Feeding the trolls

One of the Facebook posts we posted last month received some really interesting comments, showing that we’re not the only ones worried about the current trend of irresponsible trolls speaking (in this case typing) louder than constructive netizens.

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Of course this is hardly a new trend; even before the internet, those that yelled the loudest at rallies or those who were able to distribute their pamphlets to a wider audience were those that got the most attention.

The difference is that nowadays, thanks to the internet, one single troll can get a potentially huge audience and his/her “voice” can have a long-standing presence, for as long as the web page is up.

So why is the Singapore alternative media landscape so full of internet trolls and how can we make it easier for real commenters to be heard?

I think one possible reason is the fact that for a long time, people were afraid to speak their minds or to even show they disagreed with the government.

So naturally once all of that pent up anger came out it did so in an uncontrollable flow comprising legitimate observations, ridiculous complaints, and unreasonable demands.

Most importantly, the fact that they could do so anonymously, behind the safety of a computer screen, allowed many people to go beyond the simple expression of opinion and go into expressing aggressiveness.

To be perfectly honest, I too have been guilty of angrily typing comments on a few review sites I disagreed with…

But to my defence, I was commenting on the deliciousness of a particular dish, something really trivial compared to the political opinions some people share on influential websites.

In both cases, removing the burden of individual accountability increases the chances of people spreading rumours and lies, not worrying about whether their actions have any real-world consequences.

Speaking of “everyone else”, have you ever noticed how internet trolls seem to thrive on the attention and the reactions they get from people?

Much like bullies, trolls love any form of attention, no matter how negative, which is why responding to them or trying to initiate a reasonable dialogue with them only leads to more frustration.

Add to that the fact that it’s much easier to criticise than to come up with a solution, and you get the perfect environment for internet trolls to prosper.

So how can we get rid of undesirable trolls?

The only way is to make it harder for them to troll in the first place! Whether it’s making it compulsory to register for an account before commenting, banning undesirable IP addresses, strengthening spam filters, cracking down on anonymity, hiring professional responders to troll the trolls, or even making it illegal to troll, there are many ways to solve the issue.

But the main problem with all of these is the fact that they only deal with trolls once they’re already active and have already started spreading their message.

An ideal solution would involve making people think twice before starting their trolling “career”, maybe making trolling a difficult and unrewarding activity, one that could potentially cost a job, a relationship, or a reputation?

But how?

The difficulty here is the fact that any measure that’d make it harder for trolls to express themselves could also make it harder for regular readers and commenters to freely enjoy the internet. And there’s no reason the majority of people should have to pay for the immaturity and selfishness of a few.

Another obstacle is the fact that cracking down on trolls could be perceived as removing all and any contradicting opinions, when the actual goal is not to ban people from expressing themselves, but to allow authentic discussions to not be buried in useless or unproductive debates.

It seems like for now the most likely – and practical – solution is to simply ignore the trolls and not feed their hunger for attention.

So how about it? Instead of feeding the trolls, let’s start to feed the constructive thinkers instead!

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Rizal Azlan

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