I wish the fake news making farm of trolls in whatever eastern European nation was bigger than it is. And I wish it was huge. I wish there was a small state where people reported to the factory, sat at a desk, and wrote mean comments all day. I hope this because it beats the alternative of a real (real large) body of people who are just that horrible to one another.
Mainly I’m talking about Slashdot. I’ve been a reader there for many years, and while there have always been bad actors, it’s never ruined the experience. It seems that the balance of bad actors to good actors has shifted in the past few years though, and the comments section has devolved into:
- APK spamming every article about how good his host file engine is (though I think his account might have been banned)
- Global warming conspiracy theories
- ASCII art of swastikas
- Instant devolution from discussion of the article to the state of US politics (specifically our president)
- “dumb liberals say xyz”/”dumb republicans say zyx”
- APK pretending to not be APK on a second account after his primary account was banned (saw this while I was writing this blog post)
Is It Just Me?
I’m half inclined to conclude this is just me wanting the kids to get off my lawn/buying into “X was better before other people knew about it” (there’s a term for this which is escaping me). But thanks to /.’s handy ‘This Day on Slashdot’ feature, you can read the comments from years past and it does seem like the discourse has gotten less civil, and to a radical extent.
What was once conversation has turned into radical confrontation. Hateful, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, antisemitic viewpoints expressed without hesitation.
Where Are We Headed/Are We There Yet?
Is this a natural evolution of communities? I think Rob Malda weighed in on this and that was sort of his conclusion. I’m not totally sold, and I really don’t want to be. Because if the inevitable conclusion of a community growing is that it by nature gets worse, what does that say about us as a species, or at least as a culture?
Is this mob mentality? Maybe it’s just the law of averages that a bigger community is more likely to have bad actors? If there’s a huge community with mostly lurkers, the few people actively posting comments will incorrectly seem to represent the greater community. This is possible. It is also possible that the few bad actors sow discord, and their brand of toxicity inspires other brands of toxicity.
Hopes and Dreams
I would love it if the shift towards horrible I’ve seen on Slashdot was the product a troll farm. Some group of Russians or whoever else trying to stir up trouble in the west. I would love to believe that John R. Hacker is fundamentally good, and like me does not harbor the hate or incapacity for conversation, rather than confrontation.
I don’t know though, and worry that the militancy I’ve seen online represents a true sample of we the people of the U.S. and the west beyond. Until I figure it out, there’s Ars and HN.