Before I answer these questions, I do want to share a personal story of mine. Years ago, I posted YouTube videos mainly of piano covers, and one happened to go viral in certain community. I was younger then, which led to some of the comments under those videos impacting me more than it should have, but I was introduced to a hint of the Internet’s dark side. Mainly there were people commenting how much they liked those videos. However there were outliers, that sometimes even sent personal messages that were especially concerning. One example was when one of my inbox messages contained the subject line: “Sheet music, or I kill you, please”. Obviously it was a troll, but it made me realize that with this attention, came unwanted attention. Another example, which was creepier to a certain extent because of its continued persistence in terms of contacting me, was one user who wanted to “collaborate” with me but first needed a lot of my information in order to take me to events and more. Obviously, I knew better even at that time, but all of this made me realize that the Internet can certainly be a dark place if you’re not careful.
- From the readings and from your experience, what exactly is trolling? How does this behavior manifest itself and what are its causes and effects? Likewise, what is cyberbullying and how is it different from regular bullying?
Trolling is the art of deliberately pissing someone off. Trolling though is something that’s been inherent to the Internet for a while, to the point where it’s easy to distinguish between a genuine post and trolling for me while someone who may not have had exposure to the Internet may find it immediately off-putting and in need of a reaction, which ultimately leads to more trolling. It’s pretty much a terrible cycle, because well-intended comments that follow trolls usually just lead to more trolling. So it’s better to just see the post, comment, etc., and just leave it alone and hope it doesn’t gain any traction.
Cyberbullying is using the Internet to constantly ridicule, harass or harm someone. It differs from regular bullying in the sense that it may be even harder to ignore than regular in-person bullying. The bystanders become people who start fueling the flames, and people may even join in thinking that it’s all part of one big joke. There’s more of a mob mentality on the Internet, and it can definitely play a factor into cyberbullying.
- What ethical or moral obligations do technology companies have in regards to preventing or suppressing online harassment (such as trolling or stalking)?
I’m already betting that it must be extremely hard for technology companies to prevent this sort of behavior, because users can simply generate more accounts if they want their voice to be heard. However, I also read in The Atlantic’s article, “Trolls Are Winning the Internet, Technologists Say” by Adrienne Lafrance, that it’s also beneficial for these companies to have that sort of attention since the more users visit their platform, the more revenue they gain. Also, these platforms have been politically criticized for censoring right-wing views as well which puts them in a restricting spot compared to before.
- What do you make of Gamergate? Is this evidence of the dangers of anonymity on the Internet or is this behavior something we simply need to tolerate in order to maintain freedom of expression?
Well first off, it’s kind of off-putting to say that something like Gamergate should be tolerated, when it clearly has the capability of putting people through trauma. I can’t even imagine what that would be like if something like that targeted me, because I don’t think I would have the willpower to get through it. However, if freedom of expression means taking it out on someone else, then I think we need to discuss where the line is.
Cyberbullying is a consequence that comes with the power of anonymity. There’s no accountability, so the consequences of what happens never is really shown unless there’s some sort of news story that happens along with legitimate investigations. I’m not saying that as justification for it to exist, but I am saying that it is a natural consequence of people abusing the platform they’re using to take out their insecurities on others.
I’ll say the Internet is neither a blessing nor a curse. It’s merely a reflection of what we are, what our deep-seeded desires are, and if anonymity helps draw that out, then that’s simply a part of the platform.