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I Wanted a Trollinator Nanobot for Christmas...

12/27/2010 06:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

From "Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt", Julie Zhou, product design manager at Facebook, The New York Times Op-Ed:

THERE you are, peacefully reading an article or watching a video on the Internet. You finish, find it thought-provoking, and scroll down to the comments section to see what other people thought. And there, lurking among dozens of well-intentioned opinions, is a troll.

Many families are awakening today to the joy of sharing gifts for Christmas. A thought occurred to me: I wanted a Trollinator Nanobot for Christmas. But I didn't get one. That's because they're extremely expensive and rare. In fact, they haven't been invented yet -- like John Connor in "The Terminator", they are from the future. We need them.

According to the manufacturer's label:

Trollinators are highly engineered nanobots that execute a rigorous screening process for users considering uploading content onto the internet using artifical intelligence and fuzzy logic algorithms. Like a targeted computer worm or virus, they target troll's computers and can load software such as ToneCheck Ultra {note: a fictional application in 2010} onto applications such as email and word processors. ToneCheck Ultra monitors phrases, images and video for potentially offensive or harmful content. The user is allowed two opportunities to reconsider whether they wish to upload the content. If particularly aggreggious content is detected in uploaded content, the Trollinators will reveal the troll's name and forward his/her comments to their employer and immediate family members.

Back to Julie Zhou's Op-Ed:

This kind of social pressure works because, at the end of the day, most trolls wouldn't have the gall to say to another person's face half the things they anonymously post on the Internet.

Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let's start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.

In slowly lifting the veil of anonymity, perhaps we can see the troll not as the frightening monster of lore, but as what we all really are: human.

While my thoughts above may seem a flight of fancy, this is a serious issue as it relates to cyberbullying that has devasted a number of families. Several states have begun to institute cyberbullying laws. Would not a tool such as the Tollinator nanobot give a potential cyberbully pause, perhaps prevent such criminal activity?

Yes, freedom of speech is a basic right. At the end of the day, people can be as understanding or offensive as they wish. There is a lot of anger in the world that is often expressed through the veil of anonymity; these Trollinator nanobots may offer one more tool to promote accountability for our choice of speech.