The Guide To Effectively Fighting Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD)
The Art Of Combating Trolls
If you’ve found this document courtesy of someone who has characterized it in a negative light perhaps by calling it a ‘troll guide’ or by labelling the people who use it as trolls, then it is likely that the strategies discussed below have been used effectively against them (and, if that’s the case, then they are most assuredly guilty of spreading FUD).
This document is intended to be used by any community, organization, software project or political party experiencing FUD attacks from any quarter. The methods discussed are highly effective against trolls, but less so against legitimate concerns simply because the intent, argumentation and rhetoric of legitimate debate is not subject to the same weaknesses in logic or method.
All FUD is simply theatre…
This is an attempt to canonize the rules of combating FUD as I have learned them from over twenty years of observing the phenomena, starting with the efforts to undermine Linux by entrenched interests ( I’m looking at you, Microsoft). Fortunately, MS failed at their efforts and Linux and open source have provided the foundation for many innovative and, indeed, world-changing technologies to include Cryptocurrencies and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT). It is in this space that I have seen a resurrection of FUD as a tool to undermine these potentially disruptive technologies.
This guide will hopefully lend some clarity into how to effectively dismantle the FUD for all involved and is aimed for use by community members of any of the various technologies under attack. I think we can all agree that ideally technology should be a meritocracy. Let the best technology rise to the top so we all can benefit.
Be aware: Not every negative or critical comment regarding your favourite tech is FUD. Beware of overreacting. See the section at the end of this guide entitled “Guard Against” which discusses this in more depth.
Please, please, please take me seriously! Sincerely, Your Troll
Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD): A tactic used to undermine a competing, and usually superior, technology through misinformation, misdirection, omission and logical fallacies, amongst other techniques. Superior FUD includes just enough truth to lend credence to their otherwise fallacious arguments.
The Trolls: People and organizations who fear the inevitable devaluation or demise of their own competing investments, knowledge, reputation or expertise.
Target Organization: A competing and usually superior technology.
Audience: The new investor, corporate or private, who is unlikely to be familiar with the technology and is therefore susceptible to misinformation. Notice that the Audience is NOT the Target Organization. All of FUD is simply theatre performed for the benefit of the Audience. As a community member, do not lose sight of this fact: the Audience is the only group that matters in these conflicts.
Purpose: To dissuade the Audience from further investigating the disruptive technology after only a cursory glance.
Troll’s Strategy: Engage with Target Organization or community in technical argument. It does not matter the subject of the argument. Any engagement by the Target Organization gives credence to the FUD and allows them opportunity to mislead the Audience. They simply want to be taken seriously.
Strategies For Combating FUD
- The Target Organization should provide an authoritative response, if necessary, and then should disengage. Any further response from the Target Organization can be used for additional FUD through misrepresentation. Trolls are happy to allow the discussion to degenerate when engaging with Target Organization as it provides more material for FUD.
- The community should be the primary response mechanism in all matters FUD, after the authoritative response has been posted.
- The community should almost never engage in technical arguments. This allows the Trolls, who may be more technically proficient than community members, to weave deception and misdirection through their otherwise technically proficient arguments. By engaging with them, you actually legitimize their assertions, in the eyes of the Audience, to a certain extent.
- Always link to authoritative sources for the debunking of technical FUD. Usually that would be an official blog post, or other information available at the Target Organization website.
- Request an official rebuttal. If no authoritative response can be found, request one be made through the Target Organization official channels. Let the Target Organization provide a technically proficient and correct response that can be used in the future by yourself and by other community members.
Label, Label, Label, Label, Mock
To be clear, maliciously spread FUD is not marketing. It is not a misunderstanding. It is not victimless. It is a deliberate and disingenuous attempt to destroy the reputation, technology, audience and income of a Target Organization. In the crypto world, that results in lost money, lost savings for innocent shareholders, lost time, lost technology, and possibly if everything goes to hell, lost lives. That’s right, it is not unknown for investors who have lost everything to take their own lives.
- Determine their motivation: Sometimes the Troll’s motivations are not clear cut. In order to undermine their assertions, it helps to understand what is motivating them. Is it a conflict of interest? Are they supporting a respected colleague? Are they protecting their reputation? Are they trying to gain reputation? Do they just want to be included? I have seen all of the above in recent FUD. Understanding their motivation helps you to dismantle them and their arguments quickly using the following tools.
- Label their motivation: Labelling the motivation helps to clarify for the Audience why the Troll should not be trusted. Undisclosed conflict of interests, undisclosed relationships with others who have attacked the project in the past, an assistant professor trying to build a reputation, a project lead on a project that is threatened by superior technology, a young developer who just wants to be taken seriously, an academic who’s reputation is staked on defending legacy systems. And, I’m sure, many more.
- Label as FUD: Sometimes, it is enough to simply respond to their post, “This is FUD” and move on. Other times you might have to engage further if the poster is aggressive or clever enough.
- Label fallacies and other tactics: If you must engage, then it is best to dismantle their usually poorly constructed arguments. Many times, labelling their logical fallacies, misdirection, omissions, and glossings-over is enough to dismantle the FUD in the eyes of the Audience. I.E. “You are using ‘An Appeal To Authority’ logical fallacy here”, or “You are omitting this fact or this fact”. Again, no need to engage in actual argumentation on merits here. Labelling is enough to render the FUD ineffective. I like this site for verifying the various logical fallacies employed by the Trolls (http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com)
- Humorous Mockery: If you have labelled the FUD and if you have labelled the fallacies and other tactics used by the Troll, and they become aggressive in their communications (especially ad-hominem attacks), then respond with mockery. Humorous mockery is an extremely powerful tool and easily de-fangs even the most aggressive of attacks. Do not lower yourself to their level by resorting to personal attacks. Humorous mockery is far more effective.
Mockery runs the gamut from vicious to playful. I want to be clear here that you should default to the playful variety. Once you meander into the vicious, you have lost your high ground.
- Pre-emptive strikes on possible FUD assertions: Target Organizations can get out in front of any attacks by anticipating the FUD in their own new announcements themselves and then providing a detailed rebuttal right then and there. This takes the wind out of any further attacks and they may not even occur. The community, if confronted by those points elsewhere, can easily deflate the FUD by replying, “The Target Organization already addressed that right here when they released the project.”
- Pre-emptive strikes on known Trolls: When expecting or combating any type of FUD, it is possible to remove a known antagonist from response by calling out their methods before they even chime in. “We can all expect the assistant professor to chime in any moment now, crying about definitions” or “I expect @Chaz to help spread this quietly and then cry ‘peer review!’ — and here is why they would be wrong…”
- Hit them where it hurts: Once you determined the troll spreading FUD is acting unethically, you may want to hit back. Don’t sink to their level by spreading unsubstantiated FUD, and always avoid ad-hominem, but if you know their motivations, you can hit them where it hurts. Remember, this is the fight that they chose and they chose to play dirty. Is the person trying to build a reputation? Mock them and their reputation in front of their followers. Is the FUD pushed by a competing and inferior technology? Then make that inferiority clear to their audience. Make them think twice about whether the gains they might achieve by spreading FUD is worth the cost to their reputation and/or their project.
- Know when to quit: Once the audience has enough information to know that the Troll cannot be trusted, it is not necessary to continue engaging in any manner. Disengage and spend your time more fruitfully.
- The Nuclear Option (if nothing else works): This is the ‘hit them where it hurts’ method on steroids. It is a personal choice whether to use this method. Use sparingly, if at all, as a last resort against aggressive, persistent, unethical, and malicious trolls. Always be 100% sure you are justified before deploying this method. Be prepared for them to try to do the same to you. Are they employed by an organization that would be embarrassed by the shady actions of its employees? Call out that employer publicly.
- Don’t mistake opinion for FUD: “I don’t like your project. Why not? I just don’t.” Everyone is entitled to an opinion however wrong you may think it is, and you won’t convince them otherwise by attacking them. When you do, you make yourself the enemy and strengthen their opinion in opposition. It is very possible that they formed their opinion based on the FUD spread by others and it is those ideas you need to address. If you can coax this out of them respectfully, you can then direct them to factual posts with the correct information. However, if they do not wish to discuss their opinion, you cannot force them.
- Flame wars: Angry shouting back and forth benefits no one, usually devolves into ad-hominem attacks and only leaves the audience concerned about the maturity of your project and team. Trolls love flame wars.
- Don’t allow yourself to become angry: FUD is frustrating. It pushes your buttons. It makes you angry. Anger feels good, even more so when you are able to lash out. And that’s what the Trolls want. Remember that FUD is simply theatre. When you engage, you play the part designed for you by the Troll. Don’t play along.
- Don’t become victim to infighting: Sensitivity to FUD may cause the Target Organization to see FUD everywhere, even in their own community. Take the time to ensure that a comment or post is actually FUD and is not a legitimate criticism or concern. Communities can be damaged by the torches and pitchforks that are aimed at each other. Don’t let the FUD damage your community and Target Organization by making you jump at shadows. Be judicious in your labelling. If in doubt as to the intent of the post, give the person the benefit of the doubt initially; give them enough rope to hang themselves. Their intent will quickly be revealed.
- Do not threaten, blackmail or bully: These are losing strategies that will backfire on you, make you look like an unethical ass and will reflect poorly on the project you are trying to protect. If you have information on the troll regarding their motivations that reflects badly upon them, then share it. Otherwise, mind your manners. Don’t compromise your own ethical high ground.
You’ve destroyed their argument and they’ve gone silent (or blocked you); now what?
Jean Paul-Sartre said this about the trolls of his time, “Never believe that [the trolls] are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The [trolls] have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”
Remember that the troll is performing for an audience. If they’ve gone silent they have taken their audience with them, but there are still many other ways to find your discussion. Cut and paste the following abbreviated quote for any future audience that stumbles across the thread.
“They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.” ~ Jean Paul-Sartre
Desperate tactics, without merit to fall back upon, are destined to fail
After twenty years, I have never seen FUD be successfully used to elevate an inferior technology to per-eminence. FUD wastes time and energy and can extremely frustrating to those at the receiving end, but I have never seen a project fully derailed.
I have watched, though, as Trolls have collapsed the world in upon themselves and their reputation, and that of their technology, suffered. FUD is after all a desperate tactic used by those who have seen the writing on the wall. They are either too proud, too dogmatic, too invested or too stupid to fold their hand and walk away. Desperate tactics, without merit to fall back upon, are destined to fail.
Label FUD, label motivations, label fallacies, label tactics. Refer to authoritative rebuttal. Do not engage in technical discussion. Reply to attacks with humorous mockery. Never engage in ad-hominem yourself. Use pre-emptive strikes when you can. Hit them where it hurts, if necessary. Stay on the ethical high-ground.
tl;dr was tl;dr: Label, label, label, laugh at.
Thanks for reading!