We Might Be Looking at the Troll Problem Wrong

The act of trolling isn’t necessarily causing the damage, it’s the misogyny and death threats that should be of real concern.



Trolling is a art,” so the saying goes. If one ventures into most comment sections or discussion forums, you’re bound to run into a few so-called artists. New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo is of the opinion that trolls will never go away, but that may not be the case.

Manjoo writes:

The Internet may be losing the war against trolls. At the very least, it isn’t winning. And unless social networks, media sites and governments come up with some innovative way of defeating online troublemakers, the digital world will never be free of their collective sway.

Trolls, in large numbers, can definitely sway opinion or push people from social networks. Zelda Williams and Anita Sarkeesian are prime examples of trolls poisoning the well for other users. This sort of behavior is exactly what most worry about when discussing anonymity online — anonymity potentially gives them more power.

But users and startups are applying various methods in an attempt to cut trolls off at the pass. Anonymous messaging app Yik Yak is fighting cyberbullying. Trolldor is working on a blacklist for Twitter trolls. Popular Science removed comments entirely, as did Sarkeesian, along with the ability to like/dislike a video. Twitter may remove images of the deceased in light of what happened to Zelda Williams.

The troll problem is difficult to deal with. When trying to delete gory images posted by trolls, Jezebel staff described the process as “playing whack-a-mole with a sociopathic Hydra.” But trolling itself may not be the problem. Trolling may just be a symptom of society-wide prejudice.

“It’s not a question of whether or not we’re winning the war on trolling, but whether we’re winning the war on misogyny, or racism, and ableism and all this other stuff,” Whitney Phillips, a lecturer at Humboldt State University, told Manjoo.

Trolling is difficult to eradicate, and while the use of real names, or anonymity tools, or accounts tied to phone numbers may help, it’s possible we’re looking at problem in the wrong way. The act of trolling isn’t necessarily causing the damage. Rather, it’s the misogyny and death threats that should be of real concern. The solution may not lie in reporting tools or blacklists, but in legal action.