Friday, July 17, 2009

Waiting for 2010 #64: Troll Cuisine

Whether political blogs, tech blogs, band forums, or YouTube - the InterWebs are a pretty negative place. It must be the false feeling of anonymity that comes with screen names that inspires all this arrogant pseudo-courage. It also comes with the territory of various discussion sites. If the website's theme easily lends itself to a "me first" kind of attitude, then the trolls will come.

Political blog comments: "My ideology is on the side of good, and you are a traitor." Trolls win.

Tech blog comments: "My PC platform/smart phone model/electronic trinket is better than your PC platform/smart phone model/electronic trinket because I am better than you." Trolls win.

Band forums: "I am a true fan, and you are not, OR the band/artist has jumped the shark, and all loyal fans are mindless sheep." Trolls win.

YouTube: There's a whole lot of racist, sexist, homophobic, religion-baiting, and non-sensical mudslinging going on there. Trolls FTW.

Honorable mention: Twitter has a growing troll population, who are offshoots of the political, technological, and music fanatical variety. Trent Reznor had his fill with stalkerish, hypercritical quasi-fans who pry into his personal life, and that discouraged him from participating further in Tweetville. Jake Tapper (of ABC News) has to deal with a bunch of partisans (mostly of the far-right GOP variety) at 140 maximum characters per tweet.

Here: Well, I get very, very, very few comments, and the vast majority of those are generally from friendly peers who also blog. Sometimes there might be a ditto-head partisan or a copy-and-paste spammy politico who stumbles onto a relevant entry, but they are easily disarmed with a "Thanks for the comment!" reply (if they even care to return to their comment).

By contrast, if the website lends itself to an "others first" kind of attitude, then the trolls may come infrequently, but they are usually disarmed with friendliness, warmth, and kindness. LibriVox (where I sometimes volunteer my time) is such a place that trolls fear to tread (knock on wood). Its goal is to have volunteers produce public domain audiobooks. We essentially donate our time, talent, computer resources, and potential intellectual property (any new recording of a public domain book is, by default, a new copyrightable work) for the preservation of the written word (in spoken form), for our global neighbors and for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

LibriVox accepts any reader, as long as objective technical standards are followed (i.e., mp3 bitrate, loudness levels, etc.). The quality of voice talent (i.e., regional accent, liveliness, etc.) is subjective and in the ears of whoever may be listening, and reactions will vary. Trolls with a "me first" attitude arrive on the forums from time to time to complain about how their free listening experience is somehow ruined by an "others first" volunteer reader. These trolls are eventually disarmed whenever the kind volunteers reiterate the purpose of the LibriVox project, as well as the positive vibe of the forum itself, as encapsulated by its golden rule: Be nice.

The usual advice is to not feed the trolls, but let's raise it up a notch and feed them with what's good for them - kindness and positivity and good humor. Give them a chance to see a Web without cowardly arrogance. If they keep trying to stir trouble, ignore them and continue the ongoing dialogue with dignity. After feeding the trolls with icky good stuff (icky for them), let us raise a glass to selflessness, or at the very least, civility and decent manners. Cheers!

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