25 October 2006

The Trollish Online Community

Unless you have been living in a time capsule (or in Tekong) for the past week, you should've been aware of the ugly saga unravelling around Wee Shu Min. Her stinging reply, together with the apology of her MP father, has smashed open a sluice gate of criticism that ranges from chiding to outright insulting. Even Technorati, at the current moment, has "Wee Shu Min" crowning the top search.

I'm not going to comment on my opinions, since they're largely similar to other bloggers' like Kitana's. What I'm more concerned with is the insults, down to the personal level, of many blog entries and comments, as well as the Sammyboy forum where it all began. The criticism of her physical appearances... nasty words that has no relevance to her reply... in essence, the trollish behaviour of a significant group of the online community, is as disturbing to me as Wee Shu Min's original reply.

Previously I have always thought that when one resorts to insults, it means that he/she has lost the argument on the level of reasoning. This is exactly the character of a sore loser, refusing to step down when he/she has clearly been defeated. But given other blog entries with more rationality, I doubt this applies to the trollish conduct of these people.

Another situation whereby insults will be hurled is when an highly emotional incident is freshly out of the oven, where many people are still hot-headed and beyond the point of reasoning. But this incident has been out for quite a while. Insults are still ongoing, from what I observe, though it is now at a lesser intensity, but I wonder if it is the case of people gaining control of their head or just that the news is getting old. But the bottomline is, insults are still flying all over.

Thinking about it, I have arrived at the conclusion that this is perhaps the nature of the Internet: free and anonymous. Lack of the need for accountability or reply. That is when people find and do thrill in dishing out such insults. Or perhaps satisfaction. Or perhaps it is just some revenge for her strong words to the working class, or a vendetta against someone associated with the government.

Yet, this does not justify their actions. Such personal criticisms are uncalled for. They do not advance anything; in fact they widen the rift between the two sides. And it is sad that many of the online community subscribe to this behaviour. Yes, I know such comments deserve to be ignored, just as I've told myself many times, but the fact that they exist tells something.


Aaron said...

Indeed, such is the nature of the Internet. However, such will be the nature of a true democracy as well, just that it won't be pseudonyms or nicks, but rather real faces.

If you might have noticed from your own reactions, such distasteful comments turned you off. People have an inherent capability to distinguish the good from the bad. Those who make nonsensical remarks will not be taken seriously.

That's why I believe in democracy over censorship and control. Democracy is a self-correcting mechanism, and by letting people say their piece and allowing other people to shoot it down instead of the government, there's nothing much to complain about, no?

gelhead said...

hey jackson, i read your comment on my blog..i'll reply soon when work eases off..=) hope everything's going well!

Pandemonium said...


Democracy is of course the best; I'm quite in full support of the freedom of expression. It is just the childish, immature behaviour of certain portion of the community, making use of this freedom to make disrespectful insults, that irks me. (After all, no matter how terrible a person is, he/she deserves the basic respect a human is entitled to.)

The anonymity of the Internet has exacerbated the intensity of such insults, but fortunately, as you've said, in real life (as opposed to online) democracry, it is possible to link one's words to one's face, which should act as a deterrence to some.

Naturally, I don't take such comments seriously. Yet somehow it has, subtly, affected me. I suppose I have to work on my screening ability then.


Haha... take your time. You don't have to reply if you don't want to. Typing that out helped me consolidate my thoughts at the same time. Anyway, in case you are not aware, you can find my personal blog in the links at the sidebar.

Cheers, and good luck on your work!

warhammer said...

Democracy always sounds like such a great thing, but in giving everyone their chance to speak their piece, what if so much nonsense is thrown up that the important issues are obscured?

Democracy and control are not mutually exclusive ya? Just as we don't seriously consider the view of 5 year olds on how to run the country, maybe some people just shouldn't be allowed to waste the time of everybody else?

Pandemonium said...

I believe an important issue or a highly valid argument will be able to surface from the sea of crappiness. Perhaps it is a little like natural selection; good arguments/issues will be echoed by others, and therefore receive more attention. This is the case of the Web right now. Blog entries and comments that reek of nonsense usually ignored by others, while excellent entries get linked by others with high readership (like Mr Wang and The Intelligent Singaporean) and broadcasted over the Web.

Censorship may help screen out rubbish, but it can also, accidentally or intentionally, block out valid and reasonable arguments. Right now, the blogosphere has displayed some capacity in self-regulation. Considering real life democracy (as I've mentioned in an earlier comment) where one's face is attached to one's words, it should act as somewhat a greater self-censorship against troll comments.

Anonymous said...

An argument does not have to be rational to be effective. For example, Rockson Tan hardly relies on the appeal to logic - he relies more on pathos arguably.

His points are not really rigourous. In fact, he uses a lot of swears and insults. But he's popular, and it's effective. We know exactly what he is talking about and rigour is not needed.

I'm tired of people who say, "I don't condone, but ..." Free speech is all about especially when you especially are disgusted with what a person says, but you stand up for her right to say it.

People were angry at her. People expressed their emotion through insult. An expression needs not logic to be valid. Otherwise, why write poetry?

Pandemonium said...

I don't mind an argument being not completely rational. I don't mind an argument that's expounded using emotive tones. What I'm more disgusted by is the completely irrelevant and pointless insults, those that heartlessly criticise her looks and character, or essentially, mudslinging.

But as I've said, I think all these comes in the package called "freedom of expression", and since I believe in that, I will have to accept these insults as well. It's just that I need to work on my ability to ignore them.