Some excerpts from a May 14, 2007 column by Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing.net titled How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community.
Trolls can infect a small group, but they really shine in big forums. Discussion groups are like uranium: a little pile gives off a nice, warm glow, but if the pile gets bigger, it hits critical mass and starts a deadly meltdown. There are only three ways to prevent this: Make the pile smaller again, spread the rods apart, or twiddle them to keep the heat convecting through them.
The holy grail is to figure out how to twiddle the rods in just the right fashion so as to create a festive, rollicking, passionate discussion that keeps its discourse respectful, if not always friendly or amiable.
Then there's the psychological effect of trolling: For a certain kind of person (guilty as charged), flames are nearly impossible to let go of.
I am, by my nature, a scrapper. I come from a family of debaters, and my job for several years has been to win debates over copyright and digital freedom. I think that many technology designers are of a similar bent: Argumentative and boisterous, hard-pressed to back away from even a pointless fight. And it is these people who often end up designing our tool-suites for online communities. We view ourselves as locked in an arms-race with trolls who seek to overcome our defenses.
However -- and thankfully -- many community conveners are of a more amicable bent. Although they're not technically capable of writing their own message-board tools, they are socially qualified to wield them.
If you want to fight trolling, don't make up a bunch of a priori assumptions about what will or won't discourage trolls. Instead, seek out the troll whisperer and study their techniques.
Troll whisperers aren't necessarily very good at hacking tools, so there's always an opportunity for geek synergy in helping them to automate their hand-crafted techniques, giving them a software force-multiplier for their good sense. For example, Teresa invented a technique called disemvowelling -- removing the vowels from some or all of a fiery message-board post. The advantage of this is that it leaves the words intact, but requires that you read them very slowly -- so slowly that it takes the sting out of them. And, as Teresa recently explained to me, disemvowelling part of a post lets the rest of the community know what kind of sentiment is and is not socially acceptable.
But there aren't enough Teresas to go around: how do we keep all the other message-boards troll-free? Again, the secret is in observing the troll whisperer in the field, looking for techniques that can be encapsulated in tutorials and code. There is a wealth of troll whisperer lore that isn't pure intuition and good sense, techniques that can be turned into tools for the rest of us to use.
A friend who's active on the Wikipedia community once summed up her approach to life: "Don't let assholes rent space in your head." That is, don't let the jerks who crash your community turn it into a cesspool. It's easier said than done, though.Assisting the troll whisperers and learning from them recognizes that most of us want a civil discussion, and give us the tools to repel trolls. Instead of implying that we all lack civility, these techniques recognize our good will and help us solve the hard social problems of keeping the pathological personalities renting space in our heads.