board has either had to “back down” or get suspended, is that what you’re saying?

First, thank you **TubaDiva **for the info. I have seen other forums shut down with no notice and dread that happening here. But what can you do.

JohnT, we have few right leaning posters left here, maybe 10 who post regularly.
I want to hear their side of things. I don’t care that I may disagree with what they post.
HD isn’t trolling in the broad sense of the word and he wasn’t blatantly insulting you. Do you really want to nitpick about that because you find him annoying? I’m sure you’re a better person than that.

There was a thread started in October asking who the whistleblower was. Zero reports. HD posts a name that is already in the public sphere and there are a dozen reports. Joe Klein also wrote Primary Colors.