Jay Allen presents a unified theory of internet assholes (essentially what I was grasping towards, but failed to reach, at the end of my TechCrunch article on neoreaction):
They want you to lift the veil pulled over your eyes by the progressives who secretly control society. Like Neo escaping the Matrix, your choice is to wake up and see how the world really is, discarding religion, subjectivity, and feminist indoctrination. Conspiracy theorists, Men’s Rights Activists, Pick-Up Artists, GamerGate, even the Neoreaction: all of these communities share a common creed, tech-fluent and superficially self-aware. To outsiders, it’s distinctly conservative. But they don’t see themselves as conservatives at all.
Welcome to the Red Pill worldview, where the entire world is a game and the people who are winning are the best players.
Another interesting phenomenon is the way these different but overlapping movements are trying to hijack, or at least capitalize upon, each other. For example, MRA guy Roosh Valizadeh starting a GamerGate themed website called Reaxxion.
Aaron Sankin comes to the dismal conclusion that GamerGate’s trolls are winning’ because they are successfully scaring women away from the game industry, and real journalists are even less likely to take games seriously as a beat, leaving the industry in the hands of what Tim Maly has called the enthusiast press (Remember, as many others has have pointed out, GamerGate not only isn’t about ethics in journalism, it’s actively hostile to honest journalism).
I don’t know really know what this and this are satirizing, but I found them funny anyway.
In local news: Oregon’s governor is corrupt and/or incompetent, but the Willamette Week makes a strong case that he’s still better than the alternative. Meanwhile, Rick Turoczy points out that Portland is becoming a marketing technology hub. Which makes sense since Webtrends is our one big tech startup success story (since SurveyMonkey moved away and Jive, which also moved, isn’t necessarily a success), and Wieden + Kennedy is a real anchor-company for the city. It also occurs to me that thinking of Portland as an ad agency town helps explain much of the city’s transformation over the past few years. Elsewhere, The Baffler editor John Summers said “When you’re in Portland and you don’t own your own house—if they’re bringing in tech people, you should just pack your bags.” And it’s not just tech bros coming. It’s ad tech bros. *shudder*
A lot of people like this piece where Quinn Norton tries to find some hope in a doomed world, but I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get through it. But maybe you’ll find some comfort there? If not, perhaps Drunk Jeff Goldblum will cheer you up:
I rewatched FunkyForest and it gets better with every viewing. It’s pure mad genius. No, it doesn’t make any more narrative sense on rewatching, but it starts to make its own sort of internal sense, the way the most absurd of dreams make sense while you’re dreaming them.
The article is also noteworthy because it revealed that Auernheimer was, by his own admission, behind a campaign to terrorize educator and game designer Kathy Sierra (previously).
Auernheimer went on to become the poster-boy for the over-prosecution of hackers both in the hacker community and tech press, and subsequently denied that he ever told Schwartz that he was behind the harassment of Sierra. This week she wrote a bit about what that felt like to watch close friends and respected journalists suddenly becoming very chummy with the person not only destroyed her career but made her fear for life, and why she doesn’t take Auernheimer’s denials seriously:
But the one thing I never expected was that after all these years, he’d suddenly deny it. Even more so, that reasonable, logical, intelligent people would actually believe this. He’d suddenly, after 6 years, claim that a world-class, international, Livingston-winner (“Pulitzer of the Young”) journalist would just somehow… come up with that. And that in six years it never occurred to weev, not once, to publicly deny it no matter how many times he was asked about it.
(Schwartz himself came into these conversations more than once over the past year to remind weev about their conversation, to confirm that yes, it happened exactly as he described in the 2008 feature. Not that it made a difference. After all, in weev vs. amazing writer with everything to lose by lying, who are you going with? Weev. They went with weev.)
(Note: she says she’s taking down her original post soon, but a copy can also be found here).
Elsewhere, ex-troll turned journalist Emmett Rensin wrote for Vox.com that trolling has changed, man. “But 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,” he writes. “When the punches went up, not down.”
I’m not sure that’s historically accurate though, given the malicious glee trolls of yore took in, say, hacking an epilepsy forum to place seizure inducing flashing images on the site.
So what is to be done? The usual response is “don’t feed the trolls,” which makes sense if you’re just talking about the occasional blog post, but today’s troll praxis is to flood someone’s Twitter mentions and inbox with threats, call their phones, send packages to their physical address, and use that address to order pizzas, taxis and, sometimes, to “swat” them. Swatting, for those who don’t know, is where you spoof a call from a particular number — your victim — to the police or 911 saying that you’re being held prisoner in your own home. A SWAT team then shows up, and if the victim is lucky, all that happens is that they get the shit scared out of them. But as Radley Balko has documented, SWAT teams often have a habit of shooting first and asking questions later, so there’s a real danger of the victim actually being killed by the police.
But yeah, you’re just supposed to ignore all that and hope the trolls move on to another victim.
OK, so what do we really do? I wish I had an answer. Some of it probably will be technical. Better security and what not. Some of it will need to be legal — actually putting people behind bars for pulling this crap. And some of it will necessarily be social — addressing what the hell actually makes people want to do this stuff in the first place.
And what exactly is that, anyway? It’s easy to do arm-chair psycho-analysis about the erosion of white privilege, holding power over others or finding acceptance in a peer group. But is that what’s really going on? And even if so, how do you solve the problem?
In an amazing (and probably triggering for racism, anti-semitism, and general harassment) blog post Leo Traynor wrote about meeting the person who had waged a three year harassment campaign against Traynor and his wife, sending the two of them threatening emails and Tweets, as well as packages in the mail. The perpetrator turned out to be the teenage son of of one of Traynor’s friends. Asked why he did it, the kid said “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was like a game thing.”
There’s clearly a huge social problem if a kid could ever think something like this would be just a bit of fun, but it points to a larger problem here, which is that kids have a tendency towards being assholes. Usually they grow out of it. But technology now enables kids to stalk, harass, and generally ruin the lives of strangers remotely, and semi-anonymously. In other words, the amount of damage a kid, or group of kids working together online, can do with seemingly little risk, at a remove from the consequences, is far greater than ever before. (Note: Traynor’s post mentions that the kid spent a lot of time on conspiracy sites, which suggests, at least to me, that there may have been more to the anti-semitic content of his messages than a “game thing,” so this could be more than just something he’d grow out of).
All of which is to say, I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but it’s something I want to look into more deeply. I’ve found a few academic papers on trolling, and hope to find more:
Remember the story about the blogger who received misogynistic death threats a couple weeks ago? Kos has chimed in with a post I hope he finds utterly embarrassing. He says “Most of the time, said ‘death threats’ don’t even exist — evidenced by the fact that the crying bloggers and journalists always fail to produce said “death threats.'” Actually, Kos, Kathy Sierra did provide the death threats.
“fuck off you boring slut… i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob”
“the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size.”
There were also Photoshopped images of her head in a noose, among other images which are no long available. Someone in the comments on her post described it:
In the pic she’s being gagged/suffocated like in a horror movie, and at first glance it looks like her head is being split open (before you see it’s panties–and I’m not the only one to do a double-take). Does that not look deeply wrong to you?
This is a bit different from “AIDS will be killing more and more of you liberals every year.” It’s personal, and someone took the time to create detailed Photoshopped images of her.
That said, I’m not sure a blogger code of conduct will solve these sorts of problems. But Kos should have gotten the facts straight before he started shooting his mouth about how Sierra was just a whiney blogger who needs to grow some thicker skin. To quote Adam Greenfield, “If you don’t get why even sophomoric Photoshoppings have to be taken seriously as same in the context of a continued campaign of harrassment and intimidation, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
Bloggers tend to talk a lot about thick skin, and to pride ourselves on it. But I think maybe we’ve kind of elevated this to a form of machismo – because you have to have a thick skin to deal with the legitimate critiques you face as a blogger, somehow it’s become A Thing that you also have to accept the illegitimate personal ones as well.
Celebrity, misogyny, machismo, the anonymity of online discourse. There are a lot of possible explanations for this crap, and probably each is relevant at certain moments. What do you think, not just about what explains it but about what to do about it? How much do we tolerate? When do we get to point the finger and say ‘this is not merely dislike of someone else but misogyny’?