Gawker v. Uber-Troll: Lessons From “Reddit-pocalypse”

08 Oct Gawker v. Uber-Troll: Lessons From “Reddit-pocalypse”

If you follow the (sometimes revolting) ebb-and-flow of Internet subcultures, you’ve certainly read about Gawker’srecent outing, or “doxxing,” of uber-troll ViolentAcrez’ personal information.  If you don’t stare into the Web’s abyss, the above reads as several lines of nonsense, so I’ll break it down:

  • ViolentAcrez (VA) is the handle of a notorious Internet troll who posted mostly within the confines of Reddit
  • VA’s list of crimes against the Internet include the creation of anti-Semitic, misogynistic and downright terrifying (see: CreepShots) subforums on Reddit
  • Despite the horrific nature of VA’s posting, Reddit’s administrators and moderators clung to the misunderstood notion of “free speech” and refused to remove him or his horrible creations from the site
  • Several Reddit watchers, including Gawker’s Adrian Chen, are disturbed enough by VA’s activity and Reddit’s lack of action to investigate themselves
  • Eventually, Adrian Chen “doxxes” VA, revealing his personal information (or at least his name) to the Internet at large, causing Reddit to go into a frothing, rabid tailspin

And that, dear readers, is where the saga is at today.  But what, if anything, does this have to do with public relations?  In actuality, quite a bit, especially when it revolves around communities.

There is a very fine line between having a free and open conversation within a community and creating an environment ripe for trolling.  While the Reddit/ViolentAcrez situation is extreme, there are several lessons that can be pulled from it:

  • Put Limits on “Conversation” – Heated debate can quickly devolve into name-calling, flaming and worse, with arguments spilling into other mediums (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and becoming quite personal.  As such, communities need moderation and limits when it comes to what can be discussed – spell these rules out at the get-go and enforce them tightly with no exceptions.
  • Accountability – While some lines of thinking feel that anonymous commenting adds to the conversation, my opinion (and most likely your client’s) is that anonymous comments can do more harm than good.  To ensure that a face remains with a comment or post, requiring registration or another identifier to engage in a community discussion should be strongly considered.
  • Use the Hammer – In the event of a trolling outbreak or just an out of control discussion, don’t be afraid to break out the big stick by banning specific users.  Make it very clear what is “bannable” and what is not, and when a user crosses the line, ensure that the repercussions are handed out.

Are you going to experience a VA-like moment on your client’s blog or community?  No.  But now you understand the worst-case scenario and know to address these issues head-on, rather than letting them fester.

John Terrill

John Terrill
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