Four Ways that Terraforming Could Save the Earth

Serious scientist mostly downplay the idea of terraforming another planet.

They have two reasons for this, but they seem to miss one important point. So I am going to tell you four ways that terraforming could benefit, or even save, the earth today.

But first, the two reasons that scientists downplay terraforming as a serious endeavor:

The timescale of terraforming is enormous. We can’t simply seed the entire surface of Mars with plants, come back in six weeks and find a livable planet. The best case for terraforming would be thousands of years. More likely it will take tens of thousands.

Looking beyond our solar system becomes a double edged sword. We might find planets out there that are ripe and ready for our kind of life, or at least closer to what we need then Mars or Venus. That could shorten the terraforming time considerably. But we have to get there and short of some sort of science fiction faster than light ship, it’s going to take thousands of years to make the voyage.

Meanwhile the problems that we face here on Earth are likely to come to a head within the next few years, or at most within the next couple of generations. Overpopulation, climate change and resource depletion are nearing the crisis point right now. So you can’t fix overpopulation by starting a colony on Mars because it will be thousands of years before Mars will be able to support the number of people you would need to send to make even a small dent in the world’s population.

The second problem with terraforming is the whole resource-to-benefits conundrum. Terraforming would require a huge outlay in resources with only distant benefits in return.

It goes like this, we’ve spotted oil on Titan (or at least hydrocarbons that are like oil). So why not go there and get it to renew our depleted fossil fuels?

The short answer is that it takes a massive amount of energy to build rockets and fly them deep into space to get there. And then another outlay in energy to fly the oil back to Earth. You end up spending more energy to get the oil than it provides.

The dynamic for dealing with overpopulation is even worse. Mars One is looking to send forty men and women to form a colony on Mars. Even if assume they have the technology and funding to go today, what is forty people to a population of more than seven billion? Not even a fraction of a percent.

The world adds an average of 250 new babies to the world’s population each minute. How many do we have to send to a new world to reverse that trend? What kind of infrastructure would we need before we could relieve overpopulation via space travel?

I could go on but the point remains. We can not fix the problems we face here on Earth by fleeing to a new planet. But there is still a strong case for actively pursuing terraforming.

How terraforming can benefit us right now

The point that most scientist and arm chair terraformers seem to miss is that the technological hurdles we face in terraforming dovetail with a lot of the problems we face on this planet. Developing the technology to terraform another planet may kill two birds with one stone, it will fix our problems here, too. Here are just four examples.

Climate Change

The average surface temperature of Mars is minus sixty degrees celsius. Venus runs a balmy 462 degrees celsius. To get a nice earth-like average of 16 degrees celsius would mean raising the temperature of Mars by some seventy six degrees. Or dropping Venus’s average temperature over 446 degrees.

Now maybe you can see why it takes thousands of years to terraform a planet. But lets say we start working on the technology today. What are the benefits for us right now?

The earth is warming. Even die hard climate change deniers accept this fact. (They argue that its not man made and is instead part of some natural cycle, but they don’t argue the basic math, we are getting warmer.) At the rate we are going our earth will be nearly 2 degrees warmer by 2050.

A) 2 degrees might not seem like much, but it will have major effects on climate and weather. Many of them we are already seeing.

B) compared to the 76 degree change we need to make Mars livable, it’s a drop in the bucket. So I propose our test run for terraforming another planet is to develop technology to lower our earth back 2 degrees to where it was.

We even have some of the technology we need. We can take carbon out of the atmosphere and bury it in the Earth in a process called carbon sequestration. Why aren’t investing heavily in this kind of research? It would get us out our current fix and lay the ground work for terraforming another planet at the same time.

Food

With our current technology it would take about six months to get to Mars. With the necessity of waiting for the planets to align, the round trip would take nearly two and half years. What are you going to eat that entire time? If we want to terraform the planet and that’s going to take thousands of years, what will the colonist eat? You can’t pack that many dried rations.

The answer is that we will need to create small, intensive hydroponics or something similar. Our space capsule must be able to produce a sustainable diet in a very small amount of space.

And honestly, we need that now. Our current agricultural practices are just not sustainable. There are three problems with it, it takes a massive toll on the environment, it is very land intensive (meaning it takes up a lot of space) and it won’t be able to feed our growing population for much longer.

There are two sacred cows in agribusiness that make our system so unsustainable. The first is — cows. I am not going to argue for militant veganism, but our desire to eat large quantities of meat isn’t sustainable and won’t work in space.

The other huge sacred cow is oil and petrochemicals. From herbicides and pesticides, the gas we put into tractors to plant and harvest crop and the gas we use to ship produce all over the world, every aspect of agriculture is touched by petrochemicals. Without them our system would collapse.

Imagine a city that could feed itself, leaving the surrounding land to return to nature.

What we need is a way to grow the bulk of our food in a small contained area close to where it is needed. That is a must for terraforming but would have far reaching benefits for earth right now. Imagine a world where cities can produce their own food and large swaths of farmland can be returned to their natural state. Imagine having a room in your house that grows all your produce and you only have to shop occasionally for luxury items.

Energy

The economic argument against terraforming goes like this; it takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources to terraform another planet, so you must first solve the issue of energy scarcity. But once you’ve created cheap, sustainable energy, you no longer have the same incentive to go to another planet in search of resources.

So? Solve the issue of energy scarcity? Yes! That’s exactly what we need to do.

In order to fly to Mars and back we need to be able to create energy in abundance, through some cheap, infinitely renewable source. In order to break our addiction to fossil fuels, we need to find a cheap and infinitely renewable energy source.

What that will that look like? Solar, wind, nuclear or something we haven’t dreamed up yet, I don’t know. But clearly it’s the next step in technological evolution and we should all be invested in making it. Whether we do it because we are running out of oil, because we want to go to another planet, or some other reason is irrelevant.

Society

Terraforming projects take thousands of years. What kind of society will we have in a thousand years?

Right now it’s hard to get through a single political upheaval without it feeling like the end of the world. And this historian warns that humans tend to go through destructive periods regularly. Can we humans create a society that is both stable and dynamic enough to last a thousand years?

I believe the answer is yes, and it’s something we must absolutely strive for. Really the biggest obstacle to terraforming another planet isn’t scientific or technological. Our scientist know what to do and could do most of it with technology we already possess. It’s political and cultural.

Like the other problems we’ve discussed, the issues are surprisingly similar to what we must face in terraforming. How do we share scarce resources fairly? How do we live and cooperate in small spaces? How do we learn to work together on projects that we will never see the end result of?

In the end tackling these problems will soon become imperative. So what are we waiting for?

You know who is really good at terraforming? The Galactic Consortium. Check out my ongoing sci-fi serial about their arrival over the skies of Earth.


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The Darkest Aspects of Fantasy are the Realistic Aspects

The trend towards dark, gritty fantasies has dominated fantasy writing for the last decade or so. The relatively light-hearted Harry Potter series grew darker and more somber as the books progressed. Game of Thrones came to dominate epic fantasy, filled with violent battles and characters that may be murdered in the blink of an eye. The YA market has seen dystopian novels like the Hunger Games pitting children against each other in a battle of survival.

There is another, less apparent theme that runs through all three of these series. Their brutality is grounded in actual history. Ironic as it is, the darkest aspect of each of these books is actually the most realistic.

Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin has created many fantasy elements for his epic series, dragons, ice zombies, seasons that last many years, and even the land he describes. But the drawn out civil war that drives the story is inspired by, if not based on, historical events. The English Wars of the Roses contain many elements that Game of Thrones fans will recognize, including at least one battle that puts the series to shame for it’s pure brutality.

This video does a good job of explaining the connections:

Harry Potter

Does Voldemort’s obsession with muggle blood strike you as eerily familiar? It should be. J. K. Rowling based a lot of the Death Eaters rule on Hitler’s Germany. Voldemort’s hatred for muggle blood, especially his shame over his own, mirrors Hitler’s obsession with Jews. Even the way he uses an existing bigotry, building a mythology of Salazar Slytherin around the destruction of muggles, mirrors how the Nazi party played on existing racism and anti-semitism. The world of the later books, where Voldemort holds sway, gives us a haunting glimpse into the lives of resistance fighters in any repressive regime.

The Hunger Games

The idea of forcing provinces to send tributes to compete in a bloody battle royale might sound like the most preposterous fiction, but that’s exactly what ancient Rome did. And that’s where Susan Collins drew much of the inspiration for the Hunger Games. Even the purpose of the Hunger Games matches that of the ancient coliseum. Not only were they displays of wealth and power by the sovereign state, they were vital distractions for the masses.

Other examples

I could continue in this vein for some time without running out of examples. Tolkien denied that the Lord of the Rings, published in 1937, had any historical allegory. But many readers and critics can’t help but see the rising power in the east as being applicable to both Sauron and Nazi Germany. The analogy between the middle earth and the times in which the books were written is remarkable, whether he intended it or not.

Tolkien’s close friend C. S. Lewis, on the other hand, was free in admitting that the Narnia series were written in response to World War Two, and the parallels are significant there as well.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Authors are often influenced by the times in which they live and the experiences of the real world.

I think the bigger question we need to ponder is this, gritty fantasy shows us about ourselves. We create dragons, evil wizards, and mythical weapons, but they true horrors aren’t the things writers manufacture in their minds, but the reality of human nature itself.

Technology, OpenDyslexia and Asym

Life is funny sometimes. We create technology to solve a problem, only to create a new problem. Then we create more technology to solve those problems.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by a difficulty reading. It is not a sign of laziness or low intelligence. In fact many dyslexics are very bright and highly creative. The list of famous people with dyslexia is prestigious.

Dyslexia is a brain disorder. It’s not that they can not see or read the letters in front of them, it’s that they have trouble converting those symbols into words. Dyslexia runs in families. Their brains are slightly different on MRI scans and they use different portions of the brain to compensate for the way their brains are. (Please note, different does not imply better or worse.)

Dyslexia is a man made disease. Writing is a technology and a recent one at that. Our brains simply didn’t evolve to read. We have to learn to do it. There is nothing natural about the process.

How recent is writing?

Sumerian cuneiform is generally recognized as the first written language, originating around 3100 bce, over five thousand years ago. There is a yet undeciphered Harappan language that might predate it by a few hundred years.  Counting and trading tokens predate actually writing and may go back nearly nine thousand years. While nine thousand years is a long time in history, it’s a blip in human evolution.

This kind of symbol processing is new to our brains. If you do not have dyslexia, that’s pure luck. You happened to have the right neuro-pathways in your brain to complete a completely unnatural mental task. You should really quit telling dyslexics they have a disorder and admit you got lucky.

Even though writing has been around for more five thousand years, widespread literacy is much newer. For most of history, writing was kept for an elite few. Broad public education for the masses was a notion that only became common in the 1700’s. Even then many labor class children dropped out of school early to work. Throughout the 1800’s for example, literacy in Great Britain hovered around fifty percent.

The biggest change in the last century, the change that has led to a rise in dyslexia in the western world is not just a rise in literacy, but a rise in it’s importance. The dwindling labor economy and growing service economy of the late twentieth century and today require literacy.

This is not only true of dyslexia, but also for ADHD, Asperger’s and many learning disorders. A hundred years ago having a learning disorder limited your academic life, but there were many other avenues to having a good life. Gone are the days of apprenticeships, learning skills hands on from a master craftsman. Gone are the days of making a decent living without an education. My point is not that people didn’t suffer from dyslexia before the twentieth century, but that it wasn’t the same barrier to success that it is today.

None of these disorders are diseases in the medical sense. They are differences in brain chemistry or make up, but they make it incredibly hard to succeed in our highly specialized society that demands reading and academic achievement of every citizen.

So what are we going to do about them? That’s always a good question. Technology has recently provided some interesting answers to the question of dyslexia.

open-dyslexia-is-a-font

Dyslexics often have difficulty translating letters into the correct mental meaning in their minds. Certain letters offer a greater challenge than others. Flipping letters, perceiving a b as d or vice versa, is a common symptom. It was probably not surprising that someone would decide that maybe we should look at the letters themselves, instead of the brains of dyslexics. Open Dyslexic is a font created for dyslexic readers. The letters of Opendyslexic are shaded in such a way as to help readers avoid flipping or inverting them. The creators admit that it doesn’t work for every single dyslexic, but it can be a godsend for some. If you or someone you love has dyslexia, you can download the font here.

Once the font is installed on a computer, using it with any word processors should be a snap, so if you can get editable files from school or wherever, you can convert them to this font. For ereaders it might be tougher. The Kobo allows custom fonts. Epub files, like Apple and Kobo can include custom fonts. If you are a little bit of a geek, you can use Calibre to add Opendyslexic to your favorite epub books. As of right now, Kindle doesn’t allow custom fonts but maybe someday they will, or at least include Opendyslexic in their fonts.

This page will show you how to change your fonts on most web browsers. With so much of our reading being done digitally these days, there is hope that we can adjust that reading to suit the reader, rather than forcing the reader to adjust themselves.

But there is more to reading, and reading issues, than the shape of the letters. Another interesting development is Asymetrica. This article talks about how the spaces between letters affect reading comprehension and engagement. A web browser tool can be found here.

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Human beings have a real knack for changing the environment around us. Unfortunately we often create as many problems as we solve in this way. Writing has been one of our greatest inventions of all times, and has revolutionized our world many times over. However for an estimated one in ten people that have dyslexia, it has made life a lot tougher. They struggle to learn what is increasingly an essential skill. They may be told they are stupid or lazy; lies that simply hold them back.

Hopefully the same knack for changing the environment can be turned to good. As we learn more about this disorder and as we come to rely more on digital technology, changing the reading environment to make it easier for dyslexics to read seems like a life changing idea. Hopefully we can get the word out about these projects and others like them.

In my science fiction serial The Galactic Consortium, humans living in the consortium don’t have dyslexia, ADHD, or any of the learning disorders common on earth. At first they wonder why this is, they aren’t so different from us after all. The truth is buried so deep in their history that they’ve forgotten it. Their educational system and digital environment was adjusted millennia ago to accommodate a wider range of human neurology. Their script has been optimized for comprehension and their educational system is flexible and works with many different learning styles. I can only hope our real world systems will learn the same lesson in our near future.

Read more about the Galactic Consortium here.

Read more about the Galactic Consortium here.

LGBT Characters in my Writing

All of the books I’ve written have at least a few LGBT characters. My YA writing focuses on LGBT issues, but even my science fiction and fantasy writing sports more than a few LGBT characters. The pack in the Bear Naked series includes a lesbian and the otters both have gender identities that are, well, not cisgender. The Mage Chronicles has a transgender character who is also bisexual. Children of a Quiet Earth has several side characters that are LGBT.

I am not attempting to write exclusively LGBT fiction. None of my works is intended as an issue piece. LGBT people show up constantly in my writing because they show up constantly in my life. Long before I came out as transgender they were in my life.

Growing up in a small town in the seventies and eighties, I didn’t know LGBT people even existed. But I was already sharing a house with a lesbian, my sister. One friend from school later confessed to me that he was a straight crossdresser.

My first foray outside of home was Iowa City, Iowa. At my first job, I worked with an openly gay man. I lived next door to a lesbian. Moving to Des Moines for nursing school I had a number of LGBT friends.

I suspect that most people know quite a few LGBT people, they might just not know. If you aren’t accepting, the LGB people in your life may not come out to you. (Trans people often don’t have a choice about being out, it may be apparent at first sight.) But that doesn’t mean you don’t know them. For a long time that was how it was, people just avoided talking about their sexuality with anyone who hadn’t given them some sign they would be accepting. Times are changing. More and more LGB people are out regardless of how others feel about them.

How many people are LGBT? According to the now infamous Alfred Kinsey, around ten percent of the population. Experts and critics have been debating that number for years. Experts have questioned the methodology. More recent studies range from 3 to 6 percent of the population. Studies vary depending on who does them and what exact methodology they use. Typically more men identify as gay then women as lesbians, but women are proportionally more likely to identify as bisexual. Transgender people are a fraction of that, less than one percent of the population most of the time. The point is that there are enough of us that you likely know a few, no matter how sheltered your life has been.

Part of my personal experience has to do with where I’ve lived and the lifestyle I’ve lived. Both Iowa City and Des Moines have large LGBT populations, at least relative to the rest of the Midwest. I have always had eclectic interests and pursuits. I’ve been going to sci-fi cons, pagan festivals and similar pursuits. It’s a community and subculture that is more accepting than the mainstream of society.

We write what we know. And I know LGBT people. I have trouble imagining a world where such people simply don’t exist. When I read novels that have no LGBT characters, they feel off. I often find it hard to suspend disbelief and accept that this just doesn’t happen because it’s a fantasy setting. I doubt that.

That doesn’t mean that I expect every author to write a token gay character just because. But I will probably always have at least one or two side characters somewhere on the LGBT spectrum, even when they aren’t the focus of the book. That’s just how I perceive the world.

I think that as our culture grows towards acceptance and LGBT people become more visible, you will see more writers including them in their fantasy stories, not to attempt to address the issues but simply because they are a part of life. And that is what true acceptance looks like.

Heroes and Psychopaths

When I was a kid, heroes were heroes and you knew it. They wore white, told the truth and fought for right, all the time. Villains really weren’t that important. They only existed in order for the hero to have something to fight.
Think about the Lord of the Rings. The side plots and subtext might brim with moral ambiguity and struggle, the main story line is pretty crystal clear. Sauron is evil embodied and his primary servants, the orcs are little more than beasts for the heroes to fight. Aragorn is the ideal king reborn and the hobbits are as good as a fantasy culture can come.
Tolkien’s legions of copy cats took it to another level. Fantasy book shelves filled with stories of brave knights fighting orcs, trolls and other evil denizens. Neither side thought much about their morality. The knights never behaved in ways that made you doubt their goodness, nor the orcs (or whatever) in ways that made you wonder if there was a goodness in them. By the time I was in my teens, I had read dozens of books along those lines.
I was growing up and so was the fantasy genre around me. Throughout my teens I discovered more complex, less heroic heroes. The First Sword of Shannara stuck close to the fantasy genre formula but as the series grew things changed. In one of the books, the druid Allanon tricks one of Shea’s descendants into sacrificing themselves to become the new magic tree that protects the realm, an underhanded trick that infuriates the main character and Gandalf would never have stooped to, but it made sense in that world. The White Gold Wielder (Thomas Covenant series) introduced me to one of my first true anti-heroes, a truly unlikeable leper who was accidentally thrown into a magical world and cast as its savior, despite his own wishes on the subject. The age of gritty magical realism had dawned.
Sorry, Game of Thrones fans, George R. R. Martin did not create the concept. He has, however, taken the idea to its logical conclusion. Early in the story we meet The Hound, a vicious soldier and anti-hero who hates knights because for all their holy vows, they are just killers in armor. As the story progresses we not only learn more about why he feels that way, we learn he’s mostly right. The vast majority of characters in the books are unlikeable, vicious and cruel.
Don’t get me wrong, they are well written and compelling. As we learn more and more about their backstories, we start to understand why they are the way they are. In some cases, we feel more sympathy for them. In other cases, we still cheer their bitter end. Its an engrossing series that forces you to keep reading.
At times it’s too much. Not in the I-can’t-take-it sort of way (though it’s close, sometimes, in that way too) but more in a I’m-having-trouble-suspending-disbelief sort of way. Seriously, is it possible that the entire isle of Westeros is filled with psychopaths and pathological liars? At times it seems so.
I was reading an article recently about psychopaths. Psychopaths and sociopaths are pop psychology terms that aren’t well defined and definitions may vary. In the psychiatric field we use the term anti-social personality disorder (ASPD).
Anti-social doesn’t refer to a lack of desire to be social, but rather an inability to form lasting social bonds due a lack of empathy. Poor empathy means that anti-social people don’t identify with the feelings of others. In the most extreme cases this can make them capable of committing atrocities with little or no remorse. They are often referred to as psychopaths in that case. More pedestrian and mundane cases of anti-social personality disorder shows itself in people who lie, manipulate, cheat and threaten to get their needs met with little or no regard for the consequences for the ones they are lying to, cheating or threatening.
A disorder in the psychiatric sense, merely means a condition that significantly interferes with life. ASPD sufferers have a hard time keeping a job, staying out of trouble with the law or keeping any sort of long term relationship going. Risk taking behavior combined with poor relationships puts anti-social personalities at a high risk for substance abuse, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Professional estimate the number of anti-social personalities around 3% of the population. To put that in perspective, studies put the gay male population around 6% and the transgender population less than one percent. The rule that you probably have one somewhere in your family is probably true of anti-socials as well LGBT people.
As anyone who works in mental health knows, a small percentage of the population can make a huge difference. ASPD individuals tend to stand out, both in psych and in the general population. A near brush with one can have lasting impact on one’s life and color one’s view of the world.

ASPD in Game of Thrones

There are three things that would greatly increase the number of anti-socials in a world like Game of Thrones. There are a couple important things that would greatly limit them.
A medieval world like Westeros is, in many ways, an anti-social playground. Most anti-socials are working at a fairly simple level of moral thinking, rewards and punishment. In a world with no central authority to punish them, they would run rampant, doing as they please. If they are lucky enough to be large and good at fighting, think of The Mountain, there would be almost no end to their cruelty.
In our society there is a not so subtle distinction between anti-social personality disorder and anti-social personality. A disorder means that it interferes with living your life in some significant way. Many in our society might have some anti-social traits but realize at some point that if they act on them in certain ways, they will get in trouble with the law, or lose an important relationship. So they rein it in. For them, it’s not a disorder.
In a medieval world the rules are different, and so to is the need to rein in these tendencies. Perhaps a number of law abiding citizens would turn into bloodthirsty psychopaths in that world. Who knows how many? A world where anti-social traits make sense would see a rise in such people, surely.
Thirdly, there are a number of other conditions that might appear like ASPD, especially if untreated, as they would be in a medieval world. The number of psychopathic assholes in games of thrones and the number of, if not random, sudden, bouts of violence bothered me until I realized one thing. These knights are running around in metal helms hitting each other. They are constantly being exposed to killing and violence. The rate of traumatic head injuries and PTSD would have to be astronomical. With no mental health system to speak of, wild mood swings, angry outbursts over small slights and a cycle of escalating violence makes sense in both cases.
There are two factors that would reduce the number of ASPD individuals in a society like Westeros. The laws of Westeros are brutal and quickly enforced. Many ASPD individuals have a history of brushes with the law, and in Westeros your first encounter with the law is likely to be your last. Royalty, and most of the characters are royal in some sense of the word, would protect the person to a degree but ASPD individuals would likely have a high turnover rate in any medieval world.
There are two important disadvantages of anti-social personalities that would show themselves in a medieval world, an apocalypse or anywhere else in literature where these individuals play a significant role. They tend to be grandiose and over estimate their own abilities and they tend to be impulsive. They overreach and that is frequently their downfall. Men like The Mountain might be the ultimate badass in armor, but you would expect that sooner or later they’ll take their armor off and some opportunist would put a dagger between their ribs or something.

Psychopaths and writers

What does this mean for writers? Anti-social characters can be fun to write. There’s a vicarious freedom in writing a character who just doesn’t give a shit, who will say or do whatever comes to mind.
Populating a world with them takes a bit more balance. Too few and your work might come across as too idyllic, too many and it isn’t believable. Most people feel empathy, even if their life has been twisted or they’ve experienced significant trauma. They pause before killing. They think, worry about the consequences for others. They create relationships and those relationships mitigate violence.
Psychopaths make easy villains, sometimes too easy. It’s cliche to make your villain simply evil for it’s own sake. Remember, every character has motivations of their own. Every character truly believes they are the hero of their story. Game of Thrones does this well, even though many (too many in my opinion) of the characters meet the definition of a psychopath, they all have deeper motivations than just being evil.
And finally remember the pretorian guard. I wish more writers would remember the pretorian guard. The pretorian guard protected the Roman Emperors, most of the time. Whenever an emperor started acting in ways that threatened the realm, or the life of the guard themselves, they often went along or even instigated assassinations and coups. The same dynamic will appear frequently around anti-social leaders, when their grip on sanity starts to slip, other folks will want a different leader by any means necessary. These may often be lead by normal men, otherwise loyal followers, who see the leader as a loose cannon, as much a threat to them as too the enemy.

Online Bullies, Trolls and Open Dialogue

The toxicity of online trolls is getting worse, or so says Wil Wheaton. I don’t know that I agree but he’s pretty active on sites like Tumblr and Reddit, where I am not. So maybe he’s on to something. Maybe it’s just those sites.

Most discussions of trolls, trolling behavior and the state of the internet are steeped in a sense of helplessness. The problem seems so intractable, so impossible to cure. There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about this issue.

I disagree. I think the problem is really quite simple. But first we must recognize how we got to our current state of affairs. Three separate and distinct issues have become so intertwined in our daily experience of the web that we fail to see them as distinct. They are the right to privacy, the right to free speech and the notion of an open dialogue. If we can separate these issues out, the problem becomes clear, as does the solution.

Open Dialogue

The idea of an open dialogue is at the heart of the social web. Facebook, Twitter and Google plus have trained us to see the entire world as an auditorium with an open mic. Every post, every picture, every link has a comment box right below it, inviting us to share our opinion with the world. News sites and blogs have comments sections. Some people feel like they don’t really know the whole story unless we read each and every comment. The whole point of sites like Reddit is to create an open dialogue on a diverse range of subjects. It’s symptomatic of our times that the news has become less and less about news and more about people’s reaction to the news. No news report is complete without some reference to social media, the story going viral, or reactions from Twitter, Facebook, etc.

But do we need to have a dialogue on every aspect of our lives? Just because there is a comment box beneath a post or picture doesn’t mean you need to have an opinion about that photo.

A picture of a woman is not an invitation to comment on her body. Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out is important news, without it a lot of people would have been left wondering why the person they knew as Bruce was now a woman named Caitlyn. But why should it be an opening for the entire country to discuss their feelings about trans people? It’s Caitlyn’s life and choice, not yours. Sometimes the news is just, the news. We can accept that this or that event happened without turning it into a debate.

Slowly across the web people are starting to wake up and ask this question. Do we really need an open forum for every piece of news that comes along?

After looking at the evidence of what online trolling does, Popular Science shut down it’s comments section entirely. Plenty of other magazines have made less drastic steps to limit comments, often hiding them behind a button.

Even a year ago it was a given that bloggers must encourage reader participation in comments. Now many big name bloggers have partially done away with comments or moderate them with a heavy hand. Blogs often allow comments on some posts and not others.

Users on social media are even showing signs of becoming jaded. They are quicker to delete comments, block or unfriend users and move on.

And honestly, I think it’s a good thing. An open dialogue is a privilege, not a right. It’s time to reassert this fact. Implicit behind the whole life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, behind the first amendment’s freedom of speech and religion, is the right to have an opinion without having to constantly defend it.

Women shouldn’t have to be subjected to comments about their bodies from random men online. A woman can post pictures of themselves wearing whatever they want. They can tag it with a comment like “I look hot today.” They are not required to leave those comments open so you can chime in your opinion about how she looks.

A statement about my gender identity or sexual orientation does not require you to chime in with your opinion on LGBT acceptance. When I went through my transition, I was crystal clear about this fact. I informed people that this thing was happening in my life and I would have a new name, gender role. I was not asking for their approval or acceptance of this fact. Not everything I share is an attempt to engage you in a public debate, believe it or not.

What about freedom of speech?

One of the problems we have when we try to school online trolls is that they insist it’s their right to not only have but to publicly air their opinions. This is, at best, a half truth. I’ve blogged about that before: How to Kick an Internet Troll right in the Freedom of Speech.

The short version is this, you have the right to free speech. But I don’t have to provide you an audience. You can have an opinion about my body, but I don’t have to share that on my Facebook or Twitter page. And if you are upset because I deleted a comment or unfriended you, you are welcome to rant on your own page.

Not only am I not obligated to give you an audience, I am not obligated to be part of your audience. Maybe it’s time to stop reading comments. There are many websites, especially news sites, where I never read the comments. Part of it is the over abundance of trolls. Part of it is what do the comments really add to the news piece? Will reading John Q’s opinion on police in America or Caitlyn Jenner’s transition really tell me something? Often the answer is no.

If anything a lot of public debate is degraded by the constant stream of dialogue from people who know nothing about the situation. Climate change remains controversial despite the overwhelming number of scientists that believe it’s real. Why? In large part because of the constant stream of news commentators, politicians and online “sceptics” that have no background in science but still feel empowered to tell the scientist why they are wrong.

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri became a flashpoint for millions of Americans who had never heard of the town and probably couldn’t find it on a map. Yet, they were all quite sure they knew what “really” happened there and were happy to share this valuable insight with residents who lived in the city their whole life.

The bottom line is that freedom of speech does not include the right to make your opinion heard on every single forum or every single issue. It might come as a bitter pill for certain people, to realize that their opinions don’t always matter. But they are welcome to pay for web hosting, launch their own personal website and rant to their hearts content. But I do not have to publish your rant on my website, or visit yours.

The Right to Privacy

The third issue is right to privacy, and it’s gotten intertwined with the rest of this debate due to a couple of website’s heavy handed attempts to deal with online trolls. First Google tried to clean up the horrible cesspit that the Youtube comments section had become and then Facebook tried to clean up it’s online bullying problem.

Both companies took the same approach. They figured if people had to come clean about who they were, they’d be nicer. Their approach to accountability was to insist on real names on their social media.

In doing so they made the online troll problem a privacy issue. It backfired on both of them. There are too many legitimate reasons why people might not want to use their real name online, and many issues with providing real names to companies like Facebook or Google.

Facebook continues to waffle on this issue, stating they are enforcing the real name policy, ignoring it in some cases and enforcing it in others. They continue to claim that it will stop bullying, but without much proof of whether it works or not.

Google blinked and in doing so, created a half ass solution that works better than what Facebook is doing. First they tied Youtube comments to Google Plus, then they blinked on the real name policy on Google plus. So now you can no longer comment anonymously, which at least gives Google some way to block abusive accounts. (That doesn’t prevent them from opening a new email account and then a new Google plus account. But it does make trolling a lot more work.)

Conclusions

The solution to the right to privacy issue might require some compromise on both sides. Social media sites are focusing on real names in an attempt to avoid looking at their other problems, namely an inability to effectively enforce their own rules of conduct.

On Facebook the problem comes down to two issues, they automate most complaints, applying simplistic algorithms to determine what is and is not a valid complaint. Secondly, when a human decision is required, those decisions are often outsourced overseas and the people judging the complaints might have little cultural understanding of what is going on.

Websites need to focus more on policing comments in ways that don’t infringe on rights to privacy. There are numerous options, but the problem is simple. The solution to both problems is to have better oversight, an expensive proposition in terms of manpower on a site used by more than a billion people. It’s no wonder they prefer the band aid of a real name policy.

The compromise for privacy advocates might be to realize that while you should have the right to surf the internet anonymously, you may not have to right to engage in public discourse on those terms. Blog comment sections might require an email or some other account validation process.

Trolls would have us believe that these requirements are a violation of their right to privacy. I would respond by saying that engaging in a discussion on my website isn’t a right, you can do it on my terms or not at all. The choice is yours. Those wanting to protect their privacy sometimes have to make hard choices about whether to use a particular app or website. Sometimes they have to do the same about engaging in public dialogue.

Websites or social media could perhaps accommodate both sides by allowing anonymous comments but treating them differently. A button would toggle them on or off, allowing readers to decide if they want to include anonymous comments or not. I’m guessing that most readers would choose no.

Another really simple fix would be for Facebook or Google plus to provide a simple way to disable comments on certain posts/pictures and to change your account settings to allow you to moderate comments on your own posts. (You can already delete comments, but those comments have already been posted and seen by followers if you aren’t online when they come in. Websites allow you to hold comments and only post the ones you approve.)

 

The bottom line is that we can reduce, if not eliminate, a lot of the online trolling problem, but it will be work. We need to start by understanding that this behavior is not a right. As I have said before, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. And the consequence of being an online troll is that you might be banned from making future comments.

Those who run websites, be they personal blogs, news sites or social media, will have the most work to do. They need to recognize that some news and announcements aren’t open to discussion and comments can and should be closed. In other cases, comments might have to be moderated. If a comment doesn’t add to the debate, don’t allow it. Most social media sites don’t allow personal attacks or threats. They need to work on applying those standards in a more even handed way.

There is an old saying that it’s the darkest before the dawn. Perhaps Reddits problem is a sign that the tide is turning against the trolls. More and more websites are working to stop troll  behavior and the trolls have fewer pastures left open to them. We can only hope.

 

What Makes a Great Sci-fi/Fantasy Story?

I have been thinking lately about what makes a great science fiction or fantasy novel great. What elements do I look for in a book or series?

I’ve distilled it down to three main elements and I strive to include them in my own writing as well. Those elements are lush world building, mythic storytelling and the ability to challenge our assumptions.

Lush World Building

I love novels that transport you into the world the writer is creating. I don’t want to read a story, I want to become enmeshed in it. I want to escape this world and live in that one, at least for an hour or two.

I think this is something that sets science fiction and fantasy apart from other genres. A romance novel needs strong believable characters. We need a great storyline. If we have those, we can forgive a flat poorly developed setting. We can all envision real world settings well enough to give literary writers a pass if their characters meet at a generic coffee shop.

In science fiction and fantasy the world itself is as important as the characters and story. We need to create that world. That can include physical descriptions, an understanding of the physical and cultural rules and a feel for the setting. A science fiction or fantasy novel with a flat setting is like a B movie with poor special effects. We just don’t buy into it. And that makes us not buy the story either.

Mythic Storytelling

An editor once told me that the greatest stories are about those times when the character realizes something that changes them forever. If the main characters are not left forever changed by the story, your reader won’t be either.

To put it another way, stories need to be a mythic journey. Even if its only a story about a kid standing up to schoolyard bullies, he is the Hero. Even if the great revelation is simply that we don’t understand the whole world, our character is the Sage. We must see their growth, feel their revelations in our bones.

I read recently that the real power of literature is that it allows us to experience many lives in the space of one. With every story I ask myself, is this a life worth experiencing? Will I grow somehow by exploring this life? What about my readers?

Challenging Assumptions

What if has always been one of the most popular questions for science fiction or fantasy writers. The what ifs can be big or small. We can wonder what if werewolves were real, or if magic was real. What if aliens came to our planet. There are a million possible what ifs.

There is more to these sorts of questions than simple curiosity. Science fiction and fantasy allows us to challenge some very basic assumptions about our world. We can do this in a way that gets past the critical mind and lets us really explore the ideas.

Is it any surprise that the television series that has had more impact on society than any other was Star Trek. From the now ubiquitous automatic door to cell phones to tablet computers, our society has outstripped so much of Star Treks technology, as an entire generation took Star Treks “what if” and turned it into “why not?”

Star Treks’ what if went beyond technical innovations. The original series featured a racially diverse crew in a time period when desegregation was still controversial. It almost doesn’t register in modern American culture, but in 1966 we were still embroiled in the cold war, but a Russian set at the controls of the Starship Enterprise. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an egalitarian society has motivated generations.

On the surface of things, Gene Roddenberry has set the bar high. But if you scratch the surface of any great science fiction or fantasy novel you will find they too challenge your assumptions.

Underneath the swords and sorcery of Lord of the Rings it is the peace loving Hobbits that save the day and challenge our assumptions about power. Dystopian novels like The Handmaid’s Tale challenge our sense of right and wrong. Stranger in a Strange Land challenges our sense of what is possible. The Mists of Avalon challenges both the Arthurian legends and the role of women in history.

It’s gotten so that if I read a science fiction or fantasy novel and don’t come away thinking differently about our world, I feel cheated. I think about that when I write. Does this story challenge my readers assumptions? Will it broaden their world in some way? If the answer is no, I pass on those stories.

 

Those are three elements that I think set a great science fiction or fantasy read from a mediocre one. What about you? What do you value about the sci-fi/fantasy genre? Let me know in the comments.

 

Is the Kindle Good for the Environment?

I posted this on my other site a long time back, and thought it was good enough to repost here.

The Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite.

The Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite.

Having just picked up my third Kindle, I started to wonder what was the environmental impact of this device. Was I helping mother nature by saving trees, or costing her in some other way?

I decided this should an easy enough question to put to rest. What are the environmental impact of producing a paper book? What are the environmental impact of the electronics that go into a kindle?

A short internet search shows its not really that cut and dried. Luckily for me plenty of other people have wondered the same thing and done a lot of footwork on this one. There are a number of environmental costs we would have to look at for both styles of reading and they don’t always overlap in ways that make comparison easy.

When it comes to production, the cost we hear about most is carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is how much CO2, a harmful greenhouse gas, is produced in the production of the product. High tech industry is heavy on the CO2 consumption and the Kindle weighs in at approximately 370 lbs of CO2. (infographic here.)

Paperbacks produce CO2 as well, mostly because they are made of paper and paper production = loss of trees. Since trees help convert CO2 to oxygen, they are an important piece of the greenhouse effect and possibly our greatest hope of stopping it. The average print book costs about 17 pounds of CO2.

Before the old fashioned book lovers start to gloat, remember these are production costs. Once produced that’s it. One Kindle equals approximately 22 books in terms of environmental production costs.

Once the Kindle is produced, there are shipping costs.There are energy costs to run the device. Amazon’s servers suck a lot of juice and require a lot of environmental costs to operate. There is a huge infrastructure of electronics maintaining the wifi networks that the ebook zip down to your device. All of that has to be weighed against the Kindle’s environmental scorecard.

A paperbook too has it’s distribution and maintenance costs, however. They have to be shipped around the country to warehouses and then retailers. The trucks that haul them require diesel or gasoline. The warehouses have to be heated and cooled. Brick and mortar stores are not without their energy and environmental consumption.

These are the costs that are tricky to compare. After all Amazon sells paper books as well as ebooks. How much server space is taken up with tracking physical inventory and how much with ebooks? How do we divide up those costs? Storing ebooks on a server has a cost, but so does running a huge warehouse of physical books.

In the end though one thing is clear, the long game goes to the Kindle. Every paper book produced has a relatively stable environmental cost. Ebooks on the other hand, have a diminishing cost.

The cost of maintaining a server has to be divided by the number of books on it and the number of other uses that server has. Ebooks are really nothing more than text files, so many novels only take up a few kilobytes of space on a server. The more books on a server the lower the cost per book, and they can store thousands of titles in virtually no space. Increasingly, ebooks are only a fraction of what Amazon does. They have video services, they sell print books and many other items. The cost of maintaining the wifi and distribution network is similarly shared over all users and uses.

The same logic applies to the device itself. Once produced and in the consumer’s hand, the environmental cost of a Kindle is a fraction of the initial cost of the device. The cost per book depends on how many books are on the device, and even the most basic devices are capable of holding thousands of ebooks on them.

The most important factors, then, are personal. How many books do you read? How often do you upgrade your devices? The more you read, eventually the cost per book tips in favor of the Kindle. It’s really just a matter of when.

Like most electronics, the Kindle will eventually break down but there’s no real easy answer to how long one will last. There are still first generation devices that are running fine. My first generation Kindle broke. It was an accident, but accidents happen. A very rough ballpark would say the average consumer will be able to get two to three years out of a kindle easily.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

Even though he is leery of anyone trying to present hard numbers or a glib one kindle = x number of books, environmental journalist Daniel Goleman did go on record with this ballpark figure, it takes over a hundred ebooks to make the kindle an environmentally friendly choice. Will you read more than a hundred books in the next two to three years? If so the Kindle is the most environmentally friendly way to do so. If not paper might be a better choice.

Goleman offers this figure critically. However, looking at my kindle I have 97 books on it currently, 70 more in my archive and a second owner in mind, so for me it’s clearly a good choice. The relatively low cost of ebooks, ease of purchasing and the relative ease and size of most ereaders mean that on average those who own ereaders will buy more books and read more often. That makes me think that for most avid readers an ereader is a good choice.

Action/Adventure tropes I no longer believe now that I am in my forties

One of the benefits of being older is being wiser, or so they say. But it’s starting to ruin action movies for me. As you get older and gain some life experience, some of the common tropes in action movies start to seem more and more unrealistic as I get older.

1. Cutting brake lines

We’ve all seen it. The bad guy pulls out a knife, lays down next to the hero’s car and cuts the brake line. Cue dramatic music. The main character is doomed. Doomed.

black-and-white-car-vehicle-vintage

The problem:

There are three problems with this trope. Without brake fluid your brakes are weak, soft. But they do work. I’ve had my brakes go out more than once. It’s a frightening experience, but you can stop your car, eventually.

The second problem is that the driver will probably notice. If they don’t notice the big pool of brake fluid under their car for some reason, they will probably notice that their brakes are soft when they pull out. And then they will drive, very slowly, to the nearest garage. Or stop and call AAA.

Finally, even if they don’t notice until they are on the highway, driving fast and they can’t stop in time, not all car accidents are fatal. You might roll your car, but if you’re wearing your seatbelt you may well walk away.

Cutting someone’s brake line is a terrible thing to do. Driving without brakes is incredibly dangerous. But it’s not something a professional assassin is going to rely on to kill someone.

2. Tranquilizer Darts

darts-dart-board-bull-s-eye-game-70459

I work in mental health, just so you know. As such, I am one of the few people who can honestly and legally say, I’ve held people down and sedated them against their will, more times than I can count. When someone is psychotic and out of control, it’s about the only thing you can do. So I know how sedatives work in real life.

It’s not like in the movies, let me tell you. IM medication hits the bloodstream in as little as five to fifteen minutes. It can take much longer to reach peak effect.

What about those wildlife shows you see? They shoot a tranquilizer dart into a lion’s backside and it passes out, right? Actually they shoot the dart and the lion runs away. They follow at a safe distance until the medication kicks in. They eliminate that part in editing.

Another important factor is the level of safety involved. For hospital staff in the United States trying to sedate violent patients, we have to error on the side of caution when it comes to dosing. Giving a lethal overdose would be a very bad thing. Veterinarians can be a little more generous, since most people and governments value animal lives as less than they would a human, but there is still a strong element of caution involved. Criminals, as in the movies, theoretically have no such limits.

But there are still two problems. This doesn’t solve the instant effect dilemma. Medications simply don’t work that way. A sedative, no matter how strong, isn’t going to instantly knock some down from a shot. An IV anesthetic might, but have you ever seen them shoot someone in the vein? I haven’t. I doubt such a thing is possible. The second problem is that you almost never see criminals screw up and kill someone they are trying to sedate. The main characters never wakes up strapped to a chair and demands, “where is…” only to hear, “oh, we gave her too much and now she’s dead.”

(The one exception to this rule? Practical Magic. The whole plot of the movie revolves around the two women accidentally overdosing the abusive boyfriend with belladonna. Also, in that movie the effect is far from instant.)

3. ex-marines/special forces/cops

Marines, special forces, police, professional athletes, and martial arts experts are amazing people. They have conditioned their bodies to extreme stresses. I have no problem believing that such people can do incredible things. My problem is with the “ex” part of the equation.

Again it’s something I’ve seen a lot working in mental health. “Look out, I used to be a green beret.” I’ve heard this implied threat many times. If we don’t give into this person’s demands, they can really hurt us because they’ve trained in martial arts/ been a marine/ trained in the special forces, etc.

Most physical skills, and all conditioning, are use it or lose it. You might have been a marine fifteen years ago. Today you are a burned out alcoholic. My security team is conditioned right now. Want to guess who is going to win?

Where I see this a lot is in action novels and thrillers. We are told that the main character used to be an Army Ranger. It’s years later and they are civilians. And yet when the Zombie apocalypse starts, they strap on a backpack and head for woods, killing zeds with a survival knife the entire way. Never once showing their age or lack of conditioning.

A veteran or retired cop is going to have certain instincts that a civilian won’t. That should give them some edge in an apocalypse scenario. But there will be significant lag time before they have the conditioning back. And if you have a character that (cliche warning) had to leave the force due to an injury, they aren’t ever going to be a hundred percent.

4. Drugs and Alcohol take a toll on the body

This another action novel cliche. It often goes hand in hand with number 3. The ex-cop with a drinking problem. Or the brilliant mind that somehow needs drugs to cope. (see Sherlock Holmes or House for example.)

Substance abuse takes a toll on the body. Over years it becomes worse. The average alcoholic or drug abuser can pull it together a) for a short time or b) after a period of detox. I’ve yet to read the zombie novel where the grizzled old vet shook and sweated his way through the first few days while DT’s racked his body.

Stimulants might improve concentration in the short term, but long term use of most drugs is going to be detrimental to mental and emotional functioning. Real life Sherlock’s might think they are being brilliant under the influence of their favorite substance, but reality generally finds otherwise.

Showing a character drowning his/her sorrows in booze, or using some other drug, is an easy way to show that they’ve had a rough life, or that they struggle with inner demons. It’s also cliche. But what is worse, is that too many writers forget about the issue once the action is underway. Life doesn’t work that way. Drugs and alcohol take a toll on your health. Addicts will tell you they must struggle constantly to stay clean and sober. If your character has a drug problem, they will as well.

A rare exception: In 100 days in Deadland one of the characters, a vet, struggles with PTSD throughout the series.

5. Suicidal henchmen

The villain in Mystery Men declares that he was so evil he’d kill his own men. The Governor in the Walking dead guns down dozens of his own citizens. It is an easy way to show how your villain lacks basic compassion. It is overused and often suspect.

In the above examples I question the strategic wisdom of the villains. Even if you don’t value human life, manpower is a limited resource. When cornered by themselves later they might regret sacrificing that manpower too quickly.

But my real question is, what’s in it for the henchmen?

Survival is a base instinct. It’s incredibly hard to overcome. And yet so many pulp fiction and action novels have henchmen throwing themselves against the hero with suicidal devotion to their boss.

What prompts such loyalty? This is almost never explained. The henchmen are just throw away automatons. We aren’t meant to worry about their motivations or feelings. But life doesn’t work that way. Writer Kurt Vonnegut said, “every character wants something, even if it’s only a glass of water.”

Henchmen must follow this rule. They want something. They serve the villain for some reason. The villain might have a soft side we don’t see. They might be part of some group or religion. They might think the villain will eventually share his/her wealth/power. But there has to be something.

And even when we get that something, will it override their survival instinct and all common sense? When they see that the hero completely outclasses them, will they keep fighting?

 

So there are my five action tropes that I no longer believe now that I am older. What about you? Are their action tropes that drive you crazy? Let me know in the comments.

 

How to Kick an Internet Troll, right in the Freedom of Speech

From Gamergate to homophobia to this piece of crap, trolls are everywhere on the internet. When challenged about their behavior their first fallback position is almost invariably freedom of speech. “You are violating my freedom of speech. I have a right to my opinions.”

In making this argument they are taking the moral high road. The argument ceases to be about their behavior and becomes about some higher principles.

It’s also pure bullshit. Yes, freedom of speech is an important right. However it’s not as gray as trolls would like you to believe, nor is it applicable to their behavior.

Here are three simple ways that the freedom of speech argument fails and how to shut down trolls when they try to use it on you.

1. You have freedom of speech, too.

When you speak out on an issue you feel strongly about, that’s freedom of speech. When a troll responds in the comments, or in person, trying to shout at you to shut you up, that’s not freedom of speech. That’s the exact opposite. When Gamergate “activist” attack feminist who critique gamer culture, they aren’t expressing their opinion, they are attempting to silence their opponent, and then trying to claim that is freedom of speech.

2. freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequence

Remember in high school when you had to debate that ludicrous situation where someone yells “fire!” in a crowded movie house. That always drove me nuts because the solution seems so obvious. Having the freedom to do what you want or feel is right doesn’t mean you are free from all the consequences of your behavior.

The right to bear arms doesn’t make murder legal. You might have the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded movie house, but if people die in the stampede to escape and it turns out you just thought it would be funny to see people run, you can still be charged with manslaughter.

Yes, trolls have the right to their opinion. But when they phrase those opinions as insults or threats, they may face consequences. That’s life.

3. Speech may be a right but publishing is a privilege.

You have the right to free speech but no one owes you a platform. I have the right to write whatever story I want, but I can’t force HarperCollins to publish my thousand page rant on how mice don’t really like cheese. HarperCollins gets to choose what it publishes.

What we often forget is that anything posted on the internet is actually being published. Most of the websites we use don’t belong to us and the owners have a choice of what to publish and what not to.

If I am running my own personal blog, I don’t have to publish any comments. I can, and most bloggers do, because it builds a sense of community around a blog and brings readers back. However if I feel a comment is from a troll, or has no value to the discussion, I can choose not to display it. If you disagree, you are welcome to start your own blog and respond there.

Most public websites have clear terms of service. They vary in details but most clearly forbid certain behaviors. It is Facebook, Google plus or Twitter’s prerogative to decide what these are and to decide what is acceptable on their website.

The users are faced with the choice of playing by the rules or not using the site. Sometimes that means they allow posts that we personally find offensive. Sometimes that means they remove our posts because someone else found them offensive.

 

Trolls may be a fact of life in the internet age, but the damage they do, and the number in your life, can be controlled. It starts by realizing that insults and attacks in comments aren’t free speech, they are an attempt to silence the original poster’s free speech. It’s possible to respectfully disagree with someone without being a troll.

Second we need to recognize that online behavior does have consequences. If someone violates the rules of a given website by posting threatening or derogatory language, flag them. If they want to cry that their freedom of speech has been violated, they can do so somewhere else. Believable verbal threats, doxxing someone and adding rape threats, for example, might also violate the law. Contact your local police to see what sort of evidence they need and how to gather it.

Finally, all of us are webmasters, even if all we have is a Facebook page. You control, to a large extent, what lands on your webpage. If you are a journalist or a blogger, you are also an editor. It’s up to you to make sure that each comment on a post adds to, rather than detracts from the discussion. You have the right to delete or unapprove comments. On social media you have tools to delete, block or untag people and photos. Use your power wisely, to strip internet trolls of the one thing they were never guaranteed in the first place, an audience.