Tag Archive | trolls

Pot shots from the troll gallery: false equivalency edition

Flow chart to help figure out if your First Amendment rights have been violated. (Click to embiggen)

Flow chart to help figure out if your First Amendment rights have been violated. (Click to embiggen)

So I recently wrote about a professional internet troll who was finally kicked off Twitter after years of extensively documented organized harassment of (mostly) women on line. He was finally kicked off because he went after one of the actresses in Ghostbusters and she was famous enough that major news sites carried stories about it and so forth. In case there was any doubt about what will actually motivate a company like Twitter to enforce its own rules. Anyway, I got a fairly long comment on that post yesterday. The person left the comment under his own WordPress account, which links to a very active blog, so he isn’t trying to be anonymous. And he asks some questions, apparently expecting answers.

But I’m not approving the comment, and have added him to the blacklist because he couldn’t finish the comment without including racial slurs (aimed at the actress).

So I’m not going to subject anyone else on the internet to that. Since I have previously stated that my policy is to approve comments that disagree with me if the person seems to legitimately want to discuss, I confess that I wrestled with the decision for a little bit. One of the options I have is to edit a comment before I approve it. So I could just delete the slur, right? But I’ve never edited a comment, because that seems to cross a line for me. The comment system warns you that I screen comments and it won’t appear until approved, but editing opens me up for accusations that I’ve changed something else, you know.

And I honestly don’t want to send any traffic to a site run by someone who would deploy a slur like that.

But I do want to address a few things. The commenter first opined that if I were going to write about this particular instance of harassment, I’m obligated to write about any and every other instance of harassment going on in the world. No, no I’m not. This is a personal blog. I’m not a journalist. I’m not representing myself as a news site. I have been an editor of campus newspapers a zillion years ago, and worked as a freelancer for a short time; but even then, editorial discretion applied—a publication should choose which stories are relevant to their readers, and in how much depth to cover them.

I have written about some other instances of harassment. I’ve written about the general topic of online harassment many times. I link to news stories and opinion pieces about these sorts of things in Friday Links quite often.

The commenter went further and listed three specific events which he thought were similar to the organized harassment story I mentioned above, and asked whether I have covered them, as well. Again, with the assertion that I’m obligated to do so since I commented on this one. Of the three events he listed, two are mythical. They are false stories that many conservative web sites trot out from time to time that have been debunked. So, no, I have not written about them.

The third one, the Isreali Hasbera operation, well, I suppose it is worth commenting on, but if Al Jazeera has declared it a failure two years ago, I’m not sure what more there is to say about it: The grand failure of Israeli hasbara. An even bigger problem is that a government intelligence agency creating sock puppet accounts to harass and spread misinformation, while it is a deplorable thing, isn’t the same as a private individual encouraging other private individuals to flood yet another person’s social media accounts with racist and misogynist harassment, death threats, rapes threats, et cetera.

It’s a false equivalency. Just as a private company deciding not to serve a customer who abuses other customers is not censorship. I understand that the commenter is looking at the alleged online harassment by government officials as similar to other forms of harassment. Harassment is bad. Which I’ve said many times.

But it’s not in the same lane as a raving mob of fragile man-babies/mens-rights-advocates harassing someone. It’s not in the same lane as sci-fi/fantasy fandom gatekeeping. It’s not in the same lane as societal racism and misogyny. All of those are topics I comment on all the time. And the original story was an intersection of all of those things, which is one of the reasons why I commented on it.

But I comment on things like that because I have personal experience with all of those things. I can write about them from that experience. I don’t have personal experience with the machinations of the Isreali government. The likelihood that I’ll have something to say that is any different or insightful than other articles/posts you can read on that topic is nil. So I don’t go there very often. I’m far more likely to comment on Isreali pinkwashing, because as a queer man, I have some experience seeing my very existence used as a talking point by politicians.

Yes, I’ve also commented on various atrocities committed by governments. So, maybe if there’s a new development in this area someday, I might comment on it. More likely I’ll include a link in Friday Links and let my readers who are interested follow up.

It’s my blog. It’s my opinion. I get to decide what I get worked up over, and what things I will ask my readers to spend their bandwidth on. The wingnut has his own blog. He can talk about these topics there.

Pot shots from the troll gallery

Copyright Whitney Phillips.

Quote from Whitney Phillips’ excellent essay, “Don’t Feed the Trolls? It’s Not That Simple.”

I was in High School the first time that something I wrote prompted threats of bodily harm. I was a regular contributor to the editorial page of the student newspaper and wrote on a variety of topics—usually political—but the one that pushed my fellow students over the edge was a critique of stagecraft of the music department’s regular concerts. And I was critiquing it as an insider. I played bassoon in the orchestra and symphonic band (and occasionally other instruments as needed), trombone in the jazz band, and sang baritone in the men’s a cappella group (marching band and the pep band never participated in the formal concerts, but I was in those groups, too).

I was tired of playing concerts to a nearly empty theatre. I had recently seen the fall concert of the music department of the other high school across town, and their auditorium was not only packed, they actually charged an admission fee! And their shows were fun.

Anyway, my opinion column did not go over well with some of my fellow music students. But at least none of them felt the need to be anonymous with the threats of maiming and murder.

The first anonymous threats happened when I wrote about abortion and sex education—in the same high school newspaper in the late 70s. And again at community college (and later at university).

But the most vicious, virulent, and disturbing threats came when I started reviewing exhibits in the small free art gallery at the community college. Express an opinion about art, and people completely lose all sense of proportion. Remember that the next time someone tells you that art (or music, or literature, or movies, television, et cetera) doesn’t matter.So, by the time I was active on QueerNet and such in the early 90s, getting homophobic death threats and the like on the internet seemed like old hat.

Anyway, since the whole Sad Puppies thing has happened, I’ve been getting a few more comments here than usual. Okay, sometimes more than a few. Though it isn’t a deluge. Besides having comments set to moderate (a comment doesn’t appear until approved, unless I’ve added the commenter to the whitelist), anonymous commenting is disabled. And the comment system records IP addresses (and alerts you that it will). So the number is high for my blog (since my average is less than one comment per post), but low by typical internet forum standards.

Although many of the comments have been angry, so far none have risen to a vitriolic level. Not being able to post wholly anonymously contributes to that (just the fact that one has to type into multiple fields is probably too much of a hurdle for many troll), I’m sure. I suspect that because there is simply so much being written about this particular topic, and my little blog isn’t exactly drowning in traffic, that there are too many other places for the trolls to go.

Anyone who has ever met me and talked with me for more than a millisecond knows that I do not shy away from debate. And I don’t believe that simply ignoring all trolls is an effective way to deal with the problem of vicious harassment. I’m not ignoring them. I’ve read the comments, and made a determination based on the contents of the comment of whether the person is here to discuss the issue or just wants to yell. I see no reason to approve the latter type of comments and subject any of my readers to an angry tirade that adds nothing to the discussion. I certainly don’t have the time to try to reason with someone who seems bent on nothing more than trying to shout down and insult dissenters.

Make an actual logical or reasonable argument. Indicate that you understand there is more than one side to the issue. Then we can talk.

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