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Someone is wrong on the internet, part 2

My coblogger John Sides feeds a troll. It’s a tough call. Yesterday I gave my reasoning for ignoring these provocateurs, but in this case the troll in question is writing for a major newspaper so it makes sense for John to go to the trouble of shooting him down. Even though I suspect the columnist was trolling for no better reason than . . . he had a deadline and nothing to say so he thought he’d wade into a controversy.

On the plus side, as a statistician I’m happy that statistics is considered important enough that it’s worth trolling! When they start attacking like this, they must feel a bit on the defensive. . . .


  1. As sociologist Nathan Jurgenson argued (in reference to the awful Newsweek “Muslim Rage” cover), if someone in the mainstream media is saying provocative things, they still aren’t a troll, and standard anti-troll tactics (“Don’t feed the troll!”) don’t apply:
    “One important characteristic of trolls is that they are outliers trying to hijack the mainstream conversation. Newsweek can’t derail the central discourse because it is (unfortunately) part of the center of that discourse.”
    “By calling Newsweek a “troll,” one is excusing oneself from engaging mainstream conversations and is thereby doing nothing to make them better. It excuses us from taking on (“feeding”) these voices of power. No, pay attention to Newsweek, beat it up, and perhaps then it’ll be knocked so far from the mainstream that we can finally stop feeding them.”

    • Andrew says:


      I agree (that’s why, for example, I bothered to get worked up about Gregg Easterbrook). But in this case, I wonder. I have the feeling that an editorial page writer for the Washington Post doesn’t have so much influence, and in this case my impression is that this sort of column is a bit of a plea for attention. To put it another way, if I get eyeballs and links to this page, fine. But these Washington Post writers need the clicks. So I think that column may well have been a bit of trolling.