I think that this has to be one of the most commonly utilized terms online today, when it comes to persona’s associated with (mainly) malicious behavior directed at others. Another common term that one sees is cyber bully.
When it comes to both terms, they have their place. However, in recent times there has been an explosion in the misuse of both terminologies to describe situations in which they may not even be applicable.
One example is people taking any criticism (soft or harsh) about works they post openly online, and viewing it as a form of cyber bullying . Or those that use the label of “troll” to the describe the same people (those with a differing or critical opinion).
When it comes to cyber bullying, the definition is simply the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature . That is straight forward.
However, some definitions of the word have the act of harassing someone online by sending or posting mean messages .
When it comes to that definition, I am less agreeable. It reeks of political correctness (like so many other things based in political correctness, you right away run into the problem of ambiguity. What constitutes a “mean” message?). In fact, this definition could theoretically qualify many of the posts on this very blog as “cyber bullying”.
When writing entries of a critical nature, I try to stick to general groups or ideologies, as opposed to focusing on any one individual (ex. mainstream Atheism or fundamentalist Islam). And if I do name names in an entry, its less an attack then it is a criticism on the part of some action, position or something else directly related to the person in question. Rather then attack those I disagree with using ad hominem, its more constructive to provide reasons. Here is an example of a person that may just be prone to making this mistake, due to their absolute loyalty to their chosen ideology (in this case, Islam).
It all boils down to offensiveness. If one is of the view that being offended constitutes a personal attack, then this definition of cyber bullying becomes problematic.
Personal attacks are offensive. But not all that we interpret as “offensive” is a personal attack.
When it comes to the word “troll”, things get a little murkier. Well, the original dictionary definition is still the same.
In fact, as it turns out, there is far more to the term Troll then just that ugly thing under the bridge, and these guys.
When it comes to the term troll as applicable to those online, it seems that, the definition is different depending on the person, or the platform. Which does make sense.
Most people online stick to a selected few platforms, and in groups within those said platforms. And the features of those various platforms may present different problems and vulnerabilities for shit disturbers to utilize.
For example, people that frequent only Facebook and Twitter, will likely mold their idea of what a “troll” is based on what they observe on those platforms. People of WordPress and other blogging communities, will also have a different example. As will those running forums, gaming servers, or any number of other platforms.
And the differing communities present on those platforms will also further skew the definition. For example, an Atheist likely has a differing view of what a troll is compared to a Christian. And a Feminist likely has varying perceptions of what a troll is compared to, those like me.
But despite that, the accepted blanket terminology tends to be “One who’s only agenda in a conversation or thread is provocation and disruption”. I could likley add a number of other sub-categories and terms under this one, such as a Poe (one who acts in an extremist manor, in parody of someone who takes that portrayed viewpoint seriously). But I won’t, since all that one needs to know is that trolls are trouble makers.
For full disclosure, I used to get some kicks out of trolling Christian facebook groups back in the day. It was mostly in good fun, simple things like pretending to be a poe (terribly) and otherwise being a troublemaker. Sometime later I turned into a principled thorn in the side of some “hate” groups (mainly anti-LGBT type ones) and adopted a method of burying their forums and walls with gibberish.
Though at the time it served to blow off a lot of steam, its not something I am proud of now. I am on the fence when it comes to the concept of pure and absolute free speech, but this still amounted to a form of outside censorship of a differing opinion. Its something that I would not have wanted to happen in one of my frequented groups (or here), so its something that should not have been done.
At the time it was a form of revenge for a perceived sense of being censored. But at the time, I also failed to accept each different group as being akin to a household (well, an apartment).
Free speech (or some form of it) is the law of the 1st world. Even so however, owners of private property have some say on what goes on within those properties. You may have the RIGHT overall to be a white supremacist, but a business or other private property owner also has the right to remove you from the their premises if your vocalization of these views is bothersome.
In the same way, when you are online in an area under your control (be it a facebook group or otherwise), this equates to your home, or a group area of people involved. I have freedom of speech rights, but the group members also have said rights. As such, even if my views are not all that offensive to anyone (but the group members), they can remove me.
In the grand scheme of things, such group admins are equivalent to just tenants of an apartment, since the portal in which their group is hosted is the landlord and has final say.
While my previous online exploits were fun and connected me to many people that I still communicate with today, I am not proud of some of my more spammy behavior. It was uncalled for, and realistically, not all that helpful to the case that I at the time was representing (Atheism).
So, there you have it readers. My admission of guilt, of sorts. I tend to be very critical of the actions of many in the Atheist community, so its only fair that my dirty laundry is also out there. You learn from your past mistakes.
But moving on, when it comes to “trolling”, I think that the term has evolved lately to include a great many behaviors that just, should not be included. For the record, I did not/do not consider spaming a form of trolling. I am unsure of what category that would fit under, but its not really trolling.
Though troll tends to be a catch-all term for all bad behavior in the digital world (particularly in all areas of the media), I think that this is often a misuse of the term. To be fair, “an online shit disturber” is also a misuse of the original term, but this new “catch all” usage seems incorrect to me.
Trolling has always (to me) been about looking for reactions by way of being provocative. For example, “I LOVE EATING BABIES!!” is quite a provocative statement in the right setting, but its really a harmless statement. Its not if by chance the statement happens to be true. But thats a whole other can of worms.
Though trolls can be annoying and disruptive, I would not go as far as to calling the actions harmful (usually). However, it seems that recently actions like making threats, doxxing and other attacks towards people have been labeled as “troll” behavior. And I don’t really agree with that.
Keep in mind that I am not really defending trolls here. It be nice if everyone participated constructively in collective conversation, but unfortunately that is not the world we live in. Certainly not these days, with the short attention span and hyped up nature of many youngsters these days.
However, making ANY threats against someone is cyber bullying, as is doxxing. If I were to call these kind of people something, it would be a bully or a harasser.
These days its hard to cover this topic without acknowledging #GamerGate and the shit show that has ensued since. Though I have just been keeping a passive eye on this movement (being not a real fan of video games), it has been in my radar for some time due to many issues that have come up with (and on account to) the movement.
For those on the sidelines, a quick overview. It seems to have started when a game developer was caught sleeping with the gaming reporter that was to do a review of one of her games. This later lead to the exposure of corruption and ethical violations within the gaming journalism community, and also spurred on a movement focused on removing sexism and misogyny from all levels within the gaming community (from developer to gamer).
First off all, if I got ANY of that wrong, my apologies. I am going by what I have picked up from a variety of sources in the last several months. Most of the information available on #GamerGate tends to be from extremely biased prospectives, so its a bit difficult to form an objective opinion.
For example, I have seen some on the feminist side claim that the initial Zoe Quinn sex scandal story was false and a product of the misogynist gaming culture. Yet I have seen others (namely Sargon of Akkad) acknowledge the situation in a factual manor.
When it comes to credibility, I like Sargon. Though he at times strikes me as being sexist himself, he seems to take his fairly well known position (and its ability to distribute information) seriously. Though it is communicated though his ideological lens, information involving fact seems correct, which is what is important.
Opinions and such slants are unavoidable, so such disagreements are not what affects my judgment of a source. What is more important is how the source deals with fact. Particularly inconvenient facts (those that are potentially contrary to their argument, or what they stand for).
Though many may not be all that familiar with the origins of #GamerGate, most have heard about the movement from the feminist point of view. This being the case since this was the only narrative that the vast majority of the media (both mainstream and alternative) covered.
Though much of the narrative came across as uniquely first world feminism from my prospective, even I acknowledge that there is merit for some of the problems noted. Though I would be more inclined to pin many of these so called sexist elements on demographic factors then systemic misogyny (the majority of gamers tend to be male), an argument can be made none the less.
However, that argument can get lost if you find yourself viewing life though an offended lens and as such start reading misogyny even where none really exists. For example, having a character with big boobs does not automatically equate to misogyny. If anything, it just means that developers know that much of their target market will not mind seeing an animated figure with larger then average mammary glands.
One further erodes their own argument if they “demonstrate” rampant misogyny in a given game, when that behavior is not even a goal of playing that game (nor even rewarded).
Anita Sarkeesian got a fair amount of blow back from many in the gaming community on account to her doing just that with the game Hitman Absolute. In a situation involving a strip club, she portrayed the “goal” of the level (?) as being to kill some guards and strippers, then hide their bodies in some sort of chest. When in reality, you do not have to kill the strippers. In fact, such a move is counterproductive to the “goal” of the level (and game) since your penalized for killing innocent people.
Yes, the option is there so slay them all. But most gamers would likely not bother, being more interested in moving on to the next objective.
I veered somewhat away from my original post, but as always, it all comes together.
While self proclaimed pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian and other well known social justice warriors of the gaming community are well known for their efforts in fighting sexism in gaming, they are also quite well known due to their status as permanent victims of online abuse and sexism.
Due to the nature of their work, they do tend to attract a lot of hate from critics. The worst of which are death threats and other forms of harassment.
While I do not doubt that Anita and others are the victims of such vitriol, I have to level criticisms in how they handle this abuse. Namely, in the way they blow the abuse WAY out of proportion, in terms of just the volume.
With twitter alone, the accounts that could be considered “harassing” have been found to be numerous. But not nearly as numerous as the passive critics, those just voicing often warranted notes of disagreement to information she presents as fact.
And while the idea of getting a death threat would indeed be scary, this is something that has been shown to (unfortunately) not be uncommon for pretty much any well known personality (celebrity or otherwise). Its a product of the anonymity of the internet coupled with free speech laws.
This is part of the reason why the anything goes free speech philosophy is flawed (do you really NEED the right to harass or threaten someone?).
While I imagine that pretty much everyone would agree that these harassing and threatening behaviors are unacceptable, its also not right to portray yourself as a specially targeted victim just because of your given background.
Particularly when the sympathy factor often ends in much monetary reward though donations.
While on this subject, it should be noted that some of the SJW’s that claim much harassment have also brought it on to some critics of their views.
An innocent enough looking tweet to Anita’s many followers. That is, minus the assholes that decide to take the tweet as an invitation to give even more focus to all 4 personalities (top left MrRepzion, bottom left Thunderf00t, bottom right Alpha Omega Sin, unsure about top left).
Then there was an incident that happened to a podcast I view fairly frequently, The Drunken Peasants. One of the 3 (Ben) was out somewhere, and so happened to be in a business that Anita Sarkeesian walked into. Being as surprised as any of us at the coincidence, he discretely photographed her over his shoulder and tweeted it.
I am not sure that I would have done that (photographed her), being it seems a bit invasive. But none the less, it was not NEARLY worth all the vitriol aimed at all 3 podcast members after Anita made light of the tweet to her twitter followers. Even the other 2 (non-present at the time!) podcast members were attacked as if they were right there with Ben.
And the funniest accusation, was that the DP podcast did it to “profit” from the image. No. It was just something interesting for the fans.
The only person that “profited” from the situation was Anita herself, playing up the victim card.
That may come across as unobjective. Its a fair accusation, given my bias.
However, one very prominent case of feminism based cyber bullying and harassment, is the so called #ShirtStrom situation that engulfed Dr Matt Taylor after an interview in which he wore a “risque” shirt. He was a part of a team that managed to land a spacecraft on a comet moving at an incredible rate of speed.
Though the achievement was a first for humankind, it ended up being overshadowed by his chosen attire.
Fanatical feminists the world over freaked out, shocked and offended by the off color attire chosen by Matt. Judging by the mass reaction, many obviously viewed Matt as a man blatantly showcasing his patriarchal position in the world.
Even though in reality, the T-shirt was a gift from a female friend of his, and the choice to wear it at such a high profile event was for the purpose of exposure of her work, not misogynistic intent (willful or not). None the less, this seemingly innocent act put him at the brunt of such a viscous digital onslaught that he was later forced to bow to his oppressors, by issuing a tearful apology.
One of the more idiotic reactions I seen to this situation was a writer claiming that this scandal overshadows the achievement itself. Uh, yeah. That is how it turned out in the media thanks to you stupid prudish fucks.
But overall, no. If there is any silver lining to this situation, it will be that it brought the nasty and ugly side of digital feminism right into the limelight for all to see. It was not nasty MRA’s or asshole privileged males that caused Dr Taylor to suffer though WAY more abuse then usually triggers PTSD in some feminists.
This firestorm of abuse, was from the feminist side. And its a great example of why the egalitarians NEED to be louder. Need to not allow this nutty fringe to be the face of their cause.
When it comes to harassment and threats online, I think its time that we quite playing down the activities by simply labeling it as “trolling”. If you want to label these people something, how about assholes or douche bags.
Harassment does not have a place in constructive conversation.