Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Facelessness + the Gyges Effect

As I teach about the Ring of Gyges that in Plato's fable granted invisibility to its wearer for better or worse, I was intrigued by this recent article in the New York Times. Stephen Marche ties in the trolls who lurk on the Net to the classical analogy. He reminds us of "the faceless communication social media creates, the linked distances between people, both provokes and mitigates the inherent capacity for monstrosity. The Gyges effect, the well-noted disinhibition created by communications over the distances of the Internet, in which all speech and image are muted and at arm’s reach, produces an inevitable reaction — the desire for impact at any cost, the desire to reach through the screen, to make somebody feel something, anything."

Having been the target of a troll albeit in an academic, critical, and (post-)Buddhist forums at that, I recall the frustration I and others had at the producer of such vitriol. The fact that many in that setting were educated, articulate, and formidably armed for debate made the continued attacks all the more contentious. Efforts to counter the venom with praise when deserved, as I had done to the creator by personal e-mail as well as forum comments, generated no appreciation. I tried compassion and I tried intelligence, but neither worked. Still, Marche urges that rather than confronting or avoiding trolls, that compassion is the answer. "Trolls breed under the shadows of the bridges we build."

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