A friend of mine had an essay about surviving after divorce published on HuffPo yesterday and became the target of many, many troll attacks in the comments and also on Twitter. Some super-ugly attacks. This post isn’t about her piece, so I won’t link it.
This post IS about the sense of entitlement people on the internet feel to bash, insult and generally be vile toward other people.
Today, it seems that free expression is defined as the ability to publicly trash others.
People throw around First Amendment like it applies to websites–it doesn’t. It only applies to government restrictions on free press. Not to what limits individual media vehicles might set. But of course, they don’t set limits.
This has long disturbed me. It’s not the main reason I won’t write for HuffPo–that’s because they don’t pay and I value my work more than that–but it is certainly the downside of writing for any online publication that does not monitor comments.
Why are so few comment boards moderated? Because that would require setting limits, and hiring monitors and all sorts of things online publications want to avoid.
But most important, trolls are eyeballs and bring more eyeballs, which translates into revenue and profit. So it is not in the interest of any media vehicle, HuffPo included, to stop harassment or bullying. Not when they bring more eyeballs to the site.
I like an audience as much as the next writer, but a large audience with so much troll activity is not something that appeals to me. The old PR adage, “just spell my name right,” meaning any press is good press, was proven wrong day after day in every decade of my long career in public relations and reputation management. All press is not good press and all audience is not good audience. So to speak.
Ellen Pao, recently ousted CEO of Reddit, wrote a compelling op-ed about the Wild West nature of the Internet in which she notes that its open nature permits the harassment of people for their views, appearances, demographics–you name it. She points out the internet trolls are winning and I agree and am dismayed.
I can’t possibly say it as well, so I’d love for you to read it HERE –it’s terrific–and come back to give your views. Intelligent commenters there, too.
It’s pretty clear that the lunatics are running the asylum. What do you think can be done?