Continuing my mini-series on social media frustrations, this entry is focused solely on the crowd that disrupts online communities, stalks innocent users, and always seem to never seem run out of vitriol or other vile spew to spray all over online communities. I break them up into three categories: Trolls, Psychos and Haters.
- Social Media Frustrations (Mini-Series):
In any online community, much like real life, you have variety. You’ve got people with a handful of different backgrounds, careers, interests or hobbies. They all congregate and discuss topics that interest them. Just like in real life, you have people who spread their hateful propaganda, and get enjoyment out of hating everyone. I think the picture below is the best overview of the problem, perceived anonymity:
Anonymity + Audiences = Trolls, Psychos, and Haters. Courtesy, Penny Arcade.
Trolls typically encompass all the psychos and haters online. However, it is possible to troll and not be a psycho or a hater. Trolls usually disagree with everyone no matter how illogical their argument is. They will do everything in their power to try to make everyone upset and fighting with each other
Solution: Empower users to rate unacceptable comments, then after a troll receives (X) amount of unacceptable ratings, auto rate-limit the account.
Psychos are the ones who do the following: stalk people online, dig up personal information on their opponents and post it for others to see, take all the online drama so seriously they literally drive to other people’s houses to take pictures and veil the photos with a threat. Additionally, they usually rifle through numerous accounts to continue their conquest of making another person look bad. These people walk the thin line as it pertains to criminal activity since they are empowered by the anonymity of the Internet. (These are the kind of psychos to watch out for…)
Solution: Empower law enforcement agencies with knowledge and experience in Social Media on handling abuse, specifically harassment. Community Web sites should provide heuristics and analytics to aid in identifying and removing fraudulent accounts.
Haters post derogatory remarks on any topic usually targeting race, sexual orientation or religion. The only value they provide is the debate within a normally-acceptable discussion. These people wouldn’t dare say their remarks said online due to their insecurities, but again, the cloak of anonymity on the Internet only encourages this negative behavior.
Solution: Community operators should make the guidelines very clear and when soliciting users for their feedback, make it a direct (or somewhat) direct topic so people don’t stray off into derogatory comments. However, one way to reduce the impact from haters, is to let people rate them down to hide offensive commentary.
Some folks have asked me, “Why can’t you just ban their IP?” The problem is larger than banning an IP address, it requires preventing the human behavior that warrants their IP being banned. Banning IPs are only as good as the DHCP life issued from the provider, or if the person knows how to go through proxies (Tor, for example); then banning IPs becomes a wasted effort. That said, banning IPs can be useful sometimes, assuming you have the actual IP of the broadband subscriber.
While it may be unlikely that trolls, psychos and haters will disappear; the problem can be better managed by empowering users to not respond, automating lock-out mechanisms, and standing firm on policies that dictate user behavior. Use your most powerful resource, your users. Digg provides self-guided community very well because every story becomes its own miniature community; and yes, there are trolls, but they’re automatically “hidden” when users rate them. However, acknowledging users are the most powerful resource can cost you, like the HD-DVD revolt; but overall it helps manage abuse from users.