Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When nasties are on the prowl ...

The interweb tubes are supposed to facilitate interactions, allow free exchange of ideas, help people to network with and understand each other, make this world a better place. But it's only the normal people who suppose such things; while they are willing to live with some of the side effects such as the online disinhibition effect, they are forced to give up -- or seriously curtail -- their online presence when bad elements get out of control.

Some recent events (Amrita recounts one here) are forcing a few bloggers -- all of them women -- to consider such defensive moves. At least one of them has made her blog private, and another may follow suit. Anindita Sengupta (who contributes to Ultra Violet, a feminist blog) has chosen to keep only some of her posts in the public domain.

We, in India, woke up late to the many charms of Internet communication and as a result are behind on the curve. For example, nothing like the Kathy Sierra incident has happened in the Indian blogosphere. But there are the early signs — aggression in various forms.

Anyway, I was am increasingly uncomfortable about the different kinds of blurring and there is the temptation to yank this page off cyberspace altogether but it’s also an empowering space in many ways. So I decided to impose some sort of control over it, or try to, at any rate.

I opted for a compromise by changing the look and feel, the name, the mood. I kept the posts that talk about the things I like or feel strongly about. I removed the ones about ‘me’. [...]

This sad development poses some questions for us: Can anything be done? What can we do with these nasty people who are polluting the interwebs? What can we do to prevent the nasties from gaining control? I don't know what motivates them, but, to the extent their tantrums (name-calling, threats) are attention-grabbing exercises, I think something can be done.

So, here's my humble request: banish them from your (online) world. Completely. Totally. Don't give them a chance to participate in your blog's comments section. If you don't want to do that, the least you can do is to not link to their posts.

I admit that in the current episode, I don't know who the nasties are. Except for one. Fortunately, I have not had much of an interaction with this person, and nor am I likely to. I promise to do my best to keep this person off my blog.


  1. Anonymous said...

    It's a good idea, Abi, but what I've found is that nine out of ten (that sounds terribly official but i'm just naming a ballpark figure) nasties turn out to be anonymous posters rather than fellow bloggers. I've had a few bloggers come and rant but by far, the crazies tend to be anons. And this is exponentially higher on group blogs and sites. And some of the nasties are very upfront about the fact that their primary problem with someone is their gender.

    PS - thanks for the linkage.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Hey, thanks for the link and the support. One of the reasons I also felt the need to do this is because of nasty comments on UV posts that suddenly made me loathe to make myself so vulnerable to these same people on my own site -- in case they decided to drop by. It's true that all the recent cases have been women. I'm not sure though if this has to do with the fact people wanted to bully women or whether it's because we women are often more personal on our sites, and hence it's easy to pick on us.

    And small issue with the quoted portion -- in my post, the was is scratched out to make a point. Here it's not so it looks like a typo. Can you remove it or scratch it out please? Am a bit OCD like that :).

  3. Anonymous said...

    that should be "was"

  4. Anonymous said...

    It is unfortunate that the people taking their blogs private have been women. But I'm not sure that the nasties target only women. I can think, for example, of Dilip D'Souza's blog "Death ends fun" which gets its fair share of really nasty and anon commenters. I can appreciate how difficult it must be for him to keep his blog open to comments inspite of the virulent and often personal comments he gets there.


  5. Blue said...

    It's hard to decide what to do with haters/trolls. It's like if you choose to react to them at all (banning, arguing, whatever) they win.

    (I ended up pulling my blog for a few days to try and think about whether my hater had any kind of a point amid his vitriol.)

    This isn't much of a comment and offers no new insights, but... thanks for writing about the topic.

  6. Karthik said...

    i think all blogging platforms must ban anonymous comments and associate each user with something like their openIDs.(

    While anonymous commenting has certain advantages, in a free world, there should be no need for anons. Why let someone make a point, if they cannot stand up for it?

    One other thing is that many free blogging platforms today come with very poor control features. Yahoo 360 seemed good wrt controlling who sees what plus tight integration with yahoo mail but I didn't quite like the rest of it. Blogger and wordpress, control is virtually nonexistent.

    Social networking sites are more vulnerable to such gender related targeting. Facebook is turning out to be a privacy nightmare but atleast most social networking sites come with control features though still not mature enough.

  7. Anil P said...

    Search will always ensure they cannot be kept out, if kept away from your blog, they'll rant from theirs ... about you.

    And Google will do the rest!

  8. Abi said...

    Amrita: You are right: nasty anonymous commenters are a totally different menace. Here's an effective way to deal with them: disemvowel their comments!

    Anindita: Oops! That was my mistake, and I have corrected it. Sorry about that.

    n!: Yes, I don't know how Dilip manages to take all those horrible, personal attacks. I would have given up a long time ago. I mentioned women in this post, mainly because the concerted attacks seem to be directed against a few women bloggers.

    Blue: Yes, any reaction seems to be a victory for the trolls. Ignoring them works. What also works (if you know the person behind the nasty comments) is to confront them through e-mail. At least in a couple of cases that I was involved in, the trolls did tone things down. Of course, this will not work if the trolls are anonymous.

    Karthik: OpenID is the right way to go. I just finished a post on this. Anonymous comments are okay, as long as they don't get abusive.

    Anil: Yes, search engines do provide them a readership. But, I just wanted to see what we can do to deter those bloggers whose behavior is motivated by their need for others' attention.

  9. Anonymous said...

    I think Abi has a point here. Just like its easy to be nastier online than in real life, its also easier to ignore nuisances online than in real life.

    Imagine a post that is attracting lot of comments and then one Mr. X comes in with his rubbish and the system goes on just as if nothing happened. I am curious to see how such scenarios play out.

    For active communities there are simple technical solution like thumbs downs. There are ways to game the system but there are ways to game the gamers as well. Limit thumbs downs per IP/bcookie while providing a final say to the blogger. One can go on and on. The truth is that there are relatively simple technical solutions that are worth trying out.

    And why are they not happening ?

    Good question, maybe the problem is not as widespread to attract the attention of the companies. Or maybe something else.

    Ooops..sorry too long a comment. Next time I will just make a post out it and link in.

  10. Sirensongs said...

    Every new electronic technology has its etiquette and its equivalents in the "real" world...and Anon trolls are like hit and run drivers. In my experience Anon is always a coward - someone who wants to lob a bomb onto my porch, not have a mature conversation. A couple of times I lifted the "sign in" bar and was instantly disappointed. So...back to sign-ins for me. At least your post lets me know, I am not the only one....

  11. PK said...

    As it happens in life, People will comment on your every action, and sometimes on something you have not even said or done. Few will talk about it with you but majority will talk behind your back-the Life Blood of all the societies- GOSSIP. Anon comments are like Gossip. Don't bother about them.Why should you allow other's comment to decide your actions?--PK