Spam: Game of Thrones Edition

Every so often it amuses and/or shocks me to see the spam left on a particular post. Usually this is because of the horrible incongruity between the content of the post and the content of the spam. About two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about rape on college campuses, including a bit about how rape at religious colleges is often covered in the media as a separate issue from rape at secular private colleges and rape at public universities. Of note, I concluded that studying the cultures of particular educational environments is fine if you want to understand those culture (especially if you want to use that understanding to tailor a message to be more effective at creating positive change around issues including but not limited to institutional responses to rape and sexual assault), but that the biggest institutional barriers to creating safe campuses appear to be shared across the religious/ secular/ state divides. In particular, schools seem to use criminal court systems as a model for determining whether one student is a danger to others, and the criminal court treats each charge as entirely separate, thus schools tend not to allow a history of credible and/or fully established charges against a student to affect how likely it is that a student’s latest denial is credible.


This is ridiculous not least because even if the schools are going to model their procedures after a court proceeding, criminal court proceedings are not the most helpful. Determining whether allowing a student to continue to attend class or to maintain an on-campus residence turns on the question of whether a student is likely to be a danger to others, not whether a student has committed one very specific offense or another. This is much more analogous to hearings determining civil commitment than it is to determination of criminal guilt, and schools could certainly choose to use a civil commitment proceeding as a model if they chose.

Obviously, this topic is as serious as they come: in the cases highlighted in my post (from Gordon College and from Harvard) repeat offenders were continuing to victimize other students long after.

And so we come to the Spam. While I was mostly off the computer due to wrist/thumb issues, some bot (one presumes a bot) deposited something in my comment trap that began like this:

Thanks a lot for writing this awesome article.
I’m a badass fan of Game of Thrones.

I was already struck with how awful this comment was (and won’t bore you with the full text) but then I got to the most horrifying bit:

You can’t tell for sure about your favourite character being alive for
the next episode. And talk about the graphic violence! Man it’s just wonderful.

Emphasis added.

Now, bots are bots. They don’t mean their comments to be horrible. But this comment was written by someone, and the bot as a program was also created by human action. It makes me wonder what human being could think of graphic violence as “wonderful” as well as what content the human creator programmed the bot to target. Precisely what on my page prompted the bot to act as if I was writing about Game of Thrones?

Now, I’m not stranger to violence in art. I personally think that this painting

Picasso’s Guernica shows people suffering and dying, ghostly witnesses to horror, a horse apparently screaming, and more.

is terribly graphic, despite being rendered in a cubist style abstracted from photo-realism. And yet, I don’t shy away from agreeing with descriptions of the painting as being of great positive value. There simply isn’t anything about depictions of violence per se that tells you whether that depiction is good or bad in its social context. Yet,

talk about the graphic violence! Man it’s just wonderful.

Can still be a terrifying and horrifying statement to read. The graphic violence isn’t what gives positive value to the images in Picasso’s Guernica nor does graphic suffering alone give this image

Images appliquéd and embroidered by artists of the Hamburg Women’s Co-operative in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa portray the impact of HIV disease on the lives of women, the people they love, and the animals they tend. The style is deliberately reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica.

(created by a collective of women tapestry artists of the Hamburg Women’s Co-operative, though initial design is credited to a single artist, Carol Hofmeyr) its positive value. Rather, Picasso’s Guernica served two purposes. First, it was intended to call attention to the injustices and violence inflicted in the real world by the German air force on Spanish populations insufficiently loyal to the Spanish dictator and German-ally Franco in the hope that an effective real-life opposition might be more likely to materialize. Second, it was intended to raise money for relief efforts aimed at benefitting the Basque and Spanish people who were injured in body, mind, or livelihood by the actions of Franco and Hitler.

Likewise, the tapestry Keiskamma after Guernica (“after” here is used to mean “in the style of”) serves purposes of both educating and fund-raising to combat problems that South African women see as rooted in unjust and unequal access to health careen that country, in particular with how HIV treatments disproportionately benefit certain communities even those communities are not the most likely to suffer from HIV. The great impact of HIV disease in South Africa leads not only to direct suffering, but also to separated families, loss of economic support for children, and an increase both in crimes of desperation (stealing food, for instance) and ultimately in other more violent crimes, for instance in the case of a violent crime intended to defend a territorial claim to scarce resources.

The purposes served by Guernica and Keiskamma after Guernica are very good purposes. One might even say that the purposes served are wonderful. But the violence and suffering depicted aren’t wonderful. They are horrible, and deliberately so.

Which leads me back to the psychology of someone who writes that it isn’t merely the feelings of victory that derive from the triumph of good over evil that permit a violent scene to create a “wonderful” feeling, but that the graphic violence itself is wonderful.*1 While I expect a certain amount of imprecision in random internet comments, there’s only so far that gets you. Freud, for all his bullshit, wasn’t always wrong. When you say you think graphic violence is wonderful, it’s not entirely unreasonable for people to believe that you actually intended to communicate that you think (at least some) graphic violence is wonderful.

Worse, and this is what really kills it for me, why that comment on Pervert Justice? Sure, they want as many links as they can get – that’s the purpose of this kind of spam, to promote some website or product. But when the programmer sat down to the keyboard and starting GREPping away as part of creating an algorithm instructing the bot on which language would trigger an attempt to place a spam comment, what language was targeted, and why?

It is possible, of course, that the comment was placed entirely randomly, that no key words were used and that the author of the bot simply figures that even if the words of a comment are so out-of-context that they are obviously bot-created, still someone might click on a link. Thus we can’t know for sure that the bot-standard methodology of searching for keywords was used to select a particular post of mine to target for the Game-of-Thrones fan-site promotion effort. But it is bot-standard, and in the absence of other evidence, the null hypothesis is that this bot is in the vast majority of bots in that it has such keyword targeting, and not in the minority of bots who might lack it.

Because of this, I’ve looked through that earlier post and I can’t find any words related to Game of Thrones. Though I don’t watch the show and can’t be absolutely certain, the content of the bot-comment and the content of post leads me to believe that the only likely triggering words for keyword targeting would be “rape” and “assault”. After all, both rapes and assaults (sexual assaults and non-sexual assaults) are very common in the show and in the books, but unless I’m deeply mistaken, Harvard and Gordon College make no appearances.

Combined with the bot-authors opinions about graphic violence, I find myself deeply, deeply disturbed that someone would want to place a comment (even in an automated fashion) celebrating graphic violence at the bottom of a post detailing how frequently campus rapes are handled badly, with little to no chance for post-assault safety or justice for student victims. If this bot really is looking for such decontextualized (or broadly-contextualized) mentions of rape that it targeted my post detailing policy failures in response to serial predators as an opportunity to praise violence, I think that says something very serious about the cultural acceptance of violence generally and sexual violence specifically.

And they say there is no rape culture.

*1: As I understand Game of Thrones as an outsider who has neither read the books nor watched the show, a triumph of good-over-evil would not occur in the GoT universe anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *