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Sep 27 2012

Brendan O’Neill writes in his sleep

More “you want trolling? I’ll give you trolling!” from Brendan “I’m making a career of trolling” O’Neill in Troll Central, aka spiked. What is it this time? It’s that trolls aren’t the problem, “troll hunters” are the problem.

(How was I alerted to this one? Because somone I don’t follow tweeted it to two people I do follow, so I had a look. The one I don’t follow is Quiet Riot Girl – omigod I’d forgotten all about her. Ugh. She should go into partnership with O’Neill. Apparently she was outed by Julie Bindel last March. O’Neill knows how to find her for that partnership then.)

So, O’Neill on the evils of “troll hunters.”

Yet it turns out that, amazingly, there is something even more irritating on the internet than these so-called trolls. And it’s the troll-hunters, the celebs, commentators and coppers who have made it their business to chase down trolls, expose them to public ridicule, and sometimes even haul them before a judge. Okay, a troll can sometimes ruin a half-decent online debate or dent a journalist’s sense of self-worth by sending him a snotty, borderline obscene message *sniffle* – but that’s nothing compared with the potential impact that troll-hunting is having on the free flow of ideas and argument on the web.

Wot? Is it possible to have a potential impact? Does that last sentence even make sense? X is having a potential impact on Y? Surely if the impact is potential it’s not being had yet, or if it is being had, then it’s no longer potential.

That would be classic O’Neill then. Make an accusation but realize it’s not actually happening so hedge it by saying potential but then forget that that amounts to admitting it’s not happening.

From the 17-year-old twat on Twitter who sent stupid messages to British diving champ Tom Daley to the fashion among celebrities for ‘confronting one’s troll’, trolling is a hot topic.

Rest of world to O’Neill: this is the internet: in a big chunk of the Anglophone world “twat” is a very rude sexist epithet. Wake up.

If I went into a bookshop and tore up all the tomes I find annoying or offensive, half the shop would be in ruins – but I don’t do that because a) people would think I was mad, and b) I recognise that freedom of speech means being surrounded by, and sometimes subjected to, ideas or outlooks that make you feel uncomfortable, even nauseous.

Erm…no. You don’t do that first and foremost because you would get arrested and convicted. Wake up.

What we’re witnessing is a pretty Orwellian conflation of potentially physical menace with unpopular political views, the mashing together of irrational harassment with the expression of a political outlook, so that it all becomes ‘trolling’.

No, we’re not. The issue is not disagreement but sustained harassment. The latter happens. Wake up.

 

12 comments

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  1. 1
    tauriqmoosa

    Again the confusion between “this is not OK behaviour – please behave like a decent person even if the other person isn’t” with “They’re trying to censor everybody!”.

    Personally: I’m still trying to work out whether name-calling, mockery, swearing, etc. is acceptable once it’s clear, after much engagement, someone isn’t interested in actual discussion. I don’t think it is: The strategy I recommend is leaving the conversation completely. (I worry that as soon as someone descends into mockery, namecalling, it’s too easy to respond in kind because, well, we’re only human; but I think we’re better for it if we do not)

    This, note, is also not censorship but moral governance on one’s own part. But for O’Neill I suppose I’m still being a troll-hunter even in this kind of discussion.

    Why do calls for civility and reasonable argument for no longer tolerating intoleratant behaviour amount to:

    >> “Orwellian conflation of potentially physical menace with unpopular political views, the mashing together of irrational harassment with the expression of a political outlook”.

    Ironically, it seems that’s precisely what O’Neill is doing!

    While I worry about calling people a troll – or any other negative term – Mr O’Neill’s posts at Spiked do seem consistently indicative of not actually caring about what he’s saying. Seriously: “potential impact”?!

  2. 2
    tauriqmoosa

    Ugh typos. Please excuse me – it’s 1am here.

  3. 3
    Natasha

    So basically O’Neill is equating criminal harassment with trolling. Or trolling with criminal harassment depending on how you look at it because it’s criminal harassment that gets prosecuted in court. Simply disagreeing, even strenuously, doesn’t get you hauled into court.

    Oh wait, libel and slander can also get you hauled into court. Maybe O]Neill ment to equate trolling to libel and slander. Guven the language of some trolls that would seem a easy equivalence to make.

  4. 4
    Argle Bargle

    O’Neill’s complaint is that people might object to his trolling.

  5. 5
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    I recognise that freedom of speech means being surrounded by, and sometimes subjected to, ideas or outlooks that make you feel uncomfortable, even nauseous

    O’Neill believes he’s surrounded by things that make him nauseous?

    I agree: his writing makes me nauseated.

  6. 6
    dirigible.

    “If I went into a bookshop and tore up all the tomes I find annoying or offensive, half the shop would be in ruins ”

    And yet this is the behaviour he is defending in trolls.

  7. 7
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    The moment I’m trying to have an adult conversation with somebody, my children will consider that to be the exact moment when I need to drop whatever I’ve been doing and fully engage them (fortunately they haven’t found out that typing on the internet it adult conversation). Now, I don’t blame them, they’re children after all. But I do teach them that no, now is not the time when I read you a book. I’m having an adult conversation now and I’ll read you the book when I’ve finished.
    Now, it seems like O’Neill missed that message. He seems to think that when we tell those running and screaming methaphorically on the internet to STFU, behave themselves and either engage in the discourse or leave the adults to do it, it’s bad.

    So, what’s the supposed value of letting the trolls run wild? There isn’t any. Actually, the flow of ideas is stopped. The voices are silenced. Discourse doesn’t happen the same way adult conversation doesn’t happen if I give in to my kids.

    Here’s the essence, as usually:
    Freedom of speech isn’t freedom from criticism. And it also doesn’t mean that each and everybody has to drop whatever they’re talking about and give you a platform. The bookstore doesn’t have to sell your book if they think it’s bullshit.

    ++

    I’m still trying to work out whether name-calling, mockery, swearing, etc. is acceptable once it’s clear, after much engagement, someone isn’t interested in actual discussion. I don’t think it is: The strategy I recommend is leaving the conversation completely.

    No, I disagree.
    Leaving means they got what they wanted. It means they silenced you. There are different strategies and tactics and tastes to this but there clearly isn’t the one right thing to do.
    If stomping the trolls is not something you can do, and if you know it’s bad for your mental health if you remain in a discussion, leave. But don’t tell others that they should leave, too.

  8. 8
    tauriqmoosa

    @ #7 Giliell

    This isn’t a catchall approach, of course: but I don’t think staying helps anyone if all that your interlocutor is doing is shouting and swearing. I don’t think anyone will say you’ve “lost the internets” if your opponent is merely swearing at you and calling you names, refusing to engage in any kind of debate. As Martin Robbins said when I pointed him to the O’Neill article: “I’ve decided that when children have tantrums it better not to give them attention.”

    Anyway, I don’t want to derail the comments too much with this argument since I’m still working on it. I’ve just not seen what point swearing back at someone does. I realise I’m making a black-and-white fallacy (“swear back or ignore are the only approaches!”), but it’s because I haven’t developed this further.

    Be interesting to see responses to Scalzi’s ‘How to be a Good Commenter’ post where he recommends this, too.

  9. 9
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    As Martin Robbins said when I pointed him to the O’Neill article: “I’ve decided that when children have tantrums it better not to give them attention.”

    See, he gets that wrong about children, too (and that is another derail and totally not related to this, so I’m dropping it here. If you want to discuss it we can take it to the Thunderdome on Pharyngula).

    I think often it’s a matter of numbers.
    Many people dislike the rough atmostphere at Pharyngula where trolls are eaten with ketchup, but it has done something for many people: they feel safe there. They can speak up there. They know that they are not alone and that the trolls won’t be able to isolate them.
    Sure, if it’s the trolls place, just leave. Ain’t going to the slimepit. But I’m not willing to let them have the discussion.

  10. 10
    Argle Bargle

    “Don’t feed the trolls” has been debunked more than once. Right now an MRA troll is standing up for his threatened masculinity on Crommunist’s “Misogynist” is NOT “the new nigger” thread. He’s being argued with effectively by people who are not letting him shut them up by his trolling.

    One thing O’Neill and many other people ignore is there’s many types of trolls. A drive-by who screams invective in one post and then disappears, never to be seen again, can be ignored. The trolls who try to turn every discussion of female genital mutilation into rants about circumcision can be told to shut up or discuss the matter at hand. The trolls like JohnD, mentioned above, need to have their “facts” answered. Deal with trolls as the situation requires.

  11. 11
    A. Noyd

    “If I went into a bookshop and tore up all the tomes I find annoying or offensive, half the shop would be in ruins….”

    How the hell is that even analogous to trolling? The people being harassed on the internet hardly go looking for what offends them. It’s more like if you managed or frequented one section of a vast library and someone—or dozens, hundreds, thousands of someones—took it upon him or herself to come insert odious books into your stacks. Or started throwing them at you. Or tried defacing your books with nasty slogans. Not quite so unreasonable, then, to rid yourself of their work, is it?

  12. 12
    Aratina Cage
    If I went into a bookshop and tore up all the tomes I find annoying or offensive, half the shop would be in ruins – but I don’t do that because a) people would think I was mad, and b) I recognise that freedom of speech means being surrounded by, and sometimes subjected to, ideas or outlooks that make you feel uncomfortable, even nauseous.

    Erm…no. You don’t do that first and foremost because you would get arrested and convicted. Wake up.

    So true. Let’s make it more realistic for O’Neill, then.

    Situation 1: You (the troll) have just plastered the city with hateful messages. A group of people see those messages and start tearing them down. Others see the messages and scoff and loudly complain about it. Some ignore them.

    Situation 2: You (the troll) are standing outside an event open to the public holding a sign with a hateful message on it. People who walk by tell you to “get lost” and “fuck off” and call you names. Some stop nearby and have a brief heated argument with you. Some ignore you.

    No one responding to the troll in situations 1 or 2 has done anything illegal. No one would think of the people responding to the troll as insane. The troll is shown that he, too, is subject to the free speech of others and there is nothing he can do about it. And even the people who pulled down the troll’s posters are well within their rights to do so since it is a public space.

    On the other hand, is a blog a public space? No, it is not. (Twitter really isn’t either, but it’s less private than a blog.) The ones rampaging through a bookstore are the trolls themselves. Their words and participation are subject to moderation on a blog. People participating in a discussion on a blog do have a right to feel comfortable and not sickened by what they read if that is the blog administrator’s perogative.

    The right to say anything you like without consequences in a private space or in a public space doesn’t exist.

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