Yesterday's post by VC, and the comments by Just Another Richard, highlight something other writers, and now an academmic study, have highlighted. There is another aspect to this, which can be traced back to the tactics embraced by politicians of the extremes to prevent dissent, discussion or questions. The old Soviet leaders used to give speeches lasting four or more hours. They never actually said much when you read the transcripts, about what they intended, but they focussed on all the 'evils' of dissent, of any other system, and repeated themselves over and over again. This is essentially what the internet 'trolls' and 'flamers' do and it is certainly what is happening in a wide range of political debates in the wider media.
It's about winning any argument by any means possible. Ideologically it is about denying any opponent the opportunity of putting across anything which might convince a listener that there might be an alternative point of view. The object of the exercise is to prevent that view from becoming known - so the first aim of the 'troll' is to derail the debate. If possible by pulling the discussion away from the point of discussion. The means to do this is to make the attack as personal as possible. It unbalances the opponent, annoys them and can lead to a response that allows them to distract the audience from the message. To the dedicated 'troll' the facts do not matter, truth does not matter, only their view counts, only their view is valid and they will go to any length to silence the opposition, or to destroy their message.
The internet is the ideal medium for many such individuals, since they can make their extremely unpleasant attacks from behind a cloak of anonymity. Often these ad hominen attacks would be actionable under libel laws and sometimes they even contain threats of violence and even murder. Why can they not be controlled, followed up by police or prosecuted? Put simply, all too often these attacks originate from some often sad individual operating from an internet cafe, or some other equally 'mobile' address making tracing them difficult. Those that do not, often use 'proxy' servers to hide their locations and multiple identities to cloak their real names.
Examples abound, the most prominent example is probably the 'debate' on 'climate change' where anyone who does not toe the Greenpeace/IPCC/Friends of the Earth Party line so ably fronted by the likes of Al Gore, must be 'flamed' and 'trolled' as soon as they dare to express any doubts about some of the claims bandied about. Anthony Watt's, the owner of the blog "Watts Up With That," has even had suggestions from a supporter of Anthropogenic Global Warming, that he engages in questioable moral activities. More recently, he has found himself being deliberately misreported and misrepresented - with a wide range of insulting epithets thrown in for good measure. I have found myself on the receiving end of this sort of attack, though not quite to the same level of vituperation.
Then there is the question of whether or not governments should be able to control, restrict or lock down the internet. I for one would oppose that simply on the grounds that no government can be trusted to do that and certainly no bureaucrat should be trusted to do so even if one could be found who is competent to do it.
To some extent this is emerging on television as well. Watching some 'interviews' and 'discussion panels' has become an exercise in annoyance and - for me - anger management. Some interviewers are so transparently pushing a particular view or ideology that it is disgraceful that we actually have to pay a licence fee to watch it. The tactics are simple; never listen to the answer, interupt as soon as a point counter to yours is being made, accuse the interviewee of untruth or obfuscation, and drag them off into trivia and minutiae so that the message is lost in the noise. The hosility is so obvious in some debates that one wonders why the 'target' even bothers to try to debate. The list of these so-called 'debates' is endless, just look at any 'discussion' on politics, religion, morality. Everything is polarised and the name of the game is to be as rude as possible, as negative as possible about the opposing view, and to back your argument with as little truth or fact as possible.
To my way of thinking the real problem here lies in the loss of courtesy and respect for one another. The more we are told we have to 'respect' this or that minority, the less respect seems to result for anyone. Post modern thinking seems to run along the lines now of 'win at any price' and this means that in everything the biggest bully wins. That is not a healthy society.
We live in an age where access to information has never been easier or as wide. Yet, from the comments one regularly sees on news posts, on FaceBook and in various online forums, many of those who go down the 'troll' and 'flamer' approach are ill-informed and have no wish to be informed. Their philosophy is often best described as "don't confuse me with facts, my mind is made up." As VC said yesterday, the internet is, by and large, a very good thing, but it is also the vehicle for vast amounts of misinformation, propaganda and cyber bullying. Regulation is unlikely to change that, but teaching people to look more carefully at their sources, to be more discerning and to show some respect for others, may. We need to get away from the "deconstructionist" mindset and return to a realisation that 'debate' means giving equal weight to all sides of an argument. I won't hold my breath though, it will require a complete change in social attitudes to strip out the taught 'deconstructionism, moral relativism and win at all costs' form of debate.
In the meantime I will adopt the same approach as other bloggers with a higher profile than mine. I will continue to express my views here and permit those who post to do so as well. We will not 'feed the trolls' by responding to them and any troll or flamer who posts here can expect to not see his/her comment appear.http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/01/18/reader-poll-should-i-sue-the-pants-off-greg-laden/