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I'm posting this knowing full well that I'm guilty of it myself...

We've already discussed trolls in comments and in questions/answers, but chat has never come up in this Meta as far as I can see.

That leaves chat, as a free-for all. We occasionally get users that use chat just to stir up arguments, or get a kick out of riling people up.

Specifically I'm concerned with any that are rude, offensive, threatening, hostile, and/or belligerent.

From Rational Wiki:

Characteristics

A troll usually has little or no interest in contributing to the development of the site in question and is interested in some or all of the following:

  • Deliberately angering people.
  • Breaking the normal flow of debate/discussion.
  • Disrupting the smooth operation of the site.
  • Deliberately being annoying for the sake of being obnoxious. For instance, using abusive names to refer to all the members on the site.
  • Pretending to be profoundly ignorant or stupid, gleaning some weird sense of having "won" when other users subsequently come to believe this.
  • Making itself the main topic of interest or discussion.

When it becomes apparent that a user is not interested in rational discussions, wouldn't it make sense to simply ignore that person instead of spending days (or longer) in debates that go nowhere?

For those occasional visitors that seem to get a kick out of making bizarre statements, in an apparent attempt to draw us into debates...

  • If the user is serious about what he's saying, there is no point in arguing.
  • If the user is not sincere (as I suspect) it's simply someone posting this stuff to get a laugh at all of us.

In either case, would it not make more sense to simply not feed the trolls?

I'm not asking for a site policy, just discussion/thoughts. (And a break from the insanity.)

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    I agree if I shared your belief that he was not genuinely holding the belief, though in this case I do believe he was sincere. I do think that we should try to limit those cases to the point where the argument becomes circular though. I think this particular case finally hit that point which is why I'm stepping out of the discussion now. It might be worth requesting it branch off into another channel when it starts to get annoying though. I think that is a fair point and should also help discourage trolls. – AJ Henderson Sep 4 '13 at 3:51
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    Are you talking about Evan Carroll or that guy in the Chatroom with the bizarre theology? – Double U Sep 4 '13 at 4:58
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    @AJHenderson I just wanted to compliment you on the dignified, patient and polite way you have handled the conversation. IMO you have modelled exactly the right way to treat difficult users in chat. I'm not saying we all need to give them as much time as you have, just that we'd do well to copy your manner. Well done sir. – Jack Douglas Sep 4 '13 at 7:48
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    FYI, he is doing the same thing on the BH:SE chat where he is spouting non orthodox theology, long rambling sentences and numerous sentence fragments, and engaging several people in a debate that seems to be going nowhere. You know what they say: if you give a mouse a forum... (or something like that). I agree with David. Just like not putting out food for stray animals unless you are prepared to be adopted by them, the best way to deal with a troll short of muting or banning is ignoring. – Mark Anthony Songer Sep 4 '13 at 11:44
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    It's not the theology that worries me. I disagree with plenty of people, and that doesn't affect the fact that I value them as members of the community. Really it's the insulting tone and barely-contained hostility that concerns me here. I should probably re-do this post to reflect that. – David Stratton Sep 4 '13 at 12:23
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    I just went back and was reading some of his posts over the last few hours. He is not unlike most of the other board trolls I've seen over the years but not as bad as some. I liked that he acted as if the board was his own private domain and told you to "Scram" 'cause you were messing up the work of the Holy Spirit :) I didn't know you were powerful enough to thwart God so kudos to you ;) – Mark Anthony Songer Sep 4 '13 at 12:35
  • @JackDouglas - thanks, I try to honestly understand where someone is coming from and understand the basic assumptions they are making that are different from mine that make their view hold together. In Theodore's case though, it seems they simply don't even from his own basis, it just took me a while to get to the point of being confident enough in that. – AJ Henderson Sep 4 '13 at 13:09
  • AJ Henderson said that he disagreed with your assessment of the guy's sincerity, and got four upvotes. I must say I was floored when I saw you accuse someone of "thinly veiled attempts to discredit Christianity." What happened when Paul, Jesus spoke with Pharisees-- the bystanders got converted! – pterandon Sep 6 '13 at 19:18
  • @pterandon Well, I don't think he was making any attempts to discredit Christianity, but I was wrong to post a Meta post that was blatantly singling out a specific user. Therefore, I've edited to remove any personally identifiable comments, but keep it close enough to the original so I'm not invalidating the existing answers. Also, I was off base in the first place. I agree with Wax Eagle's answer. His second paragraph effectively put me in my place, for which I'm grateful. – David Stratton Sep 7 '13 at 0:35
  • I'd considered just flagging this for deletion because I was so off-base, but I'm keeping it because @waxeagle's answer is one that should stay, even if the question was inappropriate and off-base. – David Stratton Sep 7 '13 at 0:36
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    And finally, @pterandon... You're absolutely right. I was wrong, as I often am. No false humility, just truth. I know I'm flawed and often a bonehead. Good thing we serve a loving God who forgives. – David Stratton Sep 7 '13 at 0:41
  • Your question got six upvotes, and a comment disagreeing with one major premise got four upvotes. That's life: don't delete. – pterandon Sep 9 '13 at 11:33
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I just want to give some guidelines as best I can.

The important thing here is that we don't mind crackpots. We want to welcome them, want to engage with them and learn about how they came about their beliefs. They are as welcome here as those of us who hold more orthodox beliefs.

However, if they'd like to engage in this site, it's meta and it's chat rooms they have to play by the same rules as everyone else. The most important of which is the following:

Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated. Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you because we’re all here to learn, together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know, and bring your sense of humor.

Please note that expletives are not allowed. If you use expletives on this site, you may be issued a warning or a suspension.

That goes for everyone. orthodox and heterodox we're all required to maintain civility towards one another. Engaging in debate is part of what chat is for (it's not a great vehicle for it, but it's a lot better than trying to do it in the Q&A part of the site).

I'm going to issue the following guidelines specifically for our users in general when a user in chat is behaving in an incivil manner. Terrible debate tactics and strategy is one thing, being abusive, repressive or downright rude is another matter.

  • Maintain your composure. Don't descend to the level of the person who is trying to goad you. We're mostly adults here, be the better person and don't engage childishness.

  • If you're engaged in the debate be mindful of how you debate. We're called to be representatives of Christ and to model his behavior. This might be a restatement of the first point, but I'm trying to be slightly more specific. Be firm, but respectful.

  • Terrible tone is one thing from a user, and it's mostly ignorable. However, if the user becomes abusive, uses bad language or does something else inappropriate, please flag that message. (I'm going to add a paragraph on flagging in chat down at the bottom).

  • Ping a mod. Caleb, El and I are almost always on in chat. Jack Douglass and Affable Geek are also chat moderators and hang out in our rooms regularly. Ping one of us if you see something bad so we're aware.

  • Again, maintain your own composure. For the most part our users do an excellent job of this. But I cannot repeat it enough, we must behave better than the users we have problems with. We cannot descend to their level.

Ok to wrap up, I want to talk a bit about chat flags, religious site moderation and how all of that works on Stack Exchange. So you're aware, a chat flag for offensive content alerts every single person currently active in chat who is either a moderator of any stack exchange site, or has 10k combined network reputation. That's a lot of people, so if you flag something in chat, be prepared for an influx of 5-15 moderators or high rep users from across the network.

This isn't a bad thing, but it does sometimes lead to folks who don't know what's going on acting rashly. That said, among moderators there is a general consensus that mods of the religion sites will handle flags from the rooms about religion. You should probably know that all of the moderators of religious sites (this site, Biblical Hermeneutics, Islam and Judaism) communicate. We do this because (among other things) often when a user causes trouble on one of our sites, they cause trouble on several of the religion sites. This kind of cooperation and collaboration usually means that we're pretty well informed when a new user is causing problems and have discussed what's going on, and what our options are if they continue to misbehave.

One last thing, and this is worth mentioning (and I completely forgot to here). There is an ignore feature in chat that mutes a user across all chat.se rooms. Don't be afraid to use it if you can't keep yourself from engaging certain folks.

All that to say, If you see something bad, let us know.

  • I wonder if behaving like a Christian would be Christian enough. Christian by habit rather than by faith. If that is the case, then I suppose anybody can be considered a "Christian" here without ever accepting Jesus as lord or savior. Cool. – Double U Sep 4 '13 at 16:59
  • Aw, man. wax eagle got the selected answer. Sigh. – Double U Sep 5 '13 at 2:21
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Just to formalize my thoughts in to an actual answer. I think that the biggest trick with someone like Theodore is that it isn't clear if they are a troll or not. Obvious trolls are easy to deal with since agreement can easily be reached that they are a troll. In the case of less obvious, I'd propose that if a topic get to the point where it is distracting or annoying, someone should propose that the topic branch off to another room and we take a quick vote in the chat. If the majority of active participants are in favor of branching it, a new room should be made and the conversation should be redirected there for willing participants.

Failure to move to the provided room should then be considered as openly trolling behavior and approached (as politely as possible) as such.

  • I wouldn't even bother voting, I'd just go ahead and say if someone (or maybe some less formal consensus than a vote) suggests that it's disrupting the chat that it be moved out. Generally I don't think there should be opposition to splitting out a potentially disruptive chat topic. – wax eagle Sep 4 '13 at 13:46
  • @waxeagle - yeah, I hesitated a second before suggesting voting, but also don't think we should have a policy that we automatically move a discussion as soon as one person is annoyed with it. That could potentially get over used and make too many chats. The question is what is enough and how do we figure if we've reached it? – AJ Henderson Sep 4 '13 at 13:51
  • To some degree it will have to be a feel thing. If it's obviously getting disruptive and other folks are trying to chat about other things it's time to move it out. I'd actually put it in the hands of folks from this site involved in the discussion to know when it's time to move it out. – wax eagle Sep 4 '13 at 14:00
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How To Handle Trolls:

  1. Tell them politely, "What you are doing is trolling behavior. It is disruptive to the community, and this conversation is really going nowhere. This disruptive behavior is unacceptable on the Stacks Exchange. If you do not respect what I say, then the only thing I have to do is ignore you."

  2. If the troll continues his rant, ignore.

  3. If you fail to ignore him due to his making provocative comments, then click on the FLAG button. The FLAG button is your friend.

  4. Enjoy your peace of mind, and ask God to make the troll repent of his trollish behavior.

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    And ask God to forgive me for allowing it to get to me, when in the grand scheme of things, it's really not that important. ;-) – David Stratton Sep 4 '13 at 5:07
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    I should have added a warning. Handling trolls is easier said than done. Then again, many things worth doing are easier said than done. – Double U Sep 4 '13 at 5:18
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    I generally find that telling someone they are trolling is less constructive than just ignoring them. – wax eagle Sep 4 '13 at 13:44
  • @waxeagle That is debatable, because a person may be intentionally or unintentionally trolling. In case the trolling is unintentional, we may want to give the troll a warning beforehand. Usually, people with a moral conscience will stop the behavior. – Double U Sep 4 '13 at 14:00
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Here's some thoughts about how chat can make for a poor place for dialogue:

There was a time here where I was wanting to challenge the amount of "warmth" the mods were exhibiting to the unlovely here. I perceived I got some "are you going to stop beating your wife?" questions especially when I decided to run for mod, and was encouraged to continue it in chat. Here were some of the features I found annoying:

Limited text: The short number of characters seems more conducive to "Less filling/ tastes great" jabs, rather than putting forth a position. It makes for bumper-sticker discussions that are easier to misinterpret, harder to avoid ad hominem.

Ephemeral nature of the posts: I have heard you all speak of some controversial things in chat, and gone to look for them, unable to find them. The stream of stuff going away makes it very easy to throw out irresponsible things, which probably tick off only the people who see it that day in chat, and have it hidden from the next day's masses. It eliminates much of the inherent responsibility that would come with having to defend a position everyone can see for weeks.

Small font: I access C.SE on many devices, and on some (IIRC) it's hard to change the font size. Just thought I'd complain :)

  • The first two points are good. We should continue this in chat. lol – 3961 Sep 7 '13 at 16:44
  • I'd like to address the first two points real quick. 1. If you introduce line breaks (shift-enter) chat blocks are nearly unlimited I've never touched the max there. Also there isn't a limit on the number of messages you can send (it's rate limited to 1/5 seconds, but other than that). 2. I disagree quite strongly on this. Chat is logged forever. Yes the chat.se search is kinda poor, there aren't a lot of options there. However, all chat.se posts are indexed by Google, so doing site search there should help you. – wax eagle Sep 9 '13 at 12:04
  • On the last point, I agree that the mobile interface for chat is terrible, but not because of the fonts. My complaint with the mobile chat interface is that it loses all of the threading that cuts through the confusion of chat. – wax eagle Sep 9 '13 at 12:04
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As AJ points out, in this particular case it is difficult to tell if he is trolling or not.

If he is, then he is one of the best I have seen (their object being to hang around as long as possible before being suspended or whatever). Trolls tend to move to any topic that gets a reaction and will engage anybody. He has not really done that. Instead, he has stayed consistently on the topic of Christianity, and he has done rather well not contradicting himself. He also appears to know Scripture (though he interprets it oddly). He has also not pinged me or replied to me since I told him early on that I'm not really interested. So I say that he might not be a troll, BUT HIS POSTING ON THE CHAT IS CERTAINLY ANNOYING.

Also, as AJ suggested, we should open a new chat room, migrate all the messages there, and anyone interested in playing can go over there.

If he starts filling the Upper Room with his non-sense again, I'm in favor of a chat suspension, on the grounds that he has blatantly gone against the community's wishes.

  • I'm in general against users recommending suspensions of any kind as it compromises the moderators decision making (were we cowed into it by another user?). That said, we're not very hesitant to issue chat suspensions when it becomes necessary. It should also be noted that a certain number of flags on a specific message will issue an automatic 30 minute timeout. – wax eagle Sep 4 '13 at 20:45
  • @waxeagle I was not recommending as much as I was stating that I would be fine with it. – 3961 Sep 4 '13 at 21:16
  • Yea! I got more votes than you! At least I do not score last place! Haha! – Double U Sep 5 '13 at 2:24
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    @Anonymous I did come late to the party ... – 3961 Sep 5 '13 at 3:22
  • A big part of the consistency thing is that he is deliberately vague, but that isn't necessarily a point for or against. – AJ Henderson Sep 14 '13 at 6:17
  • Hey fredsbend, while the last part of your answer is beneficial to the general question being discussed, the first part is really more off topic since it is dealing with a specific instance as opposed to the general problem (which is what the question is about). Not that I disagree with your points, but it isn't really part of an answer to the question. – AJ Henderson Sep 14 '13 at 23:54

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