Jeff Jarvis in What society are we building here? reviews the dilemma of handling “trolls” that emerge every now and then even in well moderated social media communities.
The dilemma is that it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between patently offensive and loutish behavior and the right of free speech — even when that “free speech” offends a public target such as Jarvis.
Here is how I responded on a discussion thread in Google+ that Jarvis initiated:
We should have the right to decide to whom we want to listen. If we do decide to ignore, block, or silence someone we also have to make sure that our action doesn’t automatically prevent others from making their own decision. It’s impossible to make such clear cut distinctions in social media, an example of which is this discussion stream. After a while I just skip over the “trolls” in a stream like this but I know others may not share my same sensibilities. It’s something like Speakers’ Corner — we can turn away from a speaker whose ideas we find repellent but we can’t block the ears of those who wish to stay and listen.
One of the useful features of Google+ is that you can generally control the communities you interact with through that network’s circles, communities, and blocking features. Still, on certain discussion threads the occasional troll will emerge and will need to be dealt with. Personally I “block” people very infrequently; usually I just “uncircle” them or learn to skip over their comments. I don’t mind reading opinions different from my own but I can usually recognize threats of bodily harm, racism, or an adolescent attempt to shock.
Only once in my memory have I been “stalked” by someone on social media; no harm was ever threatened but this person I had never met did repeatedly made comments and suggestions that I felt crossed the line as being a bit too personal. Should someone be considered a “troll” just because they seem to be getting too personal and making you feel uncomfortable? Probably not; once you decide to “hang out” in public — as someone like Jeff Jarvis certainly has — you have to expect a certain amount of inappropriate behavior being aimed your way. Responding personally or even emotionally to such offensive behavior doesn’t necessarily make you a hypocrite, it just makes you more human.
Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a project management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. He is currently working with BaleFire Global on open data programs and with Michael Kaplan PMP onSoftPMO project management services. His experience includes consulting company ownership and management, database publishing and data transformation, managing the integration of large systems, corporate technology strategy, social media adoption, statistical research, and IT cost analysis. His web site is located atwww.ddmcd.com and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter he is @ddmcd.