For The Record: We Need to Clean Up The Comments Section

Words by: Ben Raven
Posted: 15/6/18 11:30

The rise and (hopefully) soon fall of the keyboard warrior

We all know about trolls, but what about the Soft Trolls and are you one of them? 

I have a rule. ‘Never engage in the comments section.’ I learned this pretty early on back in the days of newsgroups and message boards and while it seems irresistibly satisfying to take down a troll in the heat of the moment, it more often than not never really amounts to anything other than fueling the fire of spite that burns in their hearts.

A more recent rule of mine is: ‘ignore the comments section altogether’ and I broke it last week while noticing the comments attached to a live stream of Ricardo Villalobos back to back with DJ Sneak at Amnesia’s ‘Pyramid’ opening night. There are certain individuals and groups who are the unfortunate recipients of an exceptional volume of internet hate and Villalobos is one of them.

My favourite repeat offender comment is the “he’s too fucked to play” attack, a consistently repetitive theme whenever online assailants turn their gaze upon him (and one usually deployed when he’s widely agreed to be executing a masterclass by everyone else). It is particularly ironic given that criticism for being under the influence  is usually doled out in the context of a rave, and within the confines of music genre that is often characterised by drug use and hedonism.

Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison must surely count themselves lucky from beyond the grave to have escaped the attention of today’s internet trolls. Few in the scene they were actually engaged in felt the need to roast the legendary hedonists for their performances under the influence but perhaps that would have been very different in today’s climate of prolific online hatred.

Trolls are everywhere in 2018. There’s even a troll running the show in the White House. And some of our most recent biggest political moments, from Brexit to the election of Trump have been pushed over the edge and into existence by armies of bots and trolls.

It is an issue that affects almost every walk of life on the internet. Time Magazine addressed the problem in 2016 with the headline “Why We’re Losing The Internet To the Culture of Hate” in 2016. But in electronic music, trolling is especially prevalent.

Resident Advisor covered the topic in a recent episode of their Exchange podcast series and heard from a variety of DJs as well as trolls themselves.

Perhaps the especially common midweek comedowns of dance music are to blame? Or perhaps it is because it dance music as a culture is characterised by involvement. Everyone is a DJ. A critic, and an expert in electronic music but very few get to earn a living from their passion, which divides the scene into a tiny lucky few who do and everyone else who does not.

Most of the comments left in the Amnesia broadcast seem to have been deleted since the broadcast however there are a sprinkling of comments by what I call Soft Trolls that remain. Sure, these aren’t quite stretching into hate speech territory. But they are heavily loaded with negativity and obtuse criticism and deployed without a convincing argument to back them.

Pointless online whining is perhaps a better description. Usually perpetrated by people who feel the world owes them a soapbox and for me, they are just as much of a problem because although the severity of their comments is not as harsh, the frequency by which they occur is far, far greater.

Soft trolls like to be provocative. They like to buck a trend. When the comments section is mostly gushing praise, they like to be seen to be the counter argument. Their comments fall into the grey area that exists between spirited discussion and abusive trolling. They prefer passive aggressive bullying to the more forceful variety. They are experts on everything. They are expert DJs who know exactly how to work the controls of Amnesia, having never actually stepped in the booth. Or expert producers having never actually released any records. And they’re usually, although not exclusively men. 

Individually, their comments are often passed over by website moderators. But cumulatively they amount to a dumbing down of electronic music discussion points and a tiresome cloud of negativity that contradicts dance music’s core shared traits of empathy and inclusiveness.

Their ceaseless negativity often drives more purposeful commentators from participating in discussions. They are the most deceitful kind of bully, because they are the ones who operate in plain sight by delivering their negativity in a slow, drip feed of lukewarm toxicity that much like a kitchen sink usually escapes the plug filters but eventually clogs the system.  

The advent of Facebook Live and live streams has seen a massive spike in troll comments. And while some sites like Resident Advisor or Boiler Room employ staff to monitor comments sections in real time, many do not.

At Ibiza Voice we do not have a comments section purely because the necessary man power to police them twenty four hours a day, seven days a week is beyond our effective capabilities. And that is a question that should be posed  to other sites, should online forums or comments sections exist if the ability to properly police them does not exist? Do we need to hear everyone's opinions all of the time?

Soft trolls often evade the wrath of moderators but what of the more abusive kind? Most media platforms are beset by the persistent attentions of a small number of repeat offenders responsible for the worst examples of trolling. The issue is particularly a problem for female DJs and artists such as Black Madonna, DJ Night Wave or Laura Jones to name a few have been vocal in interviews about the issue.

Policing is essential. Confronting trolls online often only fuels the fire. Taking away their ability to post is a much more effective way of dealing with repeat offenders and that can only happen if platforms are on top of monitoring discussions.

Some experts in the troll world advocate the identification and public outing of trolls as another way to stem their rise. Psychologists attribute the prevalence of trolls to the online disinhibition effect, in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time, strip away the usual societal conventions that prevent trolls from behaving offensively in the real world.

Drawing trolls out of this disinhibiting space and into plain sight could be a more effective way of dealing with them. Perhaps it is time electronic music websites begin identifying repeat offenders, sharing their identities amongst each other and launching public searches to identify them? The bystander effect has been identified by researchers as one of the key factors that allows online bullying. Perhaps those who know them need to stop bystanding and engage in naming and shaming trolls online.

We all need to share some responsibility in dealing with them. It is essential that more people report online abuse and that websites facilitate this. Resident Advisor made huge strides in combatting trolls by allowing the public to vote up or down comments as well as report abuse and effectively demonstrating that most people do not agree with the behaviour of trolls.

Everyone bears some level of responsibility in the war against trolls, and none more so than the trolls themselves. Many soft trolls don’t see their activity as trolling and often claim their negative contributions are necessary in the spirit of free speech and debate. We need more debate on what trolling actually is, so that our collective understanding improves our individual ability to know when our behaviour steps over into trolling territory.

Research proves that many bullies engage in bully behaviour because they themselves were the victims of bullying. Breaking this chain of bullying is essential. Many troll because they feel they are not listened to enough in the real world. 

A team of computer scientists from Stanford University and Cornell University used machine-learning algorithms to forecast when a person was likely to start trolling and found that trolling is most frequent late at night (and least frequent in the morning). Perhaps as a culture we need to learn the very simple art of sleeping on a late night comment before posting it?  

And at every other step of our communication online, we need to consider before hitting the post button:

Is the world better off because of your comment?
What could be the consequences of it?
Are your motivations for posting a comment for the greater good? Or are you just sounding off because you had a terrible day at work and you still haven’t gotten over some bullying at primary school?

It’s of course easy in the heat of the moment to blast away online like a trigger happy keyboard warrior. Adopting a habit of pausing and reflecting before posting often illuminates the fact that most of our comments online are, if we are being entirely honest with ourselves, unnecessary. Trolls often fail to appreciate that commenting online isn’t just blasting words into a corner of the internet. It is a public address, viewable and searchable by everyone in the world and as such it should be seen as a privilege that should be respected not abused.


At the end of the day, it's all about the music:


Roberto Capuano
Politics Of Dancing
Ralph Lawson