Aunty has an article about trolling up. it seems that the MSM doesn’t really understand the practice –  or, indeed how to deal effectively with it.

Trolling is a phenomenon that has swept across websites in recent years. Online forums, Facebook pages and newspaper comment forms are bombarded with insults, provocations or threats. Supporters argue it’s about humour, mischief and freedom of speech. But for many the ferocity and personal nature of the abuse verges on hate speech.

Well, yes, those of us who have been frequenting blogs, fora or in the early days, usenet will be familiar with the problem.

Different administrators have differing approaches. Some will merely argue free speech, no censorship, and allow them to fester until, presumably they become bored and move on. I can see the point being made –  after all, if you run a site that is all about liberty, is it not contradictory to then delete comments?

Well, no, actually.

The way I put it on our blog, is that the comments section is like our front porch. It faces the street. You may drop in and join the conversation. But you are on our property and if you cannot respect the basic rules of civility you will be asked to leave or if necessary compelled to leave. There is speech which invites a conversation or at least a response in kind, and there is “speech” which is nothing more than vandalism. We harm rather than help the cause of free speech if we pretend the latter should be given the same respect as the former.

It is not illiberal to have a policy that removes spiteful or insulting speech that does nothing to further the discussion. There is a difference between this and the cut-and-thrust of debate that becomes heated. So far on this site we have deleted very few comments and long may that continue. However, I have no compunction whatsoever in removing the kind of garbage that B&D or Obnoxio choose to tolerate. People masquerading as others to insult and generally abuse the hospitality of the site is not an exercise in liberty and it does not harm the cause of liberty to show such idiots the door. You would do so if they behaved as abominably in your own home. Blogs and fora are, after all, private property. “My gaff, my rules” applies.

So, all that said, what is the problem? After all, the delete button is a simple enough device to operate, is it not?

In its most extreme form it is a criminal offence.

You were there before me, weren’t you? Don’t deny it. Trolling is childish, puerile and obnoxious, but that it should be a criminal offence is a massive over reaction. It is, after all, just words on a virtual page. Words that can be expunged –  remember that delete button you admin types?

On Tuesday Sean Duffy was jailed for 18 weeks after posting offensive messages and videos on tribute pages about young people who had died. One of those he targeted was 15-year-old Natasha MacBryde, who had been killed by a train. “I fell asleep on the track lolz” was one of the messages he left on a Facebook page set up by her family.

So, delete and ban. Simple. And Facebook has a privacy setting. Set it to invite only those you wish to see it, or is that too much to ask?

Trolling appears to be part of an international phenomenon that includes cyberbullying.

Y’know, if I wasn’t already in a state of despair at the cretin-like nature of many of my fellows, I would be hanging my head in my hands at this stage. Look, it is really, really simple. Set your Facebook page to let only those in whom you trust. If someone abuses it, delete and ban. Open sites such as this one are moderated, so again, delete and ban. If someone came here and behaved as the two recently gaoled felons were, I wouldn’t dream of calling in the police. I’m all grown up now and can manage the situation all by myself. I… wait for it… delete and ban. I’ve done it a couple of times over at my own place when people got out of hand. I will do it again should the need arise. So, repeat after me; delete and ban, delete and ban. There, it really isn’t that difficult is it? And plod can get on with the business of chasing real villains.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects free speech and makes it difficult to punish people who post offensive messages. But concern over internet vitriol is growing.

Yes? And? So?

Facebook’s former marketing director Randi Zuckerberg and Google head Eric Schmidt have both suggested anonymous posting should be phased out.

And there we have it, folks. Because some people are too weak willed to delete and ban or walk away from the computer, because they feel bullied (I can tell you what bullying, real bullying feels like and online insults ain’t it), we are supposed to sacrifice our identities. Never mind that many of us conceal our real identities so that we can speak more freely without it impacting on our offline lives, never mind that the vast majority of online discussion between anonymous and pseudonymous folk is civil and harmless, oh, no, some people feel bullied and can’t cope with it, so as is usual when there is a small problem (problem is overstating it, frankly) we all have to pay the price.

One of the difficulties is that trolling is a broad term, taking in everything from a cheeky provocation to violent threats. And why people do it continues to baffle the experts.

They aren’t very expert, then, are they? Trolling is very specific. A cheeky provocation is not trolling. Actually, neither is a violent threat –  it is a violent threat. Trolling is clearly recognised and defined.

In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

As the linked article points out, our wonderful MSM has redefined it to mean something rather different.

The usual advice applies of course, “don’t feed the trolls”. However, Dom Joly takes a different approach.

“There’s something about a bully that really annoys me,” he says. “They’ll say something online that they’d never dare to say to your face.”

True enough. Irritating, of course, but mostly harmless. So, don’t feed the troll. Simple, eh? Nope, clearly not.

“One guy tweeted from his work account that he hoped my kids die of cancer. I let the MD of the firm know and the guy was fired. I felt no guilt, he should have gone to prison.”

What an arsehole –  no, not the troll. He doesn’t deserve to go to prison and he didn’t deserve to lose his job. Talk about over reaction. But, isn’t that where we came in? Thin skins all round, it would seem…

Some think regulation is needed…

No, it isn’t.

17 comments for “Trolling

  1. john in cheshire
    September 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I agree. We seem to over-react to the wrong things. How about over-reacting to the thieving bankers, thieving politicians, lying journalists, policemen who kill with impunity, freedom-draining EU apparatchiks, communist trades unionists, bloated central and local government servants, child-abducting social workers and on and on.

    • James
      February 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      To be honest I don’t think prosecution is over-reacting. When people commit suicide from bullying, we don’t exile the bully to another country. Exiling same as banning, in my opinion.

      • February 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm

        If someone commits suicide because someone says something unpleasant about them on the Internet, there’s something else going on. Prosecuting someone for anything other than actual physical harm is an over reaction. Prosecution of trolls is a massive one.

        • James
          February 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm

          Ignorance is bliss my friend. The reality is some people are deeply affected by words, Some, more than others. There are people who have committed suicide from verbal abuse, and cyber-bullying. You are slightly correct to a point. Some trolls don’t go to extremes, but the ones that do, deserve to be prosecuted. Harassment is illegal, online, or in the real world.

  2. ivan
    September 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    It is obvious that todays kids on the internet have never seen a flame war on usenet so they don’t know how to deal with it. The fact that forum based news groups don’t have any way, that I’ve found, of setting up filters to enable the filtering of the obnoxious, is also a problem.

    There is also the idea that someone else should take care of for you, that seems to permeate everything today.

    • September 16, 2011 at 5:43 am

      Full-time children. That’s what we are breeding. From 5 to 50.

  3. September 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Being “libertarian lite” and mainly classical liberal, I’ve no problem with blocking pains in the neck who come in off topic and are clearly there to stir up trouble. It’s a pity some people don’t seem to have lives but most do.

    Having said that, maybe we’ve been lucky but there’s been little trouble at OoL over the months we’ve been operating. I think most commenters here would give that type short shrift anyway.

  4. Twenty_Rothmans
    September 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm


    Precisely. The good old days of raiding rec.pets.cats or somewhere similar was great sport – not my bag, but certainly brought the popcorn out.

    The soccer mums and n00bs adrift in the tide of the Intarweb find it difficult to reconcile what they do in a make-believe world with what you do in your own.

    Some of the best trollers were well-known and used their own names – even posting from their company accounts – doing things for which today’s panty-sniffers would slap you with a P45.

    What used to be hours of grief, the company of family, a moment or two with the vicar for some solace or even too much to drink with a trusted friend has been reduced to:
    Luv u mi little soldja you was a good boi and i luv u foreva XXX

    If I snuffed it and someone posted that I’d want the fucker sent down.


  5. nisakiman
    September 15, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    The professionally offended. Yes, they do seem to be proliferating recently. Gays, feminists, anti-smokers, minorities – they all seem to be getting offended by something or other. Or perhaps more accurately, the Islington set are getting offended on their behalf; by proxy, if you like.

    All very tiresome.

  6. September 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Quite simply, the MSM wants the internet to itself.

  7. September 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Eric Schmidt is being a little hypocritical here, I feel. His company sometimes has a tendency to ban, delete and suspend first and ask questions later. And now we’re supposed to believe not only that he can’t suggest that internet users simply do the same but also that he doesn’t want to do it at all and would rather civilise the web by scrapping anonymous and pseudonymous use? I’m sure more easily targeted advertising hasn’t crossed anybody’s minds in any shape or form at all.

    Anyway, how the hell do they expect to police it? When I tried to join Facebook so as to leave a message with the 10:10 mob telling them what I thought about ad campaigns with exploding warble gloaming sceptics it wouldn’t accept Angry Exile as a name, but since it can’t ask for my driving licence and a gas bill it was only ten minutes later before I was back with an invented name and freshly created matching gmail address. I’m under no illusions that if the police or someone wanted my name and face they’d probably have it in an hour or two, but as Facebook and Google can’t realistically confirm ID themselves this strikes me as a waste of time on their part.

    • September 16, 2011 at 5:44 am

      ” I’m under no illusions that if the police or someone wanted my name and face they’d probably have it in an hour or two…”

      Think you’re rather overestimating the IT capabilities of the police there! πŸ˜†

  8. September 16, 2011 at 5:41 am

    “… or in the early days, usenet…”

    Ahhh, that takes me back!

  9. Robert Edwards
    September 16, 2011 at 8:37 am

    But surely, ‘trolling’ is what the BBC do all the time; posting ridiculous comments (step forward Mark Mardell, Peston et al.) purely in order to raise the blood pressure of reasonable people).

    So, I think they understand it all very well and many MSM comments are simply disingenuous.

    • September 16, 2011 at 9:09 am

      Oh, I think you credit them with far too much intelligence.

  10. fake
    September 16, 2011 at 9:34 am

    The irony is that lot’s of trolls will see all this fuss as a job well done.

    • September 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm

      You may have a point there.

Comments are closed.