Online trolls; is it anti-democratic to push them off a bridge?

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Interactivity is a welcome by-product of the internet revolution, with a media no longer one-sided, audiences are enabled to take a more active role in news presented to them. Recoiling from the outmoded top-down approach of communication, comment sections are enabled with the intention to engage readers in a meaningful exchange of ideas. Though as history has so kindly demonstrated, giving a voice to unhinged individuals is known to end disastrously.

Upon reading an interesting article in which pediatricians endorse gay marriage, I endeavoured to leave a well-thought out comment detailing the social and political reasons for which I agreed with the view presented. But an onslaught of abusive comments, echoing Alcuin’s “madness of the crowds” theories, changed the swing of things. As with any human being in possession of a sound mind and a soul, distasteful homophobic remarks tend to strike a chord with me. I replied to a comment, and a wildly infuriating virtual battle ensued with two individuals, (one with the screen name of SaggingBellyFat, a sure indication of the level of intellect we are dealing with) that saw me on the receiving end of some conservative American Christian propaganda, where I was accused of being enslaved as ‘Satan’s puppet’. Of course, assuming the only tactic appropriate when arguing with imbeciles, I made personal attacks straight back. Entertaining, yes, but constructive? Probably not.

Trolling is a side-effect of online democracy so prevalent, that WordPress has published a guide on how to extinguish them. Though by blocking comments, two seemingly equal values are conflicted; democracy and general human decency. Though the reasons upon which I would suggest that such comments remain unfiltered is mostly for that of archive; in the same way we chronicle publications across time, we are now presented with an even wider insight into public debate. In the wise words of Nick Couldry, we all  ‘have the capacity to give an account…that is reflexive, continuous and an ongoing embodied process of reflection.’ For as sad and gruesome as some remarks can be, they are indeed a reflection of humanity today. What does need to be moderated, however, are levels of accountability. Its basic sociology that anonymity breeds hatred. How easy it is, to assume the wildest of personas when in disguise. Publicize your heinous derogatory beliefs, by all means, but do leave your full name and contact email and declare full liability of any repercussions. Also so that in generations to come, everybody knows who they are laughing at.

The point here to remember is that as terrible as a voice may be, they are still a voice, and a part of our world today. Other peoples views are interesting, and providing a platform for all to be heard is crucial for a multifaceted autonomous society. Cowards with pseudo screen names or those masquerading under anonymous, however, should not be a part of the debate.

(SaggingBellyFat, I am looking at you)

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