Feb 142012

This morning I caught an item about how so-called “Internet Trolls” are forcing some famous people to close down their Twitter accounts because of offensive posts in reply to anything they post. Before getting to the main point of this post, lets get one thing cleared up to begin with.

Trolls on the Internet aren’t those who post offensive messages. Sure they’re irritating, but they are disruptive more than offensive. That’s not to say that trolls cannot also be offensive, but most are not.

This is yet another example of the media getting some clueless reporter to write up a story about “new technology” (it ain’t new any more) without checking their basic facts with someone who has half a clue – even checking with Wikipedia would quickly tell someone what the definition of an Internet Troll was (hint that funny coloured word at the beginning of the second paragraph takes you to the definition).

Us old-timers call those who use offensive language inappropriately “offensive little gits” which probably is not cute and cuddly enough for the media to like. Perhaps we should call them goblins (it’s all in the wrong order, but Gits, Offensive, B(onus), Little, INternet, S(omething)) just to keep the media happy.

Now onto the main point … this story was quite right about the fact there is a problem with people being deliberately offensive on the Internet, and it is not restricted to just famous people. There are plenty of examples of ordinary people facing all sort of offensive messages (I was going to dig up an example I know of, but it’s buried too deep).

Now us old timers remember a simpler age where people posting offensive messages would be dealt with quite simply. First the offended person would complain to the organisation (often a University) “hosting” the network address used by the offensive person. Next, the person at that organisation in charge of such things would find the relevant user, and apply the clue stick as hard and as often as seemed appropriate.

Up to and including throwing goblins off the Internet. Of course we also kept an eye out for vexatious complaints – there are some people who will complain about the most ridiculous things.

This was mostly lost when the ISPs started dominating the provisioning of the Internet to most people (although it survives in a few dusty old corners) because it “costs too much” for the ISPs to police their users. But there is no reason why it couldn’t be brought back.

And with careful management it should work quite well – of course some care would have to be taken as regards political activists posting on the Internet. The aim here is not to censure genuine political criticism or discussion, but to apply the clue stick as hard and as often as necessary to the Internet goblins.

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