Engaging with trolls
March 6, 2014 2:09 PM   Subscribe

The Articulate Troll. Giant Bomb's Patrick Klepek has a long conversation with a troll. The troll was originally one of the ones featured in Klepek's article Our Internet Empathy Problem, written about the torrent of abuse aimed at Dong Nguyen for pulling Flappy Bird.

Klepek gave a TedX talk about Internet bullying and engagement last year.
posted by kmz (31 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Of course he cites that Bill Hicks routine.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:21 PM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Today a man on acid realized...
Here's Klepek with the game review..."
posted by symbioid at 2:26 PM on March 6, 2014

Listening to the youtube right now. Right when he talks about the angry comments and then polarization... Now I think "FOX NEWS" and our current political climate does feed on this vitriolic cycle.
posted by symbioid at 2:32 PM on March 6, 2014

I grew up when the internet was still a mysterious black hole that even government agencies didn’t seem to have a grasp of.
Both of these statements are factually incorrect.
posted by fullerine at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2014 [13 favorites]

(Tangentially related, Patrick's review and interview/podcast about ACIV: Freedom Cry really make me want to buy ACIV at some point.)
posted by kmz at 2:41 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

And I'm totally not on the verge of teary eyedness. Nope. I love seeing him doing "god's work" fighting the good fight. I know that there are others in the game industry working hard on this (mostly in gender issues, but also other social justicey things). I've read some great stuff on Rock Paper Shotgun on these issues now and then, as well. Maybe Quinns has dome some posts on these issues? Someone over there has. Anyways. It makes me happy to see people within the publishing realm actually start to tackle these issues head on and making headway in the larger culture against the various -isms that plague the gaming community, and society at large.
posted by symbioid at 2:49 PM on March 6, 2014

Since you mentioned quinns: he and Leigh Alexander did a nice piece on Netrunner that covered a lot more at the same time.
posted by michaelh at 3:05 PM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I see Klepek's approach as being the exact wrong tack for dealing with this issue. I get that he wants to understand what makes someone hurl such abuse, but in doing so, he hands them a victory. I don't see why he's surprised at this person having an articulate justification for his reprehensible behavior - it's kind of a staple, really. And even though he claims to accept that he's a horrible person, in actuality, his constructed worldview is designed to indemnify him from either blame for his conduct or responsibility for choosing this path - for example, he routinely engages in victim blaming throughout. It seems new, but it's the same old song, just in a more erudite form.

I think that is nothing here to "understand" - well, more that it's something that we already understand all too well. And thus, I think the proper answer is "I don't care how you justify yourself to yourself - your conduct speaks for you alone, and it marks you as someone toxic, whom we don't want to be around."
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:19 PM on March 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

I try not to take this sort of thing too seriously, generally speaking, but it would seem that everyone has interpreted my response as serious so I have no choice but to play along. When I made the initial comment, I was upset because it seemed to me - and was ultimately borne out to be true - that Nguyen was throwing away money due to lack of a spinal column.
I'm not English, but: what an utter, pure-blood tosspot. What a snot trickle. He can't even stomach the gut-churning terror of having his email address or name published, yet feels qualified to judge someone's courage from the safety of his anonymity.

I had to bail halfway through. His smarmy, self-satisfied, unexamined, ankle-depth pool of thought, warmed only by his own poorly controlled bladder, is just not worth wading through.
posted by kavasa at 3:26 PM on March 6, 2014 [20 favorites]

It's sorta nice to know most trolls are psychopaths, actually, because at least some kinda strategy can be built around that.
posted by hellojed at 3:30 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

No, I don't think he's a psychopath or a sociopath. I think he's a man who is facing a world in change, where he no longer is in a place of privilege, and so he's lashing out at that, trying to reassert his dominion, so to speak. Note how he focuses on his view of what the internet is.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:36 PM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't really see what insight can be gained from this piece. Stuff like the Daniel Tosh argument leads me to believe that this guy doesn't get it, not even close, and will resume his "harmless" "edgy" humor shortly. Even in his change-of-heart message he takes the opportunity to rail against Nguyen as a "dweeb... crying like a baby", so yeah.

The author is also just a little too eager to pat himself on the back. Change isn't going to come that easily, because these kinds of trolls have entire self-reinforcing communities that revel in this stuff, egg each other on, and laugh at anyone who "takes it seriously." This entire back-and-forth might be another opportunity for trolling, for all we know.
posted by naju at 3:38 PM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think that Twitter etc. are simply making visible how much violent ideation has always been out there. It's distressing.
posted by thelonius at 3:40 PM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

He can't even stomach the gut-churning terror of having his email address or name published, yet feels qualified to judge someone's courage from the safety of his anonymity.

Right, in fact, judge them to the point of making 'death threats' (however supposedly un-seriously) apparently. Also, he lacks the courage and/or conviction to stand on his own beliefs/motivations, as "...everyone has interpreted my response as serious so I have no choice but to play along."

Poor, pitiful thing, he has no choice in the matter.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not so much "articulate" as much as "desperate to use ten dollar words."

This is so obviously the writing of an insecure, pretentious, immature college freshman that it really doesn't seem worth posting. Hopefully someday they'll grow up, but there's really not anything to learn from this.
posted by graphnerd at 3:59 PM on March 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

It's been said here many times before, but it annoys me enough to repeat it anyway: "Trolling" was a marvellously specific and evocative term and it's a shame that we've lost it to persistent misapplication. Bald abuse of the type described in this article is very clearly distinct from trolling as it was widely understood before the media started to take notice of online bullying.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 4:00 PM on March 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Real, lasting, positive social change is not won through wars or revolutions...


...and certainly not through being an insensitive ass on Twitter


Perhaps a visit from Curtis Woodhouse would cause lasting change?

Anonymity certainly can be abused rather than be something for the sake of privacy.
But clearly, given public speaking is more of a phobia than death, people are more afraid of losing face than having actual violence occur.
So obviously someone without the guts to own what they say isn't going to want to say the same things in public or without the cloak of anonymity.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:39 PM on March 6, 2014

God, "troll" has become so deprecated. "Kill yourself"? That's the best you've got?

To misquote an internet staple, "This isn't trolling, this is abuse."

Proper troll of Nguyen? Keep asking him for walkthroughs and easter eggs. It still might upset him, but the goal is to be at least superficially reasonable while provoking over-the-top reactions to inanity. This guy's just yelling, "FUCK YOU" and thinking he's Daniel Tosh.
posted by klangklangston at 5:10 PM on March 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

On the one hand, man, that guy is so 20 down to the Bill Hicks cite. God, it's like portrait of the asshole as a young man. Every 20 year old asshole is convinced he's the first to discover Bill Hicks.

On the other hand, I am glad my smug 20s drivelings are lost to the internet either. I can't imagine having them archived like that and hanging around me as The Ghost of Asshole Past.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:40 PM on March 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Bill Hicks pisses me off, there are a few bits that bring tears to my eyes and he gets all hippie dippie about John Lennon and stuff in meaningful ways, love is all you need, blah blah blah then oscillates into calling George Michael a "woman" and fantasizing about murdering Debbie Gibson. The bits on advertising / marketing go into that murderous territory too if I recall and are kind of insipid and sophomoric to boot.

And let's not forget the whole "Hey guess what, everyone dies therefore smoking is cool!" bit that nauseates me, though I'm pretty sure he later did a separate bit later where he acknowledges that he's a weakling who can barely climb a flight of stairs and is only sort of OK with that.

Definitely a mixed bag. I see Doug Stanhope as sort of taking the reigns in one direction and going into total misanthropic misogynistic pervert material with nothing insightful really at all to say (that low brow "if you weren't an idiot or pandering to idiots your joke wouldn't be funny to you" shit that I loathe, which Jerry Seinfeld manages to do more gratingly). Meanwhile, Joe Rogan has a little bit of that, but goes on far more about admiring the wonders of the universe, and in many ways I see parallels between his "LIFE IS AMAZING YOU STUPID SHITS WAKE UP AND LOOK AROUND" themes where he goes into manic monologues that culminate in earnest profundity (even if drug inspired),profanity and amazement, and Louis CK's "ungrateful privileged [often white] bastards" material.

Meanwhile, if we're going to do this whole "Prism" thing in the name of national security, I wouldn't mind if some money was invested in confronting every piece of shit who threatens anyone on Twitter, facebook, etc. If anything, this despicable hateful crap being reinforced and promulgated and drawn out of every young shithead to be plastered up and admired is more hazardous to our national security than underwear bombers. It's one thing to think creepy thoughts or write short stories about them (I did) and another to out and out threaten actual people on the internet and high five each other. Just a visit -- free speech on the internet, meet free speech at your doorstep. Just need to ask a few questions.
posted by lordaych at 8:28 PM on March 6, 2014

So has "trolling" as a term completely devolved to mean nothing but "be a meanie on the Internet"?
posted by Authorized User at 8:28 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yep, being a dick is the new "trolling." Was just lamenting this to my wife the other day. But then in my experience even the old school FidoNET and USENET trolls seemed to earnestly believe in what they said, and seemed to be hiding behind a shield of insincerity that made it easy to deflect counterattacks. Like a jerk-off who says what he means and then says "just kidding" all of the time. Just trolling you bro. LuLZ

Naturally the best ones you never really can pin down, and in USENET they often had compatriots with IP addresses all over the place at a time where it was kind of a PITA to do that sort of elaborate sock puppetry, so some of those were the "True Scotsman Trolls" I suppose.

The first thing I ever said in a BBS chat room was "hey dorks." I wasn't sincerely making fun of them for being dorks, because I was a dork. It was more like "hello fellow nerds!" Suffice it to say they gave it to me pretty good and had me over a barrel before quickly accepting me as one of their own after seeing that I really just wanted to hang out and be with fellow nerds.
posted by lordaych at 8:33 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It amuses me to see 20-somethings quote Bill Hicks as if he were Mohammed.
posted by Tacodog at 10:42 PM on March 6, 2014

I hear him quite a bit on the radio (24/7 Comedy!) having never managed to suffer through an entire album and he had this whole corny "mmmkay" affectation that's supposed to make him seem somehow wittier and far beyond everyone else, and he is just so cavalier about calling for people to kill themselves or be killed for being things he doesn't like.

I know he was groundbreaking in various ways and ripped off by Leary et al, but there's just a certain sort of mean-spiritedness there that completely runs contrary to this "peace 'n love" message he likes to close on...I've seen it with other comics (Carlin?) but offhand only remember that hack-job Carlos Mencia (who is also mean-spirited and low-brow as all shit while he mocks the mentally disabled non-stop) used to have this "we're all in this together" heartfelt speech after his shitty racist act largely centered on Ay-Rabs in the mid 2000 era when I saw it...

I don't think I've ever told anyone to "kill themselves" or heard it said to my face or online. It's a pretty vile thing to say, totally up there along with identity / unchangeable attribute slurs and attacks and during a stand up bit there are a billion possible ways you can exactly suggest that someone might "kill themselves" that aren't vile. The only thing more vile than saying it is saying that you wouldn't feel any culpability if some unstable depressed soul offed themselves because you inserted yourself into their negative self-talk spiral and made them question themselves moreso than ever, because you had to be "playful" about suggesting that their life should be terminated.

To me, for example, the old chestnut "go play in traffic" is kind of clever or was at one point and is suggestive about its intent rather than demanding; "kill yourself" is just a brute force declaration, no playfulness at all, just a terse order. The type of people who think you should just toughen up and not react to it should consider toughening up their face hole and not saying vile shit that is unnecessary and painful for most people, and severely triggering for others who might suffer from afflictions that make them think about killing themselves constantly, who are surrounded by people who don't want them to kill themselves, and would think "why did they say that? maybe my friends and family just won't tell me the truth? Maybe this person I barely know is on to something..." No, that doesn't make the "troll" 100% responsible, but it makes them barely human.

TLDR Fuck Bill Hicks

Yeah, it's VICE, but it's right.
posted by lordaych at 12:05 AM on March 7, 2014

"Bill Hicks had no subtlety." That's the TLDR.

And no, telling people online or in person to "go play in traffic" is not cool either, but if a comedian were to say "I wish so and so would play in traffic" I'd just consider it a cliche rather than a vile thing to say.
posted by lordaych at 12:08 AM on March 7, 2014

It took me a lot of the way through this piece to understand that the thing that's interesting about it is supposed to be that it's a surprise that a "troll" can write a long explanation of why it's okay to be horrible to people that sounds like something an educated and intelligent person might write, putting aside the content.

That didn't surprise me at all. I'm not sure what kind of nasty characters other people encounter online, but many of the ones I've bumped into are entirely capable of long, smug rants like this in which, SIGH, everyone else doesn't get it, and everyone else really needs to snap to it, and everyone else is soooooo not at all down. This is standard talking-down trolling (as opposed to yelling-at trolling), which was the hardest kind for me to get used to, but is really common. I don't really get why he was surprised or found it at all enlightening. Some trolling is of the drive-by variety, but much of it is determined, contemplative, deeply felt meanness that can be explained in the same way you might explain your feelings about a book. It's unsettling, but it's not surprising.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:55 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah... I like Klepek, but I don't know if this is a very useful sample set. I've dealt with (what we didn't used to call) trolls, and the ones who can form sentences can usually manage this kind of "bleep, bloop I am a robot LOGIC AND REASON humans are weak BILL HICKS" stuff.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:10 AM on March 7, 2014

(Plus, the engines of games journalism are not exactly blameless here - this Kotaku article by Jason Schreier is a good example. Schreier and Kotaku's editor Stephen Totillo both expressed regret for the title and the tone of that piece later, here - which is more than many in the same industry did for worse bits of editorializing.

What one _does_ about this is a tricky question, but it seems worth acknowledging that the kind of harassment Dong Nguyen got - or Adam Orth, or Laura Kate Dale, or Jennifer Hepler, or any number of other people - doesn't happen entirely a nihilo.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:51 AM on March 7, 2014

I am a little confused. "Trolls are people, too." So what? That's the whole point: these people who are freaking out about a stupid game, telling the creator to kill himself, or that they'll kill him, or slinging racial epithets at him, are everyday people like any of us, and meeting one of them in the wild is incredibly likely. You may not even know it but one of these people could be your friends, or a co-worker. I've said this before but it really, really freaks me out when I think about it. When the whole Flappy Bird thing went down I read hundreds of comments on reddit about how selfish Dong Nguyen was; how he was making so much money and therefore had to cater to his audience; how he was nothing without his audience; various racial slurs and "jokes" about his name, etc. Seriously, how can so many people get so upset about a stupid game? When I was 15 and bored in computer class me and my friends played that helicopter game that Flappy Bird is so obviously a modern rendition of, and none of us cared who made the game or the fact that they may have quit making games. The lack of anonymity here is a big deal. Everyone knew who Dong Nguyen was and therefore he was a target for these peoples' seething hatred and racial prejudices. If no one knew who he was and Flappy Bird disappeared suddenly, would anyone really care? It'd just be a mystery. Instead of various Buzzfeed-esque articles about "Why did Dong Nguyen take down his game?" we'd be stuck here wondering "What happened to Flappy Bird?"

Like I said earlier, trolls are people, too, so what? Everyone has an excuse for troll behaviors and frankly it's getting old. The old "that's what people do when they are anonymous on the internet" is not an excuse for being a shithead. It's like the whole "what would you do if you were invisible for a day?" and people reply with "I'd follow women into their homes and watch them undress." Okay, that's what you would do if you could get away with it? That points to a bigger problem in my opinion. It's such an annoying double-edged sword. On one end, a lot of marginalized groups need the anonymity of the internet so they can be protected from either governments or other individuals and feel free to publish their uncensored views to everyone else. On the other hand we have people who use their anonymity to send death threats, rape threats, assault threats, etc. to groups who post their opinions (that aren't even that controversial!!!), even going so far as to post their addresses or call their workplaces! Look at any woman who dares post something about equality and you'll find a host of vicious, upset, anonymous men who are there to take her down a notch.

This scares the shit out of me. On reddit you can have a totally anonymous username, but I am pretty sure most people have usernames that you can google and find them on other forums, or they post information on reddit that can lead you to a facebook or instagram page or some other avenue. These people are the most dangerous, because instead of posting totally anonymously they are outright in defense of things such as pedophilia, they constantly talk and fantasize about violence toward women, and they regularly engage in circlejerks about particular prejudices, and the community supports them! I have straight up seen comments on reddit that will have hundreds or even thousands of upvotes, and the crux of the comment will be about raping a woman. Hell, I saw one recently where a guy equated a 13-year-old girl to a 25-year-old woman, claiming that the 13-year-old was "post-pubescent" and that this was ample enough reason to have sex with her. How am I suppose to differentiate between that and trolling, especially when the rest of the community supports the opinion and backs it up?

If I ever meet an "internet troll" in real life I am staying the fuck away from them.
posted by gucci mane at 10:15 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Kill yourselves" is a transgressively funny thing to baldly say to a prestigious elite who are ruining society. When your target is some poor schmuck whose crime was to make a simple and unexpectedly popular game, it's not.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:42 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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