Kicking Social Media Trolls Back Under the Bridge

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Disclaimer: We are fully aware of the fact that this guest post may attract “trolls” – not the children’s nursery rhyme variety of trolls that live under bridges, but the adolescent (irrespective of age) anonymous thugs that leave distasteful, disgusting and/or downright disturbing messages on an otherwise informative chain of user comments. Trolls are the graffiti artists without artistic talent of social media. They are like adolescent kids who spray paint obscenities on a wall just for the thrill of doing it.

Facebook product design manager, Julie Zhou, produced an excellent article for the New York Times that both highlights the depths of depravity of some of the worst trollish exploits, and offers suggestions on how to keep trolls off of your discussion board

Digital anonymity, Ms. Zhou suggests, is the root cause of thuggish online behavior. The persistent and perplexing problem is, thus, how to facilitate the free flow of ideas that characterize social media when commentators are, in fact, anonymous – shielded not just by their nom de plumes, but by ISP providers and hacking cloaks which would, in any event, render the true identity of a troll invisible?

“Some, Ms. Zhou points out, “may argue that denying Internet users the ability to post anonymously is a breach of their privacy and freedom of expression.” “Others,” she notes, “point out that there’s no way to truly rid the Internet of anonymity. After all, names and e-mail addresses can be faked. And in any case many commenters write things that are rude or inflammatory under their real names.”

Develop Smart Commenting System

Raising barriers to would-be trollish commentators is “a smart first step,” writes Ms. Zhou. It is for that reason, that popular blogging platforms WordPress, TypePad and Blogger offer varying degrees of moderator oversight. Yet, she points out, “well-designed commenting systems should also aim to highlight thoughtful and valuable opinions while letting trollish ones sink into oblivion.”

Ms. Zhou highlights the trial audition system that technology blog Gizmodo is now testing. It is a system designed to reward thoughtful commenters while banishing trolls to digital oblivion. Under Gizmodo’s system. a commenter’s “first few comments would be approved by a moderator or a trusted commenter to ensure quality” before their comments went public. After the first posts, the commenter is allowed to post freely, and if his or her comments impress other “trusted commenters,” he or she would in turn become a “trusted commenter’ whose comments would thereafter be featured prominently.

Take Advantage of Global Reputation System

Another system Ms. Zhou touts is a “global reputation system” that blogger comments system, Disqus, is experimenting with. The so-called “Clout” system allows users to rate other users’ comments and feeds the rating into a publicly available data base.  Social media moderators could then utilize a user’s “Clout” score to “help separate top commenters from trolls.” (But what, I ask myself, would prevent determined trolls from flaming the reputation of commenters that raised their ire?)

Mimic Face-to-Face Interaction

At Facebook, where Ms. Zhou helped design the social media giant’s public commenting widget, the aim is to mimic face-to-face interaction by displaying user’s faces, real names and brief biographies alongside their comments. It also encourages Facebooksters to share their comments with their friends, although they can opt out of this feature.

“This kind of social pressure works, Ms. Zhou writes, “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.” That makes sense. After all, isn’t that the reason that graffiti vandals, in most instances, scrawl their profanities on buildings at night?

James Barry

James Barry

James Barry is a freelance writer who covers social media marketing and related topics for Toronto SEO firm, Wolf21.com
James Barry

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