This is related to this post about the current Twitter-explosion, but this follow up post seemed more suited to the atheism/skepticism blog. There is a hell of a lot of bullshit going around and I’m going to put things a little less delicately than I would in that blog. Maybe being a bit more emotive will get through to some people.
What is trolling?
The older definition of trolling is found in the previous article. The term is in a state of flux though and Wikipedia has what is probably a more modern and current definition.
In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
Of these, the most typical these days is that of someone posting something ghastly in order to try and get an emotional reaction. This might typically include posting horrible things on memorial facebook pages, filling forums with porn images, or making horrifically prejudiced sounding statements based on race, gender, sexual preference.
What isn’t trolling?
There’s a lot of things that get called trolling, that aren’t. Calling something ‘trolling’ (or abusive) is a great excuse for ignoring it, but it isn’t necessarily true.
- Genuine threats are not trolling.
- Disagreeing with you isn’t trolling.
- Insulting you isn’t trolling.
- Criticism isn’t trolling.
Is trolling misogynistic?
Is shooting people in Halo murder?
No, obviously not.
Trolling is a ‘game’. A horrible game that is played by preying on people’s emotions but it is a game. You win the game by getting the biggest and most outrageous reaction to what you say. This means you tailor your trolling comments to your target. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily hold those beliefs.
If you’ve ever played Cards Against Humanity you may an easier time locking on to this idea.
Women, feminists in particular, are a favourite target of trolls because they can be almost guaranteed to deliver a huge, ‘game winning’ number of points in terms of the volume, length and emotional content of their outrage. The reaction is what the troll is after, if they’re using misogynistic terminology it’s only because it’s a winning move. Like equipping the BFG in a game of DOOM.
Is trolling OK?
No. It’s dickish and it upsets people. So it’s not OK, but it’s also not the end of the world and much as people like to claim it’s evidence for sexism, racism or whatever it isn’t. If anything, that these get such a powerful outrage reaction only goes to show how far we’ve progressed on these issues.
Why should we put up with trolling?
Block the person trolling you, ignore them, go on about your life. You already have the tools to do so (though some could be improved, such as an ‘invisible block’.
We should only ‘put up with it’ in that we shouldn’t allow our emotional reactions to trolling to guide our public or private policies.
Much like DRM and other measures designed to stop various electronic behaviours, attempts to control or stop trolls are unlikely to stop the trolls and very likely to cause issues for legitimate users. Tools supposedly to deal with trolls will cause far more problems for regular users and are likely to be abused themselves.
What about abuse and threats?
Genuine, kosher abuse and threats are not the same thing as trolling. Conflating the two is ‘crying wolf’. Ironically, many of the people complaining and calling trolling abuse are indulging in abuse themselves. If a threat is genuine and believable recourse already exists – go to the police. It seems like it might not be a bad idea to also charge people for wasting police time on spurious threats though.
What’s the difference between trolling and abuse?
- A troll is seeking to elicit a reaction. They almost certainly do not believe the horrible things they say, they’re just doing it to get that reaction.
- An abuser genuinely believes what they’re saying and isn’t just trying to get a reaction.
This is a troll being horrible to elicit a reaction:
This is someone being abusive (and far from the only one amongst those claiming to be against abuse):
How can we deal with trolling?
The absolute best way we have to deal with it is to ignore it. To pay it absolutely no attention.
It is an elementary mistake to pay attention to trolls, to play up to what they say and do. It is a huge mistake to start some kind of public campaign and to make a Cameronesque move to try and turn outrage and ‘something must be done!’ panic into an ill-thought out public campaign which will only attract more trolls, the likes of Anonymous (as you begin to threaten internet freedom), and genuine creeps.
Quietly ban, block and move on.
Nothing else works, at least not without some really serious collateral damage. There are a few improvements to tools that can be made without opening them up to abuse but they need time, space and distance to be properly assessed.
People with various causes also really need to stop taking troll comments as evidence that the problems they’re fighting are particularly bad. Trolls only go after what elicits a reaction.
An amount of spurious abuse is the price we pay for some important and vital internet freedoms and a degree of anonymity.