The final solution for persistant trolls?
September 21, 2003
So what do you do when nothing else has worked and you're left with a board that is at the mercy of a persistent troublemaker? There aren't very many options. Firstly there's taking the situation to the ISP or workplace of the person concerned. But if they're that persistent, then it's not unlikely to think that they'll just take such a move as an escalation of hostilities. Contacting the police might be appropriate if you think you've got enough of a case to push for harrassment or something similar - but again, it's more than likely that it would just be read as an escalation of hostilities - and that's likely to make everything more serious and difficult to deal with in the long-term. At the other extreme, you have the option of just learning to live with them, but that comes with a range of costs - the most significant of which is that your authority (and those of the system you've built and the people who occupy it) has been openly challenged and you have failed to resolve the situation. This will encourage other trouble-makers either within the population of the board itself or real-life friends of the 'conquering troll' to come and populate your community. Backing down, fundamentally, is only an option if you were wrong in the first place. Under those circumstances you should confess pretty much immediately. This is embarrassing, but not normally catastrophic. Backing down when you're right because you can't enforce your decision - however - is.
One extreme - and totally uncommercial - solution is to build upon the social networks of individual culpability and responsibility that already exist within your community. For example - by making it impossible for the unregistered user to see what's being posted, you limit their ability to check up on what people are saying about them. By making it impossible to register without having been directly invited, you not only get the benefits of a web of trust-style selection process for new members, but you also have someone responsible for bringing the new member into the midst of the community. That person can be held accountable if they invite someone particularly troubling inside. Unfortunately this has a number of problematic elements - firstly it's commercial suicide if you're running the board as part of a business (unless you are getting people to pay for your messageboard on the basis of who is on it), secondly it will increase the cliquey aspect of all online communities and finally it will mean that the content produced by your community's members can't easily be used as a resource for anyone other than the community members itself. Nonetheless, in many circumstances it can be the only practical way to move forward...