Don’t feed the trolls?

This article, “Anonymous trolls are as pathetic as the anonymous “sources” that contaminate the gutless journalism of the New York Times, BBC, and CNN,” popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. I read it and thought it might make for a good conversation starter over here. This is certainly not the article I would have written about decorum on the WWW. While I am with the author to an extent – yup, people are heinous and rude and hostile when they can hide behind avatars and pseudonyms – I’m not with him wholesale. I think, for one, that he oversells the uniqueness of internet discourse as a particularly vile form of human expression. I’m more of the mind that there’s a continuity between our digital selves and our material selves. What takes place online might be an amplification of the worst of what we are, but it isn’t something that just emerges when we retreat to the safety of a keyboard. People – individually and collectively – are fantastically hateful and racist and cruel to each other in real life. People – individually and collectively – are also fantastically creative and giving and funny and inspiring. This also gets played out online.

I also depart from the author in his his drawing a correlation between two forms of anonymity. Sometimes people remain anonymous to facilitate behaving like total jerkfaces. And then there’s the role of whistleblowers and subversives who, when journalism is done well, crack open powerful stories about the state of the world and begin processes of transformation. 

What do you think? Is there something really different going on online? Or do you think that this is simply an amplification of things that are already at play in the material world? Also, what are your thoughts on the usage of anonymous sources in traditional media? 

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I grew up on a (content) farm.

Image source, thanks!

Ugh. So you remember all those style guides you’ve poured over, and grammar checks, and fact checks, and carefully crafted sentences . . . all pithy, witty, snappy, alluring? Turns out the computers are going to take this one away from us, too. Have you heard of content farms? Not so many cute animals running around these places. No, instead these farms are distinctly early 21st century and are responsible for “SEO driven churnalism” (thanks, The Atlantic for that bit of wry).

Another way of putting it is that content farms are pushing journalism away from “good” and toward “relevance”. What’s so bad about that? Who wouldn’t want to be relevant? Well unfortunately for purveyors of good thoughts and sentences, Google relevancy just has to do with moving up in the ranks, not actually being connected in any meaningful way to quality or the real world. You’re relevant if you’re number one. So the Perez Hiltons, the Wikipedias and About.com’s of the world are eating the craft of journalism alive. Google has promised and apparently tried to crack down on content farms in their secret algorithms, but who knows if it’s really working? I doubt it.

In an SEO driven world, where relevant doesn’t really mean relevant, how do you balance quality work with the need to been seen and get paid?