Anti-AGW denier trolls lumber about, spewing disinformation and invectives, sometimes engaging in gish gallops and quite quickly descending down the Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement, presumably either venting their own bad feelings or trying to provoke respondents into using immoderate language themselves. This is all they have, because they know that their actual arguments, when based on science and facts, are extremely weak. Although their activities are designed to draw an audience and influence the majority of “lurkers” online, they will typically pick an individual target to attack with their crude arguments, or simply disjointed and poorly supported claims and statements, with numerous, unconnected, unsupported and mostly irrelevant points, delivered so quickly that most people are at risk of just being bewildered into silence, because they can’t summon the energy to address each and every one of the dozens of points made. The potential respondents reason (quite sensibly) that if they don’t address each and every point, then the ones that “get away” or “sneak through” have become “accepted through lack of response”. This is partly what the trolls depend on for achieving their aims. Trolls can usually be countered by the well-known and publicised techniques of fact checking, myth busting and dealing with disinformation (eg debunking, pre-bunking and disinformation inoculation. Even then, it’s worth considering whether to respond at all, since disinformation works, in the sense that even if disinformation is immediately and effectively countered, it might already have achieved its objective of seeding any small amount of doubt in the minds of readers, or creating a false impression that some matters are still “debatable” and not “established fact”.
Anti-AGW denier wraiths, on the other hand, are a very different type of being. They are vapour-like, drifting around, looking to spread fear, uncertainty, or doubt (and, preferably all three). Their target is not a specific individual, but any audiences they can find. They drift in and out of conversations. If countered head-on, they will sometimes ignore the counter-points made, engage in tangential expansion of discussion topics, or simply evaporate, to re-appear elsewhere where there might be less resistance. One of the best ways of countering such anti-AGW wraiths is to observe their activities, and reflect them back to the thread they appeared in, particularly commenting on what (if any) contribution they appear to have made (or what detraction / distraction they have caused from the conversation).
With both these types of behaviours (trolling and wraithing), calling them out is probably one of the best ways of countering it, since calling out offers the audience the trolls and wraiths are trying to influence a chance to spot and understand these behaviours and make their own minds up about whether such behaviours are acceptable, and what they might do themselves to counter it.
A word of advice about trolls and wraiths. They sometimes delete some of their previous posts or responses. Consider what your own posts or responses might look like if this happens in exchanges you’ve been involved in. It’s good practice to guard against the effects of this by being very explicit about who you are talking to in a response, for example by addressing their profile with @xxxxxx. Include direct quotes from what they said, using quote marks. That way, if they delete such posts, there will always be an accurate record in the public domain of what they actually said. Just in case they deny it later. You will only very rarely find trolls and wraiths acknowledging counter arguments to their points. Actually, they know it doesn’t serve their aims to do so. They would rather avoid direct arguments for which they have no directly relevant riposte. They would rather shift the discussion into another area of anti AGW myth or uncertainty.
You might decide that when you have identified the sorts of anti AGW behaviour I’ve described here, you will call it out and block the profile of the troll or wraith to protect yourself and your networks. That’s your call. Don’t feel bad about blocking. Many such profiles might well be bots. At the same time, be aware that there will be some genuine skeptics out there. Try not to confuse them with trolls and wraiths. One ´tell’ about genuine skeptics is that they usually listen to reasoned arguments and are prepared to help with identifying credible information sources and fact checking any sources. They might not agree with what that information means for us but they will respect credible sources and are happy to agree to disagree. Often, genuine skepticism is about interpretation of facts rather than denial of them. Such genuine skepticism is to be embraced, celebrated, and welcomed into discussions. Having said that, these are not hard and fast indicators. Sometimes there is a fine dividing line between skeptics and deniers. And, of course, there will be some ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’; deniers pretending to be skeptics!
If anyone, whether troll, wraith or anyone else, becomes abusive online, my advice would be to call it out and block them. That almost goes without saying. There’s too much online abuse and we each have it within our power to do something about it, by refusing to be complicit in such behaviour and protecting ourselves and those connected to us from it.
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