Trolls aren’t the problem

The discussion boards need exposure, not moderation

By Gideon Shrier

Contributing Writer

gshrier1@umbc.edu

 Useful posts and trolls show up in equal measure – is this cause for heavier moderation?

           Ideally, an online university discussion board would give every reader a glimpse of the heart of the community – the ideas, beliefs and passions that drive the student body. The discussions would be representative of the ideological variety of the campus, allowing each poster to test their ideas in debate or reaffirm them with like-minded students.

Sadly, this is not usually the case with the myUMBC discussion boards. Anyone who has ever used them has learned to recognize the inevitability of lifeless discussions, bitter disputes and trolls — those few, loud voices whose sole purpose seems to be stirring trouble online.

Perhaps the main issue with the discussion boards is that the majority of the student body either doesn’t know about them or chooses not to use them, leading to a very small sample of the population being represented in the posts.

Nick Bazemore, a junior biology major, said “There’s a reason I try to stay away from the discussion board. I can see why people might find it useful, like if they lost their keys or needed help with something, but outside of that I don’t see the point.”

To be sure, there are regular posters who write with great insight, cleverness and compassion. The issue is that they’re vastly outnumbered by disinterested event-promoters, vitriolic ideologues and the gleefully malicious trolls who prey on them. To some, this is a sign that the boards need heavier moderation if discussions are ever going to be stimulating and productive.

Edward Sheu, a computer science major in his junior year, disagrees. He said, “I think the discussions should be more prominently featured on the front page. There could even be a live feed in a sidebar. I think a moderator might be needed for a live feed, but not for the discussion boards, especially as they are now.”

His argument makes sense — the problem with myUMBC isn’t that it operates by inherently flawed principles, but that there simply aren’t enough people talking. By featuring the discussions in a more obvious place on the myUMBC home-page, more students would take note of the ongoing conversations. It stands to reason that if more people saw the discussions, more people would contribute.

Heavy censorship of the boards would be a bad idea, especially in their current state. The trolls might not make the most relevant comments, but they’re one of the few forces catalyzing discourse between students. As it stands, they’re a necessary evil. Were there a larger pool of posters, their influence would be less dramatic, with only the most deviously clever trolls gaining attention.

In short, the structure of the board is fine – they’re mostly self-regulated, with excessively hateful posts getting flagged and hidden. Civility isn’t the main issue. It’s that there aren’t enough people posting to balance out the extremist opinions. The trolls are more silly than cruel, and rarely hurt anyone’s feelings.

The problem isn’t that we are hearing the wrong voices and that those people need to be silenced. It’s that we aren’t hearing enough voices, and that the intellectual richness of this campus isn’t being represented.