Lulz for trolls

A friend told me that I ought to read this New York Times Magazine article about Internet trolls. It’s seven pages long – “War and Peace” in the ‘net world – but worth the read. An excerpt follows below. Link to the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

 

 

 

Does free speech tend to move toward the truth or away from it? When does it evolve into a better collective understanding? When does it collapse into the Babel of trolling, the pointless and eristic game of talking the other guy into crying “uncle”? Is the effort to control what’s said always a form of censorship, or might certain rules be compatible with our notions of free speech?

 

One promising answer comes from the computer scientist Jon Postel, now known as “god of the Internet” for the influence he exercised over the emerging network. In 1981, he formulated what’s known as Postel’s Law: “Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.” Originally intended to foster “interoperability,” the ability of multiple computer systems to understand one another, Postel’s Law is now recognized as having wider applications. To build a robust global network with no central authority, engineers were encouraged to write code that could “speak” as clearly as possible yet “listen” to the widest possible range of other speakers, including those who do not conform perfectly to the rules of the road. The human equivalent of this robustness is a combination of eloquence and tolerance — the spirit of good conversation. Trolls embody the opposite principle. They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they construe as acceptable behavior from others. You, the troll says, are not worthy of my understanding; I, therefore, will do everything I can to confound you.

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One Response

  1. […] have the audacity to express their views publicly. McCain’s reward for McTrollers, besides the lulz: “After your comments are verified, you will be awarded points through the McCain Online Action […]

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