Saturday, 21-Oct-23 11:41
Trolls and social media

Myself, like an increasing number of other people, have deserted Twitter and moved on to alternative services. (Not blaming Musk though; it was a cesspool before and Musk just made it worse through his lack of understanding of human behaviour. Twitter would need a game designer as a CEO, not a manufacturing geek. Anyway, I left Twitter already on the early COVID days...) So you can find me on Bluesky as or Mastodon as Of these, Bluesky seems to be enjoying faster growth, though I do like Mastodon's filtering features more.

Anyway, what I find interesting is not the tool themselves, but the meta-discussion around the tools. Many people announce their escape from Twitter and almost invariably the first question on a new platform is a question of identity - what should I write about here? How will others see me? What kind of a response do I get? How do I engage? Who should I follow? How do hashtags work? It's kind of endearing to watch: like a number of puppies in a new pen, poking around all the toys. Everyone's account is the same with a single post and a few followers. Fun! Much potential! Wow!

The next post, regrettably, often is about "nice place, how do I keep this place from turning into a toxic pool of twitterisms" or "how do I deal with trolls when they eventually arrive". It feels like people escaping a war zone. People, who are sure the war will follow them wherever they go. Social PTSD, almost.

The obvious answer is to bubble up - create your own Discord and discuss there. Community will throw the misbehaving people away, and new account moderation will keep bots at bay. But there are significant advantages to having a public forum too. You find new people, new information, joy, sadness that you cannot find from inside your own bubble. Social bubbles are after all quite slow-changing and static, much like cosmic bubbles (and entirely unlike soap bubbles. But I digress.)

To me dealing with trolls is about energy consumption. Assume a trollish message written by a human costs one unit of energy for that person. Doesn't matter what the unit is, let's just call it "1 troll". Since time and human capacity are limited, I believe the best way to respond is to make sure your response costs less than "1 troll". This is why things like engaging in a debate does not ultimately work: if you spend 10 trolls worth of energy to respond to a single troll, they will respond with another 1 troll message, and you will use again 10 trolls of energy to respond. The end result is that you will spend most of your time just dealing with a single troll. God forbid if there are more!

However, if your response takes, say 0.5 trolls, the more the troll responds, the bigger the gap between yours and their time usage will be.

This is why blocking almost works - it takes only 0.1 trolls to block someone. I say almost, because the whole thing is broken due to bots - the cost of creation of a bot and making it spew out nonsense goes asymptotically towards zero. So you cannot win a manual block war against bots.

This is where the platform must take a firm stance and make sure that there is a big enough - but not too big - a cost of creating and operating a bot. Yes, I know of the big debacle around paid API access on Reddit, but in my mind, this is necessary. The key is to remember is that the cost does not have to be monetary - it can also be less tangible stuff like red tape. Make the free API option such that you have to request an API key via a fax machine or a physical letter, and it might deter the bot authors somewhat. (Don't actually do this, it was just an illustration of an idea. :-D)

But as long as there's not a bot problem, blocking hard and fast is simply the best long-term way to engage with trolls in any social media. And I say this as someone who has been on pretty much all of the social media before they were even called that, and who has probably tried all of the methods from backtrolling to completely ignoring trolls. The only thing that really works is blocking; starving them of space and time.

Private comments? Drop me an email. Or complain in a nearby pub - that'll help.

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"Main" last changed on 10-Aug-2015 21:44:03 EEST by JanneJalkanen.