If there’s one constant in any griping discussion about the internet, it will be either the presence of trolls, or rants about trolls and trolling behaviour on just about any website you care to mention.
I should say, for the purposes of this article, that we're not talking about the appalling abuses received by women lately on Twitter - which has moved far beyond trolling and into the space of criminal threats - but about the hijacking of discussions and similar.
On most sites, other than not “feeding the trolls”, the common consensus is that there isn’t much you can do other than ignore them or call out their bad behaviour. But some websites are showing that there is another way – that it’s possible to design the trolls out of the picture, to a certain extent.
Even in the Daily Mail’s comments section, you can see the irrational trolling comments are generally the ones voted down. But that’s where the Daily Mail stops – the comments are still visible (and arguably, given the debate they generate in themselves, the DM wants to keep them that way).
But sites such as Stack Exchange are starting to take steps that others could learn from in order to keep the trolls under their bridges. It comes to intelligent user experience design.
Stack Exchange rewards good answers with points and uses a system of up and down voting. Unlike in the Daily Mail comments, the up-voted responses then rise to the top and the down voted ones are condensed or are invisible, simply because there’s other good content above them. You can also sort and order and tag information to suit your needs.
When done right, ignoring the trolls isn’t a huge personal effort. It’s made simpler by the collective effort of a community ignoring bad behavior, and, more importantly, rewarding good. This means that trolls simply fade out of the picture. The network can’t be ‘gamed’ – good behaviour is built in from the start.
Here, good social design removes much of the potential for violent or aggressive content and creates a richer forum for debate that stops every debate from disappearing down a trolling black hole.