Friday, 16 August 2013

Trolling: Some People Push Back

Probably the most hypocritical aspect of the “concern” some in the mainstream express about online abuse is their willingness to turn a blind eye to their own shortcomings. They not only assert their own right to unfettered free speech, but actively encourage from some of their most highly paid employees the sort of abusive behaviour they condemn in others.

As a result, some idiot calling people names in a comment thread is defined as a “troll”, but a high-profile columnist who provokes anti-gay sentiment in a major newspaper is a “hard-hitting journalist”...

The fact is, the mainstream media understands better than most how effective abuse can be in generating story interest. To quote [Susan] Herbst again, “Journalists and editors ... know that incivility is just more interesting, and therefore profitable, than civility.”

Online abuse doesn’t arise in a vacuum. It is part and parcel of the sort of aggressive, adversarial approach to public debate encouraged by some of our major institutions, from the courts to the parliament to the media itself. We are right to be appalled by some of its worst manifestations, but we also have to be smart enough to realise that campaigns against trolling, or bans on anonymity, are less to do with concerns about civility than they are about exercising control over public debate.

There are plenty people in positions of power and authority who simply don’t want ordinary people to have a voice in the public sphere and we shouldn’t let them set the rules of engagement.

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