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Ethnographer Whitney Phillips embedded with the trolls of 4chan, observing for years how anonymous members of its subversive “/b/” forum memed, pranked, harassed, and abused, all for the “lolz” — the thrill of doing something shocking.
The result: a book, “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture,” that sheds light on how and why trolls do what they do.
More than pushing the boundaries of taste within themselves — the “/b/” board recently made headlines for a case in which anonymous members allegedly goaded one of their own to cut off his own toe — troll behavior has had an incredibly broad impact on society. Trolling shaped the way social platforms and conversations on public forums take place. It is in no small part due to the spread of troll culture that comments sections, Facebook threads, and Twitter conversations can be minefields to productive conversation; the troll dialect is better equipped for shock and ironic bigotry than for sincerity, and a sincere conversation is just begging to be disrupted, especially when you disagree with your target.
But while wrench-throwing can and has been a very important tool in online discourse, the web has started to outgrow trolls. In 2003 when 4chan was launched, there were under 700 million people on the Internet (predominantly higher income, younger, white, western, male, and native English speakers), compared to 3.2 billion people today from many backgrounds. The incredible diversity of individuals all trying to have conversations on the same platforms has increased demand for civility, understanding, and inclusiveness, even as the conversations can seem more and more cacophonously problematic. And this threatens to make trolling less funny.
Whitney joins us this week to talk about how troll culture has changed over the years, and what platforms can do to temper darker forms of discourse.
Follow Whitney Phillips work
Her book “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture”
Flickr photo courtesy of zzathras777
Music courtesy of _ghost
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This week’s episode produced by Elizabeth Gillis and Daniel Dennis Jones.