I like to get useful advice, and helpful suggestions for how to learn more about things so that I can understand better and not be wrong. I saw some advice on Twitter about what to do about internet trolls.
If you want to understand why jumping up & down in outrage isn’t the best reponse to internet trolling, you could do worse than learn about old-style Chicago School subcultural theories of deviance. Albert Cohen & Walter Miller, in particular, would be relevant.
In one way that advice is odd, because it comes from someone who has done a lot of “jumping up and down” (which I think means talking or writing) in outrage about “FTBullies” for many months…but then again maybe the best response to internet trolls is radically different from the best response to bullies (FT or otherwise), so that the advice is not odd at all. Or maybe the best response to internet trolls is exactly the same as the best response to bullies – which would be my guess, since I think they’re pretty much the same kind of thing – so the advice is odd in that way but still good advice. Maybe the jumper up and down suddenly remembered about subcultural theories of deviance, and realized the jumping had been a waste of leg muscles.
So anyway – who knows lots about Chicago School subcultural theories of deviance and can fill us in? Of course I consulted Google and Wikipedia, the library being closed today, but I need more.
In criminology, subcultural theory emerged from the work of the Chicago School on gangs and developed through the symbolic interactionism school into a set of theories arguing that certain groups or subcultures in society have values and attitudes that are conducive to crime and violence.
Looks like a tautology to me, but whatever.
The reformed jumper also offered a dark warning about deviance amplification, which is something I had heard of. Wikipedia is more helpful here.
According to Cohen the spiral starts with some “deviant” act. Usually the deviance is criminal, but it can also involve lawful acts considered morally repugnant by a large segment of society. With the new focus on the issue, hidden or borderline examples that would not themselves have been newsworthy are reported, confirming the “pattern”.
Reported cases of such “deviance” are often presented as just “the ones we know about” or the “tip of the iceberg“, an assertion that is nearly impossible to disprove immediately. For a variety of reasons, the less sensational aspects of the spiraling story that would help the public keep a rational perspective (such as statistics showing that the behavior or event is actually less common or less harmful than generally believed) tend to be ignored by the press.
As a result, minor problems begin to look serious and rare events begin to seem common. Members of the public are motivated to keep informed on these events, leading to high readership for the stories, feeding the spiral. The resulting publicity has the potential to increase the deviant behavior by glamorizing it…
Ah yes, I get it – this is the sociologists’ version of “Ignore the trolls.” There’s a problem with that, which is that a particular behavior may be minor in the great scheme of things (and internet trolling certainly fits that bill), but that doesn’t mean it’s minor to the people splashed by it. Most behaviors are “minor” compared to something else. This planet is minor compared to the universe, but it’s not minor to us because we live on it. Also – blogs aren’t the same kind of thing as The New York Times or CNN.
Jason has a related post, on The scope of the problem and the availability heuristic.