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The troll in our midst

The social media is now literally everywhere. Abuse on social media is hurtful and unacceptable, but it will not be easy to stop this ugly trend.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2013 00:22 IST
social media

It has been phenomenal in its rise. The social media is now literally everywhere. Across the world, people have taken to blogging, tweeting and Facebooking with such fervour that at times the traditional media seems to be a pre-historic creature. With very few moderators vis-à-vis the number of social media users, it has become almost a free-for-all match on the worldwide web. There is so much blah blah blah all around us that it even prompted a columnist of a British newspaper to say that he is discontinuing his column to reduce word emissions. He was joking, of course.

So it was only a matter of time before trolls jumped into the pool to do what they do best: disrupt forums with their venomous comments. They have now become such a menace that recently the microblogging site Twitter was forced to apologise to its users and promise that it would do something to contain such abuse. Twitter’s apology, in more than 140 characters, came after three British female journalists said they had been subjected to bomb threats on the site. Saying that it wants to make its members feel safe, the company added that from now on the users will be able to report abuse directly from a tweet. According to media reports, Twitter has only 40 employees around the world to review complaints about inappropriate comments, while Facebook has hundreds of staff doing the same and uses much more sophisticated technology than Twitter to target the trolls. For the record, Twitter has 500 million-plus users. In an interview to CNN, Whitney Phillips, a New York University lecturer who is writing a book on trolling behaviour, said that it is nearly impossible to “taxonomise” trolling behaviour. She added that a lot of trolling is about mischief and harmless, silly pranks but the really extreme behavior like attacking people “seems to be a behaviour with a different motivation.”

The sole reason why people have taken to social media in such a big way is because it gives them a chance to say what they want. While it is true that abuse against any commentator/user is unacceptable and there are technological solutions to contain such people, the reality is it will be very difficult to completely stop the army of trolls on these platforms. We have let the genie of free speech out of the bottle, so now we have the learn to live with it the best we can.