Trolling is basically online heckling. People who troll on the internet usually do it to provoke someone else and cause disagreement. Usually it’s not necessarily prompted by a post to begin with. It seems more like the person leaving inappropriate/unnecessary comments was probably already agitated and turned to the internet to take out their frustration on someone else in a misguided attempt to make themselves feel better. I don’t think that it transfers their anger or pain; instead, that pain is spread and everyone is worse off. Trolling can be a form of cyberbullying, which is generally when someone uses the internet as a means through which to bully someone else. Regular bullying is done face to face while cyberbullying distances the bully from the victim, making it easier for the bully to avoid the consequences and act without thinking. Bullying can have serious consequences, and it should be taken seriously. We should try our best to prevent it. While I don’t think that technology companies should be obligated to prevent cyberbullying by not allowing some posts to be published based on their content, I do think that companies should do their best to respond to bullying incidents. It would be hard to prevent cyberbullying because it is very contextual and subjective (it would be hard to detect all instances automatically). I like the idea of having pop-up boxes with warnings to users to make them take a half second to think before they post something, and I think it’s worth trying because it would probably help more than hurt the situation. They should also respond seriously to stalking allegations because stalking is illegal and presents a threat of danger.
A common thing that victims of trolling say is that trolls hide behind anonymity. This makes sense to me, and before doing the readings for this week, I had never heard an argument against this. Even if people are just as likely to post mean things online under their real name as they are anonymously, the cloak of anonymity still shields people from taking responsibility for what they say, and some people will be deterred when you take that option away from them. These are the people that tech companies should be more concerned about because they actually have the power to effect change by not allowing for anonymity. People who would have posted mean things anyway under their real name will do so no matter what, and the only way to change that is to tackle the problem at its source and convince the individuals not to be mean, which is out of the scope of the ethical obligations of a tech company.
But just like some of the other issues we’ve discussed in class, I don’t think that there’s a solution that will please everyone. You can’t provide protection to only some people with anonymity and ensure that those who are protected are the “good guys” without giving it to everyone, and you can’t deprive the “bad guys” of anonymity while extending it to everyone else without any inconvenience to either side. The GamerGate controversy confused me, especially after reading The Future of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It’s Gamergate. It all seems very petty, which is unfortunate because it can and has escalated quickly into real-life consequences in the physical world. I don’t think this type of behavior is best countered via the tech platforms on which they occur. Instead, I think it would be more effective to go to the source and try to figure out why people are trying to create discord and stir up trouble. Again, this is not the responsibility of the tech companies, but it’s something I believe we could all do a little bit to connect with others and help them to not feel like they need to post something harmful. This may be a naive view of the world, but it’s the best way I can see to move forward.
I do think cyberbullying is a problem as much as traditional bullying is a problem. I don’t think we can protect or shield children from everything, but I don’t think the other extreme of making them deal with it on their own is appropriate either. I think support for victims and bullies would help because it could discourage victims from continuing the cycle by bullying others and it could discourage bullies from continuing to bully because they’ll feel better about their own lives and won’t feel the need to tear others down. I view trolling as less of a problem because it’s often impersonal and easier to ignore. Most people who use the internet are aware that if they choose to be on the internet, trolling is just something they’ll have to put up with, but just as it’s easier for trolls to post because they’re separated from the victim by the internet, victims can walk away by turning off their device (to a certain extent, and I would imagine in most cases). Trolls are usually not trying to do anything productive and they just troll to get a reaction out of people, so it seems like the best way to take their power away from them is to ignore them and not react.
I don’t know enough about real name policies to know how effective they are, and I think more research would need to be done in this area. A difficulty with this, however, is that it would be hard to completely isolate the effect of using a real name versus being anonymous or pseudonymous from other outside factors that influence people’s online behavior. I don’t have a problem with services that require me to use my real name although of course, I prefer not to when I have the choice because if I give that over, they can link it to data about me elsewhere and that’s often just unnecessary.
Anonymity on the internet as well as the internet itself can be both a blessing and a curse. Their effects are based on how a person chooses to use them. It appears to me that the capacity for good and the capacity for harm via the internet and anonymity are connected. As one grows, so does the other; as one shrinks, the other does too. Therefore, trolling and cyberbullying don’t seem to be issues that can be properly addressed via technology since it’s just a medium through which they are manifested. Instead, we need to focus on changing people.