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.
Just a quick note, I love this part of your blog: "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." Heeheeheehee, omgosh, I can't stop laughing, thank you!!!
Posted by: Laura Griffiths | April 09, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Brian - you may have arrived at the end of your tolerance as concerns global warming deniers, but the planet has not arrived at that destination - yet. Perhaps you are equating disregard with denial?
More and more disasters attributable to weather patterns are going to occur. Eventually, given enough time, it will be impossible for large segments of the human population to survive, and those who do survive will be quite busy not enjoying themselves.
I am not a denier. I just don't care.
Posted by: Willie R | April 10, 2012 at 05:15 AM
I support your efforts, Brian, to make trolls more accountable. Unfortunately, Facebook authentication is not an identity panacea. Anyone can create a fake Facebook account associated with a real email address, even if it violates their terms of service.
As a progressive and critical thinker, I understand your tolerance for opposing views. Remember, though, that these trolls come from a perspective that doesn't care about integrity, only about pushing an agenda. They have no place in an thought-provoking forum since thinking is not their objective (especially when it's evident from their comments that they intend no contribution to the discussion and instead a highjacking of it with disinformation).
You shouldn't feel that you are violating your own terms by blocking clear attempts to subvert your message and a healthy discussion. Consider them viruses that needed to be filtered with a intelligent operator. As yet, those can't be automated.
Posted by: JackL | April 10, 2012 at 08:35 AM
Got here via a friend's facebook link. It's not clear what you're planning to do other than continue to ask them to ID themselves. Perhaps you could have a three-strikes-you're-out approach. Ask them for real ID 3 times, and if they don't reply, block them from commenting. If you would be willing to use a Facebook link, but can't, this might be a good alternative.
Posted by: Jodi | April 10, 2012 at 08:38 AM
Willie... I recognize the difference between disregard and denial. Disregard can be defended philosophically, though personally I disagree with that attitude. Disregarding cancer in one's own body, or letting go and dying -- that's an individual choice. Disregarding the health of the entire planet -- that's a choice which has massive collective consequences for both present and future generations.
JackL... thanks for the thoughtful thoughts. Yes, liberals/progressives like me tend to go overboard being open, accepting, and tolerant of jerks, whether in cyberspace or physical space. If someone is disruptive and deceptive, they shouldn't be tolerated.
If I'm sitting at a table in a coffeehouse and someone came up with a mask on and started ranting loudly about something, breaking into a quiet conversation, I'd tell the jerk to go away. But on the Internet, anonymous commenters with a cyber-mask on get away with such rudeness. I've steadily lost patience with this, which is why I've gone to comment moderation. Asking for a Facebook identity in certain instances is another step in that direction.
Jodi... I have indeed stopped publishing the anti-science guy's comments until he reveals his real life identity. Facebook isn't ideal, but along with a Facebook log-in I'd want to use some other ways to make sure that I know who is leaving Big Oil-friendly global warming-denying comments.
I suspect this guy will continue to hide in the dark and shift to some other anonymous accepting blog/web site, repeating his untruths there. Someone who is scared of the truth fears openness, accountability, and the light of personal responsibility.
Posted by: Brian Hines | April 10, 2012 at 10:20 AM
I dont know how you tolerated it for so long. I know i couldn't have. How bad was it? Can you point to some of these trolls lying handywork?
Posted by: giddyup | April 10, 2012 at 12:02 PM
giddyup, here's an example of comment exchanges between me and "DJ," the guy who's been the both blatant anti-science global-warming denialist. Read the comments on this post:
Posted by: Brian Hines | April 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Thats not what i was expecting. You guys are testy with each other but that was actually a good read and a spirited debate. I think i even learned some things. The sources (yours and his) were mostly all global warming believers so i couldn’t really find any intentional lies. Just minor disagreements among the sources. Wikipedia on the carbon tax maybe was an exception but that’s Wiki for you. Still hardly what i expected. You must have worse examples of lies for banning him not?
Posted by: giddyup | April 10, 2012 at 05:52 PM
giddyup, you're welcome to your opinion. I disagree. DJ is remarkably obtuse and dogmatic when it comes to denying human-caused global warming.
By the way, I didn't ban him. I simply asked him to send me a Facebook log-in, along with, perhaps, other information to confirm his real world identity -- just as countless newspapers and web sites do with online commenters.
Got to ask... your writing style and comment demeanor remind me of DJ's. Would you know him by any chance? Am wondering if you might be related. Perhaps intimately, like identical twins?
Just an intuition. Just wondering.
Posted by: Brian Hines | April 10, 2012 at 07:04 PM
[Note from blogger: giddyup, hopefully you can understand why I thought you and DJ could be the same person, because you both have the exact same IP addresses. Wow, what an amazing coincidence! Out of all the places in the world you and DJ could reside, you both are Comcast users in Portland, Oregon with the same IP address.
Anyway, from now on if you, or DJ, or anyone else ever wants to post a comment about global warming that denies the scientific consensus that (1) global warming is happening, and (2) humans are largely responsible for it, you, or DJ, or anyone else will need to provide a Facebook log-in link and possibly other confirmation of your real identity.
That's the way of science: accountability and openness. Those who choose to hide in the cyberspace shadows, as you also want to do, testify to their anti-science, anti-truth nature by their fear of putting their real names behind their false assertions. -- Blogger Brian]
I laughed i cried i got creeped out. But i get your paranoia. At leats before you had DJ in your sights but now he could be anyone. Its the same paranoia at work here. Most people dont facebook since three were fired in the past two years. If they dont like you they find a recipe you sent to grandma on your day off and twist it into a fireable offense. Yes i exaggerate but not by much. I like the hours i get so in this economy it is no big sacrifice. Like Betty White said Facebook is a big waste of time.
Posted by: giddyup | April 11, 2012 at 08:50 AM
It appears to me: 1) global warming is happening, and 2) (some) humans may be contributing to this fact by their modern technological actions and pollutants. However, I do not know that humans are the only effector of this fact nor that they are "largely responsible" for it.
I agree that attentive actions ought be engaged in with regard to this fact - but there may be no true "solution" that will solve it. (Cause and effect will occur however it will - regardless of our preferences. [And we have no way of freely willing elsewise.])
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | April 12, 2012 at 10:45 AM
Robert, climate scientists have found that the vast majority of global warming, especially most recently, has been caused by humans. See:
This analysis concludes:
"The agreement between these studies using a variety of different methods and approaches is quite remarkable. Every study concluded that over the most recent 100-150 year period examined, humans are responsible for at least 50% of the observed warming, and most estimates put the human contribution between 75 and 90% over that period (Figure 2). Over the most recent 25-65 years, every study put the human contribution at a minimum of 98%, and most put it at well above 100%, because natural factors have probably had a small net cooling effect over recent decades (Figures 3 and 4).
Additionally, in every study over every timeframe examined, the two largest factors influencing global temperatures were human-caused: (1) GHGs, followed by (2) human aerosol emissions. This is a dangerous situation because as we clean our air and reduce our SO2 emissions, their cooling effect will dissipate, revealing more of the underlying GHG-caused global warming trend. Note that not all studies broke out the effects the same way (i.e. only examining 'natural' and not solar or volcanic effects individually), which is the reason some bars appear to be missing from Figures 2 to 4.
...A wide variety of statistical and physical approaches all arrived at the same conclusion: that humans are the dominant cause of the global warming over the past century, and particularly over the past 50 years. This robust scientific evidence is why there is a consensus amongst scientific experts that humans are the dominant cause of global warming."
Posted by: Brian Hines | April 12, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Thank you for providing the reference to "how different people subjectively see the world, which we call 'objective facts'" (even though "Patonomics" could not "reach agreement" with his fellow commentors).
But even if "[t]here is nothing truly objective about how humans [will in the future] experience the world[,]" the generations which follow us may well suffer for what we (and our parents and grandparents) did over the last century (with no malice aforethought). As I said: "Cause and effect will occur however it will - regardless of our preferences. [And we have no way of freely willing elsewise.]" Yet, some have contributed far more to those "causes" than various of the rest of us have.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | April 18, 2012 at 11:44 AM