To Pakistani social media trolls, don’t you have any manners?

Published: November 17, 2013
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It is high time our esteemed ‘commentator’ community start learning some etiquettes too.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines etiquette as ‘the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave’.

The history of etiquette dates back to prehistoric times when man first began interacting with others and hence started devising rules for making these interactions bearable and pleasant. Over the centuries, as societies and human interactions started falling into specific slots, etiquette was drafted for different settings. For instance, there is etiquette for behaving with elders, with neighbours, with teachers, with siblings, with parents and so forth.

Similarly, as the presence of social media grew progressively pronounced in our lives, the proper etiquette of behaviour in these settings emerged too. This includes proper manners for making comments in these written interactions.

Sadly enough, either our Pakistani commentators are not aware of these rules or choose to ignore them. The discreditable conduct of the majority of our commentators not only affronts the writer but is also embarrassing for us as a nation since social media sites, including blogs, are accessed by the global community.

Many good writers with good ideas to share on Pakistani platforms are deterred simply due to this apprehension of getting trampled by these impertinent and ungracious ‘trolls’ that hound our blogs gleefully.

In the dictionary of social media etiquette, ‘trolls’, named after the villainous characters of children stories, are the commentators who are primarily out to harass both the writer and the serious commentators on a topic.

Trolling is defined as them ‘anti-social act of causing interpersonal conflict and shock-value controversy online’. Trolls are emotionally immature Internet browsers who seek environments that allow them to purposely express their racism, hatred, misogyny, or take pleasure in sparking endless bickering between commentators. They love to raid discussion forums, game chats, and news and blog sites. Given their antagonising behaviour tactics, they of course rarely reveal their real names but hide behind curtains of fictitious names, as seen on most of our blogs.

As the number of blogs and the public interest in them grow exponentially every year, so does the pleasure of these uncivilised trolls. According to NM Incite Company, there were more than 181 million blogs from around the world just last year. This was a gigantic leap from the 36 million recorded in 2006.

With regards to our Pakistani blog commentators, interestingly, the same public is comparably civilised when commenting on international blogs or on blogs that are written by a westerner. This makes one wonder — if these trolls are indeed aware of commenting etiquette, why do they not deem Pakistani writers worthy of that respect?

Tamar Weinberg writes in the ‘Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook’,

‘Social media mimics real relationships in many cases. Would you do the following in real, face to face relationships? Jump on the friendship bandwagon without properly introducing yourself? Consistently talk about yourself and promote only yourself without regard for those around you? Randomly approach a friend you barely talk to simply ask for favours—repeatedly? Or introduce yourself to another person as ‘pink house gardening’? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, you may need a refresher course on social media etiquettes—and perhaps real life etiquettes also.’

Judging by the callous lack of manners displayed by our commentators, I am sure a majority has replied ‘yes’ to more than just one of the items listed above.

Other writers who have specifically talked about commentator etiquette include Elise Bauer, who requests the readers to consider her blog as her home and hence avoid saying anything that they wouldn’t say to a host or hostess when they are invited to their homes.

This rudimentary rule may be considered the only etiquette you need to remember when commenting on a social media site. Bauer encourages commentators to provide feedback that is both thoughtful and constructive, and does not even border on being rude, mean, or obnoxious in any way.

The entire purpose of commenting along these guidelines is to create a ‘community’ through positive dialogue with the other commentators as well as the writer. Again, this runs quite contrary to the ‘hate-mail’ often spewed forth by our Pakistani trollers. This is in addition to the bickering, or more correctly the brawling, that erupts between the commentators themselves that leaves the original topic ‘lost in translation’.

Deborah Ng’s commenting etiquettes most relevant to our commentators includes,

‘…practice respectful disagreement, not personal attacks, try to post something that adds value to a conversation (“me, too” doesn’t add value), stay on the topic, be brief and don’t turn every comment into your own personal blog post, it’s not about your so avoid making every comment a testimony as to how awesome you are (and how wrong the writer is), you’re a guest so keep this in mind when commenting.’

Another odd quirk of Pakistani trolls is the use of weird fictitious names in order to exhibit harsh trolling behaviour from behind a curtain of anonymity. Considered extremely ill-mannered by blogging etiquette experts, the consensus is that this is only done by cowards.

Priya Shah in ‘Mind Your Blogging Manners’, writes,

‘My personal policy for blogging and commenting is that it should follow the rules of common human decency. I don’t mind the comments, just the sentiment behind them. I don’t write anything on my blogs that I wouldn’t say to someone in real life. Nor would I tolerate comments that I would not tolerate in actual conversation. And that is what bloggers are — a conversation… It’s the comments posted solely for the purpose of being nasty that I delete, and I advise you to delete them too. Not because I give a damn for what the ‘trolls’ think, but because I simply choose not to allow negativity into my life.’

Dan Morrill discussing the modus operandi of blog trolls writes that their entire goal is to,

‘Get you to come unglued and lose your perspective in a public manner. Many of them have an uncanny ability to find everything they can about you to make you angry and respond back to them. They want you to lose your cool, and they want to show their ‘power’ by keeping your from blogging. Trolls are driven by process and seek to gain fame and notoriety at your blog’s expense.’

Having had quite a number of my blogs published on Express Tribune and suffered these trolls on a number of topics, I think it is high time our esteemed ‘commentator’ community start learning some etiquettes too.

In this context, a recent New York Times article stated,

‘A few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse…chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libellous comments without facing cries of censorship.’

Pakistani social media sites also need to take serious note of the trolls and enforce strict measures to control them. This is imperative for improving the quality of the dialogue between writers and readers, and for encouraging wholesome discussions on topics that really do matter.

aalia.suleman

Aalia Suleman

A freelance writer and poet who is keenly interested in the status of women in 21st century Pakistan. Her writing also zones in on Pakistan's new social and political status on a redefined global chessboard. She has a masters degree in English Literature and blogs and invites debates at 'Socio-politically Pakistani'. She tweets @aaliasuleman (twitter.com/aaliasuleman)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.