Space Ramblings

Of Trolls and Cory Doctorows

Cory Doctorow has penned an article for Information Week entitled: “How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community.” A better title might be “How To Whine Aimlessly About Getting Hate Mail And Then Say Nothing New About the Subject That Hasn’t Been Said for Two Decades.”

It’s not that Cory Doctorow’s piece is particularly stupid, it’s just the inevitable product of penning an article with hefty doses of self-promotion for you and your friends that says absolutely nothing new or useful– but goes on to do it for eight pages. I realize Cory Doctorow probably needs to pay the rent and Information Week is gullible enough to buy an article they could have just recycled from 1999, 1989 or 1979 (aside from the topical mentions of Friendster or Digg)– but why subject readers to it? Or to the annoying page drop ad at the top of the page?

Of course the real problem is that Cory Doctorow can’t really define what a troll is. In practice a troll is a member that another member accuses of being a troll. If enough people in the group or board form a consensus that the member is a troll he or she officially becomes named a troll. This determination can be made most often on the basis of a clash between a newbie and entrenched board members who wield the label of Troll as a weapon to keep dissenting viewpoints at bay.

The basic reality is that you can no more describe a troll, than you describe any other purely subjective description– except that a troll is a member who has in some way offended or outraged or annoyed or gotten on the wrong side of the authoritative figures on the board. Some people who are called trolls are genuinely obnoxious. Others just happen to have disagreed a little too effectively with the old timers on board. Some may be women on a male dominated board or men on a female dominated board. And so on and so forth.

Cory Doctorow boasts that his pal, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, whose board he conveniently links to, is a troll whisperer who can immediately spot trolls. As cute as it is that Cory Doctorow tries to make that lame pun, all he’s really doing is arguing for an omnipotent moderator who can weed out ‘trolls.’ But all that moderators accomplish is to replace a board consensus with a single fallible human being with all the same faults as the people she’s moderating. Personally I found Teresa Nielsen Hayden to be one of the more politically dogmatic people around with no tolerance for dissenting views. That isn’t a problem for Cory– but it is a problem for people who would actually broadly dissent from her views. Those people then become “trolls” and the troll whispering purges and suppresses dissenting points of view.

The article predictably diverges into asides on how bad 16 year olds make poor Cory Doctorow feel. “Many’s the time I’ve found myself neglecting a warm bed, a hot meal, or a chance to go out for a cup of coffee with a friend in order to answer some mean-spirited note from some 16-year-old mouth-breather who achieves transcendence only through pointless debate with strangers. For many of us, our psyche demands that these insults be met and overcome.”

In other words Cory Doctorow just can’t help but answer all the 16 year olds being mean to him. But are they really mouth breathing 16 year olds full of venom and if so shouldn’t they be rather easy to dismiss? Or is what really troubles Cory Doctorow– that they’re actually making points he has to work to refute– and so he pens an article sliming them as teenage mouth breathers. And isn’t that basically using an Information Week article to troll?

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