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Web Trolls Winning As Incivility Increases 457

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-might-know-where-you-can-find-a-moderation-system-for-a-good-price dept.
mdsolar sends this story from the NY Times: The Internet may be losing the war against trolls. At the very least, it isn't winning. And unless social networks, media sites and governments come up with some innovative way of defeating online troublemakers, the digital world will never be free of the trolls' collective sway. That's the dismal judgment of the handful of scholars who study the broad category of online incivility known as trolling, a problem whose scope is not clear, but whose victims keep mounting. "As long as the Internet keeps operating according to a click-based economy, trolls will maybe not win, but they will always be present," said Whitney Phillips, a lecturer at Humboldt State University and the author of This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things, a forthcoming book about her years of studying bad behavior online. "The faster that the whole media system goes, the more trolls have a foothold to stand on. They are perfectly calibrated to exploit the way media is disseminated these days."
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Web Trolls Winning As Incivility Increases

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  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:37AM (#47676981)
    As long as there is perceived anonymity, as long as there is no recrimination for being an asshat, asshats shall be asshats.

    Just respond with a "U mad Bro?"

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      "On the internet it is possible to be anyone or anything you like. It amazes me that when presented with this wonderful opportunity, so many people choose to be assholes."

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's because that is what most people actually are when not forced to be polite. Trolling is people being honest about what they actually are rather than phony pretenses of politeness.

      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

        "On the internet it is possible to be anyone or anything you like. It amazes me that when presented with this wonderful opportunity, so many people choose to be assholes."

        Oh, now that is pricelessly good.

        But very true. The problem is that some sociopath sitting naked in the basement, spewing hate and discontent has equal weight with Stephen Hawking when posting. It's an example of "The tragedy of the commons." Polite and civil people just end up going away, leaving the place to the assholes. Who of course can't figure out that they killed the place.

        That's why for all it's minor flaws, Slashdot has a pretty good setup. If you want to be AC, then fine. But your post starts

    • by Trepidity (597)

      I used to think anonymity was part of the problem, but I haven't seen improvement when some forums have switched to real names, so I now no longer think that really helps. My local paper switched to Facebook as its commenting platform, with comments posted under real names, and the comment section is still as terrible as before.

  • suggestion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cardoor (3488091) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:39AM (#47676991)
    easy way for the 'government' to drastically cut down on internet trolling: stop funding it.

    or didyou think that operation mockingbird was a one-time deal?
    • You're suggesting that the Government is funding assholes who post violent pornographic photos in comment threads about rape survival?

      Who modded this up anyway?

  • Not Government (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StikyPad (445176) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:40AM (#47676997) Homepage

    I'm fine with sites regulating trolls. I'm less fine with government curtailing freedom of expression, regardless of how offensive it may be.

    • Absolutely! The moment the government gets its grubby mitts on anything it gets fucked up forever!
    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      I agree. I browse Slashdot at -1. I'm an intelligent person and recognize that trolling can take multiple forms......it could be content (comments) that are trolling, but I've also seen moderation trolling (i.e. down-modding anything pro-Apple or pro-Microsoft depending on which side you are on). But browsing at -1, I know that I will be exposed to a lot of content meant to incite. I think those people need an outlet and at least on a moderated site such as Slashdot, their drivel is generally only seen

    • Re:Not Government (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:24AM (#47677421)

      The problem is trying to figure out when a Troll is just a Troll vs. Free Speech of an unpopular idea.

      Slashdot is a prime example of this. While a lot a trolls are actual troll, there are times when someone hits a few emotional points to the viewers that will get them flagged as troll.

      Pro Religion, Pro Microsoft, Anti GNU, Anti Linux, Pro DRM. Posts unless extremely well explained will get modded down to troll.

      But there are other areas where opposing views are considered trolls and meant to be kicked out vs. stated as an open opinion.

      My rules for trolls, are posts that are overly negative, without any logical basis.

      • The problem is trying to figure out when a Troll is just a Troll vs. Free Speech of an unpopular idea.

        This is the key part of "troll" definition and solving any perceived "problem" with trolls. Someone voices an opinion different from mine? Troll. They voice that opinion with evidence I think is garbage? Troll.

        But even worse, we're getting to the point where ... someone says something rude about something I like? Troll. Someone says something rude about something I DON'T like? Not a troll. We are
      • Re:Not Government (Score:5, Insightful)

        by s.petry (762400) on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:58AM (#47677779)

        Pro Religion, Pro Microsoft, Anti GNU, Anti Linux, Pro DRM. Posts unless extremely well explained will get modded down to troll.

        Even with a careful explanation most of those will be censored^Wmoderated as trolls.

    • Completely agree. This is an issue with Internet culture that will doubtless be addressed over time as mores, etiquette, and other principles catch up with the new generations of communication that lack the societal repercussions for bad behavior that are present in the old. Much of it is likely simply the result of a lack of supervision on the part of parents. Previously, their poor parenting had little immediate impact on the outside world, but now, with kids having unfettered and unsupervised access to t

  • My 0.02 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaMattster (977781) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:42AM (#47677005)
    The only reason trolls win is we give them the reaction that they are looking for. If people just ignored them more often instead of getting all bent out of shape, the trend would go away. Trolls would quickly get bored because they won't have an outlet for their frustration. Trolls are nothing more than school yard bullies that never quite grew up.
    • That doesn't work either.

      There's no one size fits all approach to dealing with trolls. Some are best dealt with by ignoring, some by fighting, and some by feeding them until they explode.

    • Re:My 0.02 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gbjbaanb (229885) on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:16AM (#47677351)

      Unfortunately that doesn't quite work either - look at the Twitter trolls, who spew forth such abuse that several high-profile twitter users cancelled their accounts. The trolls didn't give up, but simply moved on to another part of the web (or different twitter users). So we can ignore them, but only by ignoring the sites and services we want to use.

      Of course, I'd say the trolls did those users a favour by getting them to stop using twitter!

    • by Kjella (173770)

      The only reason trolls win is we give them the reaction that they are looking for. If people just ignored them more often instead of getting all bent out of shape, the trend would go away.

      I'm about to horribly abuse this quote:

      WALKER: What if they don't arrest you? What if they don't react at all?
      GANDHI: Do you still have your notebook? The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response. And we will continue to provoke until they respond, or they change the law. They are not in control - we are. That is the strength of civil resistance.

      YOU: What if they don't take the bait? What if they don't react at all?
      BULLIES: Do you still have your notebook? The function of bullying is to provoke response. And we will continue to provoke until they respond, or they have a mental breakdown. They are not in control - we are. That is the strength of bullying.

      Bullies do not quit easily though feigned indifference. They're on a mission to break you and they know that deep down it probably hurt anyway. And shutting do

    • That's why Facebook, for example, needs a more explicit and prominent "dislike" / vote down button, so that people would not feed the trolls in comments, thus increasing their EdgeRank.
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      except on here they get mod points, and pursue vendettas to stifle anyone who disagrees with them, and points out the logical fallacies or logical consequences of their denial of science, history, or reality.

  • She's selling a book (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedy.tpno-co@org> on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:44AM (#47677017) Homepage

    The scope of the problem isn't clear, the goal is ill-defined. What, exactly, are trolls winning?

    I think the only one "winning" anything here is the author trying to sell her book by engaging in much the same inflammatory business as the trolls she purported to study.

    • The scope of the problem isn't clear, the goal is ill-defined. What, exactly, are trolls winning?

      I think the entire premise that trolling is a problem is wrong, and to find out that "researchers" are studying ways to combat it is highly amusing, if also a little disturbing.

      Even to suggest that one side is "winning" implies that another side is losing. This is a false dichotomy, fabricated for no apparent reason, and it makes me wonder about the motives behind it.

  • ... is often another person's legitimate opinion. If large sites, the government, and advertisers get to determine what is "trolling", we're toast. So much for the "I may disagree with your opinion, but I will defend to the death your right to express it". The new Intarweb - 100% Politically Correct, no dissent allowed, citizen. I for one won't welcome our new anti-troll overlords.
    • Perhaps. But usually a genuine troll is discernible by his lack of being willing to debate or defend that opinion, if called on it. Also, a liberal use of slurs and name-calling is sometimes indicative. It might be helpful if people weren't so quick to slap a label on others based on a paragraph or two. In fact, the mere *desire* to label people is a problem.
      • Even that is problematic. When people debate the most contentious issues, they tend to talk past each other and just repeat their side's talking points -- which are meaningless to the other side, due to lacking a common frame of reference in the debate. Bottom line, it would be way too easy to say that someone you disagree with is "unwilling to debate or defend that opinion" even though the other person thinks they are doing exactly that. It's almost like certain abstract topics themselves are the trolls
        • Agreed. It would have to be an obvious troll. But then there are the trolls who don't even post something relevant, but something completely non sequitur. We see those here and elsewhere.
    • by matbury (3458347)

      Definitely. I think too many pundits use the extreme, exceptional minority of cases of trolling to label all internet commenters who may be contentious, argumentative, and/or enjoy debating ideas and views thoroughly; that's what makes online discussions interesting, engaging, and worthwhile rather than bland agreeable echo chambers. I like the phrase, "Some people can't tell the difference between critical thinkers and haters."

      Most people react emotionally to views and opinions that contradict or infringe

    • by T.E.D. (34228)

      No. There is a fundamental difference.

      Trolls are not trying to express their opinion, they are trying to create discord and distress. Anything they say is just a means to that end. They don't care about what they say, and will happily change their "opinion" if they see another that will cause even more distress.

      I once saw a troll make a racist statement about Canadians. Yup, I wouldn't have thought it possible either, but troll managed it.

      Trolls don't have opinions, they have strategies.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Fucking Obama and the libtards made this happen. It wouldn't happen if the sheeple would just wake up and elect Rand Paul as king/President. THEN maybe we'd live in a utopian world where we hand out AR-15s to every baby as soon they come out of the birth canal. Gee, that'd be so sweet.

    Wait, what were we talking about?

    I like the suggestion that's floating around for hard-news sites to actually drop user comments. User comments for major media sites (and Huff Po for that matter) are nothing but pure unadu

    • I think moderators flagged this post before reading the whole thing -- the troll bits are obviously humor and the second half does express a serious and on-topic opinion.
  • still (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ryanrule (1657199) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:51AM (#47677081)

    A troll is still a person, and you can beat a person with a sack full of oranges.

    • A troll is still a person, and you can beat a person with a sack full of oranges.

      If only we could find them IRL.

  • by NotInHere (3654617) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:53AM (#47677093)

    TFA didn't target the random goatse cluttering up comment systems, but they've targeted real evil trolls harming people, obviously a reaction to Zelda William's quitting to twitter.

    For me, its funny when a companies naming competition gets trolled, but targeted campaigns against innocent people are truly too much even for me.

    • I think the definition of trolling has also changed. I don't think those things really count as trolling. That's shitposting, but trolling is a art.


  • Inflammatory comments draw more responses. It's easier to illicit an emotional reaction in a reader via such comments. Once you react emotionally you are more likely to engage with a troll.

    Unfortunately unless you truly know the motivation of the other person is to piss you off you can to be sure they are trolling you. Sometimes just having a different opinion on a hot topic like climate change will label you a troll no matter what your aired views are.

    On the internet a person could potentially have exp
    • The term troll has been quite misused. It has been used to mean anyone who doesn't agree with you and someone who brings up a valid counterpoint. Some people get their feelings hurt if everyone doesn't agree with them.

  • Because we wouldn't anyone meddling with the tweets of our latest small-c celebrity (don't upset the beliebers!), or mocking human interest stories about heroic talking dogs, or critiquing instagram posts of various culinary abominations or leaving snide comments on your facebook page. Because that's the "way media is disseminated these days", and this is what generally passes for social communication and interaction, apparently.

  • It always comes down to insults unless you will agree that Adm. Rickover was a traitor.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:57AM (#47677143)

    This problem is already solved. It's called the "ignore user " button. Push it and you no longer see the posts from the offending troll. Troll can see your posts, but you can't see theirs. So troll has unpleasant (for a troll) experience of seeing a conversation carried on as though what he was posting simply didn't exist, because it didn't for anyone who regarded him as a troll.

    If a troll is like porn, we know it when we see it, then this solution works very well. Everyone sees and ignores the troll, depriving the troll of their motivation for trolling in the first place.

    The only problem we have is sites don't use the available technology.

    I have been on sites where this virtually eliminated the troll problem. Of course the automated accounts that are spamming viagra require something else, but that is not what the article was complaining about. The article was complaining about civility.

    I really have to wonder if there are ulterior motivations at work here. Trolls are the new "we must save our children" rallying cry, an argument designed to force people into ID ing themselves, tagging themselves as "legitimate" so they can be better tracked and monetized. I feel like these pieces are set pieces, ready to roll out as soon as their beneficiaries and creators think their might be some temporary, rising sentiment against anonymity on the web.

    Current example- Robin William's daughter's recent Twitter experience.

    Sure, a troll gets one off but that is all anyone will see of him.

    There is no free speech without anonymity and giving it up because some asshole made someone cry is ceding my freedom to assholes. That wont' be happening.

    • by Ryanrule (1657199)

      you can use scripting to create infinite users.

    • by gsslay (807818)

      "Ignore user" only works if everyone does it. Unfortunately there's always someone who wants to engage with the troll, wanting to put them straight, or show them up for the idiots they are. They don't realise that a troll doesn't care what is said to them. As long as they're given attention they are getting what they came for, and it ensures they keep coming back for more. Usually under multiple accounts.

    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      When you're interacting with a proficient troll, by the time you realize you're being trolled, it is too late.

  • by thieh (3654731) on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:00AM (#47677173)
    I would argue that some amount of trolling in society is necessary to keep the sanity of the society as a whole.
    • Whatever dude. There's no such thing as trolling. It's thin skinned treehuggers like you that go and complain to thier facebook "friends" that are the real problem with the internet. Grow a pair or go back to facist Nazi-Russia. And take Obama with you. We don't need him spreading any more lies and ebola to our children. And another thing, Janeway was twice the captain that Kirk ever was.
      • by Lazere (2809091)
        Good work, but you forgot to add a sentence railing against the feminists. Not quite a perfect troll.
  • Predictable (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Calibax (151875) * on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:02AM (#47677185)

    1. Place immature people (of any physical age) in an anonymous, no consequences environment.
    2. Give them the ability to address people whom they would never have the opportunity to approach outside of a virtual environment.
    3. Supply a conduit such as Twitter or Facebook or email that requires very little effort compared to writing and mailing a physical letter.

    The result is completely predictable.

  • Thank goodness we don't have any here, otherwise they'd jump all over this.

  • by sinij (911942) on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:11AM (#47677283) Journal
    Trolling is necessary evil and the last line of defense against monolithic group thinking. Humans are hard-wired to seek consensus and to avoid conflict, both are beneficial traits, but when combined can and do lead to worst kinds of groupthink. Our ideas and understanding, be it social sciences, morals and religion, or even hard sciences are only as good as out ability to question it.

    For example, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a trolling organization, but almost everyone here would agree that what they do can be categorized as "greater good".
    • Dealing with trolls on the internet is good practice for dealing with them in real life. Think of it at the next meeting where someone is trying to distract you from the argument you're making by going for an emotional reaction. Incivility may or may not be increasing, both on the internet and in real life, but it's better to develop the social skills to deal with it than to always be protected from it. Additionally, trolling trolls is good practice for being able to make your points in real life when en
    • by gijoel (628142) on Friday August 15, 2014 @10:27AM (#47678087)
      The role of satire is to comfort the afflicted by afflicting the comfortable, or so Doonesbury said. Trolling does not do that. It is either cheap attention grabbing for shit and giggles, or more often, an attempt to intimidate a certain group of people into leaving the Internet.

      If you disagree then explain to me the subtle social commentary of posting photoshopped pictures of Robin Williams' body to his daughter. Or bombarding a feminist website with gore, and rape porn.

      The majority of trolling these days is about bullying people of opposing viewpoints into submission. They only seek their victims' attention in order to affect that.
      • by sinij (911942)
        You are asking me to justify Christianity on a basis of Children Crusades. Yes, radical fringe actions can be unjustifiable. This does not mean that entire concept behind it without a merit.

        Trolling is a form of satire, it is acting out to its illogical conclusion something that troll finds objectionable. Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster acts on their "beliefs", and that why they are much more than simple satire, and that why they are also a lot more effective than any pure satirist would be. The pe
      • Those were griefers, not trolls. Trolls do it for the kek but griefers go for the neck. When I troll it is only ever for fun and profit with the only goal being that of enacting some kind of Socratic realization or interaction, but never with the intent to harm somebody emotionally. It's fun to poke, that's what trolls do: griefers don't poke, they stab. Sarcasm and satire are the mainstays of the troll. Personal attacks and such, however, are the M.O. of the griefer. Don't throw the baby out with the bathw
  • by RogueWarrior65 (678876) on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:14AM (#47677321)

    This has been going on for 20 years. Perhaps more if you include Usenet news groups.

  • I'm not going to argue that all trolling is good, but some of it definitely is - trolling is the internet's means of self-regulation. For instance, the article mentions people harassing Zelda Williams on twitter. Does she deserve it? No, she most certainly doesn't. However, what the idiots sending her pictures on twitter don't know is that 4chan likes her (and /v/ reveres her as a goddess ever since the time she posted there), and 4chan also likes her father and his work. I would not be surprised in the sli

  • I don't know if it's a cause or an effect of our politically divided culture, but the bigger problem seems to be people's hyper-sensitive reactions to everything.

    You can't disagree with someone spouting the conventional wisdom on many topics without screaming about race, gender, class, political orientation, etc.

    Pretty much everything gets immediately turned into a "kill topic" where you're judged to be racist, homophobic, a Nazi, or some other person whose opinion and reasoned disagreement is to be suppres

  • Define Troll (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:35AM (#47677519)

    For Christs sake... stop misusing the word "Troll"
    It's has a very specific meaning, but everyone uses it now as a derogatory term for anyone on the internet they disagree with. That is not what a troll is.

    A Troll, very specifically, lurks, and posts to try and get you to over-react. A troll will rarely overtly offend you. Often a troll will be on your side! Egging you on, to get you to blow up at others. Sometimes a troll will simply IM you to point out other people that are deserving of your rather. A troll is an instigator, troublemaker, rabblerouser, etc...

    What a troll is not, is a contrarian. I'm a contrarian, I like to argue my point. I seek out those I disagree with or subjects I feel are incorrect (Like this post!) and I argue my point. I like having people disagree with me, and like to refine my arguments. It's something I enjoy. Contrarians enjoy debate.

    Trolls do not care about debate, they care about the emotional anguish of their victim. I rarely, if ever, see a real troll anymore. There used to be clubs of them all over the net, but not really anymore. You can find them on Reddit at times. A troll, for example, may be African American and go to an African American forum and argue for white supremacy. Not because he supports it, but because he knows that's what will get a reaction.

    And in regards to the main point of this article... It's total BS. Argument and Debate are good things. The internet is still relatively new. People that couldn't talk before, can now. That's great. By its very nature internet debate is non-violent, which is fantastic. Let the debate continue.

    • by msobkow (48369)

      Much as downmodding is not the "disagree" button.

      • by msobkow (48369)

        By that I mean that no amount of discussion or "correction" of abuses of the term will correct the general public's use of it.

        See also "cracker" vs. "hacker".

    • by sinij (911942)
      I disagree with you on a number of points. Specifically, the main point you missed is about good faith versus bad faith arguments. Coherently and convincingly presenting an argument that one might internally disagree with is a hallmark of a dangerous troll. Both contrarians and trolls enjoy debate, but the contrarians's nefarious goal is to confuse the helpless victim with convoluted and flawed techniques, like propositional logic, and source-citing. Unlike trolls, who are mostly good-natured comedians at h
  • ...feeding the trolls! Geeze people, this kind of headline is just what all those internet trolls have been waiting for. Now they'll be even more relentless!

    Seriously folks, on the internet, you gots the trolls. Just look the other way.

  • Provide a common forum without restrictions by having a two-tiered forum: Serious Discussion and Peanut Gallery. How sites impliment this is optional, but it does allow for both the serious and the silly, the thinkers and the trolls. Requires quality supervision and moderation, yet here is the rub -- sites which either don't want to moderate their forums or do a really crappy job of it (Slashdot, this mirror is for you) are the ones that have the most trouble with trolling.

  • TFA assumes all 'trolls' are doing so just for the "lulz"

    that's certainly not the case...these articles written by tech illiterates are ruining our industry (or at least making it difficult by not covering the problem properly)

    Public Relations and other media companies pay grey-hat contractors to "boost their social media presence" meaning post fake comments by fake accounts or just by having paid monkeys doing it

    Disquss & the facebook.com plugin for sites both have this problem

    even here on /., look at a thread about Uber, there will be many high UID comments from random-named Google+ accounts linked to /.'s system

    if you're examining online "trolls" and you don't factor in sock puppets, you're missing half the problem

  • Just tear down all the bridges, then the trolls have nowhere to go.... ;)

    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      I agree, tearing down all the network bridges will prevent trolls from interacting online.

  • Somehow I knew that this was going to be the NYT complaning about 4chan and uncivil speech coming from certain types of people and not all uncivil speech, of course. If you're at all familiar with the "social justice" crowd, you probably know that they don't believe that the rules of civility apply to them. Asking them to watch their language or to be considerate is usually denounced as attempts to "control" them and to "silence" them. Those who are the targets of their policing, the ones whom they "call o
  • by taustin (171655) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:37AM (#47678707) Homepage Journal

    The only way to not lose is to not play.

    And that's the mistake the people make: they think (and I use the term loosely - there's no actual thinking involved) the trolls matter. They think they can educate people who know full well what crap they'll shoveling. They think they can teach a lesson to someone who knows exactly how much the internet doesn't matter. They think they can somehow win.

    And other people try to make a living advising them on how to do it. This entire article is, itself, nothing more than a subtle troll, trying to get people worked up over something that somebody is selling a "solution" to.

    Eventually, the internet will teach people to stop being so overly sensitive about shit that doesn't matter. If nothing else, those who can't learn that lesson will all have strokes and die.

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