Internet Venom and the Curse Of The Fanboy Troll

I was talking to some friends recently about the new XBOX One and was surprised when they described the new XBOX One design as “hideous”. 

I found this an intriguing choice of words. “Hideous”. A rather bland piece of black plastic is “hideous”. Presumably the PS4 is not? For the record I think both systems look fine if a little uninspired but neither provokes an emotional reaction in me that I found them “hideous”.

Is this not more a word you would use to describe a car crash or some equally traumatic experience? Perhaps I could understand if its design was bright pink with yellow polka dots? (Though I’m sure some would love it!) If a formless piece of plastic is hideous then that would make practically every consumer device equally hideous?! One said they wouldn’t want it in their living room – does this mean the Sky box is also condemned to the junkyard? One of those friends is a big Sony fan so I get his point of view and why he would be emotionally invested but despite how rational my argument was I couldn’t get him to reconsider his choice of words.

Ultimately to him the XBOX One is “hideous” and that’s the end of it!

And similarly I had a recent debate with a colleague about the new rebooted Star Trek movies (hmm I’m not really painting a cool image of myself am I?). His view was that new films by not being 100% faithful to the original TV shows were a direct and intentional insult to all “real fans”,  a complete “outrage” and an act equivalent to “f#####g Gene Roddenberry’s corpse” . The word “obscene” was also peppered through his tirade. I tried to rationalise with him – but again my argument fell on deaf ears.

This made me think. Is this how the general public thinks? I’m not talking about these particular topics, but in general (lets not even get started on the general reaction to Microsoft’s XBOX One DRM policy!). Have we as a connected society lost the means to rationalise opinions online so that everything now has to be saturated in hyperbole and emotional knee-jerk reactions?

And if so is there a way to combat this? 


I occasionally read columns by Drew McWeeny over at Hitfix. McWeeny used to write under the alias Moriarty at Aint It Cool News – one of the most hostile and venomous feedback areas on the internet. I notice that even though thee audience of Hitfix is far more measured; Drew is very combative when responding to trolls and under-informed over-opinionated fanboys. And who can blame him? Years of dealing with “talk backers” on AICN must have had their toll and now Drew doesn’t miss opportunities to lock horns with trolls. Some would say this is an admirable stance but it means that those that do want to engage in informed discourse miss out. It also leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and means I sometimes avoid his writing.

As a media fan I see this everywhere online. In video games. In films, In TV. Even a site aimed at industry insiders like Deadline isn’t safe from trolls and fan boys with misguided agendas. And when on occasion one of their stories is linked from The Drudge Report the wackos are unleashed in full force.

The anonymity the internet affords is one of its key benefits but does the veil of secrecy allow people to behave in ways that they wouldn’t in normal lives? And is this fostering a climate of hate and rage? Some people often don’t seem to be able to use the internet unless it’s to insult or provoke. Without society’s normal boundaries are people allowing subconscious sociopathic tendencies to creep in?

One of the goals of the World Wide Web was the open and free exchange of information, knowledge and ideas and the discussion that accompanies it in a positive and constructive manner. In that regard we seem to have collectively failed. Contrary points of views are of course essential but surely there is a better way to engage.

Perhaps it’s the platform which defines its audience. You are less likely to experience this kind of behaviour on Xing or LinkedIn (though as a manager of a few groups I have come across a few unpleasant “professional” people on LinkedIn).

Some moderators take a proactive view and enforce / encourage good behaviour which helps build a good community. As many marketers are involved in community management nowadays it’s important to establish the tone and behavourial face as soon as you can to avoid them turning into troll heavy wastelands.

Google and a few other platforms are making efforts to encourage users to use their real identities online. Presumably (hopefully) this will have a knock on effect by making people clean up their act online?

Or perhaps we have as a society just gone too far. Once the gates have opened maybe its impossible to go back and the internet will always be home to irrational haters?

I for one hope not.

Let me know what you think – and please – keep it friendly.

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