In the ever accelerating social media feedback loops of the modern day World wide web age, ‘don’t feed the trolls’ is a phrase that appears to have fallen out of style, favor and collective memory.
The outcome? An impoverished top quality of debate that often and increasingly seems to be approaching something resembling mass hysteria as trolls are delivered dining on-demand.
Simply place: you cannot have meaningful discussion if you are forever polarizing into two sides basically screaming at each other. Each apparently convinced to the threat-sending death that a single worldview guidelines supreme.
Case in point: Just this week Twitter ultimately fell into the trap of the Internet’s most self-aggrandizing troll — the self-styled “supervillain” Milo Yiannopoulos — by kicking him off its platform.
Twitter had previously punished Yiannopoulos’ provocations by removing his privileged blue-tick status. It’s now gone the complete hog and ‘no-platformed’ the platform-loving self-promoter. The predictable result? Yiannopoulos gets to step up his native swagger by parading a status as the ‘victim of Internet censorship’.
With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a secure space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.
Twitter is holding me accountable for the actions of fans and trolls making use of the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me a lot more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
This is the finish for Twitter. Any person who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you are not welcome on Twitter.
The straw that broke Jack Dorsey’s quavering resolve to let one expert troll’s tweets flow was the latter’s sophisticated ability to marshal his Twitter followers (aka his ‘adoring fans’) to fire forth a stream of targeted abuse on his behalf.
Not that Yiannopoulos requires responsibility for the actions of his followers, of course. He walks the provocateur’s fine line — making certain the abuse he personally doles out, even though horrible, remains just that: 1 person’s unpleasant viewpoint. So he wouldn’t admit to something as crass as getting other people to do his dirty perform.
The wider point here is that tech platforms — most especially Twitter’s broadcast network — can be trivially manipulated to magnify a distinct sentiment. No matter whether that is a humorous trending hashtag or vile racial abuse.
Social media platforms are already structured to disseminate information. But with a tiny bit of choreographed intent a reasonably little set of networked connections can be chained collectively to hugely theatrical effect — repurposing mainstream outlets into single lead to megaphones.
All the modern day day Internet ‘supervillain’ (or social justice warrior/SJW, if you prefer) has to do is pout out their call to action, which will disseminate onto sympathetic fellow forums, and watch as their adoring fans pile in. Then they merely need sit back in a higher backed pc desk chair and let out a devilish laugh.
And so in the most current instance of Yiannopoulos’ slickly executed social media manipulations a public critique of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones yields a vile stream of targeted abuse — and the understandable reaction from Jones to quit Twitter.
“I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart,” she tweeted, ahead of departing the platform. “All this lead to I did a movie. You can hate the film but the shit I got today… wrong.”
What do trolls crave? Interest. What do they feed on? Outrage generated by provocation. How do you accelerate trolls’ outrage cycles? By carrying out what they’re hoping you’ll do – firstly by paying them attention, and then by reacting in a way they can paint as unjust (e.g. shutting them down). Or which they can celebrate as a win (e.g. the shutting down of their target).
In the Leslie Jones case Yiannopoulos can chalk up two wins: his personal censorship by Twitter, and the self-censorship of Jones quitting Twitter right after he criticized her performance and his fans piled in to racially abuse her.
This is the ‘by the book’ formula that lurks behind the effectively-trodden maxim ‘don’t feed the trolls’.
But Twitter just fed the Internet’s self-styled king troll a two-course meal of the extremely finest troll dining.
Platforms, energy and point of view
So what can we understand from this sorry scenario? Apart from the apparent – that trolls are horrible and racial abuse is intolerable.
A single clear takeaway is that the structures of social networks are being far as well trivially subverted and manipulated by entities with malicious or determined intent. Twitter clearly can and should do far a lot more to cease orchestrated pile-ins designed to amplify abuse and carry out campaigns of harassment on its platform.
Bottom line: it is not free speech if it’s a choreographed campaign of targeted abuse.
As I’ve pointed out prior to, at the time of the #Gamergate saga: “…small, orchestrated online groups can magnify the impact and influence of fringe viewpoints by weaponizing mainstream digital services to repurpose these platforms as propaganda machines. This is not a new thing but the frequency with which it is happening on-line appears to be growing, and the toxicity getting generated is becoming harder to escape as the tactics in play are honed and polished to ever higher impact.”
But arguably there’s something else we need to take into account.
We can perhaps also say that specific malicious entities are holding up a (black) mirror to the political correctness they abhor – aka the modus operandi of their SJW foes – and making use of the very same single concern megaphone technique, aka the bounce back amplification created attainable by follower-primarily based tech platforms, to win (or so they would argue, as Yiannopoulos has) the Internet’s ‘culture wars’.
At this strange juncture in the evolution of the mainstream media, see also: Donald Trump achieving a equivalent impact by subverting the news media’s drama-looking for lens.
The point is that when debate gets closed down and nuance gets tramped underfoot and empathy gets battered to death we all drop.
That is the ugly truth Yiannopoulos is illustrating via a sort of ‘media process deconstructing efficiency art’, if I can place it that way.
Point is: Any single opinion amplified by means of this megaphone technique of follower armies intent on crushing alternative perspectives can be oppressive to those with a differing view.
In addition, no one particular who self-styles as an ‘Internet supervillain’ should be taken at face worth. Such a person is stating they are playing a role and inviting us to critique their melodrama. Their mission is to force their enemies to confront their personal Manichean flaws, reflected in reverse.
To not deconstruct the drama is to walk correct into the enormous pitfall trolls exist to set. And that’s exactly where we are now: With the self styled king troll gloating more than the Twitter whale tangled up in his subtle net.
Zooming out once more, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the shouting down of points of view on the Net takes place on all sides of the political spectrum – no matter whether it’s leftwing campaigners taking up a diversity/feminist/gay rights/and so on and so forth trigger, and urging their followers (implicitly or intentionally) to shout down opposing viewpoints. Or conservative supervillains jerking liberal chains and rattling leftwing cages on mainstream tech platforms by acting out a manist, white-supremacist tantrum-pantomime in plain sight.
You could argue that neither radical left nor radical appropriate seems prepared to accept there might be more shades of grey than are allowed for by one particular entrenched perspective — as they fight their take-no-prisoners culture wars via the tech platforms that give them the power to turn a individual viewpoint into a weapon of mass media destruction, aiming to level the landscape of debate via the tribalism of fervent follower armies.
Yet the World wide web is connecting more diverse viewpoints than ever, as far more and a lot more men and women come on the web. So we’re going to have to get utilised to confronting alternative views. Simply screaming down difference doesn’t appear to be an strategy that will scale.
You may not like the message but trigger-finger shooting down of the other side’s messenger is perpetuating the Internet’s culture clashes by encouraging a ramping up of verbal violence and a reduction in the diversity of debate available on tech platforms – which are rapidly becoming the only mass media. (And, as other individuals have noted, pile-in public shamings that close down debate by cementing a majority judgment are quickly becoming the new majority entertainment.)
If your actions finish up stripping out the possibility for nuance or individual disagreement and demanding complicated humans decrease to polarized positions then you cannot be too shocked if braindead abuse is all you’re left with. And so we are all impoverished by Twitter’s knee-jerk banning of single transgressing men and women although it fails to address the underlying difficulty of the hijacking of its platform by orchestrated abuse campaigns.
As tempting as it might be, censoring person trolls is not how the technology industry wins the war against trolling. Person stupid opinions are just that: one voice in a sea of voices. Tech platforms need to tackle those actors who would weaponize a individual viewpoint by cutting the strings to the puppet armies that give them disproportionate volume to force their views on others.
It’s not the single bad or provocative opinion that need to difficulty society and its technology platforms. We should not worry to engage with distinction or publicly shun ignorance. Indeed, by closing down the single voice of the other you hand that entity a verified status as a persecuted individual. You gift them additional fuel to pour on the fires they live to start off.
Rather you require to take away their power to turn 1 opinion into a mass attack. It is the follower armies that wreak havoc on mainstream platforms that Twitter should be seeking to close down with tools that avoid pile-ins of orchestrated abuse. And with guidelines and structures designed to pop not promote filter bubbles.
Social discourse suffers if it can’t assistance an understanding of option views. And empathy is seldom encouraged by closing the door on a lone dilemma voice.
At the finish of the day, if you don’t offer you the courtesy of listening, how can you appropriately articulate the valid factors why you disagree?
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