Wont somebody think of the children: Trolling 101

Jericho’s book the fifth estate provides an interesting account of the rise of social media and its influence on the journalistic landscape. The concept o the fifth estate, as it applies to SNS technologies, derives from media researcher Stephen Cooper. Alike the traditional fourth estate which proceeded it, individuals engaging in SNS writing act as a adversarial watchdog, keeping a check on society’s overarching power structures.  While social media has been lauded for its ability to create a democratised, inclusive public sphere, the adoption of a web 2.0 paradigm also brings a number of pitfalls.

Degradation of Debate

Jericho demonstrates that one pitfall is the lack of accountability within SNS servers and the tendency of public debate to subsequently disintegrate into childish taunting, trolling and mud-slinging. He epitomizes this sentmet in his understanding, “the golden rule of the internet-‘never read the comments’.”

Jason Wilson’s ‘same as it ever was’ asserts, “Negative behaviour and speech predates the online world…There’s nothing new in people being foolish, insulting, or deliberately disruptive online.” This is true to an extent but the total anonymity with which one can insult others in online forums would be said to have further deteriorated public discourse.

The difficulty, for traditional news organisations trying to increase their hits through the inclusion of comments, is the fact that the comment’s section tends to reflect upon the media organisation.

Media responsibility for spiralling political discourse

However, as Jericho recognises, childish public forums can also degrade policy debate, as the media are caught in a reflexive relationship where sensationalist stories are pushed, leading to sensationalist comments. He states, “In essence, these articles are a form of trolling,” which refers to the blurting of opinion as a means of garnering a response.

This relationship has created a spiralling decline in political discourse. While the MSM blame the commenters and the members of the fifth estate blame the MSM, it is importat to realise the shared sense of responsibility. Just in business transactions, supply and demand cannot be separated in terms of accountability. The media which perpetuates the personalisation of politics for financial gain is stimulated by the readers who in turn, reflect this discourse through a derogatory ad cretinous comment section.

The advice to ignore rather than engage with a troll is sometimes phrased as “Please do not feed the trolls.”

Hypocrisy of politicians

Media organisations  justify the opposition towards anonymity through stating that this feature allows for abuse and astroturfing. This involves the a company or political organisation using social media, blogs and standard media to imply that a grassroots campaign exists. Such organisations will direct people to write comments or tweets professing that a politician/issue/product is amazing/terrible, in the hope that others- including the media wil believe that there is a genuine grassroots movement or belief involved. 106

While criticism has centers on trolls, bloggers such as Paula Matthewson pointed out that hypocritical politicians have used social media technologies to manipulate the truth in terms of spin and tjhe creation of fake persona’s used to imitate the public and advocate.

Moral Panic

Rather than a legitimate issue, Wilson argues that trolling- deliberately trying to provoke an angry response for the purposes of entertainment- is being trumped up into a moral panic by the MSM. A moral panic is directed towards “those individuals, groups or things at the centre of panics, who were defined as presenting an existential threat to the social order.” This sense of paic is usually disproportionate to the real effect of the activity/group.

Much of this trumped up attention is derived from the undue media attention that is attached to celebrity. The famous examples of Charlotte Dawson present nothing new on social media sites (indeed Farah committed something similar against Julia Gillard that almost went unnoticed), but the attention from these small sample sizes has propagated the moral panic. Celebrities, like politicians, have criticised the fact that they no longer have control of their online brand.

If you are still reading, I know this is rubbish. I was going to connect the topic to the issue of regulating unpopular speech and the ethical limitations of defamation statutes but I was really busy during this period so I just skimmed the two articles and blurted out this garbage. It will be much better by November.


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