The Internet is Broken: The Trolls

Back in the day on USENET, we had trolls, although they were relatively mild (for the most part—there are distinct exceptions, and you’ll get to meet one in the next installment). We also had a reasonably effective way of dealing with them: we sent them to alt.flame, USENET’s own little “basement”. It worked reasonably well, mostly through force of tradition and peer pressure; there were certainly no technical measures to enforce it, nor could you “throw someone off USENET”. It wasn’t a “site”, it was a distributed system of servers which synchronized with one another, and there was no notion of “membership”, you simply posted things to a group.

Mostly, trolling amounted to name-calling. Some of it was clever, some of it was dopey, but it was a rare case that ever went beyond that.

(And just to demonstrate how far South things have gone, a Google search on “alt.flame” turns up numerous references to something called “alt.flame.niggers”.)

Today, we hear—from folks like the denizens of ChanLand and its territories, like #GamerGate—that people who complain about online harassment are just “getting their jimmies rustled” over people “saying mean things on the Internet”.

Anyone who believes that needs a swat upside the head with a clue-by-four, and then to read this story, once they’ve regained consciousness. A cabal of anonymous trolls literally drove a man almost to suicide and terrorized his family in Virginia. If that’s not enough, read how Nazi harasser Andrew “weev” Auernheimer (in our “featured image”) drove Kathy Sierra off the web.

If you need more evidence of how out-of-control this can get, I strongly recommend Danielle Keats Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, which is a pretty chilling read—at least if you couldn’t have written a bunch of it yourself. Here’s a very partial extract of some of the harassment experienced by a grad student Citron refers to by the pseudonym “Anna Mayer”.

Over the next year, the attacks grew more gruesome and numerous. Sites appeared with names like “Anna Mayer’s Fat Ass Chronicles” and “Anna Mayer Keeps Ho’ing It Up”. Posts warned that “guys who might be thinking of nailing” her should know about her “untreated herpes”. A post said, “Just be DAMN SURE you put on TWO rubbers before ass raping Anna Mayer’s ST diseased pooper!” Posters claimed she had bipolar disorder and a criminal record for exposing herself in public. Racist comments she never made were attributed to her. Posts listed her professors email addresses, instructing readers to tell them about Mayer’s “sickening racist rants”. Someone set up a Twitter acount in Mayer’s name that claimed she fantasized about rape and rough sex. Hundreds of posts were devoted to attacking her.

I want you to keep this in mind, especially when we get to the next installment, which will go over my experiences having an online stalker for (so far) over a decade. You’re going to see some similarities.

However, I want to relate the specifics of why I’ve “gotten off” Twitter—actually my account is now protected, and I’m limiting the people who have access to it. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve got some strong opinions about GamerGate, and I haven’t been terribly shy about expressing them, forcefully. This has been going on for several months, but in the last few weeks, the response from GamerGate went from name-calling to actual harassment.

One form this harassment took was the posting of photographs of members of my family by a GamerGate-r, @rustBeltExpat. I reported them to Twitter, and learned a couple of things about how “seriously” Twitter takes harassment. First, it seems to have taken them about three days to get to dealing with my report; at least that’s how long it took to get a response on it. Second, I was informed that if the harassing user takes down obviously privacy-invading material before Twitter looks at it, it “doesn’t count” as harassment.

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Another form was the creation, and subsequent deletion—over a period of maybe ten or fifteen minutes apiece—of numerous new Twitter IDs impersonating various members of my family, again with photos. These were used to bring my attention to their existence by favoriting or retweeting various defamatory posts I was mentioned in. The bottom line here is that Twitter is a great deal less than serious about its commitment to dealing with harassment on its platform.

When I say “defamatory”, I’ve been accused of being a arsonist, a Satanist, a blackmailer, a “revenge pornographer”, an attempted murderer, and a pedophile. That’s fine, I don’t worry too much about stuff like that, particularly when the “evidence” is nothing but anonymous comments somewhere that link to other anonymous comments somewhere to provide a façade of “support” for the claims.

In spite of this apparently-lengthy criminal record, I’ve never heard from an actual representative of law enforcement on any of these very serious charges. Go figure.

When uninvolved third-parties who have absolutely no horse in the race get dragged into things to be used as a blunt object, that’s a strong sign that someone out there is valuing their viewpoint a little too highly. And since Twitter only offers lip service to its “concern” about its users being attacked (and attacked and attacked), this represents my “strategic retreat” to “higher ground”. We’ll see how things proceed.

In the interests of fairness and balance, I need to point out that trolling — at least of the milder, name-calling sort — is not limited to #GamerGate partisans. At around the same time this was all going on, I had gotten involved in the usual sort of heated #GamerGate discussion in which one of the other participants was #GamerGate critic Sarah Nyberg. It should be noted that Nyberg has herself been subjected to harassment by #GamerGate as well over the past six months, much of it in the form of accusations that she’s a “pedophile” and a “dog-fucker”. (In a similar vein, ggblocklist ccreator and OAPI executive director Randi Harper has been accused of selling her child for methamphetamine.)

Nyberg effectively issued me an order that I untag not her, but an unspecified “us”, from the conversation at one point. I pointed out to her that she wasn’t the boss of me, and that if she wanted something from me, she could ask nicely and say “please”. Her response to this was to block me and start tweeting about how I was “the archetype of a problematical male ally”, along with the help of about a half-dozen of her minions.

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Of course, #GamerGate happily picked this up, and has been broadcasting the news that the (actually non-existent) “aGG” — the monolithic block of “Social Justice Warriors” they’re crusading against — had “excommunicated” me.

No worries, I’ve been declared a heretic before by much more impressive groups.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about my own personal stalker, a fellow with more names than most people have housekeys and a very sad excuse for a human being who’s managed to be a pothole on the Information Highway for two decades now.

His given name is Jason Christopher Hughes.

This is the second of a series of articles; the previous installment is here.

UPDATE, 7/22/15: Apparently Twitter went back and took a closer look at @rustBeltExpat; the account has now been suspended for “abusive behavior”.

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