A Little Elitism Will Help Rein in Social Network Trolls, Haters

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-08-16 Print this article Print

If it did, newspapers would be like Twitter. Instead, they're sources of news and opinion written by elites who have proved their skill and reliability over time. Newspapers and news organizations are valuable precisely because they screen content and contain elite voices.

Furthermore, people talk about harassment, but time-wasting is another product of egalitarian social sites.

I've been using Google+ since the beginning. Over the years, Google+ evolved from a de facto elite social network to an extremely egalitarian one. The early adopters of Google+ tended to be well-educated, constructive, interested and engaged users. But in recent years and months, the general global public has been pouring in and the elites have been wandering away.

And everyone has an equal voice. Three years ago I spent all my time on Google+ having deep and detailed conversations with really smart people. Now I spend most of my time blocking people and deleting pointless comments.

I still get some great engagement on Google+ because it retains an echo of the elite social site it once was. But the ugly truth is that, now, probably three-quarters of the comments on my posts benefit no one. Most seem unaware that they're even commenting on a post, saying things such as, "Hi," or, "What is this?" or "Email me," with an email address.

My Google+ "Notifications" stream is absurd. Half the posts are in languages I don't speak. And the remainder are spam messages, links to Indian explicit content sites and weird selfies from people I don't know. Again, these are the posts Google is alerting me about.

Does Google have any idea how busy I am? Why is it flooding me with completely irrelevant comments and posts? Google+ was better when it was elitist.

Like Twitter, Google+ could benefit from a healthy dose of elitism.

Elitism Is the Solution

Entrepreneur and blogger Jason Calacanis wrote a post last week outlining his prescription for solving Twitter's harassment problem. He calls for all accounts to be verified. Today, verification is reserved for celebrities, politicians, prominent journalists and other big shots. That sounds elitist, but in fact verification today is mostly window dressing. Under Calacanis' plan, verification applications would be granted, as long as applicants can show verifiable identification.

Here's the meat of Calacanis' proposal: The default mode of Twitter would be "verified users only," plus the accounts you explicitly follow. Unless you take action to choose the tweets of non-verified and non-followed users, you won't see them. Because most people don't change default options, most Twitter users would see only tweets from verified users.

The advantage is that verified users, including trolls, can be blocked or their accounts eliminated. Unverified users, including the trolls and harassers, will exist on the margins of Twitter and tweet in obscurity.

In other words, the solution is to segment Twitter into two—the Twitter of elites who use their real identity and potentially reach large numbers of people, and a lower class of anonymous users who can't ever reach the masses.

I like Calacanis' idea, especially if, after verifying their real identity with Twitter, users can use a pseudonym. That would enable people at risk to safely use Twitter as a verified elite.

Interestingly, Calacanis told me during a recent episode of "This Week in Tech" that Twitter in fact is planning a much wider allowance of account verification and that this prediction was based on "inside information."


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