Monday, December 24, 2007

Trolling the Clinton Campaign

Bloggers know all too well the trouble with trolls. It turns out the Clinton campaign's learning about web trolls as well, according to this Wall Street Journal article:

In Norse mythology, trolls steal babies and leave their own shape-shifting offspring behind. On the Internet, they just steal attention.

As candidates increasingly use the Internet to build political bridges, their message boards have become homes for trolls, users of an online community who leave messages that are ideologically opposed, off-topic or off-color.

Brian O'Neill, a 33-year-old part-time bartender and full-time college student, has been marauding on Sen. Hillary Clinton's Web site for the past few months, even though his posts attacking the candidate are frequently scrubbed from the site within hours. Mr. O'Neill turned to Mrs. Clinton's site after being booted from online forums of former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee.

Although Mr. O'Neill says he isn't familiar with the term "troll," he has been labeled as one -- and not just once. "I thought they were calling me like the, you know, little garden trolls," Mr. O'Neill says, "and I'm, like, 'I'm not a garden item.' "

Mr. O'Neill, who lives in this small town outside Cincinnati, has a "special blogging place" two levels underground at the library on the campus of Northern Kentucky University in nearby Highland Heights. On a break between classes, he sits down at a bank of computers in the back corner of the stacks, places his large cup of nutmeg-seasoned French roast coffee on the table and logs on.

While many of the students browse the social-networking site MySpace, Mr. O'Neill gets right to work posting an unfavorable article from the online Drudge Report to a bulletin board on Mrs. Clinton's site. He keeps looking for disparaging news before finding a link to her personal financial disclosure filing. He adjusts his chair and leans in toward the screen, muttering, "Let's get me some dirt." Grabbing a piece of unlined copier paper left on the desk next to him, he begins scribbling notes about her stock holdings for his next raid.

Mr. O'Neill is hardly alone. Although the number of trolls can't be measured, they regularly haunt online political sites, which have mushroomed in recent years. Technorati, which follows blogging trends, now tracks 40,000 English-language politics blogs. "The ability of trolls to gain attention, to secure an audience, if ever briefly, is much greater than before," says Derek Gordon, a former vice president at the company.

Sites try various weapons to combat trolls. Campaign trolls popped up en masse in 2004 on Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean's Web site. Dean supporters batted them back with a "troll goal," donating money to the campaign's coffers each time they spotted an offending post. The supporters crowed about each sighting, eliminating the trolls' incentive to disrupt.

Most campaigns and individual bloggers invite readers to report offensive comments, and others approve each comment before it appears. At the liberal discussion Web site Daily Kos, "trusted users" can block people whose comments regularly offend members.

Daily Kos has another tactic: the recipe. When a troll attempts to start a conversation at that site, loyalists post recipes instead of engaging them. With so many trolls, the recipes have proliferated -- enough so that Daily Kos compiled a 144-page "Trollhouse Cookbook," including crab bisque inspired by President Bush's second inauguration and "Liberal Elite Cranberry Glazed Brie."

While that approach seems comical, the problem is real. Michael Lazzaro, a Daily Kos contributing editor who goes by "Hunter," says about 10 people are banned each week, but many return by setting up new accounts. One person, easily identified by his writing, has opened more than 100 accounts since 2005, he says. "He basically comments for awhile really nicely and then out of the blue he'll start ranting about women or Jews or something like that," Mr. Lazzaro says.

The Clinton campaign simply yanks the posts of Mr. O'Neill and others. "We have very clear-cut terms of service that we ask people to read before posting to the site," says Peter Daou, the Clinton campaign's Internet director. The terms of service prohibit content that is "harmful" or "defamatory," among other things, and lets the campaign delete comments for any reason. Mr. Daou declined to comment on Mr. O'Neill's posts or the extent of the abuse at the site.

This guy Brian O'Neill cracks me up! I love the part where it says:

While many of the students browse the social-networking site MySpace, Mr. O'Neill gets right to work posting an unfavorable article from the online Drudge Report to a bulletin board on Mrs. Clinton's site.

As readers of American Power know, I'm a regular commenter at opposition blogs. I used to comment at the nasty old Fire Dog Lake, but Hamsher's henchmen switched to a new blogging platform which requires site registration, blocking trolls on the front end. (Daily Kos requires registration, and if they didn't I'd be trolling up a storm over at that place!)

I've certainly had my own experience with trolls. The nastiest by far are the Paulites, who're know to perform blog searches for Ron Paul blog posts before descending in for the kill!

What's a blogger to do?

Little Green Footballs tried out a new system recently that deletes troll posts on the reader's side, but leaves the comments available to the poster, so they think their comments are being read. That's giddily diabolical, or at least the LGF guys think so:

As we noted earlier today, the San Francisco Chronicle is using a sneaky trick in their commenting software; if you post a comment at the web site, and the administrators delete it, you will not know it’s been deleted—because it still shows up when you look at the page, as long as you’re signed in to your SFGate account.

In other words, your comment is not read by anyone else. To you, it appears as if your comment is posted and visible. But everyone else sees a message like, “This comment has been deleted”....

It’s a diabolically clever bit of social software engineering.
I'm not in the big leagues with the like of FDL or LGF, but I can see the need to bleed these trollers dry! The posse from Lawyers, Guns and Money certainly proved the point!