Monday, October 1, 2012

Don't Feed The Trolls

And now to explain the 'that was interesting' comment from the previous post opener. Sometimes, being first is a good thing. Other times, it's nice to sit back and let someone else take the lead so you can see what happens. Either way, the Weir Campaign was the first to take to the use of social media to host an interactive digital town hall meeting.

It's a good idea and a great way to get people involved and directly asking questions; but there's some issues with such an open format, as I'm sure the Weir Campaign learned this evening. Primarily, there were two major problems with the format that was presented and we're going to talk about that and perhaps explore better ways of conducting these types of events in the future.

The problem with using digital social media always comes back to trolls. If you're unfamiliar with the term, I'll explain it simply: A troll is a person who is there to either get a rise from the moderators, promote something unrelated to the event at hand, or just a general nuisance to the overall event. No digital forum where people are allowed to ask questions or present information is free from trolls, and that is a very large problem...Especially if moderation of the event is out of the question; which, when using Facebook and Twitter it is.

So, let's start with the first person who was 'trolling' the event. Normally, I don't name names on this kind of subject since it's almost like gossip, but in this case I'm going to make an exception because I wasn't the only person to take offense to the behaviour. Victor Lau is a name that might ring some bells to the readers, I know it took me a second to remember why I'd heard it before, but then I remembered that he was Leader of the Saskatchewan Green Party.

Now, I'm not against inclusion in an event. If someone wants to ask a question, which Victor did, fine. The problem is when the line crosses from asking a question to directly responding to other questions by citing the Green Party's platform. Let me clarify that, Victor essentially 'hijacked' every question he could by responding to them and citing his party's position.

It was the equivalent of 'photo bombing', and we'll try to get 'question bombing' into the lexicon on this blog. Personally, and I know another shares this viewpoint, the actions were pretty distasteful. I can understand the Greens wanting to get their message out there, but sending your leader to flood another party leadership candidate's forum is not the way to do it.

It's massively disrespectful and makes you hope that it was a cheeky idea undertaken by the leader rather than an actual strategy created by the party. It's the equivalent of a bunch of NDPers raiding the Green Party convention and chanting old NDP slogans over and over and louder than the rest of the crowd. It was a disruption we could have done with out, and I certainly hope that the Greens don't attempt to crash another event in the future, lest they harm their reputation any further.

Victor wasn't the only one flooding the question forum; but since the second person in question is a private citizen, I feel no need to identify them and call attention to their actions. When you talk politics and ask questions, you're always going to have room for disagreement. And the thorny issue of abortion managed to wade it's way into the debate, and needless to say the questioner was not overly happy with the response.

Erin's come out as pro-choice, which is a good position, and which led to the pro-life questioner to continue to flood the board with 'statistics', clips from Sun News, and other generalities. And after failing to get a response, the poster then just threw around some general attacks against Erin's character...Because we all know that if your irrational debate is failing, the next option is to always belittle the person you are arguing against.

We shouldn't be surprised that abortion was brought up in a public forum; given that our Federal Government has just blocked Stephen Woodsworth's motion to define when human life begins. Now, I've come out as pro-choice on this blog before, for a variety of reasons. Personally, none of the stuff brought forward actually stands up to scrutiny, in my opinion, but that's not what we're here to discuss.

What I will say is this, the Weir Campaign handled these problems well. They didn't personally rebuke either problem makers, nor did they try to directly challenge them and their comments. There's some arguments in politics that are a zero-sum argument, and the campaign did well to avoid getting dragged into an argument that would change neither the candidate nor the person asking the question's mind.

But what this does suggest is that future digital town halls need moderation. I can understand the idea that we don't want to stifle debate or restrict free speech, but there comes a point where certain things just have to stop; especially when one of the posters is the leader of a rival party.

Effectively, the question becomes whether one should continue to do social media through Facebook and Twitter; or whether it would be better to use a dedicated chat room, where the campaign can at least have some modicum of control through the ability to have a moderator.

Or whether it would be better to solicit questions days in advance, and then simply announce that answers will be posted on a certain day with no live function to it.

Either way, it's a lesson that the Weir Campaign (and any of the others who were watching the town hall unfold) have learned and hopefully will learn from for future events.

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