(Yes, I cut the last post and I’m editing it to this.)
If a troll lives under a bridge, what’s the best way to make the troll leave the neighborhood?
It’s not the troll’s fault that he needs goats to eat. That’s the nature of the troll. Trolls are sad, ill creatures that cannot imagine living any other way than lurking under bridges, feeding on passersby, regardless of whether the meat that comes is of the kind they crave. When you’ve got a troll’s claw, everything looks like a goat.
Still even with compassion considered, it’s best to blow up the bridge. As soon as he has no reason to hang around in your kingdom, he’ll go on his damaged, ranting, merry way to some other neck of the woods.
This is the argument I have for banning my first potential troll. He hasn’t posted anything too excessively rude on my site, but I’ve seen what he’s capable of on other sites, and I’ve seen the nastiness he puts up on his own site. (No, no link; a link is a bridge and I am not sending him the very thing he craves. Traffic is what he wants, and I refuse to add whatever little bit he’d get from here.)
I had some qualms about banning a troll; isn’t banning a form of censorship? Isn’t banning a way of cutting off debate?
It depends, you see. If you’re banning someone simply because you disagree with them intellectually, yes, it’s probably not good for you. If you ban someone because you don’t want to hear his or her criticisms of your ideas, you’re a wimp, and it is a form of censorship.
Basically, if you ban someone who you believe to be acting in good faith, and from whom you can learn, then you’re cheating yourself of a learning experience.
However, if you ban someone because they’re rude, because they have no tact, because they refuse to engage with any of the ideas you’ve posted in any form whatsoever, and because they themselves refuse to acknowledge your criticism of their ideas except with insults and rudeness, then no, it’s not censorship. They’re free to post that kind of garbage on their own site, and you’re not obligated to serve them traffic, or to host a space for their posts on your own site. Not in the least. And you’re certainly not denying yourself any kind of useful experience…
Banning for misconduct, while it can be overdone, is an old, one might even say even an embedded internet tradition. Why else is it part of the structure of any content management system with a capacity for user input? It exists for a reason, and I’ve seen what kind of ridiculousness can happen online if it is not used. The worst part of interacting with a troll, of course, is that it brings out the worst in many people. Allowing a troll to comment on your site is like inviting someone you hate over for dinner. You’re going to suffer for it, at least privately, even if you can resist telling the troll off for being a boorish jerk. Who has time for that? I have much better things to do… offline, I might add.
So, even though I don’t like it one bit, I’ve banned my first troll today… at least until he shows signs of a capacity for civility, reasoned argument, and insight.
I’m not holding my breath.