Web Trolls Winning as Incivility Increases

Farhad Manjoo, Hack Educa, Aug 17, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I don't think there's a "war" on trolls, exactly (the last thing the world needs is another war) but it seems  clear that the web is becoming increasingly uncivil. But rather than simply blaming the usual culprits - users and trolls - I invite readers to consider some related items to question whether it's a structural defect:

  • Reddit launches 'pressiquette' guidelines for journalists - "Reddit, the social news site, is encouraging journalists who use it to follow new guidelines on ethical sourcing... Gawker reported that more than 4,000 BuzzFeed posts have been removed from the site."
  • What happens to #Ferguson affects Ferguson - leave aside the presumption that #Ferguson should be international news (it shouldn't). This is nonetheless an important discussion of the idea of algorithms deciding what is important.
  • Twitter vows to 'improve our policies'... - "Internet trolls bullied Robin Williams' daughter off of Twitter and Instagram just days after her father's death."
  • I liked everything on Facebook for two days... - "After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages... My feed become a cavalcade of brands and politics and as I interacted with them, Facebook dutifully reported this to all my friends and followers."
  • The Internet's Original Sin - "Cegłowski explains, 'We’re addicted to ‘big data’ not because it’s effective now, but because we need it to tell better stories.' So we build businesses that promise investors that advertising will be more invasive, ubiquitous, and targeted and that we will collect more data about our users and their behavior."

 It's not simply that there are trolls and it's not simply that our privacy is now for sale, but rather, it's that the fruits of this surveillance are being put to purposes that are mean, nasty and corrosive. The primary use of data analytics has been misuse. We need to build better before we lose the web entirely.

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