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The end of trolls

Thursday, 18th December, 2014 12:00am

One Corkman's company is attempting to free up parts of the online world that have long been colonised by trolls.

Pat Phelan of Trustev, a Cork-based company that now has offices in New York and Dallas, last week launched a new security tool that will allow publishers to freeze out trolls by taking a digital fingerprint of them.

The new service is called Trustev for Publishers and could revolutionise comments on websites. It may also help to prevent situations like GamerGate in the future. GamerGate began in August when members of an anonymous online movement issued death threats to a number of females involved in the video game industry, causing some to leave their homes after personal information was posted online. The grouping claims to be fighting for transparency and ethics in video games journalism.

GamerGate actually inspired Trustev's Chief Marketing Officer Rurik Bradbury to find a way to stop the trolls. His solution, Pat Phelan says, may just do that. Pat has also been targeted by members of GamerGate.

But it's not sheer altruism on Trustev's part. They are using existing expertise they possess, in a new way.

"It is a business opportunity for large publishers or organisations like New York Times or Newsweek. It's been received very well so far."

He says they were talking to almost 100 companies within a few days of launching last week.

"Years ago, when blogging had only started, the comments were are good as the blogs. A fella would write a blog, people would come back with alternate attitudes and views.

"Then trolls came along and they no interest in what is being written. They just have a certain view. On a blog about technology products, the first comment could be: 'What about Israel?' Then the publisher comes under huge pressure, as comments spiral out of control.

"Organisations have to employ people to manage those comments," he adds.

When people can register through email or Facebook and Twitter profiles, they are easy to fake, so that if a troll is blocked, they can reappear quickly.

"We can take a digital fingerprint of people at one time in real time. We can say to publishers that this guy who made a racist comment, you can block him and all his accounts. It brings back the control to you. It's about giving people the ability to police content themselves."

The cost of insulting comments on sites can be brand destruction and can alienate people, the Cork man feels. He says that blocking comments can take time as organisations have meetings to decide if a comment should be blocked and moderating can be labour intensive.

He cites GamerGate as an example of where trolls can be even more destructive. "Women were attacked appallingly online.

"There needs to be some kind of penalty. Moderation is one time penalty. You wouldn't invite someone back to your house who called you a pr**k!"

Barriers to people registering to comment are a double-edged sword. "If you build the wall high enough, people won't connect."

Using Trustev's new technology he suggests "it's much easier to comment, reducing that big wall and much easier for the publisher to control comments".

Trustev now employ 40 people globally, with the HQ in Cork and offices in Dallas and New York. "We protect all of Radioshack's 4,100 stores and protect all their stores online. We are rapidly increasing and focussing on the US at the moment."

However Cork will always remain the headquarters and Pat says that Cork has the ability to become a security hub.

Pat was born in Ballyphehane, left school early, and trained as a butcher and chef. In his mid 30s, after succeeding in a battle against alcoholism, he became an entrepreneur. He started and sold mobile roaming service Cubic Telecom.

Towards the end of 2012, he then started Trustev, a fraud protection service with partner Chris Kennedy. Since then they have picked up slews of prizes, including the top prize in the start-up accelerator competition at the SXSW in Austin, Texas last March and millions of dollars in seed funding.

Trustev allows companies to analyse their site visitors in real time, so when someone tries to buy online or sign up, Trustev can tell whether that person is real or a fraudster.

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