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On Internet Civility and The Global Trend Toward Trollism
troll
Ok, so this post is not like most posts that I write where I have a larger point and a goal… or something. It’s more of a pondering really – and it was all kicked off by a reader here at THinc. A reader who asked some really good questions that made me stop and think. And think. And think some more.

So the basic question of the day is – why are some people complete dorks online? I mean, it’s not like we are all saints in real life. But, online trolling is just a whole new level of insanity. I actually just went looking for some good examples of this kind of craziness but none of them were really ok to copy here. But I did just go looking for an old post I had made on Reddit detailing out my thoughts on how the teleportaion/cloning machine in the movie The Prestige didn’t work… and one of the responses I got a little while longer was simply:

“No. Douche.”

and then another… directed at another commenter discussing my theory.

“Don’t tell people what to do. Butthole.”

I mean, can you think of a face to face conversation where that would be appropriate? Like, even remotely? But to think that now that we are all so disconnected from the humanity of the other person on the other side of the post whom we are disagreeing with, … that it allows us to be raving lunatics? I mean? Is that what it is?

Then, if that is the case, maybe it’s sort of like the way people in mascot costumes have to have body guards at all times because otherwise they’d get their heads bashed in by crazy peoples who don’t have a clue in the world that there is a human inside? Is that what this problem of Troll Influx Disease is that we are having?

Or what about people flipping others off while on the highway. If two random people were standing in a bank line together, one wouldn’t suddenly flip the other off because he leaned back to far into their own personal space would he? (Or she? Heaven forbid I live you women out of this fantastic conversation. I mean, equal rights for all, right? hahah.)

first-three-harryWhich brings me to the email that Kenny sent my way about the conversations we have here. If this is your first time here because you searched on Trolls, Trolling, or the like… and you have zero idea where you are… the 4 people that hang out here and I, tend to have long winded, and intense conversations about complicated movies.  Here are just a couple examples of some of the top commented posts you can check out, all stats up to date as of this writing:

Uncanny – 124 Comments – 34,105 words
Inception – 138 Comments – 27,317 words
The One I Love – 159 Comments – 36,514 words
Memento – 231 Comments – 65,538 words
The Prestige – 378 Comments – 93,957 words

Just to put those five example posts in context, the combined comments in those posts are over 250,000 words. That is more than the first three books of the Harry Potter series combined. Or, more words than the Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring combined. So there are a lot of words getting transacted here. This really isn’t me patting myself on the back, rather its context for the kind of conversations that happen here. The really deep and really complicated and involved conversations that could potentially lead to the kind of trollism chaos that is most likely to happen in conversations like these.

So if there are so many words getting bantied about here, how much name calling is happening here? How much chaos? How many trolls? Why don’t we pick a random number between 1 and 10 to pick one of the top ten most commented blog posts here on the site. Went out to random.org, and got the number 9… which is “Time Travel Movie Time Lapse Explained“. There are 79 comments on the post and so let’s do the same thing out at random.org again, but this time for the number 55, which brings us to a fellow named Mike, and his comment. You really don’t need to understand the movie, or his comment to get the point that I am making here. Just know that Mike disagrees with the overall thread of the conversation happening at that point in the conversation:

“I, too, have had problems understanding how the characters are able to benefit from these photos and am a little frustrated by the pat explanations being offered. I basically enjoyed the movie and found elements, such as Callie’s manipulations and the implications of the photo that the scientist sent to his colleague, really cool. But I still find problems with characters being in the know of conditions that would (I think) be occurring on disparate planes. Here’s my thinking:If I were to receive a photo of my TV screen showing that Djokovic has beaten Federer, I might be like, “That’s weird. That match hasn’t happened yet.” I may trust the photo and bet on Djokovic, find the photo was correct, and continue benefiting from its insights. However, that iteration of myself could not be in communication with the iteration of myself who is acting as the vehicle of my fortune—not without a time machine. So, back to the movie: There must be an iteration of the characters first encountering the machine, seeing the initial gambling results posted to their living room window, and being like, “What is this?” Maybe they’ll go ahead and place the bets and find that the picture is telling the future, and maybe from here, they will continue to emulate the daily photo and/or begin posting messages for the profit of “later” iterations of themselves. In this sense, the iterations of themselves on a more temporally advanced plane will continue to benefit the iterations on a later plane, and an endless ripple of these transactions will transpire. I could deal with this scenario. However, in the movie, the characters are acting as both prognosticator and beneficiary. A case in point: They can’t be both the ones to initially discover the mystery camera (i.e., the ones to find the fallen coat hanger photo) and the ones to profit from the initial betting results. This would imply that the various iterations of themselves have awareness of one another’s existence and actions. This is mind-bending in what I consider an illogical and damning way. At this point, the only way to save the scenario is to introduce time travel, which I see no reason to believe is a component of this story.”

So basically Mike says – politely – you guys aren’t making any sense at all. Here’s what I think happens in this movie’s universe when x, y, and z happen.  He didn’t call me a douche. Or a ‘butthole’ [sic], he just said he disagreed and then explained why. But maybe that was a random coincidence, and everyone else is trolling? Let’s try it again. Random 1 – 10, Hahah – I kid you not, it just gave me a 1. Which is the Prestige – by and far my most famous and controversial movie post. Now let’s get a random number between 1 and 378… and then I’ll count all the way down to that comment… (What a horrible idea this is.) And the number is 57. Off I go! Don’t worry. I’ll be ok, really.

“The majority of these posts have too many flaws to their overall argument. Many have only believed in what they wanted to believe which not only covers the sci-fi side but every side. Some are excellent at explaining their percieved thoery of what happened. However they make the mistake of trying to disprove other theories forgetting that this was a film. A film can be or do whatever it wants to and this one especially exploits this. Some facts become lies while other facts remain facts to suit a given argument. My point being that this has been thought over waaaaaaaaaaaay too much by everyone including me and it ruins the film more than it enhances it. Good to debate but pretty much pointless, even my post.”

So, we see, randomly even… another example of someone completely disagreeing… While still being 100% civil about it. Zero name calling. Zero trolling. I will be honest, I have deleted a few posts here over the last however many years I’ve been doing this. But I would bet I could number them on one hand. So yeah, here is the email I got asking about how it works here when it doesn’t work most other places.

“On your blog people are very nice about saying they disagree with you or another commenter, and the comments are well-thought out as well. Elsewhere on the Internet, however, it usually doesn’t take very long before somebody insults either the original poster and/or somebody posting in the comments section. This kills any prior and future discussion.

“I have a few thoughts as to the reason for this. One is your blog is harder to come by than a YouTube video, Facebook post, or Reddit conversation, for example. This means that maybe people who enjoy the types of movies you review are the kinds of people who are not inclined to insulting/threatening somebody else. Another is maybe the material in your blog is less controversial than topics such as politics, bowling or feminism (Anita Saarkesian). I don’t think this second point is very strong, however, because I have seen people be nasty over things like the TV show Dexter, which is in the same realm as the type of material you write about. Also, I have a feeling if you were to post your theory about “The Prestige,” for example, on Facebook you would get some nasty comments.

“Anyway, I would love to hear your take on the Internet and civility (such a broad topic, I know!) and how your site manages to be different. There are nearly 100,000 words in the comments section of your “The Prestige” post, and not a single one is derogatory and all of them are thought-provoking and interesting to read. I know a magician never reveals his secrets, but how do you do it! lol”

It’s a great email and really made me stop and consider this larger idea of trolls and random people being idiots to other people. So when I wrote Kenny back I think I gave a few guesses as to the reasons why.

  1. The complexity of the material
  2. I am involved and pay attention to all posts
  3. It’s a collaborative team effort

I really don’t know why I don’t get trolled much. I have noticed that when I throw out a post with turning it inside out and really thinking about it, it is more likely to get more negative and troll like responses. But usually my walk through scare newer ideas that most haven’t thought of before, whether they agree or not. And so they grapple with the idea and avoid diving straight into ad hominem attacks.

Personally, I have no idea why conversations here are civil. I do provide a level of adult supervision… but even so, I very very rarely delete or admonish people for their comments. I am involved, and I do care about what goes on here. So maybe that much is obvious to the people that engage and comment? But I would like to think that it is because of the collaborative team effort of trying to solve these movies that is really making a difference. It is that we are all valuing the opinions of those that came before us and that we are stepping on their shoulders in order to get to the bottom of the problem?

I personally have been attacked on so many different boards – what with my weird ideas, and my outlandish theories. Which has caused me to be a fan and a proponent of the odd man out and the crazy idea. I have loved making it a safe place to talk and share and debate. Sure, I have my own opinions and I have my own ideas I’d like to see win the day… but I try and remain open those ideas I haven’t thought of or I missed. Regularly when I first push out a post I hone and refine my theories based on the people that have commented and visited. And so I would LOVE to think that it’s because of this team building/team experience that has crafted a safe environment… But maybe I am giving humanity way more credit than we deserve? Maybe it really is just because I can and will delete comments that are mean that has fostered the safe environment?

It could very well be that the internet has become the terrible trolly sort of place that it is because there really is no parental supervision anymore. People believe they are anonymous (which, I might add is a lie… it’s not too difficult to track a comment back to a real user, but that’s a topic for another day) and so they say the worst most reprehensible things imaginable. And maybe what we all really need, is some basic common civility coupled with accountability. But with that I think I just went from preaching to meddling. But this is me really not caring about our desire for anonymity. This is me not caring about your belief that everything you do online should be private. Maybe what we really need is someone to hack Google and Microsoft to get the world’s browsing histories posted online on a massive world wide database of all our visits and comments online. Then, maybe then, it might create a global civility that is missing today.

Why is it that you desire to keep your online habits private again? Remind me. Cause I’m confused.

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2 Responses

  1. Chris Biro

    This is an interesting post and an interesting question. I am not sure I can offer an answer but I can offer more information to factor into the consideration.

    For about 15 years I ran an email list call the Freeflight list, where we discussed living with and training pet parrots to fly outdoors. As a professional showman and bird trainer, I was the founder and main supporter of the list. It was a fair active list. Other professional trainers bashed me and the concept elsewhere but never on my email list. In fact we virtually NEVER had any one liner troll posts like you so commonly see on Facebook or youtube. We had plenty of deep and sometimes heated debates over a variety of on topic and off topic subjects. Again, 15 years worth of them. Though we never had one liner personal attacks we did attract a couple classic trolls, that were there only to stir controversy, usually claiming to have experience they obviously lacked. I moderated such people and was polite and direct with them. They usually went a way fairly quickly. We also had another form of troll, less recognized. These were people who were on the list, not to learn in support of the topic of the list but to were there to find info they could use against us, the concept and more likely use against me personally. The list functioned quite well for many years but began to deteriorate as more and more “loyal Chris haters” either changed from my supporters to enemies or outside enemies joined the list. Eventually the list ceased to be manageable because of too many such hater trolls. And then the internet marketers joining trying to take the info handed out freely to sell as their “own creations.” To avoid supporting these internet scammers, I stopped posting to the freeflight list and switched to doing power point based 12 hour flight training classes – far more successful in producing people flying parrots, compared to 15 years of email list resulting 10-20 people flying parrots. For the most part for many years we had a very civil email list. We did not have nasty attacks but we did attract people who became nasty when they were not allowed to function as “internet experts” due to their obvious lack of actual experience. Some who had some limited level of experience flying parrots grew to be quit hateful when their opinions or level of experience was not acknowledged by me as equal to my own – I was always respectful but would rarely change my position on some controversial subjects due to their input. For perspective I fly parrots outdoors every day and in complex environments no one else dared get near with their birds (view videos at http://www.libertywings.com), over 70 birds, 2500 months of combined flying time, compared to someone flying one bird a couple times a week in the same neighborhood park. I took my list members opinions seriously, but did not give credit to expert status unless they could demonstrate what they were doing with their birds via photos and video, which no one but me could do until I started teaching formal classes.

    So I suspect the quality of your reader is a huge factor, as is the level of moderation. But I also suspect that the subject matter itself is a factor, since everyone gets to have an opinion that is taken seriously. Where we had a technical difference of expertise that was demonstrable via photos and video of what we actually did with our birds, creating a distinction between general opinion and opinions based on years of experience. I suspect you attracted people like Steven Spielberg or Joss Wedon to participate, a similar dichotomy would appear and some “wanna be experts” would start commenting as polite but hateful people also.

    Reply
  2. Taylor Holmes

    Hey there Chris,
    Cool website. Parrots are the one animal pet I have ALWAYS wanted, but have never attained. Literally a Sun Conure! But the 90 year life span is a bit daunting. I have to admit. I don’t think I can deal with the pressure of a pet out lasting me. But yeah, I’ve had pirrahna, Boas, Powder Blue Tangs, all manner of exotic animals – but never, NEVER, a parrot. I’m officially jealous.

    As for your community and the general safety of the community, that is very interesting. I’ve never tried to create a listserv list here – or a google group for closed door discussions. But it has been fun to see all manner of opinions happening here in a relatively safe way. I’ve also noticed a difference on places like Reddit, if you are the Op for the thread, you are given deference that you just would not be afforded if you were a commenter with a differing opinion, right? The fact that I am putting an idea out there, and allowing it to be our springboard gives me grace with community. And yet, people have been fairly sane with responding to differing opinions. But thanks for comment good sir. That is an interesting perspective.

    Reply

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