Don't Boost The Trolls

Posted on 10/16/2018 in misc

Picture of trolls

On Mastodon, the "retweet" feature is called boost, and it has no capability for you to add commentary. This means if you boost something to your followers, you are amplifying the message. There is no mechanism for the user to boost something while providing commentary on it. This means almost any content boosted on Mastodon is done because the booster wants to amplify something they agree with, because you can't express disagreement or mock it on the boost.

Compare that with Twitter, where amplifying things you disagree with, while adding some commentary is common. I've believed for a while now that this is not good for Twitter or its users. Sure, there is an argument that boosting the signal on shit helps cleanse it, but is there really any evidence on Twitter that it actually works out that way more often than not?

Maybe Mastodon is onto something. It encourages interaction over broadcasting, as you can't piggyback on other content. You can create your own, interact with your followers or people you follow, or boost content with no added context.It seems like a minor feature at first, but I wonder how much better Twitter would be if the bird site worked that way?

If a troll with 11 followers wishes a horrible, painful death on a popular woman Twitter user, what is gained by amplifying that to and beyond her 100,000 users by retweeting? It's not like public shame is going to have any effect on the troll. I don't pretend to know what its like to be a high follower count user on Twitter, particularly a woman that probably gets more death threats in a day than I get total Twitter interactions in a month. I'm sure snarking on the retweet is cathartic, and I don't want to discount just how cathartic that may be for some people. It may be damn important. Letting the community at large know its going on has value, although I wonder if we are all getting desensitized to it, and maybe that is damaging too? Is the constant exposure to vile, racist, violent, misogynist content damaging to all of us on Twitter, even if we aren't the targets? It certainly can't be good for the target, and they are obviously taking most of the damage here. But is the collateral damage to the larger community offset by any benefit from amplifying it with a retweet? I'm not sure it is.

The retweet resulted in a flurry of reports and a shockingly quick suspension by Twitter. However, I'm pretty sure the trolls will trade an 11 follower account for exposure to tens or hundreds of thousands of followers via the retweet every damn time. That is a win for them. 11 user Twitter accounts aren't a dime a dozen, they are a fractional cent a dozen. If you weigh the cost of the account getting closed to the trolls vs. the damage they inflicted by one more exposures to 10K or 100K users I'm not sure that it is a victory for the good guys. If it is, somebody please comment with that argument, as I'm not seeing it.

I'm not sure where I am going with this. I don't have a brilliant insight with the answer. I do have a belief that amplifying the signal for the hate and violence, even as we criticize it, may not be a winning strategy. Maybe Twitter is just fundamentally broken beyond fixing, and we are all just rearranging the deck chairs as the ship slowly sinks, until we finally decide to abandon ship.

Maybe I'll just spend more time on Mastodon.

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