Response: Age of Rage

2879775-internet_trollTim Adams’ piece discusses something that pretty much everybody with a computer and WiFi connection has encountered: internet trolls. I think this is something that most of us have come to expect to some degree. No matter what websites you frequent–Pinterest, Buzzfeed, CNN, E!–if they have a comments section then they have trolls.

Put simply, they are users who make inflammatory remarks for the purpose of making other people angry. There are obvious trolls who are deliberately off-topic and politically incorrect to the point of being parodies of themselves. Others are more subtle and may actually believe the outlandish things they say. Either way, their words hinder thoughtful discussion. Adams cites the psychological phenomenon called “deindividuation”, which is when people defy cultural norms under the protection of anonymity. It is no surprise that trolls thrive on the internet, since many websites allow users to remain anonymous.

The common response to trolling is what your mother always told you about what to do if someone on the schoolyard was picking on you: just ignore them. Bullies only do what they do to get a rise out of you, so denying them the reaction they crave is also denying them power.You’re bound to fine trolls anywhere you go on the internet and there’s no point getting riled up every single time someone says something ugly. Since most trolls are reduced to basement-dwelling losers with too much free time on their hands, it isn’t too hard to discount what they have to say. This approach works most of the time.

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Pretty obvious troll

On occasion, the boundary between harmlessness and serious threats to personal safety gets blurred. As mentioned in the article:

Kathy Sierra is a programming instructor based in California; after an online spat on a tech-site she was apparently randomly targeted by an anonymous mob that posted images of her as a sexually mutilated corpse on various websites and issued death threats. She wrote on her own blog: “I’m at home, with the doors locked, terrified. I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.”

Sierra’s situation is complicated for law enforcement since there’s no real way to police the actions of anonymous users on the internet. In a post by blogger Lindy West, she explains how women in particular are “trolled” with rape threats. When they seek help from the police, they are often met with ridicule. Since the threat is anonymous, they are thought to be overreacting.

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These are threats Lindy West received after a televised debate with a male comedian over whether or not it is okay to make jokes about rape.

Is there a solution to the problem at hand? Not really. Unfortunately, people who maintain a public presence on the internet like Sierra and West are likely to be subjected to vitriol simply because there are people out there who disagree with them. That being said, something needs to be done to protect public figures from feeling that their real life safety is threatened.

The rest of us are more privileged because we can avoid trolls by choosing which sites to frequent based on how well their comment sections are moderated. I’m not so sure how I feel about the government taking away internet anonymity, but there’s no denying that trolling can extend beyond ploys for attention.

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11 comments

  1. I agree. Trolling definitely has the potential to become a serious problem. I personally find it much easier to brush off rude and inflammatory comments. Like you said, I have the option of simply staying away from websites that cater to internet trolls. Perhaps the best solution isn’t outright censorship, another extreme of internet regulation. Instead, domain owners can set up a system of screening provocative comments from users and have individuals dedicated to this task. A user’s anonymity need not be taken away but there should definitely be effective measurements put in place that would hinder future such behavior. For example, accounts may temporarily be banned from a website if enough users report the individual for trolling. If the individual continues to behave antagonistically, then he/ she may be completely banned from a website, or lose the privilege of anonymity.

  2. I like that you brought up the fact that trolling can be harmful when used in a threatening manner. I think the example you used concerning both Lindy West and Kathy Sierra brought up excellent points. When does trolling go too far? It’s certainly a big gray area. Whether it was intentional or not, I also liked the fact that the examples that you brought up were both women. This brings up another issue about the discrepancies in harassment that are seen in regards to men vs women. Commenting definitely needs some kind of moderating. It’s hard coming up with an adequate means of dealing with it, however. Overall, I agreed with most, if not all of your points and I think you did an excellent job explaining everything.

  3. I like that you used a real life example of someone who was exposed to trolling. It shows that it can really happen to anyone and that caution should always be taken on the internet. This example shows that trolling is not always harmless and that it can get taken to the next level. It is definitely a topic that should not be take lightly. Hopefully they internet will continue to progress and be able to automatically prevent these types of situations.

  4. I definitely agree with you. I would love to see someone come up with a better way to protect internet users from trolls. I really don’t like the idea of anonymity. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, why should you be allowed to say it on the internet? Anonymity is for chickens, to be honest. I really like the websites that don’t allow anonymous comments and require an account on the site in order to comment. I also agree that it would be great to find a way to protect public figures from the nasty comments they receive online, but what about people who aren’t famous? Shouldn’t they have the same protection? I do think trolling is an issue, mainly because my mind is instantly drawn to those people who have taken their own lives after receiving hateful and negative comments on their blogs or posts or whatever it was. Whether those posters were anonymous or not, those words still hurt, and hurt so badly that someone died to escape it. I think a way to try and prevent this is when sites don’t allow anonymous commenters. Most often, those negative comments are only said if that person can hide behind an anonymous wall so that no one can come after them for saying what they said. I think a good rule of thumb when commenting anywhere is just if you wouldn’t say it in person to that person’s face, then don’t say it online.

  5. I also agree with you that trolling is and will continue to be a serious problem. Usually it is a result of people being way too opinionated or feeling strongly about a specific topic. It is unfair that they would take the time to leave rude comments. Although I find it to be just an annoyance more than anything, some people are offended by these comments. Like you had mentioned, the best way to handle this would be ignoring them or simply staying away from websites that attract trolls. I have never personally had a run in with a troll on the internet, but I have definitely seen many incidents where others have. My really good friend has her own beauty blog and some people leave offensive remarks questioning her appearance. Clearly people like this are just looking for attention and looking to make people angry. Hopefully the internet will soon have an option where trolling can be eliminated.

  6. I agree with you relating trolls to a schoolyard bullies. Best to just ignore them, eventually they’ll get bored and move on. As for Kathy Sierra, I feel sorry for her too. No one should be afraid for their life when stepping outside their house. There is a big difference between making a simple remark like, “You’re stupid” compared to “ I’m going to stalk you every night and then kidnap you when I get the chance”. Law enforcement should be involved when the threats sounds too serious. Furthermore, if we ever were to create a law against making life threats online, I feel like it would be hard to enforce.

  7. I like the way that you structured your analysis of the reading. You gave a good description as to what a troll is on the internet and what they do. Since “troll” and “trolling” are two relatively new concepts in the internet world, well new in the sense that the action of leaving horrible comments just to start up issues that has nothing to do with what is being present finally has a name to it, people are unaware of the dangers of such comment-leaving. I agree with you that getting completely rid of anonymous comments would not be the best way to go, but that internet trolling needs to be regulated somehow. Especially if these internet trolls get personal information on people and make issues for people in real life. There are so many stories you hear where going to the police does not help because the police do not know where to start. Sometimes they even say that a person is putting themselves out there on the internet so they should be able to handle the consequences of their decision. No one is making them put their opinions and things online, they are doing it themselves. However, that does not mean that they should not get help when they feel like their livelihood is being threatened or that they feel like they are not safe anymore. Furthermore, I like how you ended with saying how we can avoid interne trolls by deciding which sites to go on and not, yet the people who these comments are directed to do not have the same luxury as we do.

  8. I can agree with you in some respects, but others, not so much. The only real issue I took with your response is that “most trolls are reduced to basement-dwelling losers with too much free time on their hands”. I couldn’t disagree with you more on this. I’ve been scouring the internet for information since it the very early 90’s. Since the beginning of the internet you know now. I’ve known trolls of all shapes and sizes, lifestyles and attitudes. If there’s one thing I’ve seen for sure, it’s that almost none of them live in their parents basements, and that most of them have higher motives than just poking you into a fury. While I know some of those types exist, I think it might be a little much to stereotypically categorize anyone that way. Outside of that tiny thing, I think your response was fantastic! We certainly can’t hide them away completely and it is definitely something that comes along with public exposure, but choosing the places that we comment in and post to, along with moderation controls is likely the best answer. Threats of ANY KIND, should be investigated. I’m all for a little more accountability, but only when it can be deemed an actual threat, which is where the difficulty comes in.

  9. I agree that there are varying types of trolls and not all are “reduced to basement-dwelling losers with too much free time on their hands.” Just as the content the trolls create, there is a wide variety of who is considered a troll. Besides that I really liked how you brought in real-life scenarios. Everyone has been subject to trolling at some point or another (and if you haven’t shout out to you! That’s impressive!) and the severity of it seems to be increasing. There definitely needs to be a better system of monitoring trolling.

  10. For me I have a “love, hate relationship” with trolls. I have encounter trolls on my internet rendezvous, but they have never bothered me much. I see it as the more trolls you have the more success you have. If you think about it in another light, like for trolls to notice you, you have to have some type of exposure for them to notice you. If you are just someone who is starting up and no one even knows you exist a troll would not post hate comments on your blog. I have experienced this first hand, when I started my internet ventures I was nothing but as time progressed and i gained more exposure i soon noticed more and more trolls. For me they are a goal to let me know how well I am doing.

  11. I agree with your critical response. Trolling is a serious issue and it gets way out of control sometimes. When you first start having people threatening with comments on blog post or any form a social media, then it gets scary. You don’t know what is a real threat and what isn’t. Hopefully it becomes a law that people aren’t allowed to make a threat online. Police should take this matter seriously.

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