Will trolling destroy social media?

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The Internet is a technology that has rewarded modern society with tremendous benefits. It has become a communication tool for everyone – rich and poor, geeks and uneducated – to converse with friends and relatives all over the world. It has given access to information for anyone without the need to have physical access to libraries.

The internet has become a vital tool, not just for business, but also for consumers shopping online; teachers and students doing research; families and friends communicating across thousands of miles of separation; job seekers and companies searching for more talent; and people in media and their viewers.

Unfortunately, the Internet has also become a tool for spreading a culture of hate by a growing number of people called “trolls.” In a recent article, Joel Stein wrote: “ Trolls are turning the web into a cesspool of aggression and violence.” While he was writing about the United States, this  phenomenon he was talking about has spread worldwide, including in the Philippines.

Trolling on the internet was detected as early as the 1990s; but, it was less than a decade ago that it became widespread. The most alarming trend is that even organizations have begun to use trolling to manipulate public opinion. There is now a growing number of political and special interest sponsored trolls.


But what is trolling? The Internet has created a global web of communication which has allowed greater freedom of communication for individuals including the “gift’ of anonymity. But Joel Stein, in his article Tyranny of the Mob, wrote: “ The people who relish this online freedom are called trolls, a term that originally came from a fishing method online thieves use to find victims. It quickly morphed to refer to the monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people. Internet trolls have a manifesto of sorts, which states they are doing it for the “lulz”, or laughs. What trolls do for the “lulz” ranges from clever pranks to harassment to violent threats...Trolls are turning social media and comment boards into a giant locker rooms in a teen movie, with towel swapping epithets and misogyny.”

In another article, Dr. Jennifer Golbeck wrote: “An internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate and offend to get a response.

What kind of person would do this? Some Canadian researchers decided to find out. They concluded two online studies with over 1,200 people giving personality tests to each subject along with a survey about their Internet commenting behaviour. They were looking for evidence linking trolling with the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits: narcissm. Machaivellianism. Psychopathy, and sadism.”

They found that Dark Tetrad scores were highest among people who said trolling was their favorite internet activity...Trolls truly enjoy making you feel bad.”

In the Philippines, trolling has increasingly become a topic of conversation because it has become a political tool and, in many cases, a profession. Political personalities have become targets of organized trolling. There are ongoing, seemingly unceasing online battles among and between the Dutertetards, yellowtards and Marcostards.

Future of trolling

Trolling presents a potential danger greater than just online abuse. In the sociology of the internet, there is increasing evidence that online discourse is become increasingly linked to behavior norms. In a study at Harvard’s Internet and Society center, the conclusion was that if a large number of  people think it is alright to describe a group of people as subhuman or vermin, these same group of people might think it is also alright to hurt those “subhuman” people. One can imagine, for example that a group of people might conclude that drug addicts are “subhuman”.

The future of internet trolling is still a much debated issue. There are those who believe that internet trolling is a depressing social phenomenon that we will be stuck with for the foreseeable future. There are an increasing number of people who believe that social media should be subject to regulations, laws, and policing just like mass media and the entertainment industry.

In a recent article, Jeff John Roberts wrote: “We’re losing the Internet war with the trolls. Faced with a torrent of hate and abuse, people are giving up on social media, and websites are removing comment features. Who wants to be part of an online community ruled by creeps and crazies?”

Fortunately, this pessimism may be premature. A new strategy promises to tame the trolls and reinvigorate civil discussion on the Internet. Hatched by Jigsaw, an in-house think tank at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, the tool relies on artificial intelligence and could solve the once-impossible task of vetting floods of online comments.”

The Internet promises a world that may seem like science fiction today. Scientists are looking forward to a future when the Internet can allow us to sign documents with DNA; e mail tangible objects; meet people using holographic technology; or books that feature sensory fiction in order to provide sensory experiences together with the stories.

It would be a very sad future if internet trolling stops the world from benefiting from this possible world. Hopefully, the people that invented the technology that spawned internet trolling will also be able to invent the technology that will control and prevent this phenomenon that is spreading a culture of hate in the Internet.

Summer creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids & Teens on April  1, 8, 22, 29, May 13, 20, 27 and June 3 (1:30 pm-3 pm).  Wonder of Words Workshop (6 sessions) on May 8, 10, 12, 15, 17 and 19 (1:30-3:30pm for 8-12 years old/ 4-6pm for 13-17 years old).  Classes at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street.  For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email [email protected].

Email: [email protected]


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