#Gamergate Fisking Felicia Day (No. I said FISKING, grow up).

Piracy is bad, don’t do it, but someone leaked the chapter out of her book that addresses Gamergate. I’m not going to be buying the book, but I’m not going to link to the leak or quote it in its entirety, but I’ll address the specific claims made about Gamergate in the piece and quote those bits here.

This is difficult, since the majority of the section supposedly about Gamergate has nothing to do with Gamergate. It’s a general whinge about trolls. Yes, trolls are bad, but Gamergate =/= Trolls and Trolls =/= Gamergate.

Listen to the wisdom of Gawker on this issue.

Screenshot from 2015-08-12 19:55:43

OK, so they’re talking about #BlackLivesMatter but the principle is sound.

Anyway, on we go…

And then #GamerGate happened. A perfect, hateful, digital gumbo that gave the gaming world, and me, a black eye not soon to be healed.

Felicia doesn’t really explain why she ended up getting a ‘black eye’, which was mostly upset, disappointment and outrage that she’d turn on her own audience without having done any research or having put any thought in. Just in case there’s any new people reading this, Gamergate is a consumer revolt against corruption in games journalism, politicisation and censorship. It’s not unlike the gaming revolt against Jack Thompson in the 90s, only this time its corrupt journalists and spurious accusations of misogyny, not legal threats and spurious accusations of encouraging violence.

Hateful?

I would suggest that a measure of hate is an appropriate reaction to corruption.

The whole #GamerGate thing started in August 2014, with a guy getting revenge over a really bad breakup by publishing every excruciatingly and maniacally specific detail online.

Nope.

Gamergate came later. The sex scandal stirred up two tags/reactions (BurgersAndFries and Quinnspiracy) but not Gamergate.

The blog was also the kind of action normally lauded in social justice circles, an abused romantic partner warning other people about their abusive partner. Eron Gjoni – the writer of the post – made the mistake of thinking that as a man he had the right to do what lots of women have done without any real backlash or judgement.

He was cheated on many times, manipulated and emotionally abused by his partner, but the part that would eventually become Gamergate was the revelation that started here that there were undisclosed relationships between developers and press – a breach of basic journalistic ethics.

Evidence of her cheating on him, peppered with implications of sexual favors traded for reviews of the game Depression Quest that she had designed (accusations that were later disproven. Repeat: disproven).

Nope.

The claim was never (until the lie got repeated a lot) that fucking had been traded for reviews, but for positive coverage – and that’s proven, especially with regard to one journo in particular. There were also financial entanglements. The point in all cases is not necessarily that there was wrongdoing, but that as a conflict of interest – undisclosed – it’s a breach of ethics. As it turned out that was merely the tip of the iceberg.

The roots of both incidents lie in 4chan, an anonymous website generally associated with hate speech and cartoon porn addiction, and the starting point for the attacks on Zoe Quinn. Basically, it’s the watercooler for some of the worst of the internet.

Not really, no, given that even 4chan ended up censoring discussion. The outrage was EVERYWHERE and was censored EVERYWHERE without being addressed. People had few places to go save 4chan and then 8chan. I also think this is an unfair characterisation of chan culture, something that someone claiming to be part of geek culture should know better about.

But it didn’t. It got worse. Because the issue somehow morphed from attacking a single woman over a messed-up revenge post to a quasi-conservative movement striving for “ethics in game journalism.” A large segment of the newly anointed “#GamerGate movement” decided that as a result of “the Zoe post” there was corruption running rampant in the game journalism world. And THEY were the people to fix it.

Because these were different things Felicia, things you’ve conflated into one. Nor is Gamergate conservative. As it turned out there were massive issues (see Deepfreeze again). The gamers were right, as you’d know if you’d bothered to check. More to the point, Gamergate has massively succeeded in this goal. So as it turns out, they WERE the people to fix it.

They focused a large amount of their wrath on people trying to add dialogue about feminism and diversity in gaming, condemning them as “Social Justice Warriors.” (That label was always so weird to me, because how is that an insult? “Social Justice Warrior” actually sounds pretty badass.)

Because this was where a lot of the corruption and issues were centred. It’s actually fairly incidental, but in the process of the scandal a lot of people – yourself included Felicia – tried to turn it into part of the ‘women in tech’ discussion, when it really wasn’t. As to SJWs, you seem to fail to understand that it’s not anti actual social justice, its a reference to extremism. You can think of it as the difference between Muslim and Islamist.

Ironically, the #GamerGate movement never focused on some of the big game companies who actually ARE unethical, bribing vloggers and censoring bad reviews on their products.

Actually it did. Totalbiscuit’s expose of this was signal boosted by Gamergate and old scandals were brought back out into the light, but since the current wave of corruption related to the indie scene, that’s where the attention fell. Should that corruption simply be ignored because other stuff goes on? Clearly not. Silly argument.

But as those two gamers walked toward me, for the first time in my life I didn’t have the impulse to say hello. Or smile. For some reason as I approached the corner . . . I crossed the street instead.

You’d bought into a lie, you were terrified for no reason. People may well have been angry at you for betraying your fans and turning against a hobby you profess to love, but this is clearly a ludicrous overreaction.

How sad I was that the actions of #GamerGate had created that feeling in me, to separate myself from people whom I would have assumed were comrades before.

That’s the thing though, it wasn’t Gamergate’s actions. It was your own and that of the same corrupt journos who were at fault. Those who painted a movement against censorship and for ethical journalism as a hate movement, without any evidence that this was so. You were sold, bought into and helped sell a lie and that’s why people are angry with you. Nothing to do with your vagina, but what you did. What could be more egalitarian than that? What could be less egalitarian than to hide behind being a woman when you’ve done something wrong?

And how the whole situation was creating the outside impression of a culture driven by misogyny and hatred, which I KNEW wasn’t true.

And wasn’t, and isn’t, true of Gamergate. If you knew it wasn’t true, why perpetuate the lie? Why act like it was true?

#GamerGate as a movement created an environment for attacks to flourish.

No. It didn’t. Trolls are always going to troll. Your own chapter here points out this shit was going on for years before and it will go on for years after. Wherever there is drama trolls will arrive and gender issues are great bait for them because gender activists are virtually guaranteed to overreact to any provocation whatsoever. Gender was, of course, nothing to do with Gamergate until gender activists barged in to make it about them.

You’re also forgetting that Gamergate members have also been doxxed, harassed, had their jobs threatened – or lost – but this message is never repeated. The victim narrative only applies to one side and so many – perhaps even most – victims are ignored.

The controversy created irresistible bait for trolls, but that ended up hurting everyone and most of it was probably nothing to do with either side. Indeed, if Gamergate were a hate movement, it’d be a damn sorry excuse for one.

I recently got a message from a mother who said, “I asked my fourteen-year-old what #GamerGate was and he said, ‘It’s because women are trying to ruin video games.

Simplistic and inaccurate, but after a year of this and the issue being hijacked by con-artists like Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu for self promotion, maybe not as inaccurate as it was at the start of all this, and that’s not Gamergate’s doing.

Because if you can’t be your own weird self on the internet, where can you be? And what would be the point.

And what if taking joy in games gets you branded a misogynist? What if you want to make games, but unless they’re a box-ticking exercise in forced ‘diversity’ they get panned? What if someone finally does manage to censor games with spurious science in the way Wertham did with comics in the 1950s? What if this great hobby is ruined, not by ‘women trying to ruin videogames’ but by dishonest activists killing genuine diversity because of their strange obsessions with identity politics?

You’ve joined an array of voices that is determined to NOT let people be their ‘own weird self’ on the internet, that want to bring petty real world concerns crashing into fantasy. You sided with the people harming gaming, you didn’t give ‘your peeps’ any benefit of the doubt and you did no research before simply assuming that a band of concerned consumers were trolls.

Then you wonder why they’re upset with you.

Then you write a whole chapter of your book, which claims to be about Gamergate but mostly isn’t, and repeats the same lies about it all over again.

Maybe talk to some of us like human beings. You, Wil maybe, a few others. Let’s actually talk, listen to each other and pretend – at least for an hour or two – that the other side is being sincere.

How’s that sound?

You know, I’ve been trying to get something like that set up, on and off, for over a year now, but nobody will do it. Afraid we might have a point?

 

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Fisking Vocativ’s Shoddy #Gamergate Piece

Gamergate-Trolls-Zed-002591324270

The original can be found HERE.

Gamergate’s zombie horde of trolls have struck again. This time, the target was Canadian journalist, author and PhD candidate Natalie Zed, slammed for trying to discuss gamergate for an entire conference without publicly saying the word: gamergate.

Gamergate and trolls are two very different phenomena, though both Gamergate and anti-gamergate attract trolls in their wake because trolls like a) drama (which gamergate provides) and b) lolcows (which anti-gamergate provides).

Zed has become a target of ire for a number of reasons, but not least amongst them is that – if anything – she has been a troll. Calling people ‘Deatheaters’ as a means of talking behind their back is simultaneously trollish (designed to cause a reaction) and sneaky. That she has been a gigantic arsehole to anyone and everyone who challenged her hasn’t helped her.

She’s hardly a ‘very brave woman’, as this article would seem to be trying to say. Not a victim, an antagonist. Nor was she helped by the fact that she is, essentially, a walking stereotype. A blue-haired, gender-studies, militantly misandrist feminist who offers nothing but abuse to her critics and then plays the victim.

Last week, Zed attended the Canadian Game Studies Association’s 2015 conference as a panelist. In the opening comments, the organizers asked attendees to refrain from using the Gamergate hashtag, even though many of the panels were focused on the Gamergate phenomenon (depending on your perspective, either a debate about ethics in gaming, mostly focused on the sexism in games and gaming culture, or a vitriolic campaign of hatred directed at women who dare venture into the gaming industry).

So the question would be – why hide? Gamergate doesn’t troll, but it does take issue with bad ideas, poorly presented ideas, unevidenced ideas and attacks on or dishonesty about the gaming community. If these attendees were not engaged in any horrible behaviour they should have nothing to hide and IF they were genuine academics they should welcome challenge and engagement from the public they allege to speak to and for, as it should lead to better work.

Gamergate IS a campaign for ethical games journalism and against censorship. The ‘hate campaign’ thing is a false narrative thrown up to deflect and distract (or as a publicity exploit). Anyone who honestly researches it and talks to members of the movement will know this. It’s not obfuscated at all.

So the question then becomes ‘what were they hiding?’ and since this #deatheaters thing and Zed were exposed, that was brought to light.

The imposed twitter silence was an effort both to protect attendees from Gamergate troll hostility and to prevent Gamergaters from hijacking the online conversation about the conference, rendering Twitter useless for attendees.

Again. Gamergate are not trolls, trolls are not Gamergate. Dissent, examination, discussion, debate, these are not the actions of trolls. Participation is not hijacking. Gamergate is certainly capable of taking over and destroying bad-faith hashtags, as it has done repeatedly to unethical hashtags, but an honest discussion will always be welcomed. GG is keen on honest and open debate yet its opposition will not engage honestly.

Zed tweeted some thinly-veiled frustration. Then she compared the fear of Gamergate trolls to the fear of Lord Voldermort in the Harry Potter series.

Still not trolls and Gamergate is the very antithesis of authoritarian stormtroopers. From Gamergate’s point of view the people one finds in these conferences or trying to censor and control geek media are much more akin to such forces.

The evil wizard is known in the Harry Potter series as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and the conference organizers correctly warned that anyone mentioning #Gamergate risked attracting a deluge of attackers. It’s a completely rational fear, as women who have engaged with Gamergate in the past have been targeted. For instance, trolls shared game designer Zoe Quinn’s address and personal details, and threatened to murder and rape game-studio co-founder Brianna Wu.

Again. Dissent, discussion and participation are not ‘attacks’. This constant mischaracterisation is not productive and only widens the gap. This is not a rational fear at all. Women have not been targeted by Gamergate, unethical and dishonest people have been exposed but gender is irrelevant.

Zoe Quinn has little or nothing to do with Gamergate, Gamergate didn’t dox her, Gamergate never threatened to murder or rape anyone. No threats have been deemed credible by law enforcement (Wu’s weren’t even reported to the police it now seems) and her most notorious troll was a ‘performance artist’ with no links to Gamergate. Indeed the ONLY credible threat, according to the authorities, was the bomb threat against the GG in DC meeting.

Zed then referred to Gamergate trolls as Death Eaters, after the group of wizards who follow Voldemort. #Deatheaters took off among conference attendees, panelists and followers. “It was a really effective way to communicate for the duration of the conference,” Zed says. “People could talk about their work without bringing down a giant torch storm on everyone that was there.”

Still not trolls. It’s worth mentioning here that members of Gamergate have also been doxxed, threatened, had pictures of them masturbated over, have been sent needles, razorblades and other disgusting things, have had their jobs threatened (or lost), have been thrown out of conventions and much more. Genuine consequences much more often, I think, than AGGros.

The entire conference went smoothly, free from gamergate interference. But then, someone said the word that must not be said.

“Literally during the closing remarks on the very last day someone from the official Twitter account used the word ‘Gamergate’,” Zed says. “The tweet was up for about ten minutes before somebody else caught it and deleted it.”

But it was too late. The zombies had stirred. “Somebody said the word and that’s what it does—it brings the scary part of the Internet to you.”

As they saying goes, ‘talk shit, get hit’. It’s not that Gamergate just waits to be mentioned and descends. It looks for bad practice and promotion of the false narrative about itself – and then it objects – strongly. It also has an eye out for bullshit, such as seems to often be promulgated at these conferences. Again, this kind of vigorous dissent and ‘peer review’ should really be welcomed by these academics, if they were really academics rather than pseudo academics.

Gamergate is not, in any way, the ‘scary’ part of the internet, unless you’re the sort of person who jumps at their own shadow.

Ironically, or perhaps as one would expect, Zed, who tried to shield the conference from the Gamergate trolls, became their target. “I was in a car and drove from Ottawa to Montreal, and went to bed. And when I woke up in the morning I had 275 notifications in my Twitter and discovered that overnight Gamergate had figured out the hashtag and figured out who I was and what was going on.”

Provoking people is not shielding anyone, it draws ire, it doesn’t defuse it. If Zed – and indeed the whole conference – had engaged honestly and openly with Gamergate none of this would have happened. Zed’s trolling and a degree of ‘say it to my face’, coupled with her – and others – later aggression, lack of academic chops is what gave things a negative slant.

Gamergate has essentially been exonerated from the harassment narrative thanks to the WAM report and due to SPJ taking its concerns seriously enough to host AirPlay. Articles such as this and attitudes such as Zed’s, furthering the false narrative, serve no useful purpose towards bringing this chapter of gaming history to a close.

Over the next 24 hours, about 19,000 mocking and threatening tweets were tagged with #deatheaters.

I watched Zed closely and the threads closely. I’ve been involved in Gamergate since its precursors. I saw no threats. Mockery? Plenty. Criticism? Yep. Dissent? You bet. Discussion? Sure. Threats? No.

According the Zed, trolls have now rendered her Twitter unusable because she’s getting hundreds of notifications a day—mostly abusive tweets, Japanese anime porn pics and invitations for debate. They have taken to criticizing the validity of her work and her appearance, all of which ramped up once they discovered Zed is working on a PhD on Gamergate. Trolls sent out hundreds of negative tweets with the hashtag #gamergatephd. They’re currently bombarding her employers with requests to to disqualify Zed from her program on the (invalid) grounds that openly criticizing the phenomenon is a conflict of interest. Some have suggested showing up en masse at her upcoming speaking engagements or buying up all the domains associated with her name to influence search engine results for Zed, so that any potential employer searching for her would find something offensive rather than her actual professional profile.

Still not trolls, but it is extremely likely that – having established herself as someone who will react – she has now also drawn trolls. Given her abusiveness and dismissal towards people some may well have resorted to ‘shitposting’ through frustration, but saying that they’re victimising her because of it is akin to victim blaming. Why invitations to debate should be considered in the same field as trolling, I’m not sure.

Yes her work and her attitudes are under intense scrutiny and criticism – and again a real academic should welcome this.

The part about her hostility is just bizarre. Would you trust a Neo-Nazi to produce a useful or accurate study on the Jewish community, or vice versa? Zed is extremely hostile to Gamergate and has shown through her ‘discussions’ that she knows fuck all about it and is wedded to promoting the false narrative, rather than learning what it really is. These are not – or at least should not – be the actions or attitudes of any would be academic.

The rest of this seems like legitimate protest towards a hateful person who is lying about them. Not harassment but consequences for an unethical and abusive person. Were the situation reversed, people would be praising such moves to protest. Consider things like the reaction to CH Sommers appearances at American universities. It seems when the same tactics are used in the other ‘direction’, people finally start to see why they might be problematic.

Zed seemed to handle the backlash well, batting away her harsher critics with sarcasm.

This is the very opposite of handling things well. For trolls it is giving them what they want, a ‘butthurt’ reaction. For Gamergaters is only cements her position as an ignorant and unethical pseudo-academic.

Offline, she shows even more resolve. “What I’ve learned is that when you actually get them isolated from the mob and treat them as human beings and have a conversation you see how much pain there is behind that hostility,” Zed says. “I’ve had conversations with people who genuinely feel that there’s not a place for them and they think that this thing that has always been a place for them is somehow being taken away. It’s really gutting to see how much pain there is behind that hostility.”

This is more hopeful sounding, but it’s also massively patronising and not genuinely reflective of the issues Gamergate has. This is simply a ‘softer’ way of trying to say that Gamergate is scared of change, women, diversity, minorities. That isn’t the case at all and if you don’t believe me, just ask #NotYourShield.

But she still doesn’t think that warrants the volume of abuse she, and others, have endured. “As heartbreaking as that is, I fully respect everyone who has been attacked by this monolithic hostile anger. It’s ruined lives and it’s put people in genuine danger. I don’t want to make light of the real damage. It’s sad to be so lonely, but you don’t get to take that out on anyone.”

Again. Dissent, disagreement, criticism and examination are not abuse. Nobody’s life has been ruined and the only people who have had real consequences have been unethical journalists who, frankly, SHOULD have consequences for their actions. Pseudo-academics probably should to. The standards of academic research and discourse around games and other nerd media are frankly appalling. We deserve better.

Let’s end on a positive note.

If you want to ‘get away’ with discussing Gamergate without drawing ire…

  1. Don’t hide.
  2. Treat Gamergate with respect and openness.
  3. Discuss, debate and engage – honestly.
  4. If you call yourself an academic, be one.
  5. Block the trolls without blaming Gamergate for them.
  6. Don’t go on hearsay, ask.

Treat Gamergate and their concerns with respect and you’ll be treated just fine, even celebrated, even if you still disagree.

So, you don’t understand trolling?

shrugpony___derpy_hooves___by_moongazeponies-d3cvjx6This is related to this post about the current Twitter-explosion, but this follow up post seemed more suited to the atheism/skepticism blog. There is a hell of a lot of bullshit going around and I’m going to put things a little less delicately than I would in that blog. Maybe being a bit more emotive will get through to some people.

What is trolling?

The older definition of trolling is found in the previous article. The term is in a state of flux though and Wikipedia has what is probably a more modern and current definition.

 

 

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

 

 

Of these, the most typical these days is that of someone posting something ghastly in order to try and get an emotional reaction. This might typically include posting horrible things on memorial facebook pages, filling forums with porn images, or making horrifically prejudiced sounding statements based on race, gender, sexual preference.

What isn’t trolling?

There’s a lot of things that get called trolling, that aren’t. Calling something ‘trolling’ (or abusive) is a great excuse for ignoring it, but it isn’t necessarily true.

  • Genuine threats are not trolling.
  • Disagreeing with you isn’t trolling.
  • Insulting you isn’t trolling.
  • Criticism isn’t trolling.

Is trolling misogynistic?

Is shooting people in Halo murder?

No, obviously not.

Trolling is a ‘game’. A horrible game that is played by preying on people’s emotions but it is a game. You win the game by getting the biggest and most outrageous reaction to what you say. This means you tailor your trolling comments to your target. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily hold those beliefs.

If you’ve ever played Cards Against Humanity you may an easier time locking on to this idea.

Women, feminists in particular, are a favourite target of trolls because they can be almost guaranteed to deliver a huge, ‘game winning’ number of points in terms of the volume, length and emotional content of their outrage. The reaction is what the troll is after, if they’re using misogynistic terminology it’s only because it’s a winning move. Like equipping the BFG in a game of DOOM.

Is trolling OK?

No. It’s dickish and it upsets people. So it’s not OK, but it’s also not the end of the world and much as people like to claim it’s evidence for sexism, racism or whatever it isn’t. If anything, that these get such a powerful outrage reaction only goes to show how far we’ve progressed on these issues.

Why should we put up with trolling?

Don’t.

Block the person trolling you, ignore them, go on about your life. You already have the tools to do so (though some could be improved, such as an ‘invisible block’.

We should only ‘put up with it’ in that we shouldn’t allow our emotional reactions to trolling to guide our public or private policies.

Much like DRM and other measures designed to stop various electronic behaviours, attempts to control or stop trolls are unlikely to stop the trolls and very likely to cause issues for legitimate users. Tools supposedly to deal with trolls will cause far more problems for regular users and are likely to be abused themselves.

What about abuse and threats?

Genuine, kosher abuse and threats are not the same thing as trolling. Conflating the two is ‘crying wolf’. Ironically, many of the people complaining and calling trolling abuse are indulging in abuse themselves. If a threat is genuine and believable recourse already exists – go to the police. It seems like it might not be a bad idea to also charge people for wasting police time on spurious threats though.

What’s the difference between trolling and abuse?

  • A troll is seeking to elicit a reaction. They almost certainly do not believe the horrible things they say, they’re just doing it to get that reaction.
  • An abuser genuinely believes what they’re saying and isn’t just trying to get a reaction.

This is a troll being horrible to elicit a reaction:

photo_7

This is someone being abusive (and far from the only one amongst those claiming to be against abuse):

Screenshot from 2013-07-29 18:26:56

How can we deal with trolling?

The absolute best way we have to deal with it is to ignore it. To pay it absolutely no attention.

It is an elementary mistake to pay attention to trolls, to play up to what they say and do. It is a huge mistake to start some kind of public campaign and to make a Cameronesque move to try and turn outrage and ‘something must be done!’ panic into an ill-thought out public campaign which will only attract more trolls, the likes of Anonymous (as you begin to threaten internet freedom), and genuine creeps.

Quietly ban, block and move on.

Nothing else works, at least not without some really serious collateral damage. There are a few improvements to tools that can be made without opening them up to abuse but they need time, space and distance to be properly assessed.

People with various causes also really need to stop taking troll comments as evidence that the problems they’re fighting are particularly bad. Trolls only go after what elicits a reaction.

An amount of spurious abuse is the price we pay for some important and vital internet freedoms and a degree of anonymity.

The Troll Phenomenon

I want to talk about trolls and I’m going to grab a few examples from the British press and British public figures as I talk about it. I’ll try to grab a few links and examples here and there but I want to talk about the various reasons why trolling is a problem but also why I can’t see a particular solution to the problems that it causes.

There are several points that need to be tackled but I think the most important one of them all is simply this:

Most trolls don’t believe the things they say and their threats and obscenities are not genuine. They do what they do in order to elicit a reaction not because they necessarily genuinely hold the beliefs that they appear to espouse.

From that fact stems my belief that taking the words of a troll too seriously is counter-productive and obfuscates the real problem that lies behind the racism, sexism, insensitivity, homophobia and other tools they use to get a reaction. The real problem is their antisocial behaviour. The content is just a tool to upset someone and that’s what they ‘get off’ on. When you take the comment as genuinely *ist you are feeding into that pay off.

This isn’t to say that such antisocial behaviour is not damaging. It’s damaging in a lot of ways and harassment, sincere or not, is stressful, hurtful and can really grind people down. We see how this happens in ‘meatspace’ with antisocial youths and problem families. Trolls are the ASBOed of the global village.

Forever relevant

When you post things or when you gain a history or a reputation on various topics, when you address certain topics then you make yourself a target. If you’re a woman, especially if you write about feminist topics, you’ll get misogynistic and hateful comments. If you’re gay you’ll attract homophobic slurs. Simply by expressing yourself you’re going to flag up the things that make you a good target and the trolls will hit at that whatever they personally believe.

Really not that scary.

Why do I suggest that we shouldn’t take their threats and slurs seriously? Well, look at this guy:

This is Frank Zimmerman who sent a huge amount of threats to UK MP Louise Mensch. As a public figure, a member of Parliament and a frequently outspoken feminist, of a sort, Mensch was an obvious target. On the other side of the political spectrum, journalist Laurie Penny gets similar treatment.

Mr Zimmerman, however, is a 60 year old shut in with agoraphobia. For all the nastiness of the things he said, his threats were not remotely credible and so it goes for most internet trolls. Their arena is one of anonymity and hurt from the safety of the internet. When they’re brought to light, they’re like this guy almost all the time.

If you watched the video I appended at the top another troll was tracked down and exposed to be… well, nobody really. Just another seemingly unemployed spod getting his jollies online. In that case he was particularly noteworthy for defacing memorial pages on Facebook with horrible things said about the deceased. He didn’t know them and, of course, he didn’t care.

OK, point, hopefully made that while hurtful and nasty the content of the trolling messages is not genuine and we should not be that afraid of it. What then are the genuine problems when it comes to trolling?

1. People use troll behaviour to support positions that aren’t necessarily true.

If you write a blog about how racist contemporary culture is and you get a ton of comments/emails calling you a racial epithet then your position may appear to be supported. Trolls who may or may not be racist – or whatever else – end up creating an environment that seems to support a contention that may – or may not – be true.

2. Trolls hide behind freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

At least in the UK hate speech is not protected speech. I am not sure of the intricacies in other countries but I’d appreciate comments telling me how it works in other nations. Free expression is a hugely important principle but when trolls dress themselves up in it they devalue it and weaken its importance when it comes to real issues.

3. Trolls destroy useful communication on issues.

If you’re discussing something important that needs to be debated between two points of view a massive amount of trolling disrupts that and makes conversation impossible. Needless to say this is counter-productive. Genuine comments, observations and criticisms often get swept up amongst the trolling as well. It’s too easy to paint any opposition as trolling. Inarticulate and bad arguments, genuinely held, are almost indistinguishable from insincere trolling.

4. Genuine nutters can hide amongst trolls.

It is extremely rare but some genuinely damaged individuals can be nearly indistinguishable from trolls. I personally interacted with the Discovery Channel shooter on several occasions and in the febrile atmosphere of political fora, often rife with hundreds and thousands of trolls, he didn’t stand out. A genuine, damaged, troubled, fanatical individual was lost in a forest of pretend-extremists.

5. Trolls present a threat to internet freedoms.

The presence and existence of trolls, the offence and so on that they cause creates more and more people who are willing to accept less online privacy and the tightening of laws on what used to be a very free, very open forum without the problems of governmental and legal censure. That’s a risk to a global communication medium that has already shown its genuine worth – and the worth of anonymity – in the Arab Spring.

Solutions

I don’t think there is any real solution to this problem or, at least, no ‘magic bullet’ that can put an end to it. There are a few steps that online society can – possibly – take to mitigate the problem but ultimately so long as the internet is a free area there will be trolls. I consider that to be a price worth paying given all the good that free communication and free expression brings to the world.

Nonetheless, I want this to end on a positive note so I’m going to make a few practical suggestions:

a) Remember that they don’t mean it.

Odds are very good that the hateful things that are said are not genuinely held opinions. The troll is trying to get a rise out of you. If you treat their comment as serious, take it seriously, rise to it, you’re giving them what they want.

b) Starve them of attention.

Don’t react. Just block. They want attention. They want people stirred up. They want people upset. Don’t give it to them, deny them access to your comment areas, your blogs, your chatrooms and your fora. Just be sure they are a troll. Maybe people can share info, emails, IP addresses, that sort of thing. We already have spam filters, can we not develop troll filters? They wouldn’t be perfect, but that might help some.

c) If we must react, do it appropriately.

Treat it as what it is. Antisocial behaviour. Pursue it – if you can – offline rather than online.  In both Zimmerman’s picture and the video posted at the top you can see how uncomfortable and worried these people are about being confronted in ‘meatspace’. Of course, anyone with a lick of sense can hide their identity or make up fake email addresses to hide behind and anonymity is an important aspect of net freedom, so this needs to be carefully judged and worked on.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at on these issues and I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Keep in mind, this post is a likely troll target. You have to love irony. 🙂