The size, reach and visibility we had worked so hard to achieve was attracting a new kind of reader.
Whereas Anthill's audience had previously displayed the most courteous of online behaviour, guided by our liberal 'user-governed' Engagement Policy, we suddenly found ourselves tackling random, often snarly attacks from what we have politely come to refer to as the 'uncouth fringe'.
The most common type of attack is usually directed at one of the humans we write about. The charming founder of fashion upstart 99Designs Nikki Durkin, as an example of mild provocation, was recently described in an anonymous comment as "OTT" (over-the-top).
But often these types of comments are designed to be quite hurtful.
Perhaps not surprisingly, most of these unwelcome remarks hit our website on weekends and holiday periods, when the 'uncouth fringe' are, we assume, feeling at their lowest (glass of red in hand, warmed exclusively by the flicker of a laptop monitor in a darkened room... and the warm tears of loneliness running down their faces).
Sprays at Anthill are also not uncommon but are usually reserved for instances relating to our own incompetence... and that's fair enough.
We have always tried to foster an open community, where dissenting views are fearlessly shared, which does not rely on a policing force (or some level of moderation). It's our view that this sort of censorship stifles the best attribute of the web -- open and honest dialogue.
As such, when enforced, our 10 point Engagement Policy can usually be distilled down to one rule: Readers may attack the idea but never the person. (Incidentally, we have only ever needed to terminate four 'heated conversations' in the history of Anthill. The rule works.)
However, today I am seeking your help.
No, I am not making a plea for good behaviour. If you are reading this you are probably a member of our thoughtful, conscientious, erudite and delightful core and don't need a lesson in manners. And, no. I am not calling for the assembly of an Anthill vigilante guard either. (Although there is something strangely seductive in the concept.)
No, I don't want either of those things.
I want your help... writing haiku!
This might require some explanation.
Anthill's 6 most common 'anonymous sprays'
Over time, I have found that 'troll-like' activity usually only takes one of a small number of forms.
I know this because, lately, every personalised answer that I write in response to every justified or malice-fueled critic is beginning to seem more and more like the last.
Over the summer break, when anonymous venting reached surprising heights on the Anthill website, I began to write a list of common 'sprays'.
It seems that the six most common sprays identified occur when an anonymous spleen-venter criticises:
- The commercial abilities of someone we have written nice things about
- The personal traits or appearance of someone we have written nice things about
- Anthill for supporting the person we have written nice things about
- Anthill for not knowing the difference between two highly technical, incidental things
- Anthill for covering a story without the depth of analysis the reader would prefer
- Anthill for a spelling error or typo
Naturally, we don't mind the latter three criticisms. In fact, we rely on them!
However, it frustrates us when our mistakes are highlighted by anonymous bandits, with unnecessary glee or disproportionate ire. (Let's call it a 'love-hate' relationship.)
The third complaint is slightly more complex, as it usually prompts us to look more closely into the activities of the subject.
But, most of the time, we find that the cause of the anger has little to do with the focus of the rage (the person we have written nice things about) and more about the anonymous dissenter.
So, rather than draft similar but unique responses every time, one for every critic, I began to prepare 'multi-purpose' responses... in haiku.
Haiku's to combat bad behaviour
I first heard of the idea of using Haiku's to combat bad behaviour online in a Fast Company article about the eccentric founder of Craig's List, Craig Newmark.
While I have not yet come across any examples of Newmark's poetic flair, the idea stuck.
A haiku (plural haiku), to paraphrase wikipedia, is:
A form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 moras (or on), in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras respectively. Although haiku are often stated to have 17 syllables, this is inaccurate as syllables and moras are not the same. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line and tend to take aspects of the natural world as their subject matter, while haiku in English often appear in three lines.
Fortunately, for my intents and purposes, haiku also often possess a mystical and authoritative tone. For example, these four were written on a plane from Melbourne to Sydney late last week.
Anthill Haiku: A New Era in Online Engagement
While I have been able to identify six common 'sprays', I have only been able to come up with four haiku. I hope to apply them to multiple scenarios.
Haiku #1: Snake in grass
Restless asp in grass
Distracted for a moment
Who will catch the mice?
Haiku #2: Anger management
So much anger here
Doth the man protest too much?
Thanks for backward praise
Haiku 3: Sensei, please
School us, Sensai Sensei, please
Anthill is jack of all trades
But master of none
Haiku #4: Egg on face
With egg on face
We say, 'Never wrong for long'!
We love living web
Now, I'm sure that there's a haiku purest purist out there, who will point out a small error (or perhaps a large one) in one of my poetic extravagances above. To you, I say, leave a comment, then read "Read Haiku #4".
As for everyone else, I intend to create a separate page with an explanation for each one of the above and next time we receive an aggressive (or polite and justified) comment from a critic, I intend to respond (and instruct our staff to respond) in three simple lines and a link.
Are there any common examples of 'troll-like' activity that I have missed? Would anyone like to exercise their own flair, and perhaps add to our arsenal? Is this idea inspired or deeply flawed?