Positive engagement in the era of trolls



On it’s early years, the Internet and social media in most part, gives a pleasant experience to users. It’s a platform to meet new friends, receive encouragement, harness our creativity, communicate our message and push our brand. Through the years, however, the medium was increasingly being used, albeit intentionally, to heap abuse on a person or the freedom of expression that we enjoy.

  •  An ideal intelligent exchange of insights has been marred by personal insults and bashing.
  • A supposed space to cultivate creativity has become a hunting ground for faultfinders.
  • Shooting the messenger rather than present a fact-based argument has become the convenient way to address a dissenting opinion.
  •  The usual strategic medium to add value to another human being has become a medium to bully and harass another soul.

While organic trolls, those who find pleasure on the misery and misfortune of others have been in existence since the early days of social web. Nowadays, we also have to contend with those who are managed by strategists, either committed to a cause for free or for a fee, to stalk and destroy a person, group, idea or brand.

READ: Internet Trolls: Why they never really went away… at all

Image via jeddstuart on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Image via jeddstuart on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Bias for Freedom of Expression

The Philippines is biased to Americas’ brand of freedom, and its inclination to protect anonymity in social web. The intention, advocates say, is to guarantee free speech.

However, because this anonymity provides escape from accountability, this has encouraged trolling.

Police authorities had since gone public acknowledging it is not easy to identify an anonymous person on the web, this emboldened the trolls to further spread hate and intrude to a person’s private life.

The core value and principle that is meant to protect human rights and freedom, unfortunately, is being abused to trample personal dignity and human rights that it seek to protect, in the name of free expression.

The Challenge

Will this present realities cause us to evaluate our bias towards the liberal definition of freedom of expression, and anonymity?

Given the traction in the online community, below are the common responses to a negative online experience.

  1. Keep silent, out of fear of being cyber lynched.
  2. Ignore the trolls. The negative environment stretched our resilience in the process.
  3. Stand up against negativity by collectively providing patterns of troll behaviors.
  4. Seek help from the legal system, when personal safety and security is threatened.

However, since present laws may not cover all online negative experiences, it can lead to legislation of laws that are traditionally not palatable to Filipinos. Top in mind are the national ID system, registration of pre-paid sim cards, and other laws that will reduce anonymity in self-expression.

Positive Engagement

A one-two punch of short and long intervention can contribute to positive online environment.

On the near term, here’s what we can do to promote positive engagement.

  1. Do not be afraid to express our self. Do not surrender our freedom because of the negativity.
  2. When engaging, do not shoot the messenger but focus on the message.
  3. When engaging, be factual and objective, and less emotional.
  4. When in disagreement, be respectful at all times
  5. Choose your battle, and your opponent. As much as you can, engage those whom your time and creative juices will not be wasted.
  6. Use words that build and encourage, rather than destroy.
  7. Your end in mind, when engaging, should be to add value to the conversation and the readers.

Likewise, webmasters and community managers can also contribute to a positive online engagement, by soliciting the suggestions from members, and formulating a community guideline that will be engaging but troll free environment.

In the long term, while the government can enact laws to address cyber abuses, as an advocate of cyber wellness, I believe we should continue to support cyber wellness education of kids. Teaching young kids about the proactive use of social web and the responsible exercise of our rights and freedom will create a more positive experience on the web in the long term.

  1. It’ll be cool if our educators, thru creative educational interventions, can connect and apply our treasured Filipino values to kids online activities.
  2. Strengthening parents and the academe partnership as a matter of policy will result to strategic collaboration between two stakeholders in raising responsible digital citizens.
  3. It’ll be to the benefit of the kids if the academe will also extend similar cyber wellness education to the nannies and household helpers.
  4. For grown-up kids, involving them on policy formulations and developing community standards can help in influencing them to use social web in a value-adding manner.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the comment section below, on how we can create and keep a positive social web environment.

This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)