I’m interested in hearing the discussion in the following session, “How to Deal with Trolls, Spammers & Sock Puppets“, with Rick Calvert (CEO and Co-Founder of BlogWorld & New Media Expo), John Chow, Patrick O’Keefe (founder and owner of the iFroggy Network), and Jeremy Schoemaker of Shoemoney.
I’m familiar with trolls and spammers although I left it to Rick to explain sock puppets: In political blogging it happens quite a bit (and on message boards) if you are a sock puppet then you’re a person who pretends to be somebody that you’re not.
Rick asks the panel about their experiences. John says he gets more spammers than anything, he also considers it spam when someone simply says, “great post”. “It might make me feel better but it doesn’t really add anything to the post/discussion.” Patrick says, “trolling doesn’t really go hand in hand with spam,” Rick adds that Patrick is well-known for his comment moderation practices.
Rick asks if they have ever taken legal action against a troll? John says to him it’s just a waste of time. Patrick says that someone once accused him of something horrible (defamatory) so he had to get that taken down.
How do you identify a sock puppet? Patrick says you can always check the IP addresses (the unique address of the user’s computer or network), the sites people are linking to, or what time they joined the site (message boards).
Do you moderate comments? John says his first-time commenters are moderated, then it’s removed on the next post, or comments with two or more links are moderated. I use the same, as setup in my WordPress preferences.
Rick, “so you don’t remove comments if someone disagrees with you, do you?” Patrick says there’s a difference between disagreeing and being vulgar and disrespectful – he would remove or moderate the latter. He says they have a message they will send to the commenter to explain why their comment was removed. John says he’s never edited a comment but he’ll delete it if it’s derogatory – he doesn’t follow up with a message and doesn’t want to let the person get a rise out of him (or have it appear that way). If the comment is deleted, he message is quite clear. Jeremy says he may if there are excessive links in a comment from a known-commenter (who has added value on other discussions/posts). He’ll leave a note saying “edited by…” then private message the commenter to say, “You’re welcome to leave your thoughts, please watch the use of link,” etc.
In Patrick’s community they give people a number of chances before they get completely banned. Rick, “I think if you interact with a troll (by sending an email through a backchannel) their reaction might be much different than if you do it on the blog, do you find if you send them that message that their response is different?” Patrick says he never publicly declares why a post or comment has been moderated as that just opens it up for more flaming (and can also simply cause embarrassment).
Rick, “When you get a nasty comment it’s not only insulting you, it’s also insulting your commenters and your readers – that will chase off the good people.” John, “When they start to insult other members of the blog or community that’s when I draw the line, I just delete it.” “Thankfully I do have a readership that will alert me of these things,” (if he can’t watch for it himself).
“There are good and bad sock puppets,” says Jeremy. There are the “good ones” who simply want to mask their company name or something but they maintain the same identity on the site regardless. “I don’t like anonymous commenters – it’s my blog so I feel like I have editorial discretion.”
Do you have a formal moderation policy? Do you post it on your site? John, “No, I haven’t had many troubles with my trolls or spammers.” Patrick, “Forums and blogs are definitely different – there are parallels… I think it’s important to have a basis of what’s acceptable and what’s not (for reference).” Jeremy says that he should because he’s had several court cases over comments.
Tips? “For bloggers the first thing I would say is just turn on your spam filter,” notes John. “You might want to post something about linking from the comments,” when it comes to spammers. “As for trolls, they can insult me all they want – I love it.”
A comment from the audience about how to turn on their spam filter, they’re on a WordPress site so John walks them through setting up Akismet.
Question from the audience, what about commenters that don’t have blogs of their own or who don’t know any better when they post links – they’re not sure of the etiquette. Answer from Patrick, “it’s an individual thing, you may want to reach out to them and let them know what you like on your site – helping to teach them will help grow your community.”
Rick would like to know the panel’s thoughts on trackbacks, “it’s good etiquette to link to the post you’re tracking back to.” Jeremy, “the reason people want to trackback (if they’re a troll or sockpuppet) they’re going to draw traffic from your site to theirs.” Both John and Jeremy say they put trackbacks lower than comments on their sites – they should have a lower-visibility just in case. Jeremy also says you should moderate trackbacks and in WordPress you can blacklist people (very handy!)
Jeremy says that all prolific bloggers should have a DMC on their site.
What about people who troll you from other sites? In other comments or on other website ie. yournamesucks.com? John says that it’s just more publicity for him, “good press, bad press, it’s all publicity.”
Jeremy just pulled up a moderation queue from a known-spammer. There are about 300 comments from the same guy that are just beyond absurd, it’s actually got the room laughing. He just told a trick (sort of a trap) to find out the IP’s of trolls. He said it’s crazy that once you figure it out, you can see that sometimes people who are nice on your site are just horrible to you on another.
Also, if you’re posting a nasty comment from work a) don’t use your work email address, since that links back to your work website etc. b) don’t link back to your work website.
Check the suggested ethics for bloggers by Tim O’Reilly – the Kathy Sierra incident has come up but Rick says that’s *so* common with political bloggers (and I hear the mommy blogging realm is just as cut-throat, seriously).
Question from the audience, how do you encourage positive comments and good feedback? Patrick says you can highlight commenters and what they say (in new posts). Give them and their sites attention and make them a part of the system and the community you have. Also, you can give them a writing project, encourage them to do and say something. John says the easiest way to encourage comments is to ask for them. WordPress plugin “Top Commentators” plugin, John keeps his at a running one week total. Jeremy runs comment contests or offers prizes/swag every few months with a grand prize draw after that. He’s given away t-shirts and also a MacBook Air (and now his comments have increased by at least 100%).
The session is coming to a close, this may be my last one of the day as there’s a break until after 3pm and I have to head to the airport soon.