}

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Science of Internet Trolls


I hadn’t intended on sharing another ASAP Science video so soon, but their latest video, released today (above), explains what is to me one of the greatest mysteries of the Internet Age: Trolling. As it happens, I’d just seen trolling in real life.

Today the New Zealand Labour Party changed its cover photo, and the trolls came out in force. It started with a bizarre (and, frankly, downright loopy) rant about how only the All Blacks should be allowed to use the silver fern as a symbol. Later, “Richard” offered, “All shemales and nancy boys !! Even some of Helen Clark's stooges amongst them !” This was apparently a reference to the people in the photo itself. “Willie” was apparently astonished: “Havint [sic] you aswipes [sic] dropet [sic] dead yeat [sic]”.

These are typical of the comments left on everything that Labour posts on Facebook, every—single—time. Racist, sexist, classist, and viciously homophobic remarks are the norm, as are attacks on Labour for being—gasp!—left of centre. Today, however, something unusual happened: I went to the post to retrieve the comments above, and I suddenly got a pop-up from Facebook telling me that the link I’d clicked was no longer available (at the time, I was looking and the unhinged silver fern rant).

It turns out, Labour is now moderating their page and deleting trolls’ comments, something I’ve never seen them do before. This is fantastic! As I said on a recent 2Political Podcast, I stopped reading the comments because there was no debate, just tolling and snide partisan attacks, and some were downright sick (far worse than the two I highlighted above).

The day before, I saw comments on a Facebook page I’m a member of, for our local community. The post was about two women who got into a fight down the road from us, and one attempted to hit the other with her car, pinning her against a tree. Suddenly, some guy joined the discussion and attacked the police because their press release (linked to in the post) just gave the basic details. This made the police “useless”, apparently. When others objected, he attacked them, calling one a "bitch", another woman was “ugly”, and worse. He also claimed they deserved it.

That administrator of that page rightly deleted the guy’s comments when it was brought to his attention, and does so frequently. That would be a good thing, but in the admin sometimes goes too far, in my opinion, and deletes honest, if heated, debate, and he’s also been known to block people from the page for disagreeing with him. That’s not good. Overzealousness aside, the page is safe for people to comment on without trolls attacking them.

And now, Labour’s page apparently is, too.

The thing about Facebook trolling that astounds me is that people are supposedly using their real names, which means they’re discoverable. However, even on Facebook, no one is necessarily who or what they present themselves as being—all the information about them may be entirely fake, as it often is on every other social media outlet (especially Twitter and YouTube, but often places like mainstream news sites, too).

After watching the video above, I may understand the mental health issues of trolls a little better, though it certainly doesn’t in any way make them at all sympathetic characters to me. Administrators must always delete trolls’ comments, even if they don’t otherwise moderate comments.

For the record, I’ve never had actual trolling comments on any of my sites, and—apart from spam—I only once deleted a comment, and that was because it crossed the line into overt racism. Long may that continue.

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