"Perhaps, in a world overrun with the walking dead, we can do nothing but retreat to our self-made prisons, cowering behind the fences, praying that one day the tanks will not knock them down."
Commenting on internet publications is, at first blush, a trivial—perhaps even silly—undertaking.
The product is ephemeral, typically anonymous, shared mostly with perfect strangers who will almost certainly remain perfect strangers in perpetuity. Caring about any of it is almost an act of self-negation.
We do care. We should not, perhaps, but we do.
We put our thoughts out there to be picked over, gnawed up even, in hopes something may germinate in return. However much one may protest how trivial the act is, it constitutes time lost forever. Consider how much of your life you've spent in the last week, the last month, the last year, commenting and reading and commenting again, and tell us with a straight face we should not care, for surely you do.
These are dark days for the Gawker commentariat.
Gawker and its sister publications have never been free from trolls and shit-stirring. This is the nature of the beast. In the past, though, we possessed tools to keep the worst of it at bay: stars, promotion, grays, recommendations, followers. The management stood at our backs, ready to swing the banhammer and publicly expel the worst offenders. Yet one by one, all of these tools have been shorn from us. The banhammer has been retired, and we stand now defenseless.
Our community has changed. All communities change with time, of course; this is inevitable and irresistible. But our community has changed not the way it should, not with a natural shift in members, not with the passage of customs and mores into new ones—but because our landlord has taken all the locks off the doors.
One bastion yet remains: the sub-blogs and their authorship privileges. Perhaps that is the future of Kinja (perhaps it is meant to be). Perhaps, in a world overrun with the walking dead, we can do nothing but retreat to our self-made prisons, cowering behind the fences, praying that one day the tanks will not knock them down.
For while we keep the trolls at bay by restricting authorship, can we be sure that last shield will not one day be torn from our grasp? We ourselves have no faith this shield is sacred, for were the decision to be made, there is nothing any of us could do to stop it.
Over and over, we have seen the laments: I stay off the main pages now. I never bother with main pages with the new Kinja. I can't spend more than a few minutes with main page articles anymore. The retreat has begun and is in danger of becoming wholesale.
But can we do anything to stop this? We believe there is a way.
"DON'T FEED THE TROLLS!" they shout. On most internet forums, this is good advice. When most participants are savvy enough to recognize trolls when they come, ignoring them works. But on a site like Gawker, where literally tens of thousands of eyeballs land on every post, it matters little if a core band of regulars avoid the trolls, since there are far too many casual readers ready to be baited and provoked. We may not feed them, but thousands of others are ready to.
This is why another tactic is necessary, and it is one that has proven its worth: the Wikipedia model.
Wikipedia is one of the busiest sites in the world, and it allows anyone to edit almost everything. This naturally draws trolls, but the administration has evolved a remarkably simple means of responding to them. Every act of vandalism gets the same boilerplate response. It doesn't matter how witty and clever the troll is, or how much thought went into it. The most brilliant act of satire gets the same response as ten-year-old replacing an entire article with "POOP!!!"
Trolls do not like this. Trolls believe they are unique. Trolls almost always see themselves as smarter, wittier, better informed, more reasonable, ad nauseum, than everyone else. This approach refuses to acknowledge that—it denies them the uniqueness they crave.
So how do we port this method to Gawker? After all, none of us have admin powers. None of us can do anything to remove offending comments. But we can deliver these generic replies—not to silence the trolls, for we cannot do this, but to derail their threads.
This is the method behind the car-bombing gifs we have been delivering. No engagement, no discussion, just a raft of non sequitur gifs of explosions. They mark the thread with a scarlet "T" and distract other commenters coming in. You may have noticed that we have used the same images repeatedly. This is deliberate: A generic response that recognizes nothing worth noting.
This approach is far from perfect, but it has shown some early promise. One thread we bombed repeatedly was ultimately dismissed, while others were effectively shut down.
The explosions are not the important element. Kittens, car wrecks, or dancing hamsters would likely work as well; the key is again that the gifs be complete non sequiturs: nothing the least bit responsive or relevant to the discussion.
For the only thing that truly kills trolls is boredom. We intend to bore them to death by killing their threads, bombarding them with the same irrelevant gifs over and over, and otherwise ignoring anything else they say or do.
We plan to continue this campaign as best we can. And we hope you will join us.
We take hope in our belief that it is in fact a small number of individuals who are responsible for the worst of the trolling; indeed, it is clear there is one commenter in particular who is doing much of the damage by constantly shifting Burner accounts. We are not beset by an army, though it may appear so. We are faced with a finite number of foes.
Too, we are not targeting commenters based on their political beliefs but rather their behavior: deliberate shit-stirring, false-flag accounts, and intentionally trying to offend and upset people. We do not seek to shout down those whom we disagree with but drive off those who do violence to our community.
We encourage the liberal use of burners like ours. The trolls have leveraged these accounts to their advantage, and so should we.
We may fail. Perhaps we are too few. Perhaps our will to effect real change is as ephemeral as our comments.
We may find all this shut down in short order by the management (which will tell us which direction they truly desire). But we may also beat back the onslaught of trolls and regain some of what has been lost.
And maybe, just maybe, we may ignite such a conflagration in the comments that the powers that be will be forced to solve this problem once and for all.
Comrade Che tells us that revolution is not an apple that falls from the tree when it is ripe—it must be made to fall.
Kinja is our apple.
It falls today.
tl;dr: Find trolls; GIF them