March 9, 2019

Christian Trolls on Atheist Blogs

do not feed the trolls

I wrote an early version of this post back in 2007. Some recent experiences with Christian trolls led me to dust it off and revise it for 2019.

The presence of Christian trolls here at Atheist Revolution has fluctuated quite a bit over the years. It seems like a few months may pass without any real problems and then several will suddenly show up. It is sometimes possible to identify where they are coming from. The last few examples came from a conservative blog, for example.

I feel bad about this last round because I ignored them for too long even after being warned and receiving more than a few complaints about them. I figured they'd go away when nobody paid any attention to them. But as often seems to be the case, this was too much to ask. Some people are either slow to recognize that they are being trolled or opt to disregard the part of my comment policy that asks visitors not to feed the trolls. Anyway, I should have taken action sooner than I did, and that's my fault.

Identifying Trolls

There are many effective ways to identify a troll, but one of my favorites is simply by observing the number of comments they leave. When the number of comments on a particular post is more than 10 times greater than typical and most of the comments are being left by the same person, chances are good that one has a troll. In the most recent episode, the troll even brought an entourage with him. There were a couple who agreed with everything he said and voted up all of his comments and a few who seemed to be here primarily to troll the troll. As it turns out, the troll in question is an extremely prolific troll with quite a reputation. A few minutes of investigation revealed that he's been doing this sort of thing for several years at many blogs.

Another clear giveaway that one has a troll is that the comments left on a post are not relevant to the content of the post. This was the case here, and it has been the case with most trolls. Some might initially start out responding to the post, but almost all quickly end up focusing on arguing with anybody that responds to them. Back in 2007, I ended up with over 160 comments on one post, 75% of which had nothing to do with the post and were mostly irrational arguments from Christian trolls directed at regular readers.

I suppose my favorite form of Christian trolling would probably have to be the proselytizing, especially when it is accompanied by threats of hell. We have had quite a bit of this over the years, but it is not nearly as common as it used to be. In the early days of this blog when atheism was probably still fairly new to some of these Christians, comments filled with irrelevant bible quotes or nonsensical Christianspeak were common. Most of this had little to do with the posts, and it often made me wonder whether these Christians really thought it would be effective at converting atheists.

I tried to explain that most atheists experience Christianspeak as gibberish. It makes those who use it look stupid and accomplishes nothing. I noted that it tends to be accompanied by a poor grasp of logic and reason. For example, some of these Christians appear to be unaware that finding what they 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, evidence supporting these explanations is needed. Given that most educated Christians abandoned these "god of the gaps" claims long ago, this too makes one look stupid.

Inaction Is Not a Good Choice

I know that some atheist bloggers have adopted strict anti-moderation stances where they say that they'll never delete comments, close comment threats, or ban trolls. I have learned that this is a mistake (at least when it comes to what I am trying to do here). When I refuse to act, readers complain. And when I visit other blogs where this trolls are never reigned in, I am far less likely to comment or even return. And so, I can't blame people for complaining about the trolls.

In the 2007 version of this post, I shared that I had recently had an opportunity for some experiential learning that caused me to shift some of my views about the value of an unmoderated online forum. I had been regularly participating in an online forum. The moderators abandoned it, and it quickly deteriorated into little more than name-calling. Most of the reasonable people left in disgust and I soon did the same. There was no longer any point in sticking around.

Finding Solutions

When it becomes clear that one has a troll problem, what should one do about it? Answers to this question are bound to vary depending on what sort of atmosphere one is trying to create, but here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Periodically remind readers not to feed the trolls. When we ignore them, they rarely stick around.
  2. Delete clearly off-topic comments from trolls, especially those obviously designed to bait others or derail the conversation.
  3. Temporarily disable comments on a post when things are getting out of hand. Something like a 24-hour cooling-off period can help considerably.
  4. Use comment moderation for the milder trolls who sometimes make valuable contributions. When they stay on-topic and refrain from name-calling, you can let their comments through.
  5. Ban the serious and persistent trolls.

I have been slow to take action for many reasons, one of which is that I often find Christian trolls to be quite fascinating with respect to what they reveal about the Christian. But for all the reasons noted above, I recognize that doing nothing is not a good option. And so, I'll try to be better about this sort of thing in the future.

I appreciate my regular readers, and I understand that some of them really seem to enjoy arguing with trolls. I have no issue with those who want to respond and provide some reality-based rebuttals to various Christian nonsense. There may even be times when I do the same. All I ask is that you let it go once it becomes obvious that you are engaging with a troll who has no intention of being influenced by anything you say. Hopefully that will lead them to move on.