No trolls allowed?


I was fortunate enough to hear Sarat Maharaj of Lund University (and previously of Goldsmiths) speak recently about art, textiles and knowledge production at the Cultural Threads Symposium at Central St Martins. Included in his ‘haberdashery of ideas’ was the Norwegian concept of the troll as curious and observant – a challenge to the comfortable status quo. This, of course, is in contrast to the image of the faceless, vindictive troll we have seen in social media news from Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez to Gamergate.

It gave me pause to reflect as I have just launched the Facebook element of my research into amateur knit and crochet makers who engage as communities both ‘in real life’ and online. Crafty people are generous, welcoming, affirming and full of admiration for the skills of others. Crafty people are also – well, people… which means some can be thoughtless, mean, narcissistic and vindictive. Trolling on Facebook has affected Attic24 (which I wrote about here) and more recently the ‘Crochet-Along’ efforts of Dedri Uys and Kimberley Slifer. The generous designers – offering free their skills, patterns and time – were broadsided by vitriolic posts which almost brought the 20-week schedule to an early close. Similarly, the inventor and sole Facebook manager of the ‘Big Comic Relief Crafternoon‘ found it necessary to post that she was stepping away from the site temporarily as the trolling posts were too distressing to manage.

Why trolling happens at all is a much bigger conversation than can be had here. The thoughtlessness or sheer horrid wounding involved has something to do with the protection offered by the screen. Yet it is not faceless… people’s avatars, images and names are associated with these postings – observed by strangers and ‘friends’ alike.

A colleague has tried to assuage my concerns by pointing out that any potential trolling in my research group is of academic interest: A pragmatic, detached approach can be taken where I analyse the motivation, message and impact of a negative post. However, this project is about wellbeing and community. There is more at stake than my role as a researcher. I have a moral and ethical obligation to participants that I will protect them from harm.

And so… in these early stages, there is a light touch reminder in the welcoming pinned post about support and positivity. However, there is a draft ready to go regarding a zero-tolerance approach to trolling: Posts will be deleted, posters will removed from the group without debate. I have engaged some trusted friends with ‘Admin’ permissions to help monitor this. It may well mean ‘missing’ some points for research, but protection trumps all.

With these measures in place, I begin this aspect of my research with a hopeful heart.

If you are interested in participating in the research group, the details are here – please feel free to share.

No trolls allowed.