Friday, July 6, 2012

What can we do to fight trolling?

Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes-vs-Women in Video Games project;
It had been a target of rampant trolling as you can see here.

After catching up with Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project and what happened last month, I could not help but feeling surprised how far trolls went to sabotage her image on the net.  It shows how much destructive power each of us possesses.  Just as much we can help each others, we can hurt each other lot worse.

From my experience of dealing with internet trolls, I find trolls to thrive when there is complete anonymity or instant pseudonymity without established identity.  When trolls make ad hominem attacks, they almost always hide behind cloak of anonymity.

Anonymity achieves two things.  First, it hides trolls' identity hence shielding the accuser from taking responsibility for their vile conduct.  Second, it makes trolls' conduct look like general public's consensus by shifting the attention to the accuser from trolls themselves.

Both of these are very toxic in creating truly open and collaborative environment because it creates culture of fear and mistrust.

What can we do to fight back?

I see two weapons against trolling:

1. Pseudonymity

Anonymity makes it easier to abuse the internet without any inkling of taking responsibility.  While using real identity for all participation is one way to reduce trolls, it goes too far.  In order to encourage participation from all users, we must allow participant to create new persona and use pseudonym to engage in a conversation.  Difference is pseudonym is established identity albeit unknown one whereas anonymity does not even allow for identity.

2. Speaking out against trolls

One thing that I was very glad to see was public's response.  People did not sat passively and watched trolls running havoc on Anita Sarkeesian's public image.  There were hundreds of people who spoke out in protest of trolls' behavior and chimed in to let everyone know that trolling was not acceptable.  By speaking out, it breaks the silence.  It no longer gives silent endorsement to trolls' unsubstantiated attack.  It breaks the flow for trolls and lets everyone else know that there are people who care out there.

If our Internet is a space where anything is allowed, it can easily become a place of moral turpitude.  We have to control trolls because internet is too valuable to be abandoned because of a few bad apples.  But it does not mean that we need to take away user privacy.

There is a happy medium.  It's called pseudonymity and user activism.

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