April 22, 2007

Christian Trolls on Atheist Blogs

"Do not feed the Trolls" sign. Photo...
"Do not feed the Trolls" sign. Photographed in South-Africa, Troll-Park near Pretoria :-) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Regular readers have noticed a growing problem with Christian trolls here at Atheist Revolution. I know that they've noticed because I've received some complaints. Since I want to encourage visits by Christians, including relevant comments, I have been reluctant to take action to better control the trolls. However, four things are now motivating me to look for solutions.

First, a recent post has generated 160 comments and counting. I realize that this is nothing for many blogs, but it is more than twice what I've had before. As tempting as it would have been to conclude that my post must have touched a nerve, it turns out that something like 75% if the comments had little to do with my post and were instead irrational arguments from Christian trolls and well-intentioned rebuttals from regular readers. When only a handful of the 160 comments addressed my post, the problem is hard to ignore.

Second, I have noticed that the comments of some of my more persistent Christian trolls are shifting in an unpleasant direction. Irrelevant bible quotes are becoming more common, as are a host of nonsensical Christianspeak phrases (e.g., "god is love," "Jesus died for your sins," etc.). I don't mind bible quotes, but I think that they should be relevant to the discussion (and hopefully to the post itself). As for the increase in Christianspeak, most atheists experience this as gibberish. It makes you look stupid and accomplishes nothing. More disturbing is the poor grasp of logic and reason, the rules of argument if you will. As one especially common example, finding what you perceive as a hole in a particular scientific explanation or body of knowledge does nothing to strengthen alternative explanations (e.g., goddidit). To strengthen alternative explanations, you need evidence supporting them. Given that most educated Christians abandoned these "god of the gaps" claims long ago, this too makes you look stupid.

Third, related to the above but certainly not limited to it, I have started to receive some complaints from my regular readers. These range from specific requests to ban certain trolls to subtle expressions of frustration over how relevant comments are getting lost amidst off-topic argument. I learn too much from - and am too often inspired by - my regular readers to continue jeopardizing their patience. When others start blogging about my trolls, you know things have gone too far!

Finally, I recently had an opportunity for some experiential learning that caused me to question one of my previously held beliefs about the value of the open forum. You see, it is safe to say that my primary objection to doing anything about trolls has always been rooted in my belief that an open forum was the best way to foster meaningful dialogue. My experience occurred in an online forum in which I participate. The short version is that the moderators have basically abandoned the forum and that it has deteriorated into little more than name-calling. Most of the serious folks have left in disgust (I will soon do the same), leaving an army of asshats to run wild. So maybe my belief in the open forum ideal was a bit naive.

Now that I have come to agree that there is a problem, what are the solutions?

  1. Clearly off-topic comments from trolls will be deleted, especially those transparently designed to bait others or filled with Christianspeak.
  2. If readers will ignore the type of comment described above, I suspect that their frequency will decrease. This will also make it easier for me to delete these comments without disrupting the thread. That is, don't feed the trolls.
  3. If you are finding yourself posting more than 10 comments in the same thread within a 24-hour period, please take it down a notch.
  4. Trolls who repeatedly post irrelevant comments, bait others, rely on Christianspeak, or regularly violate the rules of argument will be banned.
I do not take the decision to delete a comment or ban a commenter lightly. I would prefer not to do this at all, for I believe that even the most despicable sort of Christian troll can yield valuable insight into the fascinating mind of a Christian. However, for the reasons addressed here, inaction is no longer an option.

In closing, I'd like to extend a word of thanks to my regular readers. You've been great at providing a reality-based rebuttal of much of the Christian nonsense that occurs in the comments. Since I cannot visit this blog from work, I'm rarely able to address these comments until later. I really appreciate your willingness to come in and set the record straight when necessary. Keep it up.