Anonymous Super Trolls

In this summer of superhero and supervillain movies, today’s New York Times has a chilling article about prowling online trolls and their fluid value system.

A key takeaway is that “almost everyone posts as anonymous” and most trolls refuse to disclose their identity. In fact, as one troll interviewed for the article said: “Ultimately trolling will stop only when its audience stops taking trolls seriously.” So key to identifying trolls, which the NY Times piece concludes, is to break anonymity by establishing reputation around a persona or pseudonym.

A broader answer is persistent pseudonymity, a system of nicknames that stay the same across multiple sites. This could reduce anonymity’s excesses while preserving its benefits for whistle-blowers and overseas dissenters. “People know to be deeply skeptical of what they read on the front of a supermarket tabloid,” says Dan Gillmor, who directs the Center for Citizen Media. “It should be even more so with anonymous comments. They shouldn’t start off with a credibility rating of, say, 0. It should be more like negative 30.”

Offline, your reputation is built across several personae — one for home, one for office, one for blog commenting. You should decide how much of your profile you share online too. What’s more, you should have the option to have your information verified by a third party, so those checking you out will know what’s true. 

Verified, persistent pseudonymity fills the gray area between disclosing everything about yourself and the dark, anonymous places where supertrolls hide.

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