Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/joruba
I tend to be quite active on the internet, and yet I sometimes find myself in a quandary – should I submit a blog post, or add a comment on another web-site or not. This post tries to better understand the various aspects of that decision moment.
The internet is impacting us all
It’s tough to argue that the web hasn’t already disrupted, to some extent or another, almost every business, and every person on the planet. The web has impacted the global economic environment, and ‘globalisation’ itself, and from that perspective touches everyone, even if you’ve never searched for something in google, liked something in Facebook, or used the web in any other way.
That said, the proportion of people that post new content to the web, and interact with existing content still seems to me to be relatively small. Social media is changing that – sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and others bring the masses closer to getting involved. Sometimes this is limited to a specific group of friends/contacts, and sometimes much broader, or even open to all.
The focus of this blog post however is on considering interactions between people (like myself) that have points of views, but do not necessarily know each other personally (though one of the parties might have greater ‘fame’ or public recognition from a public media persona), or even at all (ie, complete ‘strangers’, although I find the word here odd, since there might anything that is ‘strange’ about it – possibly even the opposite – by definition of the situation, the people involved will often have very similar interests).
I mentioned above that one party “might have greater fame from a public media persona” (for example, a television / radio / newspaper / sports personality) – maybe that brings us closer to a key issue here: are we not moving to a point where we all have (or can have) greater fame from our own public media personas?
Protocols for internet engagement
There’s plenty of documentation around appropriate ‘protocols’ for engagement on the internet (many companies provide these to their employees), including also clear documentation of the risks. Many of the risks can be addressed by common sense, and are similar to risks of offline communication and social interaction, but compounded by the more visible, more traceable, and more permanent nature of the web.
One could say that it makes sense to avoid it completely, to not get involved (and many do just that) – on the other hand, if everyone did that, there wouldn’t be an internet as we know it.
On being tempted by trolls
In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. [Wikipedia, “Troll (Internet)”]
Assuming that you (the content provider) are not the troll, then the issue here is the ’emotional’ response – one needs to be acutely aware of the emotions raised when responding, and how that affects the tone of your comments (this is, of course, the same as with everyday social interaction). Debate among a heterogeneous, diverse population is good, but sometimes it might be best to just leave a comment unaddressed.
Some trolls are easily spotted – off-topic discussion, abusive language, obviously intentionally-provocative statements, etc. Others can be less so, or even accidental – it would be easy to be drawn into a debate that one would rather not be part of, so one needs to be vigilant.
Posting original content on the web (ie, not directly responding to someone else’s content), such as a blog post, or tweet, is already setting out views and opinions – even if you think you are remaining factual, there is an element of selection of which facts to share, and the emphasis given through the wording that the content creator has chosen.
Quite simply, trolls exist, some intentionally, and some accidentally – some sites are renowned for them, others less so (or appearing to have none at all), sometimes driven by the ‘type’ of person that the site attracts. Transparency / lack of anonymity often helps (people are typically less willing to be disruptive if they can’t hide behind an avatar); “community behaviour”, self-selection and self-management of trolling cases) can also help, but becomes more and more difficult as the community grows.
Being drawn in to the web
It can start in a simple, minor way, and eventually you become more actively involved. One might initially become comfortable posting to friends on Facebook, start to share with all on Twitter, and eventually read an article that one feels strongly about, and add a comment, or see a comment from someone else that prompts you to respond.
The more involved you become, the more comfortable you become with having an online identity, the more frequently you might post comments, the less unusual it feels each time, and the perceived ‘risk’ of each individual post can decline.
But it is in my view wrong to talk only about ‘risk’ of being involved – the risk of not being involved, or the lost opportunity from being involved need also to be considered.
Being engaged in dialogue with the ultimate diverse population (ie, potentially the entire world) can provide great opportunities to learn and personally develop, and contribute to an expanding dialogue on your topics of interest. Of course, there is a caveat to this – the diversity of your collaboration is partly limited by other peoples’ access to the internet (though that is increasing), language ‘barriers’ (though being broken down through online translation tools), the interests of others, and the extent to which your content isn’t drowned out by the overwhelming volume of information and dialogue being produced on the internet each day.
And so to an obvious question – do I need this? Isn’t it sufficient to discuss this with my friends and family, work colleagues, etc.? Sure, of course. Go ahead, do that as before – your online and offline identities can co-exist, and support each other, providing ever greater dialogue, helping form points of view, increasing knowledge and insight.
Being an active contributor on the internet is about honing and refining one’s judgement around what is sensible to post. Opting out is easy, but has been said long before the internet arrived, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. The extent to which you choose to become engaged likely depends on your own personal time prioritisation/ allocation, and your desire for such engagement.
The internet is seemingly here to stay (and grow), and so there might eventually be two groups of people – those that are active contributors, and in regular dialogue with others via the internet, and those that aren’t. Where will you be?
Related articles (to ‘On being tempted by trolls’)
- Everything is “trolling” now (salon.com)
- What an Academic Who Wrote Her Dissertation on Trolls Thinks of Violentacrez (atlantic.co)
- Life Lesson: Arguing with irreconcilables (or, posting in the comments) (carryingthegun.wordpress.com)