2016 was a year of outrage. All over the globe, angry white men (well, mostly) were outraged over something (the EU, refugees, people of colour, feminists, and whatnot), and many took their outrage to the social media. One of the most outraging of them all will soon tweet from the White House. And all over my filterbubble, people are retweeting this outrageous dribble to show the world how outrageous it is, because they are, well, outraged.
Now, some of them are waking up to the fact that, for rather obvious reasons, this is not necessarily a clever idea.
In an Internet galaxy far, far away, a long time ago, before social media or even the invention of the world wide web, people on the Usenet would occasionally engage in “flamewars” – protracted, hostile exchanges of opinion with a very low discourse quality index. Does this sound vaguely familiar?
Traditionally, a flamewar would end with a final insult, followed by the addition of the opponent’s name to a “killfile” (the equivalent of blocking that person). Sending a very large binary file to the other side’s mailbox (then a deadly weapon that could bring down a whole computer system) was optional.
The wiser denizens of the Usenet, however, would spot a provocative statement that was likely to trigger a flamewar and simply ignore it. Instead of picking up the fight, they would try to warn off others who were about to get involved with a mantra that was repeated with Yoda-like patience: “Don’t feed the troll.”
Technology may have changed a bit. The nature and needs of the internet troll are remarkably constant.So: retweet responsibly.