Fry'ing the Trolls


I’ve been a long time opponent of anonymous, unauthenticated comments fire-hosed into online media decidedly without editorial review.

They are an unfair and easily manipulative tool for beating down anyone who dares to stick their neck out and state their views in a public forum under their own name — either by writing themselves, or getting written about.

Healthy societies need intelligent public discussion, contradicting views and debate-driven consensus, or at least educated compromises. I just don’t get how this cowardly bashing gets flagged as free speech while the opinions it suffocates get dismissed despite being that too.

An absurd argument often brought to defend anonymous bashing is about the “thick skin” that those who speak in public should have anyway — why should the wussies then complain on a few comments? Just read a rant in Stephen Fry‘s autobiography The Fry Chronicles that summarizes the answer so simply and beautifully:

…those who grow up these days to become trollers on internet sites and who specialize on posting barbarous, mean, abusive, look-at-me, listen-to-me anonymous comments on YouTube and BBC ‘Have Your Say’ pages and other websites and blogs foolish enough to allow space for their poison. Such swine specialize on second-guessing the motives of those who are brave enough to commit to the risk of making fools of themselves in public and they are a blight on the face of the earth. ‘Oh, but a thick skin is surely necessary for the acting profession. Actors and theatre people should get used to it.’
Well, if you want to be in a profession which accesses emotion and attempts to penetrate the mind and soul of a man, I should have thought what is more necessary is thin skin. Sensitivity.

I believe you can replace Fry's example profession of actors and theatre people here with anyone: an entrepreneur, a parliament member, policeman, business leader, cabinet minister, social scientist, investigative reporter, novelist, civil servant, software engineer, creative artist, or the mother of the year. We do not want any of those people disappear from the public space, shut up and encapsulate growing their shell concrete hard only to sit in a hole surrounded by a selected trustworthy few of their own kind to throw poisonous, life-defyingly sarcastic remarks back and forth to underline their hatred of the world outside.

We do want all our leaders, hierarchy- or opinion-wise, no, we want anyone who has something to contribute to the society out in the open, sharing, listening, sensing, learning, teaching, analyzing and understanding. Technologies around pseudonymity, reputations, fact checking and social graph transparecy allow us to do much better than context-less trolls.

Here’s to the thinner skins around us.

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