Community defense vs. trolls in the One Million Strong for Barack Facebook group

a picture of a trollLike a lot of political sites these days, the Barack Obama Facebook page and One Million Strong for Barack group have been suffering from an infestation of trolls and hate speech. Obama supporters, like others, use Facebook to help with “get out the vote” work (for example posting links to information about polling places) and phonebanking — and get their questions answered. Especially with the key Ohio and Texas votes on Tuesday, the trolling’s a lot worse than just a nuisance: it’s an example of the dirty tricks described in How to Rig an Election.

The group’s admins are doing a great job of trying to keep things under control, and Facebook is apparently working on tools to help them. There are only a few admins, though, so in the short term, it seemed like a good time for a “community defense” effort. Building on Classy Williams’ earlier idea of a troll registry, I started up a thread, and sent out mail to a “secret” group of about 60 people who were concerned about the trolling. Here’s a greatly expanded version of what I said, with some background for non-Facebookers.

Originally posted March 3

Most recent update May 6

Every Facebook wall and discussion board post comes with a Report option. The exact thresholds are mysterious, but if a user gets reported enough, Facebook’s automated filters will first issuing warnings, and eventually disable the account. So step 1 is:

1. if you see a post that violates Facebook’s terms of service, report it

The most frequent clause that people violate is Facebook’s prohibition on users posting “content that we deem to be … defamatory, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable”.

When you file a report, cut-and-paste the language they’re using, to make it easier for Facebook people. And try to be specific about how it’s violating Facebook’s terms. For example:

  • if somebody is saying derogatory things about blacks or Arabs, it’s probably “hateful and racially objectionable”.
  • if somebody’s smearing Muslims (or claiming that Obama’s middle name or associations with Islam make him unfit to be president) then it’s probably “hateful and religiously intolerant”.
  • if they’re attacking another user, then it’s probably “abusive and harrassing”
  • if they’re repeatedly posting “Hillary rocks, Obama suxx” or fundraising appeals for Clinton, then it’s “inflammatory”.

What about the annoying posts that don’t violate this clause, like the people who continually want to engage in digressions like gun control or who the Republicans might choose for VP? Oh well; nothing we can do about them — they’re exercising their free speech rights and engaging in the political process. If it’s not a violation, don’t report it — but please do see steps #3 and #4 below.

It seems that the more ‘reports’ Facebook gets on a particular user, the more likely they are to do something about. So once you’re done reporting them, let the rest of the group know as well; that way, if they also think the post violates Facebook’s rules, they can report it as well. I’ve started up a “Community defense against trolls” thread in the group to collect all of this information. Please post a reply with the profile’s name, cut-and-pasting an excerpt from the post you’ve reported, and include a link to the thread [if it’s on the board] or the post’s timestamp.

2. once you’ve reported it, tell the other people in the group about it

Over time, this thread will help highlight who the repeat offenders are — which will make it a lot easier for the admins and Facebook to deal with them. It’s also a very public warning to people who are considering trolling: we’re sick of it, and we’re doing something about it, so if you troll be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Then …

3. please do not feed the trolls

I first heard this saying on Usenet back in the 90s and it’s just as true now as it was then: usually, the best thing to do to a troll is ignore him, her, or them. [If you do reply, keep it short and factual — don’t think to their level. ] Trolls post to try to divert discussion or get attention; don’t give them what they want. On a system like Facebook’s, where threads with the most recent posts are at the top, this also means that fewer people will see the trollish threads — unless the trolls spend a lot of time bumping their own threads, which is a waste of energy for them and on top of that makes them look ridiculous.

Once you’ve ignored them …

4. check out the troll donation fund and the discussion thread

… and then go back to your regularly-scheduled activities — like helping to get out the vote!

Of course it’s not like these three steps will make the troll problem go away completely. With luck, though, they should help a lot in keeping the board and the walls useful on Tuesday … and beyond.

To recap:

  1. if you see a post that violates Facebook’s terms of service, report it
  2. once you’ve reported it, tell the other people in the group about it
  3. please do not feed the trolls
  4. check out the troll donation fund and the discussion thread