How a modern troll argues

Traditionally an Internet troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord, whether for the troll’s amusement, or a specific gain. The classical lone troll wasn’t hard to deal with, once identified all you had to do is follow the classical response: “do not feed the troll”. This worked well in the past, but times have changed.

Nowadays there’s more than one kind of troll.

We have brigading trolls (such as Chapo Trap House trolls), who bad together pushing the same kind of inflammatory commentary; the community might ignore one or two, but if a band of users say the same thing that might give credence to their claims, and a good actor might be fooled into giving a response, thinking there might be some valid criticism there.

Then there’s concern trolls who act pretty much as good actors, except their advice to the group would cause harm rather than good. They use sockpuppet accounts to hide their true agenda; for example a Republican might create an account faking to be a Democrat, and then propose a witch hunt to identify the “true” Democrats, and thus in effect dividing and weaking the group. The usual advice to ignore the trolls doesn’t work because concern trolls are almost indistinguishable from good actors.

And finally there’s professional trolls; which as their name suggest, they are being paid by a corporation, a political entity, or special-interest group to achieve specific goals. There have been many studies that prove these kinds of trolls exist, the most famous group being Russia’s Internet Research Agency. The tactics and goals of these groups vary, sometimes from day to day, but in general their tactics include: flip the narrative, cancel, position, counter-offend, and oppress usually with the goal of polarizing a community. Therefore it wouldn’t be unusual to play both sides of the fence; have both alt-right and far-left sock puppets in order to get the real users to fight between themselves.

The community

Recently I became a moderator (mod) in an online community in reddit (called a “sub”) about the author and public intellectual Sam Harris. I wasn’t paying close attention to this sub, but yet I noticed a steady stream of irrelevant content, I complained about it, and thus I learned I was merely one of many to do so.

When I became a mod I started receiving a lot of feedback about the dire status of this online community. It turns out it was so bad that a group of users decided to create an alternate community in order to get away from toxic behavior and a sea of irrelevance. Also, there were sister and related communities that recognized the problem, and the need to solve it.

I had my work cut out for me, but what I didn’t know at the time was the amount of pushback I would receive by every little attempt to improve the community. Right away I received complaints merely by removing content about what I considered to be clearly irrelevant topics; topics Sam Harris barely had talked about, and in my opinion didn’t belong in the sub.

Virtually all the users that complained about the moderation decisions shared a similar style of arguing. At the time I couldn’t deal with the sheer amount of comments, but slowly and steadily I discussed the issues with each and every user, and while doing so I realized many of them were dishonest. I would say A, and they would claim I said B and run with it. For example I would say “In my opinion the detractors that are engaging in bad faith shouldn’t be welcome”, and they would say I wanted to ban all detractors (what I said, what they say I said).

A misunderstanding here and there is to be expected, but not so many misunderstandings from so many sources, constantly. More importantly; these users didn’t seem to be interested in the least in being corrected. It looked like they knew what they truth was, they were just not interested in accepting it.

So in order to keep my sanity and avoid wasting time I arrived to a rule of thumb; the moment a user makes it clear he/she isn’t interested in what I am actually saying; I end the conversation, and I avoid future ones. Generally I give people the benefit of the doubt, but when it is clear they are not interested in what I say, they are merely interested in what they can claim I said, there’s no point in discussing with that person. So I labeled these people as intellectually dishonest, and moved on.

This is of course the traditional approach—ignore the trolls—and it worked for me, but not for the community, because these trolls kept spreading lies, even if I didn’t engage with them, and they kept derailing conversations, and sowing discord.

Something had to be done about these trolls, I just didn’t know what. I didn’t even want to accept these were trolls.

The setup

I asked for advice in different communities—there’s even a community of moderators—and I received good advice, however, most if it couldn’t be applied to our particular community because we have a strong commitment to freedom of speech (in the spirit of Sam Harris and others in the Intellectual Dark Web).

So how could we both hold on to our strong commitment to freedom of speech, and at the same time stop the trolls from destroying the community? If a user is obviously acting in bad faith, the solution is easy; ban that user. But many of these trolls would do everything in their power to appear as good actors. So even if a moderator is pretty sure a user is engaging in bad faith, he/she can never be sure. The fact that a user appears to be a troll is not enough.

I roamed the Internet for inspiration, and I encountered tips to actively deal with trolls, mostly in the form of trolling the trolls. However, I didn’t want to reduce myself to their level. I tried different tactics, mostly engaging with the trolls, but not as if I was dealing with real people, and then I saw the light.

Trolls have a major disadvantage, that any good actor engaging in good faith doesn’t have; they don’t care. Their interest in any particular subject is manufactured, it isn’t real. So if you spend time writing a really good argument they would not be able to counter it; they don’t have the intellectual tools, nor the interest in doing so. What they will do is go to their troll toolkit, and pick any of their well-practiced tactics to deviate the conversation. The most common one is the smoke screen.

A good actor might inadvertently use a smoke screen, but a troll will use it over and over, to the point that the times he avoids an argument are more than the times he engages in it. This is not an accident, this is deliberate.

After engaging with trolls in this matter I realized how ridiculously often they do this. All you have to do is ignore all the red herrings they throw, all the ad hominems attacks, don’t drink from the poisoned well, ignore the smoke screen, and concentrate on the argument. Don’t say anything extra they might reply to, don’t ask any follow up questions, don’t answer their irrelevant questions; stay on point.

Any person acting in good faith will reply to your questions, even if it might mean losing the argument. A troll will not.

So when I realized this trend, I decided to engage with a suspected troll to see how far the rabbit hole could go, and I honestly didn’t expect a nonsensical discussion of such epic proportions.

The discussion

The context of the discussion is a little tricky. First, there was a discussion between Sam Harris and Eric Weinstein in Weinstein’s relatively new podcast: The Portal. In this discussion they touched on the lack of effort some people make to try to understand people they disagree with, and they mentioned examples such as Sam Seder, and David Pakman. Funnily enough, both Seder and Pakman replied about these comments in their respective podcasts, and their conclusions couldn’t be more different.

The ironic part is that Pakman was mentioned as an example of a person who does make an effort to understand what his opponent is saying, and he did understood what was being said by Weinstein and Harris. On the other hand Seder was brought up as an example of a person that does not make an effort, and lo and behold in his podcast he did indeed misrepresent what Weinstein and Harris said.

This was the topic of the post I made to reddit’s Sam Harris community: Good and bad faith actors behaved in predictable ways that Sam Harris & Eric Weinstein accurately described.

In my post I made it crystal clear what was in my opinion the argument Weinstein made:

Let’s get the premise right; the premise is that some people would rather mock a straw man, than get correctly the actual gist of what is being said. That’s it.

This is the argument. This is what Harris and Weinstein are talking about, this is what Pakman replies to, and this is what Seder is attempting to address. This argument for brevity and analysis purposes I’m going to call argument W.

Right off the bat user BloodsVsCrips starts with this attack:

If you rank Tim Pool as a 4 out of 5 your definition of “good faith” becomes useless.

This is in reference to another discussion in which users were supposed to rank political commentators, and I did rank Tim Pool with an overall grade of 4/5. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with the argument at hand; neither what Weinstein said, nor what Seder said about what Weinstein said. So this is a smokescreen, an ad hominem, a genetic fallacy, and poisoning the well. The thing he didn’t do is address argument W.

I mocked his obvious attempt at not addressing the argument, mrsamsa accused me of not addressing the argument, I asked what was BloodsVsCrips supposed argument, and mrsamsa replies:

That people with a demonstrably bad barometer for determining good and bad faith might be inaccurately judging the people described in the OP.

Now, this is not an accurate representation of BloodsVsCrips’s argument, and yet it commits the same fallacies. I chose to concentrate on the genetic fallacy, which has this form:

  • X said Y is true
  • X is a bad source
  • ∴ Y is false

Of course X is me, but Y is a little bit tricky, because mrsamsa’s argument is also a smoke screen, so he wants to change Y from the original topic (argument W) to “Sam Seder acts in bad faith”. To be clear, I did say Sam Seder acted in bad faith, but I did so with an argument:

Sam Seder didn’t show any signs of understanding Eric Weinstein’s argument, therefore he misrepresented Eric Weinstein’s argument.

We can call this argument F, which depends on argument W.

In fairness to mrsamsa if Y is in fact “Sam Seder acts in bad faith”, then his argument wouldn’t be a genetic fallacy, but we know I did provide an argument (argument F) for my claim, to ignore that would be falling into his smoke screen.

So the syllogism would be:

  • felipec did put forward argument F
  • felipec is a bad source
  • Argument F is false

That is an obvious genetic fallacy.

It should not matter what did or didn’t say about Tim Pool, it shouldn’t matter how good I am at representing anybody’s good faith, it doesn’t matter who I am at all. The only thing that matters is; what was Weinstein’s argument? (argument W), and did Sam Seder represent Weinstein’s argument correctly or not? (argument F).

Is mrsamsa going to focus on the argument, like any good actor would do? Or is he going to do something else?

Dancing around the genetic fallacy

So the first thing I tried to do is nail down the definition of a genetic fallacy; I asked mrsamsa two direct questions, and he evaded them both:

Answer these questions.

(1) Is this a genetic fallacy?
> P1: X said Y is true
> P2: X is a bad source
> C: Y is false

(2) Is this a genetic fallacy?
> P1: felipec said Sam Seder is a bad faith actor
> P2: felipec doesn’t have good judgement
> C: Sam Seder is not a bad faith actor

mrsamsa:

If you’re just asking hypothetically then yes, presenting it as a proof can be fallacious but that’s obviously not what happened…

Notice he is responding in terms of yes, argument X can be fallacious, but he doesn’t want to say it is. I insisted I am not interested in him saying if it can be, but if it actually is:

mrsamsa:

…I did answer, yes it can be fallacious…

This continues:

mrsamsa:

I’ve already answered above. Now stop with this bad faith nonsense and continue with the discussion.

Then he tries to throw smoke screen:

mrsamsa:

Because you don’t understand the topic very well (as evidenced by thinking the genetic fallacy wasn’t an informal fallacy) your response is to misconstrue my answer, rather than to realise “that makes sense”.

Unfortunately I made a mistake of categorizing the genetic fallacy as a formal fallacy, and we’ll see later he will use this as a smoke screen, and an ad hominem.

In addition, he continues taunting the “can be”.

mrsamsa:

Again, someone who believes that the genetic fallacy isn’t an in informal fallacy is unlikely to teach me anything about logic.

It can be, certainly.

More of the same:

mrsamsa:

Do one easy thing right now: admit you made an error by claiming that the genetic fallacy isn’t an informal fallacy.

I can’t change my answer though, I can’t forget everything I know about fallacies and logic and pretend the answer is “yes” even though such a response is nonsensical…

It should be a very easy (1) yes, (2) yes. Why on Earth would any good actor avoid such obvious questions? Maybe mrsamsa does indeed possess a superior knowledge of logic, and the textbook example of a genetic fallacy doesn’t indeed contain a genetic fallacy, but if that is the case why isn’t he enlightening us? Why isn’t he explaining in which cases argument (1) can’t be a genetic fallacy?

The answer is simple; he doesn’t care. In the best case scenario, just like a hostile witness he is simply not answering the question, nor venturing any useful information; he is wasting our time. In the worst case scenario, he is a troll who doesn’t have a good answer for our questions, and is also wasting our time.

And that of course doesn’t translate to argument (2), because that is a specific argument; it either has a genetic fallacy, or it doesn’t. No can, if, then, or buts.

Now, this is just a taste, because the amount of times he applies the same tactic over and over, not just to me, but anyone trying to have a rational discussion is just mind blowing.

Argument within an argument

I wasn’t the only one engaging with him; DwightVSJim unfortunately also got caught in his web of nonsense. He also avoided to answer any of DwightVSJim’s criticisms, but the amount of nonsense is too much to summarize, so I’ll just make a list of comments:

  • mrsamsa: A liar is more likely to lie than someone who doesn’t lie.
  • mrsamsa: You can’t be serious..
  • mrsamsa: Come on, just think a little bit about this.
  • mrsamsa: Yes, if I said something different then it would be different.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t know what this is supposed to mean.
  • mrsamsa: Keep up.
  • mrsamsa: It can be, definitely.
  • mrsamsa: Perfectly valid argument, no fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: Remember that arguments are about judging the persuasiveness of the support for a conclusion…
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just proved yourself wrong there.
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just said that my argument based on the origin of the claim isn’t fallacious.
  • mrsamsa: I’m showing that an argument based on the origin of the claim can reject the conclusion while not being fallacious.
  • mrsamsa: The origin of the claim is Ham, not me.
  • mrsamsa: I am, using Ken Ham as the origin.
  • mrsamsa: The fact that I’m making the argument is obviously irrelevant to whether something is or isn’t a fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: No, the origin in my argument is Ken Ham.
  • mrsamsa: I’m arguing that.
  • mrsamsa: Please just take two seconds to realise how stupid this argument is.
  • mrsamsa: C Felipec is probably wrong about Seder acting in bad faith.

Of course, while avoiding anything presented to him, he didn’t stop making snarky remarks. And at no point in time does mrsamsa addresses the actual arguments: argument F and argument W. He just goes on an on inventing new irrelevant arguments such as a fake argument from Ken Ham.

Finally, I arrive to save DwightVSJim from mrsamsa’s black hole. I point out if in “felipec says Y”, Y is an argument itself, there’s no need to even check if there’s a genetic fallacy:

felipec:

We also have logical argument X which can be evaluated on it’s own. So if logical argument X is:

  • All men are mortal
  • All Greeks are men
  • ∴ All Greeks are mortal

We know logical argument X is valid, so it’s irrelevant if “felipec is probably wrong about logical argument X”, because we can look at logical argument X and see that it is valid. It’s like getting two 6 dices and somebody else is saying; “I don’t need to look at the dices, because I know getting two 6s is very unlikely”.

This destroys mrsamsa’s red herrings, because it forces us to look into the actual argument X (argument F), and not run around irrelevant probabilities of “me” being right.

Miraculously, mrsamsa agrees:

mrsamsa:

All you’ve argued is that there is another way to challenge the conclusion of X. Okay sure, yeah there are. That doesn’t make it fallacious.

So he finally accepted one thing, but in doing so I got him, because there’s an easy way to demonstrate the smoke screen fallacy:

felipec:

Which one would be better to tackle if we want to discern the truth of the conclusion of X? [Argument X, or argument Y?]

All he has to do is say “X”, and he would be admitting that in this whole thread we should be looking at argument F, not my bona fides. You can guess what happened.

mrsamsa:

As for which is better, it depends on the specific claim and the strength of the evidence for each argument.

What a surprise. He is backed into a corner, he has two specific options, and instead of choosing X or Y, he throws another smoke screen and say “it depends”. I didn’t let him go that easily, and I insist he gives an answer:

felipec:

X, or Y?

He goes back his usual cop out:

mrsamsa:

And I said we can say your proposal.

This is the point where I decided to end the discussion, because I thought I had gathered more than enough evidence. Note however that I’m not going through the threads in the order they happened.

After dozens of comments on this particular subject, mrsamsa hasn’t answered a single important question directly. He always avoided the topic, specially when he was backed into a corner. Any good actor would have to answer my question honestly, and say “X”, but that’s not what he did.

Can’t own mistakes

We also got completely derailed when mrsamsa failed to convert one of his fake “arguments” to a syllogism, and then failed to accept his mistakes.

First, mrsamsa provided this example of a supposedly valid argument:

“I doubt Ken Ham is accurately describing that principle of evolution because he has history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding them”

It was pointed out to him the many reasons why this “argument” is essentially useless, but mrsamsa kept defending it, and provided a supposed syllogism for it:

mrsamsa:

P1 Ken Ham thinks X about evolution

P2 Ken Ham has a history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding claims about evolution

P3 we should doubt claims made by people with a history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding claims

C we should doubt Ken Ham’s claim X about evolution.

This was in fact not a “perfect” argument nor an accurate mapping from his original argument. I pointed out the many issues this argument has:

  1. He used different verbs in the premises: thinks vs. claims
  2. A similar “valid” argument can be made with the premise “we should doubt claims made by people with a mustache”
  3. Changed “I doubt X” to “we should doubt X”
  4. It’s a red herring trying to distract us away from argument W

So I destroyed the notion that this was in any way a “perfect”, along with getting us out of the black hole of ignoring argument F. I made an analogy of an embedded argument and his Ken Ham “argument” to arrive to the following syllogism that puts a nail in his coffin:

felipec:

And since we obviously can’t trust you to put a correct syllogism, it would be like:

  • P1: Ken Ham made argument A about evolution
  • P2: Ken Ham has a history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding claims about evolution
  • C: Argument A about evolution is unsound

This “argument” has a genetic fallacy.

What mrsamsa does do is everything, but acknowledge the fact that he made two different arguments, and that an argument can be embedded in another argument, and we should talk about the original embedded argument, not the outer one:

mrsamsa:

Holy shit, pedantry through the charts.
Yes, let’s act like normal human beings, se how that works out for you.
How is that a “correct” syllogism? It’s an invalid argument.
You’re the embodiment of dunning-Kruger.

The rest of the responses keep evading the issue:

  • mrsamsa: Of course I didn’t address the argument that has a conclusion that’s irrelevant to my argument.
  • mrsamsa: What are you talking about?
  • mrsamsa: Semantics aren’t the damning blow that you seem to think they are.
  • mrsamsa: I mean, you keep pretending you can’t see my argument so why should I engage with your strawman of my argument?

Until finally:

mrsamsa:

I’ll take that as a “I’m going to continue to troll rather than engage in any kind of meaningful discussion”.

Very classy.


I take the conclusion reached in this subthread that is pretty hidden by now, and repeat it on the main thread:

felipec:

Hmm. “We should doubt X” versus “I doubt X”. Somebody isn’t reading his own arguments.

Of course he handled it very graciously:

mrsamsa:

Don’t get hung up on semantics and try to address the argument itself.

Another user, SailOfIgnorance, came to mrsamsa’s rescue and made the argument that there’s no distinction between “I doubt X” and “we should doubt X”, but if course there is, and I answered the challenge:

felipec:

You want me to state the distinction between (1) “we should doubt X” and (2) “I doubt X”? Easy, (1) requires reasoning, (2) doesn’t.

This explanation was addressed in perfect faith by mrsamsa:

mrsamsa:

Easy, /u/sailofignorance. I assume that clears up any confusion you may have had!

mrsamsa:

Oh. Maybe meditate more?

I event went to the trouble of providing different syllogisms to show the pointlessness of “I doubt X”. Essentially conclusions like “I believe X”, or “I doubt X” are pointless, because they don’t require reasoning, so you don’t need any argument, or any other premises.

When SailOfIgnorance challenged this notion, I explained it to him:

felipec:

> Give me an example where “I doubt X” doesn’t require reasoning

Easy: “I doubt I’ll have eggs on my breakfast”.

SailOfIgnorance did eventually acknowledge this difference, but did mrsamsa? No.

Why can’t he just accept that he made a mistake? (multiple ones actually) Why doesn’t he want to acknowledge any of the main arguments? (argument F, or argument W). This tendency should be clear by now, and we are only just getting started.

Nonsense of origin

In another thread with DwightVSJim, mrsamsa to spin and spin around the same issue:

  • mrsamsa: That honestly makes no sense and is a bizarre interpretation of the genetic fallacy…
  • mrsamsa: The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance…
  • mrsamsa: Both attack the origin, but only one is fallacious.
  • mrsamsa: Shooting the paper boy for the contents of the paper would be an error, shooting the editor/ journalist would not.
  • mrsamsa: No they don’t need to bring it as well.
  • mrsamsa: Obviously the only relevant person to the genetic fallacy would be the person making the original claim…
  • mrsamsa: You understand that your understanding means that unless someone makes an argument that they themselves are a biased source to reject the conclusion they’re arguing for, a genetic fallacy is impossible, right?
  • mrsamsa: That’s literally what you’re arguing.
  • mrsamsa: So you’re not saying that I is the “origin” that’s relevant to the genetic fallacy?
  • mrsamsa: But if you’re not saying that I is the “origin” that’s relevant to the genetic fallacy then what was your argument?
  • mrsamsa: When I make an argument that dismisses a claim made by Bob because it came from Bob, I’m pointing out that you seem to believe that I is the “origin” relevant to the genetic fallacy rather than Bob.
  • mrsamsa: I just summarized it there and we’ve gone over it in detail above, address whichever is easier for you.
  • mrsamsa: Just highlight what is the origin that would be relevant when assessing if it commits the genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: So you’re now agreeing with my characterization of your position that you think the arguer is the origin that the genetic fallacy refers to?
  • mrsamsa: Jesus, this is such an insane view.
  • mrsamsa: Except remember that the genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance so this is only true when we’re rejecting it because it’s coming from Bob for irrelevant reasons.

This is what happens when a good actor tries to engage honestly as if the troll is a real person. If nobody challenges his bullshit, the troll can go on and on about irrelevant stuff.

When I show up to this thread I end by showing to mrsamsa exactly in which kind of arguments the source of a claim matters, and where it doesn’t, by providing different unquestionable examples:

felipec:

No, you don’t understand. The genetic fallacy occurs when we accept or reject a claim. Normally I would ask you for syllogism explaining when the truthfulness of claim is relevant, and when it’s irrelevant, but we all know you are going to botch it, and it will take us 50 comments for you to not accept that you did, so let me do that for you:

  • Bob says X
  • People that say X are racist
  • ∴ Bob is a racist

Here’s another example:

  • Bob says X
  • If anybody say X we drink
  • ∴ We drink

In both these cases the conclusion has nothing to do with the X being true or false, and the other premise relies on Bob’s claim (regardless if it’s true).

Now let’s make it a fallacy:

  • Bob says X
  • Bob usually lies
  • If anybody says a lie we drink
  • ∴ We drink

Why is this a fallacy? Because we assuming the truthfulness of a claim based on its source, if we reject X because Bob said it we are committing the genetic fallacy. It’s irrelevant who said X; we need to find out if X is true or not.

Tell me /u/mrsamsa, how is this not the case? Do we or do we not need to know if X is true before accepting that conclusion?

This destroys all the irrelevant nonsense about who is the origin of what that mrsamsa kept going on and on about. He replied dozens of times to DwightVSJim when it was easy to avoid the actual issue, but when I make it difficult for him to ignore what actually is a genetic fallacy, what does he do?

He didn’t bother to reply.

Words don’t matter

In yet another thread mrsamsa argued that the names of fallacies don’t matter, instead, we should point out the errors in reasoning themselves, and he did so in his usual classy manner:

  • mrsamsa: Trust me, don’t try to explain to dwight how fallacies work and what they mean.
  • mrsamsa: Yeah that’s exactly how I see it now.
  • mrsamsa: Bringing up the names of fallacies is indeed a troll talking point.
  • mrsamsa: Non trolls realise that the names of fallacies are pointless in themselves because it doesn’t help describe your position or highlight the supposed problem in the argument you’re replying to.
  • mrsamsa: Fallacies have nothing to do with the conclusions…
  • mrsamsa: Of course it does, fallacies aren’t about whether a conclusion is true or not…
  • mrsamsa: Tell me what you think a fallacy is.
  • mrsamsa: Very good.
  • mrsamsa: Fallacies are only related to the structure of the reasoning, they don’t determine the truth or falsity of the conclusion.
  • mrsamsa: You can’t be serious?
  • mrsamsa: Why are you dodging your false claim that I corrected in my post above?

I can’t help but notice the sweet irony of mrsamsa lecturing us in how non-trolls argue, but unfortunately he managed to one again derail the discussion away from the arguments (argument F and argument W) into purse nonsense.

When I jump into the discussion his tone changes:

felipec:

The guy who says the names of fallacies are irrelevant is claiming the categories of fallacies matter. Makes sense.

mrsamsa:

I assume you’re trolling rather than intentionally being so blatantly dishonest here, but if you’re genuinely confused, the names of fallacies are less important in a debate than actually explaining what you think the flawed reasoning is.

This whole argument that the names of fallacies don’t matter is obviously self-defeating, since words are basically the only thing we have to communicate, there is a reason we don’t explain what a napkin is every time we want one. So obviously there’s a reason why common fallacies have names.

felipec:

> I assume you’re trolling rather than intentionally being so blatantly dishonest here, but if you’re genuinely confused, the names of fallacies are less important in a debate than actually explaining what you think the flawed reasoning is.

And what is the quickest way to explain that there’s a flaw in reasoning?

> If someone says “it’s spelt “ab hominid” not “ad hominem” loser!” then while the names of fallacies still aren’t useful in a debate, it’s still worthwhile pointing out that the person isn’t right.

If I say “to say that a person didn’t finish high-school therefore his argument is invalid; it’s an X fallacy”.

1. ab hominid
2. hasty generalization fallacy

What do you think is closer to the truth? Which one do you think is more worth correcting?

I ask mrsamsa two questions. Care to venture how many he will answer?

mrsamsa:

> And what is the quickest way to explain that there’s a flaw in reasoning?

Not by using the name of a fallacy as that doesn’t explain the flaw in reasoning in the person’s argument.

> What do you think is closer to the truth? Which one do you think is more worth correcting?

I don’t really understand how this is relevant, both need to be corrected. Fortunately we can do two things and aren’t limited to one.

This is nonsense. Obviously saying “argument X has flaw Y” is explaining the flaw in reasoning, even if Y is misspelled. But if he answers my questions he would have to concede, so he just doesn’t.

The rest of the discussion is more of the same; mrsamsa evading questions, derailing, and smoke screening:

  • mrsamsa: Hey, you answer a single question I’ve posed to you in this thread and then I’ll take your tantrums more seriously. Otherwise it just looks like bad faith trolling.
  • mrsamsa: You’re the definition of bad faith troll.
  • mrsamsa: How does this relate to anything I’ve said?
  • mrsamsa: And how does that relate to my argument?
  • mrsamsa: I explained why naming a fallacy doesn’t help you identify the specific flaw in an argument. And you replied that naming the fallacy is identifying the flaw.

I didn’t let him get away with such obvious smoke screening. I tried to force him to address the argument, but of course he didn’t.

felipec:

Your argument was that the name of a fallacy doesn’t help you find out the flaw in an argument, I just showed you it does.

If you can’t see that there’s no more reason to discuss. Good bye.

Why are we even discussing this? Of course we can say “argument X has a genetic fallacy”, and the words “genetic fallacy” are useful to identify the flaw in reasoning. If mrsamsa’s wasn’t intentionally derailing the conversation why does he keep bringing red herrings, and always avoiding not only the main arguments (argument F, and argument W), but he avoids any arguments he himself brings up.

This is meta-arguing; mrsamsa is arguing about arguing, and he is derailing the very same tangent he has put us on.

The actual argument

There’s only one point in the whole discussion where mrsamsa actually tried to engage with the actual argument:

mrsamsa:

Seder is responding to Weinstein’s metaphor of the IDW doing maths and how people like Seder are ignorant of alternative forms of maths so jump to ridicule and thinking people are crazy.

Seder is criticizing the idea that when people mock others who seriously propose race realism etc that really what’s happening is that the race realist is privy to some kind of information that Seder is unaware of, and what appears to be crazy is in fact just an evidence based position that could be uncovered by a serious investigation rather than dismissal.

His criticism is essentially of the idea: a) that it’s appropriate to compare things like race realism to the factual nature of maths, and b) that Seder thinks it’s crazy because he’s unaware of the logic behind race realism, rather than the fact that they’re wrong.

This is obviously a misrepresentation of Weinstein’s argument (argument W), in fact, he didn’t say what was the argument, he just mentioned a “metaphor”, so I ask him to at least make an attempt:

felipec:

> Seder is responding to Weinstein’s metaphor of the IDW doing maths

That’s not what Eric Weinstein did. Can you do at least a poor man’s job of a steel man?

Will mrsamsa finally answer a direct question? You already know the answer, don’t you?

mrsamsa:

Use your words buddy, if you disagree with something then explain it.

Why do you think Weinstein wasn’t using a maths analogy?

felipec:

I’m not going to fall for that. Can you make a steel man argument for Eric Weinstein or not?

mrsamsa:

You’re not going to fall for engaging in a productive good faith discussion?

So there it is. When it was time to actually address the argument that mattered, he didn’t even make an attempt to explain it with his own words.

My bad

I don’t want to be a locus of attention; I want to focus on what mrsamsa did, but I’ve had to rely on my comments, since they are directly related to many of mrsamsa’s comments.

And even if I made argument F, and I brought up argument W; I want the focus of the discussion to be on those arguments, not me.

Unfortunately I made a mistake in saying that the genetic fallacy was a formal fallacy. In my defense I probably had more than a few beers when I made that comment, I did a quick Google search and found no evidence that the genetic fallacy was informal.

But if it’s true that I made such mistake, it doesn’t matter in the discussion if the genetic fallacy is formal or informal; it’s still a fallacy. In retrospect I shouldn’t have fell in such an obvious bait, but I did; I did respond to a red herring.

Now, a good actor would simply say: “you made a mistake” and move on. In fact mrsamsa made many of such mistakes, and I didn’t punish him eternally for them. But that’s not what a troll does.

What a troll does is hold on to this trivial mistakes as evidence that a person is “bad at logic”. This troll tactic is another fallacy called poisoning the well. Since I made one mistake, that means that forever and ever any argument I make is flawed. Indeed, after I accepted the mistake mrsamsa and other possible trolls have weaponized this mistake and brought it up in other threads.

Even after I ended the conversation, mrsamsa piled on with other users on the formal fallacy mistake:

mrsamsa:

But to him, I think he views it all as some grand conspiracy to derail the sub, so he seems to view it as a moral duty to not give an inch on anything…

mrsamsa:

These people are so unaware of how little they know about a topic that they’re practically incapable of even understanding how little they know about the topic. It becomes a black hole where trying to explain it to them fails because they lack any foundation to even make sense of the possibility that other people might know more than them, and worse still, those people might think they’re wrong.

mrsamsa:

But the genetic fallacy not being an informal fallacy claim is just a really easy thing to put your hand up over, especially as it doesn’t affect his argument or position at all. It’s just a “whoops, yeah, don’t know why I said that, of course it isn’t. Let’s move on now” moment that doesn’t need to be a big deal.

mrsamsa:

If it wasn’t abundantly clear, he’s barely read the wiki page on the topic nevermind an actual textbook.

mrsamsa:

And coming from the guy whose ego is too big to even accept that they didn’t know the genetic fallacy was an informal fallacy, that insult falls flat.

And of course, I did accept I made a mistake later on:

felipec:

> Will you admit you were mistaken?

Yes, I made a mistake. Not that it matters, because the category of this fallacy is completely irrelevant, and focusing on this is a red herring.

As expected other users used this as ammunition:

zemir0n:

But it is relevant. Your knowledge or lack thereof of logical fallacies is definitely relevant when it comes to talking about logical fallacies.

Did mrsamsa praise what he supposedly wanted me to do in good faith? You know the answer:

mrsamsa:

Replying to comments is a fallacy.

Beating on a dead horse

As I said, once I thought I gathered enough evidence to convince any rational person that mrsamsa was in fact a troll, I ended the conversation. This was taken by mrsamsa and his allies a “victory”.

It doesn’t have to be said that they took this “victory” graciously:

mrsamsa:

So I mean… a win? Even if for the most bizarre reason.

mrsamsa:

That was probably one of the most cringey things I’ve ever seen on the internet. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if, as you point out, the entire essay long argument didn’t boil down to this bizarre point based entirely on semantics.

Once again bringing up the informal fallacy red herring:

mrsamsa:

It definitely makes sense in light of him being unaware that the genetic fallacy is an informal fallacy, which is fine if it’s a slip of the tongue but egregious as a genuine error.

And he goes on and on:

mrsamsa:

He doesn’t seem to know about a lot of things.

But instead of just listening to the other person he seems to scan posts for any little thing that he can pinpoint and say “Ah ha! You said “doubt” instead of “reject”, therefore you’re making two completely different arguments and I can’t take you seriously any more!”.

We already explored why “I doubt X” is different than “we should doubt X”, he exploiting the fact that a casual observer might have missed the difference and then claiming I just did a “gotcha!” “just semantics” comment. No, there was a difference, the difference has been explained, and he is framing the narrative to make it seem otherwise.

This is dishonest behavior.

mrsamsa:

Being on the receiving end, it’s definitely [extremely boring and frustrating].

mrsamsa:

I feel like he’s got this caricature of what it means to be a “rational person”, and he’s confused being pedantic with being rational. It’s like someone who’s idea of how to be a lawyer comes from TV and so they just yell “objection!” at everything.

mrsamsa:

Destroyed!

mic drop

Is this the way a good actor treats a “win”?

Other conversations

Not content with derailing this conversation with his genetic fallacy nonsense, he sprang up a discussion about the same nonsense in a completely unrelated post. In order to protect the sanity of the reader, I’m not going to go in detail through those, but there have been several dozens of such comments.

In a post titled: Full Subscription Model and Amount of Hatred Sam Receives on this Site:

  • mrsamsa: I followed it fine, you were simply wrong for all the reasons I explained to you.
  • mrsamsa: I’m happy if you agree now but you explicitly argued before that BvC was the origin of the claim subject to the genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: You called me dishonest for saying that, and then repeated what I just said…
  • mrsamsa: What’s not a genetic fallacy?
  • mrsamsa: Take a step back and read what I’m writing.
  • mrsamsa: Why do you think I “take pride in pissing people off”?
  • mrsamsa: The arguer is irrelevant to assessing whether a genetic fallacy occurred.
  • mrsamsa: But if you mean the origin of the argument then you accept that who is arguing that “Bob is a liar” is irrelevant, right?
  • mrsamsa: We’re trying to figure out what you mean by “origin”, that’s all.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t have a problem with the concept of the genetic fallacy, we’re debating your interpretation of it that isn’t consistent with how it’s actually understood.
  • mrsamsa: So when is the person making the argument ever the issue?
  • mrsamsa: Do you need me to dig up our past conversation where you explicitly told me the opposite?
  • mrsamsa: When you argued that BvC was relevant to assessing if his argument was a genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: So, in your view, the arguer is the source that the genetic fallacy refers to.
  • mrsamsa: Of the issue yes, not the arguer.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t know how I can make it any simpler.
  • mrsamsa: Where did I claim that you believed it was always the case?
  • mrsamsa: The arguer isn’t relevant to the genetic fallacy. That’s what you’re struggling to understand.
  • mrsamsa: I’ve told you a million times that you’re wrong but I don’t imagine that you’d agree that it’s bad faith for you to not accept that.
  • mrsamsa: The person making the argument (eg BvC in this case) is irrelevant and is never the origin of the issue that matters.
  • mrsamsa: Stop being evasive and wasting time.
  • mrsamsa: The issue is the claim being debated, ie felipecs ability to judge bad faith.
  • mrsamsa: Present your evidence, no more evasion and smokescreens.
  • mrsamsa: Yes great, link me to a source that supports your interpretation.
  • mrsamsa: The idea in BvCs argument is felipecs barometer.
  • mrsamsa: What part of his argument would we analyze to determine whether it’s based on dismissing a source or not?
  • mrsamsa: He’s dismissing an argument of felipecs.
  • mrsamsa: His argument about judging bad faith. That’s why he appealed to his barometer, as that was a criticism of the argument.
  • mrsamsa: He’s trying to convince us of his methods for judging bad faith, that’s the argument.
  • mrsamsa: Read his OP, it spells it all out in detail.
  • mrsamsa: What part are you pretending not to understand?What part are you pretending not to understand?
  • mrsamsa: What part of his OP did you not understand?
  • mrsamsa: Stop fucking evading, make your argument and stop throwing up smokescreens.
  • mrsamsa: Read the OP and tell me specifically what you don’t understand.
  • mrsamsa: Instead of constantly demanding people to answer your questions, show some good faith and do so in return.
  • mrsamsa: Answer the question or stop responding. That’s the end of the conversation.
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just proven yourself wrong with your own timeline.
  • mrsamsa: Holy shit this is getting ridiculous.
  • mrsamsa: Jesus christ. If you’d stop with the mental gymnastics these conversations would go so much easier.
  • mrsamsa: It’s not, because it’s only fallacious when the appeal to the origin is irrelevant.

In yet another post: Why is Felipec even a mod? Who made him a mod?

  • mrsamsa: Semantics won’t save you or felipec here.
  • mrsamsa: So for it to be a genetic fallacy, BvC would need to reject his own argument based on his own history.
  • mrsamsa: Careful, felipec bans people for not saying yes or no to that question.
  • mrsamsa: Why are you trying to turn it into a deductive proof?
  • mrsamsa: Why not just answer my question?
  • mrsamsa: I am rather cynically assuming that the reason you keep pretending not to be able to read my position every time I spell it out for you though is because you realise that you can’t actually refute it, and you don’t want to admit that after all this fucking bullshit I was actually right.
  • mrsamsa: If we’re in agreement that reaching a conclusion that felipec is probably wrong about a claim because he has a history of being wrong on that topic isn’t fallacious then good, I’m happy with that outcome.
  • mrsamsa: No, saying felipec is probably wrong because of his history is coming from him, he’s the origin referred to in the argument.
  • mrsamsa: As I say in my other comment, using the word “doubt” here confuses the comparison a little bit.
  • mrsamsa: It doesn’t change the origin. The origin is “felipec’s history of judging bad faith”.
  • mrsamsa: It’s a fine argument, there’s nothing fallacious about it and it wouldn’t require evidence to avoid being a fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: It’s a little confusing to use the first one as a general argument and then to use a specific example in the second.
  • mrsamsa: Now do you agree that the “origin” that would be relevant to the genetic fallacy is premise 2 in both those arguments?
  • mrsamsa: And just to be clear, this is a hypothetical, right?
  • mrsamsa: The point wasn’t about Tim Pool, the point was about Felipec’s ability to judge bad faith actors in this sub.
  • mrsamsa: I’m probably jumping ahead, continue.
  • mrsamsa: I’ll have to see why he thinks changing the conclusion from “probably wrong” to “definitely wrong” changes the origin.
  • mrsamsa: That’s not particularly relevant for the genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: Remember that to dismiss a claim we don’t need to state it in absolute terms.
  • mrsamsa: If I say that creationism is probably false, I am claiming that it’s untrue.
  • mrsamsa: If I say felipec’s argument is 99.9999% likely to be false, are you saying “Well… that’s not a dismissal of his argument, he’s saying he could be right!”?
  • mrsamsa: How can someone argue that something is probably untrue without arguing it’s untrue?
  • mrsamsa: If argued as definitely then yes, if probably then no. Agreed.
  • mrsamsa: Both are arguing it’s untrue. One says it’s probably untrue, the other definitely untrue.
  • mrsamsa: Saying something is probably untrue is a dismissal of a claim.
  • mrsamsa: We’re talking about the concept of untrue, not definitely untrue. You’re conflating the two.
  • mrsamsa: It means that something is probably true or false, since truth isn’t binary.
  • mrsamsa: Wait… are you saying arguments with the conclusion of “probably” aren’t even arguments?…
  • mrsamsa: I think you’re going to have to support some of these claims, I can’t see what you’re possibly basing them on.
  • mrsamsa: Can you give me an example of an argument that bases its conclusion on a probability?
  • mrsamsa: So when scientists say that creationists are probably wrong, they aren’t dismissing their claims as true or false?
  • mrsamsa: I’m not sure how this relates to my question.
  • mrsamsa: Since truth is binary in your view, if they aren’t fully dismissing of creationism, and they aren’t fully accepting of evolution, then surely they’re both in the same position of being “neither true or false”?
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just said that if an argument concludes that something is “probably wrong/false/untrue/etc” then they aren’t dismissing that claim.
  • mrsamsa: You explicitly said that people can’t dismiss claims as true or false if they’re talking in a probabilistic way.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t see how any of this addresses my question.
  • mrsamsa: And yet clearly I ended up being correct.
  • mrsamsa: I think you’ve misspoken there – a sound conclusion can’t be false.

Can you imagine trying to argue with him? Such a joy.

Notice that this is just the genetic fallacy argument he is using to derail other conversations. He does a similar style of arguing with other arguments, but I’m not going to bother going into more trouble trying to understand what can’t be understood.

The ban

In my opinion, there’s more than enough evidence than mrsamsa is most likely a troll, as so I decided to temporarily ban him for a month. There are some considerations that must be pondered before banning somebody, depending on the sub, it might be perfectly fine to ban somebody that we can’t be 100% sure is a troll.

Part of this analysis was sent to the mod team for a second opinion, but since no strong opinions against the ban were voiced I decided to go ahead with it.

Unfortunately due to some internal issues, his ban got reverted. I would attribute this as a mistake, and miscommunication, but it is quite telling what has been mrsamsa’s behavior after the ban.

He has been consistently lying about the reason why he was banned, and why he was subsequently unbanned:

mrsamsa:

Yeah because felipec banned me for disagreeing with him, and the other mods overturned it because that’s not against the rules.

This is a lie. He knows what was the rationale behind the ban, since part of this analysis was sent to him, so to attribute the rationale to a “disagreement” is disingenuous at best. He was banned because he engaged in bad faith, and that’s against the rules.

It is also a lie that the other mods decred he didn’t violate the rules. For starters only one mod did engage with the situation.

mrsamsa:

It’s pretty crazy that being wrong (in the eyes of the mod) is now an instant bannable offence. I assume the other mods must have thought there were others reason that justify the ban, otherwise hopefully it’s hashed out between them and the user.

He is lying about the reason why he was banned; it wasn’t because he was “wrong”, and he knows that.

mrsamsa:

What do you think of him banning me for “not answering questions” to his satisfaction (where he wanted a yes or no answer to a question I explained didn’t have a yes or no response? Or for “snarky” remarks like “keep up”, “think about it” and “this is a stupid argument”?

As you can see in this analysis, he wasn’t banned because of that; it was because he didn’t answer virtually any question directly. It is his behavior in aggregate that shows this.

mrsamsa:

Yeah he said the same thing about my ban which turned out to be him asking another mod and then banning me before they replied. So I don’t know, but the mods seemed fair in dealing with me so I assume they’ll look at both sides of the issue there.

That’s yet another lie. Some back and forth happened before the ban was applied.

mrsamsa:

Felipec banned me for disagreeing with him, I appealed it and the other mods agreed that there didn’t seem to be any basis to it and overruled him.

Another lie, and knows it. He saw the discussion that lead to him been unbanned, and no point did anyone say there wasn’t any basis.

Suspect

If his behavior in conversations wasn’t enough evidence, there’s also reason to believe that he has more than one user, who also engage in these discussions. In addition his comments constantly get more than five upvotes, which is extremely rare in deep discussions. This suggests that he is tricking the system. But not only that, but he gets upvotes on comments on old threads that are supposed to be invisible for other users. This means there’s practically zero doubt he is gaming the system.

I am also in contact with at least three users that have noticed the same behavior; each time they discuss with mrsamsa their comments are always voted down, and the ones of mrsamsa up. Not to mention the endless discussions in which mrsamsa never addresses an actual point.

The weird thing to find would be a productive discussion with him.

Conclusion

Let’s summarize what user mrsamsa did:

  • Didn’t talk about Eric Weinstein’s argument (argument W)
  • Didn’t address my argument about Sam Seder (argument F)
  • Didn’t accept a textbook definition of a genetic fallacy
  • Didn’t accept that focusing on the argument X, is better than Y
  • Didn’t accept that he provided two different arguments “I doubt X” vs “We should doubt X”
  • Didn’t accept that “I doubt X” arguments are useless
  • Wasted everyone’s time
  • Rehashed the same discussion in other conversations
  • Lied about the reasons of his ban

Regardless of what the actual motives of mrsamsa are, it’s fair to say this is not the kind of behavior anyone should accept in their online community.

This kind of behavior is not easy to see unless one is engaging in the actual discussion, and not simply avoiding it following the traditional advice “don’t feed the troll”.

Moderators most likely would never see the obvious tricks being used over and over, because they don’t typical engage with the trolls, and looking at any individual comment there’s always the possibility to be taken in good faith. But in aggregate there shouldn’t be any doubt.

Modern trolls rely on these man-power limitations, exploit the good faith of moderators and users, specially in communities that value freedom of speech. They hide in plain sight, and constantly derail conversations claiming to be good actors.

What they don’t expect is somebody keeping track of the amount of times they engage in troll tactics, such a smoke screens, ad hominems, and poisoning the well. So that’s precisely what we should do; actively deal with them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.