The Hittman Chronicle

Usenet news groups (NGs) that deal with controversial subjects are often infested with persistent twits and trolls. We're not talking about the occasional troll who makes an outrageous drive-by posting and then moves on. Nor are we referring to people who constantly post polite articles voicing contrary opinions. We're talking about regular persistent twits who insist on replying to an inordinate number of articles with inane, stupid, insulting and/or obnoxious comments, over and over again. They never add anything constructive to the conversation, nor do they ever seem to tire of the attention they get by stirring up trouble.

Their hateful messages attack everyone and are full of the same insults, name calling, character assassination and lies, over and over again. Because they crave attention, any response to them generates even more bile. And they are relentless - one twit who has infested alt.smokers for years has made over four thousand posts to the news group, and none anywhere else. Each post is nearly identical, along the lines of "You are all a bunch of junkies jonzing for your fix! Go smoke by the dumpster you stupid junkies. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Although most twits are a little more coherent than that, attempting to debate them is a waste of time. They say their piece, you respond, and they completely ignore you and repeat themselves. Back them into a corner and they change the subject. Challenge them to back up their allegations and they pretend they didn't hear you.

Dumping these creatures into your kill file (a.k.a. twit filter) helps, but only a little. When other people respond to them, and follow good netiquette by including the twits article in their reply, you're once again exposed to the hateful spew.

Some people try to silence twits by complaining to their ISP. Occasionally this results in the twit's account being canceled, but they're always back the next day, with a new ISP. This also comes a little too close to censorship for most of us.

"This is your last warning. Now shut the fuck up!"People who haven't had to put up with persistent nasty twits say "why not just ignore them." That's good advice except for one thing: human nature. When someone attacks you, even if it's just a verbal attack, the natural response is to defend yourself. If you do walk away, the twit follows you, yelling louder and louder until, despite your best efforts to refrain, you strike back, giving the twit what they want. Most of us are not Gandhi. In fact, if Gandhi had been on line he would have gone after some of these characters with a ballpeen hammer.

Except for the twits, alt.smokers has a friendly, club atmosphere. There are about three dozen regulars who discuss not only tobacco and tobacco related issues, but all kinds of other subjects. But for years the place has also been infested with twits and trolls who use the NG to express their intense hatred of smokers. Like racists of the past, they insult everyone, proclaim their own superiority, spew junk science, scream in all caps, resort to name calling, and do anything else they can think of to make the NG as unpleasant as possible. One of them, who has been posting there since alt.smokers was created, has stated his goal is to destroy the group entirely.

The infestation was so nasty we considered creating a moderated group. But moderated groups are difficult to set up and maintain for several reasons, not the least of which is finding someone willing to devote many hours of their lives, every single day, to reading hundreds of messages. It's also difficult to get the approval needed to get on most of the news servers if your sole purpose is twit control. And then there's the implied surrender - sometimes backing away makes sense, but creating a moderated group would be giving in to these nasty, low IQ beasts by retreating from them.

I'm one of the people who has a hard time turning away from these human train wrecks, thereby contributing to their goals of getting attention and disrupting the group. I knew the best solution was to get everyone to plonk them into their twit filters at the same time, but requests to do that had failed in the past. We needed something that that was goofy and fun, not angry and vindictive. And so Twit Of The Month was born.

Twit of The Month is a simple monthly contest that pokes fun at these miscreants and leads to their banishment from the NG. One person, known as the Beaner, takes the job of organizing and hosting the contest. He starts by posting a notice to the NG on the twenty-fifth of the month, asking for votes for the next TOTM. Votes are submitted to the Beaner by e-mail. Everyone is allowed one vote, but votes from twits are ignored. The Beaner counts up the votes and announces the winner on the first of the month.

The prize is a one month, all expense paid trip to the twit filters of everyone in the NG. Making rude, nasty, insulting statements to the twit before plonking him is discouraged, but traditional.

Sometimes twits respond by trying to sneak in under a new alias. When this happens, the regulars quickly point him out, and plonk the new alias. While it is possible that an innocent twit may be plonked in this process, it should be noted that we don't care.

If a regular responds to the TOTM we politely remind him of the contest, and encourage him to participate. If he refuses to comply, we leave him alone, although he risks being plonked himself.

Occasionally someone new wanders into the NG and replies to the TOTM. We respond by welcoming them to the group, explaining the contest to them, and asking them to participate. Compliance has been nearly 100%.

When we implemented this in alt.smokers three months ago I didn't think it would work all that well, but figured at the least it would let us turn the tables on some of these misfits and have some fun at their expense. To my surprise and delight, it has worked far better than I could have hoped for. No one bothers to remove the winner from their filters at the end of the month, so the effect is cumulative. It also gets people in the habit of filtering twits, even if they're not contest winners. We're often invaded by trolls hiding under fresh aliases and spewing hatred, but they seldom last long. Within two days they're in everyone's twit files, and although they may continue to post, no one sees them or responds to them.

A visit to deja-google reveals that the winning twits don't seem to be too discouraged by this. They post almost as often as they did before, sometimes even commenting that the contest isn't working. They don't seem to notice that no one is replying to them, which shows just how interested they are in real conversation. Meanwhile, to those of us whose filters are full of these malcontents, the NG is now a relatively twit free haven where we can enjoy ourselves, immune to the endless assaults that used to plague the group.

After TOTM was in place for two months we briefly discussed making some changes, like having a first and second prizes and a lifetime achievement award. But we decided to leave it alone. As implemented, its simple, fun, and it works.

I don't know if this would work in a larger NGs, or in NGs where people pop in and out a lot. It's not an appropriate response in NGs with normal, minimal twit infestations. But it worked very well in our little NG, so it's likely it will work well in others. If you have a problem with nasty twits, you're encouraged to give it a try. Give it a couple of months to work. I'd be very interested to hear about any successes or failures.

Just one person dipping his ass in the punch bowl can ruin the party for everyone else. TOTM is a way of dealing with such miscreants. It worked for us in alt.smokers. It just might work for you.

Other Links

The offical Twit Of The Month FAQ.

June, 2000


© 2000 Dave Hitt

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