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Elves and internet trolls

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Bloody humans. This is why you can’t have anything nice.

In a comic called ElfQuest from the 70s and 80s, a race of elves arrive on a planet populated by primitive humans. Confronted by interesting, magical strangers, the humans’ first reaction is to kill. I’ve been reminded of this by a recent incident.

If you haven’t already read about it, it’s here. But in summary, a woman was subjected, on twitter, to rape threats for talking about Jane Austen. There was then a backlash on twitter about these internet “trolls” (plus lots of side discussions of the definition of trolls, because the internet likes categorization discussions). What should we, as an online community, as a society, do about the situation? There’s a general consensus that rape threats are a bad thing. But what should we do about it? Some want twitter to act. Some say it’s the police’s job.

I say… god, I don’t know. But I don’t think we can act on this just on twitter, though you can certainly use the site of the problem to look for solutions. Twitter can be bad and good, like any medium humans use.

We are clumsy, angry apes, and with tools in our hands we can be even clumsier, angrier and more dangerous. Twitter can be used for amazing things, but it can also immediately disseminate the worst aspects of humanity, behind a barrier of anonymity. However, I don’t think we can say “twitter shouldn’t be anonymous” – because that would shut out whistleblowers and people in oppressive countries.

There are some v interesting discussions of this below the Graun article I linked to above. At least when I read it, it had enough good, thought provoking comments to cancel out the awful ones.

I think that any solution would have to be heavily moderated. You can’t automate this stuff. I also don’t want to end up in a situation where an influential tweeter could get everyone to leap on someone who ticks them off, getting them banned.

But I also don’t think doing nothing is an option. I wish I had a solution. I suspect “change society’s attitudes to women” is probably the long term solution. At the moment I just have a lot of questions, and a strong desire to re-read ElfQuest.


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