Opinion

The Troll-ology

Pankaj Korwar | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 17, 2016

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Twitter thrives on differences and violation

Can trolling be stopped? Or, is trolling one of the realities of online expression? The grouse against online interactions in general and twitter in particular can be explained and on the basis of our (mis)understanding of them.

The rise of trolling is not a sudden public behaviour change and rooted in the very design of internet and online interaction.

Let’s see the kind of social media users who have been victims of trolling. Mostly, they are journalists, activists or movie stars. Before twitter came in, access to such celebrities was not quite possible with the exception of the letters to the editor, perhaps. With Twitter, reaching out to celebrities became a matter of clicks. Twitter was being extolled as a barrier-breaking communication medium and disseminator of news. Stars, celebrities, and journalists latched on to it.

Old rules, new medium

There is a reason why movie stars and celebrities have a liking for twitter. Among all the new-age media, twitter is the one that still plays by old rules. It reinforces the broadcast model of communication, which celebrities and traditional media are so used to. In this model, the media and the star always had a superior position in communication.

For most of these personalities, audience engagement has always been a one-way lane. But today the new order of online interaction necessitates the relationship between the user and the follower to be more collaborative. In the broadcast model there was no social pressure on the superior to listen to you. In the new model, it’s imperative to listen to followers. And when you have to converse and listen, sometime, the interaction can get nasty.

And the attackers can get abusive and personal. In the real world, abuse is always preceded by disagreement and then by judgment or opinion. In online interactions, abuse can precede a disagreement. Sometime, it doesn’t even require a disagreement. In the world of web and especially on twitter, the mediums don’t reward the disagreement or an opinion. Disagreement might get lost in the clutter but abuse by its very nature gets more eyeballs. Either you fight, or distance yourself. In fact, distancing oneself in the online world is far easier.

We all know that real life is made of disagreements, judgments and opinions. It would be foolish to believe online interaction could be different.  The very design of twitter magnifies the differences. It thrives on differences and violation. Beyond celebrities, the people who have successfully managed to leverage the medium are either those who have sharply defined line of thinking; left and right wingers, comedians or the people best at articulating sarcasm. Challenging trolls is akin to fighting the very product design of twitter. So when will we come to terms with the new reality?

In the early days of news portals, comments were expected to have the same standards as the articles they were posted under. Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? says, “Our first mistake was to see the internet as a medium and what appears there as content. No, the net is a place, a street corner or a bar where oftentimes people are just talking amongst themselves”.

Interaction in these streets does not happen in defined lanes. There is more cross-talk and often crass. It’s foolhardy to believe the web could be a place where you can get away without your opinion being judged. 

The writer is a brand and business strategist

Published on May 17, 2016
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