Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Trolls," Online Civility and Political Agendas

In line with my ongoing interest in Internet civility (and the lack thereof), I've recently read the following articles - mostly about online misogyny.

At Jezebel, Lindy West aptly addresses the myth that Both Sides Are Just As Bad. "Both sides" here being women/feminists versus misogynists/anti-feminists. She writes:
"Broadly speaking, the type of violent, choreographed, overwhelming hate speech currently battering Creasy and Criado-Perez is directly aligned with our male-supremacist power structure (race is a deeply salient factor too, and unpacking that deserves its own article). I'm trying to think of an instance when anonymous women descended, spewing violent rape or castration threats, upon a man for expressing an opinion as innocuous as Criado-Perez's. I can think of instances of funny, political, retaliatory trolling—like when Twitter feminists co-opted the #INeedMasculismBecause hashtag, or when Rick Perry's Facebook page was deluged with questions about menses. But those are not examples of aggression, they are self-defense. They are not analogous to "I will rape you in an alley" or "Don't leave your phone at home, sweetie." They are reactions to misogyny—the same brand of misogyny that fuels internet trolling. They are women speaking to power—the same power structure that empowers and perpetuates anonymous trolls."
I've noted this false moral equation too, previously.

West also talks about the disproportionately positive responses that men often receive for acknowledging misogyny and rape culture when feminist women have been saying similar things for years whilst instead often receiving enormous amounts of aggression. I think that phenomenon puts feminist men and women in an awkward bind. I'm grateful for male allies, but it's also difficult to see feminist observations treated as more valid when they are uttered by men, rather than women.

On the flip side, about a year ago, I read Adrian Chen's article over at Gawker, unmasking a particularly notorious troll abusive Internet user. This particular user was a mass promoter of violence against women, a user of racial slurs, a promoter of anti-Semtism, and an advocate for sexualizing underage girls on Reddit.

Not surprising was his reliance on Reddit's Anything Goes/Free Speech policies, seemingly using those policies to push boundaries Just Because He Could.  Notably, though, the Free Speech Advocate, like so many of them, didn't use his free speech and Internet posting privileges to disparage and celebrate the victimization of white people or men, as a class.

That lends credence to the argument that the real agenda of many Internet abusers isn't the exercise of free speech but, rather, the re-affirmation of a status quo that privileges people like themselves and aims to threaten, demean, and silence everyone else, particularly women. For, even white men likely feel very differently about their precious free speech rights when they, as a group, are maybe on the receiving end of loads of harassment and threats (see also, on Privilege and Fear).

Turns out the guy also had a close behind-the-scenes connection to Reddit administrators, and was himself a moderator.

I mean, what could go wrong, really?

Finally, at Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte notes:
"West is right; it’s time to stop thinking of trolls as idiots who are just seeking attention, and see them for what they are: Misogynists with a political agenda. These are men that absolutely do not want to live in a society where women are treated equally, and they are obsessed with silencing the women online whose writings they rightfully fear are going to help push society in a more feminist direction. They want to harass feminists into silence. If we keep this understanding front and center and discard useless theories about “attention-seeking” or “lulz”, we can begin to have a more productive conversation about what the hell to do about the problem."
Interestingly, the Internet abuser from Reddit noted that he liked to come home from work at night, lay in bed, and post stuff just to get people riled up.  His claim there, however, seemed both more benign than what he was actually doing and inconsistent with his other protestations about free speech and how he was just posting what, in his mind at least, "many people" really thought but can no longer say in our PC Gone Awry culture.

I've said before and I'll re-iterate, for all their talk of free speech values and inclusion, Anything Goes forums are their own hivemind, and they're a hivemind of intimidation, threats, and exclusion. The cultivation of Internet civility is difficult, taking much thought and actual resources.

For instance, Reddit is one of the largest sites on Internet and the company employs 28 people.  Yet according to the Chen article, Reddit relies on about 20,000 volunteers to moderate its forums. Businesses and entities with social media presences could start including moderation costs, or more of them, into their budget line items.

Of course, that might imply that civility is an important goal for social media presences, rather than recognition, page views, and ad revenue.

On Avoiding the Comments
Online Game Tries Tribunal to Increase Civility

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