Oh, trolls. The internet really is one of the best and worst things we have. The wonderful thing about the internet is that we are able to connect with anyone with access to it; I don’t need to have met someone halfway across the world in order to have a meaningful conversation with him or her. Conversely, I don’t need to meet someone to sling hateful insults at them for no reason whatsoever. According to this great video made by AsapScience, a troll is a person who “has fun distressing others by being argumentative and disruptive.” Additionally, trolls display high levels of psychopathy, narcissism, and sadism. Not all trolls can be described by this scientific study. There are the trolls who are simply unhappy with their places in life and are taking out their insecurities on strangers. The anonymity that the internet can provide allows these trolls to have real and dangerous effects on those they target.
Trolling happens on all internet platforms, from Twitter to comment sections of various blogs and news outlets. It seems that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are perhaps more susceptible to harmful trolling (as opposed to simply message boards or comments sections) because users can create fake accounts that can be used to persistently badger other users, similar to the case of Lindy West. A man created a fake Twitter and Gmail account for her recently deceased father and used them both to harass her. I’m not sure that technology companies necessarily have a moral obligation to do anything but try to promote a positive environment and take their users’ complaints and concerns seriously. The real issue is that even if one account is deemed inappropriate and is removed, someone can turn around and create a new account to continue trolling. The cycle will perpetuate no matter how thorough Twitter’s harassment policy is. Sometimes I wish that we could take away someone’s access to the internet, but I guess that’s not what America is all about or something….
The whole “real names” policy is another step that social media giants have taken that just gets an A for effort. The intent behind this policy is admirable but has its issues. Sometimes the safe haven of anonymity is not abused and is necessary for people looking to start anew. Though I made my Facebook and Twitter accounts before these policies were created (or at least enforced), I don’t think it would be too hard to create an account with a fake name that is real enough. Unless these companies are suddenly having people apply for accounts via the postal service with copies of government-issued IDs included, how are they to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth? Beats me. I imagine that there are some trolls who just don’t care about being anonymous and will troll away under their own names if they really want to. Suffice it to say that the “real names” policy does not give me too much confidence that the end of trolling is in the near future.
Trolling is absolutely a major problem on the internet, but I don’t think it was caused by the internet. As long as people disagree with one another, there will be some sort of trolling that happens. The internet just happens to be a fantastic way to facilitate this horrible culture of instant criticism and harassment that is prevalent in our society. Trolling, like most things that ruin good systems, will not be eradicated by slapping people on the wrists. People need to truly learn that everyone on the internet is a person with feelings and family and stressors and issues. I’m sure none of these trolls would want to be treated like the women affected by GamerGate, but I think that it would take experiencing something horrible for them to realize how deep of an impact their actions have. I really do believe that if you have nothing nice to say, you should just exit your browser and move on with your life.