Free Speech is Now a Brutal War on the Internet

The internet has ruined the business model for journalism. And trolls are ruining the public debate on the open internet. And Facebook is swallowing all of it into its walled gardens.

The Train of Trolls is running wild via Giphy

It’s been an epic summer holiday but now it’s over. Even in France.

And while everybody has been away from the screens, sort of, someone else has been busy. Like they say, when the cat is away mice will play. Or in this case trolls.

We’ve heard of them before but as the world get more and more digital and online more people and companies get a taste of these creatures. Even in the physical world we see more trolling. Globalisation is speeding up and the political divide seems to grow all around the world with the Brexit, war lords around Syria and the Donald in America. Some even say Trump is the greatest troll of all time. We can’t prove it but a good guess is that a cocktail of technology, an unfiltered microphone to everyone and the spread of internet access is part of the reason.

According to Jonathan Zittrain trolls just see the internet as a place to play a game of provocation in order to get a reaction that again can escalate in to another reaction and so on and so on until Godwin’s law dictate that someone throws in a comparison to nazis or Hitler. And that trash talk can even spiral into conflicts and even violence in the real world.

So it’s the year of trolling it seems. As everything is heating up people are increasingly giving up on the culture of commenting on the internet. Time Magazine even say the trolls already ruined the internet. That’s probably a little too steep, but some places are definitely having a hard time dealing with it.

Twitter is probably the most prominent social media that is getting a lot of smoke for not been that social. Celebrities are flocking away from the service because of the so called trolls and Twitter is desperately trying to figure out a way of calming down the public.

But they are not making it easier on themselves when Twitter officials says wishing rape on a woman doesn’t count as harassment.

In the old world there is also some serious scrambling and just like anyone else with a heavy past legacy media are in trouble finding their way. In the age of the two-way-communications medium the internet is the fourth estate is moving away from the old institutions of the very hard defined channels as print and tv over to the wicked liquid ways of the online world. Some media are leaving behind the comments all together and thus leaving public debate to the non edited and non curated social media mekka.

So what used to be an important part of the newspaper industry — being the hub for public opinion and debate — is now left to the unattended public on the very same new media platforms that are eating away the advertising budgets that used to go to old media. Could there be a connection?

Andrew Losowsky who’s in charge of The Coral Project puts it this way:

“Social media platforms control the tools, the relationship, the information and the access — all of the things that newsrooms need to own themselves in order to sustain a meaningful relationship beyond a single tweet or Facebook reply. The unit of measurement is not the comment — it’s the commenter.”

Margarat Sullivan of The Washington Post disagree on abandoning the comments on media sites and leaving it to social media to host the open debates. Everyone seems to hate online reader comments, she writes. Here’s why she’s in favor of them.

Legacy media are by and large scrambling with a lot of things. Venerable The Economist has always been published without author byline in print and claimed that particular feature was essential but as they increasingly get sucked in by social media it now seems almost impossible not to have a verified person to step forward. What will that mean to the trolling — more real people to harass or more real people to take on the anonymous?

The other extreme will then be Facebook where probably most public debate is taking place now. But that comes with a price on free speech or expression it seems as the network just banned a drawing of a hand by Renaissance master Holbein.

The hand is back up again after fans posted more hands in protest. The network then blamed “Human error” of the censorship.

So art is not top of mind for the humans at Facebook. And maybe real people aren’t either as Facebook just fired the team curating the trending topics feature in the ever expanding ecosystem. Now it’s all up to the machines. But that shouldn’t fool you into thinking that Facebook is a technology company. They are not. In fact they are a media company. Only in a very 21st century kind of way, we hear.

By the way. While you were reading this and clicking on the links to read even more we’ve noticed a huge amount of activity on Facebook. Trolls or not take a look.

And trolls are not only a thing of the comments threads. Also in the high production value chain of content we see more of it. Advertisers are increasingly trolling the traditional content producers and publishers with commercial content or native advertising as it’s sometimes called. Well, content can sometimes be a hidden commercial but commercials can sometimes be brilliant content. Content or commercial — Spike Jonze just trolled the music industry with an advertisement better than most music videos.


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