drum solo (continued from my bio):2008Nov16
Alan C. Baird - HotTip [at]
Gmail [dot] com
First of all, let me say that I'm a huge fan of Francis Ford Coppola's
American Zoetrope Virtual Studio. I've been an active
member of American Zoetrope workshops since the summer of 1998, and I've volunteered countless
hours to preserve and highlight some of the positive aspects of AZ's communal memory: ZoBooks, ZoShorts/DVDs/CDs/Honors, ZoPubs, ZoBlogs, In Memoriam. At Zoetrope, I've
found a lot of wonderful friends, a couple of terrific employees and many talented
collaborators - including one special writer who's here with me right now. Anikó
lived 10,000 km away when she and I first became AZ members; after we wrote
and published a book, we tied the knot, and recently celebrated our 8th wedding
anniversary. In the immortal words of Chico Escuela, Zoetrope "bin berra berra good to
me." But as much as I love this place, I gotta leave.
I really hate to go, because
I remember when Zoetrope was a lively, vital, sharing community, where we could trust
each other. But that was in the pre-troll era. Now the site is infested with trolls,
like rats spreading disease, and AZ's Sysops seem unwilling to take action to eradicate
these pernicious vermin. I have come to the reluctant conclusion that this workshop is
headed straight into the crapper, and I don't want to hang around for the swirl of its
final flush. I get dizzy. It will take me a while to explain the reasons for my exit, so
if you want the full 411, settle in:
Have you ever started following an
interesting discussion thread on AZ's public boards that later disappeared, for no reason?
The thread contained no politics, no religion, no flaming... so why did the Sysops delete
Since late summer, I began noticing this phenomenon with ever-increasing frequency:
some AZ member would post a fascinating thread (nonpolitical, nonreligious, nonflaming),
other people would respond, and then--poof--the thread was gone. A day or two later, after
asking around, I discovered that some troll had posted an unprovoked attack. The Sysops,
responding to complaints on the "Notify Moderator" button, simply removed the whole
Even though it would make more sense for the health of our community to
remove the vitriolic trolls, AZ's Sysops have shown no interest in sorting out the
troublemakers from the bystanders. For them, it's easier to maintain peace and quiet by
removing the fascinating threads, thus lobotomizing the forums. And since the trolls aren't
even being chastised for their destructive activities, they've become bolder and more
obnoxious. They have begun to act like Zoetrope is their own private
Unfortunately, this means the asylum has been taken over by the inmates.
In other words, if a troll decides that it dislikes you and/or your ideas, it can click
the "Notify Moderator" button, and there's an overwhelming chance that you will be censored.
Easier still, the troll can simply call someone a nasty name on your thread, and let other
members click the "Notify Moderator" button.
You think I'm making this up? To test
my hypothesis, I designed an experiment and posted four threads, between November 10
and 13, 2008. All four were nonpolitical, nonreligious, nonflaming... and three of
them were deleted. 75% censorship. When most of your messages are erased almost as
soon as you post them, what's the point of posting? And all of a sudden, Zoetrope doesn't
make sense anymore.
Actually, AZ has been plagued by trolls for a long time, but now
they're gaining the upper hand. Back at the old http://workshop.fcoppola.com site,
one troll (which proudly admitted plagiarizing many pieces of material workshopped by other
AZers) was expelled several times and kept coming back, using different names. This
established the pattern for later generations of trolls, which were expelled for various
atrocities, then returned under assumed names.
At this moment, there are at least
two fake personae operating at Zoetrope, both female, which have been expelled under at
least three previous member names. Their modus operandi includes posting vicious personal
attacks, then later--after the radioactive threads have been removed--claiming to be innocent.
In fact, they point their troll fingers at reputable, responsible Zoetroupers and accuse
them of starting trouble! Many AZ members believe that Zoetrope is being badly
damaged by the trolls' attack/lie/smear tactics.
Who can be trusted?
perfect world, AZ would implement some kind verification mechanism, like checking a credit
card, so that any AZ member could begin to rely on the fact that s/he is interacting with
an actual person, rather than a backstabbing troll persona. A system of peer-awarded
reputation points might be a good idea, too. It would also be useful if the Sysops began
suspending, and then expelling, members who engage in personal attacks. It might even be
appropriate to institute an automatic "tattletale timeout" for overusing the "Notify
As it stands, AZ members are hesitant to post controversial
ideas, because they know the threads have little chance of survival. AZ has also become
a very dangerous place. Trolls hide behind fake personae, with no personal accountability,
and they attack other members at will, attempting to destroy the reputations of real people.
During the last four months, for example, one troll accused me of stalking its (possibly
nonexistent) daughter, and another troll called me a spousal abuser (refuted by my wife).
One of the trolls was suspended. Upon its return, it mounted a savage personal attack on
another Zoetrope member, maliciously disparaging her parenting skills. A lot of members
have begun to wonder why these libelous, sociopathic trolls haven't been completely blocked
from participating in our creative community. As long as these lawbreakers are permitted
to continue spreading their lies, Zoetrope runs the risk of exposure to legal action.
this point, I am beginning to understand why many of AZ's best writers refuse to engage in
discussions outside their private offices. I used to call them snobs, "hothouse flowers in
their ivory towers," while I reveled in the inclusive egalitarianism of the rest of the
site. But now I can see why those writers withdrew from the public forums, which have
become more and more brutal and rancid. Interacting with other members on the public
discussion boards (now called "diss&cuss" boards) is much like walking into the
middle of a switchblade fight. Trolls have taken over Zoetrope, posting many messages
in their desperate bids for attention. When they don't get the positive attention they
pathologically crave, they begin to attack others, attempting to provoke some response,
even if it's negative. After they get caught in the act, they twist the facts to make it
seem like they were the innocent victims of some other Zoetrouper's nefarious plot.
trolls can be charming, too. If they sense that other members are losing patience with their
personal attacks, they become saccharine sweet and post valuable information, to reel in the
unsuspecting. But it's all an act, a deception that starts with the deliberate lie of
registering under a false name. The duration of troll memberships generally lasts less
than a year or two (the time between expulsions), and they usually enter very few reviews.
When trolls are inadvertently admitted to private offices, other members leave. Trolls are
not here to help improve this community, they're here to tear it down. Remember: with trolls,
deception is everything. Think about what that does to the precious quality of trust that
has made Zoetrope so effective over the years.
Okay, enough ranting. I
still feel an abiding affection for this AZ community, despite the crisis that now
threatens its existence. I also feel a certain responsibility to maintain the ZoBooks sites
mentioned above, so I'll log in between March 29 and 31, 2009, to upload revisions. My
Zmail will be reactivated on those days, so please submit your updates then.
tag for linking to this webpage:
- 2013Mar22: Finished updating. Next scheduled
equinox visit: September 21-23, 2013.
Finished updating. Next scheduled visit: March 19-21, 2013.
Finished updating. Next scheduled visit: September 21-23, 2012.
Finished updating. Next scheduled visit: March 19-21, 2012. Jon Cryer troll link (alt).
Finished updating. Next scheduled visit: September 22-24, 2011.
Finished updating. Next scheduled visit: March 20-22, 2011.
Finished updates this evening. Next scheduled visit: September 22-24, 2010.
Finished updates on September 24, as promised. Next scheduled visit: March 20-22,
2009Apr8: Finished 3 days' worth of updating on March 31 (diary + scorecard), as promised. Next scheduled visit: September 22-24,
2008Nov19: Some folks have been asking about the title of my goodbye threads,
and thanks for all
fish." Those are not
my words, they are the immortal words of
the not-so-immortal Douglas Adams (died 11 May 2001 at age 49).
I've been getting a lot of very nice eMails, like this one: It is upsetting
to hear that you are leaving Zoetrope -- yours were always the threads I read, and not having
you there will make me visit Zoetrope even less. Please reconsider, as there are many of us
"invisible" members who will truly miss your input. [signature redacted] Thank you! I
really appreciate those kind words, but my decision stands. Unfortunately, the Sysops have
become overly responsive to the trolls' destructive manipulations, so there's no way that
"invisible" (or visible) members can trust anyone on the public boards, or even be assured
of seeing their input. And visible members can't avoid libelous attacks. Maybe Zoetrope is
better left to those who wish to bring it down.