Friday, August 8, 2008

Cutting down pollution

Trolls are doing their part to destroy civility in cyberspace. Don't think so?

Check out this (somewhat) random sampling of comments from a story about former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' admission today that he had a fling with a campaign operative:

"Edwards probably thinks he won't have to ask for a divorce, though. A funeral is a lot less expense than alimony. Timing is everything," - SmartSexy&Conservative.

"... he schlepped that cancer-ridden wife around to garner sympathy votes, while he was with Rielle breeding a child," - kerry za.

"Well, the marriage goes on until Elizabeth dies of caner," - Malachite Mouser.

These sorts of online lurkers, dubbed "trolls" by bloggers, aren't doing much to elevate the conversation, eh? James Rainey highlights the problem of certain types of Internet feedback in a recent piece for the Los Angeles Times.

Online producers, bloggers and journalists like myself thrive on comments and response to our content. It's a good way to tell if there's an audience out there for your work - it's the reason I try to respond to any and everyone who comments on one of my posts. But there's a double-edged sword that comes with the feedback - anonymous jerks who seek to pollute all civil conversation with "ignorance, profanity, impertinence and racism," Rainey writes.

Just check out any Internet discussion or message board. Really, try one at random. It won't be long before you stumble across abominable, inane and hurtful remarks. As Rainey says, "despite it's power to inform and connect people across cultures - the Internet all too often discourages, or coarsens, a healthy civic discussion."

I have no problem with vigorous debate, healthy argument and an exchange of ideas. But folks like Malachite Mouser prompt me to wonder if such a thing is possible in an online culture that seems to bring out the worst among us.

Even the trolls seem to agree - check out this response to Rainey's feature: "If God hadn't wanted idiots to rant and rave, spewing racist and inflammatory invective, He would not have invented the Internet."

A rare, insightful comment out of the Internet ether.

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