I’ve been thinking a bit about how one might apply the principles of 4GW to blog commenting, mostly inspired by what happened in the comments at esr’s place after Andrew Marston showed up the other day.
What got me thinking about it is observing that online trolls have much the same sorts of advantages as non-state actors do in war; they can’t be destroyed even by overwhelming force, they are perceived as the weaker party, and they have the ability to control the time and place of the engagement. Even when they are roundly defeated, they can simply retreat only to reappear without warning in the future.
4GW teaches two forms of engagement, de-escalation and the Hama model. I think Tom Kratman’s direct assault on Luscinia/Marston can be taken as a good form of the latter. The challenge of the Hama model is that it is time-constrained. William Lind says that with today’s 24/7 global communications, a state actor has three or four days to fully unload on a non-state actor without taking serious flak on the moral level. The Syrian army took four days to flatten Hama, after which it spent three weeks hunting down insurgents in the rubble.
I interpret this to mean that if you’re going to go all out rhetorically against a troll, one has three, perhaps four comments before people start to get sick of it and turn against you. Not that sympathies will turn towards the troll, but they will begin to adopt a “pox on both houses” attitude and the moral level will be lost.
Moreover, the Hama model is best adopted when one possesses overwhelming force, which is to say, the delete key, because one has the ability to prevent the troll from answering back and prolonging the engagement.
As to what the de-escalation model would entail, I shall have to give the matter further thought. But I do know the one thing it relies most heavily upon is information….