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Don’t feed the trolls: Navigating free expression in the digital age




"Warning: Do Not Feed The Trolls"

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Social media backlash has recently impacted the resignations of biochemist Tim Hunt, who had some unsavory words about women in science and former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal who claimed to be black despite having two white parents.

Where do we draw the line between expressing opinions and online abuse, or trolling? Author Whitney Phillips breaks down the troll phenomena in her latest, “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Mainstream Media and Online Culture” (MIT Press, 2015).

Though anonymous users posting insensitive remarks on Facebook memorial pages, known as RIP trolling, or creating memes like Pedobear or Rape Sloth are obscene to many, she argues it’s not all that deviant. Trolls are simply an allegory of an entitled culture where dominance and success is gendered.

Phillips compares what trolls do online to what corporate media uses as a moneymaking strategy. Take for example, how President Obama was vilified during elections where his place of birth was in question. What trolls do outright, mainstream media does covertly.  

How do you respond to online trolling? Should more websites do more to prevent trolling or is it a necessary evil in our society?

Guest:

Whitney Phillips, Ph.D, author “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Mainstream Media and Online Culture” (MIT Press, 2015)