Trolling is Wrong
Debate Rounds (4)
1. Troll - a person who deliberately uses harassing or insulting language or who uses inflammatory language with no other purpose but to sew derision and to upset people. It is "e-defamation" or internet defacement.
2. Ought - indicates ethical permissibility/desirability
3. Permissible - allowed under the rules
I will affirm the topic, WrichcirW will negate. First round is only for acceptance, definitions, and rules. Should Wrichcirw wish to change the definitions, he may challenge them in this round.
As agreed, this will be a NO VOTING debate. As such, we will tie this debate, and we ask no one cast a vote on this debate. However, if you would like to provide feedback, please post in comments.
In round two, we will offer our own cases; in round three, we will offer rebuttals; in round four we will summarize our arguments in a closing statement. I thank WrichcirW in advance for what promises to be a fascinating debate.
I thank bsh1 for instigating this friendly debate.
I am personally somewhat ambivalent about trolling. On the one hand, I think hateful, insulting and non-constructive speech should be limited...on the other hand, I think such restrictions may inadvertently limit the range of valid argumentation.
I agree to bsh1's definitions, although I will caveat that trolling in general is not limited to the definition proffered in this debate. Regardless, I will agree to it, as it was the definition utilized in a different debate that served as the impetus for this debate.
Observation: The resolution is not DDO-specific. Thus, we're talking about trolling as it occurs in a broader range of internet forums, including sites like DDO.
Contention One: Trolls tend to target vulnerable users and sites.
Trolls can cause a "loss of trust...in a discussion group disrupted by trolling. The seriousness of this effect is dependent upon the nature of the group. Groups that deal with emotionally charged and sensitive topics...are more at risk than lighthearted ones. Some participants opt not to post to groups following incidents of loss of trust. In this regard, vulnerable and inexperienced computer-mediated communication (CMC) participants not only are more likely to be targeted by trolling, but also may be more adversely affected by it. New users tend disproportionately to be women, the young, and other nontraditional computer users." 
Contention Two: Trolling has negative psychological impacts, especially when it becomes a form of cyber abuse.
Trolls "typically hide behind the mask of anonymity that the Internet provides by using fictitious screen names. Because abusers may lack face-to-face contact with the individuals being persecuted, they may not know the level of duress that is produced by their misconduct. Therefore, they are unlikely to experience feelings of regret, sympathy, or compassion toward the victim. Harmful messages intended to undermine the reputation of a victim can be far more damaging than face-to-face altercations. Instead of remaining a private matter or event known by only a small group, text or photographs can be communicated to a large audience in a short time." 
Contention Three: Trolling can have impacts outside of online forums where it occurs.
In one example, a troll's abusive remarks "generated in excess of 3,500 responses (an average of 1 response every 160 minutes for a whole year) and the greatest coup of all was when an innocent american [sic] student lost not only her internet account but was also expelled from high school for abuse of the computer systems. Somehow she had managed to get the blame for causing the troll."  While this is only one instance of trolling's outside repercussions, the source I cite also explains how when sites are trolled upon, users can feel bombarded, and be left without a "safe space" to vent their feelings.
Contention Four: There are real examples of disruptive trolling on the internet, including several on DDO.
Besides Anonymouse, whose posts were generally agreed to constitute trolling, there was also izbo. I was not here for that, but I have seen references to him, and I looked it up. His actions seemed to not only cause distress among many members, but they also caused several members of the site to deactivate there accounts in order to shield themselves from his attacks. While some level of freedom of speech ought to be permitted, a line has to be drawn somewhere. No one should have so much free speech that they can harass, bully, and intimidate someone with impunity. As one of my sources writes, "the asynchronous, distributed nature of online discussion forums allows those motivated to disrupt discussions to have far-reaching effects. These practices, while clearly problematic, are nonetheless widespread and often tolerated, due in part to the pervasiveness on the Internet of civil libertarian values that consider abusive speech a manifestation of individual freedom of expression."  More examples of trolling can be found in my third source.
Contention Five: Other harms of trolling.
"Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling " where the rate of deception is high " many honestly na"ve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one's online reputation."  Additionally, "effects included the disruption of discussion and waste of bandwidth for a year." 
Conclusion: Based on the foregoing analysis, I would posit that trolling is unethical under either a utilitarian or deontological calculus. It is therefore best that it be impermissible. With that, I affirm the topic and await Con's responses.
1 - http://www.tandfonline.com...
2 - http://www.tandfonline.com...
3 - http://en.wikipedia.org...(Internet)
I thank PRO for proffering a substantive argument. Again, I am ambivalent about trolling; I will nonetheless argue CON to the best of my capacity.
PRO has five contentions, which I will label [C1-C5]. I will deconstruct these in order.
[C1] - Trolls tend to target vulnerable users and sites.
I will bluntly ask what makes this "wrong"? What ethical dilemma or issue of undesirability makes this point "impermissible"?
PRO main contention here is the loss of trust as a consequence of trolling, but if these groups were truly vulnerable already, then more than likely that trust was never there to begin with. Thus, the troll is not "adding" an undesirable element...rather the troll is asserting the status quo upon the situation. To make the status quo "impermissible" is absurd.
A proper trust-building exercise would be to move such forums OUT of the internet entirely, because face-to-face contact is one of the best ways to build trust among participants. That the forum is on the internet already creates structural deficiencies unconducive to building trust.
Once this face-to-face trust is established and the participants are known, then for ease of communication, further contact can be established on the internet. But, to conduct communication online as a first step is inviting trouble wholly irrelevant to trolling, especially if the group is considered vulnerable in some way or another. Trust in such a vulnerable group can easily be broken without the troll even being there...it would be like conducting open-heart surgery in your friend's garage.
The problem here lies in deficiencies with how the gathering was organized in the first place, and not whether or not a troll "targets" such groups.
[C2] - Trolling has negative psychological impacts, especially when it becomes a form of cyber abuse.
PRO begins by stating that "Trolls "typically hide behind the mask of anonymity that the Internet provides by using fictitious screen names," but let's face it...nearly EVERYONE uses fictitious screen names on the internet. Such a fictitious "avatar" is appropriate because online interaction is NOT face-to-face; because outside of this one avatar, we are indeed for all intents and purposes anonymous on the internet. There is no "mask" here...this is a structural characteristic of all internet communication.
PRO also mentions that ""...text or photographs can be communicated to a large audience in a short time."" IMHO this would be akin to someone going to complete strangers and flashing them their driver's license, SSN, and credit card numbers. Why would you do this? Sure, it leads to more intimacy, but shouldn't one be careful in choosing who one trusts? Why would you trust people who for all intents and purposes are virtually anonymous?
The internet is not a venue that lends to the same level of interaction and "warming-up" to people compared to face-to-face communication. The user should be aware of this in order to avoid abuse. An example of this awareness would be if a female walks home from a bar inebriated. Does she walk through dark alleys with a history of zero police protection, or does she call a friend to come pick her up? I would say that the female would show prudence in choosing the latter; such prudence would avoid compromising situations, an online version of such a compromising situation being the unauthorized sharing of personal information, i.e. "text or photographs".
I will also note that trolling is NOT the same as "cyber-abuse", which I would imagine is actual criminal conduct on the internet. Trolling as defined in round #1 is merely "deliberately uses harassing or insulting language or...inflammatory language with no other purpose but to sew derision and to upset people..." i.e., it is neither criminal nor innately harmful. PRO has veered from the resolution by talking about abusive situations involving compromise of sensitive information.
[C3] - Trolling can have impacts outside of online forums where it occurs.
I do not have access to the article from which PRO has cited for this point unless I want to pay $37 for access, therefore I cannot ascertain the validity of the point. I do not know the nature of this "abusive remark", nor can I ascertain the circumstances that led to the expulsion of the student. I don't even know if the incident in question actually involved PRO's definition of trolling.
Regardless, common advice is that the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it. I ignore about 99% of badger's comments on this website, and I consider myself to be the better for it. I do my best to identify and ignore trolls the moment I get wind of the presence of one, and may even publicly notify others in the forum of the troll. By ignoring the troll, most if not all of the alleged negative side effects are neutralized before they even become a problem.
Many times, a troll's insulting behavior becomes comical, and may actually create positive externalities, as long as one is aware of the troll. IMHO badger is an excellent case of such a troll (no offense intended).
[C4] - There are real examples of disruptive trolling on the internet, including several on DDO.
Exactly what constitutes a "disruption"? Could the disruption itself actually be constructive? The debates on this website are all about creative destruction, about two sides with diametrically opposing views demolishing the arguments on the other side until, after the smoke clears, we are left with (hopefully) a clear victor. Debates such as these are the definition of "disruption" as they fully aim to "disrupt" the opposing viewpoint in the goal of annihilating the validity of that viewpoint. This "disruption" is viewed as constructive and positive activity.
If someone takes an antagonistic viewpoint for the point of disrupting the integrity of a commonly held notion (for example, disputing that "marriage is between a man and a woman"), should such a person be labeled a troll and hence "undesirable" or "impermissible"? I challenge PRO to give a satisfactory answer to such a situation.
[C5] - Other harms of trolling.
PRO: "A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community."
I will simply ask, what good is the community if it cannot discern what advice is bad? Wouldn't the troll actually be doing such a community a service by repeatedly advocating a devil's advocate stance in the aim of "disruption"? If this "disruption" was successful, would it not point to a structural vulnerability in the arguments or what not of the community? Wouldn't this be the first step in problem-solving -- identifying the problem, which the troll has laid bare for the community?
PRO: "...many honestly na"ve [sic] questions may be quickly rejected as trollings..."
Honestly naive questions will be rejected anyway as, well, naive. This occurs all the time, with varying levels of hostility dependent upon the disposition of the respondent. This point is irrelevant to trolling.
PRO: ""...effects included the disruption of discussion and waste of bandwidth for a year.""
I have no idea to what PRO is referring to here.
The matter at hand is whether or not trolling ought to be permissible. PRO confuses the matter at hand by injecting clearly impermissible situations that are irrelevant to trolling, and then hoping through guilt-by-association to incriminate trolls in the process. Given the round #1 definition of a troll, "a person who deliberately uses harassing or insulting language or who uses inflammatory language with no other purpose but to sew derision and to upset people," there is no relevant link between illegal, harmful, or abusive activity and trolling.
I await PRO's response.
C1: I have three responses to Con here. I'll give each in turn.
(1) Con queries why targeting the vulnerable is wrong. Philosopher Martha Fineman argues in her voluminous and varied works that the vulnerable occupy a special moral position in society. That because they are more susceptible to harm, we must be ever more cautious about how we treat them. To do otherwise would be to immorally expose them to harms that the non-vulnerable person would be able to cope with. In this sense, targeting the vulnerable is wrong because it is making the weak weaker--its sadistic.
(2) Con suggests that trust in vulnerable forums was lacking to begin with. The point of the argument is that trolls not only destroy the trust that does exist (however minimal), but it also crucially prevents trust from forming, and thus impedes communication altogether.
(3) Con proposes a plan regarding face-to-face contact. This may be desirable, but is, of course, not always feasible. Con, on the basis of his incomplete analysis, then claims that the problem lies in the means of communication, but not the trolls themselves or who they target. This is wrong. People should not be forced to change the way they communicate by cruel comments--those cruel comments shouldn't have been made to begin with. Regardless of the means of communication, that does not excuse the trolling behavior.
Notice also, that Con never rejects the notion that trolls target the vulnerable; Con just tries to downplay that fact.
C2: Con makes two unique attacks which I shall address.
(1) Anonymity - the point of this argument was not who uses screen names, but rather the fact that screen names empower would-be trollers because they feel as if they can sew havoc with impunity. Yet, this was not even the crux of my argument--it's more an ancillary point. The main argument I was attempting to convey was that trolls " are unlikely to experience feelings of regret, sympathy, or compassion toward the victim. Harmful messages intended to undermine the reputation of a victim can be far more damaging than face-to-face altercations." This was never directly addressed by Con.
(2) Con is misconstruing my source here. By "text" the author is not just referring to statements made by the victim which are circulated in a humiliating fashion, but also statements made by the troll which are intended to defame the victim. For example, in the case of Anonymouse, he would call users fascists and shills. Had he done this in person, his remarks would only be heard by a few people, but on the internet, his slurs can be broadcast to literally dozens of users. The more people on a forum, and the more damaging/vitriolic the insult, the worse damage done to the victim is.
Also, consider that if trolls are targeting the most vulnerable groups, that they are inflicting pain on those least able to bear it, heightening the risk for psychological damage. It also seems logical, that people shouldn't have to be prudent, trolls should just stop. If an inebriated woman walks down a dark alley and is raped, the fact that she made a foolish choice does not exonerate the rapist. The same applies to the troll.
Finally, by cyber-abuse, I am referring to "harassing or insulting language...e-defamation." Someone who calls people sluts or spreads rumors about them is defaming them and harassing them.
C3: I am sorry about the sources. I could access it fine. I searched for it through google scholar if that is any help. If the problem persists, I'll try and find some way around it. Search for trolling, and it should be one of the first results. Also, what do you mean by IMHO.
C4: Con focuses on the word "disruptive." That is hardly very key to my argument. It was a rhetorical flourish to emphasized the inappropriateness of trolling. Trolling--disruptive or not--is unethical. Finally, antagonism on its own is fine--it's free expression. It only crosses the line when it becomes defamatory, insulting, or cruel.
C5: Everyone can be deceived--that does not excuse the deceiver. Everyone falls for a lie or bad advice at some point, and the impacts of that can be mild, or they can be severe. This is different from being the devil's advocate--it is one thing to lie and sling about insults, and to argue the Con, as you are doing here.
As for na"ve questions, the point here is that the questioner could be labeled as a troll and be stuck with that label. This could ruin their online reputation. The na"ve can learn, and most people will give the na"ve some slack. Trolls aren't granted that same sort of slack--they are more widely disliked as my sources indicate.
Basically, that last point argues that trolling wastes much of the processing energy exhausted by the site and the computers participating in the forum. This is more of an ancillary point to my other arguments.
Deontology - trolling is wrong because it violates the rights of others not to be defamed.
Utilitarianism - trolling inflicts harms on individuals
Conclusion: Con, throughout his rebuttal, tries to redirect the blame from the troll to the online community. From his intoxicated women example and his face-to-face plan, to his arguments about recognizing bad advice and acting prudently, he attempts to say that it is the community's fault that they fall prey to a troll. This is a ridiculous accusation. The blame for the wrong doing should not be placed on the victim. Being drunk does not absolve the rapist who takes advantage of you. Being na"ve and scammed by a conman does not exonerate the swindler. Being vulnerable and trolled upon, does not excuse the troll. The trolls acts are still unethical, regardless of the community's situation.
Thus, trolling is categorically wrong. I look forward to Con's round three arguments.
IN1) I will first address PRO's conclusion, as I do believe it gets to the heart of this disagreement.
PRO believes that I am attempting to "redirect the blame from the troll to the online community." In order to believe this statement, one must already assume that "trolling is wrong" and that there must be blame to assign. In this sense, PRO's arguments assume the argument, making his assertions nothing but redundant tautologies that do not explain WHY trolling is inherently wrong. He is essentially stating that "what is wrong is wrong" without attempting to figure out what makes it wrong in the first place, which is the point of this debate.
I bluntly asked in my opening of the prior round "what makes this "wrong"? What ethical dilemma or issue of undesirability makes [trolling] "impermissible"?" PRO has not answered this question - instead, he has brought numerous examples of the consequences of "wrong" behavior, without demonstrating how any of this behavior is relevant to trolling specifically.
Instead, I will answer the question - the answer is "There is nothing inherently wrong with trolling", and I will explain presently in [IN2].
IN2) PRO's definition of trolling is extremely general with all kinds of loopholes present - it is easily possible to find cases where "trolling is not wrong".
1. Troll - a person who deliberately uses harassing or insulting language or who uses inflammatory language with no other purpose but to sew derision and to upset people. It is "e-defamation" or internet defacement.
For example, "a person who deliberately uses...inflammatory language with no other purpose but to sew derision and to upset people" may be doing these people a great favor. If someone was looking to commit a crime (let's say a crime of passion, maybe beating up his wife's brother over an insult) and motivating himself and some buddies to do it, and a troll comes in to deliberately upset this potential criminal (let's say describing the mess of a corpse the victim would have become) thereby defusing his motivation, wouldn't this troll be doing all of society, this potential criminal, and especially the potential victim, a huge favor? This is clearly "trolling" per PRO's definition, and clearly "not wrong". The resolution is thus simply negated.
Trolling is amoral - there are moral cases of trolling, and immoral cases of trolling. That does not make trolling "wrong" because in some situations, trolling may well be "right".
I will readily concede that such cases are rare, but in the end, this debate is not about propensities and general tendencies, but PRO's stance of a firm, unequivocal moral assertion that trolling is wrong, period. I assert that PRO's stance is simply unreasonable.
IN3) I will also state that I do believe PRO has burden of proof in this debate, so it matters little whether or not I bring my own case out. Regardless...at this point, I do believe I have negated the resolution, and have also proffered a case to support my stance.
I will now address the 5 points:
C1 - What makes groups vulnerable is totally irrelevant to trolling. Their vulnerabilities stem from all kinds of concerns found in the real world, and it would behoove these communities to address their vulnerabilities - for example, maybe a group of rape victims want to discuss how they can cope with rape, but for whatever reason, they find it proper to have this kind of discussion on a public forum where the topic is typically about Paris Hilton's make-up. The forum, in disbelief, ridicules this group thinking they're just nut-cases with a victim mentality - why? Because they're simply in the wrong place. To scapegoat these kinds of failure to an outside problem that had nothing to do with these vulnerabilities in the first place (the troll) is just that - scapegoating.
PRO then states that "The point of the argument is that trolls not only destroy the trust that does exist (however minimal) but it also crucially prevents trust from forming, and thus impedes communication altogether," which again assumes that trolling is wrong without stating what is wrong with the behavior, or what makes the troll responsible for this situation. People in vulnerable situations will be subject to all kinds of compromising situations that destroy or prevent trust because, well, they are vulnerable. The point is to address these vulnerabilities in the people, not to scapegoat such vulnerabilities on external variables. PRO does not even explain how a troll would break or prevent trust...he just assumes the troll is wrong, and that the troll must be to blame.
PRO then asserts that "People should not be forced to change the way they communicate by cruel comments", assuming that people must change the way they communicate when met with insults. This is simply not true. As I have already stated, the troll can be ignored, and thus there would be no problem.
C2 - Here PRO is essentially saying that someone who finds freedom in not being constricted to their physical form is somehow going to become malevolent and thus "wrong". No - simply put, there is nothing inherently "wrong" with an anonymous screen name.
PRO then continues to state that "[trolls] are unlikely to experience feelings of regret, sympathy, or compassion toward the victim," which again assumes the resolution is true without questioning if this is the case. Now, I doubt that most people feel regret, sympathy or compassion towards a whole myriad of things they are not aware of in real life...perhaps there was a car accident 5 blocks away, or a large warehouse fire in the commercial district. Does this make such people trolls?? Does this make them "wrong"??
C3 - IMHO = in my humble opinion.
C4 - PRO drops this point. Disruptions may very well be "good". Indeed, trolling may well be "right" given certain (rare) situations. This dropped point, along with my analysis in the introduction of this round, negate the resolution.
C5 - PRO here adds another unwarranted qualifier to being a troll - being a liar. There is nothing in the definition of trolling that would make a troll a liar. This line of argumentation is irrelevant to the resolution.
I understand PRO has some serious beefs with trolls, but IMHO he is exaggerating the category and placing all kinds of boogey-men in there that do not necessarily merit the classification of "troll".
PRO then ends with two simple statements:
1) Deontology - trolling is wrong because it violates the rights of others not to be defamed.
2) Utilitarianism - trolling inflicts harms on individuals
1) What necessary part of the round #1 definition of trolling involves defamation? For example, upsetting people is not defamation... therefore, trolling does not involve defamation when it involves only upsetting people. PRO's statement is simply false.
2) I have already established how trolling may actually result in net-benefits in certain situations, which in a utilitarian calculus would conclude that such trolling is "right" or "good". Trolling does not necessarily inflict harm on individuals, and at times may actually be doing them a service.
PRO is attempting to stretch the definition of trolling to all of the evils of the world. Trolling can be annoying, no question...it can involve insensitive insults and other sorts of undesirable behavior. This alone does not categorically define trolling as "wrong".
I understand my arguments may be difficult for readers to imagine, as the negative connotations of trolling are ever-present. Regardless, per PRO's definition and a careful analysis and deconstruction of it, I do believe I have proven that trolling may well be "right" in certain scenarios, and thus that trolling is not "wrong" but rather irrelevant to an ethical or moral position in general.
This debate revolves around the question "Trolling ought not to be permissible," with "ought" connoting a discussion of ethics. So, we can reframe the question to be "is trolling ethically permissible?" There are two calculi that have arisen within the course of this debate to answer this query--deontology and utility. The former examines the nature of the act itself, not the ends. The latter operates on a cost-benefit analysis. It is up to you, as the reader, to chose through which lens you wish to view this debate--and, I will endeavor to show that under both, not just one, trolling is unethical. I will do this by asking: does trolling harm people, and is trolling justifiable?
Con accuses me of making tautological arguments in my conclusion. Let me answer these concerns by way of analogy. Let's assume someone is trolling in a vulnerable forum, and is doing so in a way that truly is unethical. Con states that it would "behoove these communities to address their vulnerabilities." So, what Con is saying is that this troll, who is acting unethically, is less responsible for the harm he causes these communities than the community is. In other words, the vulnerable are at fault for being vulnerable. This is intuitively absurd. Just as in the rape example I offered. Simply because the woman is drunk and vulnerable, does not mean that it is somehow okay to rape her. Therefore, if you believe that (1) trolling is unethical, and that (2) vulnerability does not exonerate the troller, then you must also believe that trolling ought not be permissible, even if the victims could do more to protect themselves.
Finally, the reason I put this analysis in my conclusion was because I agree with Con that I must first show that trolling is unethical. My conclusion therefore rested on my earlier arguments about the wrongness of trolling. This is a good segue then into the meat of the debate--is trolling unethical? I will explore this question by defending my own case.
Con begins by challenging the definition of trolling itself--claiming that trolling can be used for good. He the proceeds to offer the example of a person (Person A) dissuading a would-be criminal (Person B) from offending. Let's look at the definition of trolling more closely--"a person who deliberately...uses inflammatory language with no other purpose but to sew derision." The definition of derision is "mocking scorn: contempt." In the example forwarded by Con, Person A's intent was not solely (or even primarily) to mock, upset, or to encourage others to mock Person B. Rather, Person A's intent was to persuade Person B from committing a crime. Thus, Con's example is not applicable in this situation. But, even if Con's example did fit, under a utilitarian view of ethics, one must look at net benefits and harms. Con makes an important concession when he agrees that "such cases are rare." So, if trolling is rarely used for good, then under a utilitarian calculus, it could still be viewed as unethical. Con tries to assert this debate is not about generalities, but yet he never challenges as invalid the utilitarian calculus I offered, and so his claim seems hollow at best.
C1: Con claims that trolling is just scapegoating, yet I would argue that scapegoating is wrong, as it is a form of defamation. Con also misses the substance of my Fineman point. I stated that she contended "that the vulnerable occupy a special moral position in society. That because they are more susceptible to harm, we must be ever more cautious about how we treat them. To do otherwise would be to immorally expose them to harms that the non-vulnerable person would be able to cope with. In this sense, targeting the vulnerable is wrong because it is making the weak weaker--its sadistic." In other words, insulting, harassing, and defaming the vulnerable is completely unethical. The fact that my initial evidence showed that trolls targeted the vulnerable--a point never contested by Con--underscores the impermissibility of their actions. They're directing their cruelty at people ill-positioned to cope with it.
Con also wholly drops my third argument--that his plan of face-to-face contact is (1) not always viable, and (b) the groups should not have to be forced to change their mode of communication by trolls. Ultimately, connecting back to my conclusion, the troll is in the wrong, and his victims should not have to adapt to him. He should just respect their space. This also leads me into another vital argument. Con continually asserts that I first have to show that trolling is wrong before I can say that Con is misattributing blame. This argument doesn't apply here specifically. Con argues that communities should change how they operate in order to adapt to the troll. In other words, the troll has disrupted their community to the point where they are forced to make changes. Yet, even online forums have rules and terms-of-service, and the troll has undermined those rules and TOS to the point that he has forced the community to either disband or reconfigure itself. Rules are rules. If you do not like a rule on a site, don't join it. But if you do join the site, then you are bound by the rules. It is unethical to simply obviate, or overtly discount, the rules, because rules are necessary to maintain a sense of fairness and order. Therefore, in this case, the fact that the troll is in breach of rules, makes his or her actions unethical. Furthermore, just as people should not be forced to change communication mediums, they should not have to ignore hateful comments; and, just trying to ignore comments like this is hard. Plus, even if you ignore the comments, others may see them, meaning such comments have the potential to be ruinous for one's reputation.
C2: Never did I claim that anonymity will cause everyone to suddenly become "malevolent." Rather, anonymity empowers those with a predisposition towards malevolence to engage in cruel acts. But, I'll reiterate, this was more so an ancillary point in my argument.
I don't see how the point that "[trolls] are unlikely to experience feelings of regret, sympathy, or compassion toward the victim," shows how I am assuming the resolution is true. The definition of trolling denotes that trolls use insulting and harassing language. The people who are at the butt of these vicious jibes are often upset, and are thus victims. Finally, empirical analysis (see my source) has shown that trolls don't experience regret for those they may have hurt. This statement was built upon a logical train of thought, based on logical conclusions. If you buy that insults can hurt people, and that trolls insult people, then you accept that people are hurt by trolling. A lack of regret is significant because it shows that trolls will not be burdened by guilt, and thus feel even more free to continue on trolling.
Con also entirely drops my point that "by 'text' the author is...referring...statements made by the troll which are intended to defame the victim. For example, in the case of Anonymouse, he would call users fascists...Had he done this in person, his remarks would only be heard by a few people, but on the internet, his slurs can be broadcast to literally dozens of users." This is important deontologically, because the nature of trolling involves defamation, insults, and harassment. All of these acts are not morally praiseworthy, and, in fact, are quite the opposite. Thus, the nature of the act of trolling is inherently negative, and so, under a deontological calculus, wrong.
C3: Con never challenges my source.
C4: Con tries to make a big deal about "disruption," but, as I noted, this was merely a rhetorical flourish. Also, cross-apply the third paragraph of this speech's rebuttal here. Trolling's bad uses outweigh its "rare" right uses.
C5: Firstly, defamation implies false accusation, i.e., lies. Moreover, this seems a hollow objection as we've been talking about trolls dispensing misinformation/bad advice from the start, but this is your first objection to this interpretation of a troll. Con also drops the point that na"ve individual can be mislabeled as trolls, unjustly ruining their reputations. Con's cherry-picking what points he wants to rebut.
1 - Deontology: the definition of "troll" specified e-defamation. Defamation is inherently wrong, and so unethical under deontology. Con never disagrees that defamation is wrong.
2 - Utility: the harms of trolling include ruining reputations, psychological damage, and violating rules. These harms outweigh what Con calls "rare" benefits.
Thus, trolling is unethical.
Please, no voting. Comments would be great though! Many thanks!
I will also lead by thanking bsh1 for instigating this debate - this has been a most civil discourse about a topic that is anything but civil, and I think it is to bsh1's credit that he can take an accusatory position without being coarse or vulgar. This debate has also been quite challenging, which I also do appreciate.
I will lead with a quick discussion, argue against PRO's 5 points, and then discuss PRO's ontological and utilitarian characterizations on trolling.
R1) To my disappointment, PRO again assumes the argument:
"Let's assume someone is trolling in a vulnerable forum, and is doing so in a way that truly is unethical."
The entire point of this debate is to ask "Is trolling unethical?" PRO AGAIN assumes that it is, without justifying his stance. He is assuming he has won this debate without a debate. This is simply not how one debates.
PRO then accuses me of stating that "In other words, the vulnerable are at fault for being vulnerable," which is an insult to the vulnerable. This is not about assigning blame - it is about solving problems. The problem to be solved is to get these vulnerabilities addressed, not to scapegoat problems that arise from these vulnerabilities onto some external factor, like trolls.
R2) PRO then states: "Con begins by challenging the definition of trolling itself--claiming that trolling can be used for good."
I DO NOT challenge the definition of trolling. I challenge the resolution, that "trolling is wrong" - indeed I have demonstrated a case where trolling is "right." There is nothing in the definition of trolling that precludes trolling being used as a force for "good". PRO continues to assume the argument, meaning that PRO is not debating the resolution, but is only discussing the consequences that would arise IF his stance on the resolution is correct. That is simply not what this debate is about.
R3) PRO misinterprets my example of the crime of passion: "In the example forwarded by Con, Person A's intent was not solely (or even primarily) to mock, upset, or to encourage others to mock Person B. Rather, Person A's intent was to persuade Person B from committing a crime."
Wholly false. The troll's intent was indeed solely to "mock, upset, or encourage others to mock [the potential criminal]" with the specific purpose of dissuading one from committing the crime. Again, per this example, trolling can be used for good.
Now, onto PRO's 5 points:
[C1] I will first apologize that much of my argument for this point is highlighted...but I have found that PRO has grossly misrepresented several key aspects of my argument and his definition on trolling.
a) I do not state that "trolling is just scapegoating..." I state that what PRO is doing IS scapegoating, by blaming trolls for the vulnerabilities the groups in question may have. Groups with vulnerabilities need to find a solution to these vulnerabilities. Scapegoating the problems that arise from their vulnerabilities, which may have nothing to do with trolling at all, onto trolls, is unreasonable and unwarranted.
b) I did not state that "groups should  have to be forced to change their mode of communication by trolls." These groups need to change their mode of communication BECAUSE OF THEIR VULNERABILITIES, most of which stem from real world concerns, and not trolling.
Similarly, you perform open-heart surgery in a hospital, not in your friend's garage, because the patient is vulnerable. These vulnerabilities were not caused by the dirt and diseases in the garage...these vulnerabilities were caused by other factors inherent in the patient. To blame trolls for the problems that vulnerable groups face on the internet is the same as blaming diseases inherent in a dirty garage for the complications a patient experiences while being operated in a garage. Ridiculous, irresponsible, and unproductive. The solution here is to find a controlled environment for the vulnerable, like a hospital room for patients requiring surgery, or a face-to-face venue for vulnerable groups. To do otherwise is irresponsible for those in charge of care for these vulnerable groups.
Therefore, whether or not face-to-face contact is or isn't viable will more than likely determine the success of this vulnerable group. If they cannot, the chance of their group succeeding decreases. None of this has anything to do with trolling. It has everything to do with recognizing the special needs of the vulnerable.
c) PRO AGAIN assumes the argument: "Yet, even online forums have rules and terms-of-service, and the troll has undermined those rules and TOS to the point that he has forced the community to either disband or reconfigure itself." How has the troll undermined the rules and TOS? PRO does not explain himself here.
d) I will reiterate that nothing in C1 by PRO explains why trolling is wrong - PRO is just assuming that trolling is wrong without explaining why. Without an explanation, PRO has not met burden of proof for this debate.
[C2] a) To become upset does not connote victimhood. A mother may become upset if her child does not do his or her homework...does this make the mother a victim?
b) Defamation occurs whenever someone takes a devil's advocate stance in a debate, as I am doing here. There is nothing inherently wrong with defamation.
c) Regarding a deontological calculus, PRO's statement that "the nature of the act of trolling is inherently negative" is not true. As per my case regarding the crime of passion, all trolling does is to contort whatever positive assertion is made into a negative light. If the positive assertion is itself immoral, such as a crime of passion, then turning this assertion into a negative light would become moral. Thus, trolling can be right.
[C3] I cannot view this source, so I cannot analyze the material in it.
[C4] The point on "disruption" is IMHO extremely important, especially on this website. Many times, like what I am doing here, people will take a devil's advocate position, advocating something they may or may not believe. They do this for the sole purpose of "disrupting" the arguments presented by a prima facie strong position, such as this debate. Such "disruption" will naturally upset those who have a strong disposition towards the other side of the argument (although I find it somewhat ridiculous to think that these upset people are victims, as PRO would like us to believe). Does this make such advocacy "immoral"?
I contend not - such advocacy, such "trolling" if you will (since it fits under PRO's definition), strengthens arguments on both sides. Like boxers sparring in a ring, the introduction of "disruption" into a line of argumentation, while at times painful and most certainly challenging if both opponents are decent, not only improves the skills of argumentation, but also clarifies the line of argumentation, leading to a much more potent argument overall. Such "trolling" is thus beneficial, and occurs all the time on this website.
[C5] I've addressed defamation above.
On PRO's point about me dropping naivety, that simply is not the case. I ask that viewers review my round #2 point [C5], where I explicitly state that "Honestly naive questions will be rejected anyway as, well, naive," and that "This point is irrelevant to trolling."
PRO's point about cherry-picking is irresponsible. I cannot cut-paste all of PRO's argument to rebut, and PRO cannot do the same for mine; he is thus the pot calling the kettle black.
Deontology - I will first correct myself in the prior round and acknowledge that trolling does involves defamation (although IMHO that portion of the definition is not congruous with the rest of the definition). Regardless, as I have stated in [C2] and [C4] this round, defamation occurs whenever someone takes a devil's advocate position and is not inherently "wrong".
Utility: PRO's statement: "Utility: the harms of trolling include ruining reputations, psychological damage, and violating rules. These harms outweigh what Con calls "rare" benefits," has zero substantiation. PRO does not quantify the "ruining reputations, psychological damage, and violating rules," thus all we are looking at are two qualified arguments for and against the resolution without any weighing critical for a utilitarian calculus. Therefore, PRO has not met burden of proof from a utilitarian standpoint.
I understand my position is difficult to accept...however, one must acknowledge that it is a perfect example of disrupting the popular argument that "trolling is wrong". Regardless of whether or not you agree with this point or that point in my position, my devil's advocacy, my "trolling", serves to strengthen both sides of the argument and is a perfect example of the positive benefits that may arise from such "trolling", which proves that in certain situations, trolling is not wrong.
Out of room. Great debate. Thanks to bsh1 for hosting.
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