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The Great Troll War of 2013

The internet is taking an interesting tack: there’s increasing concern about doing something about trolls. I think it’s a bit of backlash, because really, they’ve gone far, far overboard — the volume of raw hate and stupidity in some of the worst places on the net is appalling — and I also think internet culture is changing as it expands beyond its early population of nerds.

We’re all still trying to figure out what to do about the troll infestations, though. Lindy West has her personal answer: don’t ignore them, feed them ’til their idiocy is a matter of public mockery. And it’s all because the trolls are reaching new lows in their efforts to silence people, especially women.

Cumulatively, the sheer volume of hate that we’re expected to shoulder, in silence, every day, is wearing a lot of people out and shutting down rational discourse. Female bloggers are being hounded off the internet. Teenage girls are being hounded off the earth. There’s no good solution, but we have to do what we can to stop these people—unmask them, shame them, mock them, cement their status as social pariahs—for our own sanity and for those whose armor isn’t so thick (upgrade yo greaves, son).

Unmasking trolls, as we’ve seen, can produce some tangible and satisfying results. And I don’t mean just in a punitive way, I mean in a changing-the-larger-culture kind of way. People need to understand and internalize that online harassment, violent hate speech, rape threats, slut-shaming little girls until they hang themselves, and so on, are express violations of the social contract. They will not be tolerated and they will result in real-life consequences. That’s a long way off, and probably a bit of a pipe dream, but it might be our only hope for cleaning up this shitshow.

Here’s another example of the troll blight: Amanda Berry, the woman who’d been kidnapped and held prisoner in Cleveland for ten years, went to a concert and danced last weekend. Normal people can appreciate how great that must have felt, to be free at last and to be able to just have fun for an evening.

Not the trolls.

On CNN over the weekend, Nelly told Erin Burnett, “What stuck with me most was that she had a smile on her face. That’s one of the most impressive things to me, considering everything she had been through … I thought, wow, that was special.” But Burnett was too busy being amazed that “She looked totally normal.”

Burnett’s concerned astonishment was charitable compared to what the lowest form of opinion generators – Internet commenters – had to say about Berry’s newly reignited social life. “It’s just odd given the years of abuse she suffered. Normally she would not have that kind of trust or comfort. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense,” wrote one concerned ABC News commenter, while another more bluntly decided, “It seems to me she was enjoying it and is gonna use her ordeal to cash in.” Many were concerned that she appeared with a man who stood behind her and warmly put his arm around her and kissed her neck while she was onstage. Or, as some of the ABC commenters decided, he was a “dirt bag hanging all over her,” who “groped” and “pawed” her. A CBS News commenter more generously decided she looked “pretty hot.” And 645 comments later on NBC, Berry had plenty of well-wishers but also comments about her eyebrow piercing, and how she doesn’t look like “a real victim….lol.” And of course, if you want to plumb the absolute bottom of the barrel, there’s YouTube, where Berry is being accused of “milking everything she’s getting.”

You don’t expect much beyond a gaping, misspelled void when you stare into the cold dark place that is Internet comments. But what’s appalling – if not entirely surprising – is realizing that the judging and shaming that rots the soul of online community goes that deep. It goes all the way down to picking on a woman who spent a decade being abused, because she had the nerve to go outside and be happy.

Yeah, it’s time to fight back.


Whoa. A commenter linked to a tumblr where a game developer dumps the hate mail he got after changing the stats on a gun in Call of Duty. You can’t read that without realizing there is a deep sociological problem here.

You know, if I’d known about that behavior back when I had kids at home who were playing those games and others online, there are a few things I would have done. I would not have told them they don’t get to play; nor would I have taken their internet connection away. But I definitely would have sat them down to read that site and I would have told them, “Don’t be that asshole. I would be ashamed if you had such a poor sense of perspective.”

I think that’s where it has to begin. Don’t engage in such behavior yourself, but also tell your friends, your relatives, and the people you encounter in those games that they are being terrible people. Don’t spare your boyfriend or your daughter or your mother, either, it shouldn’t matter how close they are to you…except maybe that the closer they are, the more you should care about their behavior. If you find yourself playing against people who say such things, report them, block them if the game allows you, and just stop playing with them.

You are not more manly when you lose an online game and think you can recoup some honor by threatening to rape your opponent. You are more pathetic.

Comments

  1. thecalmone says

    You know what they say: One man’s troll is another man’s freedom fighter.

  2. chigau (meh) says

    Berry Should™ be a quivering lump of pathetic.
    She is not.
    Must be something wrong.
    Maybe that decade wasn’t ThatBad™.
    I may vomit.

  3. says

    The internet’s just part of it. I mean ffs, we had print media treat a child who was gang raped like she was asking for it. But yes, taking internet trolls lying down is dumb.

  4. says

    Regarding the Amanda Berry thing, I’m not clear what the problem would be even if she were “milking everything she’s getting”. After years of a horrible experience she’s not entitled to try to grab some enjoyment?

    More directly on topic, even as a straight white able-bodied guy who’s not a target of any of the nastiness, I would very much prefer an Internet with much less of the “trolls” and the hateful garbage. I’m very much on board with fighting back.

  5. says

    Yeah. I think it’s especially become obvious that trolling, just like the bullying we would rightfully recognize it as in society is a form of terrorism targeting specific groups and trying to eliminate their participation in a specific culture, their use of certain behaviors (like agency), or just trying to eliminate them out of culture in general (so that the focus can be 100% on dominant groups instead of just mostly on them.

    Which is largely why many of the threats take the form of other terrorism campaigns against marginalized groups such as threatening rape, encouraging suicide, laying on raw hatred on a person for their basic human identities, stalking, death threats, and attempts to “out” someone.

    Given that the majority of the population are not members of the most dominant group (white cis straight men from wealthier backgrounds, religiously inclined, and so on), it’s long since time we figured out what to do with them both on and off line, especially as those who engage in trolling, much like rapists, often feel no social shame in it and are proud to troll with the same names and identities they use to talk with their friends or show pictures of their kids.

    So yeah, moving the social condemnation away from the victims of these harassment campaigns and onto those who perpetuate them would go a long way towards fixing the problem and the underlying reasons it occurs.

  6. says

    How could any person (with actual, y’know, empathy) be anything but delighted that this woman is out having a good time?

    I’d burn one with you if I could.

    Party on Amanda!!11!!

  7. raven says

    We know what happens when trolls aren’t managed and sometimes banned.

    Whatever forums they get in, just die. Dead. Gone.

    1. I”ve been on the net since about the time Al Gore invented it. Darpa Usenet. Even in the 80’s, there were trolls and they were being pointless and corrosive. Darpa Usenet is still around but who bothers to look for it?

    2. Since then whole domains have been ceded to the trolls. AOL went, Yahoo went.

    You’ve got to have moderators and other anti-troll defenses or just turn your forums over to the trolls.

    You don’t have to wonder about this. The experiment has been done many times and the data is in and analyzed.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Écrasons l’infâme !

    You know what they say: One man’s troll is another man’s freedom fighter.

    That was already thoroughly stupid when it was about terrorists. It’s easy to be a terrorist and a freedom fighter at the same time, because “terrorist” describes a method and “freedom fighter” a goal.

    It’s easily possible that there are trolls who have an admirable goal in mind and believe the ends somehow justify the means. Any such trolls would just happen to be wrong – massively so.

  9. raven says

    One ofmy friends set up a blog for patients of a particular autoimmune disease.

    One that is hard to treat and can be devastating. This patient population has a notably elevated rate of suicide.

    It didn’t take long for the trolls to show up. And they started advising everyone to just give up and kill themselves.

    It got closed down. It has reopened but is now hard to find and heavily moderated. It’s not hard to keep the trolls out but you have to actually do it. Sign in, moderators, banning, and so on.

    Trolls are an old problem, predating the internet by about a 1000 years. We do know how to deal with them and everyone does deal with them. Most of the time they aren’t a problem on well run threads.

  10. says

    It’s also a little surreal seeing the timing of this post considering I just received today from one of my own blog’s dedicated trolls a shiny little passive-aggressive death threat. So happy we’ve instituted moderators recently.

  11. says

    I would say “I doubt it, because I’ve met you, Marcus”, but the audience just knows that’s because I’m a different sock on the same hand.

  12. says

    Women as a group cop some of the worst the internet has to offer.

    But the general rule doesn’t discount a specific case (and vice versa of course); it’s possible for any individual to call down the unholy wrath of the internet for a sufficiently heinous transgression.

    Such as altering the stats for an item in a video game.

    The responses, as you can imagine, were measured and appropriate.

    (Let me just put a content warning on following that link, okay?)

  13. says

    Then again, though it’s a guy that’s ostensibly the target of this abuse, a fair number of the listed tweets explicitly call out his wife and daughter as the actual recipients of violence; so this specific case isn’t even really contrary to the general rule anyway.

  14. PatrickG says

    That’s six kinds of awesome, right there.

    Don’t feed the trolls… treat them to a buffet!

  15. Ysanne says

    Ok, so maybe I just grew up in the wrong parts of the internet… but the kind of trolls that shouldn’t be fed used to be people pretending to take part in some debate but writing idiotic stuff to annoy everyone else who took it seriously. Which was fun in a way, and died if no one engaged with them. Kind of like when someone comes into a room and tries to derail the conversation with stupid jokes, which fails if everyone else just ignores them.
    The people we’re talking about here aren’t this kind of troll. They’re the hateful person who barges into a room shouting insults, pours random people’s drinks over their heads to stop them from talking, and claiming that this is all just a joke because it’s hilarious for xirself. And then maybe brings along a bunch of equally awful buddies. This doesn’t go away by ignoring the assholes, it goes away by kicking them out.
    I’m so glad people start waking up to it.

  16. says

    It seems to me that a “War on trolls” will be as effective as a “War on terror”. Also – who gets to decide who is a troll?

    The best defence is to ignore them and include down voting and classification on comments.

  17. great1american1satan says

    Wow, Alex. You are so smart. Tell us more of your fascinating idea.

    (/jesusfuckingchrist)

  18. AndrewD says

    Marcus Ranum @1
    I am hurt, hurt I say-I have never trolled any one, I am a Process chemist not a maths student and and I am going to tell my mummy what you said, just you wait!

  19. fourtytwo says

    I know this has probably been covered before, but to call these people “trolls” seems to trivialise what they are doing. It seems like a fairly tame and comical insult to use for such serious cases. I used to think a troll was someone who would post a provocative comment in order to elicit a response. They got a kick from being noticed and were merely poking the hornets nest to alleviate their boredom. They were an annoyance, but Mostly Harmless. However, those who have taken this into a new realm of harassment and rape threats are doing far more. If they were writing letters instead of commenting online they would be classed as criminals, harassers and highly dangerous individuals. Isn’t this how we should class them? What other terms can we use?

  20. says

    Shame – I don’t seem to be able to downvote you, dick. Stick with it and filter trolling mentally and with tools. The alternative is worse.

  21. marko says

    Ysanne has recognised a very important point;who are we dealing with? Define a troll. Not that long ago, I used to consider a troll someone who would deliberately make patently ridiculous arguments to derail a thread into dealing with their stupidity, this is indeed best ignored. What we are seeing now is aggressive and voluminous hate speech. I think there are times when it needs called out, and not just by one lone warrior, the whole community needs to turn on them and bare teeth. Yes, you can have your free speech to issue rape threats, but when you do we are going to exercise our free speech, throw a spotlight on you and expose your bullshit for what it is publicly and in full view of the internet. Like most bullies, they are a little group of vocal cowards following a couple of ring leaders, they don’t like the light, and the big men don’t feel so big without their band of merry arseholes.

  22. Dunc says

    The best defence is to ignore them

    Yeah, because that’s worked so well in the past…

    It’s real easy to say “just ignore them” when you’re not the well-known and easily traceable public figure being deluged with threats of violence against you and your family.

    How many explicit threats of gang-rape have you had to “mentally filter” in the last 24 hours?

  23. voidhawk says

    We need another word than ‘troll’ which makes the harrassers think that what they’re doing is the equivalent of old-school trolling which was writing semi-serious posts trying to stir up an argument and could actually be relatively amusing at times. Proper trolling takes a little skill to know where to pitch your comment as to get a response without being blatantly seen as a troll. Proper trolling requires good timing to keep the pot boiling without boiling over so that the mods fly in.

    This isn’t that. This is harrassment and bullying, pure and simple.

  24. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @Kagato #15

    Wow…. that’s… these people are scary. The stats on the sniper rifle have been changed (presumably downgraded, judging by the reactions) and people are threatening to kill him, kill his wife, kill his daughter, rape his wife and daughter, and one says he will “slap [his] wife with a crowbar”. One person says “If you don’t remove the patch I will trickshot your fucking family! How’s that?! Destroy our family we destroy yours”. This is one of the milder threats on there, but this person feels that having your actual family killed is equivalent to having the stats on your favourite imaginary gun changed? Yeah, this needs fighting.

    @Alex HM

    Shame – I don’t seem to be able to downvote you, dick. Stick with it and filter trolling mentally and with tools. The alternative is worse.

    Firstly, what the fuck does this mean? Look up syntax, learn it, and then utilise that knowledge. It should help you to avoid posting such garbled nonsense in future.

    Secondly, why would you march on into a thread in which the OP is discussing how “Don’t Feed The Trolls” doesn’t fucking work and how instead we need to actively fight trolls, and blithely declare “Ooh, what I think we should do is not feed the trolls!”. And then have the nerve to get all pissy when someone points out what a stupid thing that is to say.

    Thirdly, having read your first comment and struggled my way through the syntactical mess that constitutes your second comment, what you seem to be saying is that not feeding the trolls and instead employing “downvoting” is “better than the alternative”, the altenative presumably being our solution which is to call them on their bullshit and make clear that their behaviour is not acceptable, involving such actions up to and including naming and shaming particularly despicable trolls. Please explain, preferably in a way which is comprehensible to the average English speaking person, why your method is better than ours.

  25. says

    I think if you look up syntax you will my sentences are syntactically correct; You may disagree with the content, and even style though.

    Why would I come into a thread that starts with a statement I disagree with? Words fail me. (Again, apparently).

    The point has been made above already – but I’ll repeat it because you seem a bit dense.. 99% of trolling is not worth responding to. We have laws on which we can rely if threats are credible or persistent. Use them. “Calling out” trolls is just what they want. It is counterproductive – just like the war on terror.

  26. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Hey Alex, you are ignorant and showing your ignorance as proudly as a toddler shows you the turd he lft in the bathtub.

    “Don’t feed the trolls” is bad science in the first place.

  27. ryan says

    Hey thumper congratulations – You are the troll.
    You decided that you didn’t like Alex’s comments
    “It seems to me that a “War on trolls” will be as effective as a “War on terror”. Also – who gets to decide who is a troll? The best defence is to ignore them and include down voting and classification on comments.”
    Which on the face of it are perfectly innocuous and reasonable comments – which you may or may not agree with him about – that’s your choice. Instead you attack him personally.

    Someone else on the forum commented that it’s not trolling but rather hate speech which is the problem. I’d go for that – though I’m still not sure which is the best way to deal with it. Naming and shaming – showing them up is a good idea – the problem is that most people just switch off and move onto another website rather than deal with people like that. So I reckon strong moderation and banning is probably the best option available, though far from ideal.

  28. voidhawk says

    What IS worth calling out? When a 15 year old girl gets endless rape threats because she held up a picture of a book she got for her birthday? Should she just shrug that off? What about a girl threatened with rape, murder, mutilation, whatever, for asking for a school to follow the law and take down a prayer banner?

    Sure, old school argument-baiting is worth ignoring, this is much darker, much more vile which has led to young people taking their lives, that isn’t something we should shrug our shoulders at.

  29. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Ooh, and do i get a bonus point for “if you are really being harassed, call the police\FBI”?

  30. billzfantazy says

    OGRE: Hate speech, serious abuse etc.

    TROLL: ad hominen attacks, off topic ranting etc.

    ELF: humorous sidetracking, pretended ignorance etc.

  31. ryan says

    Sorry I need to elaborate a tad. Life is nuanced and labels aren’t particularly effective. All I’m saying is that there is a huge difference between traditional “trolling” as it where, and hate speech. For the first you have moderators and banning – which works a fair amount of the time. I’ve been on moderated and uncontrolled forums – and there is a huge difference between the two.
    Regarding the second – that should definitely not be taken lying down, possible charges should be brought against the person responsible? All I’m saying is that there are degrees of trolling. Some people are novices and others big daddy, grandmaster level trolls. You need to deal with them differently.

  32. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Agreeing with the point others (Ysanne, marko, voidhawk,…) have already made that harassers aren’t trolls. They probably want to be considered trolls, since classifying them as such downplays the harm they cause.

  33. rq says

    Agreeing with the points Beatrice is agreeing with. Because.

    But, billzfantazy @35, what have you got against ogres??

  34. says

    Thanks Ryan. Yes – he’s making one useful point for me.

    I’m surprised PZ is on this bandwagon. There doesn’t appear to be any credible strategy here.

    It seems to be being suggested that we shold get really upset if people offend us or our children by saying horrible things and that “something” should be done about it. Fuck that. Fuck it 20 times over.

  35. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @Alex HM

    Syntax referrs to the rules which govern the proper way to construct a sentence, the general goal of such rules being to ensure that sentences are constructed in such a way that their meaning is clear. Your post was poorly constructed and thus unclear. Thus it was syntactically incorrect.

    Yes, I’m aware of your point. I want you to justify it, please. Why is it not worth responding to? How is not responding better than responding? Why is your way “better than the alternative”?

    @Ryan

    I attacked the content and the structure of the post. Please quote the point where I “attack[ed] him personally”.

    Perhaps your issue is with the tone of my post? Maybe it was a tad aggressive, but when someone strolls into a thread about how feeding the trolls doesn’t work and blithely declares “We shouldn’t feed the trolls” (simply declares it, without offering any counter-arguments or rebuttals to the content of the OP), and then get’s all pissy (including using a gendered insult) in response to someone (a different commenter) pointing out that what they said was perhaps a bit silly and pointless, I fail to see why I should bend over backwards to be polite to them.

  36. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @blitzfantazy

    I like that :) As ryan says in #36, there are “degrees” of trolling, and I do think that simple ( purposeful) thread derailing and other “everyday” trolling needs to be distinguished from the out-and-out hate and harrassment being experienced by some bloggers. As Beatrice says, calling it “trolling” when what they are doing would be harrassment and/or threatening behaviour in any non-internet setting downplays the seriousness of what they are doing. These people are disgusting, and they need to be treated as such.

  37. anne mariehovgaard says

    Alex HM @29:
    Is this supposed to be a joke?

    I think if you look up syntax you will my sentences are syntactically correct; You may disagree with the content, and even style though.

  38. davidjanes says

    RE: that Twitter apology. Isn’t the only reason it happened was that the offender tweeted under his real name? One of the brakes on social behavior is the threat of consequences, and anonymity makes that corrective process not function very well.

    I am not necessarily calling for an end to it, but how many of those gamers would have posted those threats to that guy if they knew that there real names were linked to them and their parents, spouses, educators, and employers would be able to find them?

  39. John Morales says

    Alex HM:

    I’m surprised PZ is on this bandwagon. There doesn’t appear to be any credible strategy here.

    Not to you; to others, it’s clear that a change in social attitudes is what is being called for, and that such a process would be well-served by habitual condemnation by the majority — rather the opposite of shutting up and letting it happen unopposed.

    It seems to be being suggested that we shold get really upset if people offend us or our children by saying horrible things and that “something” should be done about it. Fuck that. Fuck it 20 times over.

    Clearly, your paucity of perspicaciousness is affecting your perception, when it seems so to you.

    (Did you even bother to follow Kagato’s link @15?)

    BTW, that “something” is not as nebulous as your limited perception makes it seem to you; you seem to have missed the salient point.

    Here: Lindy West has her personal answer: don’t ignore them, feed them ’til their idiocy is a matter of public mockery.

    BTW, has it also escaped you that, here, people practice what they preach? ;)

  40. John Morales says

    davidjanes, yes — a very good point.

    In the old days, one could email postmaster@<domain> and report such breaches of terms of use, and if that had no result, one could just block the user.

    These days, social media providers (such as Twitter) are notoriously poor at enforcing their own rules.

    (IMO, anonymity should be a privilege that one loses if they persist in abusing it)

  41. says

    I would turn it round. Where has it been shown that feeding the trolls IS a credible strategy? It has failed time after time on millions of forms. How is this ‘strategy’ different?

    The burden of proof is actually on you. Good luck with that.

    I’m not counselling despair; Just making the point that knee jerk reactions in outrage are usually counterproductive. A number of people have called me out on not responding to key points. I believe I have. The only response has been that “there HAS been lots of thought gone into this” – I just can’t see it because I’m dumb.

    I dispute that. You sound like a group of religious people trying to close their ears to something they don’t ant to hear. Good luck with that, too.

  42. John Morales says

    Alex HM:

    I would turn it round. Where has it been shown that feeding the trolls IS a credible strategy? It has failed time after time on millions of forms. How is this ‘strategy’ different?

    Welcome to Pharyngula! ;)

    The burden of proof is actually on you. Good luck with that.

    Really? Try trolling here, see how far it gets you.

    I’m not counselling despair; Just making the point that knee jerk reactions in outrage are usually counterproductive. A number of people have called me out on not responding to key points. I believe I have. The only response has been that “there HAS been lots of thought gone into this” – I just can’t see it because I’m dumb.

    You didn’t see to what “something” referred, above — prominent though it was in the OP.

    As for “knee jerk reactions in outrage”, you imagine this is not something that’s been policy here for years and years?

    (Time for it to spread more widely)

    I dispute that. You sound like a group of religious people trying to close their ears to something they don’t ant to hear. Good luck with that, too.

    <snicker>

    Your oblivious irony is rather amusing, O naysayer.

    [OT + meta]

    andrewryan @47, that’s because you’re ignorant.

  43. ryan says

    @ billzfantazy

    I also like your naming system but how long will it be till you get a call from the ogre anti defamation league!

    Seriously – though this is hardly scientific – I’ve found most forums that are very strictly regulated and the mods are visible and active are a pleasure to hang around on. So strict policing is good, though it tends to take the form of banning people not engaging in trench warfare with them. And it seems to work well enough in the majority of cases. However, in some cases when people are threatened then clearly banning them is simply not enough.
    @ Thumper; Atheist mate
    Ok, though to be honest Alex’s approach has it’s place and would be sufficient in many occasions.
    Isn’t what you guys are talking about in the minority anyway?

  44. says

    “That’s because you’re ignorant”

    Both ‘perspicacity’ and ‘perspicaciousness’ are perfectly good English, and they mean the same thing, so why is it ignorant to use the former?

  45. says

    Yes – this is Pharyngula. A moderated forum. There is a place for that. Snicker all you like; Close down comments, people will eventually migrate to somewhere where they can talk freely and that will become the new place where trolls spew hate. How is that an improvement, except in your closed world?

  46. says

    I would turn it round. Where has it been shown that feeding the trolls IS a credible strategy? It has failed time after time on millions of forms. How is this ‘strategy’ different?

    I’ve been told by fence sitters that my arguments with trolls made them realize the error of their ways. I’ve felt less horrifically outnumbered when I’ve seen other people say “Hey, don’t be sexist” and explaining what they did, and why – whether or not that person changed their minds, I felt less alone, and had a tiny bit of faith in humanity restored. Anecdotal, but not atypical of the folks I’ve asked – do or find a proper survey yourself if you’re genuinely curious. Hateful people demonstrably don’t stop being hateful people for being ignored, additionally. We know this, because we’ve spent decades ignoring hateful people.

    If you want to play skeptic, you can’t use any of this to justify ‘don’t feed the trolls’ either, also. ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ is little more than common sense. And common sense is useless if you want to know how things actually work.

    ’m not counselling despair; Just making the point that knee jerk reactions in outrage are usually counterproductive.

    If you’d like to play skeptic, where’s your support for this statement?

  47. John Morales says

    [OT]

    andrewryan:

    Both ‘perspicacity’ and ‘perspicaciousness’ are perfectly good English, and they mean the same thing, so why is it ignorant to use the former?

    It’s not; what evinced ignorance was the attempt to imply I was wrong in my usage (“I think that’s ‘perspicacity’”, remember?).

    So, either you were essaying the attempt though you knew better, or you didn’t actually know better at the time. If the latter, congratulations: you’re now less ignorant than before; if the former, then you were stupid* rather than ignorant.

    (See? I was actually being generous!)

    * Stupid to imagine you’d get away with it.

  48. says

    @John Morales. I’ve changed my mind – you were right. I am ignorant. Well, I was. Now I know better. The good news is that I’m sure there are plenty of other things I’m still ignorant about!

  49. says

    Yes – this is Pharyngula. A moderated forum. There is a place for that. Snicker all you like; Close down comments, people will eventually migrate to somewhere where they can talk freely and that will become the new place where trolls spew hate. How is that an improvement, except in your closed world?

    Ah, a ‘free speech means you have to host my shit’ type. Do you have any idea how bad you have to be to get banned here?

    To answer the question… dude, most of the civilized world operates under social graces, where you will be ejected if you are a sufficient asshole. Try shouting rape threats at someone in a coffee shop, see how far it gets you. I think I’ll be fine bringing it to the internet too.

  50. Anri says

    Alex HM:

    I would turn it round. Where has it been shown that feeding the trolls IS a credible strategy? It has failed time after time on millions of forms. How is this ‘strategy’ different?

    The burden of proof is actually on you. Good luck with that.

    Do you think open racism is as common as it once was?
    Is that because it got ignored?

    Go look up Stetson Kennedy and what happened when he helped shine a little light on the KKK.

    I’m not counselling despair; Just making the point that knee jerk reactions in outrage are usually counterproductive. A number of people have called me out on not responding to key points. I believe I have. The only response has been that “there HAS been lots of thought gone into this” – I just can’t see it because I’m dumb.

    I dispute that. You sound like a group of religious people trying to close their ears to something they don’t ant to hear. Good luck with that, too.

    Ok, there’s a difference between responding and outrage. Either you don’t understand that, in which case the whole “you’re being stupid” thing is pretty much a case of if the shoe fits
    or you do understand the difference and you’re dishonestly misrepresenting what’s being said.
    Care to clarify?

    Secondly, it has been shown that social pressure works wonders on modifying behavior. Time and time again, it has been demonstrated that one of the reasons people do horrid things is that they take general silence for tacit approval.

    It’s also worth noting that remaining silent is an excellent way to actually show tacit approval for horrible behavior. In other words, if someone is being horrible to someone else, and you stand idly by, there’s no way for anyone to tell if you approve of the behavior or not. The bully can’t tell, the victim can’t tell, bystanders can’t tell – why should anyone assume you’re actually opposed to bullying under those situations?
    So, aside from actually being effective, and also letting the bully know they’ve got one fewer person on their side, and letting the victim know they’ve got one more person on their side (some people might say these were both inherently worthy goals, but hey, to each his own, right?), in a purely selfish vein, it make you look like you don’t approve of assholery and are therefore at least possibly a decent human being.

    So, any further questions on this topic?

  51. Anri says

    Alex HM:

    Yes – this is Pharyngula. A moderated forum. There is a place for that. Snicker all you like; Close down comments, people will eventually migrate to somewhere where they can talk freely and that will become the new place where trolls spew hate. How is that an improvement, except in your closed world?

    (emphasis added)

    …comments here are closed?

    I’ve been hallucinating these conversations ever since then?
    Hell.

    …wait a sec, why aren’t you all ponies then?

  52. Maureen Brian says

    Yes, AlexHM @ 52, this is a moderated forum. So? It is lightly moderated by someone who lives a busy and interesting life, who is also happy to leave the quotitdian troll-bashing to the regulars. You prove precisely nothing with that line of argument.

    On the wider issue – as you were winding yourself up for a little rant did you think to consult any of the people who are regularly advised to “pretend you didn’t notice” or “let it go” or “don’t encourage them” by persons speaking out of ill-informed orifices. Probably not: it wouldn’t be your style. Sad, though, because, such people can draw upon centuries’ worth of experience and could pass on what history has taught them.

    What’s that? That the time-wasting stupidity only lessens when the object of scorn – yours or anyone else’s – get a bit fierce and shouts back. Strange that, isn’t it?

  53. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @ryan #50

    Depends on the troll. Using blitzfantzy’s system, Elves can be made to go away by ignoring them. Trolls and Ogres? not so much, in my experience.

    @Alex HM

    Stop being evasive. You don’t get to turn it round. You don’t get to march into a comment thread, declare that everyone is wrong and we should ignore trolls, and then when someone asks you why simply declare the burden of proof is on them. That’s not how it works. Reasons for our position have been given in the OP and numerous times in the thread (see Rutee Katreya #53, for example). You have yet to give a single good reason for yours. You made a positive assertion (that it is better to ignore trolls than to call them on their bullshit), and were asked for reasons as to why your approach is better. Please respond to the query and stop being evasive.

  54. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    *Depends on the troll. Using blitzfantzy’s system, Elves can sometimes be made to go away by ignoring them.

    FIFM.

  55. says

    I don’t see anything inherently wrong with Elves to start with. Conversations are organic things, and sometimes they take a turn for the humorous – and some people are the type to do that regularly. Now, there’s a problem if you try to sidetrack important, still ongoing discussions…

    To clarify my previous, by ‘civilized world’ I mean ‘pretty much every ape in a society’. The internet is the exception, and it’s by far not entirely a place of no rules where you can do, say, and threaten whoever you want.

  56. reasonbe says

    So many comments. shheeeesh.
    The way I see it, the problem with trolls, especially the garden variety, persistent ones and the population as a whole, is the same as the problem with religionists, creationists, anti-evolutionists, Kentuckyists, etc. (did I get everyone?). No matter what strategy is taken to counter these non-thinkers, a large percentage of them will NEVER go away because they hold tenaciously to their belief systems regardless…in the face of facts, peer pressure, persecution, exclusion, you name it. They will always be with us. To be civilized (and we must), we are left only to outvote them.

  57. Rey Fox says

    “Calling out” trolls is just what they want. It is counterproductive – just like the war on terror.

    Citation needed.

    (“It’s what my mom told me” doesn’t count)

  58. Jacob Schmidt says

    I’d be far more willing to buy the “don’t feed the trolls” shit if I didn’t see people actually believing the stupidity trolls spew. It also reminds me of people who harrass; they rely on social pressure that tells us to not make a scene. “Don’t feed” has been the common wisdom for decades, and yet the fuckers are everywhere.

    Alex

    Where has it been shown that feeding the trolls IS a credible strategy? It has failed time after time on millions of forms. How is this ‘strategy’ different?

    Can you actually point to an example, or this merely something you feel is true?

    reasonbe

    So many comments. shheeeesh.

    PFFFT, ahahaha. I’d be surprised if this thread doesn’t hit 200.

  59. raven says

    I won’t waste my lifespan on trolls. Once a forum is seriously troll infected, normal people stop looking at it.

    Then it dies. It’s been happening since the internet was invented.

    As to troll management, suppression, and treatment, this is also about as old as the internet.

    PZ Myers does a clever and reasonable job. The Thunderdome for the trolls and anyone who wants to let their inner fundie death cult xian or weasel out. The Lounge, moderated. Occasional cleanup on the other threads. The dungeon hall of fame for banned trolls.

    The internet has evolved a large suite of anti-troll antibiotics over the decades. You just have to use them and that does take some work and time.

  60. says

    Yes, you can have your free speech to issue rape threats

    No. You can’t. The right to free speech doesn’t cover threats or incitement to violence.


    Crosspost from B&W:

    I think using the word “troll” to describe either the people or what they’re doing feeds into the idea that it’s jocular and harmless. Even “bullying”* (as in cyberbullying) isn’t serious enough a term. It’s so easy to dismiss people who are just trollin’ fer kicks, or bullying cuz that’s what kids do. We should call it what it is, what we’d call it if the same people were slipping those messages under your door instead of into your twitter stream: criminal harassment, stalking, hate speech, and illegal threats. Why is it that it makes the evening news when someone spray paints a swastika on a person’s house, but a dozen swastika tweets sent every week over the course of months to the same person and “that’s horrible but it’s just the way the Internet is”? And if it’s rape threats and threats of violence against women? Then it’s their own fault for being women in public and they should just grow a pair or shut up.

    *I also feel the same about the word bullying. It’s a way of minimizing and dismissing the behaviour as a sign of immaturity rather than as a sign of cruelty and antisocial psychology.
    —-
    Alex HM:

    “Don’t Feed the Trolls” is Bad Science

  61. says

    Always feed the trolls!

    My rule is to mock them so severely that it’s like the nonviolent electronic variant of the old West Virginia way of keeping crows out of your corn patch. You shoot one down and then hang him up in effigy so no other ones want to come by.

  62. says

    Wow – a link to an opinion piece with “science” in the title. Are you a creationist too?

    Anyway – my view is that rather than messing with an interim step of arguing with these nutters (previously known as “feeding the trolls”) we should be pursuing real world consequences for threats and incitement violence. Arguing with people who you consider minor trolls and with whom you disagree is useful – but that’s because they aren’t really trolls; They’re reasonable people with whom you disagree. Me for example.

    I’m assuming this campaign against trolls isn’t expected to end here on FTB? As noted, you mainly have it cracked in this rarified atmosphere. I might have got the wrong end of the stick but I thought this crusade was supposed to take in places like reddit and youtube?

    I haven’t seen any papers on the subject, so I have to rely on experience. People, including trolls, like to cause a reaction. Give them one and they’ll come back – unless you can block them.

  63. says

    Alex HM:

    You sound like a group of religious people trying to close their ears to something they don’t ant to hear. Good luck with that, too.

    You are literally telling people to close their ears to something they don’t want to hear. What a moronic hypocrite. Please, at least put some thought into what you’re saying if you want folks to take you seriously.

  64. Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu says

    I got BINGO on my “Treat all internet interactions as Not Real” card before comment 50.

    Going back to finish the thread now.

  65. says

    Wow – a link to an opinion piece with “science” in the title. Are you a creationist too?

    Yo, fake skeptic, I’m still waiting on some support for this claim of yours

    Just making the point that knee jerk reactions in outrage are usually counterproductive

    Anyway – my view is that rather than messing with an interim step of arguing with these nutters (previously known as “feeding the trolls”) we should be pursuing real world consequences for threats and incitement violence.

    What happened to all that concern over a closed forum? That’d close things down so much more. More to the point, do you not realize that the courts would typically agree that none of this shit counts unless it gets into very specific kinds of stalking? Because people think it doesn’t matter? Because it’s the intermanets, that’s just how it is!

    ; They’re reasonable people with whom you disagree. Me for example.

    Objection: assumes facts not in evidence

    I haven’t seen any papers on the subject, so I have to rely on experience. People, including trolls, like to cause a reaction. Give them one and they’ll come back – unless you can block them.

    More evidence for fake skepticism – you’re just taking the common wisdom and being done with it. In other words, only the people who disagree with you should be examined skeptically.

  66. leftwingfox says

    I like billzfantazy’s formulation.

    Here’s what I don’t get about troll-ignoring. If the goal is to simply make a troll go away, why shouldn’t banning be appropriate? Same result, more effective, skips the intermediate (and apparently impossible) step of ignoring a person.

    Lies and misinformation should be addressed with facts, not ignored. Bigotry should be denounced. Disruptive individuals stay at the whim of the blog owner.

    Here’s my (likely) controversial suggestion: Purposefully evading a ban should be considered harassment, legally.

  67. says

    @74 No I’m not – I’m saying responding to deliberate trolling in an open forum is counterproductive.

    Could everyone asking for citations show me theirs? I admit I’m using my personal experience to draw a conclusion. You seem to be suggesting you have some science behind your position. It’d be great to see it.

  68. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    I admit I’m using my personal experience to draw a conclusion.

    Next by Alex HM: You’re all responding to me, if you stopped I would go away.

  69. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Could everyone asking for citations show me theirs? I admit I’m using my personal experience to draw a conclusion.

    Now that you have admitted the truth, your experience should be taken for what it is. One data point from a biased source. You need more datapoints to convince a crowd at a scientific blog. That is why you are being asked to support your claims. We question everything and everybody.

  70. marko says

    @70

    Yes, you can have your free speech to issue rape threats

    No. You can’t. The right to free speech doesn’t cover threats or incitement to violence.

    Apologies, it wasn’t quite want I meant to say, and you are of course right. My point was that these people are engaging in ridiculous hateful speech because they think they can get away with it, and responding by bans and calls to shut them up are met with cries about “freedom of speech”. I really think that the best way is to call them on it, make them explain what they mean, make them justify their position, and if we see someone else calling them on it, join in. One person throwing their garbage around can easily destroy a conversation or a thread, but it doesn’t take many to stand up to them and make them look like a fool. I think we need to develop a culture where people know if they are going to make hateful, racist, misogynist, or generally arseholish comments, they are going to get shouted down, quickly and concisely. You can have your freedom of speech, but don’t be surprised when it is turned against you and you are metaphorically tarred and feathered by your peers.

    Of course, any actual threats of violence should be treated as criminal actions.

  71. Dunc says

    The key thing here is that we’re not really talking about the sort of trolls who are just looking to get a rise out of people (“looking for a reaction”). We’re talking about mass on-line harassment and bullying, with the intent of wearing the victim down so that they withdraw from public life, and intimidating others into never engaging with public life in the first place. “Don’t feed the trolls” may (or may) work when you’re dealing with “ur mom is fat!” in a comments thread, but it absolutely does not work when you’re dealing with hundreds of graphic threats of sexual violence in your inbox on your twitter stream.

    Bullies do not go away when you ignore them. They escalate. Believe me, I speak from extensive experience…

    We’re also not talking about arguing with them – which I agree probably is pointless. We’re talking shaming them, in addition to pursing real-world consequences where possible, and improving the tools we use to interact online to make it easier to identify and block them.

  72. says

    Could everyone asking for citations show me theirs? I admit I’m using my personal experience to draw a conclusion. You seem to be suggesting you have some science behind your position. It’d be great to see it.

    Reminder:

    I would turn it round. Where has it been shown that feeding the trolls IS a credible strategy? It has failed time after time on millions of forms. How is this ‘strategy’ different?

    The burden of proof is actually on you. Good luck with that.

    You made a solid claim *and* demanded evidentiary support well before I did, bucko. That was rather my point.

  73. says

    Beatrice. I wouldn’t be so crass.

    So no citations for me then? I’ve been open on my views. How about some proof that threats on internet media, when pursued, are not dealt with. I would have thought the Mabus case is a solid example to the contrary.

    The point, Rutee, is that the boundary for acceptable behaviour is not set by a self appointed bunch of hypocrites, but by an elected legislature. If that closes down a forum, fair enough.

  74. apedant says

    One thing that might help, by way of spreading a meme via our own conversations, would be if we all stop talking about the internet and “IRL”. The internet is real life. I am a real person, so is anyone I abuse.

    Many (most?) of these abusers would be horrified if they saw someone acting “in real life” the way they act online. The task we face is to make people realize that by acting that way online they are acting that way in real life. This could start by just gently an unobtrusively pulling people up on it when they use the term “IRL”.

    I think it was Ben Goldacre who I first saw using the word meatspace, to signify non-internet without falling into this trap, I like it and want to use it more often in conversation.

  75. Dunc says

    I would have thought the Mabus case is a solid example to the contrary.

    It took sixteen years, hundreds of complaints from many different victims, and a 5000 signature petition.

  76. says

    The point, Rutee, is that the boundary for acceptable behaviour is not set by a self appointed bunch of hypocrites, but by an elected legislature. If that closes down a forum, fair enough.

    An elected legislature that is frequently, obviously, hostile to women, and other minorities (and don’t even try and play skeptic here, you’re just going to look like you’ve been hiding under a damn rock). You consider THEIR decisions legitimate, but not ‘self appointed hypocrites’? Stop lobbing them over the plate – this is nothing more or less than a defense of the status quo, trying to hide as a super concern for freedom of speech (Which doesn’t even fucking apply to whether private citizens have to host you on their forum.)

  77. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @Alex HM

    People, including trolls, like to cause a reaction. Give them one and they’ll come back

    Remember earlier, waaaaaaaaay upthread, when I asked you “Why is your way “better than the alternative”?” Is this you answering, or are you still evading that particular question?

    ‘Cause if that’s all you got, then I am unimpress.

  78. says

    @86 Any little helps, but I think the difference in attitude is not down to the perception but to the actual differences in consequences – ranging from loss of face with friends, family and work colleagues, legal censure to financial and custodial penalties.

    I think, although we don’t like it, those disconnections between our online and physical personae will have to be broken down to address this issue.

    Or we could just “call out” those trolls. That’ll do it.

  79. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @ougaseon #82

    It always amuses me how grown men will say something disgusting, and then back down and run away the second someone threatens to tell their mother :)

  80. alyosha says

    Returning to the interwebs after a years-long absence. Gotta say, things have changed massively. Trolls seven or so years ago were Socratic gentlefolk compared to today’s mudruckers. No judgements, but the attitude seems to have shifted towards a kind of colonial-saloon defensive. Most folks already have a hand hovering over their iron when a shadow appears beyond the threshold. It’s interesting.

  81. apedant says

    Alex HM #92:

    Or we could just “call out” those trolls. That’ll do it.

    I’ll be kind to you and assume you’re not being sarcastic, because yes, that will do it.

    “Calling out” does not necessarily mean just responding within the same forum and getting into a squabble, it could go as far as calling the police, because often the potential legal consequences are the same, stuff just isn’t reported or prosecuted properly.

    If I call someone on the phone and threaten to rape her I will be speaking to a cop just as soon as they track my details, there is no-one who will tell her to “just ignore it”. The same law (in the UK at least) – or some laws specific to electronic communications – applies to my using twitter or this comment thread to threaten someone with rape. The difference is that with the online rape threat you’re sitting here telling her to just ignore me, and that permeates through to police attitudes, although that is changing, just way too slowly.

    You’re right it will take time for society to learn not to dissociate cyberspace and meatspace, but that just means we need to get started, and what better place that with our police forces and courts? Other perhaps than with us. People up-thread have already pointed to the revolutions in reducing (overt) racist abuse by people not just ignoring it, the change must start with us, and we can spread it to the areas of the internet we use and the meatspace friends and colleagues we talk with.

    Your solid “don’t feed the trolls” attitude throughout this thread has me wondering: if a colleague in your office is being harassed (sexually, racially or homophobically) do you tell them to ignore it, do you let the harasser just carry on, or do you step up and intervene?

  82. left0ver1under says

    Barnett is a propagandist for right wing and wall street causes, so it doesn’t surprise that she said something stupid and presumptuous about Berry going out and having fun. Barnett was one of those blaming the victims in the Steubenville rape case.

    To my mind, Berry, De Jesus and Knight’s kidnapping and imprisonment reminds me a lot of people who are wrongly convicted and spend years or decades in prison (see: the Innocence Project). Some people come out of prison defiant, able to go back to a normal life because they always knew they were innocent. Some take a long time to deal with the damage of prison (or they never do) and find it hard to live normally again. I’m glad to see Amanda Berry is among the first group, and I hope the others are too.

    (Is that a good analogy? To me it is, but I often am may be wrong.)

  83. alyosha says

    Good analogy. People’s expectation of others’ reaction to release is similar to that of grief. But for some reason it’s inverted here. Did they expect her, perchance to betake herself to some halfway house and hang herself because she was an ‘institutional girl’?

  84. flevitan says

    Yes, I’m turnin’ to stone
    ‘Cause you ain’t comin’ home
    Why you ain’t comin’ home
    If I’m turnin’ to stone?
    You’ve been gone for so long
    And I can’t carry on
    Yes, I’m turnin’, I’m turnin’
    I’m turnin’ to stone.

  85. deoridhe says

    “I would turn it round. Where has it been shown that feeding the trolls IS a credible strategy? It has failed time after time on millions of forms. How is this ‘strategy’ different?
    The burden of proof is actually on you. Good luck with that.”

    When I am feeling hopeless, and despairing, and like there is no way I will ever not have to regularly deal with abuse, harassment, and exclusion due to my gender, I find coming to Pharyngula both reassuring and soothing because my allies are visible and awesome. In my own life, I found posting about unwelcome sexual contacts was hugely helpful as well, turning something I dreaded and hoped didn’t happen to something I could derive some enjoyment from, even if it was exasperated enjoyment. The goal of most trolls who target women is actually to get us to shut up, so technically shutting up should be what is considered designed them (though that trends too close to victim blaming to be a pure concept) not pointing out what they said and how it both shows they are a poultry and pathetic human beig as well as flagrantly, fractals wrong.

  86. vaiyt says

    From the point of view of the victim, there’s no functional difference between a genuinely hateful person and someone who’s just pretending to be one for kicks.

  87. nonzero says

    I would like to believe that most of these trolls are kids or teenagers who haven’t fully developed their empathic capacity or learned proper social etiquette. I mean, kids do go through that stage of thinking the world revolves around them and that their superficial and naive opinions are right no matter how callous or inane. Unfortunately, I think for many trolls, only half my theory holds, that is, they are underdeveloped in social and empathic capabilities, but they are, sadly, not children.

    Another problem seems to be the impunity given by anonymous or pseudonymous commenting. It is a nice virtual petri dish for studying social behavior when the normal checks and balances of socialization and reputation are removed. Living within and relying on persistent social groups makes people more moral, hence the word civilized to refer to people who conform to these social norms, and the antonym barbarian to refer to those who do not. The internet definitely needs to deal with the barbarians at the gate. For all the problems that facebook has, having your real profile and your real social network has helped with the troll problem a bit, especially compared to twitter, blogs, or, shudder, youtube.

    Lastly, the way discussion threads are structured, one person’s comment can easily be lost among potentially hundreds or even thousands of others, which seems to engender a psychological need to be even more controversial than they normally would be in order to get the attention they are seeking. This gives me some hope, maybe misplaced, that the comments are the extreme versions of the people responsible for them, and that they are less insane then their comments make them out to be. Again, probably too optimistic an outlook.

    Stephen Fry has written as articulately as ever on this problem several times:

    “I don’t know about you but whenever I read a blog I do not let my eye drop below half the screen in case I accidentally hit the bit where the comments reside. Of all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet those comments on blogs are the most unbearable, almost beyond imagining…Their resentment, their desire to be heard at the most vituperative level, at the most unpleasant and malevolent, genuinely ill-willed malevolent, level is terrifying and I am very often simply not able to cope with that,”

  88. lpetrich says

    Adding to raven in #9, I remember something that happened in some messageboards that I was in.

    Board #1 was founded by some people who had had bad experiences with autocratic admins elsewhere. So they developed an elaborate governmental structure, complete with appeals procedures for bans.

    Unfortunately, certain of its admins had shown themselves unwilling to discipline certain members who were being jerks and rear holes and trolls. All in the name of free speech, it seems. These trolls drove off a lot of members, and after that triumph, some of them took to doing the few things that the staff members frowned on: posting lots of NSFW pictures without hiding them and also revealing personal information. It’s as if that’s the only way that they could get the strong reaction that they craved.

    Board #2 was founded by some of those refugees, and its founders adopted a more traditional way of managing messageboards: more informal, without a lot of complicated procedure. Its admins were also much more willing to ban trolls, and that policy has paid off.

  89. sonofrojblake says

    A serious question:

    Has there ever been a case of trollish threat being carried through?

    Or, to put it the other way, has there ever been a single case of murder, sexual assault, common assault or even just harrassment of anyone where the perpetrator had announced their intentions in advance by means of social media?

    Is the media response to these “threats” proportionate to the actual threat they represent?

  90. sonofrojblake says

    Note, in the above, by “harrassment” I mean (as is, I hope, obvious) harrassment other than by the social media originally used, i.e. the kind of harrassment you can’t avoid by simply clicking “block”.

  91. throwaway, feels safe and welcome at FTBConscience! says

    Is the media response to these “threats” proportionate to the actual threat they represent?

    They all pose actual threats. That’s why they’re called death threats and rape threats. The response to their usage is not overwhelming considering that people do not know the actions which will follow such speech. Yes, they are actual threats. They are intending on the interpretation by the target that they are actual threats to shut them up.

  92. sonofrojblake says

    “They all pose actual threats”

    No, they all ARE actual threats. Or, if you take a different view, mere threats. The question is, do they pose a RISK? As in, is the person doing the threatening likely to actually perform the action?

    Yes, I’ve heard of Thomas Becket, but I wasn’t aware he had a Facebook account. I have heard of Tiller, but here’s the question for that context: did any of the people who actually attacked Tiller ever first publicly threaten to do so? As in, were any of the threats he no doubt received online from the people who went on to actually carry out attacks?

    The (male) editorial team of a UK magazine have been the subjects of appalling threats of sexual violence just recently, directed at them by females, and their response was to more widely publish the threats and to point and laugh. They have made a judgement about how seriously to take those threats. Are they wrong?

    The serious point here is that it’s entirely possible that getting worried about these messages may be causing people entirely unnecessary stress. If there’s a correlation between threats and actions, sure, worry. But I hypothesise without evidence (yet) that the people we should be worried about are not the pathetic keyboard warriors, but rather the people who will take action FIRST, and only afterwards crow about it. Paul Jennings Hill, to my knowledge, never threatened anyone.

  93. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    did any of the people who actually attacked Tiller ever first publicly threaten to do so? As in, were any of the threats he no doubt received online from the people who went on to actually carry out attacks?

    Scott Roeder (while perhaps not “officially” affiliated with them) was heavily intertwined with both Army of God and Generation Rescue. Who threatened Tiller – and other doctors – repeatedly, through multiple media, for decades. Including maintaining a website with the names, photographs, addresses, and various personal information of Tiller and other doctors. And the attack that killed him was not the first time he was attacked – he was shot, bombed, etc etc etc multiple times previously.

    FFS.

  94. says

    O.k. so you’re all arguing about this. But has there ever been any kind of study done on trolls or hate speech or whatever-you-want-to-call-it or however-you-want-to-define-it? Has anyone done a sociology of it? Do we know who these people are?

    I often wonder if people aren’t getting paid to do it on news sites, like the reporting on the Trayvon Martin case in The Global Grind, comments were full of racism.

    I’ve never had a blog of my own. When you do, can you see the identity of the people who comment?

  95. sonofrojblake says

    Or let’s phrase that another way – disregard irrelevant affiliations with organisations. Via what media, if any, did Scott Roeder threaten Tiller before he attacked him?

  96. says

    Also, just a note, in the U.K. in the past month, several people have been jailed for threats over the internet. Don’t remember the particulars. Google it if your curious.

  97. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    So, “no”, then, in response to the question you quoted.

    WTF?!

    Your response to “Tiller was threatened for years, and attacked multiple times, before he was killed” was “Tiller was not threatened?”

    Via what media, if any, did Scott Roeder threaten Tiller before he attacked him?

    What, you mean besides referring to him on Operation Rescue message boards as “Mengele of our day,” vandalizing Tiller’s clinic (more than once), and publicly saying that (when Kansas attempted – unsuccessfully – to toss Tiller in jail on spurious grounds) Kansas had messed up in letting Tiller go?

    Yeah, affiliations aside, Roeder totally came out of the blue, didn’t he?

  98. says

    from npr:

    “Sometimes such “naming and shaming” can be remarkably effective.This week a Twitter troll sent an abusive and sexually explicit tweet to Mary Beard, a Cambridge University classicist and television presenter. Beard retweeted it to her 43,000 followers, and soon a second Twitter user was offering to supply the mailing address of the offender’s mother so she could see what her son had written.

    He quickly became contrite. “I was wrong and very rude,” he wrote. “Hope this can be forgotten and forgiven.””

    Elsewhere photos of the young offender reclining on a yacht were published.

  99. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @sonofrojblake

    Or, to put it the other way, has there ever been a single case of murder, sexual assault, common assault or even just harrassment of anyone where the perpetrator had announced their intentions in advance by means of social media?

    You appear to be making a distinction between harrassment and “announc[ing] their [violent] intentions in advance by means of social media”. I am curious as to why.

  100. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    Hit send to soon; more to add:

    The (male) editorial team of a UK magazine have been the subjects of appalling threats of sexual violence just recently, directed at them by females, and their response was to more widely publish the threats and to point and laugh. They have made a judgement about how seriously to take those threats. Are they wrong?/blockquote>

    No; that is exactly the approach most people on this thread are advocating. Highlight the abuse. Point it out. Challenge it. Do not simply sit back and leave them to it in the hope they’ll get bored and go away.

    You seem to be under the impression that the concern here is that people will follow through on their threats. No. The issue is the threats themselves.

  101. throwaway, feels safe and welcome at FTBConscience! says

    The serious point here is that it’s entirely possible that getting worried about these messages may be causing people entirely unnecessary stress.

    So, what you’re saying is that you care deeply about the psychological harm inflicted by rape and death threats, but you’re blaming the fucking people who are blaming the fucking trolls?

    Gross.

  102. sonofrojblake says

    Um… no. I’m not saying that at all. And tbh, can’t see how you get there from here. Tbh, I’m not even sure what you just said makes any sense at all.

    My point was merely that this is, mostly, about a bunch of sad wankers typing consequence-free abuse towards objects they regard as basically virtual punchbags. If you are one of those “objects”, the realisation that this is all it is could remove a good deal of the stress inherent in assuming that these “threats” come from motivated, serious people who mean what they say. They don’t.

    Trolls gonna troll. Try as you might, this is something that is going to happen. Thanks to sex n stuff, the world has a never-ending supply of not-mature-yet douches. The only questions worth asking are:
    1. are these particular douches likely to actually DO anyhing other than spout threats they (realistically) have no intention whatever of following up on and
    2. how can we most effectively minimise and disincentivise this kind of activity?

    “You appear to be making a distinction between harrassment and “announc[ing] their [violent] intentions in advance by means of social media”. I am curious as to why.”

    Umm… those are some rather presumptuous brackets you’ve taken it upon yourself to insert, right there.

    By “harrassment” in this context I mean physically turning up in someone’s presence in the, y’know, real world, and harrassing them. Not sending them a text message. Not dropping something unpleasant in their “Junk Mail” folder. Actually harrassing them. Not even necessarily violently. Just in person. That’s all.

    I just, personally, have trouble accepting the idea that emails, or tweets, or facebook postings constitute harrassment. Call me old, and out of touch, if you like. Call me someone whose colleagues have had actual effective bombs fitted to their cars by people who were targetting our company for “harrassment”. That set the bar a little higher than harsh words, for me.

  103. apedant says

    I just, personally, have trouble accepting the idea that emails, or tweets, or facebook postings constitute harrassment. Call me old, and out of touch, if you like.

    Do you consider a phone call harassment?

    For that matter what’s the magic sign that tells you that this person is thousands of miles away and not actually your neighbour, or the guy tweeting from his phone as he watches through your bedroom window.

    Call me someone whose colleagues have had actual effective bombs fitted to their cars by people who were targetting our company for “harrassment”. That set the bar a little higher than harsh words, for me.

    I know what you mean, when I was a kid a friend of mine died of leukemia, ever since then I refuse to acknowledge having measles as being ill.

  104. Feats of Cats says

    Actually harrassing them. Not even necessarily violently. Just in person. That’s all.

    They are harassing them in person. The recipients are personally receiving each threat.

    How about survivors of abuse receiving threats that trigger them and suffer mental harm as a result? That’s very real. How about living in fear that someone will follow through with their threat? Elevated stress over time can cause depression and anxiety, and that ain’t a picnic, I can assure you. How about the people that kill themselves because of online abuse?

  105. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    I would like to believe that most of these trolls are kids or teenagers who haven’t fully developed their empathic capacity or learned proper social etiquette.

    And I want to believe there’s a magic fairie handing out free gold and oral sex

    We are both fated to be disapointed

  106. Anri says

    sonofrojblake:

    The serious point here is that it’s entirely possible that getting worried about these messages may be causing people entirely unnecessary stress. If there’s a correlation between threats and actions, sure, worry. But I hypothesise without evidence (yet) that the people we should be worried about are not the pathetic keyboard warriors, but rather the people who will take action FIRST, and only afterwards crow about it. Paul Jennings Hill, to my knowledge, never threatened anyone.

    Do you think that there is a correlation between someone seeing that the actions they (wish to take)/(hope to take)/(plan to take)/(actually take) are supported by the people around them and them actually taking them?

    Do you think people being openly racist is less fashionable just because all of the racists suddenly and collectively decided they wanted to quiet down? Do you think racist violence is more correlated with openly racist societies or less openly racist societies?
    This just as an example.

    Go on, take your time, think it through.
    It will feel strange, being new for you and all.

    Also:

    I just, personally, have trouble accepting the idea that emails, or tweets, or facebook postings constitute harrassment. Call me old, and out of touch, if you like. Call me someone whose colleagues have had actual effective bombs fitted to their cars by people who were targetting our company for “harrassment”. That set the bar a little higher than harsh words, for me.

    Oh, well, I think we can all agree that as the Gold Standard By Which All Things Should Be Correctly Judged, if you’re not bothered, no one really is. They’re just faking.
    …right?

  107. says

    I spent too much time playing games with one of these people. I managed to make it clear that it was an absolutely miserable experience for me to watch him throw fits against whoever he decided was holding him back and could generally get him to agree that the hate-trolling was not a good thing but I couldn’t ever make a dent in the actual behavior.

    He saw my eventual refusal to play with him as an extreme penalty for it but soon after that I realized I didn’t want anything to do with him and cut all ties.

  108. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @sonofrojblake

    Since you’ve quoted me in 121, I’m going to assume that the whole post is directed at me.

    Um… no. I’m not saying that at all. And tbh, can’t see how you get there from here. Tbh, I’m not even sure what you just said makes any sense at all.

    On a serious note, can you address your posts to people, and learn to blockquote? I’m not entirely certain what you’re talking about here, but I’ll take a shot in the dark and assume it’s this:

    “You seem to be under the impression that the concern here is that people will follow through on their threats. No. The issue is the threats themselves.”

    That being the case, your focus on whether or not the troll will actually follow through on their threats makes it seem this is what you meant. You are constantly asserting that the fact most of the threats are empty somehow makes them less harmful. It doesn’t. Hence me saying that “the issue is the threats themselves”. They may just be words, but they are scary and insulting and cause their targets harm. That is the issue.

    Trolls gonna troll.

    Oh, well, we should all just give up now then. There’s no way we can stop people trolling, not if “trolls gonna troll”!

    Thanks to sex n stuff, the world has a never-ending supply of not-mature-yet douches.

    Not this bollocks again; the people doing this are not all spotty teenagers sat in their rooms hurling abuse at people because they think it’s funny. A significant number of them are grown individuals who genuinely hate their targets. This has been demonstrated many times.

    1. are these particular douches likely to actually DO anyhing other than spout threats they (realistically) have no intention whatever of following up on and
    2. how can we most effectively minimise and disincentivise this kind of activity?

    1- Again, it is the threats that are the problem. It doesn’t matter whether or not they follow through on them, the threats and insults and general abuse cause harm all on their own.
    2- I thought “trolls gonna troll”? But this is good. I think one of the best ways to minimise this behaviour is to consistantly call out those who indulge in it, and let them know that they are disgusting and their behaviour is unacceptable. Would you agree?

    Umm… those are some rather presumptuous brackets you’ve taken it upon yourself to insert, right there.

    Presumptuous how? One changes the tense so that it makes sense in the context of my sentence. The other makes explicit what was implied by the latter half of your original sentence. Neither changes the meaning of your original sentence.

    Your original sentence in it’s entirety:

    Or, to put it the other way, has there ever been a single case of murder, sexual assault, common assault or even just harrassment of anyone where the perpetrator had announced their intentions in advance by means of social media?

    Please explain how I was presumptuous?

    By “harrassment” in this context I mean physically turning up in someone’s presence in the, y’know, real world, and harrassing them. Not sending them a text message. Not dropping something unpleasant in their “Junk Mail” folder. Actually harrassing them. Not even necessarily violently. Just in person. That’s all.

    Ah, the old “The internet isn’t real!” bullshit. Please explain how harrassing someone “in person” is worse than harrassing someone via electronic media? And, even allowing that it is worse, please explain how the fact that worse forms of harrassment exist somehow negates the effect of the form of harrassment we are talking about?

    I just, personally, have trouble accepting the idea that emails, or tweets, or facebook postings constitute harrassment.

    So you admit that yours in an Argument from Personal Incredulity?

    Call me someone whose colleagues have had actual effective bombs fitted to their cars by people who were targetting our company for “harrassment”.

    Leaving aside for a moment that that is not harrassment but attempted murder, I will say again that the fact worse things happen does not negate the effect of the thing we are talking about. The fact that happened to people you care about is terrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but you don’t get to sit back and say “Worse things happen, what are you all moaning about?”. Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” springs to mind.