An Observation about Blogging

People can be strange.

In February of next year, I will have been a regular blogger for twenty years (James Joyner will beat me to that mark by a couple of weeks). One of the joys of blogging is interacting with readers. Indeed, that interaction/accountability has been a contributing factor to my own personal re-evaluation of a number of positions over the years. But, it is also true that sometimes that interaction can be one of the weirder, if not straight-up frustrating, aspects of the process. The notion of trolls is an old one in blogging and was a phenomenon that I used to better ignore. Over the years, however, I have lost my tolerance for it, in the main.

I mean, after all, I write on this site for free and do so, at least in part, to relax (as weird as that may sound, given the topics I write about). As such, why should I (or James or any of the other authors) put up with people who simply want to be annoying (or, worse, refuse to adjust when told how annoying they are being)?

As much as Far Younger Me used to think (hope?) that good conversation would outweigh, if not transform, bad conversation, the sad reality is that that is often not true. Moreover, the ability of some to have reasoned arguments is more limited than one might like.

Indeed, it trolls actually wanted to have a reasoned discussion, they wouldn’t be trolls, now would they? And just a hint: if I want to read talking points, I can go to the source directly.

Still, perhaps the strangest phenomenon of them all is the commenter who, once disinvited from the party, still persists in returning. It is not at all unusual for commenters who have been outright banned from the site to, nonetheless, seek to return either under a new moniker or even under their old one. Not only do they return, they frequently engage directly in the exact same mode of behavior that led to their dis-invitation in the first place. I suppose that if I were a psychologist and not a political scientist, I would find more of interest in the given behavior.

I mean, sure, James, Matt, and I are, no doubt, truly fascinating writers, and the commentariat here is beyond amazing, so I guess that is why these folks can’t stay away? (tongue, firmly in cheek, of course).

It is just weird. If you are asked to leave a cocktail party in real life, do you sneak back in with Groucho glasses on and hope to fool the hosts that you are a new guest? That would be weird, right? Indeed, in real life that would be considered mentally unhinged, yes?

As much as I (and James and Matt, and other authors over time) want more readers and diverse opinions, we also don’t have time for people who just want to be annoying. And we doubly don’t want to have to continually ask the same people that, no, really, when we banned you, we meant it. What with the meaning of the word “ban” and all (not to be confused with a brand of antiperspirants that may, or may not still exist).

Ok, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Ok, now I’m curious. Who was it that occasioned these remarks? I can think of one recent troll (rhymes with blue) who I gather, judging from the reactions to his posts, contributes crazy stuff from Russian propaganda sites. But he’s been back for weeks.

  2. @MarkedMan: He is the proximate inspiration, yes. We finally got around to a new dis-invitation today.

  3. Kathy says:

    Well, we know even Springfield’s stupidest man wouldn’t try to disguise himself to enter a bar he’d been banned from.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: FWIW, I don’t think there’s much of a mystery. The vast majority of the interactions on this site (that are not either pleasantries or idle chatter) are a group trying to have a meaningful debate or to be educated about things unfamiliar, so it’s easy to think that these gate-crashers have the same motivations. But if I go back to my first real awareness of internet trolls, I think that’s a mistake. Back in the day on any given usenet group, no matter what it was about, someone would pipe in with “PC users are losers” or “Mac sucks” and the whole group would be lost for hours or days as it descended into long and tedious and, frankly, semi-hysterical refutations of either the original post or, just as likely, the same troll under a different name making an equally obnoxious but opposite post. Whether or not the troll had any opinion on the matter at all was immaterial, as their motivation was to upset the animals and send the zoo into an uproar. I think it likely this latest troll and many of our others fall into this category. They get pleasure not from proving us wrong but from riling us up – and it works! But a lot of our regular posters also get pleasure from snide rejoinders, or careful and lengthy explanations against such obviously weak arguments. Bottom line, both the troll and some of the regular commenters are getting satisfaction from the interactions, so those exchanges are fulfilling a useful (?) purpose and will continue.

    One thing I’ve learned in 40+ years on the internet and its ancestor: there is nothing that can be said or presented that will stop people from feeding the troll. In the hundreds of groups I’ve been part of only the moderators can stop a troll and then only by banning them.

  5. @MarkedMan: Yup.

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    I don’t think it’s weird. There are many successful trolls. We just don’t call them that name because they’ve cleared the hurdle and they troll in more imaginative ways. It’s like talking about a construction worker whistling at a woman, or a garbage man in a pile of garbage saying hey baby. You miss, as they say, every shot you don’t take. And some people are okay with going 0-1000 every night.

    Also, it’s easy to troll earnest people and it’s easy to pretend you’re earnest while trolling earnest people.

  7. Gustopher says:

    If you are asked to leave a cocktail party in real life, do you sneak back in with Groucho glasses on and hope to fool the hosts that you are a new guest? That would be weird, right? Indeed, in real life that would be considered mentally unhinged, yes?

    What would Lucy Ricardo do? I can totally see the pure manic joy of slipping back in with an elaborate disguise, and building a character, and being in character all the time.

    (What happened to Tyrell? Did he just fade away and vanish?)

    I don’t understand the just change-the-name-and-show-up-again people. It’s lazy and boring. Why be Drew when you could be basically anyone else?

  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: I suspect part of the appeal is that we are reacting to his persona specifically. Even better than rattling the cage at the zoo and working the animals up into a frenzy is having the animals recognize you and work themselves into that frenzy the minute they catch sight of you. Not my thing by any stretch, but it seems to be his.

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: I suppose that it’s possible that age finally caught up with Tyrell and he didn’t have anybody to notify us as other in the past have. That type of disappearance will probably happen with me, too, except that no one will ask “I wonder what happened to cracker.”

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I wonder what happened to cracker?

    (just getting one into the books before it’s too late)

  11. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I refuse to believe Tyrell was old. He was so wonderfully fictitious, that I doubt there was a single true thing there.

    And with you, we’ll just ask Luddite. Unless you are also Luddite…

  12. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: But wouldn’t it be more amusing to be part of the crowd, and using that to gently steer people towards agreeing with insane ideas?

    Anyone can cut and paste links from zerohedge, but that just pulls everyone together in opposition. Where’s the fun in that?

    You have to use that united opposition to then get people to oppose something innocuous, challenge them on that and get them to double down with strained justifications until they favor creating a slave race of animal-human hybrids or something.

    Or fit in, find the divisions in the community, and then systematically apply pressure there to get the normies fighting among themselves.

  13. JohnSF says:


    But a lot of our regular posters also get pleasure from snide rejoinders, or careful and lengthy explanations against such obviously weak arguments.

    I can’t deny this applies to me.
    IMHO, some trolls can actually be useful for giving an occasion to construct a counter-argument.
    They may rarely engage with that in good faith, but it’s still a useful exercise from one’s own point of view.
    And it may be of interest to others, including non-commentating readers (if any).

  14. JohnSF says:
  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    The trolls free me to indulge my inner prick. Most of my online interactions are with fans, and I have to be, and want to be, pleasant with them. Most of the regulars here are smart people I have to attempt to be smart with them. But back when I was a restaurant reviewer I won fans by being a real son of a bitch. Someone like Drew comes along and I get to reach into my big bag of mean without feeling bad about it.

    It’s homoerotic S&M. ‘Whip me Michael, whip me hard!’ Well. . .if you insist.

  16. MarkedMan says:


    some trolls can actually be useful for giving an occasion to construct a counter-argument

    And I suspect that there is some pleasure in smacking the sh*t out of slow easy pitch dead center through the strike zone. (Sorry for the overly American allusion, I just got back from a ball game.)

  17. JohnSF says:

    Like a straight drive from a short pitched sitter?
    (England need a few more of them from New Zealand. Test cricket is the game!)
    Apologies for the Commonwealthism, been watching Test Match Special on the BBC. 🙂

  18. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    except that no one will ask “I wonder what happened to cracker”

    Nah, as long as you take an earlier exit ramp than mine, I’ll be on here, embellishing your obit with all the lurid details about (a) the disco era, (b) the single-malt scotch episode, (c) the days teaching at LCC, and (d) any extravagant lies I can come up with.


    Nah, he’s not Luddite, I’m Luddite! He’s older, taller, better educated and way better looking than me. We go back to the days when I was night-shifting at 7/11 and he was threatening customers at the produce warehouse with a loading hook.*

    *To be fair, that only happened once. Customer was annoying enough that Cracker offered to hang him in the reefer room by a loading hook. Strangely enough, that guy reached out to me 20+ years later looking for Cracker, wanting him to run a produce warehouse for him. I told him that Cracker had joined the French Foreign Legion.

  19. Jay L Gischer says:

    For a period of several years, rather than be tormented by telemarketers, I resolved to train myself by trying to see if I could convince a telemarketer to hang up the phone, rather than hanging up on them myself. I also had (still have) the personal rule of avoiding rudeness. To wit, I would not try and chase them off with abusive or foul language.

    I do not regret this. It was of great value to me. I sometimes employ similar tactics speaking with people who might be called trolls. Normally, I reserve it for someone who gives me some reason to think there’s a real person there, rather than a robot, or someone who is posting things as part of their job.

  20. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s homoerotic S&M. ‘Whip me Michael, whip me hard!’ Well. . .if you insist.

    Fvck you Michael. Just Fvck you. I can’t unsee that in my head.


  21. charon says:

    Aren’t we ignoring the most common point of trolling – derail a conversation thread off the primary topic into arguing some marginally relevant or non relevant side issue?

    Troll says something provocative about some minor incidental point someone made and off we go.

    It’s a form of motivated harassment, ruining a conversation.

  22. Ken_L says:

    Trolling is in the eye of the beholder, to some extent. I comment from time to time at Hot Air, an interesting site where most of the regular commenters only seem interested in levelling tired insults at two conservative posters who are also anti-Trump. I am frequently labelled a troll, because I contradict received wisdom in the Trump Cult. As far as I’m concerned, I’m simply pointing out errors of fact and logic in right-wing propaganda.

    The commenters I don’t understand are the ones who persuaded The Hill to close its comments section. They have migrated to Mediaite, with the result that posts which used to get hundreds of comments now get thousands. Thousands of comments like these:

    ThereAreStupidQuestions • 3 minutes ago
    Russia’s army are a bunch of sissy girly men

    Mike • 3 minutes ago


    Rootin’For’Putin • 3 minutes ago
    Jerkoff Joe Biden and Fake Dr. Jill are the most hated couple on Earth.

    sonicfilter • 3 minutes ago
    Tell them to open up the refineries they closed.

    Guess • 3 minutes ago

    Silence Do Good • 11 minutes ago
    Elons right. We are all fooked.

    ThereAreStupidQuestions • 11 minutes ago
    Poor Vlad is dying of cancer

    Rootin’For’Putin • 12 minutes ago
    Transgender is a mental illness.

    This isn’t “trolling”. I’m not sure there’s a word to describe it at all. It’s a torrent of mindless random gibberish spewing into cyberspace at such a rate that most of it will never even be read by anyone except the author. What satisfaction it gives the people doing it is baffling.

  23. Thomm says:

    @Ken_L: who says it is actual people? Could just be an automated system churning this stuff out.

  24. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Wait, you don’t like the visual of Michael in a bustier, thigh-high high-heeled boots, holding a riding crop?

    (My work here is done. You’re a beautiful audience.)

    Dr. T, thanks for a more light-hearted topic. Although I may occasionally miss HWMNBN’d, at least until he sneaks back in under the limbo bar, I do appreciate your (and our other hosts) willingness to herd this bunch of cats.

  25. EddieInCA says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:

    Wait, you don’t like the visual of Michael in a bustier, thigh-high high-heeled boots, holding a riding crop?

    We just call that “Wednesday night.”

  26. Flat Earth Luddite says:


    Oh I remember those days at the store. Ladies from the body painting studios, strippers from the bars down the street, a couple of locals, and the bikers, all looking for a pack of smokes and an after hours bottle of Mad Dog. Good times…

  27. Michael reynolds says:

    But Eddie, I so love the feel of silk on my skin and the heft of the whip handle in my hand.

  28. DK says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:

    Wait, you don’t like the visual of Michael in a bustier, thigh-high high-heeled boots, holding a riding crop?

    Not my proudest fap.

  29. Michael Reynolds says:
  30. grumpy realist says:

    It seems to me that there are trolls and then there are TROLLS. This runs the whole length from 12-year-old boys saying the equivalent of “you suck!” and giggling when they get someone to answer, to devil’s advocate types, taking the other side of the argument just for funsies–to those getting pay checks from propaganda groups in Russia deliberately trying to rile up the locals. (I don’t put our local troll in the latter category, by the way–his trolling is too ludicrous and his expressed views too gullible. So I guess there’s another category: troll vectors of useful idiots who have been mind-washed by their own reading of propaganda–who are doing the Russians’ work for them.)

    And then those who have fallen down a conspiracy rathole and are running around trying to “convince” others.