Trolls, respect and the mystery of expertise

Last Tuesday I read an interesting article by Alistair Cunningham in which he talks about why he believes career journalists should be in the business of ‘opinion’.  That night I went to an event where I met Alistair and we had the opportunity to discuss a number of things including the article in question.

It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to have a proper chat with Alistair.  I’ve seen Alistair in passing at various events, but we have ‘talked’ on twitter and have both commented on various forums.  Therefore whilst we didn’t ‘know’ each other it was nice that we knew enough of each other to start a conversation and engage in debate.

A couple of days later I revisited the Money Marketing article and found some rather bizarre comments had been made.  It seems a couple of the comments, which didn’t seem particularly well thought through, were entirely focussed on being dismissive (without any form of explanation why), inflammatory and offensive.  Alistair had been trolled!

I really fail to understand the motivation of internet trolls.  To feel the need to make a comment, normally anonymously, in a way just designed to insult and deride, feels alien to me.  However I found myself reading one of the ‘trolls’ comments and, in between the diatribe, found an interesting point..

“Bloggers and Tweets aren’t experts”

Whilst there isn’t much value in the rest of the comment “James” made, this point I believe is true…

Blogging and Tweeting does not make you an expert in anything.  Bloggers in particular have no authority to call themselves an expert (or guru or authority).  I believe these particular titles cannot be self assigned but need to be assigned by a community of your peers (in our business this is fellow financial planners, journalists and other respected individuals).

So what can you do become an ‘expert’ in anything?

I’m no ‘expert’ in becoming an ‘expert’ but in my humble opinion, if you want to be considered an expert or authority, here’s what you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t make disparaging comments without either evidence or a counterpoint. You shouldn’t hide behind anonymity.  You shouldn’t resort to insults.

What you should do is have an opinion.  You should take ownership of what you say, what you write and what you do.  You should stand up and be counted.

I don’t agree with everything Alistair says.  We disagree on financial education, and actually having thought about it, I don’t agree that it’s essential for professional journalists to have an opinion. I’m sure that our disagreements wouldn’t end there.  However one thing’s for sure, I’ll always respect his opinion and will always try to engage with anyone, online or offline, in a way I’d like to be treated.

It’s also clear that Alistair doesn’t need my support. It seems he’s smart enough to defend himself and I’m assuming thick skinned enough not to let ridiculous comments bother him.

However, and the reason that I’ve written this, is that I need a favour.  I need to try to understand two things that I’m just not clear on yet…

I know what I think makes someone an expert.  However, in your opinion, what do you see the key factors are in being perceived as an expert or authority on a particular subject?

and also

I really can’t wrap my head around the motivation behind offensive usually anonymous comments on sites like money marketing, citywire and financial adviser.  Why do you think someone would want to spend their time, effort and energy writing something that, in my eyes, adds no value to the debate?

Thanks for your help in advance and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.