Internet ethics, racism and digital society

The 4chan/Dylan Roof reading and doxxing Medium piece illustrated, for me, a profound framework for trolling. It’s fair to say that the vast majority of people publicly denounce trolling and hateful internet speech, however many people (myself included) think of it as inevitable. Another camp of people might also dislike it but protect it under concepts of freedom of speech. What was clarifying about those readings, however, is that by claiming this speech for what it is (and instituting the social ramifications we’d expect “in real life”) we might be able bring trolling into a different space.

Through these responses I’ve returned to the idea that with the advent of Web 2.0 and the integration of social media into our lives the line between “real-life” and “online” begins to be re-conceptualized. In the instance of digital trolling, if one makes an analogy to “real-life” harassment, it seems theoretically possible to police just as we do offline, at least conceptually. The issue, of course, is the anonymity or the legal difficulty of associating a digital Tumblr account to an actual and specific person.

Without having any solid answers, I’d wager in ten to twenty years trolling will be under very different regulatory controls (socially, legally) than today. Whether that takes the form of governmental associations between someone’s social security number and their online life (however improbable that feels now) or something else entirely is unclear. However, it seems evident to me that as these “worlds” meld together, as a societally, we’ll find a way to police it.

This short piece is written in response to assigned reading for a Tufts University class, EXP50: Social Media taught by Jesse Littlewood and Ben Rubenstein.