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Trolling as psychological rape

I want to make one thing perfectly clear, before I even begin to write this post — I do so not to stir the already muddy waters about what constitutes rape (or rather, what SHOULD — remember, “no means no” is an instruction, not a slogan or a rule). Nor do I write this to diminish the psychological and physical trauma that rape victims suffer. Rather, I write this because I’ve just been not only a witness but also a victim of the very real psychological damage that can be done by something as simple, and as common, as your average internet troll.

And the troll in this particular case is a troll par excellence, much as it aggrieves me to have to admit anything he might misconstrue as a compliment..

First, by way of a prelude to the post itself, an e-mail exchange that led directly into this blog post, written in response to this comment on the Thread Of Doom:

“a mother”:
Thanks for your reply. It requires comments.
This was a culmination of a lot of blog surfing, starting at Almost Diamonds and following several links. Almost Diamonds specifically didn’t want replies, so no, there’s no thought of posting to there. But the whole thing cried out for need of more female input, and it’s a whole different mindset – one with little patience for the “boo hoo, I’m so hurt by a label I don’t deserve” rant. There’s too much out there that really deserves a rant, that torturing a word hardly seems relevant. And I’ll plead guilty for not reading every single word by the end of the surfing journey. Enough is plenty. I’ve got a real life out there and it comes with time constraints. My anger at men is only directed at those who tick me off. I do chose – very selectively – to have a number of them in my life, because they/you do have a lot to offer to the mix. But certain attitudes deserve scorn, and a reality check.

Me:
I agree completely. And ultimately, the guy responsible for doing much of the torturing, turns out to have been arguing disingenuously the whole time. Back at Almost Diamonds, Stephanie covered the end result of that thread at my blog, being that Rystefn outed himself as wanting to draw attention to the cause by trolling it. It was a whole lot of manufactured arguing under false pretenses on his part, and it hurt a lot of people, people like you. And that kind of attitude definitely deserves a reality check. I guess the only reason I was surprised by your post is that it came after the discovery that he was being an ass the whole time.

For my part in confronting him and arguing with him since the beginning, and not catching on sooner that he was being an asshole to stir up page hits, I apologize. If I had gone with my instincts I would have realized his trollish nature sooner.

You have allies amongst men, to be sure. But since you can’t trust us men by default, any more than you can trust women by default (think Ann Coulter and her ilk), you have every right to protect yourself no matter what labels get applied to whoever you meet. I encourage, and even implore you to do whatever you need to, to stay safe.

Thanks.

“a mother”:
So is trolling a kind of psychological rape? Using another against their will for personal gain? Sorry, I’m of a generation where some of the lingo doesn’t get translated all that often or well. But I do get irony.

Me:
I suppose it is at that. He certainly didn’t have any of our consent, to my knowledge, and he did real tangible trauma, especially in Stephanie’s case.

Trolling is usually done for pure amusement — you post inflammatory comments to get people to respond with outrage, while you sit back and laugh at the stupid people who “fell for it”. This is maybe the first instance I’ve ever realized the troll was actually trying to do something they thought was noble.

I’m only just filling in the details now on something that happened right under my nose, while I was lurking on Skepchick.org but not really reading many of the comments. I apparently missed all sorts of weirdness when a now-familiar commenter, Rystefn, faked his own death in some sort of sick “performance art“. He evidently spent a good deal of time over the course of several months sidling up to the commenters and making himself well-liked, all so he could kick off a “story” written by the real people, really reacting to someone they thought had really died. He also at one point got banned there for telling someone to die in a fire, but I’m not sure where in the time frame this fits. The relevant part for the purposes of this post is that not only did he fake his own death by claiming to refuse treatment for a treatable illness, basically forcing everyone to wonder at the reasons behind his decision, but he also strong-armed a girl he knows to corroborate his story and keep the con going after his “demise”.

In doing this, “trolling” fails to even begin to describe exactly what kind of damage he’d wrought, all for his own amusement — since, by his own admission, the purpose of the story had nothing to do with financial gain, nor any real bid for sympathy, nor any other sentiments you could normally ascribe to such a prank. His “performance art” caused real emotions in people — not like the kinds of emotions that happen when you’re watching a sad movie and the music swells as the heroine dies; but actual emotions for someone the other commenters thought was a real person that they really knew. Well, he was a real person, but they didn’t know him at all. None of these people consented to being manipulated to this end, and even the theoretical catharsis of everyone discovering he was really alive, only served to deepen the wound by exposing the fact that they’d been had, and in what amounts to a long con by someone they otherwise trusted.

This brings me to his latest bout of performance art. He recently turned his natural ability at trolling to what he thought was a good end, increasing ad impressions at the several blogs that were donating their revenue to the Silence is the Enemy campaign for June. He did so, however, by drumming up all sorts of controversy intentionally and disingenuously, taking everyone to the brink then pulling back just enough to keep everyone commenting, with all the skill of a fencer. This sort of emotional roller coaster has had a dampening effect on the conversations that have been going on — people have burned out on the discussion after so many feelings were hurt, after so many people were rubbed raw by Rystefn’s method of argumentation.

After getting a lot of hits in the original threads at Greg Laden’s, he proceeded to branch out onto other blogs, including mine, DuWayne’s, and Stephanie’s (none of us having ad revenue to donate, being hosted on my personal domain and Blogger). In doing so, he continued some of the more outrageous lines of argumentation, especially this one involving whether or not it was acceptable for a woman, in the course of making up her mind to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, thinks “rapist” rather than “potential rapist”. And I fought with him for pages and pages and pages, letting him take me off my game and making my blood boil, thinking I could actually either drive us toward some kind of consensus or make him sick of the discussion and back off finally. Neither happened — the first because he was trolling, and the second coincidentally also because he was trolling.

And eventually, he outed himself to me, possibly because I was trying to keep my head cool after two days of running hot, and attempted to see his “side” of the argument, and he therefore thought he had a sympathetic ear in me. Of course, after I appealed to his better nature and he rebuffed with a curt “whatever” and an admonition that he would do what he wants to do, and I should go do what I want to do, I naturally did what I wanted to do and outed him for the disingenuous asshole he is.

Looking back at it, the *only* sense of satisfaction I have about the whole episode is that I kept him busy… a bit… for a short time. Reducing the instances of him aggravating the people I’ve grown to respect and admire on the i-weboblogs is a small, Pyrrhic victory.

A number of strong voices have either had to take a break from the topic, despite the insights they could provide, or almost walked away from blogging altogether, and that’s scary. Not just scary in the thought that a simple troll could elicit some real emotion, and enough emotion to evoke such a response, but scary in that it proves the point of this whole damn campaign — that you can do something egregious to someone and silence their voice outright.

Ultimately, this whole thing comes down to consent. In neither case I showed above, did Rystefn have the consent of the other players in his little internet manufactured-dramas. In both cases, he had control of the situation. In both cases, the end result was his amusement or gratification. In both cases, the fallout involved the other players incurring psychological damage to some degree or another. So, I feel perfectly justified in classifying both instances of trolling as being akin to psychological rape.

As much as I got a chance to sharpen my debating skills and as much as the whole event served to me an illustration that I need to keep my temper in check when trying to debate anything, ultimately, I don’t feel good about the whole experience. I’m never going to get the hours I spent over those three days back, and that level of time investment for a simple object lesson in outrage simply compounds in my mind the damage I saw done to a lot of good people and to the very cause that the whole discussion was trying to support.

To the rest of the e-neti-blogo-hedron, I’m sorry I didn’t cut it way shorter. And I’m sorry I didn’t keep my cool.

Comments

  1. says

    So much wrong, I don’t even know where to begin… I never told Seth to die in a fire, nor did I threaten him (as others have claimed). All I said was the world would be a better place without him in it, and that if I heard he had died, I would consider an improvement. I stand by it, he’s the worst kind of subhuman filth… and coming from a villain like me, that means something.

    The story was not be written by the “real people” you refer to, they were the audience. I explain this is great detail in the post you link to, in fact… but reading for comprehension has never been one of your strong points.

    As for the rest… well, I’ve already said what I have to say on that subject, and saying it again is a waste of my time and yours. I’ve got better and more important things to do just now.

  2. says

    For the record, Rystefn was not the reason I considered walking away from the blog. It’s much more complicated than that. Simpler too. It takes people I care about to cause that kind of stress.

    Him? Once I determined he was noise and not actually engaging in conversation, I just stopped reading his comments except when I felt like it. And that was pretty damned early. I wouldn’t buy into that villain thing. The truth is a bit more pathetic. After all, he doesn’t even understand that his “audience” is human and non-passive–or how to leave without taking his toys and going (flouncing) home.

    Actually, he probably doesn’t realize how many people made an active choice to follow along with the “death” thing either. After all, whether it was true or not, there was reason to mourn.

  3. a mother says

    OK, now I’m curious. My understanding is that the “owner” of the blog site has control to edit what gets posted. And yet you choose to keep Rystephn’s comment? I don’t care what’s in his mind, or what spews from his facinorous fingers. But – in the nicest way possible – what were you thinking?

  4. says

    *sigh*

    Why I even bother… I don’t know.

    I never told Seth to die in a fire, nor did I threaten him (as others have claimed).

    Yeah, you did. And I quote: “Go die in a fucking fire, so I can that the real problem was that no one owned you, so no one had an interest in keeping you alive.”

    And is that even English?

    The story was not be written by the “real people” you refer to, they were the audience.

    Only you also said…

    A brief farewell letter would have been sent out saying essentially “I did what I felt I must” and with a few personal messages. Then the real story was to begin.

    As i said, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Many have pointed out the cruelty of it, myself among them. The real story was to be, as I have said, the search for a reason.

    Ostensibly that “chapter” of the story was to be written by the mourners, not by the ghost of Rystefn. So you didn’t continue with your charade, whoopdeefuck.

    Anyway, whatever, I’m done talking to you.

    Stephanie:

    It takes people I care about to cause that kind of stress.

    I assume then that the friend that walked away had more of an affect on the near-abandoning? But I will not pry. It just means I overstated the direct effect the episode had on you, and understated (by omission I guess) the indirect. Either way it was the catalyst.

    a mother:

    But – in the nicest way possible – what were you thinking?

    I’ve only ever edited or deleted one troll’s comment, being specifically JTankers regarding his LHC doomsaying. Don’t care to dredge up links, but you can probably find them both online and in my archives. Either way, I felt guilty about it for like a month and even at one point considered trying to get him to return so we could have it out properly. Even though I know he was not arguing in good faith, much like our friend here. Aside from that, my not editing anything of his is integral to the outing (which I actually omitted in this post! Damn! Maybe when I edit for links I’ll add a paragraph…), as he thought he had a sympathetic ear and that I’d help him cover things up.

    I don’t know why Stephanie left them all intact, nor do I know why Greg did likewise. Probably by the time it was obvious he was a troll descended from the heavens to rile up outrage, we were already in too deep all around.

    Also, “facinorous fingers”? Nice!

  5. says

    Well, I stand corrected. I guess I forgot that particular turn of phrase. Not terribly important, since that’s not why I was banned, I was banned for describing in great detail and at great length how much better the world would be if he were to die.

    Oh, and the mourners seeking answer telling the rest of the story were actors, as I explained already. Of course, you’re not one to let simple words spelled out in plain English (my angry rant you quote above notwithstanding) prevent you from claiming something in direct contradiction of easily observable facts.

  6. says

    Yap yap yap.

    I fixed the incomplete sentence fragment that was originally to be the part mentioning my outing him. Since he’s obviously dropped attempting to claim that I was hacking him or spoofing him or whatever, it’s less important that everyone see the real text of what we said via e-mail, so I’ll keep it to myself out of deference to his privacy. Yeah, that’s right, I care about stuff like that even for total asshats.

  7. says

    While I’m talking about people yapping, in the interest of brevity, I’ve excised a whole paragraph that doesn’t need to be in there.

    Since I do things in plain sight, here it is.

    Now, I’m honestly a bit of a newbie around these parts (even if my blog’s been up for about a year). I wasn’t really linked into any part of the “Greater Blogosphere” until just recently, when I started actually posting at some of the blogs that I had been lurking on. And not just posting, but getting into full-blown arguments, about loftier, more intellectual, and more emotionally charged topics than I generally get to discuss with the locals around this small town in Nova Scotia (my beloved local readers excluded, of course!). Granted, I’d skirmished under pseudonyms with creationists online in the past, but since I started this blog under my real name, I had kept my blog commenting to a minimum for the most part. It’s hard enough balancing a decent home life with a girl whom I love, an almost omnipresent job as an IT guy, and my tendency to sink more hours than I should into video games, but throw in a blog that I’ve resolved to post at least once a day (sometimes posting four or five short ones to make up when I know I’ll fall short the next day), and I’m already stretched well beyond what I should. So then let’s also throw regularly reading more than just RSS feeds, but specific discussion threads, and comment on them with any semblance of coherently, and you end up wishing you had way more hours in the day, and at the same time, wishing I had gotten into the blogo-scene much sooner.

    Also, this makes me look like I have zero life, when really, I have 0.1 of a life at least.

  8. says

    Русский спам честно очень жалко. Разве они не имеют ничего лучше делать со своим временем?

  9. says

    Я удалил связь. И теперь я собираюсь идти, едят ужин.

    (Translation: I have removed communication. And now I am going to go, eat a supper.)

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