TIME: This story is not a good idea. Not for society and certainly not for me. Because what trolls feed on is attention. And this little bit–these several thousand words–is like leaving bears a pan of baklava.
It would be smarter to be cautious, because the Internet’s personality has changed. Once it was a geek with lofty ideals about the free flow of information. Now, if you need help improving your upload speeds the web is eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will try to goad you into killing yourself. Psychologists call this the online disinhibition effect, in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it’s seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives.
The people who relish this online freedom are called trolls, a term that originally came from a fishing method online thieves use to find victims. It quickly morphed to refer to the monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people. Internet trolls have a manifesto of sorts, which states they are doing it for the “lulz,” or laughs. What trolls do for the lulz ranges from clever pranks to harassment to violent threats. There’s also doxxing–publishing personal data, such as Social Security numbers and bank accounts–and swatting, calling in an emergency to a victim’s house so the SWAT team busts in. When victims do not experience lulz, trolls tell them they have no sense of humor. Trolls are turning social media and comment boards into a giant locker room in a teen movie, with towel-snapping racial epithets and misogyny. They’ve been steadily upping their game…
Japan Times: This sort of behavior is not new. Trolls — individuals who purposely send insulting and threatening messages to comments sections and social media sites — may be an Internet-specific phenomenon, but the impulses that drive them are general and eternal. Some say the difference is less ideological than psychological: serial harassers hide behind masks to express their grievances with the world, regardless of political leanings. But ideology, or at least the presumption of a “position,” is always the delivery device for the grievance. […] Media outlets should prevent intimidation any way they can, but they’re failing their mission if they don’t stand up to it.
COMMENT: This is dangerous stuff. As the veteran of many years of online death threats myself, Cyberstalking is still stalking, and Japan no longer tolerates it like it used to outside of the Internet. Debito.org reiterates its stance that something should be done to make these anonyms into real people taking responsibility for their statements. To me, that means registering real names under traceable conditions, as has happened (abortively) in South Korea. Short of that, the trolls will continue to sour and soil the online environment, depriving others of the freedom of speech the trolls themselves allegedly cherish (and use as their excuse for abuse) by remaining anonymous, immune to the same critique and exposure they mete out to others.