A Proposed Solution to Internet Trolls Could Punish Everyone

A solution to the problem of internet trolls may evolve that will protect us from them, but also from the free exchange of ideas.

Should you ever be so bold as to venture out on the internet and post a well-considered thought somewhere about something you care about, the odds are good that some malevolent chucklehead will bring down flaming hatred upon you in the form of an insulting comment clearly intended to hurt, or at the very least, provoke you. What is it with internet trolls? They’re just like the historical trolls in fairy tales, hiding under bridges you cross, just waiting to leap out and bite your ankles or worse.


According to Jonathan Zittrain, trolls just see the internet in a different way than many, or maybe most people. To you it may be a platform for communication or connecting with other people. To a troll, it’s just a game of trying to provoke a reaction that can itself be reacted to in an ever-escalating contest of trash-talk, like people arguing over their favorite sports team. That trolls lack the empathy, compassion, or maybe just imagination, to consider that there may be a human being with feelings on the receiving end of a hurled insult is another story. It’s just a game, though, right? Well, no.

Not only do trolls hurt people’s feelings, the trash talk can escalate to an IRL (“in real life”) threat of violence or exposure of a victim’s sensitive personal information. It can quickly spiral into something way beyond what most of us would consider a game.

Zittrain expects a solution to emerge, which will be great, except that the one he envisions could bring its own nasty dangers.

Though it may solve the troll problem, an internet-wide reputation system could easily evolve into a mechanism of control that silences unpopular — and possibly correct and even necessary — opinions. If Zittrain is seeing the future correctly, we’ll have to decide which is more important: free speech or safety from trolls.

It occurs to me that this internet-wide repetition system may not happen anyway because it seems unrealistic to expect social platforms to exchange user information.

It’s been said that if an internet service is free, you’re the product. And this is clearly true of our current dominant social services Google, Facebook, and Twitter. They all sell what they’ve learned about you to advertisers who can then fire micro-targeted messages at you that reflect what they know to be your interests. The information these platforms hold is valuable, proprietary, and — at least these days — held close. Will they ever agree to share the secret sauce on which their business model is based?

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

Videos
  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

Moon Landing Apollo
popular
  • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
  • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
  • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less