There are so many different kinds of abusive or otherwise
unacceptable behavior on the Internet that they are dealt separately
in the other parts of my FAQ collection, even if the borderline
between the different situations not always is a clear one. Those
But on with the current subject: One category of problematic net
behavior is overly aggressive or abusive postings or email. These
are often written in the heat of the moment, or under the influence.
Or they may result from outright misunderstandings, because email
and Usenet news are not an easy media for conveying subtleties. Also
remember that Usenet is an international net, and not everyone is
fluent in English. On top of that, there are cultural differences in
expressing wishes and views. (For example, I've noticed that email
from one cultural background tends to be more abrupt than average,
while another sometimes seems to be lacking in consideration in
asking services from others, a third is prone to excessive courtesy
and convolution, and so on). Or someone may have a completely
different sense of humor from yours. Or someone may take friendly
advice or guidance as a flame.
The reasons for angry postings can be many, and the only solid
deduction that can be drawn from a single abusive posting is
that someone has truly bad manners or a totally off-key day. The
best way to react is either to reply politely and only with solid
facts, or not to reply at all. There is no sense in responding in
the same manner, and being just another jerk. The surest way to look
like a fool is to let oneself be drawn into a protracted argument
with another fool. Best to break free if you detect this happening
What if someone continues to post to the
Usenet news in a language that offends you? The best action is
simply not to read any postings from that person. Most newsreader
programs have what is called a kill file or a message filter, where
you can specify which subjects or persons you wish to ignore. For
example, if you are using an rn-family
newsreader program, see killfile.zip
and tspost17.zip item "Re: A kill file example". Also
see the links at the end of this
Unfortunately, I do not have complete information for you on
killfiling with other newsreading programs. However, the more recent
versions of WWW browsers'
newsreading modules have a "Keywords: Newsgroups -> Set
Preferences -> Filtering" type of a sequence. Search for such a
sequence. E.g. in Netscape
select "Communicator -> Newsgroups", then "Edit -> Message
Filters". In Outlook Express look for the blocked senders list. In
Mozilla or Thunderbird choose View | Messages | Customize and so on.
Furthermore, there are even generic filter
programs such as nfilter : A Client-side Usenet
News Filter" (never tried it, and the standard disclaimers apply).
Speaking more generally than just about offensive postings, I would
like to put forward here that unless you are seriously involved with
the maintenance of the relevant newsgroup, if you do not like
someone's posting habits, you should primarily consider the option
of using the kill file. Express your views by all means, but
long-standing Usenet experience tells that attacking will not
achieve anything. Rather it may be counter-productive and can just
lead to what is called a flame-war.
A tip. If you intend to post a complaint about an offensive
posting set the followups to the newsgroup news.admin.net-abuse.misc
to steer the heat away from the affected newsgroup.
Another tip. It usually is futile to post
responses and complaints about spam to the affected newsgroup.
Especially, if the spam is extensive covering multiple newsgroups,
the offender is highly unlikely to see your complaint on a newsgroup
less care about it. In particular, do not aggravate the situation by
repeating the spam quoting it in full on the Usenet newsgroups. If
you want to complain, use a system like the SpamCop to find out where to
email your complaint. The system often works for Usenet news
postings, too, not only for email.
What to do if an abusive individual persists sending you one
unwelcome message after another, or keeps on harassing you in some
other way. Persisting cases are perhaps best tackled by overcoming
your curiosity and just deleting unread all the email and
postings from that address. I apply this method myself when
necessary. This operation can be automated by an appropriate email
filter such as procmail.
Another understandable, but problematic situation is when one
gets flamed for something one didn't say or do. This sometimes
happens e.g. when one quotes in the news an offensive posting, and
consequently someone confuses who said what. For example one of my
perfectly neutral postings included a quote from a third person
castigating American freedom in an obviously unfriendly fashion. In
consequence I got a rather indignant message from a reader who
mistook the quote as my opinion. We finally sorted it out to a
friendly conclusion, but much unnecessary effort was involved. The
general lesson is to be careful not to confuse the original poster,
and the person who is replying to the posting. Another related
problem: It unfortunately happens relatively often that when e.g. I
answer a question in the news, someone emails a reply to the
original question mistakenly to me, not to the original poster where
the reply should have gone (but it is even better to post to the
newsgroup). I do not mind, but the problem is that the original
poser of the question misses the potentially useful reply.
As an archive site moderator getting much email, and having been
quite active on the Usenet news I am exposed to the possibility of
overly aggressive behavior even more than the average user.
Therefore I store the addresses of the intentionally offensive and
hostile individuals for future reference in order to be able to try
to steer clear of such troublesome individuals. It is thoroughly
frustrating that when one tries to help e.g. by giving information
on the usages of a newsgroup or a pointer to a FAQ (Frequently Asked
Questions), as a result one gets hostile feedback, or even worse a
message that has been devised with the sole intention of heaping
deliberate insults. For example, I was targeted in 1995 by a
mentally ill Canadian former SFU student. If you get likewise
stalked, make yourself unavailable to the stalker. Persist!
Even if it may take years, eventually, he'll give up.
There is a special, related category of Usenet news behavior which
can escalate into a real problem. You might encounter a user who is
more interested in picking up a fight with you rather than genuinely
discussing or even arguing about the actual subject. This is not a
case of a simple disagreement, which, of course, are common on the
Usenet news. Rather, the troublemaker will be looking for any angle
to attack you. Nothing that you say or do will satisfy such an
attacker. Typically, he'll come up with one fault-finding point
after another about you and your activities. At the same time the
pathological fault-finder will try to bait you deeper into parrying
with him by inventing one antagonist point after another,
calculatingly twisting what you say and deliberately distorting the
facts at will. Be very alert to this tell-tale pattern! Any poster
might be targeted, but an active member of the newsgroup or/and in a
known position is a likely target.
What to do if you are targeted? Most
importantly, recognize the situation. Don't let yourself
be drawn in. Nothing constructive will result. The most sensible
thing is to totally withdraw from any further discussion if the
early warning signs show that such a risk might exist. Better safe
than sorry. There are so many users currently on the net that one is
compelled to avoid some the most troublesome cases by ignoring them.
The news kill files and email filters are very useful automated aids
in shutting off the pathological troublemaker.
There is a strange Usenet news variation of the theme. There are
posters on who get their kicks of disagreeing with anything and
everything. Usually these individuals are rather pathetic than
abusive. In fact, most often they do not actually violate the
netiquette. They simply are playing a game of intellectual
dishonesty. Just ignore them since no amount of relevant facts will
ever sway them.
Turning things on their head in an argument
and/or coming up with bizarre claims unfortunately are not uncommon
on the Usenet news scene. And/or someone tries to draw you in by
putting disadvantageous words into your mouth suckering you into
responding because of a compelling need to rectify. Even when it is
not outright trolling, such tactics are a close relative.
They are very alluring in the sense that it is not easy to refrain
from being drawn in by wanting to counter the absurd. However, with
time one learns to recognize the tell-tale signs of such escalating
situations. It is useful to draw for oneself a strict line when it
is high time to withdraw from the non-productive exchanges. And, if
one finds it difficult to resist the temptation of responding, one
good option is to use killfiling in good
In a much milder vein, carefully consider when it is the time to
withdraw from any exchange, whether it is abusive or not. My own
acid test is that if I have to start repeating the same arguments
which I already have elaborated it is time to exit. It is very rare
that if you have to start repeating yourself, the other party is
willing to see your point.
There are several ways in which some Usenet users try to gain
undeserved attention. Commonly, they involve creating a self-induced
controversy, and then trying to escalate by suckering others in and
subsequently capitalizing on the responses in endless circles. A
typical feature of this approach is intellectual dishonesty. It is
very common that the perpetrator ignores the facts, fabricates
his/her own, quotes out of context, and generally fails the
rudiments of decent discussion.
Another approach to undeserved fame (read notoriety) is what I
call leeching. In leeching a pest from total obscurity seeks instant
recognition or gratification by attacking well-know net citizen(s)
or organization(s). Basically, this approach has the same roots as
outside the net the much more sinister attacks (sometimes even
physical) especially on prominent politicians or other public
Yet another, pitiful variety of these themes are the obscure
third parties who latch themselves on the bandwagon in such
controversies as their way to, again unmerited, fame.
The only sensible approach in cases like these is total avoidance
using news killfiling and email filtering. Responding to the goading
will only make matters worse and is exactly what these net-abuse
methods strive on.
On the Usenet news it has become a common (bad) habit of some users,
when they disagree with the other party, to get personally invasive
trying to insinuate that there is something wrong with the
opponent's life. These straw-reaching quips are warning signs to
walk away from. Typically, they involve e.g.
Get a life.
Find a hobby.
(Or more abusively) You really need to get laid.
What are you on?
You again forgot to take your Prozac.
Stop wasting the taxpayers' money.
Inventing "cute" nicknames diminishing the other party.
Some writers on the Usenet news, who often are also otherwise
abusive or at least abrasive, deliberately develop some
superficially innocuous quirks to try annoy and bait the other
readers into reacting. Some of these minor irritations include
calculated misspelling, ignoring all punctuation rules, omitting
capitalizations, starting one's own text within the quotations,
writing in an aggressively colloquial parlance, and sundry. This
defiance is all part of their flamebaiting game to attract unmerited
attention. Again, don't oblige.