Regular users of social media will know that it is difficult to find a corner of the internet that doesn’t hold some sort of user negativity or abuse. Just like the real world, the Internet is a wild world in itself. It has become a borderless social space where virtual anonymity allows some people to treat social forums like an experimental social playground. Trolling is defined as ‘to post deliberately inflammatory articles on an internet discussion board’ the intent of which is to provoke other users. The activities of trolls are often deceptive and can breach what many believe to be ethical online interaction.
But is there a defense for trolling? Whitney Phillips’ article ‘LOLing at tradgey: Facebook trolls, memorial pages and resistance to grief online’ explored a network of trolls who’s main focus was to troll the memorial Facebook pages of children who have tragically died, also known as “RIP trolling”. A subject of the study states that facebook memorial pages encourage the collective mourning from people who often never even knew the victim, “This isn’t grief. This is boredom and a pathological need for attention masquerading as grief”. However I doubt posting gruesome photos of dead children and babies on memorial pages is going to convey this so called philosophical opinion to the friends and family of the victims.
It’s often that trolling can be a lazy and sadistic form of self-expression that could be translated into civil political dialogue if the opinionated actually felt strongly enough to take the time to do so. As discussed by Couldry (2009) in ‘Rethinking the Politics of Voice’, human agency requires recognition and that speech is mutually dependent on those who listen. Inclusive conversation is important however, trolling that disregards politeness and civility should be excluded from democratic discussion online. How else can we maintain a level of civility but also promote the right to free speech when such exaggerated ‘openness’ of opinion can be so deliberately offensive to others?
My advice to those hoping to engage in online conversation but fear being trolled is a) pick your platform wisely, b) write a respectful argument in order to present proactive opinions and above all… Do Not Feed The Trolls!
– Papacharissi, Z 2000, Democracy online: civility, politeness, and the democratic potential of online political discussion groups, New Media & Society, 6:2, pp.259-283.
– Couldry, N 2009, Rethinking the politics of voice, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 23:4, pp. 579-582.
– Phillips, W 2011, LOLing at tragedy: Facebook trolls, memorial pages and resistance to grief online, accessed 21/5/13, via http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/3168.