Beating the Comment Thread Trolls

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The Internet has Teh Rulez, mostly developed by the unlovable but frighteningly efficient b/tards of 4chan. (Even the US government scared of them.) The rule that I wish to mention and discuss here is:

14. Do not argue with trolls — it means that they win.

I’ve discussed before why I don’t want to be famous: people are, to be sadly honest, mostly assholes when it comes to responses. I don’t mind constructive criticism: its the sheer, unadulterated rudeness and spleen of most internet denizens that puts me off contribution sometimes. You see, I generally love the columns by many of the Opinionistas of The Daily Maverick, and sometimes I wish I could be an official opinionista myself, not just a blogger throwing a message into a bottle into an ocean full of bottles.   But judging by the trolls that lurk in comment threads (News24 especially has a problem with this), it is not a useful space to engage in. It makes me sad to scroll down, in essence. Those comment threads stand in proud opposition to my admittedly naive belief that people are generally nice and good. Arguments usually rapidly degenerate into “fuck you, black/white/coloured/Indian whore/dick/faggot” in tone and sometimes in actual wording. What we need to ask ourselves is: are these people really this vitriolic, or is this just how people respond when safely hidden in the bosom of the internet? Or wrapped in the ugly old SA flag?

If someone wants to take issue with my beliefs and does it in a constructive manner, I am happy to engage in that debate. I have had conversations about religion with the religious, about meat with the carnivorous. There are people who engage me on the issue of feminism and who I’ve conceded points to. Its not that I don’t want to have the conversations with interesting people: I just don’t want to have them with fuckwits who say “but, liek, don’t atheists, liek, worship Satan?” (I wish I was making this up. Even people who know me think I’m evil. And that’s not a great lookout for anyone.)

Does this make me an arrogant, elitist wanker? I don’t think so: I think I just expect better of people. But this is why I also take such issue with that sanctimonious Bill of Rights that LeadSA is pushing in schools. Some opinions don’t deserve respect, and some people don’t either. Priests who condemn condoms, and therefore people, don’t deserve anyone’s respect, as their opinion stands contrary to solid and useful fact. But a priest who advocates safe sex is a much better example of what the religious can achieve if they choose to move with the times and science instead of against them. After all, The Clergy Letter Project is an open letter signed by members of various religions in the USA that calls for the prevention of teaching creationism in schools. It still advocates Intelligent Design, but its a step up from believing the world was created in seven days 6,000 years ago. There doesn’t have to be an unassailable divide and hatred: the spaces can be better negotiated.

But comment threads, I believe, are not the places to do this. Malema behaves like a troll himself, with calling Zille a cockroach, and calling other female politicans ‘whores’, ‘tea girls’ and various colourful epithets that reveal his deep-seated prejudices that desperately need addressing. The Bill of Rights garbage suggests that he deserves respect because he’s a human being. How nice, but utterly useless when it comes to actually engaging people whose opinions do not lend themselves to credence in any rational system of debate and discussion.

Which brings me to another point: is comment moderation censorship? Or is it just seperating the wheat and chaff? Probably depends on who is doing it. Obviously I would moderate a comment on my blog that said “fuck u bitch die in a fire go back to kitchen lol” because it does not contribute to the discussion. Also it is a private blog and therefore mine to do with as I wish, on the assumption that everyone can have their own blog. But can a newspaper do it?  Should they? Personally, I would ban-hammer the trolls on News24 so hard and fast that their eyes got smashed out through the back of their heads, because I don’t think that level of hate speech should be tolerated. But I also understand that in a free nation, there should be freedom of discussion and the media should be the bastions of that ideal. This does, however, work on the assumption that the media knows what its doing. To a large extent, it doesn’t seem to. The media publishes equally useless information, such as Pyschology Today‘s publishing of the article “Why Black Women Are Less Attractive Than Other Women” and then apologised a damned week later. My issues with the field of psychology aside, wouldn’t this have been a good time for ONE PERSON in the entire Psychology Today office and website to say “the fuck is this?”

There should be watchdogs for everything because everyone should be accountable, from editors to popes to presidents to children. How we handle those spaces is nebulous but we need to start somewhere. And sometimes someone does need to step in and say “that is unacceptable” when someone says “fucking jews must stop stealing” or “all whites are criminals” or “all black men are rapists”. The fact that so many trolls go unmoderated on article comment threads doesn’t speak too well to the idea of constructive free speech. Just because someone has an opinion, they’re not necessarily entitled to it when it is uninformed and hateful. And editing those comments doesn’t make us a fascist society: it makes us one that expects people to talk properly to each other and engage constructively. We moderate our children’s comments, hopefully for the better. We tell them not to call people fat in public and to not use mean words. So why do we throw the same rules out of the window when it is on the internet? This is not implying that people need to be treated like children: I simply expect them to talk like adults. Moderation only becomes a problem when a comment that doesn’t contain hate speech gets edited away. And when it does, then by rights that newspaper needs to be swamped in a shitstorm of “the fuck are you doing?”  Controversial is good: it is the lifeblood of avant garde thinking and often carves out a path. But being a hooting dickhole? Since when did we tolerate this kind of pointless invective? Perhaps it comes from the slightly retarded notion that everyone is a special snowflake of specialness, to paraphrase the God figure at the end of the Fight Club novel.*spoiler*

I’ve met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me,

“Why?” Why did I cause so much pain? Didn’t I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness?

Can’t I see that we’re all manifestations of love?

I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God’s got this all wrong. We are not special. We are not crap or trash either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens.

And God says, “No, that’s not right.”

Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can’t teach God anything. p. 207

I felt that quote needed to put in its entirety. (A great deal of things in my life come back to Fight Club.) If no one is special, then we must accept that no view point is privileged. This also means that no one gets a free pass to be an asshole because their opinion is important qua their very special humanity.  Ultimately, people should be held accountable for whatever they say, and if that opinion cannot hold up under scrutiny, perhaps it needs to be changed.

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