Despite many sites posting very specific rules and guidelines about posting, there are always those who disrupt the commenting community. These people are often referred to as trolls.
A troll is someone who writes inflammatory comments on Internet spaces, intending to provoke angry, impassioned responses. Trolls have been very active on sites like 4Chan (anime and manga site which has grown to create many memes and become an integral part of the underground web culture) and Reddit (discussed below), but are now posting on popular sites like YouTube and blogs.
When researching trolls on the always-helpful Wikipedia, I came across this term: online disinhibition effect. In essence, this is a phrase explaining bad behavior like trolls–social restrictions are abandoned online and the inhibitions that would prevent people from saying horrible things to one another have been removed. Because there are no real repercussions for their behavior, they feel they are free to do and say whatever they want. I am so glad there is a name for this phenomenon! I think this complements the SNL clip I posted in an earlier blog.
As I talked about in Do’s and Don’ts, Reddit has an extraordinary policy structure in place. Learning the rules as well as the functionality of navigating the site takes a lot of skill and computer literacy.
Generally, the site is very positive, with a diverse group of users who are able to generate a wide range of content. On one popular Reddit, IAmA, users are able ask celebrities and politicians anything. Barack Obama’s August visit, which generated over 22,500 comments, briefly crashed the site. Adrian Chen blogged on Gawker that this was part of the sites “legitimization” but calls it a “racist teen nude picture site” in the article’s title.
I was aware of Reddit, but did not know much about the community, until I saw this article on Gawker (via Twitter, of course), where writer Adrian Chen (again!) investigates Reddit user Violentacrez, calling him “the biggest troll on the web.” Intrigued, I read the article, which was completely riveting, even for someone unfamiliar with Reddit.
Michael Brutsch AKA Violentacrez, along with others, moderated a forum (Brutsch called it a “safe space,” which is not appropriate language to use in this case) for people attracted to underage girls. He created several subreddits with the intention of trolling sensitive users. I will not repost them here, but the names are extremely racist and offensive. The article explains that someone would find the subreddit, point out how offensive it was, then it would go to the front page (instead of where the subreddits are posted) and meet cries of “free speech!” and then Violentacrez became sort of a hero of free speech on Reddit (he did, however, lose his day job as a programmer).
I encourage you to read the article if you have time. It’s a great piece of investigative journalism and a fascinating commentary on separating the person from the troll and getting to the heart of where the behavior originated.
The comments on the Gawker article range from defendants of Reddit and free speech to intelligent commentary on race and privilege. This story was huge in the news and amongst Reddit users, who banned Gawker links from being posted on their site. I believe that many of the comments are from Reddit users who signed up on Gawker just to defend their community.
Jon Scalzi, in this piece on Gawker, sums up the Violentacrez/Reddit/trolls controversy rather nicely:
Reddit is generally fine but has squicky corners to it and some squicky people. Kind of like the Internet in general.