Forum trolls

One way to keep the level of online aggression down is to make the place more girlfriendly. But that is not always an option.

In the online world, there is an unpleasant and common thing called “forum trolls”. These are people who take part in discussions in order to enrage others. In the wider sense, any discussion forum could have trolls, even mailing lists and of course good old Usenet, for those who remember that. Blog comment sections are not spared either, although the blog authors usually clean up the mess when they check in.

What is the cause of this phenomenon, and what can we do to diminish it? Clearly most people would like to see less or none of it. Right?

Here is an article by Clay Shirky in Harward Business Review: Cleaning Up Online Conversation. He argues that there are mainly two factors that promotes trolling: Size (large chance of being seen) and anonymity (small change of having it come back to bite you).  By making forums more specific, encouraging identity, and giving ordinary users the power to bury the idiot comments, the problem can be greatly diminished. Examples of successful forums are given.

I would add that one alternative is to attract a different audience. For instance, nobody could start a flame war on the Project Meditation forum. The regulars and all but the greenest of visitors belong to the five-dimensional Realm of the Good or above. If you behave like an asshat, they will behave like an arhat in return. They will pity you and try to help you. This is because of the big difference in the level of understanding and purpose. A teacher will not quarrel with a grade school pupil, and a doctor will not quarrel with a patient. People whose purpose in life is to be healers of souls, will not be enraged when they see sick souls.

If a place is clean and well lit, roaches are unlikely to be much of a problem. Even should they show up, they cannot stay in such a place.

Of course, this is not really an option for most forums on the Internet. Yet. But when we have built a civilization that can stand the test of time, a Golden Age, a New Enlightenment, then perhaps this will be the rule. Until then, we shall have to just extend the light what little we can, each of us seeking to shine brightly for the benefit of all around us.

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