“Internet eugenics.”


The Trolls Among Us is an article about Internet trolls. Whose actions descend into the unethical and illegal more often than you might realize if you’ve never been the target of the more serious stuff these people engage in.

Weev, the troll who thought hacking the epilepsy site was immoral, is legendary among trolls. He is said to have jammed the cellphones of daughters of C.E.O.’s and demanded ransom from their fathers; he is also said to have trashed his enemies’ credit ratings. Better documented are his repeated assaults on LiveJournal, an online diary site where he himself maintains a personal blog. Working with a group of fellow hackers and trolls, he once obtained access to thousands of user accounts.

I first met Weev in an online chat room that I visited while staying at Fortuny’s house. “I hack, I ruin, I make piles of money,” he boasted. “I make people afraid for their lives.” On the phone that night, Weev displayed a misanthropy far harsher than Fortuny’s. “Trolling is basically Internet eugenics,” he said, his voice pitching up like a jet engine on the runway. “I want everyone off the Internet. Bloggers are filth. They need to be destroyed. Blogging gives the illusion of participation to a bunch of retards. . . . We need to put these people in the oven!”

What interests me about that quote is not that he spews forth the usual hate speech that trolls are famous for. It’s the extent he’s gone to harm other people for his own gain and amusement, far more than most people realize when dealing with the assorted insult-fests online:

Over a candlelit dinner of tuna sashimi, Weev asked if I would attribute his comments to Memphis Two, the handle he used to troll Kathy Sierra, a blogger. Inspired by her touchy response to online commenters, Weev said he “dropped docs” on Sierra, posting a fabricated narrative of her career alongside her real Social Security number and address. This was part of a larger trolling campaign against Sierra, one that culminated in death threats. Weev says he has access to hundreds of thousands of Social Security numbers. About a month later, he sent me mine.

Trolls have also done things like go onto epilepsy forums and post rapidly-flashing images. Which Weev claimed to be uncertain about the morality of. (But supporting genocide, disability hate speech, libel, hacking, extortion, and who knows what else? No problem.)

Some other interesting quotes from the article:

Is the effort to control what’s said always a form of censorship, or might certain rules be compatible with our notions of free speech?

One promising answer comes from the computer scientist Jon Postel, now known as “god of the Internet” for the influence he exercised over the emerging network. In 1981, he formulated what’s known as Postel’s Law: “Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.”
[….] The human equivalent of this robustness is a combination of eloquence and tolerance — the spirit of good conversation. Trolls embody the opposite principle. They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they construe as acceptable behavior from others. You, the troll says, are not worthy of my understanding; I, therefore, will do everything I can to confound you.

For what it’s worth, I do believe that rules are compatible with free speech. In my country, even the people who built freedom of speech into our highest set of laws believed that. I’m never too comfortable (in fact, I’m highly uncomfortable) with an absolutely rigid set of rules, because ethics can change drastically based on the situation and the rules can never be written in as detailed a way as to account for all situations. So maybe I’d say that limits are compatible with free speech, and I have no ethical problem at all with limiting what people can post here.

Such limits aren’t censorship (I don’t even control their ability to post anywhere else). In fact, I don’t think that there would be a whole lot of free speech on here if I allowed in every sociopath who tries to come on here and mess with people’s minds enough to scare them off. There’s an implicit threat in that kind of behavior, and that threat prevents people from speaking their minds. I also moderate posting to protect innocent posters from such people — people who post overly personal details about themselves or other people, such as telephone numbers and other such information, I’ll edit out, or else (if the thing seems to be written to me like a personal email to me) reply in email and delete the whole thing. Usually I note that I’ve edited it. One time a long-time poster tried to unknowingly point a stalker to information about their victim that I knew would be misused, and I sent him a long apologetic email in private and deleted his comment.

Basically, it goes back to what my school principal told the class during an assembly one day: “Often when children are sent to my office they say, ‘Well it’s a free country.’ And I say ‘Yeah it’s a free country, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to punch him in the face.'” Except that, apparently unlike my principal, I have no illusions about the USA being a free country (or the entirety of the Internet — it amazes me how many people talk about the “first Amendment rights” of Internet users in general, without apparently realizing that not all of the Internet is in the USA). Most people who’ve been on the wrong end of oppression in this country know that, and it’s even penetrating into the minds of the mostly-privileged lately. But that’s a whole different tangent.

I also don’t (anymore) allow people to come here and post the overused arguments designed to shut down attempts by disabled people to advocate for our rights. I’ve given a summary by Jim Sinclair of those arguments in my about page, and I’ll put it here as well. It’s from xyr History of ANI. After xe describes an attempt by some members of the Autism Society of America to spread false rumors about xyr not being autistic (even though some people on the ASA board had seen Jim’s records and testified under oath that xe was autistic), and even to attempt to interfere in xyr friendships with other autistic people, and notes that Donna Williams was getting the same kind of slander campaigns and harassment after her book was published, xe writes:

Only several years later, while researching the history of self-advocacy by disabled people (Sinclair, 1996), did I learn of the long history of similar opposition to attempts at self-advocacy and self-determination by people with a variety of disabilities (Kugelmass, 1951; Putnam, 1979; Williams & Shoultz, 1982; Van Cleve & Crouch, 1989; Lane, 1992; Shapiro, 1993; Christiansen & Barnartt, 1995; Dybwad & Bersani, 1996; Kennedy, 1996). Any attempt by a group of disempowered people to challenge the status quo–to dispute the presumption of their incompetence, to redefine themselves as equals of the empowered class, to assert independence and self-determination–has been met by remarkably similar efforts to discredit them. The discrediting tactics used most frequently are:

1) If at all possible, to deny that the persons mounting the challenge are really members of the group to which they claim membership. This tactic has been used against disability activists with learning disabilities and psychiatric disabilities as well as against autistic people. As people with these disabilities often look “normal” and the disabilities are all defined in terms of behavior rather than empirically measurable physical differences, many of us have been told that the very fact that we are able to express ourselves, object to the ways our freedom has been restricted or our rights violated, and demand change proves that we cannot truly be autistic, or learning disabled, or psychiatrically impaired.

2) If there is incontrovertible evidence that the activists are members of the affected group, to aver that they are rare exceptions who are so unlike typical members of the affected group that what they have to say is irrelevant to the group as a whole. Michael Kennedy, who obviously and indisputably has cerebral palsy, explains the destructive impact of this tactic:

When people tell me that I am “higher functioning” than the people they are talking about, I feel like they are telling me that I don’t have anything in common with other people with disabilities. It’s like they are putting me in a whole different category and saying that I don’t have any right to speak. It upsets me because I take it that they don’t want to give anyone else the opportunities I have been given, and that what I say can be ignored because they see me as more capable. It is a way of dividing us and putting down those who have more severe disabilities or who haven’t had the opportunities to experience different situations in life. (Kennedy, 1996)

3) If it is not possible to deny that the activists are authentic representatives of the affected group, to appeal to the very prejudices and stereotypes the activists are seeking to overturn, and use those prejudices and stereotypes to claim that the activists are incapable of fully understanding their situations and knowing what is best for them. Often this approach incorporates the belief that disabled people need to have their freedom restricted for their own good, to protect them from coming to harm through their inability to act in their own best interests.

These strategies to undermine credibility are not new, nor are they limited to situations involving disability. Frederick Douglass was a nineteenth-century African American who escaped from slavery in 1838 and became a well-known abolitionist writer and speaker. In his 1855 autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom, he recalled that at the beginning of his career speaking to white audiences about the evils of slavery, he was presented as something of a curiosity. Most anti-slavery lecturers where white; lecturers who were themselves fugitive slaves were a rarity. As the novelty wore off, people began to doubt that he had ever been a slave. He was suspected of being an impostor because he was too educated and too well-spoken to fit prevailing stereotypes about the ignorance of slaves. He also expressed frustration with white abolitionists’ demand that he confine his speeches to simply recounting his personal experiences of slavery, and allow white people to elaborate on what they meant: “Give us the facts, we will take care of the philosophy.” Eventually Douglass stopped working for white abolitionists and started his own anti-slavery publication.

So I won’t allow those tactics on here, provided that I notice them. And I offer no guarantees of perfection in noticing them. (Someone once noted in comments that some of my earlier posts and comments to them violated my current policy, and that’s correct. I don’t always go back and modify things, and even when I do, I can’t catch everything. I’m also human and therefore not remotely immune to the problem of sometimes being unable to live up to my own standards, and unable to notice this about myself.)

I also (although this is trickier because things can be subtle) have an anti-gossip policy and try to take that pretty seriously. As Laura Tisoncik noted, “Gossip is the enemy of all communities.” Same caveats apply though from the previous paragraph.

Even though that’s all quite an extensive list of things I don’t tend to allow, there are more things I do allow than things I don’t. I don’t post things from people who are trolling or engaging in other predatory activities online, but those tend to come in clumps and most of the time there’s almost nothing to delete. Then for a week there’ll be a ton of it, then nothing. I have only had to use the anti-gossip policy and the thing about disallowing tactics that shut down self-advocacy discussions, on a handful of occasions. The vast majority of the things I delete are when people unintentionally post private information such as phone numbers and street addresses. That’s unless you count spam.

I do allow disagreement, and not just calm disagreement but most angry disagreements too. I don’t see anything wrong with disagreement within certain limits. (I’m obviously not going to post something where someone’s saying that nobody here is autistic enough to involve ourselves in autistic self-advocacy.) I don’t see anything wrong with people being pissed off at me. Sometimes if people don’t yell at me I don’t know I’m doing anything wrong. I can sometimes get defensive and irritated in response (some of my friends might say that’s an understatement at times), but that’s my problem, not theirs. Frankly I get much less nervous around people who are willing to call me on stuff, than people who act like I can do no wrong. With the second group of people I always wonder what’s going to happen when the pedestal drops, and what would happen to my ego if I acted like these people were accurate in their assessment of me.

And if your post doesn’t show up — most of the time that means it’s fallen into my spamtrap, which gets overzealous. My spamtrap also likes some people more than others for some reason, as Andrea Shettle knows way too well by now. I try to search through it for people’s stuff, but it gets eaten a lot. One time there was some minor drama because someone who was pissed off at me already (see previous paragraph) thought I’d deleted his posts because of that, but it turned out they were in my spamtrap all along.

Anyway, basically… there are predators online ranging from people who engage in mild bullying to people who try to systematically destroy people either mentally or physically, and I’m not going to decide in the name of free speech to give them a space to comment here. I think such people do more to stifle free speech than to promote it, and I no more allow them on my blog than I would allow them in my front door.

Which might explain why they instead periodically hack into our server.

Back to the article:

Fortuny calls himself “a normal person who does insane things on the Internet,” and the scene at dinner later on the first day we spent together was exceedingly normal, with Fortuny, his roommate Charles and his longtime friend Zach trading stories at a sushi restaurant nearby over sake and happy-hour gyoza.

I wouldn’t call the things he does insane. I would call them cruel. Cruelty is in many ways normal, and often tolerated or even encouraged. And people who get labeled insane are no more likely to be cruel than anyone else, but are far more likely to be the victims of cruelty. But the wonders of ableism make ‘insanity’ a synonym for cruelty, and ‘retard’ the ultimate in dehumanization and the ultimate excuse for talk about eugenics and genocide.

Plus, even most sociopaths (who I don’t consider ‘insane’, but I do consider very very cruel) are said to look normal, even charming. Not all do, but many do. I’m not saying all trolls are sociopaths, but their behavior can be identical, even if they’re just ‘normal’ people spurred on by some unholy union between the dehumanization of the Internet, the dynamics of groupthink, and societies that more or less encourage cruel people to flourish. (And unlike a lot of people, I don’t consider ‘sociopath’ a medical category, just a convenient and recognizable word for people who are consistently and alarmingly unfettered by conscience.)

I’ve seen the websites (ones not even mentioned in the article) of organized trolls before, and they read just like a horrible playground conversation. These people create sites that openly state their intent is to mock people and to laugh about it. And as evidenced by the conversations in the newspaper article, they don’t care what damage they do to their victims. Some of them rationalize it, others are just happily and unashamedly nasty.

But not all trolls are open about it. Many attempt to appear earnest, even creating entire false personas to drag people in emotionally, either to obtain private information for harassment or blackmail purposes, or to convince naive people to defend them in arguments. Others don’t find that worth the hassle and create sockpuppets instead.

What’s alarming are the things they use (if anything) to justify their behavior:

As Fortuny picked up his cat and settled into an Eames-style chair, I asked whether trolling hurt people. “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, God, please forgive me!’ so someone can feel better,” Fortuny said, his calm voice momentarily rising. The cat lay purring in his lap. “Am I the bad guy? Am I the big horrible person who shattered someone’s life with some information? No! This is life. Welcome to life. Everyone goes through it. I’ve been through horrible stuff, too.”


[someone said that trolling the epilepsy forum with flashing lights was crossing a line]

Fortuny disagreed. In his mind, subjecting epileptic users to flashing lights was justified. “Hacks like this tell you to watch out by hitting you with a baseball bat,” he told me. “Demonstrating these kinds of exploits is usually the only way to get them fixed.”

“So the message is ‘buy a helmet,’ and the medium is a bat to the head?” I asked.

“No, it’s like a pitcher telling a batter to put on his helmet by beaning him from the mound. If you have this disease and you’re on the Internet, you need to take precautions.” A few days later, he wrote and posted a guide to safe Web surfing for epileptics.


The willingness of trolling “victims” to be hurt by words, he argued, makes them complicit, and trolling will end as soon as we all get over it.

These are the same excuses used by people who fail to do anything about bullying in schools, and the same excuses used by many child abusers towards their victims: It’ll toughen them up enough to be prepared for life’s cruelties.

But they’re BS excuses. Just because the world is a cruel place doesn’t mean you have to be. The answer to cruelty isn’t more cruelty. I’ve been to hell and back, and I’ve learned from those who are or were cruel to me, but I’ve learned even more from those who taught me how to deal with cruel situations than those who caused the cruel situations in the first place. (Of course, nobody is black and white, and in a couple cases people who were cruel to me at one point are still people I’m on good terms with. But they’re also not cruel anymore.)

I wrote a song several years ago to people stuck in that mentality. I’ve posted it before but it bears repeating.

They say life on a battlefield
Is sink or swim
And only the strong survive

And those of us who survived
We survived
And we say to the next
As they’re standing in line
“We’ve done our time,
now it’s your turn”

We learned our lesson too well
We’ve taken our hell and passed it on
“It will make you strong,”
We say as we turn away

How easy is it to forget
The ones who walked with us, talked with us
The ones we fought alongside
They didn’t survive, they fell

They were as strong as we
But we can’t see this to be so
For it would show how little power
We had in the hour that they died

And we honor our fallen comrades
With a rousing inspirational speech
“You are our successors,” we say
“And there’s no room to be weak
Because life on a battlefield
Is sink or swim
And only the strong survive”

And those of us who survived
We survived
And we say to the next
As they’re standing in line
“We’ve done our time
Now it’s your turn”

We’ve learned our lesson too well
We’ve taken our hell
And passed it on
“It will make you strong,”
We say as we turn away

And how easy it is to forget
The ones who walked with us, talked with us
The ones we fought alongside
They didn’t survive, they fell
Consumed by the hell
We recreate
In the name of memory

Or in other words:

The problem with sink-or-swim approaches is that some people sink. And it would completely dishonor the memories of people who have died as a result of cruelty, to perpetuate the very same cruelty that killed them. To claim it makes people strong makes it sound as if these people didn’t exist, or were weaker than people who survived, even if it’s only luck that determined some people’s survival over others. And I refuse to participate in, or glorify, practices that can and do ultimately kill people and then degrade even their memories. Like so-called “Internet eugenics”.

And like they said earlier in the article — it’s the opposite of a properly-functioning society. They want the leeway to do anything they want, but give others no leeway at all. No matter how much they dress it up, there’s no ethical justification for that, and I suspect they know it.

Edited to add: I just remembered something I hadn’t thought about for a long time.

When I was nineteen I had a different autism site. I was also at that age very vulnerable, and very bad at hiding my vulnerability. (Which is one among several reasons I eventually took it down, another being that I wasn’t at the time satisfied that half the stuff I was posting was really stuff I thought, or just more attempts to conform to a pattern I thought I ought to conform to.) The stuff from it I continued to think might be useful (whether I continued to fully agree with it or not), I moved to the autistics.org library.

Anyway, I started getting these weird emails. One of them gave me detailed instructions for killing myself, and said that if I didn’t do it they’d finish the job for me. My family was alarmed and contacted the FBI. But back then there wasn’t even a pretence of caring about cyberharassment, and my parents were just told that if it was online it wasn’t a problem. (Unfortunately, by now the world has learned differently from experience.)

Eventually the problem was found out, can’t remember if it was by me or by someone else — my website address had been posted to a trolling site. The section about changeling mythology, Otherkin (a community of people who either believe themselves to be non-human or roleplay themselves to be non-human, depending), and my own longstanding connection to and interest in those topics (especially the idea of being an elf), had been pointed out in particular.

There was a lot of undisguised mockery in the ensuing discussion, to be sure. But my main reason for editing this post to add this to it, is one of the comments that was given on that site, the one I to this day find the most indefensible and the most descriptive of the fact that many trolls know exactly what they are doing. It read something like the following:

“She looks vulnerable. Let’s go mess with her mind.”

About Mel Baggs

I am a highly sensing person. I am a child of earth and water, I was born into a redwood forest and I left the forest but it never left me. I'm 34 as I wrote this. If I had an alignment like in role-playing games and MUDs, I'd be chaotic good all the way: I don't think it's possible to fill ethics into a moral code, the world is far too complex for that. I let the world be complex and chaotic and try to respond situation by situation from a small number of principles of right and wrong. My responses may seem to contradict each other, but that will be because either the situation has changed, or I have changed. I am a poet who is trying to practice more every day, hence the poetry blog. I am a cat lover and live with a wonderful elderly cat. I am a painter when I have the time, energy, and resources. I have multiple cognitive, physical, developmental, and psychiatric disabilities, and my health is not usually stable. Put all together, I'd be considered severely disabled. I get a lot of assistance throughout the day. I am a real living cyborg, part human part machine: I have a GJ feeding tube to feed me through one tube and drain my stomach through the other,, an InterStim implant for urinary retention, and a port (a permanent central IV line). I love life. I think Love (not the sentimental emotion, but the property of the world) is the most important thing that human beings can offer each other. Being near death enough times has taught me that, and has also taught me that I have no time for bullies or pettiness. I'm involved in disabilty rights and other causes that people these days would call 'social justice', but I don't consider myself part of the 'SJ community' or the 'anti-SJ community' because of that thing I said about pettiness -- they're more about one-upmanship than fixing the world. I wish they had not taken over the words 'social justice', which used to mean something else. I love talking to just ordinary people about fixing the world, they have far more realistic ideas and more likelihood of putting them into practice. I'm a Hufflepuff to the core, with some Gryffindor tendencies and even a little bit of Ravenclaw. I admire some Slytherins but I don't have much ambition or cunning at all. I still think the Slytherin common room is second best, with Hufflepuff coming first. My favorite color is brown, especially when combined with a bit of yellow or blue. My favorite music is country, and my favorite country artists are Kathy Mattea, Lacy J. Dalton, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn. I don't like most new country but i occasionally hear something on the radio I like. At an early age, my family listened to country almost exclusively to the point where I thought all the different types of country were all the different types of music! I couldn't put Lacy J. Dalton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson in the same category. Although now that I've grown up I can hear that they are all country, but as a kid my ear was trained more for minute differences in country styles, than for recognizing country from other types of music. Country isn't all I like. Some other bands and artists I like: The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Rasputina, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Rich Mullins (I'm not Christian but some Christian music is amazing), ), The Raventones/T.R. Kelley, Planet P Project/Tony Carey, Sinead Lohan, Donna Williams, Suzanne Vega, Phideaux, and Jethro Tull, to name a few. I love the Cocteau Twins in particular because they are everything being sensing is about: Words are chosen for their sound, not their meaning, the voice becomes yet another instrument rather than a conveyor of words, raw emotion pours out of them, there are layers upon layers, and they were around for long enough there's lots of their music in a variety of different styles -- including their later stuff where the words have more meaning than just sounds. Each period in their music has its benefits and drawbacks but I love them all, or nearly so. Their music comes as close as any music can come to conveying how I experience the world, as what Donna Williams calls 'pattern, form, and feel'. And Elizabeth Fraser has a beautiful voice, I once had a teenage crush on her. As I type this, I have a cat sitting on my shoulder, cheek to cheek with me, peering around and occasionally rubbing me. My relationship to her goes back 15 years to when she was six months old, and we've rarely been parted since. It's been an honor to watch her grow into a wise but crotchety old lady cat. She knows she's technically older than me and tells me so sometimes, especially during arguments. She has trouble with the fact that there are parts of the human world I know better than she does. She sees me as her big, dumb kitten who needs protecting, and is beside herself with worry if I end up in the hospital (which seems to happen frequently these days). I don't experience myself as having a gender identity, I call it being genderless. You'll sometimes see the pronouns sie and hir in my work, they are gender-neutral pronouns pronounced 'see' and 'hear'. I was raised female, which gives me both disadvantages (outside the trans community) and advantages (inside the trans community). You don't have to remember my pronouns, lots of people have trouble with gender-neutral pronouns. I won't be upset with you. People make mistakes, and some people just can't get the hang of new words, and that's okay. I have vocabulary problems myself (mostly comprehension), I'm not going to penalize other people for having vocabulary problems of their own. Right now my father is dying of cancer that's metastatized so many places they can't figure out where it started, my mother has severe myasthenia gravis that can land her in the ICU (and she's my father's primary caretaker), my "second mother" (who took over when I grew up and my family didn't know how to prepare me for the world) has endometrial cancer, and my cat is getting old. All of this is bringing death to the forefront of my mind and my poetry. In fact I think I've been able to write more poetry because of all the feelings about so many people dying or with precarious health. It was easier to handle when it was me that was going to die (averted by diagnosis and treatment of severe adrenal insufficiency that'd been going on for years). It's harder when it's someone else, someone you love. My other hobby is crocheting, and a lot of the time if I'm not writing, it'll be hard to find me without a crochet hook or occasional knitting needles in my hands. I love to be able to make things. I have been making hats and scarves with spare yarn (which I have a lot of), and putting them in City Hall Park wrapped in plastic, with notes saying "If you're cold, take this." I know what it's like to be cold in the winter, and if anyone takes them and stays warm I'd be overjoyed. You may have noticed I'm long-winded. This is actually the result of a language disability that makes it difficult for me to leave out details, to see two almost-identical things as perhaps something that doesn't need repeating, and to summarize or condense down my writing. I know this is a flaw in my writing, and it even prevents me from reading it sometimes, but I've found no solutions. Sometimes on my longer posts I'll put a "TL;DR" ("too long; didn''t read") summary at the end in bold letters for people to skip down to.. But even those don't feel adequate, even when I can do theme, which is not always. I think I'm getting better though. Learning haiku and other short poetry forms helps me condense my words better. Anyway, I hope that gives you enough idea of who I am. At my most basic, I care about Love more than anything (whenever I come near enough to death, I feel like I get asked the question "Did you Love, and did you express that Love properly?"), but like everyone I get sidetracked into things that are much less important. I try to make my writing an expression of Love. Sometimes I succeed.

31 responses »

  1. Even if there wasn’t anybody harmed by it – I still have a hard time imagining the person who would enjoy this behavior, and go out of the way for it. Then again, I’ve met such people often enough, though mostly off-line.

  2. I have a hard time imagining what’s going through their heads as they do it.

    And on the Internet they seem emboldened in ways that while I’ve seen offline, I’ve seen them more blatant online.

    Such as, just the frankness of it all. If someone tries to reason with some of these people (especially the ones that congregate in groups), the response is basically laughter and “But we’re not here to have a serious discussion, we’re here to mock people and laugh, and now we can laugh at you for thinking we would take you seriously, you must be a real idiot to expect anything other than what you’re getting,” etc.

    I’ve seen conversations like that offline. But they seem to happen online a lot tool.

    I have to admit total bafflement, as well, as to the exact good feeling they seem to get from going to such elaborate methods to hurt people. (And, yeah, their excuse that it’s “just words” is flimsy, and not accurate.) But I don’t have too much trouble imagining their actions.

  3. Again, a very thought-provoking and interesting article. Thanks a lot! It inspired me to write a lot about disability activism, trolls and discrimination (also in the disability scene) in my blog – but it’s all in Finnish. Also the articles you linked to were stimulating. Of course I linked to this blog and I hope there’ll be many visitors from Finland. And no trolls among them.

  4. I don’t comment often (if at all), but I wanted to say I very much enjoy your blog and agree whole heartedly with your views. And also as a “self-diagnosed” Aspie, it’s nice to know I’m accepted here and not thought of as a poser, liar, or hypochondriac.

    But on topic here…I really do not understand the mindset of trolls. I just don’t understand the effort – how bored/pitiful you must be, or how low your self-esteem must be, to dedicate so much time to making people upset online. And the trolls posting flashy pictures on epileptic boards is just…too cruel for words.

    I love how they say “its a cruel world; we’re trying to make people aware of that”…and yet the Internet would be much less cruel if these people didn’t exist. They sort of self-justify themselves which is…stupid.

  5. On a slightly tangential note: as much as I am for freedom of speech, it’s undeniable that it’s a great way to avoid an argument even if you aren’t a troll. All you need to do is say “you’re censoring me” by taking a position against them and they feel they don’t have to answer your question or argue back. There are more ways to shut down a debate than censorship, and trolls seem the kind of super-libertarian sorts to limit your freedoms as a means of extending theirs.

  6. “I just don’t understand the effort – how bored/pitiful you must be, or how low your self-esteem must be, to dedicate so much time to making people upset online.”

    Actually, I read somewhere that playground bullies actually have an over-inflated ego, which is why they have such a “It’s not my fault.” attitude. They really do think they can do no wrong.

  7. Actually that’s true of most people who are harming other people.

    I know someone who once actually had to use her pepper spray against a would-be attacker. He chased her several blocks, she finally sprayed him, and the first words out of his mouth were “How could you do this to me?”

    She immediately felt guilty.

    She called a hotline and they said that’s a very typical thing they do if cornered, and the point is to make you feel sorry for them because you stood up to them.

  8. Observations: It seems people who are cruel often think they live outside of the rules of society…Rules don’t apply to them…but they doubly apply to their victims which they constantly point out. They seem to be groupies who engage in “feeding frenzies” that is a sort of “lynching mentality” where together they are emboldened to say and do things that perhaps alone or without support they would not. They gang up on victims and make a party of their misery…The leaders seem to crave the attention…In fact attention getting is one of their rewards as well as the mis-thinking that they are elevated higher by every person they step on… Sometimes it is more devious…A lot of out right lying goes on..kind of “The End Justifies The Means” thinking. I have even seen some with no conscious
    combine humor to make any “roasting” look like a picnic, berating and lying about others just to grab attention…They sometimes seek degrees in respectable people helping professions to hide behind and give credence to their warped attempts to tear people down they have grievances against or just to stroke their own egos…I have seen this many times…They often seek a podium…be it on a website or in book writing…or just seeking followers…Unfortunately they tend to clump on the internet and embolden one another…They often try pity plays to draw others in…and can be most ingratiating and charming…although I have seen some choose the “shock jock mode”…I personally won’t go there..I won’t be drawn in by their tabloid sites…or their rhetoric..It makes my soul sing when I see people in the Autistic Community shore each other up and stand beside each other whenever they witness this type of cruelty and battering..A cruelty that happens much too often…I also have observed that the rallying forth around each other in this community happens much more often too…and I think every ripple of tolerance and good will that goes out has a long term positive effect…

  9. These are all really important points.

    There is something different about internet bullies that really does’t make as much sense to me as the others I’ve seen.

    “Most people who’ve been on the wrong end of oppression in this country know that, and it’s even penetrating into the minds of the mostly-privileged lately.”

    That is something I often try to explain to people though I’ve not been successful at it. I don’t know what percentage of internet bullies are in the U.S. but there does seem to be a theme with those who are that gives them the idea that everyone else on the internet has or is provided with the same freedoms they claim to have.

    Many people from oppressed backgrounds don’t feel any kind of freedom that they haven’t experienced which is why I think that an internet environment where they can feel free to express themselves is important.

    Of course many of them are going to sound overly polite to others because they (unlike many others)have never had much if any privilege to act otherwise. They are not only uncomfortable with it, they have been taught the consequences of acting too boldly.

  10. I just edited my original post.

    The new part reads as follows:

    Edited to add: I just remembered something I hadn’t thought about for a long time.

    When I was nineteen I had a different autism site. I was also at that age very vulnerable, and very bad at hiding my vulnerability. (Which is one among several reasons I eventually took it down, another being that I wasn’t at the time satisfied that half the stuff I was posting was really stuff I thought, or just more attempts to conform to a pattern I thought I ought to conform to.) The stuff from it I continued to think might be useful (whether I continued to fully agree with it or not), I moved to the autistics.org library.

    Anyway, I started getting these weird emails. One of them gave me detailed instructions for killing myself, and said that if I didn’t do it they’d finish the job for me. My family was alarmed and contacted the FBI. But back then there wasn’t even a pretence of caring about cyberharassment, and my parents were just told that if it was online it wasn’t a problem. (Unfortunately, by now the world has learned differently from experience.)

    Eventually the problem was found out, can’t remember if it was by me or by someone else — my website address had been posted to a trolling site. The section about changeling mythology, Otherkin (a community of people who either believe themselves to be non-human or roleplay themselves to be non-human, depending), and my own longstanding connection to and interest in those topics (especially the idea of being an elf), had been pointed out in particular.

    There was a lot of undisguised mockery in the ensuing discussion, to be sure. But my main reason for editing this post to add this to it, is one of the comments that was given on that site, the one I to this day find the most indefensible and the most descriptive of the fact that many trolls know exactly what they are doing. It read something like the following:

    “She looks vulnerable. Let’s go mess with her mind.”

  11. “it amazes me how many people talk about the “first Amendment rights” of Internet users in general, without apparently realizing that not all of the Internet is in the USA).”

    Yup. And sometimes when people claim that the First Amendment means they’re free to say hurtful things, they don’t seem to realize that the First Amendment also protects peoples’ right to speak out against those hurtful things.

  12. I don’t find the motivation of the trolls featured in the NYTimes so hard to guess. These people do
    this because it gets rewarded — not by their victims, but by various onlookers who are either
    intimidated or amused by the trolls. I think this may have worked with the author of the article as
    well. Otherwise I don’t get why he treats the trolls as leniently as he does.

    The relevant offline equivalent is bullying, I think. Real-life bullying situations, in my all-too plentiful experience, go away if and only if the audience decide they don’t want to witness it anymore. Usually this happens because the audience gets bored, but sometimes the victim can speed up the process by making the bully seem insecure or defensive, which is not something bullying audiences like to watch.

    What is so worrying about the article is not the presence on sociopaths on the internet (we already
    knew that) but the fact that with their own internet community they now have access to a stream of rewarding attention from an audience that will not grow bored and go away. This somehow does not look like a self-containing problem to me: These people have not stayed within their own community in the past and will not stay there in the future.

  13. When I read that article, it immediately reminded me of what I went through in school – both the bullying and the excuses made by people who didn’t want to do anything about it. I have a hard time understanding why people minimize the effect of this kind of cruelty and say it’s no big deal. I think part of the problem is misinterpretation – a lot of people see it as an issue of having your feelings hurt versus having thick skin, but I’ve always seen it as more of an issue of safety, whether or not physical harm is involved. Also, maybe some people who have been on the receiving end want to convince themselves that it was useful to them, and therefore is a useful part of the world in general… although I would think repudiating it would make more sense.

  14. Frankly I get much less nervous around people who are willing to call me on stuff, than people who act like I can do no wrong. With the second group of people I always wonder what’s going to happen when the pedestal drops, and what would happen to my ego if I acted like these people were accurate in their assessment of me.

    Same here. And believe me, if I think there’s something I should call you on, I will do it (and would appreciate it being done likewise). I always feel more generally comfortable around people who can (a) call others on stuff, and (b) accept being called on things themselves, because otherwise communication tends to be really difficult. I admit sometimes I find it scary to be called on something I’ve been desperately trying to avoid, but I would definitely rather know it than not know it. As I get older I am also beginning to learn the difference between people acting like they “can see the real me” (which in their eyes is filled with particular flaws only they can fix) and people actually having useful/true insight into stuff I might not have been aware of, but which I can become aware of when it’s pointed out.

  15. This actually reminds me of a situation I’ve delt with recently. Someone who I wrote to, has an art site where they have a picture of a girl wearing a Nazi uniform titled Nazis are Sexy. I complained to him, he wrote a blog post about it saying basic BS like, well you’re being a Facist for telling me I can’t post my hate artwork ect.

    I reported his site to the ADL, they said since he’s not a mainstream artist and there isn’t repeated reference to Nazism on his site, they can’t do anything. If people just chose to go after those who are willing or stupid enough to jump up and state they participate in hate organizations, they’re not going to target anyone promoting hate speech. It’s not like you’re going to just find someone saying, “Hey, I’m a Nazi and I want to kill Jews!” out and about somewhere. It’s beyond me that the ADL would say, “We’re only going after hate speech people that are mainstream, or actually promote their hate speech in society.” In other words, we’re going to sit on our thumbs and do nothing, while underground hate groups commit hate crimes towards others.

    I e-mailed the Jewish Defense League, they said I had to talk to them on the phone about things. I guess just reporting something to them through e-mail isn’t good enough, I have to get personally involved in something that could put me at risk. Perhaps the people working the site aren’t the brightest crayons in the box. It’s obvious that someone Jewish, isn’t going to want to get personally involved as in giving out personal information like phone numbers, when it involves people who are in hate groups.

    So now I feel as if there’s nothing I can do about it. Which leads me to where this topic deals with this article. You cannot report these people to anyone who will do something about this.

    I guess it’s not surprising, given nobody really did anything to deal with pedophiles on the internet, until the grassroots organization Perverted Justice went out patrolling chat rooms for them.

    I also reported that someone, had threatened people who were Jewish on that blog. Still, nobody wants to do anything. You can’t call yourself an organization to report hate crimes to, when a hate crime is reported and you make some sort of excuse to why it’s not important enough for you to deal with. I guess it takes someone having to die, before someone does anything still.

    It really makes you feel like, why bother fighting, when you might as well be trying to break through a brick wall with your fists. I still am rather disillusioned that these supposed groups that help with hate discrimination, will say it’s no big deal someone is putting Swastikas up on their website. Yet if someone put up a noose, it’d be all over the news. Maybe us Jewish people should learn from the Black people. Perhaps being obnoxious, and shreiking “raaaaciiissssm!” at the top of your lungs, whenever someone of a different ethnicity even looks at you the wrong way, is the only way to get hate noticed. Even if it is for the most part, behaving irrationally.

  16. No, sorry, stereotyping black people as “obnoxious and shrieking ‘raaaaaciiism’ at the top of their lungs, whenever someone of a different ethnicity even looks at you the wrong way,” doesn’t fly here either. It’s simply not accurate, and pretty offensive.

    Don’t tell me you’ve seen people who do it either. I’ve seen Jewish people who blame anti-semitism for things that aren’t remotely anti-semitic , but I bet you’d rightly challenge me if I told you that Jews in general behave that way. And I bet in some cases where people think Jews behave that way, there actually is anti-semitism that is invisible to whatever particular non-Jewish person is doing the observing. Same goes for black people. Seeing examples that fit or appear to fit a stereotype does not make the stereotype true. (I could point you to a thread on a white nationalist bulletin board where people deliberately give examples to supposedly confirm the stereotypes. They think it’s funny.)

    If you want to fight hate, don’t engage in it. What you’re engaging in is called “horizontal hostility” and it’s not a good thing, no matter what the excuse. And it’s a really bad ending to an otherwise good comment, causing me to focus my reply on it instead of on the actually substantial issues you raise in the rest of it.

  17. I’ve had a lot of issues in the past where people made no attempt at all to create a safe or friendly, sane environment that they were coercively subjecting other people to; I don’t think that exemplifies ‘freedom’ at all. It is not ‘democracy’ in any way, further, to have every single page of text on the internet followed by paragraphs of immature, insensitive, off-topic hate speech posted anonymously below it. If books were like that, I don’t think I would bother reading them. I think it is really quite fine to have safe places, topical places on the internet, and disinvite those who don’t want to be a part of that.

    As for the trolls themselves – clearly they were once victims of this sort of abuse and harassment, at a time long before they were ever on the internet, but they’ve come to identify with their abusers instead of themselves, so now they need to find new victims to justify that identification.

  18. Thanks for proving my point ballastexistenz. If someone even mentions that Black people aren’t perfect, they’re attacked. If someone suggests anti-semitism nobody cares.

    I’m sorry you can’t see that you’re just proving that our society has cause people like yourself to automatically assume that if someone makes a negative statement about a Black person, that person should be dismissed. It’s not good either when a group cannot be criticized without retaliation. It’s called reverse racism.

    I hope you will post about what you found substantial in my post, most likely though you will ban me. Cause if someone complains about a Black person, there’s simply no listening to them. Someone complains about Jews, Mexicans, any other group that doesn’t stand up and shout every minute of every day that they’re being treated with injustice, that’s given a pass. All I’m saying is, it’s clear that if you make a negative statement about Black people you will be treated as a hatemonger. It should apply to all groups of people who face discrimination. Not just those who jump up and scream the loudest. Oops, I guess now you’re going to get upset at me cause I said that too. Sorry, if you want me to pretend that Black people aren’t loud, agressive, and reactive just ask.

  19. You didn’t make a negative statement about “a black person”. You made a negative statement about “black people” in general. Your statement that they are “loud, aggressive, and reactive” is even worse than your original one, and your statement that when you said something about “blacks” in general, you really meant one person, just digs the hole deeper (I’d suggest not trying to defend that one, there’s a limit past how deep a hole ought to be dug for yourself).

    FWIW, I would have had the exact same reaction if someone black came on here and said that Jews were always crying anti-semitism over pointless things, and that nobody cared about racism because Jews had so much money. And I would be having the exact same reaction that I’m having right now if the last line of their post was, “Sorry, if you want me to pretend that Jews aren’t spoiled rich little princesses who whine about anti-semitism all the time and don’t understand what real oppression is, just ask,” or any other thing. I have trouble believing you can’t see the difference between complaining about one black person and stereotyping black people in general. Maybe you ought to think it through some more. (I confess to wondering what on earth you must think of black Jewish people.)

    That reaction I’d have to all such things, by the way, is: This is the last such comment I’ll allow, all others will have the offending portions removed (and I’ll put a note on them to that effect). Whether they’re about black people, Jews, Mexicans, whatever. I’ve only allowed these comments so that people will know why this is going on. And it’s not because you’re being racist against black people while speaking out against anti-semitism, a black person saying anti-semitic things would get the exact same treatment I’m giving you, for exactly the same reasons. And no, you’re not getting banned, but I don’t tolerate hate speech towards any group of people on my blog.

    Discussing and comparing how different kinds of oppression are received is one thing — and there are seriously unfortunate differences between how different things are viewed. But if you care about oppression genuinely (and not just the parts that matter to you), you don’t stereotype an entire race or culture as touchy, loud, aggressive, and overly sensitive to racism, or as stingy, whiny, rich, and spoiled, or as stupid, smelly, and job-stealing. I’ve never had to mention this before, because I’ve never caught this particular kind of garbage on my blog before (if it exists, it’s the result of me only skimming that part of a comment).

    You’re totally right that anti-semitism doesn’t get noticed or dealt with often enough, but there’s absolutely zero need to stereotype black people in order to get a point across.

    And you can be assured I won’t allow anyone to make equally nasty statements about Jews. In fact, you’ve actually done yourself one favor there. Because this is the first comment of its kind, your racist remarks were left intact so people could see why I was forming this policy. Since the “no bigoted crap in general” policy’s already in place now because of your remarks, you’ll never see an anti-semitic comment on this blog unless I accidentally don’t catch it (in which case, tell me and I’ll edit it out while mentioning why).

    BTW, when someone appears overly sensitive — some one individual — to the kind of oppression they’re under, which is common to all kinds of oppression, it’s either one of two things:

    1. Because they’re used to being oppressed and beaten down, it can be hard to tell the difference between something ordinary going wrong, and oppression.

    2. They know something you don’t about their own oppression.

    Neither of which require trashing the entire group they actually belong to, given that people within all oppressed groups either mistake something ordinary for oppression sometimes, or know something is a part of a larger pattern of oppression despite the fact that other people might not know it.

  20. The sink-or-swim attitude is widespread in American culture. It is dominant in the Republican Party, though I would guess that not all Republicans adhere to it.

    The British philosopher, Julian Baggini writes in his book ‘Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind’, that “otherwise impeccable liberals [will not] tend to accuse you of being prejudiced if you talk about American Republicans as stupid, bigoted imperialists, thus condemning around half the population of the USA.

  21. That reminds me vaguely of a definition I read of ‘redneck’ once that said in part something like, “Synonymous in many liberal circles with every kind of bigotry… except classism.”

  22. When I read Jackie’s first comment about Black people it did not strike me as being racist. I read it as anger and frustration expressed in exaggerated language. I don’t think she had the racist intention of negatively stereotyping all Black people.

    I have been reading a little about Black-Jewish
    relations in the United States.

    Jews were allies with Black people in the Civil Rights Movement. That alliance fractured in the late 1960s partly because of the rise of Black nationalism and separatism.

    Two reasons for Black anti-semitism are the opposition of some Jews to affirmative action programs which they regard as unfairly favouring Black people; and the policies of Israeli governments towards the Palestinians. Black people draw parallels between their oppression over centuries and the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

    Jews in America hsve historically been both insiders and outsiders. Their skin colour usually identifies them as white, but they are not part of mainstream Christian American culture and have been, and still are, the subject of anti-semitism.

    Melanie Kaye/Katrowitz, a Jewish American women has written:

    “Jewish is both a distinct category and an overlapping one. Just as homophobia is distinct from sexism yet has everything to do with sexism, anti-semitism in this country is distinct from racism, yet has everything to do with racism. It’s not that a Jew like myself should “count” as a person of color, though I think sometimes Jews do argue this because the alternative seems to be erasure. But that means we need another alternative. The problem is a polarisation of white and color that excludes us. We need a more complex vision of the structure of racism, one that attends to the sick logic of white supremacists.”

  23. This is hard to comment on (because there’s too much I could say) but I will say that I am glad you posted this. Bullying doesn’t always stop at the playground fence but does occur online. Emotionally abusing people online, especially those who have few other venues for desired social contact, is cruel. I believe in zero gossip and anti-cruelty myself. I believe in virtue and it’s why I agree. I wonder if fighting back is ever the answer. I don’t know what to do except to starve the k00ks/cyberbullies, evade them and identify them in case they need to be taken care of.

  24. Philip: I don’t think this is that relevant. While it surely informed Jackie’s pique, I don’t see how that justified her stereotyping: there’s a difference with resenting being left out of the standard definition of oppression and taking it out on another oppressed group. Everybody outside of the dominant culture probably has some kind of beef with their inadequate definition (I’m pretty sure blacks are fed up with their condescending Official Minority status and the distortions that come with that) and uneasy relationships with other groups. While the Kaye/Katrowitz quote was interesting it doesn’t cover any of Jackie’s bets.

  25. There’s always a “justification” for assorted prejudices of this kind, but it doesn’t make it a real reason.

    I hear all the time that being sexually assaulted by a gay person is a valid reason to think gay people are evil. And yet, I was sexually assaulted by a deaf person and I don’t think all deaf people are evil.

    Or they believe there’s something in the attitude of various specific people that they don’t like. Well, I said no to a boy who wanted to date me, and he used to run around loudly claiming that I wouldn’t date him because of the color of his skin. And yet, I don’t run around griping about “reverse racism” or about all people of south-Asian descent somehow being “too sensitive about racism”.

    And on and on and on.

    The reason is that I take these things as actions by individual people. I don’t see any reason to associate some single attribute of them (disability, race, whatever) with the things they did wrong.

    And if I ,em>did do those things, it’d be an ableist/racist/etc. reaction. Which doesn’t require intending to be ableist/racist/etc. (which only some fairly twisted people even do intentionally) it just requires doing something that way (and doing something that way does not automatically make you the same as someone who’s deliberately being hateful — I’d hazard a guess that everyone does something like that, because it’s ingrained in most cultures to view at least someone with prejudiced assumptions about an entire category that person belongs to).

  26. My reading of the trolling article was informed by concurrently being in the middle of the ‘related research’ section of The Lucifer Effect. It’s a perfect example of the tendency for deindividuation to allow people to disengage their sense of ethics.

    (The book is one that I think everyone should read, by the way. It’s not light reading, but is very worthwhile.)

  27. thought provoking article. On cyber bullies, it is about power, often power for people who are powerless in life. The problem with responding to this is that the response reinforces the power, so wherever possible, leaving the post without response disempowers trolls.

    However, of course there are incidents which cannot be ignored e.g the flashing lights on an epilepsy forum. I would still suggest that no comment be made on such an attack. Even if banned and the problem fixed, the culprit is sure to return to see what is being said. Imagine the disappointment if nothing is said.

    I have run a chat room for about 8 years. We have had no moderation at all with conflict permitted and resolved. There is one visitor who has been widely banned from autism chats and lists, but when he strays too far, we put him on ignore. This means that the rage which sparks troll behaviour is not triggered, breaking the cycle for weeks on end.

    I have also experienced cyber bullying which strayed into real life when the perp. was emigrating to australia. I took logs of threats to the police and her emigration application was not processed for several years. I was lucky that the threats were taken seriously. That was when I learned the folly of responding as my anger had sparked her to greater and greater agression.

    it sounds as if I accept cyber bullying but the opposite is true. I think to stop a behaviour we need to look beneath the surface to see the root cause. if the problem is relating to power and attention, the cure is to deny that. of course some of us are more able to do this than others, so it is good to see that online, flocking behaviour is helping autistics to help each other.

  28. About racism and injustice. People pick on whomever they can. Irish Catholics were banned from many workplaces when they came as immigrants. Same with Italian Catholics. Today, being Catholic is often regarded as some sort of freak who likes to follow child molesters, although the scandal (as horrid as it was) involved less than 1% of priests…a number thats less than the men and women in the public school educational system proven to be child molesters. Steryotypes are horrible no matter what they are and where they are coming from. My brother has to deal with people saing that he “must not” be part german because he’s quiet, sweet and friendly…as if all germans are loud, argumentitive and standoffish.

  29. Encyclopedia Dramatica and 4chan have many people like Weev. I don’t go to either of those places anymore (they’re pretty boring anyway).

    My strategy is never to get into a flame war, because neither of the participants can win. If someone attacks me, I leave or ignore them.

    I mentioned my Asperger’s on a site where the kids were very friendly…even there, one of the administrators said, “I’m going to disregard everything I just read.” He’s actually a nice guy and hasn’t attacked me for my post, but in a later post he called Aspies “retards.”

  30. Pingback: ?u?erst bedenkliche Inhalte auf der Website von Autismus Oberbayern e.V. - Autismus-Kultur

  31. There’s comprehensive cyberstalking laws in the US, and most western countries and stalkers should be reported to the relevant authorities if necessary.

    ‘When identifying cyberstalking “in the field,” and particularly when considering whether to report it to any kind of legal authority, the following features or combination of features can be considered to characterize a true stalking situation: malice, premeditation, repetition, distress, obsession, vendetta, no legitimate purpose, personally directed, disregarded warnings to stop, harassment, and threats’.


    it’s also worth considering tactics when dealing with trolls, malevolent or otherwise, though folks who stalk in real life on or off the net are better described as the stalkers they are, rather than trolls. Cappy Hamper’s Troll FAQ from alt.troll on Usenet is still relevant.

    ‘1d) When is a troll not a troll?

    If trolling is performed for any reason other than for an artful form
    of expression or harmless amusement, it is a crime and the criminal
    should be punished accordingly. Trolling is not about tricking senior
    citizens or lonely spinsters out of their nest eggs, making dates with
    teenage girls, verbally abusing or otherwise hurting anyone, or
    bringing about the end of Usenet. If you are an asshole, sociopath,
    disgruntled postal worker, on a power trip, or are unusually cruel,
    get some therapy or a house pet. Trolling is not for you. ‘


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