Over at MoonofAlabama.org, the publisher b faces an ongoing battle with ever more sophisticated professional posters. These posters appear to be part of the (dis)information services of one government or another (US DoD, MI5 among others have openly advertised such vacancies over at least the last two years.
The rules over at MoA are fairly strict. Simple name calling or out and out falsehood or MSM appeals to authority (i.e. NY Times) won’t fly there. So visiting would-be trolls are always experimenting with new techniques.
The latest tactic is early thread jacking. There’s a character by the name of Paul who always posts an anti-Russia or anti-Putin diatribe, whatever the post subject. Defanging his venom always grabs the attention of a few of the keenest mind and any thread quickly goes off track. If the deliberate derailing wasn’t bad enough, “Paul” now posts first on a regular basis, killing every thread dead in his tracks. Whoever is posting as Paul is clearly using software to get new post alerts.
What to do about a machine enhanced troll? Always first, always the same message. Certainly an assumed identity under a bland biblical pseudonym, as Hoarsewhisperer notes:
I’ve always assumed ‘paul’ is either Caroline (We Con The World) Glick or Masha (Putin’s an eevil dictator) Gessen. It plagiarises some of Gessen’s memes and abrasive phrasing idiosyncrasies.
Dealing with the substance of Paul’s allegations 1 is beyond the scope of this how to. This article is about how to handle early bird thread jacking trolls.
Structural problem of Paul: Paul is a lurker with automated software to alert him immediately to a new thread. He jumps in first or within the first five posts to spill his poison.
Potential solution one: “Just ignore him” as James advises is a big mistake. That means almost the first information than newcomers, search visitors or occasional readers of MoA read is Paul’s smears of Putin. So as in this thread we all take our shot at Paul’s bait. Problem here is the thread goes off-topic. Instead of focusing on Israeli, Saudi and American war crimes in Syria, Palestine and Yemen (among other places) or illegal sanctions (China, Russia, North Korea, Palestine, etc…), we are defending Russian foreign policy on our heels.
Potential structural solution two. Ban Paul;. Just don’t let Paul comment at all. That is not what MoA is about though. Unlike the SJW/progressive or alt-right sites in the US or most mainstream sites in Germany or UK, b doesn’t ban people for dissenting. To receive a blanket ban at MoA, it’s necessary to either threaten, harass, incite illegal acts or spam. This is an impressive policy and prevents the site from acquiring too much of a “me-too” backslapping atmosphere (see alt-right and SJW sites above). Paul doesn’t overtly violate the rules regarding threatening, though he comes close on spam. Banning Paul altogether would be against b’s and MoA’s founding principles.
Potential structural solution three. Paul’s main technique is to derail discussion with an early post. As Paul likes to knock b’s threads off the rails and seems to be doing so in an automated way (there’s no way Paul just happens to be first so often), it would be fair play to hold his posts and let them out later in the comment structure.
I.e. Paul comments first with his usual anti-Putin vitriol. Paul’s comment is held. When comments get to about thirty to fifty (average thread seems to be seventy to one hundred twenty these days), b releases Paul’s comment with a date/time stamp that put it in real time at comment 33 or 42. This allows Paul the right to interact with b’s material without derailing every discussion. If this lack of priority attention causes Paul to go elsewhere, hélas. If this lack of priority attention causes Paul to create sock puppets or alternative egos, ban those (that is openly violating the rules of MoA or any well-run forum which includes no sock puppets or masquerading).
Keeping the trolls from breeding is dull but essential husbandry to leave room on the trails for intelligent conversation. Delaying derailing comments is an almost transparent way for a publisher to keep discussion open without losing control of the comments section.
1. Let’s take a sample first comment from 17 June:
More claims by Israel that it is coordinating with Russia on its demands that Iran leave Syria and its threats to force same – ie blazingly illegal threats and demands. Russia denies none of this, that I’ve seen, and says nothing in response to Israel’s criminal threats to attack Syria and to dictate to Syria, to attack both of its allies and country comrades in arms. This is that Russia, by the way, who claimed to stand up for international law – or yeah maybe that was all just empty words from a very empty man, Putin, words from a cipher. More than that, Israel claims and seems to be coordinating with both Russia and the US towards attacks in Syria and maybe even on Iran? Russia has turned backstabber in this war and maybe that was always its intention. What it wanted from the beginning was leverage, as far as I can see, a place at the table of power, a hand on the levers controlling world trade in oil – basically a place of power in the Hegemon’s gang. Russia’s best friends now appear to be Saudi Arabia, Israel and – it hopes – the US.
First, let’s look at the Substance. Paul alleges at various times that Vladimir Putin is some kind of offshore trillionaire or is betraying the Syrian, Crimeans, Chinese or whatever deal Russia’s president happens to be working on.
Trillionaire counterpoint. When you wield the kind of power Putin has: 1. you don’t need money 2. money will compromise you 3. you will have no access to your money if you are ever pushed out of power (whether regime change or organic political change). Vladimir Putin would not be foolish enough to put his (financial) eggs in a Western basket at this point. Yes, he may have some assets safely stored away in Malaysia or Iran but really there is nowhere either his money or his person would be safe if the US were successful in orchestrating a colour revolution. See Colonel Ghaddafi and Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega. Counter-point: Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were able to keep most of their ill-gotten luchre ($5 to $10 billion), though Ferdinand Marcos only survived two and a half years to enjoy them.
Syrian counterpoint. Paul writes:
Russia denies none of this, that I’ve seen, and says nothing in response to Israel’s criminal threats to attack Syria and to dictate to Syria, to attack both of its allies and country comrades in arms…This is that Russia, by the way, who claimed to stand up for international law – or yeah maybe that was all just empty words from a very empty man, Putin, words from a cipher. More than that, Israel claims and seems to be coordinating with both Russia and the US towards attacks in Syria and maybe even on Iran?
Paul seems to be suggesting that the President of Russia conduct an on-going twitter war with Israel’s prime minister and every other senior Israeli official. This is not how the President of Russia conducts business. He makes careful public policy statements and deals in facts on the ground.
Right now Russia is hosting the football World Cup (a bad idea in my opinion as long planned major sporting events give the West too much leverage for too long over Russian policy) which it does not want disrupted in mid-event (for those who don’t know a FIFA World Cup is over one month of non-stop football) with countries like Spain, France and Germany withdrawing their teams (all of those are realistic contenders), with Denmark, Sweden, England all standing actively by to support such a mid-event boycott. Rocking the boat right now would be silly.
After the Maidan debacle during the Sochi Olympics, I can assure you the army, navy and air force are standing by near Ukraine and in Syria. Starting a war of words which would provide justification for overtly hostile acts which could quickly escalate would be undiplomatic and stupid.
As President of Russia, Vladimir Putin shown himself to be diplomatic (search uncoy), highly intelligent and very brave (see meeting the angry families of the Kursk sailors almost alone or facing down the US in Syria in September 2015) with a long track record. Anyone expecting rash acts from V. Putin is either foolish, misinformed or deliberately spreading misinformation. After months of observation, Paul has firmly placed himself in the misinformation category.