Mathew Lowry

Attack of the trolls

Apparently celebrities – who’ve been driving the buzz around Twitter – are starting to get turned off by the real (i.e., sad) people they are meeting there. What a surprise.

From Techcrunch’s coverage of the latest rant against Twitter by some rockstar Twitter-lover-turned-hater:

First of all, Twitter is quickly getting overrun by spammers. That’s probably not a shock to those of us who follow and use Twitter a lot, but it’s getting to the point where celebrities are now starting to notice it, and it’s turning them off from the service. As he puts it, “So when you see the new accounts that pop up daily on Twitter spewing [garbage], usually from picture-less creatively named profiles, spewing hate at Mariqueen and I, take a moment to visualize the sad couple people behind them.”

The answer, as the rockstar and most anyone else who thinks about it, is to get rid of anonymity on social media. I’ve been thinking about this since my run-in with the eurosceptics, but I still think that ridding social media of anonymity is a bit extreme – sometimes you need it, for the same reasons why it shouldn’t be possible for journalists to be punished when protecting their sources.

But being able to check whether someone is real or pretending to be someone else does help. According to Techcrunch, “Facebook is by far the best as it at least tries to make sure real people are using it”, while ReadWriteWeb thinks that celebrities like the author Stephenie Meyer, who also recently quit social media:

… made the mistake of thinking she could manage social media on her own … she could have really benefited from the help of a public relations team who specialized in social media. Let them handle the Facebook fan page and Twitter account, deal with the trolls, moderate the comments, etc. But cases like these may just be the canary in the coal mine of social media. As tons of celebs flock to Twitter in an effort to regain control of their image and express themselves online, they may be in for a rude awakening when they have to deal with the vitriol and hate spewed towards them from those that resent their position…or from those who frankly just get their kicks from making others feel bad.

Well I know how they feel, which is probably why I spend more of my time online in walled-off conversations, such as Ning communities and LinkedIn groups, than I do on public blogs. It’s all a question of signal-to-noise.

Rather than ridding social media of anonymity, what is needed is to be able to ‘tune’ social media platforms so that they allow users – if they wish – to value the comments and opinions more when they come from verifiably real people who aren’t pretending to be someone else, or hiding behind the veil of anonymity. At the moment, most give equal weight to Nazis and qualified scientists discussing climate change policy. And the former can easily adopt the online identity of the latter.

In other words, those who want to be able to stand behind their words should be able to do so in a verifiable way, without fear of being impostered, while users should be able to filter user-generated content by authenticity. The risk, of course, is that this would create even more groupthink than currently exists in social media, as people use filtering to block out any views that challenge their cherished assumptions.

What’s the EU angle on this? Does there have to be one, apart from the fact that social media offers so much to most EU programmes, and it would be a shame to see social media gag to death on trolls and spam before the EU actually learnt to use it?

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