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Slashdot trolling phenomena

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Slashdot trolling phenomena make up a large subset of the bizarre and complex subculture found on the popular technology website Slashdot. They are a mixture of juvenilia, sarcasm, deliberately bad jokes, tasteless nonsense and highly developed and artistic attempts to provoke outraged responses from other forum users, or amuse them. Slashdot trolling is a subset and a microcosm of Internet trolling in general. Some of these behaviours are usually considered to be more offensive or insightful than others. On Slashdot, many of these phenomena have become the object of parody.

Slashdot trolls can generally be divided into four categories: disruptive, offensive, deceptive, and idiosyncratic. Disruptive trolls are those which intend to disrupt the normal flow of things on Slashdot, either by decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio or by causing the pages to render incorrectly. Offensive trolls exist for the sole purpose of offending as many people as possible. The purpose of deceptive trolls is to trick people into either following a link or reading a comment which seems legitimate but is actually a troll. Idiosyncratic trolls are those which are specific to Slashdot and have elements of Slashdot culture and history in them creating, in effect, an inside joke.

Some of the Slashdot trolling phenomena originated on Segfault, whose shutdown of commenting forced trolls to a new host.

Contents

Disruptive trolls

The purpose of disruptive trolls is to cause the pages of Slashdot to display in an undesirable way or to otherwise bring attention to themselves. The two major categories of disruptive trolls are crapflooding and page-widening.

Crapflooding

Crapflooding is the posting of many nonsensical or gratuitously offensive messages in order to disrupt the normal functioning of Slashdot and annoy its users and editors.

Later versions of Slash, the software behind the Slashdot website, had an updated lameness filter to prevent posting of the same message more than once. However, crapflooders began avoiding this restriction by varying the content of the message after each post. Crapfloods can be performed manually with a dedicated user repeatedly clicking through the posting options each time, or automated by a piece of software. Automated crapfloods are -- not surprisingly -- larger, more effective and more frequent. The subject of crapflooded messages varies. Some examples include:

  • Offtopic Messages
  • Pornographic/Homoerotic sex scenes with the names replaced with those of the slashdot editors or open source celebrities.
  • Incoherent nonsense that contains the correct letter frequencies so the lameness filter recognises it as vaguely English.
  • Offensive Base64 encoded images or text.

Warning, potentially offensive external links:

Page widening/lengthening

The original page widening posts were simple messages consisting of one long stream of characters with no spaces. This caused browsers to render a very wide page with horizontal scroll bars, making it nearly impossible to read the comments page. Slashdot began inserting spaces into any long run of characters to prevent this and so began the evolutionary battle between Slashcode and the page widening trolls. Newer and more inventive ways of causing page widening were discovered, with the use of blockquote tags and the "." character to cause extreme widening on Internet Explorer. These methods were also eventually closed off by the Slashdot editors. Improvements in browser software have also closed many of the loopholes used to widen pages.

Examples of pagewidening include:

Offensive trolls

Trolls in this category are those intended to be offensive, or those which take the reader to potentially offensive sites. A popular technique amongst Slashdot trolls is to post links to "shock sites" in order to annoy and offend other readers by tricking them into following the links. This is often accomplished by posting the link under the guise of being another link to the article or a rebuttal to the article.

A variation on this theme is for a troll to accuse a legitimate link or comment as being a link or reference to a shock site. In some cases this can have the desired effect of a genuinely insightful comment being moderated downward. Another technique is to embed a shock site link in a comment that otherwise appears relevant to the discussion, in the hope that unwitting moderators will mod up the post. The Holy Grail of any link troll is to slip a story submission containing a "shock site" link past the Slashdot editors. This situation occurred in July 2003 and June 2004 when disgruntled webmasters configured their servers to redirect to a shock site when the HTTP referrer was Slashdot.

One particular "shock site" which is overwhelmingly preferred to others is Goatse.cx. This has spawned a large number of other references such as ASCII art of its signature image (hello.jpg) within a square border, and with a derogatory word written inside the anus of the man in the picture. Troll postings often contain an ASCII art representation of some offensive image, often related to shock sites, with a nonsensical or provocative subject line. The 'Penis bird' troll, a crude ASCII representation of a bird perched on an erect penis, is a common variant, derived from the Penisbird image.

As a result of these trolling techniques, the Slashdot team introduced a feature which appends the domain name a link points to immediately behind that link in every comment to make disguising links more difficult. (e.g. "See Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]") When this was implemented, people used mirrors and CGI redirection scripts run by Yahoo!, Slashdot itself or other servers to circumvent this measure.

Examples of shock sites include (More can be found at List of shock sites):

WARNING: Some of these sites contains Extremely explicit and offensive pictures!

Homosexuality and racism

Homosexuality is one of the most versatile and popular trolling devices used. In its simplest form it may be used on its own in the form of a homophobic insult or as a feature of a pornographic troll featuring common Slashdot topics and celebrities. Goatse.cx (see above "shock site" section) also takes advantage of homophobia. Racism is another ploy, sometimes used for effect in conjunction with homosexuality which usually causes offense to individuals unfamiliar with it. At its crudest it simply takes the form of repeated racial insults. The Gay Nigger Association of America (GNAA) is an internet trolling organization commonly seen in Slashdot threads that uses this type of trolling device.

Anti-semitism

Anti-semitism, and Nazism in particular, is now considered highly offensive across the modern world, a fact exploited by some Slashdot trolls intent on causing maximum offense to the reader. The most basic anti-semitic trolls usually involve posting pro-Nazi statements such as "Heil Hitler", sometimes accompanied by a crude ASCII-art swastika, and are usually very promptly moderated down as Flamebait.

Less blatant trolls might involve anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, in the spirit of such conspiracy theories rampant during the late 19th and early 20th century. For example, the GNAA's lol jews did wtc.

In a somewhat related vein, trolls often inhabit science or technology stories concerning Israel, dropping into the discussion otherwise completely unrelated posts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the nature and sensitivity of this subject, these comments are usually successful in their aim of igniting a flame war.

Nationalistic insults

One recurrent topic of discussion on Slashdot is the cultural quarrel between the United States and Europe. As an example, someone portraying themself as an American may run a joke on France, or may accuse Europeans of being "weenies" or not supporting democracy and civil rights. Someone portraying themself as a European may accuse Americans of lacking culture, or of being warmongers or "cowboys".

A similar subtopic includes banter about the differences between the United States and Canada. Usually an article about some perceived problem in the U.S. will elicit a claim of superiority from someone portraying themselves as Canadian. Often, to fan the flames, the American rebuttal will degenerate into Blame Canada.

The effect of such trolls is compounded by the immaturity and lack of political culture of many participants on both sides, who comment on foreign events they scarcely know about according to clichés seen in the mass media.

Deceptive trolls

Often, trolls are created with the purpose of tricking the reader into viewing offensive or misleading information, or to deceive them in some way.

Karma whores

Karma is a scoring system on Slashdot meant to reward "good" posting and punish "bad" posting. The goal is that people who repeatedly post offensive, offtopic, or otherwise unwanted messages will be punished with a lower visibility of their messages, and those who post informative, insightful, or otherwise desirable messages are rewarded with a higher visibility. Karma whores are individuals, or messages themselves, that attempt to receive feedback in the form of karma points. Often these will be needless information (such as a link to a Wikipedia article relevant to the subject being discussed), or a message of a political nature that is in alignment with the groupthink so that it will be moderated upwards by people who agree with the stance expressed in the message.

Comment plagiarism

Although comment plagiarism is an underappreciated trolling technique, this form of trolling can still waste many karma points. The troll will search for a highly moderated post a few pages down from the beginning of the discussion, reword it slightly, and re-post it as a reply to an earlier comment. This troll relies on the readers' ignorance to game the moderation system. These posts usually receive a lot of positive feedback in the beginning, and draw negative attention once the added visibility exposes the plagiarism. Normal discussions can crop up, from benign responses to the ripped-off comments. These replies create a multiplier to the overall karma waste, as moderators compete to raise and lower the visibility of the comments (insightful replies receive positive feedback, though responses to trolls are typically moderated downward, to sink an entire tainted thread below the normal visible threshold)

Article text alteration trolls

Considered by many to be an effective satire of those who post comments consisting of a linked article's text (most often in case of the Slashdot effect) for positive moderation (see Karma whores), these are arguably some of the most creative and entertaining found on Slashdot. These trolls consist of the linked article's text, copied into a comment, usually accompanied by a subject line indicating that the site has been slashdotted. One or more words, phrases, or paragraphs are covertly inserted or modified to form a subversive or offensive message not present in the original article. These can be in the form of film or book spoilers, or words changed to produce sexual innuendoes, amongst other things. Often moderators will 'mod-up' the comment based solely on its title and the overall appearance of the text, assuming that the comment is helpfully providing the verbatim text of the unavailable site. Comments that have been repeatedly modded-up become more visible and carry an air of validity. Troll comments that fool more moderators therefore trick more readers.

When other users spot the troll, many of them respond with comments warning other users of the deception and asking moderators to decrease the troll's visibility. The most concise posts are empty with the emphatic subject line: "TROLL - MOD PARENT DOWN". Other users go further by pointing out each instance where the troll post differs from the original article. This phenomenon has trolls of its own, wherein a response will describe extra changes that are not present in the original troll post. This "troll-on-troll" phenomenon further increases confusion. Still more confusion is introduced when trolls respond to "Mod Parent Down" comments with rebuttals claiming that the original troll was a legitimate copy of the article, and that it is instead the accusers who are the trolls. Depending on the subtlety and believability of the changes, readers may remain confused until the site with the original article becomes available again. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the Slashdot effect, the original article may not become available again until most readers have lost interest and moved on.

"Mod Parent Down" posts are also sometimes seen as comments on legitimate posts, presumably as an attempt to disrupt the thread.

Examples of text alteration trolls are here. These are external links, and some of the pages contain offensive language: An example of the kind of post that ATTs are satirizing, "gradual as michael easing himself into taco's backside", "and Intel has not completed ...", "an operator took my contact info and said I would get ..."

Web vendor referral trolls

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and some other WWW vendors have a system whereby a user can post links on their (or others) websites, and gain a small commission per person following the link. These trolls post what appear to be discussion, with links to source material, but are really elaborate advertisements. For example: this post.

Signature trolls

Signature trolls are an advanced and effective method of trolling, commonly used in reviews of software. The troll posts an insightful comment, which is moderated up based on its merit. The troll then changes his post signature to include an extra link, usually to a shock site. Comments on Slashdot cannot be edited after posting, but the user's signature text is updated within the comment whenever the user changes it. When the troll changes his signature, the malicious link becomes part of the highly-moderated comment. With careful wording, the signature can seamlessly blend in with the post and trick many readers. Slashdot has an option to put a signature separator consisting of --, but this was not the default until late 2004. Slashdot also has the option to disable the showing of signatures altogether.

The dynamic signature can cause even more confusion, when the troll changes his signature back to make his accusers appear false. As the accusatory comments receive negative moderation for appearing false, the accusers lose points from their karma score, resulting in another victory for the troll. An example of a signature troll is: this.

Movie spoiler

This is a more subtle troll than most. It consists, for the most part, of a genuinely insightful comment split into several paragraphs, with the middle or penultimate paragraph containing one or more movie spoilers.

300 Dead in Sri Lanka Tsunami

Another red herring similar to the Stephen King is dead troll, this often consists of an announcement that a tsunami has killed over 300 people in Sri Lanka, with a link to an old or unrelated news item. In some cases, the troll chides the community for caring about trivial tech issues over the welfare of tsunami victims in other parts of the world. A successful Sri Lanka tsunami troll will either drive participants to news sites searching for more information, or attract responses from members eager to show witty nonchalance, usually via nationalistic insults. Example troll on Slashdot.

Idiosyncratic trolls

Trolls that don't fall into the other three categories are idiosyncratic, and their existence is a result of an inside joke related to the workings of Slashdot culture or history or of geek culture itself.

First post

Whenever a new story is posted on Slashdot, comments may be added discussing it and there is often competition between Slashdotters to be the first to post such a comment. Some first posters try to make a short insightful comment to avoid being moderated down. The more immature first posts often consist of a subject saying "first post!" or merely "FP" and have no body. Trolls may also post "first post" messages a ridiculously long time after the original story has been submitted as a parody of the first post. There are many other variants of the first post, usually misspellings to avoid the lameness filter: "Frist psot!". Some troll organizations require prospective members to post a 'First Post' on Slashdot using some pre-specified text, which may explain the persistence of the 'First Post' troll.

Due to the many typos and misspellings made by those attempting to gain such a 'first post', the language has been somewhat transformed. Many 'first post' attempts now say such things as "Frosty Piss", coming from the phrase "frist pist", a common typo when trying to spell out "First Post" in time to actually get one, or in attempt to avoid the lameness filter.

Netcraft confirms it

Quite frequently (especially for BSD-related stories) a comment will be posted providing dubious statistics from Netcraft (a network services vendor and internet research firm) and many links detailing the forthcoming death of the BSD operating systems. With its bogus statistics and inflammatory language the original "*BSD is dying" troll was enormously successful, and was still guaranteed to generate responses years after it first appeared. The troll typically starts with the phrase, "Netcraft confirms <victim> is dying", modelled after similar but authentic confirmations revealed by Netcraft in their research. Not surprisingly, many variants of this troll were created: Slashdot/VA Linux/Linux/BeOS/Apple (see examples below) is dying, variants on the original link-laden *BSD troll, and even elaborate poetry and song. None were as successful as the original.

HELLO WORLD

A recent troll first appearing on Slashdot in April of 2005. The "HELLO WORLD" troll posts what appears to be one-time pad encrypted messages in the style of a numbers station. Originally posted under the username "TheLoneCoder", they now are posted anonymously. It's unknown whether or not it is the same person posting all the messages or copy-cats. The troll also appeared on UserFriendly under the username "OUTGOING" but was immediately banned and the posts removed.

Examples: [1] [2] [3] [4]

Stephen King is dead

Used simply as an off-topic troll or even a red herring, the American writer, Stephen King, has his very own subculture repeating the myth of his death:

The canonical text of the troll is as follows:

Subject: Netcraft Confirms it ... Stephen King, dead at 54
I just heard some sad news on talk radio - Horror/Sci Fi writer Stephen King was found dead in his Maine home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to popular culture. Truly an American icon.

This joke has also been used to recognize actual celebrity deaths. The format has also been used outside of Slashdot, usually on other message boards, to announce or memorialize actual deaths.

First Obituary

A variation of the “First Post” and “Stephen King” troll. When a famous celebrity or politician’s death reaches the headlines there is often an attempt to make that headline part of the first post.

Hot grits/Natalie Portman

Early in Slashdot's history, an anonymous troll (aka the "hot grits guy") would post a reply to every story with a simple "I have poured hot grits down my pants. Thank you." He mostly got modded down as a troll. The hot grits guy is considered the first recurring troll on Slashdot.

Natalie Portman is a popular target for this troll. When referring to her, they frequently profess their endless love for a "naked and petrified" statue of the actress, preferably covered in hot grits. Other incarnations suggest that Natalie Portman pour hot grits into the trolls' underwear, and vice versa.

Reigniting flamewars

Popular on software and development articles, this troll tries to explain why a particular operating system, programming language or other concept is inferior to others, in a way intended to annoy and/or start a flamewar. This type of troll will either make an outlandish and obvious claim or subtly use a valid criticism of something in an irritating fashion.

For example:

These types of post, usually moderated down as flamebait (but often moderated up as Insightful), sometimes cause a flamewar to begin amongst those who reply and thus the troll gets his 'bite' (See You Have Been Trolled et al.).

Minor trolls

The following are either set phrases or formulae for the construction of semicliché phrases posted with the intent of either annoying or amusing other readers. More and more commonly, it is a combination of the two.

  • The Get Some PRIORITIES! troll began to appear after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks. A classic offtopic troll, it employs highly hyperbolic language to criticize the other posters and Slashdot in general for discussing trivialities like new gadgets or changes in U.S. copyright law in the wake of such a horrific event. (See this post for an example). It briefly resurfaced in September 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • The Think about your breathing troll causes the user to think about their breathing, and it claims to be the most effective troll ever.
  • The Think about your parents having hot sweaty sex next time you masturbate troll intends to implant offensive images in the mind of the reader the next time he or she masturbates.
  • The Is it good or is it whack? troll: This troll responds to a comment by asking of the comment's subject, "What's [subject] all about? Is it good or is it whack?". In general, this troll aims to suggest wide-eyed naïveté about a well-understood subject. (See this post for an example). This phrase comes from the popular comic character in the UK and the US, Ali G.
  • The I Fail It! / I succeed it! trolls originally came from the computer game Blazing Star in which the game over message read: "You fail it! Your skill is not enough, see you next time, bye-bye".
  • The My freelance gig in front of a Mac trolls appear in virtually every discussion about Apple Computer. The troll claims to have witnessed <the latest Apple hardware> taking 20 minutes to copy a 17 MB file from one folder to another and proceeds to question all Apple users as to their platform choice. It is a straight forward copy-and-paste from a weblog entry by Jason Kottke. It has also led to some very inspired and amusing parodies.
  • The I find your ideas intriguing / interesting and wish to subscribe to your newsletter / journal troll is a common sycophantic reply to a post that may or may not have merit. (See this post for an example.) (This is a quote from an episode of The Simpsons.)
  • The Stalkers are trolls who fixate on a user and reply to all their posts anonymously usually repeating some sort of an insult.
  • Subject line trolls primarily consist of an inflammatory subject line and nothing else, but some have been seen where the comment is valid, but the subject consists simply of GOATSE repeated to the maximum length.
  • Chinese Torture of Tibetan Nuns appears occasionally as a reply to a topic with a fairly inane segue to wrench the topic over to the torture of Tibetan nuns by Chinese soldiers. The posting always includes a link to Physicians for Human Rights and their papers on torture of the Tibetan people. The lurid image of a Tibetan nun being raped with a cattle prod is sometimes invoked.
  • We Tried Working With... is a cut and paste troll made infamous by anti-slash.org. The troll starts out by telling a story of an employer who evaluates <insert new item here> based on an employee recommendation. The troll then goes into how great <insert new item here> is, but then goes into how the new thing destroyed their company project - which leads to the dismissal of the employee who suggested the evaluation.
  • How do I get Quake 3 to run in Linux? is a recent cut and paste troll. It appears to be a genuine and current, if anonymous, comment about how difficult it is to install software on a Linux system but actually describes the difficulty users experienced circa 1999. It appears to be an attempt to slander Linux and thus usually gets a knee-jerk, if accurate, response from other users about how things are better now. It is likely also a sly dig at the lack of computer games on the Linux platform, as said poster is actively concerned with installing a game so old. It is now being spotted and commented upon as a troll.

See also

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