View Full Version : Battling trolls/problem members...

08-18-2005, 10:49 PM
I've been running a message board in one form or another for about ten years. The discussion is spirited, but for the most part, is respectful. I insist on the ideal of "attack ideas, not people," and on rare occasions when things get out of hand, a gentle reminder works well.

Three years ago, a guy showed up and he didn't like the positions of many of the board posters. He began to attack and got quite cruel with people. A number of posters are quite vulnerable (battling severe depression and bipolar) and he would go for the jugular on people he knew were in bad shape. The complaints began to roll in, and I decided he had been given enough warnings on the board.

At that time, I didn't require registration and if a person did register, I didn't require valid email addresses (because anonymity was important). My plan was to email him privately, set down some guidelines, and allow him to remain on the board if he would follow the guidelines. But he had given a fake email address and blocked private messages from me. I had no way to contact him, so I posted a message on the board that he was blocked from posting until he contacted me by email to discuss. I also deleted many of the offensive posts. He returned full force with a variety of new names and bombarded the board with Nazi messages, that we were all Nazis, Sieg Heil, and crap like that.

I quickly changed policy and required registration and my approval on new members. He quickly realized that he wasn't going to get new names approved using his DSL account, so he got himself a trial AOL account and signed up a boatload of names, over the course of a couple of weeks. Since I do get a good number of AOL folks, I didn't catch on until he began to post and he quickly gave himself away.

Three years later, and the guy is still at it. In fact, at one point he set up a hate page about me (and how I suck, LOL). I found this out because it turns out he's doing the same at another depression-related board. That owner emailed me and we compared notes and spoke on the phone. The hate page was for both of us. We both had made complaints to his ISP, with no results. I also had complained to AOL, and since I now require valid emails, I turned in those AOL screen names, and the AOL business stopped. (I suspected he had a friend with an AOL account, because the AOL thing went on for a year or so)

I get anywhere from one to five new registrations every day, and have to manually approve them. Of course I check IP addresses, and surprisingly, now and then he'll do one with his own ISP and I quickly approve, then put him in the banned category. He has about 30 names in banned. (He's the only person I've ever booted in ten years)

He's gotten smart, and uses a variety of ISPs. I don't know if he signs up for trial accounts, or has friends sign up, or goes to net cafes. He's also done things like anonymizer. But he'll slip a new reg in with a new ISP, then wait a few weeks to start posting. He gives himself away once he starts posting, because he can't seem to control himself. But by the time I find that one, there are usually three or four more names lying in wait. It's just an ongoing battle.

I use a complex log package, specifically to keep track of him. He is completely obsessed with the board, visiting at least five times a day, reading and re-reading. Then trying to post, or maybe posting. (and then I catch him and ban that name)

But he seems to have a large network of ways to sign up new accounts and I'm at my wits end.

I've tried every modification I can find, banning with cookies, etc. I thought about using the misery user mod, but it would just create work for me, and he would quickly figure it out. I've tried the old standard, ignore him and he'll get bored and give up. Ha! Three years later, and he's more obsessed than ever.

I'm afraid my only answer is to stay as vigilant as I can and just ban as I find him. But I'm wondering if anyone here has had a person like this, and if there's anything that can be done to put a stop to it once and for all.

Oh, and I should mention, this is not a 17-year-old on summer vacation. He's a retired businessman in his 60s.

Thanks for listening,


08-19-2005, 12:50 AM
Wow, that's an odd thing, for a retired 60-ish businessman to be doing. I think he needs more help than all of the people dealing with their issues on your forum put together.

I suggest that you ask them why they won't leave your forum alone.

Also you could do this:

For example to help stop 'trolls', i.e. people that come by and want to just start posting crap or spam, there is an easy solution now. I created a usergroup for brand new members, and when anyone first registers, they go into this group. All posts by these group members are moderated, right now we have it set so the first 10 posts are moderated, and after 10 posts they get "autopromoted" into the 'new member' group, and then their posts are no longer moderated. We also don't let them have signatures, avatars, profile pictures, ect when in the brand new group. I've found with most spam or harrasser people, if they make it through the hassle of registering, then start making posts and find their posts don't appear, they get frustrated and leave. This allows us to stop hassle before it even starts, most of the time.
- http://www.theadminzone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=544

I don't believe that there's really anything you can threaten them with; trolling isn't exactly illegal from my understanding (depending on what they say).

08-19-2005, 07:14 AM
Maybe he'll die soon?

If you're willing to put the money into it I would consider talking to a lawyer, at the very least a cease & desist order might intimidate him.

So... he out smarted the cookie based ban huh?

You could not ban him, vbulletin has this feature called "tachy goes to coventry" it puts him on global ignore so no one can see his posts, he can keep posting away and no one will ever notice. I don't know what software you use or if you tried something like that before.

I had one problem member like this. He ended up threatening to burn my house down and so I called the cops. He was just some teenager though (who lived less than 30 minutes away which is why I called the cops, that was too close for comfort). So if this bozo has ever threatened you I'd call the cops.

Also, in case you don't already, start keeping a log of everything he says and does.

Finally, if nothing else works, and if a lawyer says you do not have a case for a lawsuit, maybe try fighting fire with fire. Hire a private investigator and find out everything you can about this guy. Then tell him if he doesn't stop you'll expose his behavior to his friends/family/church/etc. If the guy is that off his rocker call his local police or local department of mental health and try to get him committed. Instead of banning him autoforward him to gay porn sites.

08-19-2005, 07:47 AM
Three years? That guy clearly has some mental issues. I agree with Chris. At bare minimum I'd talk to the other board owner and put together some kind of C&D or lawsuit -- and have a lawyer contact him directly.

The truth is, if this guy is 60 that is a good thing because it means he has assets that you can go after, which also might make the case more attractive to lawyers.

08-19-2005, 07:53 AM
Another thought, you might be able to contact an advocacy group for some help with legal issues.

08-19-2005, 08:22 AM
I have problems with morons as well and setup a new account that the first 10 posts is moderated, and auto-promotes to regular member. works well.

08-19-2005, 09:29 AM
That is strange. A sixty year businessman just not giving up trying to spam a forum. It's unbelievable, I hope you get it sorted...

08-19-2005, 11:07 AM
Maybe he'll die soon?


I like the ideas you've set forth very much, particularly the one where he posts, but nobody sees them. That would keep him busy and would take awhile for him to figure out why nobody is responding. I'm using Invision Power Board, so I don't know if there's a mod like that or not. I'll check, and if not, request that someone consider making one. It's a fabulous idea.

I don't think he's done anything that would qualify under the cyber stalking laws, or I would have tried to press charges. In most states, you need some kind of threat involved, and there's never been any kind of threat. I can take the nastiness towards me (I'm used to it, LOL), but I feel very protective towards my members. Some of them are really on the edge when they come to the board and I just won't tolerate his cruelty towards them. I may try sending yet another complaint to his ISP.

But now I'm off to see if I can find a mod like this. If I combined that with the misery mod and he thought the site was messed up plus he could post, but only I could see his posts, that would at least keep him busy for a bit.

When this first started and he was making name after name after name, I got frustrated and waited for him to show up on the board. Then I made it look like the board was temporarily shut down to everyone but him. A redirect script based on his IP address sent him to a series of special pages, where I said "you're not as smart as you think, and I know what ISP you're using, your operating system, what city" and so on, then proceeded to tell him the details. I said I would be contacting his ISP and the police , etc.

It scared the heck out of him, so I guess he didn't know much about logging techniques, and he sent me an email that started out asking for forgiveness, but a page into the ten pages of diatribe, he moved into a big discourse on how I sucked. That's his recurring theme, that I suck, that I'm a Nazi, that I'm violating his constitutional rights. haha. I'm sure he's talked to people who do know computers and now he knows I can't really see into his living room.

It's indeed very odd that he's a grown man, and not some teenager.

08-19-2005, 11:12 AM
Three years? That guy clearly has some mental issues. I agree with Chris. At bare minimum I'd talk to the other board owner and put together some kind of C&D or lawsuit -- and have a lawyer contact him directly.

The truth is, if this guy is 60 that is a good thing because it means he has assets that you can go after, which also might make the case more attractive to lawyers.

I hadn't really thought about the asset issue. I may give an attorney a call and see what they think. The other board owner actually knows him, which is how I found out his full name. She said he's quite wealthy. (Lives in south Florida)

She was the one who got part of his website (the hate page) pulled. He had to tone down the language after she filed complaints with his hosting company.

08-19-2005, 11:21 AM
I have problems with morons as well and setup a new account that the first 10 posts is moderated, and auto-promotes to regular member. works well.
This is probably the best option, though something I've resisted.

The thing about many of my members is that they're in bad shape. I wanted it as easy as possible to find your way around and post. I really hated having to implement even required registration, but he made that necessary.

I've even thought of an introductory message that says "Do you find it difficult to post to the board? Thank Mr. Jerk, and email him here to send your love."

What I'm thinking along these lines is maybe trying two groups: when they register and I approve, I send the ones I'm sure aren't him (posting from Europe or Asia, he doesn't seem to have any friends there yet) and they can post immediately upon approval, and then a second group of people I suspect might be him, and they could be on the above kind of moderation. One group could be called Member and the other Members, so maybe no one would notice.

And then a third group for those I know for sure are him, and that would be the kind that posts and posts, but the posts never show up.

You guys are giving me great ideas!!!! And I confess, it's just nice to share my misery. It's therapy. :)

I'm so glad I found this board!

08-19-2005, 12:38 PM
At the very least you might be able to sue him for libel for his hate page.

08-19-2005, 05:34 PM
Maybe he'll die soon? :eek:*falls onto the floor*:D

It's indeed very odd that he's a grown man, and not some teenager. Not really. CRAZY comes in many different flavors. :) :D :p