confessions of a former troll
September 29, 2014 11:28 AM   Subscribe

 
I want to tell you about when violent campaigns against harmless bloggers weren't any halfway decent troll's idea of a good time — even the then-malicious would've found it too easy to be fun. [...] When there was cruelty, yes, and palpable strains of sexism and racism and every kind of phobia, sure, but when these things had the character of adolescents pushing the boundaries of cheap shock, disagreeable like that but not criminal.

I fail to understand why this distinction matters a tinkers' damn. Legal cruelty is still cruel.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on September 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


If it was adolescent then, more mean-spirited fun than outright malice, it is now a frighteningly adult enterprise ...
I wonder what happened between then and now that could explain this difference?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:37 AM on September 29, 2014 [17 favorites]


I think what he's getting at is the difference between needing the willpower to ignore the trolls' mockery and needing to leave your house in fear and/or do damage control with your employer.
posted by ctmf at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [21 favorites]


Yep, fuck you (former) troll. Redemption doesn't come with finding people who are worse than you were, redemption comes from recognizing your mistakes, working to fix the bad you did, and trying to stop others from doing the same. Maybe he reached that point somewhere in the article, but I gave up reading his weak self-defense very quickly.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


Oh yes, the old days of trolling back in aught six.

WTF.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [37 favorites]


When people behind Encyclopedia Dramatica are like 'dude, don't be a fucking dick', you can be assured you are on the wrong side of something.
posted by el io at 11:40 AM on September 29, 2014 [31 favorites]


The Firefox lackey eventually took the stage to beg. Then he followed five or six of us into the hall.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Nevin at 11:45 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm calling bullshit on this back in the good ol' days, misty water-colored memories retelling of trolling. The same time this guy was "pushing the boundaries of cheap shock," his good pal weev was basically kicking off the same era of harassment (previously on MeFi) that the author so decries as the horrorshow trolling has become.

Sorry, bro, but trolling was always going to turn into this horrible toxic stew. You knew it, you just didn't choose to do anything until you saw real people getting hurt. Actually, no, that's not right: he knew people were going to get hurt by stuff like harassment and incidents like the one with Firefox, he just waited until it happened before he felt bad.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:52 AM on September 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


"Trolls don't expose the vanities of the world these days..." wait, what? Were you a pissy little 16 year old, or were you tasked by the gods on high to bring down the lofty?

Oh, netizens, who think nothing existed before their days, let me remind you of usenet and the assholes in alt.tasteless who invaded rec.pets.cats to harass cat lovers. Who were the vain ones?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:53 AM on September 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


alt.fan.karl-malden.nose 4 lyfe, yo.
meow meow
posted by entropicamericana at 11:57 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


let me remind you of usenet and the assholes in alt.tasteless who invaded rec.pets.cats to harass cat lovers

And I remember in 1993 after episodes like that people lamenting that the term "troll" had lost it's earlier, innocent meaning of saying something silly to catch out newbies who were over-eager at making pointless corrections.
posted by straight at 12:01 PM on September 29, 2014 [21 favorites]


where have you gone, leader kibo
a nation turns its lonley eyes to you
posted by murphy slaw at 12:01 PM on September 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


This bit was telling, and what most people had/have suspected is the troll's primary motivation:

"For all of my desire to complicate the trolling narrative, to insist that at one time our motives were permissible if not strictly noble, to suggest that it was fun and harmless and surprisingly diverse, trolling as an impulse has always been largely the domain of white men — and especially of those acutely aware of a world where the theoretical foundation of their inherited power is crumbling. They — we — are all anxious. The difference is in how we cope. This fear does not deserve pity, nor does it take priority over the far deeper worries of the genuinely maligned, but there is something explicable in this alienation. It's worth having a little bit of empathy if you want to understand where these people came from."
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:03 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]




Yeah, ChuckR, the guy does have some insight, and it's the kind of that should be nurtured if we hope to stop personalities like this from developing in the first place. But it was embedded in just so much indefensible attempted self-defense that I couldn't overcome the irritation. Glad you pointed it out.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:14 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


The continued veneration of weev (and this dude is not the only one to express it) troubles me. I think his overall narrative is probably right (an arc from awful and cruel to, um, REALLY awful and cruel) but weev and folks like him helped move things along that arc.
posted by feckless at 12:16 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


The telling point is his line about anxiety, namely that he believes that we are all anxious. It's classic "silent majority" thinking, pushing one's beliefs on the group as a whole.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:16 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


And I remember in 1993 after episodes like that people lamenting that the term "troll" had lost it's earlier, innocent meaning

I think there are a number of classifications of trolls, even to this day. There are those who egg on people, or "troll" them, into getting upset or saying something dumb. There are those who say terrible things to those who venture into their internet hives and try to fit in, like the poor noobs who enter 4chan after the site/community gets publicity for some exploit.

And there are those who go out and seek to actively torment people in all aspects of their lives, despite those targets never actually coming into contact with the aggro-trolls.

Yes, punching up sounds noble, until you realize the ones who really get hit are the not the presidents of companies, but the techies, coders and PR people somewhere in the lower levels of huge company hierarchies.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:17 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


A cowardly piece, overall. It wasn't real, it didn't count, when I did it. He's not wrong that the beast has grown a tougher carapace; it was still loathsome in the larval stages, however. The whole thing feels like he's trying to talk himself into believing his own spin, and then he betrays himself...."we punched up" at foolish, half-mad anti-Semites? The whole point of the dick joke in the q&a at the con was to disavow even satire itself...having a point degrades from the purity of the malice.
posted by Diablevert at 12:18 PM on September 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


We grew down.
posted by symbioid at 12:20 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Big eyerolls here, too. It's already awful enough that we let young men get away with this cruel, horrible shit on such a grand scale. I'm not about to give them a pass when they develop empathy and suddenly, coincidentally believe that the world was different then. Own up to your garbage behavior.
posted by almostmanda at 12:31 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Oh yes, the old days of trolling back in aught six.

Yeah, what the hell. I was clicking this thinking I was about to encounter a history of usenet antics from back in the day.

I remember in 2002? 2003? a friend of mine ended up on FYAD's (or some FYAD splinter group) shit list somehow -- well, not "somehow," she was a woman and on the internet and put photos of herself on said internet and same ole same ole -- and the harassment was pretty fucking awful.

The dude seems to have invented a concise history of trolling to make himself feel better about the milieu in which he found himself and is now selling it to us.
posted by griphus at 12:33 PM on September 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


ED and 4chan in 2006? And he calls himself a troll.

Lurk more.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:36 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


The author makes no mention of Kathy Sierra , who was doxxed by weev leading to her cancelling a conference appearance in March 2007 and more or less dropping out of the public eye -- a mere six months after the 2006 ToorCon that stands in for the harmless fun of the "good old days" of trolling.
posted by mhum at 12:39 PM on September 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


"The dude seems to have invented a concise history of trolling to make himself feel better about the milieu in which he found himself and is now selling it to us."

I think it's Vox that's selling it to us.

As far as 'back in the day'... Yeah, my day was a much longer time ago than his, but pretty much everyone's 'back in the day' means when they were 16 (or even older) - we should probably cut him some slack for that (not being a troll).

And while he might paint his childhood actions in the best light (unlike the rest of us, right?) it seems like he's grown up quite a bit (and understands how problematic harassment and current troll culture is). That's what we want, right? Young assholes to mend their ways and grow the hell up.
posted by el io at 12:39 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I guess being an unrepentant asshole ain't what it used to be.
posted by mhoye at 12:42 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I found the article a little thin - lots of things mentioned but none really followed through.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:44 PM on September 29, 2014



I seem to recall that trolling, at first, was a kind of ad hominem thing: some puffy person would make some kind of pronouncement/comment, so you'd troll (with a phone call or letter or something) them to see if you could get them to go off.

Success (as defined by trolls) seemed to be finding the classic 99 cent response to the 1 cent stimulus (like this felcho guy).

This kind of stuff is still common all over the web: just look through the comments section of on-line articles....
posted by CrowGoat at 12:49 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


If we'd known that what the Internet was really going to be for were ads and, as my correspondent on The Continent put it, "a whole new level of human psychological derangement," we might not have been so optimistic about it 20 years ago.

It's getting to the point where having an Internet presence seems like a net liability.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:51 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


And while he might paint his childhood actions in the best light (unlike the rest of us, right?) it seems like he's grown up quite a bit (and understands how problematic harassment and current troll culture is). That's what we want, right? Young assholes to mend their ways and grow the hell up.

The problem is that, like Victor Frankenstein, he created the monster, then disavowed his responsibility in doing so. Part of mending one's ways is accepting responsibility for the damage you have done.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:51 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


"I fail to understand why this distinction matters a tinkers' damn. Legal cruelty is still cruel."

Because the effects were minimal and the goal wasn't to ruin lives so much as provoke outrage?

I recognized a lot of this — I started trolling online in the late '90s. I was mostly on a local BBS called GREX, along with AOL message boards, and almost all of my trolling was aimed at one of three targets: People trying to cyber with minors, classic rock fans or fundamentalist Christians. Over time, I trolled LJ, a handful of other fora, and joined 4chan because I didn't want to pay for SA access. I spent way too much time on LJ_Debate and sent more than a few idiotic emails to churches throughout the country. It was (for me) entirely about making dumb people really angry by playing dumb, misconstruing what they said and maintaining an unceasingly chipper tone. I don't really feel bad for pretending to confirm youth pastors tickets for NAMBLA conferences or fucking with the Indian students that over-ran the BBS looking to cyber by revealing that I was a dude all along. I mean, undoubtably some people who were otherwise decent folks got hassled, but I think the angriest I ever got someone was by insisting that Syd Barrett played on The Wall because "my cousin is Rodger Water and he tell me." I hung out with a lot of Dischordians and the petty anarchy was a thrill.

But over time, it just took too much effort and energy and people started getting smarter about the classic trolls, so I found better things to do with my time. And I've never been a big one on the hate campaigns, though I've played around a little with the CoS anonymous stuff. I also never really wanted to interact with fellow trolls outside of a few spots — it was something to do while I was bored, not something that I wanted my regular friends to know about. (Also, I met my fiancee back around the time I was tailing off, and knew that she would think all that stuff was profoundly stupid. Getting banned from LJ for spoofing some dude's account so that I could make his comments read as porpoise noises wasn't exactly something I was aching to share with the broader world.)

I'll also say that it was around then that I started reading MetaFilter regularly, and while there were some trolls here, it also showed that hey, you can have fun disagreeing with people in a way that's not focused on unrelenting stupidity.
posted by klangklangston at 12:52 PM on September 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


It's getting to the point where having an Internet presence seems like a net liability

I see what you did there.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:53 PM on September 29, 2014


The problem is that, like Victor Frankenstein, he created the monster, then disavowed his responsibility in doing so.

I think it's more like he met a weird, asshole-ish-but-fun guy at a party and hung out with him for a few years, but then the guy became an total asshole and he was like "dude, you've changed." And now he's now telling us a sad story about how this weird friend of his turned into an awful person, which would be a shame had the guy not been Frankenstein's Monster the entire time and this person just decided to not pay attention to that until it got real bad.
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


> "I fail to understand why this distinction matters a tinkers' damn. Legal cruelty is still cruel."

Because the effects were minimal and the goal wasn't to ruin lives so much as provoke outrage?


Ask some of the targets of the trolls how "minimal" the effects were. I bet some of the bullies who went after me in real life tell themselves the effects on me were similarly "minimal".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:02 PM on September 29, 2014 [21 favorites]


...almost all of my trolling was aimed at one of three targets: People trying to cyber with minors, classic rock fans or fundamentalist Christians.

The ambiguous grammar in that sentence is a beautiful thing.
posted by griphus at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


That's what we want, right? Young assholes to mend their ways and grow the hell up.

Yeah...but all I got from this was more like "I'm having trouble getting a job because all I'm known for is being a shit so I better whip up a mea culpa for some clickbait site".

I mean, how about shit like Trolling isn't quite so David vs. Goliath anymore. It was never fucking that. The trolls were never David even when going after big companies; the big companies didn't know what to do with them and many still don't. And for every AT&T trolled, there were thousands of dog-piles to settle some petty desire for abuse where the trolls always had the upper hand on their victims, always outnumbered them and always pressed that advantage home.

Is it worse now? Sure seems to be, but by degrees, not in spirit or intent. All this bullshit about "it was a kinder, gentler form of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc" is just an excuse to try garner some sympathy. Just look at how he relates the story of "Feltcho"...the punchline is "it's really all his fault...brought it on himself".

He's not repentant; he's positively nostalgic.
posted by kjs3 at 1:07 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


The ambiguous grammar in that sentence is a beautiful thing.

hey bb

u like aja?

no?

how bout salvation thru grace
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


Crosby, Stills, Nash and NNNGGGGHHHHHH
posted by griphus at 1:12 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I agree with Klang and have almost the same experience as him except with different websites. The specific kind of trolling this article is talking about is like, at heart, not really that funny. Trolling should be funny. So much of 4chan in the mid-late 00s was already pretty much unfunny shock-value punch-in-a-crowd variety rather than a prank than cleverly exposes your target's own nastiness. There is still great trolling out there by the way, it just exclusively comes from hilarious twitter users (90% of which are ex-SA) pretending to be Christian to wind up hardline atheists or pretending to be conservative to wind up #tcot and so forth.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:16 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's all just meanness, all the way down. From adolescent bullying to sexist/racist/homophobic harassment to sophisticated adult shaming schemes.

Since I loathe cruelty, I found the author and his piss poor excuses for himself loathsome too.

Moral: do not feed the troll. Even the allegedly repentant troll.
posted by bearwife at 1:16 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


it just exclusively comes from hilarious twitter users (90% of which are ex-SA)

It's pretty cool that Twitter publishes stats on what percent of hilarious twitter users are ex-SA.
posted by straight at 1:24 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Troll grows up, waves cane at newer trolls who don't wear onions in their belts.
posted by languagehat at 1:26 PM on September 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


I agree that it’s unfortunate how he tries the “when I did it it was different” spiel; I had hoped for a bit more self-awareness of the impulse to forgive oneself. But I think he’s spot-on when it comes to power dynamics, and it would be a shame if this excellent point were lost in the midst.

It's absolutely horrible that, for instance, Something Awful saw fit to mock the mothers of stillborn children ten years ago, even if you're disturbed by how they've chosen to grieve.

And I hope nobody accuses me of defending that behavior when I say that it's nowhere near as horrible as the “trolling” we’ve got now in which a faceless mob sends death threats to those whose ideology is found troublesome. What used to be a drive-by mocking of diverse groups of perceived oddballs is now being honed and flung at feminists, or SJWs, or really just women if we’re being honest about it.

He’s right about the red-faced rage, too; it used to be that the troll was the too-cool-to-get-mad guy, the one who though that nothing on the internet counted, and that getting mad about it was how you got yourself trolled. Like the old SA album reviews that, e.g., purposefully got a bunch of details wrong about Amnesiac just so they could post the sputtering hate mail they received.

I remember arguing with anti-Sarkeesian people on Reddit two years ago, just after her Kickstarter ended and the /r/gaming subscribers had steam coming out of their ears at all the “free shit” she got. I felt I had to point out to them that (a) despite the accusations of some, she wasn’t trolling; (b) if she were trolling, she’d be the world’s best troll, judging by the sagas of butthurt I was reading in thread after thread.

Part of the difference between “trolls then” and “trolls now,” as portrayed in this article, is really a semantic drift; the word “troll” has expanded to include those who abuse others online, regardless of motive. It’s likely to me that 95% of the #gamergate zealots are just useful idiots, and that the true puppet-masters aren’t necessarily misogynists but are nonetheless cackling in some super-secret IRC room known only to themselves about how easy it was to get an army of bitter young men to do their bidding. If anything, it’s the #gamergate foot soldier who’s getting trolled, whether or not he knows it.

This is more or less what Zoe Quinn was trying to expose a few weeks back, not that it slowed any of the #gamergate insanity. But that’s the point. This is a different sort of thing than trolling used to be, and whether or not trolls were the genesis of all this, it’s now grown far past their ability to control it.

This is likely giving trolls too much credit, of course, but I’m honestly not sure which is scarier: one million pissed-off white dudes who say hurtful things because of perceived hurt done to them; or fifteen dudes who are true sociopaths, who don’t care if they hurt anyone at all, who conduct these internet hate symphonies strictly for the lulz.
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:40 PM on September 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yeah...but all I got from this was more like "I'm having trouble getting a job because all I'm known for is being a shit so I better whip up a mea culpa for some clickbait site".

Except... Where does it say he's having trouble getting a job, or that he's known for this stuff online? A quick google of his name shows that he isn't really known for trolling; he's known for writing.

Also, Vox may be imperfect, but I don't think it's fair to call it "some clickbait site".
posted by el io at 1:57 PM on September 29, 2014


"Ask some of the targets of the trolls how "minimal" the effects were. I bet some of the bullies who went after me in real life tell themselves the effects on me were similarly "minimal"."

Meh. That's not a convincing argument — almost all of the victims of trolling think that it was cruel and monumental, whether or not they deserved it. I used to be pretty gleeful about trolling Stormfront and some other similar sites about how great white culture was — Barry White in particular. Likewise, when I had an email that was a few characters off from a fundamentalist youth pastor (we have the same first name and last initial), I'm pretty sure that I took a firmer anti-witchcraft position than he did and I know that he was upset when people finally got back to him after dealing with me, but so what?

"Since I loathe cruelty, I found the author and his piss poor excuses for himself loathsome too. "

I'm sure that some Christians think that Landover Baptist is cruel. And I know that some Penn State fans think that exposing Papa Joe's complicity in child rape was cruel. It think that a subjective description of something as cruel or not is kind of insubstantial.
posted by klangklangston at 2:25 PM on September 29, 2014


I'm sure that some Christians think that Landover Baptist is cruel. And I know that some Penn State fans think that exposing Papa Joe's complicity in child rape was cruel.

Well, these are not exactly equivalent things, are they? Landover Baptist is farce, that's their point. Humor can hurt, but it is not trolling. I'll add that I'm no fan of cruel humor (and often find it truly lacking in anything like cleverness or humor) but as long as the target is free to disregard, versus e.g. being bullied, I don't see the hugeness of the problem.

And regarding Joe Paterno's complicity in child rape, how on earth can exposing that be fairly viewed as cruel given that the wrong was ongoing?

What is cruel is not so difficult to figure out. It is damn obvious.
posted by bearwife at 2:49 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


"it was a kinder, gentler form of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc"

Society used to be more tolerant of bigotry, particularly in the case of homophobia. I'm not sure the trolls have changed; the main difference between now and ten years ago might be that there's a lot more pushback against the trolls.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:51 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


"What is cruel is not so difficult to figure out. It is damn obvious."

Sure, it's when my ox is being gored.

"I'll add that I'm no fan of cruel humor (and often find it truly lacking in anything like cleverness or humor) but as long as the target is free to disregard, versus e.g. being bullied, I don't see the hugeness of the problem."

In pretty much every situation of classic trolling, that the target is free to disregard it but is provoked into intemperate response part of the humor. But I'm sure that Feltcho felt bullied even though he could have walked away at any point.

"And regarding Joe Paterno's complicity in child rape, how on earth can exposing that be fairly viewed as cruel given that the wrong was ongoing? "

"Fairly" begs the question. Many people sincerely believed that it was cruel given Paterno's health. Many people still sincerely believe that it was cruel. They saw it as going out of the way to inflict unnecessary emotional distress.

Even animal cruelty often requires multiple paragraphs of statute to define. "Cruelty" is an emotional argument upon which reasonable people may differ.
posted by klangklangston at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2014


So I tossed the author of this article a note (saying "Hey, there's a conversation about the thing you wrote going on at this place").

I didn't expect a response, but he wrote me a short email (essentially saying that the conversation here mirrors other conversations on the net about this article).

Included in his response (I asked him if i could republish it) was the following: "Other popular writing of mine has included admitting to being a former heroin addict and a one-time libertarian, so I've copped to worse than this. "
posted by el io at 3:05 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've always thought e.g. ShitRedditSays is much in the tradition of trolling - in fact I think this feminist/anti-racist troll movement (if you can call that a thing) has a significant presence on SomethingAwful of all places. I've actually watched this happen in more than one of the old no-holds-barred internet fight venues - a contingent of users sort of grew up, became invested in social justice or leftist movements, turned their argumentative inclination inward and started taking it out on the uglier side of their own favored fora. I don't promise this means any more than the antifa punks beating up the nazi punks at shows but I've seen it dramatically change the culture of smaller boards and I can't imagine reddit would be worse off without SRS. And in all seriousness I do not think it's fully separable from the history of trolling circa web 1.0.
posted by atoxyl at 3:11 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The lines are blurring between internet and "reality" due to the pervasiveness of tech, and also between trolls and bigots. Trolls are so used to easily getting an incorrect response from certain trigger-angry groups, that it may be hard to realize when they've really crossed the line, and are facing rational disgust.

I recently went to /v/ to see if they were actually saying anything about the Emma Watson piece. I got distracted and read this thread about how women (outside of certain video gamers) were too touchy and uptight, and how they could never be friends with other women. There's this celebration in certain chans of never taking stuff seriously, and it completely escapes their attention that they are taking biased statements at face value, and that sometimes an emotional discussion is exactly what you need.
posted by halifix at 3:17 PM on September 29, 2014


Speaking as a similar troll-in-youthful-times — though I more enjoyed reading ED than participating, save for Habbo raids — there was definitely a spark of anti-authoritarian rebelliousness that had an appeal beyond mere sadism, and that rebelliousness still permeates in my favorite online circles today. Weird Twitter still engages in forms of briefing that I quite enjoy — earlier today, Lindy West had a spree of flamebaity responses to Donald Trump, who has a bit of a reputation for taking the bait on Twitter, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that sort of thing. Likewise, SomethingAwful's early shittiness has evolved into their supporting causes and writers whose vitriol is aimed at very meaningful targets — see previously — and early Internet avatar Neil Cicierega's Tumblr has become a source of lots of entertaining smackdowns of people who don't quite get how racism and sexism work, and are gullible enough to respond to Cicierega in good faith.

I feel like a lot of the romanticism of trolling as an Internet artform, especially among its current practitioners, is a recognition of that impish spark combined with an unwillingness to admit that, even as it first began, the various troll groups of the Internet were terrifying innocents, harassing victims, encouraging all sorts of racism/misogyny in a misguided "anti-PC" campaign, and generally actively contributing to the worst of the web — a "worst" that seems to have grown increasingly worse over time, especially this last year. It was easy, for a while, for me to look at things like the Oprah incident or Who Is Anonymous? and feel excited at the thought of a ragtag group of nobodies media-jamming prominent celebrities and news stations. In retrospect, even those incidents were rooted in some horrid shit, but when you're young, privileged, and sociopathic enough to overlook the nastiness being promoted there — as it seems our Vox journalist still somewhat is, despite his protests to the contrary — that sort of thing feels exciting and rebellious, because you're blind to the fact that even "rebels" can feed into the greater systemic injustices that are the real cause of horrible in society today.

Today's trolls still are, in fact. Only now they're great enough in number and well-organized enough that they've become one of those oppressive systems themselves.
posted by rorgy at 4:11 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


ei io, that just makes it sounds like he's getting off on the attention of others.

In other words, dude hasn't learned a god-damn thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 PM on September 29, 2014


ei io, that just makes it sounds like he's getting off on the attention of others.

I mentioned earlier that he was a writer, yes.
posted by el io at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Cruelty" is an emotional argument upon which reasonable people may differ.

Cruelty can be difficult to define in law because it is difficult to externally discern intent. It's simple enough in practice: to inflict suffering on another because it gives you pleasure.

All this "they could back away" stuff has a certain "why are you hitting yourself?" flavor. That's precisely what's so cowardly about trolling: a conviction that They deserve to suffer, because they are stupid and I am smart and therefore superior to them, uncoupled from any recognition that if that's true, that such superiority is a form of power, which entails a responsibility not to abuse it....trolling is power that claims to abnegate itself in its very exercise: u mad bro? It's just the internetz. You don't get to be mad, because this isn't real, and doesn't matter. You cared; I win.

It's bullshit. It's lies, just the lies you tell yourself to absolve your own conscious. It doesn't matter that I tried to hurt you because you shouldn't have let yourself be hurt. Why you hitting yourself? Because you twisted my arm...
posted by Diablevert at 5:17 PM on September 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


> Meh. That's not a convincing argument — almost all of the victims of trolling think that it was cruel and monumental, whether or not they deserved it. ... It think that a subjective description of something as cruel or not is kind of insubstantial.

Man, you sure don't sound like you've learned much since your trolling days. In fact, I'm thinking less of all the confessed ex-trolls in this thread—every single one seems to think "Meh, people make too much of it" is an appropriate response to assholery by oneself or others.
posted by languagehat at 5:20 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've always thought e.g. ShitRedditSays is much in the tradition of trolling - in fact I think this feminist/anti-racist troll movement (if you can call that a thing) has a significant presence on SomethingAwful of all places.

The genesis of SRS lies in SA. There are lots of progressive / social justice folk on SA starting from the very beginning. I was never a member but my "IRL" friends who were into it also tended to have liberal leanings. I never really got into SA but I do find the SRS stuff highly entertaining. I'm not sure how productive or effective it is, but I don't think it hurts, and that sort of "picking a side and ridiculing the other" thing can be very effective for picking up young recruits.

For example, I started reading Metafilter at the age of 2001 when my own libertarianism was quickly evolving into a progressive world view -- during the Bush II election in 2000 I was torn between the Greens and Libertarians. Starkly opposed, revealing my own internal inconsistencies and uncertainties.

I knew Bush II was intuitively evil but could not identify with selecting a "lesser of two evils" simply to block him.

Metafilter gave me a place to see mostly coherent, well-spoken progressives largely describe things in and outside of politics in a way that I could appreciate and helped me gel my own internal allegiances to one ideology or another. With the occasional conservatives debating, but not an absolute total "THIS IS ABOUT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY" echo chamber like DailyKos or what have you. It's not -- it's just a place where I could see that I am "like-minded" to "these people" and I like the way they talk.

The point is, a lot of people who have an undeveloped or non-existent opinion glom onto the first person to really take down "the opposition" with style. Unfortunately the definition of "style" is highly varied but it makes me feel good when I go on a facebook politics bender (not with my own friends, just Disqus etc) and get a bunch of private messages or likes from people who are in that same place.
posted by aydeejones at 5:27 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just realized I've totally missed out on similar accounts from previous eras! You know, articles like "When The Quality Of A Band Could Be Judged By Their Skynyrd Covers: Yelling 'Freebird' Used To Be About The Music" or "I Totally Started 163 Inappropriate Moshpits Between The Years 1994-2001, And Let Me Tell You What It Meant." Man where have they been all my life?
posted by furiousthought at 5:27 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm thinking less of all the confessed ex-trolls in this thread—every single one seems to think "Meh, people make too much of it" is an appropriate response to assholery by oneself or others.

Neil Cicierega, who I mentioned earlier as an old Internet hand with certain trollish tendencies, was recently asked the following question:
Don't you think it's a little weird that your response to assholes on the internet is to be an asshole to those people on the internet? Doesn't that seem a bit Alanis Morissette ironic? I don't disagree that most of the people you shit on are shits, and probably deserve a taste of their own medicine. But by trying to browbeat the conservatism out of teens on the 'net, aren't you just reinforcing the notion that it's ok to be a jerk to anyone on the web as long as they disagree with you?
To which he answered, succinctly:
Assholery isn’t a problem, just Don’t Punch Down
We can argue about whether or not assholery is in fact a problem; I generally think that politeness is overrated in certain scenarios, and that responding to a person humorously or not granting them the respect they deserve can be useful at times. However, the central conflict revolving around the troll community is who "Don't Punch Down" refers to.

It used to be a bit easier than it is now to assume that if you were on the Internet, you were instantly as close to Down as you could get. A lot of trolling postured itself as a couple of wiseass individuals striking against larger conglomerates — mind you, said conglomerates were as often as not a group of enthusiasts who were by no means a corporate entity or powerful at all, so this logic always had some faults to it. But this is a rhetorical tactic that troll communities still employ, up to and including #GamerGate: find a way to position yourself as the underdogs Punching Up against some oppressive or even conspiratorial menace, and then, no matter how overwhelming your response, celebrate yourselves as the Davids against the Goliath of your choosing.

I am generally now of the opinion that there are very few self-proclaimed trolls whose targets are legitimately upstream of them. However, as I previously said and as aydeejones mentioned as well, from some former troll hotspots a lot of asshole-seeming but still pretty awesome movements have arisen. /r/ShitRedditSays, AKA the Fempire, is an excellent community in its own right, which employs a lot of less-than-civil tactics but in the service of dealing with the wider communal Reddit problem.
posted by rorgy at 6:18 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


... not granting them the respect they deserve can be useful at times.

Please leave here and go back to Reddit.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:57 PM on September 29, 2014


savetheclocktower: Part of the difference between “trolls then” and “trolls now,” as portrayed in this article, is really a semantic drift; the word “troll” has expanded to include those who abuse others online, regardless of motive. It’s likely to me that 95% of the #gamergate zealots are just useful idiots, and that the true puppet-masters aren’t necessarily misogynists but are nonetheless cackling in some super-secret IRC room known only to themselves about how easy it was to get an army of bitter young men to do their bidding. If anything, it’s the #gamergate foot soldier who’s getting trolled, whether or not he knows it.

It's been this way since the invasion boards of 4chan knockoffs of nearly 10 years ago. I don't think this guy realizes that nothing has changed, and he was never in the drivers seat on anything but really, really small time tired shit that didn't really hurt anyone much.

All of the big group harassment stuff has always been centrally organized. The stuff that seemingly made no sense or was just harassment for its own sake was simply as a cover for the stuff the "puppetmasters" really wanted to attack.

Has this spooled up a bit in scope? yea. Was it basically going on in exactly the same way to the point that the differences are irrelevant in the "good old days" this guy is trying to posit existed? definitely.

This guy grew up and thinks the game changed. He doesn't realize that the game has always been the same, he changed.

It was a bit of "woah" realization when i realized it. But it does bug me when people try and act like it used to be more harmless. No, you were just like fucking 15 or whatever and didn't realize what you were doing.
posted by emptythought at 7:01 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


It's gotten more dangerous insofar as trolls find it easier to aggregate and amplify, they have a larger audience and more tools to harass and stalk and it's way easier for the youngest of young schmucks to get on the Internet unsupervised and be terrible, and the political division in the country seems to be about at Vietnam or worse levels. /not alive then

My first words in a chat room were trolling and I didn't know what that was. Luckily the community mercilessly annihilated me, picked me up, and invited me to an amusement park for a meet up, didn't beat me up mind you, and frequently gave me extra time credit on the BBS. The tent is too big now for the amount of people farting in it
posted by aydeejones at 7:22 PM on September 29, 2014


I realize I was a bit abrupt. Apologies.

What I should have said was that "Disrespecting people because it may be useful to your argument is massively against community standards here, as I understand them. Please don't do that here."
posted by benito.strauss at 7:25 PM on September 29, 2014


alt.fan.karl-malden.nose 4 lyfe, yo.

fluffy lives in a litter box in san diego

meow meow

meow
posted by pyramid termite at 7:26 PM on September 29, 2014


It pains me to see the "don't punch down" concept used to justify out-and-out cruelty directed at specific people. Soon those guys will be yelling it as they are literally punching people, insisting that the direction the punch was aimed was within the range necessary to not call it assault. It's not some magic loophole that makes being shitty okay, and your arbitrary personal hierarchy of who is "above you" doesn't matter at all.
posted by almostmanda at 7:50 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I realize I was a bit abrupt. Apologies.

No worries; I realize after I'd posted that that I had phrased part of what I said poorly. I should have said that not granting people the respect they think they deserve can be useful at times.

So, in response to what you said next:

What I should have said was that "Disrespecting people because it may be useful to your argument is massively against community standards here, as I understand them. Please don't do that here."

...I would say that there is an often-noticed "back-to-101" problem in certain sorts of threads here, wherein a discussion about a difficult subject is reduced to arguing with a couple of people who don't quite grok the basic concepts of a discussion, at which point any hope of more elevated discussion is lost. In certain especially-problematic cases, there's a lot of hackle-raising which, while disrespectful, can often also point to particular issues occurring which are impeding conversation; sometimes it simply isn't possible to give every single person the respect they feel they're owed without creating major roadblocks within a discussion.

Obviously there's a lot of ambiguity there regarding how in-good-faith the person demanding respect is, how much you feel that person needs to make an effort to understand subjects before requesting everybody pay them lip service, and where, exactly, a conversation is taking place. I'm politer in certain circles — here included, I respect — than I'd be in others, but that also holds true of certain discussion types versus others. Sometimes, when you're discussing systemic issues, people arguing to uphold whatever system they're a part of can be a huge pain in the ass, because they're reasonable on the surface of their argument (and in their own heads) while denying legitimate voices a chance to express their perspectives. The first example that comes to mind here is when women telling stories about their lives are met with "debaters" who would like to rationalize whatever shit they're dealing with as perfectly understandable; sometimes, sharing stories leads to less-than-entirely-civil feelings, at which point insisting on perfect reasonableness and civility is essentially telling an entire category of person that they are not entitled to publicly express their feelings.

This is definitely a tenet of the modern SomethingAwful mindset, which carries over to ShitRedditSays quite a bit. You see it also in The Onion, and in works of satire in general. The best satire carries with it a certain amount of vitriol, and is unafraid to cause offense. Obviously that's not the exact same as trolling — at least, not always — but I'd argue that certain implementations of the Socratic method overlap with forms of trolling, just as certain forms of protest/occupancy/culture jamming do. There's also a certain Dadaist quality to some kinds of trolls, which I'd be loathe to go into too much since "it's all nonsense, maaaaan" is definitely the excuse for a lot of, say, 4chan's horrendous racism and other bigotry.

Anyway. I'm sorry for sounding like I was suggesting "shitting on people" as a valid mode of discourse — I generally think it's not. At the same time, I find that certain notions of respect often create rhetorical traps which benefit the person who's seemingly the most respectful, and I find that a lot of types of punk/rebelliousness/etc take the form of disrespect seemingly because it happens more in the cases of individuals-vs-institutions. What nostalgia I have for reading 4chan in middle school comes out of the same sense of "impish anti-authoritarian mischief" that the author of this essay writes about; I'm just a lot more convinced than he is that that mischief always came bundled with a whole ton of shitty behavior. It doesn't have to be, though; some of the people and publications I most enjoy online carry that same mischievous tone but have learned to be a lot less awful in how they go about doing things.
posted by rorgy at 8:11 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


almostmanda: It pains me to see the "don't punch down" concept used to justify out-and-out cruelty directed at specific people. Soon those guys will be yelling it as they are literally punching people, insisting that the direction the punch was aimed was within the range necessary to not call it assault. It's not some magic loophole that makes being shitty okay, and your arbitrary personal hierarchy of who is "above you" doesn't matter at all.

Yet another chapter in the(fairly recent, at least in my experience, and at least online) playbook of co-opting social justice terminology and concepts, and repurposing their phrasing to make them mean something awful, or to shield assholes from criticism.

It's a very, very smart and amazingly shitty tactic on their part. Basically drown out the conversation to the point that you can't tell who is legitimately stating those points, or what they even mean.

I made the semi-smartass comment in another thread that it's almost like the CIA/whatever intelligence organization or some big time covert PR firm is using these "trolling" operations to train new staff on how to use the same concepts and skills to spin political discourse. Because it's one of the only real changes i've seen between the early 2000s and now.
posted by emptythought at 8:19 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


To elaborate a little - man I feel weird explaining this, like I'm forging connections between online identities that shouldn't be connected - when I was a teenager in the early 00s I spent a lot of time on a site that was kind of like SA's little brother, and later on it's increasingly obscure and dated descendant sites. Absolutely no rules about how to treat other users, except for not doing anything illegal. The culture was about what you'd expect, with sort of a mainstream center-"left" bent to the politics but lots of "haha we're so un-PC" sort of thing, "ironic" slurs flying around.

Something like five or six years ago there was an Internet Movement. I really don't know what started it - maybe when one of the most prolific contributors, who is gay, started calling people out for saying "faggot" - but there was a massive shift in site culture, with all that stuff and the people who stuck to their guns about it pretty much run out of town or becoming the new targets instead of outsiders, all without any change in the rules. I don't know that this self-policing would ever work on a larger site - it doesn't really work on a small (in this example frankly barely alive) site unless you're can accept/enjoy that the process involves pointless fighting going on all the time, trolls trolling trolls. I mean it's still gonna be a den of crazy assholes. But thinking back it's really the damndest thing to watch an Internet Movement happen.
posted by atoxyl at 9:38 PM on September 29, 2014


SRS wasn't started by SA, but by some anonymous dude who went by reddit_sux. reddit_sux posted for a few weeks, then vanished, never to be heard from again. A few months later, some people from other parts of Reddit decided to utilize it, took it over, and started down the path to what it's become now. (I got invited to participate around this time by somebody who knew me from back when we were both spending a lot of time arguing for harsher anti-bigotry rules in /r/Anarchism, but thought it was a waste of time.)

After a few weeks of this, the Reddit.txt thread on Something Awful (one of a handful of threads that were spared when Laissez's Fair was closed in response to it getting Lowtax a visit from the Secret Service), which was devoted to posting the kinds of horrible Reddity shit that gets posted in SRS Prime, noticed SRS, and several of the frequent posters in Reddit.txt became early SRS users. This was not too long before the Redditbomb, back (I think) before SRS adopted the practice of having special Archangelle moderator accounts and a bit before the various Fempire subreddits were really a thing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:06 AM on September 30, 2014


a) His main account on Encyclopedia Dramatica was "Unknown". One of ED's oldest users.

b) it appears he may have created his own Wikipedia biography in January, using a throwaway sockpuppet account.
posted by metasonix at 1:41 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Man, you sure don't sound like you've learned much since your trolling days. In fact, I'm thinking less of all the confessed ex-trolls in this thread—every single one seems to think "Meh, people make too much of it" is an appropriate response to assholery by oneself or others."

I see it as part of a continuum with pranks and hoaxes, and because of that don't think that the victim's assessment should necessarily be the controlling one. Like, Dick Tuck's Chinatown prank on Nixon was intentionally inflicting distress on Nixon but it was also funny — and Nixon's apoplectic reactions to Tuck are funny too.

That's why you're getting the ol' shruggo — by trying to lump all trolling or all 'intentional inflictions of distress for amusement' together, you're conflating a lot of things, including sharp satires, pranks and parodies, because you're fixated on the notion that it's always illegitimate to intentionally cause distress, or intentionally cause distress for amusement. It's not, and people who insist it is come across as po' faced and sanctimonious — the perfect targets for trolling.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2014


That's why you're getting the ol' shruggo — by trying to lump all trolling or all 'intentional inflictions of distress for amusement' together, you're conflating a lot of things, including sharp satires, pranks and parodies, because you're fixated on the notion that it's always illegitimate to intentionally cause distress, or intentionally cause distress for amusement.

I think you have the assholey trolls to blame for blurring this distinction, not anyone here. Expanding the definition of "trolling" to include harassment campaigns, rape threats, leaking nudes, doxxing, etc. primes anyone who hears about it in passing to think it's just harmless pranks that would go away if the dumb, gullible victim would just step away from their computer for a few hours. It's been used as cover for all manner of horrible shit, and I think the meaning of the word is evolving to match that. When I hear "troll" now, I associate it with much worse things than pranks and satire. Shrug it off if you want, but I think you're going to get some serious side-eye if you keep identifying with the label.
posted by almostmanda at 10:08 AM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


"I think you have the assholey trolls to blame for blurring this distinction, not anyone here."

Fine, but when it's pointed out that the arguments here against trolling writ large are bad arguments because they are over-broad, saying that it's those asshole trolls that are responsible for bad arguments doesn't make the arguments less bad.

"Expanding the definition of "trolling" to include harassment campaigns, rape threats, leaking nudes, doxxing, etc. primes anyone who hears about it in passing to think it's just harmless pranks that would go away if the dumb, gullible victim would just step away from their computer for a few hours."

The definition of trolling here is already pretty much congruent with "Someone saying something I don't like." Feel free to search MeTa for usage of "troll" and you'll see what I mean.

"When I hear "troll" now, I associate it with much worse things than pranks and satire. Shrug it off if you want, but I think you're going to get some serious side-eye if you keep identifying with the label."

I can't really do anything about what you associate "trolling" with, and I don't think anyone here has actually identified as a troll — former troll at most. I do think it's part of a broader misunderstanding of a lot of internet culture by the broader public and the general use of scare terms that represent moral opprobrium rather than distinguishing the harmful effects from a broader amoral action, e.g. doxxing. Doxxing can certainly be a tool of harassment, but it can also be a powerful force for transparency and accountability, like in the Stubenville rape case. Trolling and doxxing are both tools that can be used by the righteous or wicked against the righteous or wicked. Because of that, it's worthwhile to be clear in how you're using them, and if you're just going to use them to make sweeping statements, those statements don't have much persuasive value, especially to someone who has more first-hand knowledge of what's being described.
posted by klangklangston at 11:13 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've moderated conline ommunities for years now, and am a proponent of the "assume no malice" tenet. I mention this because when it's used against bad actors, it is itself a form of trolling. (The brilliance of it is that when it isn't, it isn't.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:54 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think we draw lines in different places, klangklangston. I really don't think doxxing or trolling or any other form of deliberate meanness/harassment is OK when used against the wicked by the righteous.

I also don't think the Steubenville rape case is about doxxing. It is about picking up on what at least one (approving) witness posted publicly, and asking why nothing was being done. I'd add that if what went on was public disclosure of every private bit of information folks could learn about the sexual assaulters, I wouldn't be on board for that in any event.

That someone is bad, even evil, doesn't make it OK in my book to attack by whatever means are available. Public disclosure of criminal behavior is not the same thing -- that's how the legal system is supposed to get signaled to take action. But doing more than that ends up being vigilante, truly lawless behavior, whether it is online or the old fashioned kind.

Beyond the fact that we all abandon the legal system at our own peril, I'd add that while it is very easy to spot deliberate cruelty, which is observable behavior, it is damned hard to make accurate judgments of who is truly "wicked." And those who tell themselves they are "righteous" and hence what they do is OK are not only falling for the old fallacy that the end justifies the means, but well on their way to getting fairly wicked themselves. If there is one hallmark of evil behavior, it is rationalization that the person/people on the receiving end deserve it.
posted by bearwife at 12:43 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


> I see it as part of a continuum with pranks and hoaxes, and because of that don't think that the victim's assessment should necessarily be the controlling one. Like, Dick Tuck's Chinatown prank on Nixon was intentionally inflicting distress on Nixon but it was also funny — and Nixon's apoplectic reactions to Tuck are funny too.

Yeah, see, the problem with this is that anyone you dislike, have contempt for, or just feel like trolling becomes equivalent to Nixon so you can feel righteous about it. But you're obviously not going to change your mind, so forget it.
posted by languagehat at 1:24 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just read this passage in Robertson Davies' wonderful novel The Manticore and it seemed relevant, so I'm quoting it here (the narrator is remembering an adolescent vacation trip that ends with Bill Unsworth bullying the others into destroying the contents of a random house):
He jumped up on the table, stripped down his trousers, and squatted over the photographs. Clearly he meant to defecate on them, but such things cannot always be commanded, and so for several minutes we stood and stared at him as he grunted and swore and strained and at last managed what he wanted, right on the family photographs.

How long it took I cannot tell, but they were critical moments in my life. For as he struggled, red-faced and pop-eyed, and as he appeared at last with a great stool dangling from his apelike rump, I regained my senses and said to myself, not "What am I doing here?" but "Why is he doing that? The destruction was simply a prelude to this. It is a dirty, animal act of defiance and protest against—well, against what? He doesn't even know who these people are. There is no spite in him against individuals who have injured him. Is he protesting against order, against property, against privacy? No; there is nothing intellectual, nothing rooted in principle—even the principle of anarchy—in what he is doing. So far as I can judge—and I must remember that I am his accomplice in all but this, his final outrage—he is simply being as evil as his strong will and deficient imagination will permit. He is possessed, and what possesses him is Evil."
Yes, yes, I know, overwrought bourgeois moralism. And hey, what if those photographs had been of Nixon?
posted by languagehat at 2:23 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, Steubenville involved two separate incidents of "doxxing," the first in which a local blogger revealed the names of participants and the second when hackers from Anonymous grabbed more evidence of cover-up and complicity. There's also the kid on YouTube who was torturing kittens who was doxxed, along with any number of other incidents. "Doxxing" can encompass both publicly identifying people with personal information and the concerted publishing of every possible bit of personal information. For example, Reddit users complained about (and banned links to) the Gawker story that outed "ViolentAcrez," the guy behind /r/Creepshots and a bunch of other scummy reddits, when it just had his name and city in it.

"But doing more than that ends up being vigilante, truly lawless behavior, whether it is online or the old fashioned kind. "

I don't think morality or justice stems from the law. I think that the law is there, in general, to provide a superior outcome to vigilantism, but that doesn't mean that "vigilantism" is inherently bad, especially given the number of times where the law has congealed in defense of anti-public interests. Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden both broke the law, but in both cases I'd argue we're better off because of it.

"Yeah, see, the problem with this is that anyone you dislike, have contempt for, or just feel like trolling becomes equivalent to Nixon so you can feel righteous about it. But you're obviously not going to change your mind, so forget it."

One of the problems that both you and bearwife are having is that you're attempting to use subjective moral claims to condemn something that's amoral as a whole and can only be accurately morally assessed in the specifics. By repeatedly failing to — whether through lack of interest, ability or understanding — distinguish harms from mode, you end up typing pretty empty platitudes on the level of "Mischief is always wrong." It's a pompous tautology masquerading for an argument, and, ironically, charging that I can't distinguish between Nixon and anyone else demonstrates more clearly that you can't distinguish between Nixon and anyone else. If I was making an argument based on the moral claim of righteousness of trolling, it would have been apposite. Since I'm instead saying that, just like being an asshole, the claim of "troll" itself is fairly empty and amoral on its own (though I can at least say that I don't think I've ever seen bearwife be an asshole to anyone here — something true of neither languagehat nor myself), trying to argue that your subjective moral argument is valid because my subjective moral arguments can't be trusted is absurd.
posted by klangklangston at 3:02 PM on September 30, 2014


Thanks, klangklangston. I try to practice what I believe, and to me those beliefs aren't mere empty platitudes or pomposities.

We just don't agree here on some basic things -- for example, I'm not actually OK with lawbreaking on the basis that good things sometimes can come of it. An even bigger disagreement is that I think some modes are not OK, period, because they are aimed first and foremost at harm. This includes doxxing (by which I mean concerted publication of every bit of personal information) and trolling (by which I mean online tormenting of others to cause them harm).

I'm just not OK with extralegal efforts to harm others. For that matter, I'm not even OK with abuse of the legal system to harm others (e.g. the so called military justice tribunals for accused terrorists.)

There you are, we are going to have to just live with the fact that we really don't have concurrence here.
posted by bearwife at 4:54 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


"We just don't agree here on some basic things -- for example, I'm not actually OK with lawbreaking on the basis that good things sometimes can come of it."

Rosa Parks?
posted by el io at 10:34 PM on September 30, 2014


"We just don't agree here on some basic things -- for example, I'm not actually OK with lawbreaking on the basis that good things sometimes can come of it. "

I think that's fair. To me, the idea that lawbreaking is always wrong just does not make sense — history is rife with lawbreakers who advanced justice, from Jesus through Thomas Jefferson.

"An even bigger disagreement is that I think some modes are not OK, period, because they are aimed first and foremost at harm. This includes doxxing (by which I mean concerted publication of every bit of personal information) and trolling (by which I mean online tormenting of others to cause them harm)."

I appreciate you giving clear definitions of what you're arguing, and you're right that we disagree in a way that I think is helpful. I don't think that trolling or doxxing, even in your narrower definitions (which don't necessarily represent the definitions that would be used by the author of the FPP nor folks in here) are best evaluated based on being aimed first and foremost as harm, because I think only a few of the examples of trolling cited have been explicitly aimed at causing harm. Likewise, I think that the main aim of doxxing is usually punishment, which is related to "harm" but not congruent. I think both can be done in a way that causes harm, and that you could even judge actions on whether someone should have reasonably known it would cause harm. I have a much more consequentialist, utilitarian view on morality than you do.

"I'm just not OK with extralegal efforts to harm others. For that matter, I'm not even OK with abuse of the legal system to harm others (e.g. the so called military justice tribunals for accused terrorists.)"

No one's OK with the abuse of the legal system to harm others. It's like saying that you're not OK with running over kittens with a lawn mower. But I don't think that military tribunals nor the people who order them view themselves as abusing the legal system. I think I'd say that I'm against military tribunals being used in terrorism trials because it is an abuse of the legal system, in that it harms others without offering them equal protection under the law.

I even think that's a better argument for sheering off people from the really harmful end of trolling — that intent doesn't matter as much as effect. There are plenty of dudes who e.g. don't think they're being misogynist by hassling a feminist on twitter whose real effect is to make women afraid to speak out publicly. Thinking through the effects of what's just transgressive fun to them helps show the harm. There's plenty of trolling that has negligible net harm. There's plenty of doxxing that has done net good (and even more times when honoring complaints about doxxing would have had a net bad outcome), and I think that evaluating both of them in a broader context gives better ways to identify what's bad about them when practiced badly.
posted by klangklangston at 10:50 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Klangklangston: I think that the main aim of doxxing is usually punishment

I would argue that the main aim of doxxing is fear. Doxxing someone is saying "I know where you live. I know where you work. I know your phone number and your kids' schools. Maybe you want to think twice about doing something I don't like, eh?" Yes, causing fear - sometimes terror - in people is a type of punishment. But it's a very specific type of punishment and a very specific type of deliberate psychological stress you'd be applying, more so than would be "Imma beat your ass" or even "I'm going to report you to the authorities for [illegal action you're exacting retribution for]".

And causing someone that type of fear is harm. That kind of fear is corrosive to an entire life. You don't hear "I know where your kids go to school. How's George Washington Middle School, by the way?" and not immediately begin to contemplate whether you need to pull the kids out of school right the fuck now, whether you need to get a large dog, whether you need to pull up stakes and just move your entire life before the person who basically just said they can come for you does come for you.

I don't think anyone deserves to live in fear of some anonymous internet vigilante showing up at their door, maybe with a gun because "trollolol wouldn't it be funny to scare them even more?" Or, taking it to a less extreme case, of things like someone emailing their boss photoshopped nudez. Even if the person did something they need to be punished for, there is a reason our laws call for punishments like prison (imperfect in itself, obviously, but not the topic at hand), fines, and community service, and not "the rest of your life spent jumping like someone threw a bomb every time someone knocks on the door."

It's easy to convince yourself that trolling can have negligible net harm, especially if you're trolling people who you or even society at large finds repugnant, but whether or not the victim is harmed is really not something the troll-er gets to determine. That's just one more way to inflict harm on the victim, by taking away their right to have normal human psychological reactions.
posted by Hold your seahorses at 7:03 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I would argue that the main aim of doxxing is fear. Doxxing someone is saying "I know where you live. I know where you work. I know your phone number and your kids' schools. Maybe you want to think twice about doing something I don't like, eh?" Yes, causing fear - sometimes terror - in people is a type of punishment. But it's a very specific type of punishment and a very specific type of deliberate psychological stress you'd be applying, more so than would be "Imma beat your ass" or even "I'm going to report you to the authorities for [illegal action you're exacting retribution for]". "

And I would argue that definition of doxxing and ascribing of motives misses quite a few incidents, like Steubenville, where saying that people were doxxed to induce fear just doesn't seem supported by the evidence. Likewise, the Boy Scouts who knocked over the rock in Utah, or the kid torturing kittens, or the publication of the list of people with gun permits, or the 2011 Anonymous doxxing of law enforcement agents in response to infiltration attempts… Doxxing certainly can be used to terrorize people, but it's begging the question to say that's its primary motivation when there are so many obvious counter-examples. And that's before even getting to the slippage around usage, where just identifying someone by name can be called doxxing on Reddit.
posted by klangklangston at 8:37 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


"It's easy to convince yourself that trolling can have negligible net harm, especially if you're trolling people who you or even society at large finds repugnant, but whether or not the victim is harmed is really not something the troll-er gets to determine. That's just one more way to inflict harm on the victim, by taking away their right to have normal human psychological reactions."

You're conflating trolling with doxxing, and you're also begging the question something fierce by assuming that trolls are entirely unable to judge harm. I'd wager that the most frequent place where regular people encounter trolls is the comment sections for newspaper stories, especially sports stories, where people post disingenuous, inflammatory comments in order to provoke a disproportionate response. You can argue that this inflicts more than negligible net harm on the trolled, but you're going to have to back that up with something resembling actual evidence rather than just arguing that it's taking away someone's right to have normal human psychological reactions.
posted by klangklangston at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2014


the Boy Scouts who knocked over the rock in Utah, or the kid torturing kittens, or the publication of the list of people with gun permits, or the 2011 Anonymous doxxing of law enforcement agents in response to infiltration attempts

But for each of these cases, why was doxxing chosen instead of something else? To make a show of "we'll make you really sorry". If the goal was to get kitten torturers to stop torturing kittens, well, we have laws for that; report it to the police. If the goal was to stop misuse of government resources, well, we have investigative reporters who would be all over that and probably put the whistleblower's name in congratulatory lights. If those people won't handle it, we have an entire internet on which you can write about how bad things are happening and police and reporters won't take your calls.

Why, instead, publish the person's real name, location, family's addresses, etc? Because they want that person to feel their power and be afraid of what they can do. They not only want them to be ashamed of what they did, they want them to know that the doxxers can literally have people at their front door to force them to be ashamed and pay for it, forever, because the Googles, they do not forget (unless you're in Europe, in which case Google will be made to forget but the people whose stuff goes down the memory hole will make sure you pay for that). Sure, maybe the doxxers also genuinely want them to stop doing $badThing, but if that's all they wanted, there are much better, much less psychologically violent methods.

where just identifying someone by name can be called doxxing on Reddit.
In an age where Google will allow you to input someone's real name and have returned their address, their employer, their phone number, their relatives' names, their Amazon purchase history, and anything else they haven't thought to obscure, yeah, I'd say identifying someone pseudonymous by their real name simply for the sake of having named them, especially somewhere like Reddit or Encyclopedia Dramatica, is an act of doxxing. There are a myriad non-trolling cases where people are named on the internet with no problem, but in the specific context of "look what this person did, let's get 'em!", it's not much less bad than just publishing full doxx.

You're conflating trolling with doxxing
You're right, I'm talking about doxxing in particular as a subset of trolling; I wasn't clear on that. But as far as the general idea that doxxers are unable to judge harm, I should have said that I suspect that they are either unable or unwilling/uninterested in doing so. The idea that doxxing someone bad must be ok, because the person is bad, indicates to me a disinterest in examining what one's actions do to the actual person on the other end. Perhaps more than that, a disinterest that there even is a real person at the other end. Yes, I've been told that I'm too touchy-feely empathetic and concerned for other people for my own good - more than once - so no need to point that out.
posted by Hold your seahorses at 9:19 AM on October 1, 2014


Rosa Parks?

Good question. I should have said that I AM perfectly OK with peaceful civil disobedience, provided of course the person is willing to face legal consequences. I think it is a powerful tool for legal and social change, now as well as in the civil rights era.
posted by bearwife at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2014


"But for each of these cases, why was doxxing chosen instead of something else? To make a show of "we'll make you really sorry". If the goal was to get kitten torturers to stop torturing kittens, well, we have laws for that; report it to the police. If the goal was to stop misuse of government resources, well, we have investigative reporters who would be all over that and probably put the whistleblower's name in congratulatory lights. If those people won't handle it, we have an entire internet on which you can write about how bad things are happening and police and reporters won't take your calls."

Well, no, and saying that it was kind of shows that you don't know what you're talking about. Law enforcement doesn't have the resources to trace youtube IPs over an animal abuse case, and framing it exclusively as fear rather than accountability is begging the question. For the gun owners, it was a newspaper that published their names based on a public records search in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings. That arguably serves the public interest. For the Goblin Valley Boy Scouts, the folks involved denied responsibility until they were doxxed. The Anonymous doxxing of law enforcement in retaliation for infiltration was aimed at showing law enforcement that their ability to collect personal information wasn't a monopoly. And glibly saying that there's a whole internet "on which you can write about how bad things are happening and police and reporters won't take your calls" just comes across as glibly dumb, especially since without these identifying details many of the allegations aren't credible.

"Why, instead, publish the person's real name, location, family's addresses, etc? Because they want that person to feel their power and be afraid of what they can do."

… or want them to feel publicly accountable.

"Sure, maybe the doxxers also genuinely want them to stop doing $badThing, but if that's all they wanted, there are much better, much less psychologically violent methods."

Says you. From Dog Shit Girl through the Anonymous LE dump, identifying people publicly — especially since you've copped that just de-pseudonyming someone is doxxing — is part of holding them accountable.

"In an age where Google will allow you to input someone's real name and have returned their address, their employer, their phone number, their relatives' names, their Amazon purchase history, and anything else they haven't thought to obscure, yeah, I'd say identifying someone pseudonymous by their real name simply for the sake of having named them, especially somewhere like Reddit or Encyclopedia Dramatica, is an act of doxxing."

That's an absurd and inane contention that again highlights that you don't know what you're talking about. This wikipedia article has a summary of the ViolentAcrez 'doxxing.'

"The idea that doxxing someone bad must be ok, because the person is bad, indicates to me a disinterest in examining what one's actions do to the actual person on the other end. "

The idea that "doxxing" someone is bad because it can have bad effects indicates to me a lack of interest (disinterest would be a good thing, actually) in examining the actual effects of the doxxing in favor of making empty moral claims that seem pretty similar to the myriad empty moral panics that have been attached to the internet since forever.
posted by klangklangston at 11:36 AM on October 1, 2014


"Good question. I should have said that I AM perfectly OK with peaceful civil disobedience, provided of course the person is willing to face legal consequences. I think it is a powerful tool for legal and social change, now as well as in the civil rights era."

I'm OK with a Declaration of Independence and the violent revolt against a colonialist power. Many people are — otherwise our money would have pictures of Thoreau on it.
posted by klangklangston at 11:38 AM on October 1, 2014


Also, thinking about civil disobedience highlights another (respectful) disagreement I have with klangklangston on these topics. I think change-makers should be responsible, meaning aware of a personal cost for what they do. One of the other problems I have with trolls and doxxers and their ilk is that the brickbats fly from them without any personal accountability. They never have to make a police statement or bear witness in court or face arrest or otherwise put themselves on the line. That's another contrast with Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, who in different ways have both paid quite a price for what they did.

That the people who engage in true civil disobedience do pay a price is a big reason, I think, why their actions actually make change. We know they are serious and their cause is serious.
posted by bearwife at 11:40 AM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


The author makes no mention of Kathy Sierra , who was doxxed by weev leading to her cancelling a conference appearance in March 2007 and more or less dropping out of the public eye -- a mere six months after the 2006 ToorCon that stands in for the harmless fun of the "good old days" of trolling.

I made a post on Quinn Norton's trip into the bowels of the Pentagon, which was very well recieved. She wrote The Words Of A Troll: The Strange Case Of weev, about her friend Andrew Auernheimer. No mention of any specific targets of his trolling, other than AT&T

She also wrote a series called "Women And The Internet": Violence Towards Women, Context Collapse, Architecture, and Plows, Sexytime, Gender Roles, and Credit Where Credit Is Due, Feminism's Twist Ending.

No mention of Auernheimer.

Of course, you might say that We All Got Trolled, since Gawker (which I won't link) is reporting that Auernheimer wrote a little piece for the Daily Stormer (which I also won't link) about his time in prison. Also he got a swastika tattoo. Quality trolling.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]




Both Gould and Miller are mistaken in terming Champion a troll, at least broadly. As far as anyone can tell, Champion is sincere in his rants and attacks. He's not doing them just to get a rise, he's flaming people with earnest opinions and being an asshole. While there are similarities to trolling with Champion, most notably that engaging him encourages him, he doesn't seem to be writing anything solely to get a rise out of the targets.

This is in line with what I commented above, where "troll" has been stretched beyond practicality and can apply to pretty much any opinion one doesn't like.

Weev is being gleefully offensive, but there's at least a sense that he's being disingenuous about his beliefs in order to provoke. (Though frankly, both Champion and Weev seem to have some level of mental illness going on.)

The term trolling comes from fishing, not from living under a bridge.
posted by klangklangston at 10:40 AM on October 3, 2014


the man of twists and turns: "Of course, you might say that We All Got Trolled"

That Medium article about weev quotes him (without challenge!) as saying: "I’ve never targeted an individual". What is going on here? Is everyone pretending that the Kathy Sierra thing did not actually happen? And, just to refresh people's memory, let's recall that to weev and his cohorts, Sierra's cardinal sin (aside from the mere fact of existing as a woman on the internet) was deleting hostile comments from her own blog. That's it. Apparently, there was a time in the not-distant-at-all past where comment moderation was deeply controversial and an existential threat to free speech.

Speaking of which, to connect that episode to more contemporary misogynist trolling, the recent Ed Champion meltdown was apparently triggered when Porochista Khakpour deleted a comment he made on her Facebook page. And, among the ridiculous GamerGate list of demands was that commments on articles not be deleted. What the fuck is wrong with these lunatics? Apparently, in their minds, not only do they have the right to spray paint racist and misogynist slurs on your front door, you don't have any right to paint over their graffiti.
posted by mhum at 1:41 PM on October 3, 2014




Laurie Penny: On Weev, Fascism and the Free Internet.
posted by homunculus at 7:48 PM on October 6, 2014


Kathy Sierra: Trouble at the Koolaid Point (h/t rmd1023)

I would excerpt from it, but the whole damn thing is quotable. Unfortunately, it looks like she's dropped off Twitter again due to--and this is my surprised face--harassment from trolls and misogynists.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:08 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


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