How to deal with Internet Trolls


Picked up this link from LinkedIn this morning. Apparently there are people with nothing better to do than post defamatory views on the works of others. Known as ‘trolls’. Not the dark Scandinavian monsters of legend, hiding under bridges to waylay the unwary, nor cute hairy little dolls sold as souvenirs. No. These trolls are most often sad, twisted, and rather lonely individuals with a keyboard and no real friends ‘trolling’ as in fishing terms, web sites and forums for attention. Most likely they are powerless people on an ego trip.

The best way to deal with these people is not to engage. ‘Do not feed the trolls’ being the cardinal unwritten rule of most comment threads. Because that is what they want. ‘Feeding’ / engagement, attention. To snag your ID from your e-mail address reply so as to impersonate you. A better idea is to let them batter their worthless souls senseless by simply removing their abusive / insulting posts from your web site comment threads without mention. In short, send them to electronic oblivion. Deny them the vindication of existence. Damn their sayings with faint praise if need be, but preferably do not even acknowledge their existence, or the existence of their insults, ever. If necessary ‘down arrow’ their reviews or mark their ‘review’ as ‘unhelpful’. Trust me, there are all sorts of ways to deal with these stalkers rather than the hi-tech. Psychology will always be your friend.

For the technically minded there are other, but more intensive, answers. Go on a ‘troll hunt’ if you must, but only if there is no other recourse. I posted this advisory comment as a rough guide on how to proceed over at ‘TheBookChick’

May I offer a little advice. The Internet is not anonymous. It is relatively easy to track these abusive posters down via their IP address if you know how. Even if they do the normally cowardly troll trick of hiding behind what are called ‘Anonymous proxies’. There is always a trail of electronic breadcrumbs.

With their home IP address you can track the point of origin of the abusive poster. Using ‘Whois’ (Type into search bar and use one of the many free services), Find out their service provider / employer and lay formal complaint that their user / employee (Cite time of posting and IP address) is in breach of their terms of service for posting abusive and insulting material. Ask a lawyer if you need to go all formal on your antagonist. If that fails, with the evidence at your back, simply threaten to publicly post that such and such a service provider / organisation encourages abusive posting.

Remember, trolls are creatures of darkness, they hate the light.

Which is rather provocative, as there are as many ways to block as there are to discover, and an IP address is not a phone number, permanently linked to one subscriber. The Media Access Control number, if you can find it, is a unique identifier for each individual web accessing device. Oddly enough, this can be tracked relatively easily if your abuser is not ultra careful with their wireless device using public Wi-Fi. A simple web search will throw up all sorts of tricks and tools for this very purpose.

In short, everything anyone does on line can be recorded and tracked. Find the IP address, which is the number divided into two or three letter groups by full stops (It will be in the header information of their post), and go to somewhere like IP Tracker online. For advice on how to track down the anonymous abusers to their source from a cops standpoint, may I recommend this article as a good starting point. This article is also useful, with several handy pointers on where to look. Yes it means extra work, but if someone is hurting you, what recourse have you got? While not infallible, there are resources like ‘Real IP’ and ‘Visualware’ or ‘Visualroute’. Although for the non-technically minded, the above will be little real help.

Personally I prefer the ‘do not engage’ option with abusive attention seekers. My attitude towards them can be amply illustrated in this little known quote from Douglas Adam’s character Zaphod Beeblebrox; “Hey, I’ll just turn my charisma down a notch, they’ll soon get bored.” Think of it this way; if you weren’t heroic, they wouldn’t be trying to pull you down.

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Scam calls


About twice a week I get a phone call from an out of Canada number, and a heavily accented voice tells me they are calling “About your Windows Computer”. These calls annoy me because they are made by confidence tricksters, scam artists and liars who want to invade my writing time with their falsehoods.

At first I used to simply shut the call off with a snarled “Fuck off” but now I’m becoming more nuanced in my response.

One of my favourite tricks is to put the cordless handset back on its charging station and wander off to make a cup of tea, stare out at the weather, switch on the TV while the poor drone on the other end of the line witters on and on. I reason thus; if I can waste enough of their time, it will give the scam artists less time to find more gullible people, and thence I perform a valuable social service. Fewer people get conned because there are only so many hours in the phoning day. Unfortunately, the more savvy realise I’ve disappeared, and close the call to dial the next number, who may not be as cynical as myself.

My next line of response is more sophisticated, and relies on the ignorance of the phone drone making the scam call. “My Windows Computer? Oh, the thing I use for word processing?” Is my response. Let them witter on having placed the phone back on its cradle in hands free mode, and tell them I have an Imperial Safari word processor with manual keyboard and real time printer array. An old fashioned manual typewriter. Pre 1980. Having had one of the aforementioned back in the 1980’s, I’m qualified to do what my wife calls ‘going into full bullshit mode’ on this topic. You needed to hit the keys with some vigour to make an imprint of a carbon flimsy, but it was robust, and I must have rattled off over 100,000 words on it until it was passed on within the family, and I moved on to working with a word processor.

Regardless, next time one of these scammers calls, they might not be dazzled by my brilliance or lack thereof, but I’ll sure as hell baffle them with bullshit. I will waste their time and phone bill, which may be the only justice one can ever get when dealing with these bastards.

Highlight of this morning was getting namechecked by Wattsupwiththat.com for tipping them off about this story.

The art of creative cursing


Picked this up off a Groupon deal site. ‘Clean’ alternatives to swearing;

• Oh my biscuits!
• What in the hairdresser’s wet jar of tools is going on in here?!
• Sweet mother of hate!
• For the love of kisses, will you kids cut it out?!
• Holy soldiers of the underworld!
• Whoopsie poopsie!
• Stick it up your pneumatic tube!
• Gosh nosh it!
• Aw, Starbucks!
• Good sky-monster almighty!
• You can go to Florida, you disheartening grandfather!

My preferred options, which are mostly shorter and pithier (Although I’m shamelessly going to steal “Oh Starbucks”);

  • Ye Cats!
  • Kiss it!
  • Ihr va tha! (Made up Saxon / Old Norse style cuss)
  • Ach du lieber (German, short for “Oh dear God!”)
  • Ah, stuff!
  • What in the name of Burger King is going on round here?

Spurious reviews and sock puppetry


They say all is fair in love and war. and the same rules seem increasingly to apply to publishing your own work. It appears some people think posting spurious negative reviews, under a spurious identity on Amazon and similar with authors in the same genre will boost their own popularity. Now it seems that what was only suspected is real, and more widespread even than previously suspected.

Anyone who publishes online, or puts their written work in the public domain is subject to criticism. Some justified, some plain mischievous, and also we find, downright malicious and dishonest. Reviews where the critical voice cannot possibly have read enough of the work in question to critique it properly, yet posts a one star or less review. Then posts a five star review on their own work under another user ID.

Personally, I rarely take notice of critics. Their world view is not often one that I share, and something that might wow them can leave me utterly cold and unimpressed. Some say the Brontes were literary classics. Like many others who trawled through their prose at high school, I would disagree. Most of Dickens leaves me quite unimpressed, but hand me Donne, Shakespeare, Kipling, or Chaucer and it’s a case of “I’m just slinking off for a quiet read – back next week.” I also prefer science fiction and fantasy authors like Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle Hamilton, Bear, Harrison, Barnes, Butcher, and Pratchett. They have an ease of reading that lets me immerse myself in their fictional worlds, almost too deeply to come up for air. Although even in that hallowed list there are some pieces of work I’m not too fond of.

Overall I’ve always tended to look at critics as a negative force, and now much less than trustworthy because anyone can be a critic, even competing authors. Online honesty in criticism, it would seem, is now at a premium. Cheap at that price too, as cheap as at $5 a time for ‘raves’. Apparently there is a modest buck to be made by freelance writers playing this deceitful game.

Such dishonesty often hides under the poisoned umbrella of ‘online relationship management’. Yet the problems demise, while not yet in sight, might be looking at a form of online Armageddon in the not too distant future. Software tools are becoming available to track and detect such spurious sock puppetry, and the battle against false reviewers, trolls and similar online pests will soon turn.

For my own part I find myself mostly flying under the radar of the fake reviewers. My sales are nothing to write home about; but then I do not write for critics. I write for myself.

Readings, a study in frustration


One of the things I’m trying to put together is readings of my work to go up on Youtube, and embed back to this blog. I have a nice little camera with enough capacity to take decent quality video’s. I have a tripod, and a place to sit.

My problem is my household; despite repeated requests for some quiet to read aloud, I’m beset by a dog who whines and snuffles for attention every time I open my mouth and he’s not the focus of my every motion. My wife and stepdaughter have a habit of demanding my attention immediately, now, right this second, no matter what I’m doing, no matter where I am. With an unerring sense of bad timing, the doorbell rings with callers. The phone goes with some blasted autodialled nonsense trying to sell me stuff I don’t and will never want, or a call to my wife. It’s not so much the interruptions to what I see as vital market preparation activity. It’s the lack of privacy and personal space that grates.

Under these circumstances, any videoed readings tend to get interrupted, frequently. Short of hiring time at a professional studio, I don’t know what to do. Nevertheless; I shall persevere. One of us has got to give in, knuckle under, surrender, break, fracture, shatter, eventually. Who knows, in the words of the old folk tale; the Horse may learn to sing.

I have no mail


Google has arbitrarily suspended my primary e-mail account for ‘unusual activity’ and is demanding my cell phone number to re-activate. I do not wish to give them my cell phone number, or other personal details.

I find the best way to avoid ID theft on the Internet is not to make your personal details available in the first place. This includes Google. If asked, I’d be inclined to think that their own security is compromised, and they don’t know how to fix it.

In the meantime, all my e-mail is inaccessible. At present I’m inclined to describe Google in terms that are short, Anglo-saxon, and considered obscene in polite society.

Update: Still fuming, but have got my e-mail back online with a changed password. Now I need to reset my e-mail client. Which is annoying.

Dictionaries required


Many years ago I had an English Teacher, a very good English Teacher. One who drove into us the basics of grammar, syntax and dictionary definitions. When she was done (Thank you Mrs Foster) even the dimmest mind in our class grasped the basics. Nowadays, in these days when everyone has an email account the wanton display of outright ignorance astounds me.

Regrettably our means of written and verbal communication is being debased by letting the lowest common denominator do what giving money to people who couldn’t pay it back has done to the Western currencies. Heavy sigh. Even in mainstream news articles where people are paid to have a better than average grasp of English these mistakes / misprisions are legion. Perhaps sub literate has become the new standard for sub editors.

I don’t want to come across as some sort of pedant or ‘grammar nazi’ but really, what is so hard about getting the words right? Stuff I was taught about in primary school at the age of ten; simple differences between ‘there’ (location), ‘their’ (possession) or they’re (Contraction for ‘they are’) are the most commonly displayed. ‘Pour’ (to decant) and ‘pore’ (to scrutinise). It’s astonishing. How can people make such basic mistakes? Why do they not hide their faces in shame at their lack of care? Don’t even get me started about ‘lose’ (mislay) and ‘loose’ (let go). No wonder Lynne Truss had such success with Eats Shoots and Leaves.

An appeal to people’s better nature might be in order here. Words are innocent things, poor abused collations of letters and syllables. My plea is this; if you don’t know what it means, please pick up a dictionary and check. If you require, take the time to learn to read and write. Nothing major, just the basics. You’ll be a better person for the effort.

The English language has taken so long to reach this point. As a flexible tool for conveying complex ideas it has no real peer. English has a cultural heritage so rich you could base a currency upon it. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Orwell laid new foundations and enriched what they began with. Why can we not aspire to follow their example? What is this cultural love affair with a slope headed sub-Neanderthal world view that prizes novelty and ignorance above knowledge? To use a simile, taking that approach is like trying to run a marathon carrying a fifty pound backpack. It handicaps, not helps. Not learning simple rules reduces communication to mumbled grunting and a daily re run of the bone smashing scene from 2001. Aren’t we a bit more evolved nowadays?

Language is like any tool, a little care will reap benefits beyond measure. Failure to handle correctly may cause injury, and abuse simply blunt the cutting edge. /rantmode

Going fishing now.