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March 28, 2007

When in doubt, turn to Wikipedia

By Brian Beutler

As both a blogger and a (once and future) political reporter, I can help Matt with this one: "I really do enjoy all the blogosphere in-jokes and so forth and would miss them if they went away, so maybe the only thing to do is educate, educate, educate. So have at it, what's an authoritative definition of "concern troll" we can offer up to Time's crack team of political reporters."

And it's only fitting that the answer comes from a place beloved by both bloggers and their nemeses in the press corps. Wikipedia. The hallowed common ground.

Here's the whole entry. It gives a solid definition, a relevant example, and advice on how to spot a concern troll when you're looking into its lying eyes.

"A concern troll is also a fictitious online identity whose proclaimed beliefs are not those its creator really believes and is trying to push.

The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view (for example, Democrats or fans of the Prius), and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals but with some "concerns".

For example, in 2006 a top staffer for Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) was caught posing as a "concerned" supporter of Bass's opponent Democrat Paul Hodes on several liberal NH blogs, using the pseudonyms "IndieNH" or "IndyNH." "IndyNH" was "concerned" that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was unbeatable.

Suspicion of concern trolls is hard to verify without clearcut information about the IP number from which their posts originate, as there are people who naturally behave in such a manner.

Cross posted at Brian Beutler.

March 28, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I just disagreed with that definition over at Matt's place. I don't think concern trollery necessarily involves any sock puppetry. The IndyNH example is egregious, but more insidious are the countless Sensible Liberals who fight every progressive change with concern trollery. These S.L.s aren't lying about their motives (except, perhaps, to themselves), but the effect is distracting and counterproductive.

And, most relevant to Tumulty's question, the folks at Swampland are none of them Republicans in Democrats' clothing. They are nonpartisan and/or self-identified left-of-centrists who never cease their concern that "some Democrats" will go "too far" in advancing Democratic values, thus "alienating moderate voters." That's professional grade concern trolling.

Posted by: JRoth | Mar 28, 2007 10:29:50 AM

I think the problem with labelling this "concern trolling" is that... well, people have concerns. I'm concerned that Democrats might wind up nominating Hillary Clinton. I'm concerned that people still seriously float the idea of an Al Gore candidacy. I'm concerned with Ezra taking so many vacations. :)

(I'm also concerned why this post has no title.)

I think there is, yes, a difference between obvious actors raising faux "concerns" that they don't really have... but I think there's a broad brush sweep that suggests somehow people who raise concerns don't really have them, or that no concern is valid. And that's just not true. As a Dean supporter, I said during the Dean hey day, "you know, I'm concerned that the Kerry people don't know what they're getting into - there's a Republican attack machine that will happily take apart his war record." And boy, did they ever. So when people say "I'm concerned" I tend to consider the concerns, and then decide whether or not to dismiss them. But I don 't pretend that the concerns are fake or somehow invalid. And I think the disturbing alternative is enhancing what the web already does - create a sort of doctrinaire world view that can't be questioned, where like minds find each other, agree on everything, and won't accept challenges. For ideas and viewpoints to be strong, they have stand up to scrutiny, and be able to address... well, concerns. I have them. I won't apologize for that.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 28, 2007 10:51:32 AM

Republican-leaning "reporters" who offer advice to Democratic pols on how to win public support and govern more effectively.

Is that simple enough?

Posted by: Jim | Mar 28, 2007 10:54:16 AM

Thanks for the heads up on the title.

Posted by: Brian Beutler | Mar 28, 2007 11:05:12 AM

I generally define trolling as arguing in bad faith in online fora, so I tend to regard actual Sensible Liberals less as trolls than as deeply silly or somewhat clueless people. They're people who fetishize civility, latter-day Shaftesburians, in effect.

Let's not forget that Shaftesbury was essentially trying to preserve the notion of aristopcratic privilege in a radical republican ("democratizing") context by reinterpreting the defining aristocratic trait of "honor" as something like "civility." And the vast bluk off Sensible Liberals seem to be people attempting to preserve or generate some ephemeral sense of discursive privilege above all other goals.

On the other hand, you've got people like Ann Althouse out there; she's effectively a concern troll who happens to troll exclusively on her own blog. That concept -- a blog author wh behaves like a troll -- does strange things to the wiki definition as well.

Posted by: Joe Propinka | Mar 28, 2007 11:05:34 AM

While agreeing with JRoth above, I'd like to expand the discussion a bit and distinguish between internet lingo that is more generally applicable and one person's schtick. Neither is necessarily bad or good in any one case, though schtick is funny or not based on the usual rules applied to humor anywhere--mainly that one person's funny is another person's "Whaaaaa?"

I'd think that "concern troll" is a pretty general term that's not just about one blogger, or even about the political blogosphere. As the reference to Prius in the wikipedia entry quoted in this post shows, it's a more generally used term. Nowadays, even the lamest and lowest-common-denominator TV show will use Net terms that were incredibly esoteric not that many years ago ("LOL," "ROFL," etc.) Some of these things take hold and last longer than others.

Atrios has a rich panoply of schtick that, to me at least, either started with him or came to my knowledge via his blog. Some examples:

* WATB (Whiny ass titty baby: someone who is oh so sensitive and ends up whining a lot)
* IOKIYAR (It's OK If you're a Republican)
* Friedman Unit (6 months more in Iraq- repeat endlessly)
...and many more.

Some of them are taken up by other bloggers (or Atrios may have even picked them up from others), and some may even enter the broader discussion. Indeed, in most cases the terms that are generally accepted, like "concern troll," probably started as a tossed-off comment by one individual that were picked up by others. Lingo just develops quickly on the Net, and has for many years.

Understanding the more widely used terms ("LOL," "Concern troll") is necessary to understanding something more general about discourse on the internet, or some subset thereof. Other terms are just part of a running joke from one person or a few. Terms move from one category to another. If you don't understand "LOL," you really are culturally out of it now, even if you consider it so old-hat that you'd never use it yourself.

There are many more categories of net-centric usages but I'd just like to point out those two as a useful distinction here. (As an aside, the fact that Tumulty apparently didn't consider hitting Wikipedia or Google about the term is not really about usage per se.)

I'd also recommend "Urban Dictionary" at http://urbandictionary.com as a site that can help identify various slangy things that are used on the net (though many terms are from non-net-based coinages). The definitions there are user-generated, duplicative, user-rated, and not as definitive as the generic Wikipedia entry, so you have to look at a whole thread to get some idea of usage, but it's often very helpful.

"Concern troll" does really get at something more essential about our political discourse. Stengel's recent comments see here may not strictly fit the definition of concern trollery, but they reflect a similar mentality and are part of the elite media discourse that pisses liberals like me off.

Posted by: blatherskite | Mar 28, 2007 11:12:40 AM

weboy is right on. I've been beaten sensless by commenters at eschaton for voicing legitimate concerns and it really pissed me off.

Posted by: ken | Mar 28, 2007 12:37:26 PM

I'm generally conservative, and read more conservative blogs then liberal ones. I have never encountered the term 'concern troll' on a conservative/libertarian blog, only on liberal sites. Does that match others expiriences as well? Any ideas on why this would be so?

Posted by: Dave Justus | Mar 28, 2007 12:50:28 PM

JRoth, your definition of "concern troll" appears to be "centrists and liberals to the right of me who have the gall to defend their views." Does that about cover it?

The definition of "concern troll" as actually used is something like "an abusive term for the person I disagree with and with whom I'm unable or unwilling to argue." If it ever had any more proper meaning, e.g. about special concerns, that's been overwhelmed.

Dave, what you say surprises me. It's bad habit wherever it appears.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 28, 2007 1:03:40 PM

Concern troll-ism is actually pretty rare. It happens in punditry when someone like Bill O'Reilly starts talking about how the Democrats should do X or Y because that would help them get votes.

It happens in blog comment threads when people who've made it clear they want to see the Democratic party or progressives in general get electorally crushed and marginalized start talking about strategies we should follow if we want to win elections.

If the person hasn't made it clear that their actual desires are opposite the "concerns" they're bringing up, then they aren't a Concern Troll.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 28, 2007 1:12:16 PM

I have never encountered the term 'concern troll' on a conservative/libertarian blog, only on liberal sites.

It's simply another label to explain away those who don't agree with them. No one could *really* disagree with their agenda, could they?
/sarcasm

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 28, 2007 1:30:25 PM

There seem to be a couple working definitions for concern troll:

Most notably (and most deservedly) there are those such as IndyNH - those who, if traced, would immediately be seen in a light of profound insincerity in their concern. They're a step above the O'Reilly types, who don't have the advantage of anonymity at any point.

When the label is applied to legitimate concerns such as weboy's at Eschaton or Sanpete's here, the people to use it are strident liberals who see a concern troll as contrarian-for-the-sake-of-contrarian, or worse, one with a dramatic mixup in priorities. This is an abuse of the term (as well as those it's unnecessarily applied to) - though those two issues are characteristic of concern trolls, there's more to it than that.

Also of note - Dave Justus has no business being called a concern troll here. He appears to be consistently conservative, sincere and open in his views and priorities, and not dismissive of those who disagree with him.

Posted by: Jon O. | Mar 28, 2007 1:41:30 PM

At lucianne.com, I am often called a troll, without the "concern" part - or possibly "lefty troll" - some old timers (I've been posting there for close to 10 years now) will usually rise to defend me and say I'm not a troll, which we (me included) would use to refer to some newcomer - usually lefty - who comes, spits out something hateful and usually involving name-calling at people on the right, and adding nothing substantive to the argument (which is not to say that everyone there on the right is an angel; there's plenty of fire-breathing meanness and name calling to go around). I don't call them trolls, but I understand why people do - namecalling and insults isn't really debate. As I said, I think this search for people who will agree with you makes the other guys "trolls" of whatever ilk you want to classify. And name calling doesn't really substitute for engaging debate - like, say, the fact that I get to debate Sanpete here on a variety of issues; I may not always understand or agree with him, but I appreciate the chance at the dialogue. As an aside, I think everyone is a little hepped up on "we do it better/nicer/classier than the other side" - and really, both sides have a lot of ugliness that could stand to be addressed and some things that really should be called beyond the pale. But I've long thought you get what you give - if you are decent and polite in your disagreements, you will probably get that back. Calling people "trolls" to me is as others say, just a way to avoid having to argue their points. If I want to argue with Fred, for instance, I will; but if he's just being nutty - you know, like usual - the best thing is to ignore it. Calling him troll only encourages things. :)

Posted by: weboy | Mar 28, 2007 2:20:25 PM

"concern troll" was dreamed up primarily by those at DAILY KOS to shut down dissent or arguments that the kos bullies didn't want to deal with. it was thought up by centrist dem bloggers to attack any point of view they disagree with.

it's a stupid phrase that means nothing.

oh, are you "concerned" about iraq? troll.

the fact that you're trumpeting this incredibly sparse and non-factual wiki entry as the ultimate meaning without even mentioning its DK abuse tells me you're part of the troll squad that uses these dumb terms all too often.

i guess that makes you a "concern troll" too now for bringing it up.

but nice try.

Posted by: christian | Mar 28, 2007 5:13:50 PM

Worth noting Bass proved eminently beatable.

Posted by: Laura | Mar 28, 2007 11:29:55 PM

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Posted by: judy | Sep 27, 2007 3:07:57 AM

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