Saturday, February 12, 2011

Online Trolling: Exploiting the Exploiters

Disclaimer: This may be my favorite topic of discussion in this class so far, because reading comments by "trolls" are very interesting and it makes you wonder why people act differently online than they would in person.

Before we begin, take a look at the comments on this YouTube video of President Obama speaking on the situation in Egypt.

In particular, view the highly radical and racist comments being shared back and forth, especially from a user named MercuryWahWah.

This person makes numerous comments on Obama calling him a "House Nigger" and insisting that he "moves over for a real leader."

Why would a person make such obnoxious comments about something totally different from the topic at hand? Would he address the president in this way if they were face-to-face? Does this person feel empowered stating his opinion online?

These are all questions regarding trolling, especially since it's common throughout the web.

Without a doubt, the Internet allows us to manipulate the way we present ourselves to others because of the freedom to input any kind of information that allows us to hide our true identity. By using aliases, pseudonyms, or other nicknames, a person can be completely anonymous to other users, giving this person the added benefit of stating their thoughts, whether easy-going or really harsh, in a relatively open way unless an authoring device on websites filters those comments.

According to Julie Zhuo in her article "Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt," - Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways.

I think that one obvious advantage of remaining anonymous online is that people have a feeling of being totally safe when it comes to posting offensive and harsh comments online. It's because they think they know that nothing can be done to them or no one can find them to retaliate. One disadvantage of remaining anonymous online is that the level of seriousness attributed to a troll is of low proportions, so a person hoping to make serious change through their comments isn't going to be taken literally and therefore, get placed by the wayside.

Zhuo says that this kind of social pressure works because, at the end of the day, most trolls wouldn’t have the gall to say to another person’s face half the things they anonymously post on the Internet.

I definitely agree with her statement because ever since the web produced the phenomenon of trolling, people feel so comfortable saying things online they likely wouldn't say in person because they feel empowered and protected by this empowerment.

Judging the content of online posts, I feel that analyzing someone's comments is one method to determine whether we're being deceived online. An honest and easy-going user will post thoughtful comments on subject matter that deals with that subject matter. They also will post open, engaging ideas that legitimately ask for opinions from similar and thoughtful users.

How do we combat the negative effects of some of these developments?

Zhuo says:

Many victims are turning to legislation. All 50 states now have stalking, bullying or harassment laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication.

She also says content providers should stop allowing anonymous comments by:

-Moderatating comments and forums.

-Using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on site.

-Asking users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.

I agree with her proposals, though it may truly too difficult to handle because people can always create new e-mails or new hidden profiles and continue their trollish ways. It's definitely behavior that needs policing, but then would that be breaking freedom of speech?

The matter is controversial, but people need to realize that some sayings are better left unsaid.


  1. Troll's don't really cause that much trouble online.

  2. Not that much trouble. This reminds me of when I was a kid. "Sticks and Stones can break my bones but Words can never hurt me." The negative influence may have a minor disruption to the flow of comments, but produces a great deal of negativity.