It's a tough decision: how to handle anti-science global warming deniers who repeatedly leave lengthy comments on my blog posts, filled with untruths, deceptions, and flat out lies at odds with facts about how the Earth's climate is changing because of human carbon pollution.
I've tolerated this crap for a long time, but have decided to take a stand for truth (as contrasted with "truthiness," which is what global warming trolls specialize in.
In this context a troll isn't a mythical being, but someone set on disrupting courteous, respectful cyberspace discourse. They're a problem almost everywhere on the Internet. I've had to moderate comments on my two blogs to keep them under control.
Up until recently I've been accepting of global warming-related comments which aren't based in scientific reality. I'd correct the factual errors through a comment of my own. However, when someone keeps repeating lies, it gets tiresome to keep on spending time refuting them.
A few years ago DeSmog Blog put up a post about this troll problem.
George Monbiot has a great article this week citing DeSmog Blog, regarding the vexing issue of “trolls”. Not the kind that live under bridges, but those faceless cyberspace monikers that pop up frequently in comment sections of blogs likes this one, to repetitively froth away against climate science.
Are these real people? Or are they operatives in the employ of Big Oil? “Paul S”? “Phlogiston”? I’m talking to you.
It seems that Monbiot has same problem that we do. On the Guardian website, a small minority of anonymous“skeptics” often dominate the discussion by regurgitating talking points from well-known climate deniers. Sound familiar?
When Monbiot challenged his trolls to reveal their identity, or even confirm or deny whether they are posting from a PR office, he has never got a straight answer.
Monbiot's post is titled "Climate denial 'astroturfers' should stop hiding behind pseudonyms online." Absolutely. I heartily agree.
Opinion is opinion. Facts are facts.
If someone wants to spew anti-scientific crap that sounds like it's coming from a Big Oil-funded public relations firm, he or she needs to provide proof of a real identity. I don't mind someone leaving a comment on my blog saying "I like hip-hop more than rap." That's opinion. But if someone says "It's perfectly safe to play Russian roulette with a loaded revolver," that's a dangerous lie.
Anyone who says it's OK to ignore human-caused global warming isn't in touch with scientific reality.
Just as I wouldn't let my blog become a forum for promoting shooting oneself in the head with a revolver, neither do I want anonymous trolls to have free rein to leave their lying comments about global warming.
So I've decided to take the approach Monbiot persuasively argues for.
Two months ago I read some comments by a person using the moniker scunnered52, whose tone and content reminded me of material published by professional deniers. I called him out, asking "Is my suspicion correct? How about providing a verifiable identity to lay this concern to rest?" I repeated my challenge in another thread. He used distraction and avoidance in his replies, but would not answer or even address my question, which gave me the strong impression that my suspicion was correct.
So what should we do to prevent these threads from becoming the plaything of undisclosed corporate interests? My view is that everyone should be free to say whatever they want. I have never asked for a comment to be removed, nor will I do so. I believe that the threads should be unmoderated, except to protect the Guardian from Britain's ridiculous libel laws.
But I also believe that everyone who comments here should be accountable: in other words that the rest of us should be able to see who they are. By hiding behind pseudonyms, commenters here are exposed to no danger of damaging their reputations by spouting nonsense.
Our local newspaper, the Salem Statesman Journal, requires a Facebook account log-in to leave an online comment on a story. Increasingly, newspapers, blogs, and other web sites are moving away from unfettered commenting anonymity. Comments may be fewer, but they are of much higher quality when the real identity of commenters are known.
Unfortunately, my blog service (TypePad) doesn't have a way to require a Facebook log-in before leaving a comment.
So I've asked this blog's most avid anti-science global warming denier to send me a link to his Facebook page. I told him/her that I'd publish future comments if I confirmed a real identity which would be included with every comment.
As I suspected, no response. Just more blather about censorship and such. Hey, trolls: good luck with publishing your no reason to worry about global warming B.S. in a scientific journal under a pseudonym like asswipeXS.
Like I said, facts are facts. Opinions are opinions. If someone wants to leave lies on a comment to one of my posts about global warming, he or she needs to stand behind that comment by providing a real identity.
Then I, or anyone else, will at least know the source of the B.S. I have no problem with my name being associated with what I write about global warming. Neither does any reputable scientist. Only trolls hide in the dark of climate science anonymity.
I like the title of another Guardian article on the subject of trolls: An internet troll's opinion should carry no more weight than graffiti. Nicely put.