Recently Jimmy Kimmel caused quite a stir by making a joke about how pointless he thought it was to watch people play video games. As is the custom of our current social media activist culture there was immediate response ranging from the thoughtful to the horrific and embarrassing. Kimmel brilliantly capitalized on the rapid stupidity of people who think threatening a man with cancer is the appropriate response to a comedian telling a joke. He then did a few more bits where he read some of most extreme comments on his YouTube in the same vein as when he has celebrities read mean tweets. After what was probably the end of the apex of the relevancy and controversy Kimmel did a bit with Markiplier and MissMae to see what streaming is all about. I got the impression that Mark wasn’t thrilled to be there as Jimmy stayed firmly planted in character and seemed, ironically, not interested in interacting with them as real people. I found it sad he took a shot at them at the end and told them to hang out with real people after an awkward comedic bit where he made no effort to be himself or engage in real dialogue. The real issue I have, however, is how this series of events exposes a problem with the gaming culture that needs more thoughtful and forward thinking efforts of resolution.
The real issue I have with Twitter wars, YouTube trolls, and Twitch harassment is that it’s only possible because of the ease of internet anonymity. If a local bar had a band playing and I disliked the singer enough to go harass him while he performed, I’d find a quick exit by way of a bouncer. Now if I then decided to go back in, hurl more insults, and even threaten his life or his family’s life, I’d make my exit in a cop car. In other words, there would be consequences for acting like a insult throwing, threat making, brazen idiot. Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Twitch are clear and undeniable leaders in technology, but they seem pretty inept at stopping harassment, trolling, and spam scams. At a ground level the problem is that asking for an email or using a captcha just isn’t enough anymore.
The issue is that sites like YouTube and Twitch give anyone access to interact with real people. Twitter is a somewhat different animal as it tends to be slightly self-policing since tweets that contains threats or harassment tend to get quickly deleted along with the accounts they came from. Comments on a video or things said in a chat are different given they have less exposure and it’s more difficult to draw the collective community’s attention to it. Someone can quickly pop in my Twitch chat, say the most horrific and hateful thing and then vanish into thin air. Their account isn’t tied to them personally so it’s just a conduit for hate when they feel like it. And the chat has no permanence so outside of taking a screenshot of every troll comment it’s basically just a free-for-all that even the best mods can feel somewhat helpless to stop in any permanent way. Like a game of whack-a-troll, you ban one person and have to deal with their endless extra accounts until they get tired of coming back. And yes, generally the quicker you ban and move on the more they tend to head into someone else’s chat, but you are still at the mercy of a faceless person’s persistence.
It is my contention that if your site offers social interaction there needs to be more done to ensure users have some level of accountability. Yes, this cuts both ways as hackers consistently breach and steal information. But if all you ask for is an email address and use a captcha to trip up bots, then you are basically inviting people to create as many accounts as they want with no fear of repercussions. If you want to argue against what I’m saying with some diatribe about free speech, keep in mind that you have free speech in most countries, but it’s tied to you, not some faceless avatar in a chat room. So yes, you should be free to say whatever you want, but it if you are the one saying it everyone should know that. Now I agree, in certain contexts anonymity on the internet can be good with respect to whistle-blowing or exposing something that could bring a vengeful response. But sites like YouTube and Twitch are meant to give persons a place to interact, and they should be taking far better measures to ensure more levels are placed in front of the person making their 23rd account for harassment purposes.
Kimmel is a troll
When I look back over what happened with Jimmy Kimmel I can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction. He proved that the trolls and haters on the internet are the overly sensitive hypocritical cowards we all knew they were. He did, in a much lighter fashion, what trolls do every day, he said something mean to provoke a response. And the response he got proves that the gaming culture and the internet have a long way to go. We haven’t progressed beyond what has been going on for years, and in many ways these sites have stagnated and refused to innovate. I know that savvy haters can use things to hide their tracks, but if account creation was just a little bit more involved, it would probably make a significant impact on the quantity of these instances. I can tell that most of the trolls I have dealt with are just young kids looking to get a reaction, and they would be stumped or blocked by even the most basic requirements. The reason I know this is because as soon as I turned on the feature that only allows accounts that have verified via email, the instances decreased dramatically. So if something as simple as requiring email verification can have an effect on the ease of trolling and harassing, surely there are other measures that could be taken. Let me know what you think or what your experience has been.
If you liked this entry please share it on facebook or twitter.