Freedom and abuse

The issue of trolls seems to be coming up more and more often. I guess it is inevitable seeing as more and more people are discovering the convenience and joys of expressing themselves on-line. Add the freedom of anonymity and it’s not surprising that the comments section of the entire Internet is full of crazy haters.

I’m of two minds when it comes to trolls. First, it’s important to note that I don’t mean hate-inciting web-sites and the bottom-feeders that produce the content and engage in mutual-delusion-maintenance. There’s probably some overlap between trolls and bottom-feeders but bottom-feeders tend to be in-group focussed, whereas trolls are pretty much out to get everyone outside.

Anyway, back to my two minds. In the first place, I think that if you’re an adult, you should be able to shrug off insults*. Most of the time, it’s pretty clear that the trolls issuing them are not worth the trouble. In some cases, it’s useful feedback that you’ve touched a nerve and are actually on to something. I can imagine that concerted attacks by a spam of trolls could be challenging but again: words versus sticks and stones. The best advice is the one that has been proven to work: don’t feed the trolls.

On the other hand, just ignoring trolls doesn’t feel right.  A part of me wants to punish them. A part of me wants them to know that they are behaving very badly indeed and that it is not acceptable. Expensive pseudonymity, simple & decentralised abuse ranking and user-configurable filtering functionality all go some way towards this. But with the exception of some sites (like the Stack-exchange group), most websites and services seem incapable of implementing anything cheap, scalable and effective.

Is it that they don’t care? Or have they done the math and figured out that the majority of their customers producing new engagement traffic are trolls: ie because people can’t help feeding the trolls, more hits result.


* Threats, especially plausible physical threats, should be dealt with as a criminal matter.

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