As with all popular websites that provide message forums for its users, the Internet portal Yahoo! is the frequent target of Internet trolls. However, because the site does not target a specific audience, unlike other popular websites such as Slashdot, Yahoo! encourages input from a diverse cross-section of both the United States and the world. This environment has fostered a unique and distinctive trolling culture all of its own.
Although Yahoo! Inc. maintains non-US versions of Yahoo!, such as http://www.yahoo.co.uk (Yahoo! UK & Ireland), http://www.yahoo.de (Yahoo! Deutschland), and http://www.yahoo.ca (Yahoo! Canada) the following trolling phenomena mostly apply to Yahoo.com, the US site, as it receives the greatest amount of visitors and, therefore, the greatest exposure.
Yahoo! provides two types of message boards for public use. One set is organized into a topical hierarchy, and is located at http://messages.yahoo.com/index.html. The other message boards are for Yahoo! News articles. Yahoo! News does not carry original content; it publishes stories written by the Associated Press, AFP, Reuters, and various newspapers. Every article on Yahoo! News has an associated message board (Except for articles that fall into the sports or entertainment category) where users can discuss the content; there is a link for that article’s particular board at the bottom of every article, and thus these message boards have substantial visibility. In 2005, Yahoo! changed the message board link from a prominent box offering users to post their responses to a smaller link simply labelled “Discuss.” Although Yahoo! provides its users with many avenues to access news articles, the most popular message boards – and the ones almost exclusively affected by trolls – are the ones for news stories that appear on the Yahoo! front page.
Although the boards do not require registration to read, a Yahoo! ID is required in order to post. This is a weak deterrent against trolling, however, as ID’s are free and do not require e-mail confirmation. Yahoo! also warns users on every post they submit that “Although your IP address is not displayed on your post, Yahoo! does record your yahoo_id…and your IP address” and “Messages that are unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable may be removed and may result in the loss of your Yahoo! ID.” These warnings are also weak deterrents, however, as there is no prohibition on a single user owning several Yahoo! ID accounts.
Users do have the power to report posts which violate Yahoo!’s terms of service, but, in virtually all cases, the worst that appears to happen to the alleged perpetrator is a temporary “lockout” from posting immediately after being reported. This lockout lasts for a few minutes, and dedicated trolls familiar with the Yahoo! modus operandi circumvent this by creating multiple ID’s, often identifiable by other users as the same offending troll – a typical series might be ATrollsYahooID, ATrollsYahooID1, ATrollsYahooID2, and so forth. Few, if any, reports result in anything substantive, even so much as a deletion of a post, let alone the banning of a user. Once in a while reporters will make their actions known by posting repeated messages on Yahoo! news messageboards warning would-be trollers that trolling behaviours are being reported. However, reporters will often find that their attempts to police and muzzle the trolls are often overcome by the sheer number of trolls inhabiting the boards.
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