Daily Archives: July 19, 2011

On Facebook and Trolls

People may disagree about what sorts of behaviors constitute online “trolling” (from the fishing term–“trolling” basically means fishing around online for a fight),  probably one of the more egregious is identity masking.  Even so, in the blogosphere, it’s sometimes possible to inadvertently engage in ID masking by logging into a blog, say, through one’s Facebook account and then using WordPress for a subsequent log in.

However, back in the days when listservs and message boards dominated, ID masking was more of  a deliberate act: one would have to join the-mail list separately through a separate email address or create a separate login to the message board.  A moderator or admin could easily discern the problem by finding the IP address or ISP or whatever.

In my first stint as an elected co-moderator on a listserv in the late 90s, we had to deal with a “troll” who kept coming back in different emails and posting offensive messages.  One time, the person posted a bunch of offensive messages by masking his own email address with that of one of the other moderators.  The other two decided I should speak for the moderators, and I explained to the person that this most recent act, posing as another person online, constituted communications fraud under the FCC, and that we would be reporting him to the authorities (which we did).  He was never heard from again.

Anyway, it’s relatively easy to check the metadata on an email and see where it was sent from.  IP address managing is a bit trickier, but it’s possible even on a blog to check the IP address of a commentor (depending on the blog service or add-ons one uses; I once had to try this with a particularly malicious “Anonymous” poster a few years ago).

Anyway, it strikes me that one of the downsides of Facebook is there is no such option.  Ironically, in an Internet site that’s main purpose is to be your “true self,” picture and all, versus the identities we assume online, there are still a lot of people who go by pseudonyms on Facebook.

I manage two Facebook pages of my own, one for my CD, _Hide Me In Your Wounds_ (which will be back on the market soon!) and one called I Protest Against Blasphemy.  The latter became a target of some atheist trolls last year after I hadn’t checked it for a few weeks.  I had to do a lot of cleaning up of offensive posts and comments, and I had to respond to several.  I tried dialoguing with the people, but they weren’t interested in dialogue.  Indeed, in the posts they were sharing among themselves during my absence, they even bragged about how they liked to join Christian FB pages and get active.  Apparently, there’s some loophole in Facebook that if an admin doesn’t log in to a page after a certain period of time, the admin rights are automatically opened up.  So trollers will join pages they disagree with, wait for the admin to be absent long enough, and hijack the pages.  I thankfully dealt with this little infestation on my page, and after trying unsuccessfully to dialogue with the individuals, I banned all of them.  They subsequently started their own group, “I Protest Against I Protest Against Blasphemy,” which I found very gratifying. Nothing says “I’ve arrived” like having one’s own “anti-fan club.”

Anyway, the inspiration for this post is that a friend recently made me co-admin of his page because he’s trying to keep it fairly regulated but open to discussion, and the page has been attracting some trolls and some members with troll-like behavior that requires frequent moderation.

One fellow in particular has been skirting the boundaries of unacceptable behavior, and we’ve been trying to decide what to do with him.  This weekend, a pseudonymous poster popped up on the page, with a very similar modus operandi.

So that leads to the question: is it the same guy?

Well, if this were a listserv, I could check the metadeta and get some indication.  On a message board or blog, I might be able to check the IP address.  However, Facebook really doesn’t provide any of those as a viable opportunity.  It never occurred to me before now that that’s quite a challenge with moderating pages on FB.  You could have the same person posting under 20 different identities, and you really have no way of knowing for certain.