I think the term ‘Troll’ is appropriate for how some folks communicate online. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_Internet ) Someone told me recently to “quit hiding behind that computer screen” so as to prompt me to come see them. It didn’t work, but I did like the expression because it hinted at a deeper issue with online communications. Having managed a number of online commenting sections and forums, I’ve noticed that inevitably there will be trolls and for the most part is because of the anonymity provided from being behind a computer screen. They harass and flame other users over various opinionated subjects. Here’s a list of controversial issues on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_controversial_issues.
I’m starting to believe that it’s essentially and information war out there. I think that in the near future we may just see paid operatives trying to promote and demote whatever is on their agendas. One of the most fascinating articles I’ve ever read was on a 14 year old manipulating stock market prices via spam and fake online accounts. It’s just a matter of time before that practice is moved into other political and business ventures. Time will tell, but I’m pretty sure this is going to get out of control and our behavior online is going to start having consequences on real lives. Just managing the comments section of news publishers has been a learning experience that has left me questioning online behavior.
As for a solution, I think that using cryptology to identify real people is going to happen sometime as a method of culling online behavior. I know one solution we’ve used in the past works. In an online forum or commenting section, one of the worst things to do is block the user as it generally just gets them more agitated and they’ll register new accounts to do more trolling. One thing that does work is to allow the user to continue posting while setting their posts so that only they and admins can view the postings. It’s a pretty clever way to shut them down without continuing the cycle of blocking and registering new accounts. They may figure out that their postings are visible, but it seems that most continue on without noticing. Be nice out there internet peoples.