Trolls, Wild West Romanticism, & Closed Comments

January 20, 2014

trollI’m closing the comments but reserving the right to re-open them at a later date.

The comments you don’t ever see because I don’t even approve them aren’t constructive, useful, or worth the time I spend reading them.

I have a lot of funny, smart, insightful readers. They tell me they rarely comment because they fear the trolls. That makes me sad.

This blog is mostly a sketchpad for popular culture musings, outbursts about squirrels, and observations on the small absurdities of life. I rarely blog about my research on online communications, but I have to mention that I’m fascinated by the arguments trolls make for their behavior.

A perpetual favorite of mine is the nostalgic re-appropriation of American West mythology into a “Ye Olde Internet as Frontier” argument – a popular argument for maintaining the status quo in many domains, to be sure, but even more ridiculous, in my opinion, when applied to blogging.

“Our communication style (read: swarming schoolyard bullying) used to be the norm when the Internet was like the Wild West (read: people who had the privilege/financial ability to be online had a megaphone and majority for shouting down minority groups online) but now it’s all puppies and rainbows online (read: people call them on their shit) and we’re the only ones still speaking Truth.”

Simply because there are people pushing back against you now doesn’t make you a persecuted minority.

“I got away with it then, I should get away with it now!” is a poor justification for being a jackass. Anywhere. Full stop.

And, to be clear, adopting these tactics to troll trolls is, in my opinion, a bad practice.

Communications research is increasingly bearing out the hypothesis that trolling commenters are becoming bolder, more aggressive, and that their presence affects the ability of other readers to critically evaluate the information they read.

Curious about this? Here’s a fascinating study to get you started, from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: “The “Nasty Effect:” Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies” (Ashley A. Anderson, Dominique Brossard, Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, and Peter Ladwig. Article first published online: 19 FEB 2013 DOI: 10.1111/jcc4.12009).

My decision to cut off the comments is based on the less high-minded fact that I just don’t have the energy or patience to wade through all of the misogyny, creationism, and anti-science hysteria to decide what to approve and what to moderate.

You can still reach me on twitter, and I hope this change doesn’t end up being permanent, but for now that’s just the way it’s got to be.