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FAQ Off: An Open Source Project to Defeat Harassment Mobs and Anti-Intellectualism

soatokdhole profile image Soatok Dreamseeker ・3 min read

Social media is inherently asymmetric. That observation shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, most of us have a very small number of followers, but some people command the attention of hundreds of thousands or even millions.

But the asymmetry of social media cuts both ways. Ask anyone who has ever been the target of a harassment mob, and they'll tell you all about it.

A popular technique used by Internet trolls and mob-harassers is called Sea-Lioning, which involves (often multiple) throwaway accounts demanding answers to a tired line of loaded questions, usually while maintaining the veneer of civility.

Even when a victim is successful dealing with sea-lioning, it can be very exhausting and draining for them to do so.

Sea-lioning from Wondermark

Which brings us to FAQ Off, an open source toolkit for undermining the tactics of trolls and harassment mobs.

FAQ Off Aims to Invert the Exploitable Asymmetry of Social Media

It used to be the case that you had two options:

  1. Engaging with a (potentially large) number of boring Internet trolls who are not acting in good faith.
  2. Say nothing and let their replies pollute your community with their toxicity, thereby tacitly endorsing the radicalization of your friends.

With FAQ Off, you're given a third choice: Take control of the narrative by writing responses to their questions, and the obvious follow-ups to those questions, and so on recursively. And then, all current and future iterations of the same tired line of questioning can be answered by a simple hyperlink instead of wasting your time again.

If this sounds confusing, how about a demonstration? Here's a URL you can link people in response to them saying, "I hate furries.":

FAQ Off is the cross-product of Q&A sessions with text adventure games.

Here's another demo. This one deals with common misconceptions about VPN services:

Of course, if you'd prefer the dog-fooded explanation for this project, read here instead.

Write once, link ad nauseum

If you're in touch with the news and recent events, you may be concerned by the trend of anti-intellectualism that's taken hold for the past decade or so.

If nothing else, FAQ Off may provide a platform for experts to automate the uninteresting conversations debunking common myths and falsehoods that perpetuate the 24-hour breaking news cycle and tabloid journalism so they can focus instead on providing actual insight into their area of expertise.

The sky is the limit.

What Are FAQ Off's Features?

  • Interactive Question and Answer Website:
    • Guide your readers to the answers to their question.
    • Short-circuit common lines of disruptive discourse. Write once, answer ad nauseum!
  • HTML and Markdown Support
  • Troll and Spam Defense:
    • Administrators can enable "invite only" mode, which requires an invitation code from an existing user to sign up.
    • The invitation tree: Administrators can see who invited who, to identify common entry points of misbehaving users to curate their own community.
  • Collaboration:
    • Users can share an Author profile with colleagues and publish as a group.
    • Users can belong to an unlimited number of Authors.
    • Authors can share access to an unlimited number of users, or just one.
  • Security:
    • Entries are written in HTML / Markdown and processed by HTML Purifier to protect against cross-site scripting attacks.
    • Passwords are stored securely, or you can use Twitter.
    • Your username or Twitter handle is only knowable by administrators. A randomly generated Public ID is provided to keep your login handle and/or Twitter handle anonymous to everyone else.

Where Can I Find It?

FAQ Off is on Github:

Discussion (13)

Editor guide
codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Saving this! Your project looks awesome.

Huh. "Sea lioning." So THAT is what it's called! One of my regular answers to sea-lioning is "I am not obligated to put my important tasks on hold to do the research you are too lazy to do yourself. If you care so much about the counterpoint, look it up yourself. You clearly have the time I don't." (That reverses the psychological tactic: at that point, most trolls will back off, lest they label themselves as lazy by their own flawed heuristic.)

I will sometimes ask people for sources, too, but I handle it quite differently. "I've seen X and Y (counterpoints). Do you happen to have a link/source on that? I'm curious." Sometimes also, "You should look into that a bit more for yourself. I think you may have overlooked X and Y." But I try to let it go beyond that! Life ain't Wikipedia.

codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

I just thought of one more doozy of a shutdown re: sea-lions.

Troll: Do you have a source on that?

Me: Do you have a source proving I should cite sources on every statement I make in a casual conversation?

cryptoquick profile image
Distributed Hunter Trujillo • Edited

Maybe even just upload the sea lion graphic posted and say, "arf arf, goes the sea lion!"
But only if it's clear they're arguing in bad faith.
But then, there's FAQ Off now!

l04db4l4nc3r profile image
Angad Sharma

What an innovative project. I love the thought that went into making it!

allnulled profile image
Info Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View code of conduct

The anti-intellectualism can be for more than 1 reason, but the main reason for me is Internet, precisely.

Internet has been around for already more then half a century. Its purpose was to share the knowledge.

Today, 2020, COVID-19 here ("WTF IS THAT SHIT", we all ask meanwhile, by the way), still having to pay for university studies.

That is clearly a very good reason to send to hell intellectuals. They have the knowledge. They do not share it. They make you pay for high-quality information.

  1. Really, it is not about intellectuals, but humans are the (presumptly) most intellectual animal here.

Fuck off intellectualism. Truly, deeply, from the deep of my heart, and sorry if someone gets offended, I just feel I do not belong to the same group of people of these who change money for knowledge, if they are humans, then I am not.

soatokdhole profile image
Soatok Dreamseeker Author

The problem here isn't intellectualism though. The problem is gatekeeping. (Which is a problem I have written about a lot).

Intellectualism without gatekeeping is very... hippyish. Think Wikipedia, not Encyclopedia Dramatica or academic paywalls.

allnulled profile image

It is the gatekeeping of knowledge, which is promoted by people who say themselves intellectuals, so, more or less.

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soatokdhole profile image
Soatok Dreamseeker Author • Edited

I think we have a confusion of terminology here.

Anti-intellectualism in America is the notion that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge" (as Isaac Asimov once put it).

I'm saying that anti-intellectualism is bad.

I'm not saying that people who call themselves "intellectuals" are held harmless. Self-proclaimed "intellectuals" aren't even in scope.

Anti-intellectualism is just a specific word with a specific meaning divorced from what people call themselves.

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allnulled profile image

Your knowledge was paid, and there is people that cannot afford it.

It is all about who has the info, and why is not sharing it.

I can be ignorant, but not elitist.

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soatokdhole profile image
Soatok Dreamseeker Author

Your knowledge was paid, and there is people that cannot afford it.

I'm self-taught, and I share information freely. I even stream it on Twitch from time to time. :)

Hell, I won't even give conference talks in my professional persona unless it's reasonably practical for a hypothetical low-income part-time employee to be able to afford to attend the event. (Not just ticket cost, but transportation and hotel costs too.)

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allnulled profile image

Not you, man, come on.

The UNIVERSITY KNOWLEDGE is restricted. I do not care if you studied or not, it is something that is senseless: internet can make education faster, and some (powerful) people is slowing the natural process of knowledge liberation.

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soatokdhole profile image
Soatok Dreamseeker Author • Edited

Your knowledge


Not you, man, come on.



This is why we need SciHub.

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allnulled profile image

I am talking about the previous steps, the steps that prepare someone to read the papers on there: a Free Online University.