As you know, I define trolls* as 'posting with the apparent intention of inciting hostility' and it is, of course, a question of judgement whether people are doing this or not. I tend to err on the side of overcaution and give people plenty of chances to amend their posting style and start fitting in. The main criterion for deciding whether posters like John Jones - who is indeed behaving somewhat trollishly - should be removed is whether they are saying or doing things that people can reasonably be offended by and whether they are doing this repeatedly and more than they are contributing positively
. Again, it's highly subjective and though I sometimes, in retrospect, wish I'd got rid of the nastiest posters sooner, at least I've never regretted banning any of the (not sure how many but fewer than a dozen) posters whose accounts I've toaded.
(By the way, 'toading' is peculiar to this forum and it means I've used my superhuman powers to turn deactivated accounts irreversibly into toads and the banned poster is awarded a special toad avatar. This happens to all active posters - as opposed to one-time spammers - who break one or more rules so many times that it's upsetting people and turning many threads bad.)
Not all trolls will necessarily get banned - David Mabus, for example, - because, as long as they are not making people really angry or upset, they can be quite good fun to have around and they can get bored before anyone else does.
Thanks, by the way, for your responses to Manuel. I think his point has been very ably answered by you and Marian and Alan C, though I kind of thought I'd already covered it in the OP. Although I try to use a very light touch in moderating this forum, I am convinced by my own extensive experience as both a moderator and user of various similarly inspired internet forums that rules are necessary in order to maintain the friendly and civil atmosphere, which I believe is more conducive to productive discussion, and where disagreement can take place without invariably ending up with people abusing and threatening each other and frightening away lurkers rather than drawing them in. And the reason I care about that is because that's the kind of forum I prefer to participate in and I know I speak for many others. So my aim at the start was to occupy the space between the very heavy-handed moderation of the former Internet Infidels forum and the almost total lack of moderation in some of its off-shoots, the worst example of which is probably the rants n' raves
forum, where rudeness and personal abuse appear to be celebrated rather than frowned on.
I think Dan put it succinctly when he said:
We all decide for ourselves whether we want to participate, given that it is run the way it is run. And fundamentally the owners can run it whoever they like If we don't like it, we can go somewhere else. We could even create our own space, if we don't like this one.
There is a huge marketplace of internet fora for people to choose from. If, under the pretext of needing to 'allow free speech at all costs', they were all unmoderated and everyone could say and do as they like, they would be excluding the very large number of people who simply find that kind atmosphere as unappealing online as we do in real life.
*Guide to internet trolls