No More Trolls

The past few days have been tough ones for me — and for the thousands of “06880” readers who appreciate civil, rational, intelligent discussion of issues large and small.

A post about the new town curator devolved into nasty attacks on her and her appointment. Accusations flew about a waste of town dollars. Even after it was noted that she is a volunteer, she continued to be vilified.

A post about a party we’re planning in July for the “06880” community quickly degenerated too, into a political catfight. Much of the joy of the announcement was sucked away by anonymous commenters.

Federalist PapersFor a couple of years, many people have urged me to ban anonymous comments. I’ve resisted — strongly. If anonymity was good enough for the Federalist Papers, it was good enough for “06880.”

I think it’s important to allow everyone to weigh in on any topic. I respect the First Amendment completely.

But this public forum is also a personal project. “06880” is my brand. It’s being sullied by a few blowhards and bullies.

The attacks on Kathie Bennewitz were one of two final straws. The other was a comment on the party thread. I offered a ride to Babette, who does not have a beach sticker. An anonymous poster — one who uses several different aliases — responded, “Why not a free ride for everyone? That would be a socialist’s nirvana.”

That’s actually pretty funny. But it obscured this truth: The anonymous posters are the ones getting free rides. They’re the ones drinking at the “06880” trough. And while they’re doing it, they’re also hurting my name.

I know who virtually all of the anonymous posters are — whether they use the name “Anonymous,” an alias, or several of them. I would never reveal their names publicly, though believe me, I have been tempted to.

There is a word for anonymous internet bullies: trolls.

There is a word for anonymous internet bullies: trolls.

I also know that the harshest critics of me — and the biggest bullies of others — have never contributed a penny to “06880.” They’re the ones who are taking, taking, taking, and not only not giving back, but making this blog an unfriendly place for others.

So — starting now — readers will have to fill in their name and email in order to comment. It will mean more work for me, but I’ll do it. Abusers will be banned.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll institute a registration form for comments.

I have resisted doing this for a couple of years — despite the pleas of many, many people I respect greatly.

I feel badly — like a parent going back on his word.

But ultimately, I’m doing it because a few commenters acted too often like little children.

91 responses to “No More Trolls

  1. aavellanet@aol.com

    How tough freedom of expression has become. I agree that anonymity can be abusive, but I am torn by free speech too

  2. Huzzah! Dan I share your conflicted feelings but you’re absolutely right about a few anonymous bullies and blowhards sullying your blog, which is a great service to the community. This will be a huge improvement.

  3. Craig D.B. Patton

    Perfectly sensible thing to do. Don’t feel badly about it.

  4. Janice Beecher

    I think you’re doing the right thing! Just sayin’. I don’t contribute much, but I’m not afraid of being known. I wonder how many of the ‘Anonymous’ commenters will continue to disparage and criticize when their names are known?

  5. I’m with you, Dan!

    Bob

  6. Bobbie Herman

    Dan — I don’t blame you one bit. I’m all in favor of your decision. Too many mean-spirited people are spoiling your wonderful blog for the rest of us.

  7. I stand firmly behind Dan Woog. His blog has been the only objective and positive insight into the Westport Community and a salute to those who make a difference. Dan,
    Non carborundum illigitimus.

  8. Outstanding! As I had posted previously, letters to the editor in the Town Crier and the Westport News when we were growing up required this–and there were obviously differences of opinion, but there was much more civility. I think the same will happen here as a result of your new policy. Thanks.

  9. It’s for the best, Dan.

  10. Aryeh Friedman

    THANK YOU! I never quite understood the need for free speech to always be anonymous speech. There are certainly times when anonymity is needed (whistleblowers, victims of abuse, etc.) but any necessity for this on a public forum gets blurry. It seemed that most of the anonymous posters had little fear or care of backlash from their statements anyway.
    Thanks again.
    ARYEH FRIEDMAN

    • I love it, love it love it. I so agree, Aryeh. I totally agree with you: why does it seem that “free speech (should, at will)… be anonymous speech,” when especially, it’s acrid and hurtful? Unfortunately, we live in an era -and area- of entitlement, where (some) highly educated, ‘successful’ and consequently affluent individuals feel that they can say and do as they wish without reproach.
      I’m not afraid to say “shame on you” to anyone who feels they can blast you, Dan, your topics or your contributors without taking responsibility of same. I value your forum as a finger on the pulse of our community, not as a soapbox for disgruntled miserably self-serving ‘blowhards’ ( I love that word, Dan, good one)!

      Let’s please, just play nice.

  11. Michelle Benner

    Thank You Dan! I support you 100%.

  12. Dan, sad but necessary. I have always considered it cowardice to write without using one’s name.

  13. Good move, Dan. You aren’t denying freedom of expression to the trolls. They are perfectly free to create their own site to post anonymous rants.

  14. Edward Bloch

    A tough decision, Dan, but one that was well thought out and articulated. Thank you for “06880.”

  15. David Webster

    I applaud this decision. I’m a daily reader but have been a very infrequent commenter for the very reasons you describe. Simply participating in a community discussion shouldn’t be treated as an open invitation to ad hominem attacks. My wife runs a blog that also attracts its fair share of trolls and I tell her the same thing. This isn’t a free speech issue. Dissenters are perfectly free to start their own WordPress site, spent $9 on a URL, and denounce every word you post. Nothing in the world is stopping them. The Interent is a great thing, but its dark side is emboldening trolls to behave in a manner they would never attempt in the real world. You, and the community you enable, deserve better and I think this is a great move that will draw more moderate voices into the discussion.

  16. David Stalling

    Dan: I can understand and appreciate why it was a tough decision, but I think you made a good call. Unfortunately, the ability to post anonymously on public forums brings out the worst in some people, allowing them to bully others through ugly provocation with no ethics, restraint, responsibility or accountability. It’s actually their actions that limit free speech through intimidation — no doubt making others uncomfortable with posting comments. Sometimes sensible restrictions on some are necessary to protect freedom for all. Banning bullies makes 06880 a better place.

  17. Well said Aryeh and a a great, but unfortunate, decision by Dan. All you anonymous posters that love to bully and hide behind your cowardly posts will be silenced by this policy and I am all for that! If you have something to say…great….stand up and say it! Be proud that we have the freedom to put our name to our thoughts and opinions. That is what freedom of speech is truly about… Did you bully anonymous poster’s ever think that people dream of coming to this country because they must silence their own opinions and live a life of anonymity, or face a flogging or even death? Chew on that…and the next time… Be proud that you can be the real you and have whatever opinion you embrace or want to share with others.
    Enjoy this beautiful day!

  18. Also, well said David Stalling, and Semper Fi!

  19. Good, Dan! God love you for continuing to try to be open and fair as long as you did. I could not believe what a friendly invite to a party generated on 06880! I hope we can stop by in our drive through this summer. I was going to ask if having alcohol at the party was a good idea after reading the comments but it’s a new day for 06880. 🙂 What was going on was no longer free speech but was wrong on so many levels and now it’s a new beginning. Wishing you all the best and thanks for providing daily entertainment for current and past Westporters. You’re doing a good thing.

  20. Good for you Dan. It certainly won’t hurt the flow of ideas.

  21. Bobbie Herman

    Just wondering how many of the Anonomi will be posting in the future.

  22. Peter Gambaccini

    The time had come. In regard to the party thread, I was about to email you and ask “Dan, how can you stand this?” Endless sniping and nastiness and a jejune preoccupation with labeling everything that has a trace of community and cooperation in it “socialism” are something else.

  23. John McCarthy

    Understood but disapointed. Trolls screw things up again….

  24. Perfect ——- makes sense – especially as your blog continues to grow in audience. One would like to think that the tone/thread of discussions on topics might be more civil now that you have made this change. Love the blog — very imformative and I will continue to support you via reading and donating. I’m sure the every-day reader has no true idea how much of your time is spent researching and writing these blogs.

  25. Outstanding!

  26. Good idea…

  27. Great decision, Dan. I went to the blog posts about the new town curator and the party in July so I could read all the comments and was just baffled, basically. How much is the entry fee to Compo Beach? Is it like $20? Are there actually people who cannot afford that? I am self-employed and make about $25,000 a year, and even I could manage to come up with the money. Gosh. And people had a problem with bringing their own food? I don’t get it. I hope you can have an enjoyable time at the beach party in July. I have a fear of driving on highways and my car is 20 years old, so I will not be attending. (I live in Wallingford and used to drive to Westport every week, but not anymore 🙂 )

  28. Good for you, Dan. Your decision is the right one for all of us.

  29. Dan, I deeply appreciate your words. When I saw the posting for the 06880 party, I thought it was a fantastic idea. However, I’m open to other people’s points of view. It is important for us to hear different points of view from people, but it makes sense to be honest about who someone is. I remember once a neighbor put a strange and negative letter in my mailbox. Their letter made little sense to me and I would have loved to talk to them about it to understand them better, but they did not leave a name or phone number. Communication is a process and only by allowing for TWO WAY discussion over (sometimes) multiple exchanges, can we begin to reach agreement. If people are just sending out jabs, it results in little more than frustration. That doesn’t match with what I envision in Westport. This is a progressive town where people engage in fruitful dialogue to reach agreement on how to move forward.

  30. Good move Dan. People who stand on a soap box should be known.

  31. Denny Davidoff

    Sad you have to do this but fully supportive of the action taken. I love 06880

  32. Dennis Jackson

    You have our full support, Dan. You clearly put a lot of work into this good project, and a few people shouldn’t be able to spoil it for everyone else. There are plenty of more appropriate places to vent.

  33. Michael Beecher

    I agree with your decision, Dan, hard though it was for you to make. I pray that the abusers don’t try to bypass the system.

  34. Lisa Marie Alter

    Too bad we can’t just vote the Trolls “off the island” like they do in TV-land…

    (Somehow, I always suspect they are the same folks who despoil our beautiful town by road-raging, talking-on-cell-phones-while-driving, non-dog-poop-picking-upping, picking-local-store-owners brains-but-buying-on the-internet, and just all-around rude-dudes and bad apples… but who knows…)

    Anyway, thanks Dan for trying so hard to keep things fair and above-board … but you never need to apologize for a decision: this is YOUR blog, YOUR space… as someone once pointed out: we are your guests.

    Rock on.

  35. A very positive development, for your blog, its many “alert readers” and for the community. You provide a valuable service to us all! Thank you.

  36. Cathy Smith Barnett '66

    Dan, I think you made the right move. I don’t like to post when there are lot of personal slams and total jibberish on very timely Westport topics. I hope your very personal decision about a very public forum will help us all stay on topic.

  37. Julie O'Grady

    I think we all believe in free speech, but not in purely rude, unproductive anonymous jibes…. we all love a good debate! Farewell Trolls!!!!!!!!

  38. A. David Wunsch

    Dan: Time to stick it to the trolletariat. If a man doesn’t have the cojones to sign his opinion he doesn’t belong in your blog. Something like that applies to women too. .

    A. David Wunsch
    Staples High School, 1956

  39. Dan…thanks

  40. Elvis has left the building!

    Dan, and others here, act as if only anonymous and persons using pseudonyms are the ‘bullies’, which is not true.
    Many who use their real names say nasty things and make broad generalizations and attacks on others who do not think like them, but since most are left leaning it goes unnoticed.

    And to David above who makes the analogy of receiving an anonymous letter in his mailbox to anonymous commenters here, David that is not an accurate analogy since you can comment back and debate someone here unlike the person who never left a return address. That isn’t obvious to you?

    So now it will be a site of like minded persons all tell Dan who wonderful he is, yada, yada, yada…

    And I always knew Dan could easily find out who was who and probably did, and I mentioned that a few times, since he never responded with an affirmative it only confirmed it for me.

    Good luck in the future Dan, all the best!

    • Dear Elvis — Since when is asking for civility and mutual respect in healthy debate asking for “like minded persons all tell Dan who wonderful he is, yada, yada, yada…” Dan loves a good debate as much as anyone obviously but he does lay down the rules on his own blog as you could do yourself on your own blog. He’s doing the world a favor by providing a better model so perhaps our children’s children will treat each other better. See ya.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Elvis–I do not think anyone in town would consider me–left leaning. I post (and use my name) when i feel it is appropiate, and have been disgusted when anonymous posts make it personal or nasty. It is time we learn to treat each other with respect, no matter what side of the street.

      Congrats Dan!!!! Time to raise the standard.

    • Elvis–I very much disagree with your characterization in your first paragraph.

      But what really puzzles me is: why do you feel this will now be “a site of like minded people…?” Certainly the “Letters to the Editor” section of the newspaper has a range of opinions. (And Dan apparently is not even requiring individuals to use their real full name in their posts, as evidenced by your comment.)

      I think the only way people are truly like-minded here is that they have an interest in reading items that are Westport-related–and many of Dan’s columns are not related to politics at all).

  41. Good for you, Dan. As the editor of a newspaper and Web site that have had chronic problems with trolls–and is moving to a similar non-anonymity policy–I salute you. It’s not a First Amendment or “censorship” issue–the trolls can always take their business elsewhere. It’s a matter of how you choose to allow behavior under your name, on your site. Commenting is a privilege, not a right, and I’m glad you’re forcing people to own up to their words.

  42. Thank you, thank you, thank you

  43. Visit and read Dan’s blog every day. He has also been kind enough to bring attention to many projects I am involved with. I support your decision and thank you for continuing and for your support of the local arts scene. Thanks, Dan!

  44. OK, weapons down/ Everyone should turn this ON!

    Dear Dan!! Hurray!! Yay for YOU!! And– see ya later to the Trolls! No one should live in fear….. /Of a Blog Posting….! Really??
    Ps– I DO think you’re wonderful–yada, yada, yada!! Thanks for doing what you do…

    Sincerely,

    : ) Betsy! P Kahn

  45. Holly Wheeler

    I’m with you, Dan.

  46. Dan, Good for you. Kathie Bennewitz is a perfect litmus test. Not only is she the greatest person for this project as town curator, she is smart, funny, intelligent, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. If there is a true identifier of abusive anonymity Kathie is. Prior to this posting, one of the most memorable conversations I have had with any parents I know, was one with Kathie about the CT art scene. She is a winner! Surf’s Up !!!

  47. Thank you Dan! Thank you for your blog, and for caring so much for the people & stories whom are the fabric of today and the background of Westport’s tomorrow.

    I too appreciate when you have removed postings that are vindictive and mean spirited since it does little to lend to the conversation. At another blog I’m affiliated with, posters that do not adhere to the requirements are flagged and removed, with a notice of removal placed in the space.

  48. Nick Thiemann

    Dan,
    You own the microphone for 06880. Freedom of speech on it is your decision. You have practically unlimited freedom in permitting or limiting the speech on 06880.

    If your purpose is to encourage civil discourse, I think that limiting trolls is appropriate. Their bullying tactics may well intimidate others from expressing themselves, thereby limiting free speech.

    The great thing is that you can change your mind again if you don’t like how it comes out.

  49. Jack Whittle

    Anonymous posters do more than just feel emboldened to behave in a less than civil manner; they also play games like weigh in as a second, or third, anoymous or pseudonym poster in support of their own argument, and distort an otherwise proper debate. I know some people who run three or four different names on various forums, each with its own distinct personality and following, which they deploy as necessary. Gets to be a bit psychotic.

    Just about the only “good” reason for anonymous posting is the “I am only able to share this really interesting / valuable info if it doesn’t get attributed to me” kind of thing. I would be wiling to bet that Dan would still encourgage such people to send that kind of information to him, and he can then post it without attribution.

    • Jack, you win the bet. Absolutely true — discretion assured whenever needed.

      And you are a perfect example of someone who truly “gets” what we’re trying to do here. We disagree sometimes politically, but you have always been rational, reasoned, informated, insightful, honest and civil. Your concern for Westport, and all its citizens, has always come through. Thanks for all you do for all of us — please know it is greatly appreciated!

      • Jack Whittle

        Kind words indeed Dan – right back at ya

        • David Stalling

          Jack: I agree with Dan. I respect you for your honest, intelligent comments posted under your real name. Several times you have challenged and caused me to reflect upon and reconsider my thoughts, beliefs and statements in a straightforward, respectful manner that I appreciate — the sort of healthy, civil exchanges I think will improve in the absence of trolls.

  50. Dan, 57 votes and it looks like civility wins 56-1. This is a great move and
    one that I predict will make the blog even better. We can now have open
    argument and discourse without anonymous, nasty, disparaging and cowardly remarks. Dan . . . you da man!!!

  51. Totally agree – the time has come!!!! It shouldn’t “silent” anyone. It just makes one think a bit before hitting “send.”

  52. Heated exchanges between feigned characters has long been a journalistic tradition and a hallmark of an all voices equal democracy…even so, I too am in agreement with Dan’s decision to reign in his clientele’s less enlightened expressions of free speech, specifically those unnamed trolls whose prose seems driven more by ill-tempered OCD than the pursuit of an elusive Swiftian barb.

    In a perfect world 06880 would be whirring with the wit and energy of an early 18th century London coffee house. Richard Steele himself “blogged” in The Spectator back in 1711: “When you fall into a man’s conversation, the first thing you should consider is, whether he has a greater inclination to hear you, or that you should hear him.”

    The internet makes it SO easy not to listen…particularly when un-embodied words fill your screen as nothing but noise. Trolls terrorize bridges; they disrupt the attempted connections that come in conversations. I applaud you Dan for staking claim to regain safe passage for your readers.

    All of the above, however, is perhaps more succinctly said in this brilliant riposte: “Don’t have a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent” …Who penned it, though, I haven’t a clue…it’s ascribed to that prolific master: Anonymous.

  53. Doug, that’s just great old school and really what our country was founded on. Not what was going on previously on 06880. Peace out to all in 06880. It’s a better day in Westport, thanks to Dan’s courage.

  54. I hope that those who haven’t yet made their annual (or monthly?) contribution to 06880 take this opportunity to do so.

    I love the way people comment vociferously against Dan’s point of views or reporting techniques as if someone has forced them read this blog. I wonder why someone would continue to read something that appears to get them all up in arms about everything, including something as wonderful and generous as Dan’s party. I’m beginning to think that their anger and rudeness is so normal to them that they don’t realize how shocking it is to others.

    I don’t comment often but I was taught to speak to others as I’d wish to be addressed. I was so disappointed by some of the comments about the beach party that I quickly changed my mind about going. But I’m reconsidering. I bet some of these blow hards aren’t so scary in person. So I will be there. It’s BYOP, right? Bring your own politeness.

    • It is indeed, Nina. Or you can bring extra politeness for others.

      Just a reminder going forward: Please use your real full name! THANKS

  55. Siobhan Crise

    Can I please re-join the `comments’ party, now that the trolls have left the building?

  56. Westporter since 1970

    As you say, Dan, it’s your brand, and you’d be foolish to continue to allow anonymous slanderers free access to vilify Westport’s students, volunteers, and civil servants.

  57. Put simply, I fully support your move. Since I have been following “06880”, I have enjoyed all aspects except the snarky comments by the anonymous. Even those making valid points.

  58. It’s sad that people hide behind anonymity to make disparaging comments, but if they put their name to it, it just might “tarnish” their image.

  59. Will this policy extend to the name tags at the beach party?

  60. Candidly, Dan it is about time. The attacks on people and organizations were getting out of control. Like you, I am a strong proponent of Free Speech. As we all know the basis of Free Speech isn’t about disagreeing anonymously. It is the opposite. It gives you the right to disagree or dissent openly without fear of retribution. And thank you for providing the forum.

  61. John McCarthy

    Great to hear so many people speaking up for Free Speech and the use of real names online. It would be fantastic if we could now get elected officials and others involved in town government to actually follow through and comment on this blog and engage in real dialogue and not just post sound bites and platitudes.
    Everyone wants to read but few want to put themselves out there. It’s a new day, time to let people know what you actually think and move the discussion forward. Yeah, it can be messy at times, but that’s ok.

  62. Dan,
    Sorry you had to make this decision!! Definetly with you and support your decision to ban the trolls. Your blog is a daily read for me, it keeps me in touch with my hometown. Freedom of speech is a cherished right of ours!!
    However, the freedom of speech used to hurt, to demoralize, to make fun of others is and never has been appropriate anywhere. Thanks Dan for keeping me in touch to whats happening at home!!

    Tom

  63. Exactly, Tom. That is the point.

  64. Eric William Buchroeder

    It’s a beautiful morning, AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

  65. Bart Shildman

    How do you know some of the ‘anonymous’ crowd are not elected officials? Board members? Service providers?

  66. Eric William Buchroeder

    They can still run as anonymous. Just not on this site.

  67. Luisa Francoeur

    What a great decision, Dan ! No apologies, please! It has nothing to do with free speech – this issue gets blown out of proportion all the time and it is often just a smokescreen. I have avoided reading comments for just this reason. Your blog is a service to the community and has demonstrated its value by providing a place for reasoned debate by thoughtful individuals. Differences of opinion are valuable and add to the conversation and, with this decision, the online discussions can now be conducted with civility. Bravo.

  68. Hi Dan
    Thank you for changing the blog policy.

    Steve Stein

  69. Carl Addison Swanson III

    I think it is a positive change but doubt it will discontinue the hateful discord that I have seen recently on this blog. It is very simple to set up a phony Yahoo account and to enunciate from such a fictional base. Further, your real commentators should be cautioned that Goggle picks up all their names from this blog and publishes their comments. Not so sure you will see as healthy a discord on some issues with Big Brother watching?

  70. My nickname/handle has been in the family for 3 generations. It’s on my license plate. It’s not really anonymous: if you know me, you know my nickname. I don’t know most of the real names above, so it doesn’t really help me understand more about what they want to share.
    That said, Woog’s house, Woog’s rules, and I have no objection, except for the morons who abused these boards.
    -Dan Lasley
    PS: You might re-post this announcement, as it’s already fifth from the top in just one day.

  71. Werner Liepolt

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/fashion/nasty-comments-on-twitter.html?smid=pl-share

    In addition to the many excellent responses you’ve already received supporting your decision to require commentators to reveal their identities, I would like to observe that very few of the argumentative, “troll” comments had either entertainment (humor) or intellectual value. This paucity surprised me, as my guess would have been that some cranky westporters were probably sharp and capable of providing some first rate material. Too bad you couldn’t inspire them.

  72. I applaud this move, and I am thrilled to be seeing all these posts today with last names identified – finally! So pleased to meet everyone! It feels like that moment when the munchkins all slowly appear for the first time, realizing it’s safe to come outside because the wicked witch is dead. Three cheers for Dorothy .. I mean, three cheers for Dan!

  73. Armelle Daniels

    Bravo Dan! Since anonymous posters are not held accountable for what they write, things go too far too often, and opinions, unchecked facts, rumors and lies are affirmed as and confused for the truth.