Fending Off Online “Trolls” in the Age of Digital Journalism
By Robert Haugh
One of the unfortunate responsibilities of being a journalist in the 21st century is monitoring online content. Walter Cronkite, Howard Cosell, Frances FitzGerald, Fred Friendly, Barbara Walters and Carl Rowan are among the great journalists who never had the daunting task of dealing with online “trolls.”
Trolling has amplified exponentially with digital publishing, exploding to the point that several major reputable publications such as the New York Times and NPR have had to hire full-time staffers to monitor online commenting, or cease comments outright.
Online trolls stifle constructive debate and are counter-conducive to productive dialogue. They fend off sincere comments from users who are afraid of being attacked. This is sad, disheartening and demeaning. I have dealt with this personally, and I refuse to allow trolls to deter my writing and my work.
Some journalists are heckled or harassed by online trolls, who have often become cyber bullies – some have even been sued.
The Mercury News requires commenters to register via social media platforms, such as Facebook, Google, Disqus and Twitter, but trolls can create fake user profiles, and many do.
San Jose Inside (the online sister to Metro Silicon Valley) allows comments via either social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google, WordPress), or by logging in with an email address and name, which can be fake, too.
Here at Santa Clara News Online, we have a few well-known online regulars, who share their candid opinions on almost any topic they can. We have robust and civil discussion. Engagement is excellent.
However, it wasn’t always that way. When we launched this site, we allowed anonymous comments. Some users entered bogus names and email addresses. Since then, we require moderator/editor approval for all comments, which weeds out uncivil, obscene and slanderous comments. This has become all too common, as this article points out.
I’ve heard very sad stories of email harassment to local journalists from trolls. Trolls often target or victimize women and minorities. This is disheartening and disturbing. Sometimes, the same trolls call journalists “racists” or “bigots.”
It’s not good for journalism that so much time is necessary to combat online trolls, but it is an unfortunate aspect of journalism in the 21st century. We encourage our readers to comment. We will not tolerate trolling or cyber bullying on this site.
To my journalism peers, I say stay strong, keep being government watchdogs and maintain thick skin. Today, we are under as much scrutiny and attack as the subjects we write about.. As Joseph Pulitzer said: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.”
Let’s rise together. No troll can stop that.