October 6, 2013
First We Kill All the Trolls
While many people may know the line, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” few know that it is from Shakespeare’s play Henry IV (Part II), and fewer can attribute it to the character Dick the Butcher.
Dick was on to something. Our society is probably bogged down by lawsuits and a general litigious attitude. However, Dick has it wrong in one regard. First, we should kill the trolls.
There are no actual trolls in Henry IV or really any Shakespeare play. However, trolls are a villain worse than anything the Bard could have dreamt up.
Last week Popular Science announced that it was shutting off comments on its website.
“Comments can be bad for science,” Suzanne LaBarre noted. “That’s why, here at PopularScience.com, we’re shutting them off. It wasn’t a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter.”
The Atlantic followed up by noting, “The Case for Banning Internet Commenters.”
That post received 400 comments, which pretty much summed up why comments are sometimes a very, very bad thing.
Internet trolls are, of course, those commenters who often anonymously offer non-constructive criticism. As a reporter, I have a thick skin and can accept that not everyone is going to agree with my stories. I don’t mind if someone disagrees with what I said, but often times it degenerates into name calling or suggestions that I be fired.
Apparently, some who can post a comment believe they could easily do my job. As any freelance writer can attest, the pay isn’t great (it is also getting worse) and this is actually work!
As a business reporter, what amazes me is that I’ll interview sources, (such as financial analysts, industry insiders and trend watchers and other experts) but if someone doesn’t like my story, I’m somehow the idiot! That would be like blaming the history teacher for World War II.
When it comes to reviews I get it, everyone is a critic. Everyone has their own opinions and there is a place for it, such as the forums on IMDB.com.
Commenting on a news story, and issuing personal declarations, often crosses the line.
If it is a story about global warming, often times we’ll hear from the peanut gallery on how Al Gore made it up, even if the story has nothing to do with Al Gore. But we’re also likely to hear from someone who blames the former President George W. Bush because of the wild weather we’ve had this year. Apparently, while many of us were taught not to discuss politics or religion in polite company, the same doesn’t hold for the comment section!
PopSci is 100 percent right; comments can be bad for science.
The other problem with comments is that once the story is a day or two old, the comments end and the trolls are on to the next story.
This is why discussions, real discussions, have a place and that is forums. Articles should not be discussion boards, nor should blog posts be discussions.
The problem is many blog engines offer the “join the discussion” button as a way to say “comment.” This suggests to the reader that by all means they should take part.
News stories used to be about reading and if you had something to say you wrote a letter to the editor. These were generally thought out.
Too often people today are just as likely to type quickly, press post and think about it after the fact. That isn’t even a discussion. That’s a rant, and the world has enough ranting.
But then again, in a world where people “text” all the time what can we really expect?
Image Credit: imagelab / Shutterstock