Flaming Trolls – don’t you just love ’em?

I have a problem!

And after discussing this problem with a few others at Greenbelt (particular thanks to @gurdur and @FrDavidCloake) it seems that I am the only one who has this problem! Or at least I am the only one who has not sorted it out.

Flaming (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1359576)The problem goes something like this: I post things on my blog, Facebook status and Twitter stream and some people (Trolls) choose to use that opportunity to write aggressive, unhelpful and/or derogatory comments (also known as flaming). What do I do about that?

My answer has been to leave the comment on my blog or facebook for all the world to see and just feel a bit wounded by it. The result is that I am then put off from my digital life because I feel a tad bruised and go into digital silence for a while.

The answer by others is to moderate and delete those comments that they believe are not helpful and/or offensive.

But why is this a problem for me?

I guess (and I know this is the topic of many social media conversations) that it boils down to two questions:

  • Who do I think I (digitally) am?
  • What kind of space have I (virtually) created?

For me the joy of social media is to dialogue, learn and grow alongside those who are different to me. Some might think that the internet is no place to experience alterity, but for me, otherness is a digital reality. So just because someone is other to me is no reason to delete them from my comments stream in fact the opposite is true  – I grow in their presence. But the real issue is what (virtual) space that dialogue occurs.

Is it the equivalent to my living room? Where I invite strangers (both those I don’t know and those who are different (strange) to me) in order to have a conversation and learn and grow together … but if they overstep the mark, dominate the conversation, insult me or other guests, or behave in a way that threatens and makes others in the room feel uncomfortable – then I can throw them out.

Or is it the equivalent of the pub? Where I am a guest in someone else’s space alongside others who I do or do not know to have a conversation about those things that interest us all.  In this environment everyone has a greater freedom of expression and if I feel uncomfortable with another I either leave or move somewhere else.

So is my blog a public space? Or a personal space?

Then, of course, there is the issue of digital identity. Who am I online? And does that bear any resemblance to my offline life? This becomes pertinent when there are those that we include in one part of our digital life but not another. So should my Twitter and Facebook be linked? Or am I one person in one stream and another somewhere else? Should my blog relate to the whole of me or just a specific part of me? Or should I hide parts of me in specific social media space in order not to entice a troll? I had a good chat with @RWileECoyote about the merits of unlinking Facebook from Twitter and I have heard a number of comments around the Facebook vs Google + vs Twitter conversation that suggest people use different platforms for different things. Does that make my life manageable in small bite sizes I can handle or does it add to a sense of fragmented self – a fractured truth.  If I am being flamed by a troll on my blog ought I invite them into my G+, Twitter and Facebook world too? or should I say ‘I don’t want you in any part of my digital life?’

This gets more complicated when I remember my sense of calling to pioneer ministry. In this ministry I long to be in the presence of others who are different to me and I make a commitment to being alongside those I don’t like and those who don’t like me (or at least don’t get me) with the offer that, if they do get me, they might want to journey with me. Hardly possible if I delete trolls out of existence in my digital life.

So what is your digital space? Public? Private? A third space? Do you use different platforms to show different sides of the virtual you? and are #digidisciples called to be amongst those who are (digitally) unattractive and difficult? or ought we to delete them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?

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