I think there’s a legitimate argument for removing one category of folks from the gene pool, because they spend the little time they are given on Earth making other folks’ lives miserable. Back when I was playing MMOs, some twisted folks — known as “griefers,” would lie in wait to mug lower level characters and find creative ways to destroy the fun in a game, often eventually killing it.
Then came trolls, folks who drop into forums to attack other members, often driving people away from the forums and killing them. More recently, these folks have gone onto websites that allow comments to attack the authors, so that many sites have had to remove comment sections in order to protect their employees. That reduces engagement and eliminates much of the enjoyment associated with reading online.
One of the most horrible things I’ve ever witnessed in this regard is Gamergate, which started by pitting one of the rare women in tech against a bunch of — you know, I don’t have name bad enough for them — who made her life, and the lives of most anyone who defended her, miserable because she dared to break up with an abusive boyfriend.
Now, there’s Leslie Jones, a comedian, who has suffered brutal public attacks just for being herself. This has gone so far over the line that Homeland Security now is directly involved, suggesting her attackers are viewed as a threat against the State. The hashtag #StandWithLeslie is an aggressive call to action from those of us who are saying “enough.”
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) August 24, 2016
We in technology need to go further to make sure the tools we create to enrich lives aren’t used to destroy them instead. We have the tools to identify people who engage in this type of behavior and not only remove them from social networks and forums, but also prevent them from getting on in the first place.
There is even a strong monetary incentive to do this. Trolls and griefers don’t stop at destroying lives — they kill digital properties too. So getting this right not only could make the difference in how your product is viewed, but also could determine whether it — and your job — survives.
I’ll offer some thoughts on how to end trolls and griefers and then close with my product of the week: a long-underappreciated offering from Amazon, its US$49 Fire tablet.
Analytics to the Rescue
It strikes me that many of the amazing new technologies we develop end up largely being used against us rather than for us. Analytics is such a tool, because in most cases it is used to improve ad targeting in order to get us to buy stuff we often don’t need.
In effect, analytics is incredibly powerful in getting the firm that uses it money. That is understandable, given that it’s an expensive tool, and funding is far easier to come by if you can tie the spend to some increased revenue.
Nuclear power is similar, in a sense. Its first use was to kill, because that is what best justified the research — survival is a huge motivator. However, both analytics and nuclear power offer far more beneficial uses than mining customers’ wallets or killing mass quantities of people.
With analytics, we can analyze the personalities of people based on how they interact online, blacklist them from social media networks and online forums, and remove any chance they’ll work for our companies.
Granted, there is a danger of falsely accusing people. For that reason — and unlike the terrorist no-fly list — people so identified should be notified and given a path to get off the list, particularly those who were wrongly included.
In the long term, successful elimination of trolls and griefers actually could change politics in the developed world, as people with those tendencies increasingly would find it difficult to get the critical mass of support needed to enter a race. Politicians who sank to trollish behavior while running immediately would lose their social media voice to a large extent.
I actually think this would make the current election far less painful to watch. Instead of an ugly choice between two people — neither of whom should be viable candidates — and a debate on which of them would do less damage, we’d be able to pick a qualified candidate based on potential accomplishments.
There are many tools to unfriend, block, or simply not acknowledge folks on social networks. You can think of them as cowards — which most frankly are, in my view — and realize that their lives must be pretty pathetic if what they think of as fun is simply causing others pain.
The old rule is “don’t feed the trolls,” and with all of the publicity, we are feeding them far too much right now and giving far too many of them their 15 minutes of fame. Deny them that, and this problem likely will begin to moderate.
One of the things our industry has gotten behind, and Intel is one of the big promoters, is the Hack Harassment Pledge:Online harassment has become a pervasive and often vicious problem with real-life repercussions. It has significant negative consequences for the well being and safety of individuals and for the success of digital communities. Everyone — regardless of their identity, background, or beliefs — is entitled to an online world where they are treated with respect and are free from harassment.
In order to build a safer, smarter, and more inclusive experience online, I will recognize when harassment is occurring, responsibly speak up against it, and support those experiencing it by
- Abiding by and upholding the same standards and values online that are expected offline and accepting that my online behavior has real-life consequences;
- Valuing and supporting diverse perspectives, backgrounds and opinions;
- Actively participating in the movement to decrease the prevalence and intensity of online harassment.
I’ve taken this pledge, and this column is part of my effort to fulfill it. I’m asking you to take the pledge as well — and if it is within your power, to support people like Leslie Jones and work to make this a better world. We should make it better not only for those we care about, but also for our own self interests as well. You see, the next Leslie Jones could be you or me.
We complain about the lack of women in technology, and yet we don’t make the segment safe for women. However, trollish behavior knows no limits. Anyone of any age, sex, color or religion can be hurt by it. Both children and adults have suffered horrible humiliation, terror and other abuses, and some even have committed suicide as a result of troll attacks.
Take the pledge — and even if you don’t like the person being attacked, stand up for the individual’s rights and stand against attackers.
I’m not advocating violence against those who do this. I’m suggesting that we stand united with those who are attacked and collectively and consistently tell the attackers to stop. If you have power over a social media tool or forum, I’m also suggesting that you set up a mechanism to identify and ban those who misbehave, providing some recourse so that people who are hacked or misclassified can get their privileges back.
At some point, we need to say “enough,” and I’ve more than reached that point. My hope is that you have as well, and that you too will take the pledge and stand with people like Leslie Jones — if only to ensure that you won’t stand alone if the trolls should come for you.
I’m a long time Kindle and Fire tablet user, and I’ve bought nearly every product in Amazon’s e-reader and tablet lineup. There have been only two exceptions: the high-end e-paper product and Amazon’s $49 7-inch Fire tablet.
I passed up the first because I want something I can use for more than reading, so spending a ton on what is basically a reader doesn’t make much sense. I resisted the second because I thought the $49 Fire had to be crap, given the price.
As part of a company project, I had to buy a $49 Fire tablet — and you know what? It actually is surprisingly good. It is good as a reader, it plays movies just fine, the battery life isn’t bad, and it is more portable than most of the other tablets I use. I actually prefer carrying it over either the larger Fire or the Samsung tablets I have — each of which costs between four and 10 times what this little beast costs.
The $49 Fire is arguably sturdier than any of the high-end tablets as well. Granted, things like speakers and gaming performance are hardly high end, but given that you are mostly playing casual games on it, it isn’t bad. You’ll likely be wearing headphones with it most of the time too, so the speaker doesn’t matter much.
If you want a tablet that is hard to break, doesn’t break you if you break it, is great for kids, or just won’t break the bank, Amazon’s $49 Fire tablet is one of the truly amazing, incredible value products in the market — and it’s my product of the week.