Do not feed the trolls

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There are 50,964 comments on Jason Derulo’s official YouTube video for ‘Don’t Wanna Go Home.’ Here are three:

“Your grammar is quiet atrocious. When you earn 42,000,000 views then you can criticize someone.”

“No he isnt a COPY OF USHER he is Usher’s Son.”

“Lmao, who ever told you that he was Usher’s son, LIED to you…”

Trolling (posting intentionally controversial comments designed to get people to fight with you) and flaming (engaging in online arguments and being nasty to each other), boil down to basically the same thing –being an idiot on the internet, and it is virtually impossible to find a YouTube video that doesn’t have an argument going on in the comment boxes. If they aren’t bickering about religion, they’re getting high and mighty about how they discovered said song/video, and woe betide anyone who corrects someone’s grammar whilst making a mistake themselves, do that and you might as well delete your YouTube account because you’ve just lost the battle… and the game.

So has YouTube become more than just a place to share and watch videos? Is it now a place to vent your anger, the modern equivalent to the therapist’s chair – a safe environment in which we anonymous internet users can get out all our anger in a seemingly consequence-free environment? I am personally not so sure.

Firstly, it is difficult to stand by the claim that trolling/flaming is consequence-free. While YouTube fighting remains petty and largely anonymous, websites such as Facebook, which allow users’ much more personal information to be shared, seem unable to properly control the antagonistic behaviour that occurs between some users.

The trouble with the internet is that the attacker cannot see the person they are attacking, and once the lines of accountability and responsibility are blurred, basic human decency can be compromised. 25-year-old Sean Duffy was recently jailed for writing hateful and disrespectful comments on Facebook pages set up to remember recently deceased teenagers, and stories of teenage suicides prompted by Facebook bullying are becoming all too common.

Secondly, it isn’t clear whether getting involved with flaming, or responding to trolling, leaves the user feeling relieved of tension, or whether the negativity online actually incites anger that would not have otherwise existed. So the question has to be asked, do the fights on YouTube desensitize users to abusing strangers? And as such, are the petty arguments on YouTube becoming a breeding ground for future cyber bullies? Perhaps, but it isn’t clear how sites such as YouTube can prevent comments from becoming so confrontational, without removing the comment section altogether.

Perhaps the problem with the comments on YouTube all boils down to this – we all think that people care about our opinions more than they really do. In the old days if you had an opinion about something, you wrote a letter. BBC programme ‘Points of View’ (boring though it is) is a shining example of the ‘put it in writing’ generation, and at least their opinions aren’t shoved in everybody’s faces, but well written, spell-checked and politely restricted to a fifteen-minute programme once a week.

Nowadays, we are spoilt for choice in ways to express our every musing; Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and now Tumblr are all designed to let us scribble away our most inane of thoughts. And it isn’t just online that our opinions are in constant demand, I can barely watch TV without being offered an opportunity to share my views. ‘Why not tell us what you think?’ the presenters of programmes such as ‘The One Show’, ‘The Million Pound Drop’, and even ‘The News’ grin at us, offering us the chance to tweet, email, or text all of our personal, ill informed opinions. But who cares what Bill from Dorset thinks about ASBOs, or what Sue from Chichester feels about the latest X-Factor episode? I don’t. In the same way that I don’t care what ‘featherduster11’ thinks of Jason Derulo’s dance moves.

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