Why are Internet discussions less polite?

In the comments section of another post, St. Martel observes that:

Discussion fora on the Internet do have a tendency to make people a little less polite than they would be in person.  Not sure why that is...

[May I point out how glad I am that my readers are capable of noticing this and correcting for tone on their own?  Yes, I may?  Okay, I will then.]

I think there are 3 main reasons why internet discussions are less polite:

1) Anonymity.  People feel free to say things they wouldn't otherwise say when it can't be traced back to their "real" identity, so that there are no consequences (for those with limited capacity to feel guilt, anyway).

While this probably accounts for many of the worst abusers, I don't think it's all that relevant in the case of a) people like myself who blog under our real names, or b) people with robust consciences who don't like trolling and insulting people so much.

2) Lack of bodily interaction.  We human beings consist of both bodies and souls.  When we have conversations face-to-face, we aren't just communicating with words.  Our social instincts, evolved over millions of years, involve all kinds of subtle communications when we talk in person.  Even merely talking over the phone (by voice) provides subtle clues which are not present in internet conversations.  Whereas, on the internet we have a conversation between disembodied minds.  Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful technology, but it's missing a lot of color, the sense of the other person as a person, the embodied almost-sacramental aspects of human relationships.

Hence the email convention of including a smiley to say when we are joking. :-)  (That wasn't a joke, that was just an example of a smiley.)  Although, that doesn't always work either.  As my father St. Larry once said:

You know how people are sometimes rude on Usenet or on a mailing list. Sometimes they'll write something that can only be taken as a deadly insult, and then they have the unmitigated gall to put a smiley face on it, as if that makes it all right.

This helps explain why you should avoid quarrelling with somebody by email.  It seldom brings disputing parties into agreement.  Emotionally tense situations are best resolved in more personable settings, if you can handle it.  (Though sometimes email or a physical letter can be useful to broach a sensitive topic if you're too chicken to initiate the exchange in person.  But that's different from quarrelling.)

So on the one hand, arguing with somebody face-to-face can trigger an unpleasant sense of  Conflict! Conflict! with an accompanying adrenaline surge.  It's annoying if your body starts trembling with fear when your mind just wanted to have a nice friendly conversation about how somebody else is wrong about politics or something.  On the other hand, we instinctively know this and most of us adapt in order to be more personable and friendly when there's an actual face on the other end.   It's much easier to see what's going on and correct it mid-stream.  This leads to a 3rd point:

3) Long comments with a delay in responding.  If I speak to you in person, then if I put my foot in it and begin to misunderstand you, or say something insulting, you will immediately respond and I have the ability to self-correct before anything goes too terribly wrong.

But if I'm in an argument on the Internet, that's not how things work.  Suppose you read a long response from somebody and you start obsessing about in what ways it is wrong and needs correction.  So then you write a long response of your own, but it's pretty easy to get carried away.  If the tone is wrong, it won't be corrected until several hours or days later when an equally strongly worded message comes back, and that of course will itself generally be a disproportionate response (for the same reason) which triggers a similar reaction.

Of course, the whole thing can be nipped in the bud if both parties make a conscious effort to be unusually polite and respectful, but it's surprising just how much greater an effort it takes.

But even if the discussion is totally polite, there's a downside for philosophy.  Long-winded comments make it too easy to talk at cross purposes, without correction from the other point of view.  After all, when I'm writing a long argument I'm putting myself into the brain state where I am right and the other person is wrong, and one stays there for quite some time.  This is dangerous to one's sense of balance and fairness.

Psychological studies have shown that when people hear evidence that their own strongly-held political views are wrong, the usual response is to argue against the new evidence.  Paradoxically, this causes them to become more certain of their previous point of view [too lazy to find a link right now, but I promise I'm not just making this up].

From this perspective, arguments are rather dangerous things!  Simply by expressing an argument for X, one naturally causes somebody on the other side to compensate by arguing for ~X.  But this puts them in the position of a lawyer trying to make the best case for one side, not a judge disinterestedly weighing the evidence for and against.  And as we all know, lawyers have a tendency to come to believe that their own side is right (even if it was basically a coin-toss which side they would be assigned to in the first place.)

This is something I worry about quite a bit as somebody who enjoys arguing about religion on my blog (and in person).  Rational people should settle disputes rationally, but what if providing rational arguments don't tend to actually cause this to happen?  What does one do instead?

One could compensate for this by asking people to argue for the other side of the debate for a change (one implementation of this is the Ideological Turing Test, adapted to religious arguments by St. Leah Libresco.)  But this only works if we presuppose a strong interest in finding the truth.  The "debate team" mentality where the goal is to win by coming up with sophistical bogus arguments, is not really improved by the fact that the positions are assigned randomly.  That just makes it even more relativistic.

To try to get around some of these issues, the Socratic method of dialogue requires that the participants ask each other questions instead of arguing directly, and respond by making short speeches, not long.  The other rule is that you can take things back as needed without any shame, instead of getting stuck defending one's initial reaction to the question.  As St. Socrates says to Polus in St. Plato's Gorgias:

SOCRATES: Illustrious Polus, the reason why we provide ourselves with friends and children is, that when we get old and stumble, a younger generation may be at hand to set us on our legs again in our words and in our actions: and now, if I and Gorgias are stumbling, here are you who should raise us up; and I for my part engage to retract any error into which you may think that I have fallen-upon one condition:

POLUS: What condition?

SOCRATES: That you contract, Polus, the prolixity of speech in which you indulged at first.

POLUS: What! do you mean that I may not use as many words as I please?

SOCRATES: Only to think, my friend, that having come on a visit to Athens, which is the most free-spoken state in Hellas, you when you got there, and you alone, should be deprived of the power of speech—that would be hard indeed. But then consider my case:—shall not I be very hardly used, if, when you are making a long oration, and refusing to answer what you are asked, I am compelled to stay and listen to you, and may not go away? I say rather, if you have a real interest in the argument, or, to repeat my former expression, have any desire to set it on its legs, take back any statement which you please; and in your turn ask and answer, like myself and Gorgias—refute and be refuted.

So I guess the really philosophical way to argue on the Internet is chat!  Text chats (IM) are still disembodied, but they have a much quicker turn-around time, perfect for Socratic dialogue.  I use gmail chat all the time to talk physics with my physics collaborators, but I don't usually have philosophical discussions that way.  But maybe I should.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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20 Responses to Why are Internet discussions less polite?

  1. Martel says:

    Great post, Aron. (And thanks for the shout-out.) :)

    By the way, why do you bestow the title 'St.' on everyone who comments on this blog? I certainly understand the Protestant view that all true Christians are 'saints', but ascribing the title to individuals seems to presuppose not only their sincerity but also the impossibility of their ever abandoning the faith. (Of course, maybe I'm reading too much into this; maybe it's just a kind gesture.)

  2. TY says:

    Professor Wall, I stay anonymous for reasons other that I wan to say impolite things to people. In fact I'm just the opposite. But I made sure you knew my identity (and more). I want to make this observation: I seldom see rude or ad hominem comments on your posts and I wonder if that is because most of the people who post comments are Christians who feel some shared beliefs and feel obliged to conduct themselves well. I'm sure your filters are very sensitive to swear words but what about downright rude words attacking the person? How do you filter those out? I guess you can always delete the ones that get it and ban that individual.

  3. Aron Wall says:

    My canonization policy is written here. It is an experiment and maybe it will prove to be unworkable in the end, but I thought it might shock people into taking the idea of holiness more seriously than they otherwise would. If I thought it would come off as smug and arrogant like the "brights" campaign, I would stop it immediately, but I'm hoping Christians will be more likely to react by saying "Who me? Really? Oh I guess I am called to be a saint, that's pretty humbling given what I'm like."

    When it comes to sincerity I can only guess; granted I am excercising what you call "private judgement", but you see I'm just trying to be consistent with my Protestantism; I don't see why I should defer to the Pope's decision about who should be called "saint" before actually coming to accept his authority. :-)

    As far as apostacy is concerned, I guess I wasn't thinking about that when I settled on the policy; but I guess I would say that even if a Christian falls away from God and is lost in the future, if they are filled with God's Spirit now then they are a saint now. So I don't think I'm asserting anything about their future security. (Some Protestants believe that it is impossible for Christians to ever lose their salvation, but I am not in that camp.)

  4. I see one other reason for bad behaviour in addition to the (I believe correct) reasons you have given. In real life, we rarely walk up to total strangers and start to argue for or against christianity. Even with friends, we rarely make our first comment something contentious - we usually start by saying hello, how are you feeling, lovely weather, how's your work going, I'm feeling a bit tired, etc. But on the internet, we can see a blog post or a comment on a forum and jump straight into criticism or a leading statement. So the whole conversation gets off to a bad start, the other person tends to respond to that leading statement, and so it goes.

    As a christian, I have been pondering and praying about what to do about this, but I haven't arrived at any answers yet, except to try to be more careful and to pray more before I type a response. If I try to be more personal, I may not address the comment and the other person can get mad at me for avoiding the question or simply dismiss me as having no answer, whereas if I respond courteously but directly to the comment, I seem to just provoke people, as you say.

    Perhaps there's no perfect response, and the more loving answer may be better even though weaker. But while this may be better by being less provoking, it doesn't offer any help for people who seem to often "lurk" on discussions, looking for answers but not commenting.

    Do you have any ideas on that?

  5. Aron Wall says:

    That's a good point, but I think it raises the question of why Internet culture is different in the ways that you mention. Presumably the root causes go in part back to the lack of face-to-face communication & quick turn-around that I mentioned in my post above. When I do chat/IM, I think there are likely to be pleasantries like "How's it going?" and that sort of thing. But it's hard to do with blog comments. In pre-Internet Western culture, letters between friends traditionally included quite a lot of that sort of thing, though business letters were expected to get to the point. But these were not usually publicly visible to everyone.

    In real life, we rarely walk up to total strangers and start to argue for or against christianity.

    I actually think the taboos against this sort of thing in Real Life™ are too strong, and that the Internet plays an important role in mitigating this. In person, people are somewhat reluctant to bring topics like this up, for fear that they might cause offense. In person, I have to consciously reassure people that I have a thick skin and that they shouldn't be afraid to bring up their real objections to religion. Granted that we should care about other people as individuals and not just as targets for evangelism, the constant need to make sure the topic is appropriate is a huge inhibitor for actually having serious conversations about Christianity (or politics, or anything else controversial).

    A large part of the value of the Internet is these Athenian forums where people can leap into philosophy with a minimum of personableness. If someone doesn't want to discuss religion or politics, what are they doing on a blog arguing with people about it? They can always go elsewhere and look at pictures of cute kittens. In Real Life™ you can't escape so easily, which may be one reason for the increased social rules.

    So it's a good thing that the conversations can happen more easily, but the downside is we need to be more conscious about setting a good tone.

  6. Yes, I agree that there are advantages with the more direct approach to conversations about religion, but I wish I could ameliorate the negatives, or know how best to show both love and truth. I am working on it and praying about it, so I suppose I'll get somewhere better.

  7. Kareem Guimba says:

    Hello Dr. Wall,
    This may seem off topic, but since you are a physicist I thought you might help me with this question I've been having.
    I've been pondering about the Leibnizian cosmological argument for a while, and I recently came up with an argument of why a quantum field(which atheist use against the argument) cannot be a necessary being and would be contingent.
    The laws of quantum fields describe which arrangements of the fields are physically possible and which ones are not possible. If this is the case than that means than for a particular arrangement of a quantum field such as the one that gave rise to our universe (I'm not saying it is true, I'm just assuming it to show why if this were case it would not be necessary)there is a logical and mathematical possibility that it could have developed into a different arrangement of fields. If this is the case then that means that the current arrangement of the field that may have given rise to our universe could have been different and did not have to be the way they are. Since this is true, then it would fall under Leibniz's definition of a contingent being as it could have been different then the way that it is and did not have to be a specific way, even if it was eternal, and thus it would require ultimately a necessary explanation.
    I'm not sure if this is valid as I don't know too much about quantum fields and I was wondering if you could help me see where I'm wrong in this thinking and how I could make it better,
    Thank you in advance.

  8. Aron Wall says:

    Dear Kareem,
    Yes, that is definitely off-topic for this post. But I had several posts a while back in which I discussed metaphysics and cosmological arguments. Why don't you repost your question on one of those threads, and then I can answer it there?

    Folks, there's no rule that you are only allowed to comment on the most recent article! Please find one which is appropriate for your question, if possible. See my comments policy.

  9. Kareem Guimba says:

    Thank you for your response Dr. Wall, I reposted my question under another thread

  10. Scott Church says:

    In speaking of relationships and community, the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr once said that what we don't experience we can't image properly. It's easy to be abusive to "GeekDude123" in some chat room because GeekDude123 is just an anonymous voice somewhere in the cloud. He has no name, no laughter or tears, no dreams, no stories to tell... nothing that would provide any human context for his statements. We cannot meet him face-to-face because he has no face. So it's little wonder that when his comments rub us the wrong way he's easily clothed in the colors of our worst fears. Especially the ones we secretly fear most in ourselves and have to project onto others to attack, blissfully unaware of the fact that to them we're anonymous too. Internet incivility happens for the same reason road rage does... between nameless, faceless drivers behind tinted windows.

    The extent to which we believe our stories and worldviews make us human is the extent to which we will deny the humanity of anonymous voices who don't share ours. In The Screwtape Letters Wormwood asks Screwtape for advice on how best to handle his WWII era British patient's feelings toward others. Screwtape responds,

    "As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life - they are lay figures modeled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door."

    "Enemies" are strangers, but regardless of his beliefs and values, the wounded German pilot is a human being who cries warm, salty tears, bleeds red from real wounds, and has a story to tell... just like us. Society has a way of making strangers of us all, and the only way to heal that is to give the Stranger a face... to encounter the wounded German pilot as a man loved by God rather than an anonymous stereotype. Dick Cheney is loathe to support gay rights legislation, until he learns that his sister is a lesbian. Jerry Falwell does likewise, until one of his best friends and right-hand partners in his ministry comes out of the closet and tells the story of his struggles as a gay Christian... When the Stranger becomes human the community is forever changed. There are some 3 dozen places where the Bible commands us to love the Stranger. There's a reason why... because God loves the stranger, but also because we are strangers too.

    As this discussion has shown, there are many reasons why the Internet can be so uncivil. But it seems to me that if we want to bring healing to it, to be salt and light to a world in need, this is where we must begin. I am ashamed to say that I've been a part of the problem all too often. But from time to time, God has been merciful enough to open my eyes and show me a better way. I've found that my contributions to online dialog have been most constructive when I've managed to stick to the following;

    1) Make my face and story known. Be as forthright with my fears, doubts, and failures as I am with my successes and certainties. And most importantly... make it safe for others to do the same.

    2) Wherever possible, avoid opinions and stick to facts, scholarship, and Socratic dialogue. Economist John Maynard Keynes once said, "When my information changes I alter my opinion. What do you do Sir?" Bitch-slapping others wounds everyone and incites spiritual violence, but information and scholarship enlighten us. More importantly, they redefine the discussion by demonstrating something better. Once that example has been set it speaks for itself, and like it or not no one can refuse to follow suit without publicly identifying themselves as trolls. In the secret places of their hearts even the trolls know that.

    3) Speaking of trolls, don't feed them... period. The best defense against bad ideas is a demonstration of something better. Once that has been provided returning evil for evil will only degrade it.

    4) As often as I fail any of the above, admit it and repent... publicly, and even if it hurts. Doing so may temporarily give trolls some ammunition, but that example will far outlive whatever gains they might make in ensuing comments.

    As often as the grace of God has helped me maintain the above, online interactions have borne fruit and I've been grateful. And when I've failed any of them little has come of it but shame and regret... regardless of whether or not I was right.

  11. Micha says:

    Dear Aron, thanks for your article.

    Normally I’d take your third point as positive for arguments. You do have the time, to think about what you want write a second or even a third time. Well, but I guess the problem is, that you really have to do this ☺.

    But I guess anonymity is not a big point for rude conversations. It’s really sad, but some Germans¹ post comments on Facebook, that are bad. Some of them are so maleficent, that I am ashamed to be German. And everything with their real name next to the comment.

    ¹ I talk about Germans, because I read some of those comments. But that could be the same in other nations.

  12. David says:

    Some excellent points were made here, and in the comments section. The kind of response a lot of people give to trolls "ignore it!", at some level just doesn't work. For example I know of one person in particular, who has that kind of attitude and has been the subject of quite a bit of torment because it doesn't always end with just a comment. (Fairly cruel mocking videos and even parody face book accounts set up against them), and it may be the case that everything this person has said is wrong. But that kind of reception for the expression of their views isn't justifiable. As far as I understand terms and conditions for both YouTube and Facebook, these kinds of things may be allowed.

    I don't know this person well, and I don't have a license to practice law so I avoid giving any legal advice, but I'm sure this constitutes a violation of some harassment law.

  13. Aron Wall says:

    I'm pretty sure that in the USA, the First Amendment protects quite a bit of bad behavior on the internet. (There are some exceptions, such as actual threats, but not many.) I'd rather have that then the government presuming to criminalize rudeness.

    No one would ever think that you are the problem with online conversations!

    As the blog moderator I have much more powerful tools for dealing with trolls than just ignoring them... I've only deleted a very small number of (nonspam) posts for violations, such as failure to provide an email address, or gratuitous blasphemy, or trolling proper, where the person doesn't necessary even believe what they say but just wants to stir up a reaction. (I think it is a misuse of the term "trolling" to use it to refer to somebody who just expresses their opinion in an annoying and angry fashion, although it is possible to "troll" with opinions you happen to believe. It's a question of intent.) I have not yet needed to ban anyone permanently (but will do so if necessary).

    Ocassionally I have tried to discourage individuals from keeping on a given trajectory. But for the most part the quality of comments you see here is a function of who chooses to comment. (This doesn't scale well to larger blogs, but I guess I'm not big enough to be targeted much yet.)

  14. TY says:

    Thank you Dr Wall. Just to clarify: I wasn't taking any blame; just saying that just because I stay anonymous doesn't give me license to be be rude and obnoxious; and I just used me merely as example.

    I don't agree with this sentence: "This doesn't scale well to larger blogs, but I guess I'm not big enough to be targeted much yet." You are big enough and I'll tell you why. I have been making numerous comments on the Sean Carroll blog post (Guest Post: Don Page on God and Cosmology), citing your blog that one writer even teased for advertising Aron Wall, and I can tell you that except for a few theists (last count, just 3 of us, including the guest blogger Don Page ) the rest are are atheists of agnostics. From their comments your blog posts would be like red meat to a hungry tiger.

    So the question is why aren't these same people challenging you on your Blog? And what a big dart board! I have only one hypothesis: The atheists and the agnostics are afraid to take you on -- to throw the darts -- because you can argue from a range of subjects, such as philosophy, scripture, maths, and of course, physics. "I am a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton" is essentially informational (Aron Wall's bio) but it's telling those who think they know science and religion that they better be prepared for a good discussion than just some quick soundbite or smart comment . A lot of times people who argue against theism, the Resurrection, miracles, the truth of the Bible, have old and rehearsed arguments in their arsenal, or are incapable to extending the scope of their reasoning. Anyone who reads your posts know you bring to bear on a subject, arguments, usually novel interpretations and insights, drawn from many fields of study outside your expertise, and people (even the ones who write anonymous) who are not prepared for this type of interwoven multidisciplinary discussion are likely to think twice before challenging your position.

    Please feel free to refute my hypothesis.

  15. Scott Church says:

    Aron, I'm with TY on this one. I don't think your blog has a "scaling" problem at all... at least not enough to prevent considerable atheist traffic. You're more than visible enough for that. I found you through St. Craig's Reasonable Faith site (where you're regularly cited and linked), you were cited in the widely-publicized Craig-Carroll debate (as well as the post-debate commentary), and as TY pointed out, you're visible at Carroll's blog too. All of these forums are well-trafficked by the atheist community and I doubt they're the only places you're visible at that are. Loud protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, I suspect that you're not getting much traffic from atheists for the same reason Dawkins refuses to debate St. Craig... because whether they admit it or not, they don't relish the thought of having their asses handed to them in public forums by a true gentleman and man of God

    In my experience at least, thoughtful open-minded atheists tend to restrict themselves to one-on-one discussions and/or scholarly forums where they can learn and contribute to a larger body of knowledge. The vast majority who spend their time publicly arguing about religion in online forums are after one thing only... the narcissistic boost they get from correcting and/or belittling those who don't share their views. I don't mean to suggest that these folks are all trolls... some are of course, but most are decent folks who want to make a difference as much as we do. What separates them from everyone else is their absolute, unquestioning certainty and an extraordinary lack of humility. Though they mean well, they see themselves as "Brights"... the sole appointed ambassadors for "reason" who have been entrusted with the sacred task of enlightening the ignorant masses (i.e. the rest of us). They're more than happy to discuss religious topics amicably, but only as long as that means "educating" us about the error of our beliefs--or as an atheist friend of mine once put it, "to shame [us] into changing [our] irrational ways..." Nothing on this earth is going to be as intimidating, and worldview-wrecking to folks like these as a believer who is more academically accomplished and gracious than they are.

    At a bare minimum, discussing the existence of God and the relationship between science and religion requires a working knowledge of science, philosophy, and comparative religion, and some knowledge of ancient history and text criticism helps also. I have never met an atheist who was even minimally well-versed in more one or two of these fields, much less all of them. Aron forgive me for gushing a little, but you are. Not only are you an accomplished physicist, you have a solid education in all of them. And as if that weren't enough you're gracious and a genuine man of God too! And not just online, it's unmistakable in your presence. Sharing a breakfast with you last April was undoubtedly one of the high points of my year. You're one of those rare people God raises up once or twice in a generation whose very existence is a living, breathing refutation of everything atheism represents. If I were one of these online "Brights" I'd avoid you like the plague too! :-)

  16. Scott Church says:

    PS - In case it wasn't clear, by "Loud protestations to the contrary notwithstanding..." I meant their loud protestations. Dawkins insists that he won't debate St. Craig because he doesn't debate "creationists." If he were less careless with facts he might discover that Craig isn't a creationist. Oh well... :-)

  17. Andrew says:

    After my upcoming exams are done and I get back to doing stuff on Youtube I've been meaning to give your blog a 'shout out' which would probably get it quite a bit more attention from atheists.

    I know you from the Carroll-Craig debate, and given that you were mentioned in support of Craig (and on his site), then sure most people who bothered to look you up would be theists. And those who stayed to read/comment on posts would be a smaller number of those people.

  18. Aron Wall says:

    TY, Scott, Andrew,
    Thanks for your outreach efforts, and please do continue to link and refer to my blog. But no need to bait people too much! I don't really need a whole swarm of New Atheists descending on me all at once... although reasonable people of any stripe are always welcome to comment.

    I never called it a scaling "problem"; I just meant that there are blogs with hundreds of comments a day; and if things here get that big here, there will probably be need for unpleasant things like banning people. But hopefully that won't be needed for a while yet.

  19. TY says:

    Dr Wall, honestly speaking I don't know how I would have responded (and I felt I had to) to atheistic arguments on other blogs had I not started to follow your posts. I went back to the beginning to read all your posts because they made sense to me. I went to Sean Carroll's blog because I wanted to read what Don Page wrote had to say on God & Cosmology as I do like to hear from theistic scientists, and so I follow their writings. But as I started to read the stuff of the predominantly atheistic writers of that blog, the Christian Apologetic in me reacted. I think you know that feeling.

  20. Scott Church says:

    Hi Aron,

    Ugh... I would never dream of "baiting" anyone to your blog, least of all New Atheists and other fundamentalists who can't be reasoned with! I love to tell folks about this forum but only those who are civil and able to make productive contributions. I was just saying that even if/when this forum does get as big as Carroll's or St. Craig's I think such folks will still avoid you like the plague. In my experience they tend to congregate at forums that beat up on creationists, fundamentalists, and other easily targeted straw men... and for the obvious reason. You would likely put the fear of God in them... quite literally! That said, among the "big-scale" folks St. Craig does get at least some negative traffic (including at least one site I saw a while back dedicated specifically to "debunking" him) but nearly all of it is shrill diatribe of the sort one would expect from cornered animals, and the only legitimate criticisms I've seen him receive were restricted to a tiny handful of things you would know to avoid.

    And... for what it's worth you've got a lot of friends here who've got your back, and God willing, we won't easy targets either. :-) Hopefully this will be enough to keep you from having to ban anyone.

    PS - If, God forbid, you ever do end up with a troll infestation because of any publicity from me, I hereby promise you and Nicole dinner and drinks at the nicest place in Seattle next time you guys are out this way!

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