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[OT] We have a troll

From: Marshall Spight <>
Date: 25 Feb 2006 16:47:19 -0800
Message-ID: <>

Esteemed fellow c.d.t. members,

We have a troll.

[Background reading: ]

Last night I had nothing better to do and so spent some time searching for past activity from our newest member. The raw numbers are staggering:
this is someone who posts hundreds of messages a month, totaling tens of
thousands of posts on hundreds of newsgroups going back a decade. He has averaged over five posts a day for the last ten years. He most often appears in areas of maximum controversy: abortion, homosexuality, creationism. Whatever his motivation, it is clear that his full time occupation is trying to get a rise out of people on usenet. And as near as I can tell, he is justly and uniformly despised wherever he goes.

You can see his posting history here:

This particular search is also instructive.

Let's not judge just on the basis of the 120+ messages he's posted in the last three weeks on c.d.t. Let's see what other people have said about him in other diverse newsgroups over the course of years:

>From comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html, 1997:

  "You labor under the delusion that you are entitled to be taken   seriously while you parade your ignorance. This is a technical forum,   where published references and objective verification are the basis   for any rational discussion. Your manifest inability to deal with such
  terms of discourse is why you confuse disabusing with 'flaming'.   .... *plonk* "

>From, 2004:

  "I'm not sure any longer that Mark Johnson is a 'troll' in the usual   sense. I don't believe he can controll himself. His absolute inability to
  accept constructive criticism and monomaniacal need to 'agree to disagree'
  are traits I see from time to time in my practice."

>From, 2004:

  "Finally, Mark has ignored every single thread that I have initiated in
  which I seek to get his understanding of these things. He does this   because those are shorter threads (starting, of course, with a single   message) and it's not as easy to get lost within them--it's not as   easy to selectively remove context from the messages to which he   responds without getting caught because the shortness of the message   makes the previous message easier to find.

  "In the end, I find Mark Johnson to be dishonest and juvenile; but hope
  springs eternal.

>From, 2003:

  "I think the platform you are seizing here in cdma, is the platform of
  arguing for the argument's sake, and of talking to yourself in long,   untrimmed posts that lead nowhere. That's quite a hopeless position, and I
  don't understand why you're so eager to get that position. For the rest of
  us who will have to spend time skimming throught the crap, the bland   statements, the confused thoughts and the desinformation, it is not   constructive.

  "Many people here have 'dealt with it', as you call it, from polite hints to
  being frank and rude, but you won't listen. I see no hope for a change to
  the better, so"

  "- plonk - "

>From alt.religion.christian.roman-catholic, 2004:

  "A normal Mark Johnson dialog goes like this.

  <Tony> Mark, what is 2+2

  <Mark> Cucumber

  <Tony> But that makes no sense, Mark.

  <Mark> It would if you read what I wrote as I wrote it.

  <Tony> But Mark, I asked what 2+2 was. You answered Cucumber. A   vegetable has nothing to do with an arithmetic question.

  <Mark> "The mass as we knew it is dead. I didn't say that, one of your
  'reformers' said that!

  <Tony> Mark, what does the mass have to do with 2+2? Don't you know how
  to answer a simple question.

  <Mark> Don't project you 'Catholic' you.

And try to imagine the frame of mind someone must have been driven to to produce this:

Yes, it's the same person. These are all about the same person. There are actually those who claim that he operates under a variety of pseudonyms as well, but I did not try to establish that one way or the other. (Actually, the name he is using here may well be a pseudonym; the first and last names are both very common.)

Crowds of people before us have exhorted him to behave better, to respond to direct questions, to fix his punctuation and his writing style, not to clip others' posts to distort the meaning, etc. If he's been hearing the same message from others for a decade, it is unreasonable to believe anything we say or do will change his behavior.

What is his motivation? Does he really believe what he is saying? Does he really mean to advance creationism against the theory of evolution? Does he really believe in his doctrine of proper order as being able to overturn set theory? None of that matters.

So we have thousands of examples of his standard operating procedure. He enters a newsgroup. He advocates positions that are subtly flawed, or simply designed to agitate the locals. As he begins to receive complaints, he switches from discussing the original issue to rehashing what's already been said, sometimes misattributing positions. The occasional entirely innocent post is included, just to further render his exact nature unclear. Then, after working hard to wind people up, he criticizes them for getting wound up. He turns technical discussions into arguments to be won or lost, then criticizes others for arguing. At every turn, any difficulty the conversation has is subtly and skillfully blamed on others.

He thrives on long threads. Observe how, in this message, he revives a thread that has had no activity in over a year:

Why did he revive this thread? He clearly has no interest in discussing the actual thread topic, but he does now have an opportunity to quote old material. Notice how he shifts imperceptibly from the original issue to "asking" a wedge question about the difference between tables and a relations.

Notice how he fails to answer direct questions, even simple ones. Notice how he intentionally misunderstands the honest followup question.
Notice how he never addresses counterarguments, opting instead to repeat vague questions, or encourage others to stop projecting their own issues on to him.

Projection is the rhetorical weapon he is most skilled at, so it is a powerful tactic to preemptively accuse others of projection before they catch on. Here are over a hundred messages he's authored in which the word "projection" appears. Notice how deftly criticisms of him are turned back on the critic.

It is clear how he has become so good at projection, and so good at deflecting criticism. He has been practicing for ten years.

Some of you are still unsure whether he is a troll or not.

Listen. And understand. That troll is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until constructive conversation is dead.

Marshall Received on Sat Feb 25 2006 - 18:47:19 CST

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