gizmodo’s editor tackles the troll community

November 15, 2010

As an oft repeated and generally unattributed expression goes, everything comes to an end eventually. In this case, it was my streak of non-stop daily updates for more than a year, and it was felled by a really bad case of strep throat. My apologies for the unplanned hiatus everybody, but sometimes an organism a trillionth of your size can wreak havoc on a consistent blogging schedule. And while I was trying to recover, I was thinking of a recent rant by Gizmodo editor Joel Johnson which used a number of colorful words to tell some of the blog’s more obnoxious and trollish readers to take their criticism and cram them wherever their species traditionally crams things, to quote Futurama’s Hermes. On the one hand, as any blogger will notice, this is handing trolls a victory because now they’ll get to gloat how they got a major site to lash out at them. On the other, trolls and their complete disregard for even the most basic rules of human interaction on the web must be addressed.

True, I’ve said that civility is either overrated or dead in many of today’s debates, but these statements can only apply to the media’s recently invented rule that any disagreement or criticism harsher than a kind of romantic comedy style befuddled tut-tutting, is a complete and total lack of civility at best, and callous viciousness at its worst. Sort of how Hawking’s statement about the lack of need for any deities in his calculus were equated to the proclamations of the Taliban by a British airhead. That’s just stupid, and it’s a convenient cover for the hordes of over-pampered, over-exposed quacks and cranks infesting today’s television sets. But if we were to leave these faux civility battles behind and just look at some of the comments being left all over the web, we will find gigabytes of abuse and vitriol hurled at someone every day, even about the most inane and narrowest of topics. So you, writer of a tiny blog about vintage computers don’t think this chipset from the 1970s was the absolute best chipset of that technological generation? Well, get ready to suffer the kind of abuse that most of us would probably expect to be hurled at genocidal racists. It’s ridiculous and out of line.

And that’s what so irritated Johnson. After years of being pelted with enough abuse, his patience quite clearly gave out. Unfortunately though, there are some readers who replied politely and in detail, but obviously didn’t get it, insisting that as a professional blogger, Johnson should tolerate every abusive comment out there as a part of his job, because without readers, there’s no Gizmodo, and turning any blog into an echo chamber is an unappealing and intellectually dishonest proposition from an editorial standpoint. My take? He doesn’t. He’s a writer and an editor, not a professional punching bag, and just like any other human, he has a right to ridicule readers who seem incapable of grasping basic rules of civil discourse, howling like apoplectic banshees the instant he writes anything with which they disagree. These kinds of readers contribute nothing to the blog but their venom, dragging every thread down into a flame war. I’ll just delete out of context, obscene outbursts that seem to have been written by someone with very poor to no impulse control and carry on and I would suggest the same course of action for any blogger. We don’t have to deal with trolls’ crap. That’s not our job.

Furthermore, there’s nothing that kills sites faster more than tollish dreck in the comment section because all new readers who want to discuss a topic, or interact with the writers now have to face being called something childishly stupid or pathetically obscene just for daring to voice an opinion. After enough times, pretty much all those readers will say “you know what? screw this place,” and go elsewhere, leaving the trolls to fester in the decaying blog or forum. So we’re not afraid of offending trolls’ sensibilities, or making them feel unwelcome in our online communities. In fact, we know we’re better off without them and encourage them to do something a little more productive with their day than to pester us with the online equivalent of flashing their crotches which will be deleted quickly enough. Maybe get a hobby that involves actually interacting with other humans…

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  • DJKrivak

    IMHO – the author should exercise his right to delete comments that are offensive or offtopic.

  • I couldn’t agree more Greg.

    Such comments are utterly worthless and contribute nothing. But the key thing, as you pointed out, is that you / we are trying to engage people and establish a broader conversation that is mutually stimulating, entertaining, and interesting – and such trollish comments are anathema to this. I have zero tolerance for such “contributions” because they quickly scare off new or timid readers, who may very well have something interesting and worthwhile to contribute to the conversation.

    Its rare, but I have even had this from personal “friends” on facebook via my more private / personal status post threads. When it first happened I wondered how to deal with it. Now I just delete the offending comment as soon as possible and remove the person’s commenting privileges for an indefinite period of time.