Some interesting commentary on the whole trolling thing particularly from Martin Belam and Tom Chivers. Plus some interesting comments including the suggestion that as the Internet is virtual any comments or discussion on it aren’t real and should then be ignored. Which intrigues me. Is this true? Or rather is this still true? Was it ever?
Time was when the Internet was used by relatively few people, when usenet was the norm and people discussed in a purer form of text. My preference was for monochrome. We set up our ids and we chatted and played games (and wrote a play) and we were able, for the most part to distinguish between where our real lives ended and our virtual lives began. There was delineation. There was also some bleed over. There were mono meets in the real world and it was fun. But there was, for the most part an ability to distinguish between the two (mono actually had one of the first online relationships over the Atlantic that ended in a marriage so massive bleed over there). But in those days the number of people who used these systems was relatively small and confined more or less to universities (there were a couple of guys who were traders in Hong Kong who were on there all night our time playing word games).
Nowadays everyone, his dog and his horse is on the internet with Twitter, Facebook, blogs, MySpace (if it still exists, does it?) as a result that bleed over is constant. Most people make no attempt to conceal their real identity. In fact with the advent of businesses being online and the existence of Facebook and LinkedIn there’s a genuine need to not conceal. Furthermore with the existence of paedophile grooming and hacking groups the concealment takes on a sinister tone. So that those of us who have been here for some time and are used to using identities we’ve built up over 20 years begin to look a bit suspicious for hanging on to them (FWIW a few people do know who I am, some have even drunk beer with me in pubs in the real world, I’m pretty sure I helped score someone some coke many years ago).
So what does this mean? It means that there are many n00bs on the web who don’t make the delineation between the real and virtual and thus make that delineation largely worthless.
And what does this mean for online conversation? Is it still purely virtual? Well apparently not. Once you have that many people for whom it’s not purely virtual and it’s totally public we lose the concept of chat rooms. Instead we have chat arenas.
With chat arenas the conversation style has to change. You aren’t sitting in your front room with a few people who know you any more. You’re sitting in a pub, a continual busy Friday night in Wetherspoons. If you wouldn’t say what you’re typing in a busy pub with a few drunk people around who are likely to take violent offence, don’t type it.