The anonymous troll

I just finished writing an article about Twitter’s new attempts to curtail trolling, cyber-bullying and other forms of hateful tweets. Shortly after I posted that story it occurred to me that one of the key elements of trolling or any kind of hateful posting is anonymity.

Years ago, before the Internet, if somebody read something in a magazine or newspaper or heard a radio broadcast or watched a television program that they didn’t like they would have to actually put pen to paper, find an envelope and a stamp then look up the address and actually mail their complaints or opinions or tirades to the publication or broadcaster. While they didn’t have to sign their name or put a return address on the envelope, most people did.

But going through that process discouraged the bulk of people who were simply pissed off by something. It just wasn’t worth the effort.

These days, with social media, anyone can tweet a tirade or slam a celebrity or shout their outrage or promote their hatred with a few keystrokes and a click.

It occurred to me, however, that if every post or tweet included the name and address of the sender how many trolls would be willing to post their inflammatory thoughts? How many people would be willing to admit that they were the one sending ‘I’m going to kill you!’ or ‘You and your daughter should be raped!’ posts?

Anonymity is the key element here. It gives trolls and haters a sense that they are immune to reprisal. Would anyone be stupid enough to promote ISIS terrorism if they knew that their names and addresses and phone numbers would be attached to their posts (or at least available to authorities)?

I think that if someone had a legitimate objection to something (no matter how extreme their reaction might seem) they wouldn’t be afraid to have their real name and information attached to their posted opinions.

It might take a bit of technological innovation, but I think it would be possible to implement an authentication system that would require any person wishing to post tweets (or posts or whatever) would have to provide their full name, address and phone numbers (and that data would have to be verified).

Sure there would be people trying to work around such a system, but judging by the messages I’ve seen sent by trolls I doubt the majority of them would have the technical know-how. If trolls and haters knew they could be tracked down I doubt they would post in the first place.