Monday, 19 November 2012

(Troll-infested) Bridges of Communication

Like the iconic Billy Goats of fairytales, users of social media and other forms of Internet-based communicative media, are often waylaid by trolls when they access the bridges of communication. Whenever people use bridges to reach the ‘green grass’ of enlightened discussion, these beasts always seem to pop up to ‘gobble up’ Internet discourse.

Inflammatory comments, deliberately misleading or time-wasting posts, harassment of users, these are the scourges of the message board and social media experiences. Internet boards often have moderators imbued with the power of banning and suspending  misbehaving posters, and these boards often grant users  the ability to report in miscreants.

Blizzard entertainment recently tried to implement a requirement that all posters on its WoW (World of Warcraft) forums display their real first and last names when using the forums. This was suggested as a way to reduce the rampant rudeness and trollish behaviour on the site, such as personal, vulgar attacks stemming from seemingly any minor disagreement between posters. Posters were infuriated by the plan, with some one user posting all the personal details, including phone number and address, of a Blizzard employee who gave his full name on the forums in order to demonstrate how harmless the change could be. The worry among users was that forcing people to display their real names would jeapordize safety and would enable posters to stalk and harass people who they dislike on the forums.

This writer believes that the users were right to complain, and the proposed naming system by Blizzard was unwise, and was cavalier about the security and safety of posters. Some advocates of the now repealed change stated that if you posted respectfully you would have nothing to worry about by displaying your full name. This ignores the fact that people can be, and have been, harassed or insulted on the Internet even if they make an effort to be polite and considerate in their posting.

Reduction of ‘trolling’ is important, but sacrificing people’s anonymity is a no-no. Another thing to consider is the definition of trolling. Some forums and users have a form of elitism regarding their pet forum, and an over-zealous expectation that new users will adhere to all and every standard or norm, resulting in often fascist or oppressive forums. A decent, normal person who did not read the labyrinthine rules, or who had a slightly different style or opinion from others on the site, could be labelled a troll. Social media is a place to spread democratic discussions about various issues., and posting opinions and different takes on an issue are part of the Internet democracy and the character of a user. Trolling is very real and negative, but should be used to describe obviously damaging, disrespectful or hostile behaviour. Something has to be done about trolling, but what is a reasonable step?

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