Thursday, May 17, 2007

Troll Whisperers and Bees in the Mouth

I came across a good read about managing angry people on the interweb today called "How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community". It's certainly not a short read, but it is worth while if you care about "internet culture," civility, discourse, and those kinds of things.

The author's main suggestion is that maintainers of social sites notice what "Troll Whisperers" do and emulate them. "Trolls" are, to quote The Indiepub Blog,:

Those angry, anonymous posters who mar Web communities of all types, are a scourge on useful discussion. These insidious little people crawl into the gears and tinker with the delicate machinery that makes a Web community hum.

And "Troll Whisperers" are other members of an online community that manage to take the teeth out of the things trolls post. One effective strategy the article mentions is to take all the vowels out of words in their post (tk ll th vwls t f wrds n thr pst) because it makes people read the post more slowly, reducing the effectiveness and provocation of their post. It also sends a strong signal of what's acceptable and what's not, without deleting what's not.

The article also made me think of two (excellent) recent Breakpoint commentaries that stemmed from a book titled "A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now" — Cherishing Anger: A Bee in the Mouth and Anger in Public Discourse: The Rules of Engagement:

A respected journalist begins an article about the president with a statement of undiluted hatred. A prestigious Christian essayist takes every opportunity to rail publicly against Christians more conservative than she is. A famous conservative columnist uses a sexual epithet to describe a presidential candidate at a national conference.

Are these isolated incidents? Or do we have what Peter Wood calls a “national epidemic of anger”?

Wood, the provost and academic vice-president at King’s College, thinks that such an epidemic is indeed raging. In his new book, A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now, Wood explores the roots of that anger and the way it manifests itself in our culture—which, he says, has turned itself into an “angri-culture.”

It's a disappointing state of affairs that there is so much anger and "troll-ing" in public discourse these days, both on- and off-line. I applaud Breakpoint for encouraging Christians to take the lead in turning that around.

Hopefully some day we won't have to put up with comments (with positive ratings!) on Digg like:

My g*d Bush is a f*ck*ng c*nt


But Bush is a total cluster-f*ck-- a failure before he was president who ran business after business into the ground, unless his daddy's friends bailed him out with crooked deals, like, give a contractor $200 million of Texas money to build a ball park-- get a few million for his share of the team he was partner owner in. Give hundreds of billions to crooked contractors-- get money in Swiss bank accounts.

Bush is a war criminal who has been the worst president in US history and the most hated creature who ever lived on this planet, more hated than Hitler (there are billions more people on the planet to hate Bush.)

And I won't have to deal with commenters like Marti Abernathey making ad-hominem attacks at me:

But I'm listening to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh cuts into your learnin' time!

(Frankly, I'm not sure what that means, but I'm sure it was meant to be offensive, and it does nothing to advance the debate. Also, for the record, I don't listen to either Hannity or Limbaugh. And Limbaugh certainly doesn't do anything to help promote civility in discourse either.)

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