How to Kill a Troll

Anita Sarkeesian is a cultural critic who makes YouTube videos. A lot of people like her work: she tried to raise $6,000 via Kickstarter to fund a new set of videos about women in video games, and raised nearly $160,000 instead. And it’s this fact—that people like Sarkeesian’s work, that they choose to listen to her and even put their money behind her projects—that so enrages some people who play video games.

“Click to Hit Her”

Since she started her Kickstarter, a lot of men have devoted themselves to telling the world how very much they disapprove of Sarkeesian, through hate mail, doxing, threats and images of rape, and most recently, an app that encourages you to beat Sarkeesian as a image of her face bruise and bleeds.

The Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian game
Sarkeesian’s “before” image in the game. I’m not going to show you the other one.

It’s nauseating. But revulsion alone isn’t very useful, so I spent a chunk of the last week trying to work out what was actually going on, and whether there was anything to be abstracted from it about dealing with the pretty constant onslaught of sexist (and racist and anti-gay and cetera) attacks online.

Why Did This Happen?

The first part of the answer is just the usual sadness, I think: if you already think of women primarily as stupid sluts, you don’t have to go far to get to rape threats and games about beating a woman bloody for the offense of speaking. In other words, this is all so screwed up online because it’s screwed up everywhere.

Beyond that, I think most people find it difficult to hear criticisms of things they love. We often translate “I do not like X” into “you are a moron for loving X” and “I find Y to be troubling and kind of sexist” into “you are personally a sexist slimeball for liking Y, and I think you should be shunned forever.”

This essentialization of taste is pretty pervasive. The only way to defang it is to accept the idea that you can like troubling things without being a bad person, and that it’s a million times better to accept that some loved things are troubling than to go to the mat in their defense. It’s tremendously relaxing to accept that things you like can be imperfect, and that pointing out their imperfections doesn’t reflect on you. It’s also rare.

Finally, there’s the possibility that some kinds of unexamined pleasures are tainted by the simple proximity of a critical (as in analytical) voice: thousands of pop-culture discussions complaining about “overthinking” as the enemy of enjoyment attest to that.

But however the ego damage behind these attacks occurred, the mechanism itself is pretty simple: A woman expresses an opinion that some people disagree with. And a cluster of people, most of them men, decide that the right and proper thing to do is to try to scare her into silence or make her change her mind by posting horrible things about her, vandalizing her work online, dumping her private contact information into forums so people can harass and intimidate her offline, and talk extensively about how she deserves to be raped. Because, you know, she said something they disagreed with.

Female commentators of all kinds receive these threats and relentless attacks, all aimed at scaring them into silence. This is our normal.

How Do We Get Better?

The most effective response to trolls is supposed to be ignoring them.

Anyone who was tormented by classmates as a child knows how facile that is. You can’t un-see threats and hateful comments, which is what the people who make them are counting on. Certain tools and processes can help people who are targeted avoid actually seeing more vitriol than they have to. Twitter’s “block” button is a lifeline, and I’ve seen bloggers who are under coordinated troll attacks trade comment moderation duties so that neither has to read comments that directly threaten her.

The other problem with attempting to simply ignore comments that range from vulgarities to death threats is that women have reason to be afraid.

Online threats derive their force from offline violence. A quarter of women in the US will experience domestic violence. One in five high school girls have been raped or sexually assaulted. By the time they finish college, that number goes up to one in four. And the people who hurt us take comfort and encouragement from a culture of violent threats. “Ignoring them” is not going to do the trick.

So let’s start talking about what it’s going to take to fix this.

I want to call attention to three ideas, none of which are original to me, and all of which deserve real attention.

Platform Owners Must Build in Civility

The people who run platforms are responsible for setting boundaries and norms. If you allow your website to house trolls, you’re (a big) part of the problem.

Google, for example, has failed us with YouTube, which collects a consistently barrel-bottom comment stream, thanks in large part to Google’s refusal to create good mechanisms for enforcing its own community policy.

Civility isn’t fancy-talk for “being nice.” It’s the essential quality we require to live together in complex social structures built on our jumpy, irrational primate brains. Online, where we increasingly live, we need it more than ever.

(We also need it offline, and our civic support network must include a justice system that will convict rapists and abusers, law enforcement officers who take demonstrated threats seriously, and social norms that shame attackers instead of their targets. But that conversation is beyond the scope of even my hubris.)

Non-Trolls Must Model Norms

The majority of gamers are neither participating in the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian nor commenting in her support. They are standing idly by.

Trolling, harassment, and stalking are by definition never justified. Not by the amount of money someone raises, not by whether or not she’s a public figure. Not ever.

When people in your community express disagreement via threats and harassment, they make your entire group look like whiny, pathetic losers. You don’t have to write a big squishy essay to draw the line. All you have to do is take 30 seconds to note that harassment and stalking is wrong and doesn’t represent your community—and then let the idiot fringe drown itself in its own impotent squealing.

That’s how we get to have nice things.

The Hardest Thing

So what about those of us—especially, but not only, women—who want to dig into contentious topics like Sarkeesian’s, especially when we know damn well that doing so all but guarantees that we’ll be targeted? Besides barricading our comment queue and our hearts against the inevitable attacks, what can we do to try to smooth this rocky passage toward a better, safer world?

I am so far from having an answer, but I have a suspicion that counterattacks are not working. It’s worthwhile to cover horrible things like the attacks on Sarkeesian and Penny Red and so many others because doing so can help uncommitted or passive readers understand and defend against this behavior. But as cathartic and entertaining as it might be, skewering trolls and attacking jerks is never going to change their minds. Putting people on the defensive only hardens their positions.

When it comes to actually changing minds, I think we’re stuck with love.

Recognizing the humanity of people who do awful things is one of the core challenges of being human. (We have enough trouble recognizing it even in people who are like us.) But it’s the only way out. Even when the worst trolls are beyond visible redemption, the way we handle them is visible to so many others who are still capable of feeling empathy or recognizing pain or changing their minds.

As Dr. King put it:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

That’s from a sermon I reread every few weeks. I’ll probably be reading it for the rest of my life as a part of my struggle with my own deep-rooted anger.

The Opposite of Idealism

There’s a segment of This American Life that illustrates the dynamic perfectly. It’s about John Smid, a man who used to run an “ex-gay” Christian ministry—called, paradoxically, Love In Action—and the activist whose willingness to be human, vulnerable, and rational gradually led Smid to understand the harm he was doing. The activist never talks about love, but that’s what this is. And it’s exactly what King was talking about:

While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.

I have tremendous empathy for people who want to skewer and shame their attackers. I catch myself falling into it even though I know it’s an obscene waste of energy and time. It is utterly unfair that the targets of hatred and meanness and violence are nearly always the only ones who can break the cycle of mutually assured hostility. And it’s not the responsibility of the victims of this crap to act with grace.

I doubt that I’ll ever have much empathy for people who talk about women as “stupid whores,” or who try to shut us up with violence or threats of violence.

But my best shot in fraught discussions is try to remember that actions rooted in love are the most practical tool we have. It’s a position of extraordinary resilience, too, because it doesn’t rely on the back and forth of an exchange of blows. It’s steady, unexpected, and weirdly difficult to defend against—the rhetorical equivalent of stepping inside someone’s guard. And it can’t be faked.

Love and Maybe Rockets

Love is not all we need. But combined with civic firmness from platform-makers, drastically better law enforcement for actions that cross legal boundaries, and the simple rejection of vileness by the people who genuinely know better, it’s our best shot at evolving beyond this troglodytic bullshit.

This is how that MLK sermon ends:

Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.

Internet, I love you. Let’s try.

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126 thoughts on “How to Kill a Troll

  1. Brilliant post, and I’m glad you brought further attention to this. It reminds me a bit of what has happened to a number of people, though this immediately reminded me of the incredibly gifted and talented Kathy Sierra (of the amazing yet unfortunately abandoned Creating Passionate Users blog ). This type of horrible behavior cannot be tolerated. Thank you for your post-

  2. Honestly, this is why some of the best blogs do not have comments at all, I’m thinking of The Daily Dish in particular. Alternatively, the owner of the system rigorously enforces standards and ruthlessly wields the ban-hammer. Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic probably has the best community on the internet because he tends to it like a garden and (this is key), the community has taken those ideals to heart.

    But how do you scale it to YouTube and millions of comments a day? That’s a hard one. Granted, they need to do something. It’s a cesspool of every every evil -ism there is.

    You say:

    All you have to do is take 30 seconds to note that harassment and stalking is wrong and doesn’t represent your community—and then let the idiot fringe drown itself in its own impotent squealing.

    Lots of people did the former, but it didn’t result in the fringe drowning. All it did was validate their attention-seeking.

    Wrapping up, here’s my question: how do you show love for the comment troll?

  3. This essentialization of taste you speak of is a key part of the foundation of the behavior for which you speak. But you’ve neglected to mention the keystone: that when people read someone say “I do not like X” or “I find Y to be troubling and kind of sexist” it is interpreted as “and therefore subsequent work Z should not have the traits of X and Y that I take issue with.” Or perhaps even “and therefore X and Y should be changed/taken away in the future.”

    This is a declaration of war if one happens to like X and Y for precisely the reasons that have been brought up against them. If what Person A finds “troubling and kind of sexist” is the very reason Person B likes it/loves it/wants more of it, those positions cannot exactly be reconciled. Someone ultimately must “win” and someone must “lose.”

    It’s often argued that these matters are not a zero-sum game; that it shouldn’t matter if theoretical future work Z doesn’t have those contentious elements because existing works A through Y will still have them, and wouldn’t diversity be beneficial for everyone? But this is faulty thinking because it’s pure logic, and when it comes to humanity emotion is a lower-level brain function than logic. The opposition viewpoint is because work Z not having that stuff is effectively “one fewer than otherwise.” Because time, shelf space, advertising, and feature placement are finite, the matters of media creation ARE indeed a zero-sum game. And therefore, the other side’s got to go. This is ultimately the mentality being contended against. We can call it greed or avarice or the haves being jerks upon the have nots, but any explanation as to why that’s wrong would require rational argument. And everybody wants to see themselves as persecuted, not persecuting. Such is the fundamental unifier of social issues grouping, regardless of group size. For example: how ’bout that “War on Christmas”? Better knuckle up, because if you don’t, all those “hordes” of people out there waging war on Christmas will win, and Christmas will be gone forever! (This is patently absurd, yes, yet many sincerely believe it to be true.)

    As for non-trolls modeling norms, that might just go against the fundamental structure of the Internet. For on the Internet, it doesn’t actually matter if the majority of a group are centrists or undecided. Because voices and access are relatively equal in a net neutral Web 2.0 world, the modeling of norms is dictated by those willing to exert the most TIME. Therefore, what matters is which extreme partisan group on an issue outweighs the other. The actions of the one person who spends 12-18 hours on the media interest of their choice will ultimately set the pace of the discussions far more than the 100 people who see something outrageous on their Tumblr, takes 30 seconds to voice their encouragement/discouragement, then moves on to something else until the next time.

    Here on the Internet, the fringe is anything BUT “impotent.” As the Internet’s power grows, so too does its power over the rest of reality. Witness the turn of our political discourse with candidates and positions to suit it. But unlike politics, the actions of whom you describe as trolls have no particular central leadership. What is to be done when unrelated, yet similar actions are taken by individuals not working in tandem such that the result takes on the appearance of a concerted effort? If I had the solution to the “stand alone complex,” I promise you I’d have used it long ago…

  4. @Dan: Thank you! Kathy’s experience was formative, for me, and kept me from publicly writing about things I believe for a long time. Five years on, the trolling’s only getting more mainstream, and I hope we can manage better.

    @Kevin: Moderation is always a puzzle, but I think sites that give users easy ways to block, hide, and report comments are generally in much better shape than those that don’t.

    To your second point…every person who voiced their support for Anita did a good thing. But far, far more people just haven’t gotten involved. (Engaging trolls in combat gives them attention—simply showing up to the places where the attacks are occurring and registering support for civility…I hope that’s a better plan.)

    I think the way you demonstrate love is by being nonviolent. By refusing to engage in counterattacks, by speaking rationally, and by focusing on education. (It probably doesn’t hurt to start troll-attractor conversations in the most empathetic way you can manage, but again—that’s a nice thing to do, but in no way a responsibility. The targets of attacks aren’t responsible for the attacks.)

  5. @Daryl: Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    Someone ultimately must “win” and someone must “lose.”

    Unless you’re talking about something so counter to social norms that it’s likely to be made illegal, I do think the zero-sum argument is faulty. For example, media critics have been talking about the “dangerous” violence in video games since, like, Wolfenstein, but no one’s banned them as a result.

    I know that you’re arguing that people are just too irrational to get this—and that the internet is tilting us inexorably into that void of crazyface. And you may be completely right. But I know that every word of support matters tremendously—is genuinely sustaining—when you’re the one under attack. And since the alternative is nihilism and nihilism is vastly boring, I live in hope.

  6. That was a beautiful post on a complicated matter. I think it’s so hard to try and hate the offense and love the perpetrator because one wonders whether a person doing such a thing is capable of change. I suppose that’s something we have to believe because it’s what will create change for the better.

    Another thing to consider is nipping all this stuff in the bud by educating people not to be bigots in the first place. That’s where it comes from, families and culture. But as you say, that’s an even bigger discussion.

  7. “When it comes to actually changing minds, I think we’re stuck with love.”

    Wonderful. And I think this can be effective against people who genuinely feel threatened by ideas an opinions counter to their own.

    The problem with many trolls is that they aren’t defending a deeply held belief, but using the anonymity of the Internet to bully others for entertainment. Daryl points out that trolls have no central leadership, much like Anonymous, which according to a recent article in Wired, basically helped to spawn an entire troll culture. These trolls’ entire purpose is to enrage others for “lulz.” Can we reach these people with love? I hope so, because I think they are the larger issue.

    I’m with Kevin: I’d love an example of Love vs. Troll in action. I imagine any exercise has to start with “Step 1: Take ten deep breaths, close your laptop, take a walk, have a drink, and only then, move on to Step 2.”

    Fabulous post. Thank you.

  8. Thank you, Erin. I just want to stand alongside you as you say all of this. I had plenty more to say, but you’ve said it all so well. I think of Kathy Sierra, too, just as one other commenter did, and mourn the loss of her essays and presence on the web. I think about my article at ALA that merely addressed the constant barrage of attacks and arguments within the web standards world and didn’t even get into the prison-worthy comments that you are addressing here. I wrote that article FIVE years ago, and mine was by no means the first. I thought, even as I wrote it, that it was utopian, idealistic, but that it had to be said.

    Someone may accuse your article, too, of being utopian, but think of what would happen on the web if even 25% of the people who read you or follow you on Twitter unswervingly followed what you say above.

  9. Great post. And, like Rosie above, I’d get a kick out of seeing Troll vs. Love.

    I’m also with Kevin – I think love is the answer, but HOW? I’m more than happy to comment in support of Sarkeesian (she is wonderfully brave for doing this) but then what? What do I do to show my support and spread that outpouring of love.

    I’m going to start by sharing your article everywhere I can think of. But after that, should there be a platform to place this outpouring. A source of it’s own? Just thinking out loud.

    Thank you VERY much for writing this. 🙂

  10. Thanks for this post. It’s encouraging to see someone taking a stand. Armed with love. And the other guy’s got nukes. You might want to check out — an army might be more effective. I’ve taken this metaphor too far. Sorry.

  11. This is quite beautiful to me. I printed out King’s speech after I finished reading.

    I can’t bring myself to write very eloquently right now, but thank you for this post 🙂

  12. I think that, thanks to this new internet, we’re evolving.
    We’re evolving not to take the opinions of the entire world on our every public thought to heart.

    And in that evolution, people are acting out — violently, embarrassingly, stupidly.
    We’ll get better — but it will take a ton of posts like these.

    Thank you.

  13. Most of the people don’t comment because we don’t have the time to go watch a series of youtube videos in a feminism website. (or in any website for that matter) With all the respect to women, and to all people who fight for equal rights etc, let’s first feed all dying African kids, end war in the Middle East, get universal health care, THEN maybe we could talk about race inequality. You people live in your own little world don’t you? My country is in a deep recession where people commit suicide every day because of poverty. But all that stuff seem very small from the other side of the pond don’t they?

  14. Oh my goodness, I have no idea where to begin. I feel (unfortunately) like a ridiculously lucky girl, for having written for so many years online (though anonymously) and never having this experience. But it’s very much the community you’re in, as you point out in this. And I was (again unfortunately) lucky to be in a community where idiotic comments were almost never personal. They still happened, but there is a world of difference in having someone insult your opinion, and having someone insult you. I’ve heard of such things, mostly from friends that were into gaming, both male and female, but… it’s too easy to ignore when it doesn’t happen in front of you. Too easy even when it does, it seems.

    I applaud your willingness to discuss these issues here, despite the hatred so many have received to intimidate them into not doing exactly this. And I admire your wisdom and empathy, to recognize that hating the hate solves nothing. I don’t have much else to say. But thank you so much, and keep up your amazing work.

  15. I love love love what you have written here. I didnt know anything about this story. The nature of violence is so insidious… and seems to be mutating with technology. Thanks for writing – i have sharded it on google+

  16. First of all: thank you very much for standing up. However, I want to add something about violent males, that haven’t been mentioned yet. There is a chapter in Robert S. McElvaine’ book ‘grand theft jesus’ which explains in great detail, why males opress women for ages. And I think it is important to be aware of it, ’cause it helps understanding how offenders like the ones talked about here, tick.

    Males have been hunters and females have been receivers in the stoneage times. Until farming were invented. Since then hunting were not sufficient anymore to feed the population and after some time, huning became irrelevant. As a sidenote it has to be mentioned, who actually invented farming: females. Because only they had the knowledge about plants and semen and stuff. So – once hunting became irrelevant, men had to do farming, which was from their point of view “womens work”. They felt degraded. And they required some kind of compensation.

    So they invented religions with a male god making males the “better part of human kind” and turned female qualities like empathy, the abilitiy to give birth and the like into something to blame them for. Furthermore they just took over the birth thing by stating that it were men that create new live by implanting semen into the “raw field” of what they saw in females. They did all of this to compensate their loss of importance. To make war was another way of compensation. McElvaine explains it much better than I can do in a small comment here and english is not my native language but I hope it can be understood anyway.

    The thing is, this thinking has been implanted into minds by religions all over the world and dominates the world to this day. Just think a moment about how men are insulting other men: in most cases they use female properties to put the other man down, like “you behave like a girl” or “pussy” and stuff like that. I had the problem some weeks ago (I am a man) when someone did this to me. And he indeed did struck me. It hurted. See, I am an intelligent human being, atheist, I didn’t do anything violent to anyone in my whole live, I respect women as I repect anyone else. But yet it hurts me when another man says to me “You’re like a woman”.

    Now since I’ve read the mentioned book above, at least I understand why it is like that and I am able to change my mind. And this is the important thing about the whole issue: we all together have to help people to understand why they act like they act. And once people understand this, they can start thinking about how stupid and ridiculous they acted. It maybe a really difficult task, but it can be done, I’m sure.

    best regards from germany,

  17. Now I want to see a version of that game with a trollface and “Click to love”. A click showers hearts upon the trollface. It cringes… and blushes. Repeat.

  18. Thanks Erin. I too turn to certain writings that I know will keep me humble and centered.

    I believe the ongoing issue that spiked into the Sarkeesian incident is a result of not only the points you eloquently gathered, but a certain “easy anonymity” on the web. The cowards that would normally keep their thoughts to themselves now add to or become the flash points that help develop a mob mentality.

    “There is power in numbers and there is power in unity.” This idea isn’t new in the real world, the web is just more cloaked. We see some the same results of this phenomenon in political rhetoric though media channels. We even see it in a more “positive” light like a local Flash Mob, illness awareness/donation drives, and even on some of the Home Makeover shows (MOVE THAT BUS!).

    “There is power in numbers and there is power in unity.” Even though that power doesn’t speak to which side of the sword you fall, we can still take a stand when it comes to subjects like wanting to cause violent acts to someone simply because of their opinion. This is where the Freedom of Speech warrants expression “but with exception to libel, slander, obscenity and incitement to commit a crime.”

    THESE are the rules that our terra-based society has set forth. To your point, what rules do we really abide by in our virtual worlds?

  19. Thank you for the wonderful post. I’ve struggled for a long time with what to do myself as a woman in tech myself. How do I return love to a condescending comment or that demeaning joke that has everyone laughing except me? I don’t know what the solution is either but your blog post definitely got me thinking and for some strange reason, gave me a little courage. Perhaps it is time for me to not be quiet anymore and pretend everything is okay, it is really time to stop laughing at jokes that are at my own expense. Maybe it’s time for me to dig deep to find the courage to confront some of these bullshit with love.

  20. I think for a lot of men (male beings) violence has a hook planted in sexuality. I would even go as far as saying that’s true for most men in a certain way. I am not sure why this is – i have some vague ideas about why that is so for me. I am not sure if it relates directly to what happens to women when writing in public – but i think it relates to male fantasies of destroying – raping – abusing. It’s a sad thing for both – women and men … and not an easy one to fix.

  21. Hi Erin.

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but I think that:

    a) Part of the answer has to include documenting the problem the way Anita has been doing, if only because so many people are still ignorant about the nature and extent of this kind of all-to-common harassment.

    b) I think Jay Smooth makes many of the same points you do in your second step, but goes a bit further in explaining why some critical response to trolls may be necessary in this video:

    c) While her Kickstarter has ended, people can still support Anita’s work by donating directly to her site. I can personally attest to how good it feels to lay down some coin and know that I’m both taking a stand against misogynist behavior and promoting the kind of media criticism that I think we desperately need. Here’s a link:

    Anyway, long time/first time, yadda-yadda, love your work and thanks.

  22. Erin,

    Yours are the thoughts and ratings of a completely sane, thoughtful, and real person. We need more of that in this world. Thanks for writing about this. It helps in so many ways, I just can’t describe it fully here and now. Those weilding the fire of torches and sharpness of pitchforks are much less powerful when met with understanding, compassion, and love.


  23. If anyone proposed to make a documentary about the portrayal of women in the news, in 18th century art, in Romantic literature, no one would care two hoots. But cast a critical eye over Ye High and Mighty World of Videogames and woah: the gatekeepers cometh! How dare you voice an opinion on our favourite hobby, and (guilt warning) by extension, us! We have the only opinions that count! And our opinions are so rational and readily defended that we will resort immediately to ad hominem attacks (which, disgustingly violent as many of these threats are, is all they are).

    I do wonder if part of the trigger for the anger we’re seeing here is precisely a population of guilty consciences, subliminally aware that their favourite media portray women as second-rate morons, but so enamoured of all other aspects of their games that they don’t want to disentangle the sexism from the action and contemplate alternative scenarios. They don’t want to think or deal with the implications, they just want things to go on as they are, so they lash out.

    Someone asked how YouTube comments and suchlike could be policed – places where it’s possible to vote responses up and down, and cite hatespeech for moderation, tend to be much better behaved. That does require everyone to be a moderator on their own time however, but perhaps if trolls don’t see their juvenile rantings appearing (or lasting long) at the top of a comment pile, the attraction is lessened.

    Wonderful conclusion, Erin. Love is the answer, and as a far better wellspring of creativity than hate, I am sure if enough of us use it in whatever ways we can think of, we can make a difference. Perhaps a reserve army (unfortunate analagy) of The Nice People could be ready to respond to an alert any time they’re online: the balloon goes up (we need some Nice over here! Twitter hashtag #nice?) and we all zip over, comment civilly and with kindness, and the angry dorks are suddenly in the minority 😉

  24. Great article. Not enough is written about online bullying and trolls. Certainly not with suggestions to solve the problem.

    The YouTube issue alone is worthy of hundreds of articles. Yet the answer is so obvious and partly exists on YouTube already; ranked comments. Currently only the top two are promoted to the top of the comments. Why not go further and have Reddit-style comments where users up and down vote? Then at least the trolls can be relegated (mostly) to pages that will hardly be read at all?

    I think another part of the problem is accountability. Often there isn’t any online.

  25. Before I finish reading, can we please use the correct term. Flaming and Flamers, not Trolling and Trolls. There is a difference between being a total ass wipe and trolling.

    Ie, Rickrolling is trolling, sending hate mail and creating rape images is quote a few steps up on tricking someone into watching Rick Astley.

  26. This is my kind of religion. You are one of the best writers I’ve ever known, and have one of the biggest hearts. Hate crimes and those who commit them will always baffle me. Loving our enemies, as far better people than us have done, is our only hope, and man, is it hard. A similar online outrage is currently being perpetrated against a friend of mine, and my feeling is that I would like to find the guy responsible and bounce him like silly putty. But violence is never the answer, and, anyway, I’m not the type to act out on that kind of anger.

    I’m not sure any of us understands this kind of anti-woman hate. I don’t think it’s as simple as “thinking women are dumb, stupid sluts.” How does any human being with real lived experience of friends, sisters, mothers, etc. begin to think something like that? I think it’s darker than that, and that people (mostly men) who think it’s fun to bloody a real person’s digital face are working out something much, much worse than a sexist cliche. I think people who do this are badly hurt inside.

    Which is why finding them and hurting them more would only reinforce the hate — why your prescription of love, hard as it is to muster for the cruel, is the answer.

    I love you for writing this post and for all the light you shine in life and on the web.

    • The other problem with hating back at them is one that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever argued on the internet; namely, if you have 9 perfect, unassailable points, backed by evidence and clearly sourced, and your tenth point has one inaccuracy or a title or epithet (hippy, fascist, libtard, racist, etc) your opponent doesn’t believe applies, then the response will ignore your 9 perfect arguments in order to focus on the minor quibble (“I’m nothing like those Calvinists, I’m a proud Lutheran”).

      This form of ego-defense – ignoring vast amounts of rational data in favor of focusing on a rejectable premise – should also be familiar to anyone who’s ever argued with their sibling, offspring, or spouse.

  27. “Even when the worst trolls are beyond visible redemption, the way we handle them is visible to so many others who are still capable of feeling empathy or recognizing pain or changing their minds.”

    This is a great thought.

    It’s the fact that there are people in this world like you and Anita Sarkeesian is very reassuring.

  28. Thank you so much for bringing King’s wisdom to the sometimes wisdom-free world of internet comments. I think about the counter-bullying efforts going on in elementary schools, anti-harassment efforts in high schools and imagine we have a lot of excellent material to pull ideas from in creating a Love v Trolls effort. However, I am cautious, knowing that many trolls are externalizing their self-hatred, and thus will become more and more and more violent in response to efforts to love them. I think of Tibetan resistance, Thich Nhat Hanh’s exile, women trying to work with their abusive partners. Before the love breaks through the walls of rage, someone is dead. In the case of Lulzsec, that nearly became a reality for some people that were dox’ed – the threats were certainly serious enough. So as a community we must take every precaution to protect each other before initiating any nonviolent resistance strategy. In the civil rights movement, they would lock arms and put their heads in their laps to protect their skulls from the police baton’s blows. What will we do to protect each other from abuse, threats, or actual acts of violence that can be triggered when an abuser is confronted with love? Therapists have a hard time dealing with these sort of psyches, so we must work together to be prepared for a very hard road. I am committed to helping how I can, just want to make sure physical and reputation safety is not compromised in trying to change individuals. Some people respond to love with even deeper, more vitriolic hate. – @KMBTweets

  29. Great article with world changing ideas.

    Troll vs Love

    Troll: “die b*tch, die”

    Lovin’ reply: “thank you for expressing your opinion – it is valuable to know. I do not share it but wish you all the happiness in this life.”


  30. dinosaurs are no more between us because they used forces that evolution was not supporting. evolution supported brain force rather than muscles force. it’s always force and as a such something capable of arrogance but that’s life. anyway the same thing i think will happen to trolls.

  31. I can’t say how much this really hit home for me. It’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life, long before the Internet.

    Like many who start life in a negative environment, about five years ago I found myself in a volatile relationship that had cascaded into a myriad of other problems, financial and emotional. I was spending the week here in New York, considering an offer to move full time and perhaps make a fresh start for myself. It turned out to be the worst week for apartment hunting — freezing rain and broken down trains — and I was staying across from the loft where Heath Ledger was found dead, my second day in the city I think. Crowds of gawkers gathered outside, and the streets were lined with double parked news trucks.

    The energy was so heavy. Here was a man, a parent like myself, who had died simply because he was trying to sleep. He was sick, he was tired, and he just needed reprieve. And here were crowds of people who didn’t seem to be mourning, but rather living in a reality show, taking photos and literally waiting for his body to leave the building so they could see it.

    I made my way to a coffeeshop around the corner for some escape, only to find a note attached to a piece of art, a hateful tirade directed at anyone who might be compassionate towards the homeless.

    The blatant lack of compassion had me at my wits end and I started to cry. The world just felt so out of balance, and I felt like I was losing all hope.

    Before I left, I had an idea to put something back where I had found the hateful one. I was delirious, but in my mind I thought, if I put something positive where it had been, no one could put something hateful there.

    Later that night, on the phone with a friend, I told her what had happened. I told her how I’d left the positive note, and how that made me feel like I was creating some balance. I wanted to do more the next day. She promised she’d write notes too and scatter them around her city. We said goodbye, both feeling, in her words, a little bit more human.

    The next day, I wrote about it on my blog and she wrote about it on hers. This inadvertently inspired others who heard about it to do the same in their cities and write about it on their blogs. I still get messages from people who are writing notes all over the globe.

    I think the majority of us don’t want to be assholes. But sometimes you’re having a shitty day, and it’s easy to gloat over celebrity divorces or idiots on reality shows, it’s easy to make yourself feel better by shooting some terrorists or running over prostitutes in a video game. But I truly believe this cascades into hateful thinking – whether it’s harassing others or simply hating yourself.

    The only way to counter hate is with love. And I am so appreciative of you taking the time to write this, to take on an audience that could possibly give you some serious backlash, if only to encourage everyone to make an effort to be a little more compassionate.

    I hope this message makes its way to thousands of other blogs for years to come.

  32. Terrific and thought-provoking.
    You mention that the vast majority of the community will stand idly by while trolls frolic, and I think that’s true, certainly of myself. I’m in my early 30s and I grew up with computers/the internet. It’s only now becoming natural for me to even consider posting a comment/dissenting opinion to any post. For a long time, despite a certain degree of fluency on the internet, the anonymity afforded by the internet seemed too sacred to breech, and that combined with hearing so much authority throughout the past few years harp “everything on the internet is forever” has created – at least for me – a sense that not posting is the “safest” thing to do, personally.
    And yet, I have gotten to the point where I believe that continuing to be a part of communities while being apart from that community (as in, not posting, not answering questions, not providing support, etc.) is untenable and selfish. How can I be a member of a community without participating? How can I help make a community better/thrive/evolve without participating? This same ethos has spilled over into my off-line life, as well.
    I don’t know if this is simply a personal awakening, or if there is a pendulum swinging from the rampant anonymity of the earlier internet to a more connected more transparent more “friendly” (as in engaging – whether in support or dissent, but with respect) internet, but I hope the pendulum has reached its apogee.
    On the one hand, we have Voltaire, “Think for yourselves, and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too,” which I think at face-value says we are not to police others, but we should be conscientious about our own thoughts and contributions. Alongside Voltaire, we have Gandhi, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change toward him. …We need not wait to see what others do.” We absolutely have the power to change the overall tone on the internet, but we must do it by looking critically (as in analytically) at our own contributions first (again, my own interpretation). Supporting your Dr. King materials, His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes (on Twitter), “Having a more compassionate attitude helps you communicate more easily with your fellow human beings,” and, “Compassion and love constitute non-violence in action.” Is it enough to simply change our own internal reaction to these trolls and force love out of ourselves rather than continuing the hate-cycle? These would argue that this is certainly the case.
    I was on the WordPress forums the other day, and a user had posted a question about a troll who was attacking his blog because he (the blog writer) was of a certain caste in India, and this troll was virulent and hateful. There again arose the question of what this user could do, and what WordPress TOS did and did not prohibit. Most interestingly, another member posted that in the UK (where the hate originated from), this type of racial attack is actually punishable with jail time, and that the writer should submit a complaint with the UK authorities.
    Recall, as I’m sure you do, the teenager who posted racist death threats against President Obama shortly after the 2008 election; he was shortly dealt with by the Secret Service.
    Am I naive for wishing and hoping that we can build a strong, thoughtful internet community that doesn’t need a “safety net” of government action? The hardest thing, I think, is encouraging community members to raise the level of discourse to a place of respect, tolerance and intelligence, all tempered with love (as you point out). It’s hard to do. It’s taxing mentally. It’s a risk for each individual, in a low-grade kind of way, where they themselves may be “made fun of” or in a more contentious debate even targeted themselves (as you point out, again).
    A wonderful post. I’m glad to have read it.

  33. I believe it all comes down to one of your first points: Platform owners must build in civility.

    I’ve been blogging since 2003 and maintain several WordPress based sites, all of which are open for comments. I approve every single comment that appears. I decide whether or not to approve a comment based on a published comment policy. If a comment does not add to the discussion because it’s so obviously abusive or trolling for attention, it simply never appears on the blog. While it’s true that some trolls will try multiple comments when they notice their comment never appeared — and they’ll abuse me along the way — when NONE of them appear either and they don’t get the attention they seek, they simply go away. What’s left is the intelligent, useful discourse that mature and responsible people want to see online.

    I see absolutely NO REASON why this can’t be done by all platform owners. They owe it to their site visitors to keep things civil.

    As for responding to troll comments that appear on sites I visit, that’s feeding the trolls and I simply won’t do it. I’ll mark a comment as offensive (if possible) and I might even report the commenter to the site owner via email. But if a site has more than a few abusive comments, I will simply stop visiting it. If more of us did that, it might get the site owners to do their park.

    My two cents.

  34. Erin,

    Well done. I love the sensitivity with which you’ve examined this issue; as you say, it’s far easier to react to the sort of abuse you describe with anger than it is to do so with care. I don’t know that I believe we’ll ever see a world of humans that can always act with care as a guiding principle — at least not on this side of utopia — but it’s still something worth striving for.

    Outside of the spiritual transformation we’d all need to see that world, we can at least start with a little humility now and again. A willingness to admit to our own shortcomings and hypocrisy even in the minority of cases would get us a long way. Because let’s face it: we’re all deeply flawed, capable of hurting ourselves, capable of hurting one another, and capable of denying it all.

    I like the idea of bringing it all into the light. I heard someone say once that public correction builds character. It forces us to address the reality of our flaws when those around us are watching and waiting for a response. So you’re right, ignoring is not going to work. We have to get it out in the open. We have to be willing to call each other out on the harm we cause. But if we ever hope to have anyone actually listen, we have to be willing to own and admit our own flaws first. Speck, beam, et cetera.

    By the way — and you hint at this — it is hard to understand trolling until you’ve been the victim of it. I know that first hand: I never took trolling seriously until I had my first piece published on and was introduced to its louder audience. Amazing what people are willing to say when they can hide behind anonymity. That said, my trolls were downright polite compared with Sarkeesian’s. I wonder how we can better impress the reality of the harm that such things cause without actually imparting that harm on others. Is that possible? I certainly hope so, but I’m not sure how to get past the you-don’t-really-get-it-until-it’s-happened-to-you-barrier.

    In the meantime, thanks for having the courage to write things like this. I’m glad you’re on the internet.

    – Chris

  35. I’m not sure most of these people are necessarily misogynistic or sexist, but maybe generally turn to violence and dominance displays when faced with viewpoints that frighten them. I can imagine them creating the same app for a man they disagree with. Perhaps the rape threats are an extension of that. I’ve heard threats toward men involving killing them first and then some sort of sexual dominance display.

    I’m worried that sometimes when we see a problem that affects women, we don’t think about how these people might be equal-opportunity haters and we may be addressing the wrong problem.

  36. Love is “steady, unexpected, and weirdly difficult to defend against—the rhetorical equivalent of stepping inside someone’s guard. And it can’t be faked.”

    Love it.

  37. I was an online editor for the former for 10 years. Trying to maintain civility on the forums, and eventually story comments, was one of the least rewarding and most time-consuming parts of my job. Any random and vile thought that people had about the victims of car crashes, murder, rape, arson and more wound up being attached to the bottoms of our news stories, despite our best (and understaffed) attempts at moderation and the result was to drive away readers who cared about civility and attract those who wanted to see the spectacle of what horrible things commenters had to say — underneath our brand. (Google might respond differently if it was their logo floating on top of YouTube’s sophomoric commentary.)

    We could argue with and cajole our users all we wanted to, but everyone excused him- or herself by saying they’d seen other people get away with worse, so we would have to police the site for minutia and almost always resort to the brute force approach of banning users or threatening to ban them. (Though even blocking IP addresses would not stop the most determined flamers.) The most powerful tools turned out to be post counts — established users could game reputation systems, but feared having their tallies reset or reduced — and the involvement of volunteer moderators who had an interesting in the topic area.

    In any case, maintaining even the semblance of civility required constant and wearying engagement. I think any organization that enables and encourages (and ultimately profits from) commenting on their content has an ethical obligation to provide moderation or the tools for their community to do the job for them. In more practical terms, what does it say about your standards when you can’t protect your users from each others’ excesses?

  38. I just wanted to say thanks for not displaying the pic of Anita’s face being beaten from that wretched game. I’ve been following the story and have seen it plenty of times, but it invokes horrible memories for me for having seen my father hit my mom when I was growing up.

  39. Google, for example, has failed us with YouTube, which collects a consistently barrel-bottom comment stream, thanks in large part to Google’s refusal to create good mechanisms for enforcing its own community policy.

    Which is why the Herp Derp browser extension is a must-have.

    P.S., – Adding comment preview functionality would be nice. I mean, these comment things have been around for a few decades and all the cool kids were doing preview years and years ago…

  40. The potential for anonymity on the internet makes it tantamount to a virtual dark alley and enables these sort of disgusting attckes. Until entrepreneurs and businesses are willing to get serious about creating limits and establishing norms for civility and etiquette that will always be the case. And, I fear, it will only get worse. The problem is, those limits might limit their profits.

    The Internet is new public forum but by and large, it is housed on corporate campuses. That is not a good thing.

  41. this is all very good, thoughtful and obviously well intended but I feel that there is a common misconception of trolling and that is why you are seeing the majority of gamers standing idly by. When I first came across the kickstarter campaign the haters was already going batshit crazy against Sarkeesian and her camp (she and her supporters who do not identify themselves as gamers) was complaining about trolls of all things ! Tbh, I had a good laugh first and proceeded to read some of the hate messages as they can get pretty creative even if they are not written by the brightest of people.

    Now you may be thinking that I obviously do not care, what am I doing here trying to point out “we are doing it wrong”. I enjoy a well written game as much as the next guy and progress here is the only way out for the sloppy writing we see all over the gaming industry.

    Back to the misconception about trolling. What is trolling ? It certainly isn’t posting hate comments, threats etc. That’s what one usually gets, tries to get, as an outcome when she is trolling. A master troll baits a crowd, with a sound argument somewhat based on facts, provocative language and waits for the haters to entertain her. When you see trolling from this perspective, it looks like Sarkeesian is the troll in this incident, and a very successful one, too. This is not a bad thing. A good troll commends respect from the community (except the haters, of course), but when you see her blaming the so called trolls for hating her and mobilizing the sympathizing crowd against a group called trolls; the majority, naturally, becomes disenchanted about her. This was what happened with me, and I would guess that is also why majority of gamers are standing idly.

    So, you may ask, can’t we have an intelligent debate about gaming without the haters and being labeled as trolls even if we weren’t meaning to be. The answer to this lies in good moderation. A system where ALL posts are accessible even though they are not necessarily on plainsight. An example was the old gawker blogs’ comment system where only the posts that were OK’d by the mods was available at first sight but you could always see the rest if you wanted through a filtering system. This is, of course, a serious job and responsibility which suffers from the same invisible effect problem with content strategists.

    About the haters, well, if you don’t like to see the content they generate; I think you should look for good moderators. I don’t think there is much anyone can do about their attitude with their percieved anonimity working like a superpower. Boys will be boys and they will grow out of it.

  42. You replied…

    “To your second point…every person who voiced their support for Anita did a good thing. But far, far more people just haven’t gotten involved. (Engaging trolls in combat gives them attention—simply showing up to the places where the attacks are occurring and registering support for civility…I hope that’s a better plan.)”

    I love you, but I don’t see this working. More to the point, I think it is a distinction without a difference. To bring it around home, how would this content (for that it is) registering support for civility appeal to these people? Bluntly, it won’t.

    As for me, I doubt I will be watching the videos. Not because of the topic, which is noble and worthwhile, but because every time someone uses the word “trope”, I throw up in my mouth a little. I’ve never been one for post-modern criticism anyway.

  43. As an avid gamer I find the behavior of this group to be appalling. I would have never known this was going on without the information provided to me by the kind and wise Neil Gaiman, but now that I know, know that I will not stand down in the face of rabid imbeciles. I don’t know the full story still, but regardless of what people stand for, it is their undeniable right that they be allowed to stand for it unobstructed. I am deeply sorry for the behavior of anybody who bothers you, as the writer of this sensible piece of literary genius, but know that it has inspired at least one person to not stand “idly by” during this.
    I am not very smart… But the internet is a real place with real people, its about time it started having real laws put in place I think.

  44. The very nature of the Internet — that it’s malleable (i.e., freaks with knowledge can do damage), that anonymity is possible, and that the inmates are in charge (i.e., the average physical/emotional age is a relatively low number) — allows trolls to exist and thrive, altho your suggestions could go a long way to helping. And I hope people do try to stand up for what’s right, and do it with compassion.

    I’m old enough to remember being an adult pre-Internet, and a lot of societal guidelines then (like “don’t discuss religion or politics at parties”) have basically been vaporized by the Internet, a phenomenon I have watched since the late 1980s, when trolls maybe existed in small Usenet groups.

    A whole generation is growing up, not realizing that they are living in a changed, new world.

  45. I’ve written about this before, essentially point-for-point, but never so elegantly and pointedly. Thank you.

    As a man I feel like it’s more on me and other men to set a better example and show less tolerance for the madness. A man who thinks women are “stupid sluts” will react to the opinion of another guy a bit better and, when they see just how many other men find the behavior intolerable, they’ll come around. After all, the men cited above don’t act like this out of positions of security and power, quite the opposite. It doesn’t take a lot of peer pressure to change behavior like that.

    But honestly I’m a bit at a loss. You’ve given some good pointers, and I’m now pretty good at biting back the “must reign nuclear death from orbit on these guys” urge. Love is a great source of perspective. But aside from more wordy variations on “Don’t act like a dick” what is a good or proper response?

    Can anyone point to a particular comment or thread that’s a good example of the path to pursue? As a community administrator my actions have mostly been delete and move on, but I’d like to be more proactive and I guess at this point the “nuke them from orbit” emotions are still strong enough to disrupt the love.

  46. I would like to take the time to thank you SOOOOO MUCH for this post.

    I have been in such of a down mood lately because so many people were posting how violence against certain people (AKA bad people) was still good. It just smells to me like the same stuff that oppressors use against the oppressed. I know its not the same, I know. But I know enough about history and anthropology to know that tables turn and the cycle of violence continues if it isn’t stopped.

  47. Excellent, amazing post. You’ve put into words what I haven’t been able to articulate. Thank you so, so much.

  48. I broadly agree with the thrust of your comment… but… (how could a comment that started like that not include a “but”, right?)

    There is still a strain of the “us (women) vs them (men)” in your analysis that I find problematic. The primary victims of violence in North American society are men. Men are victimized by all violent crimes except (possibly) rape at rates up to twice that of women. Men report rates of rape at about 10% of the rate of women, but what do you think the under-reporting differential is? How much less likely than a woman is a man to report he has been raped? A factor of two? A factor of ten?

    In everything I’ve seen in talking about this awful situation that Anita Sarkeesian and other women online are in there has been a naive and frankly long outdated presumption that women are somehow the primary victims of violence in our society. They are not. Men are.

    Sometimes people chime in at this point and say that’s OK because most of the perpetrators are men, but no one has ever been able to explain to me why this is OK. I’ve never been attacked, beaten, had bones broken or the like and thought, “Hey, that’s OK! I won’t have PTSD because god damnit my attacker is male!”

    Violence and hatred, not “violence and hatred against women” are the problem, and men are not only the most common victims but the first, earliest victims of violence. We experience far more violence in our growing up than women, and if we demur from it we are considered “wimps” and the like (often by women, by the way.) I am not “blaming the victim” here or saying women “deserve” the terrible things that are done to them by men: I am pointing out that violence is a cyclical phenomenon and we are all in danger of unknowingly contributing to that cycle.

    The men who are treating Anita Sarkeesian so horribly were not born that way. They were made, and they were made by violence and the pervasive, dehumanizing assumptions that go along with it in the lives of men and boys.

    So I hugely appreciate the point about stopping hatred with love. These are men who need love, and if we understand that their dreadful behaviour has a cause, and take their insults and viciousness as evidence of how broken they are and how underserved they have been by modern social norms around the treatment of men and boys, perhaps we will find them easier to love.

  49. I am a forum admin for a major video game company. I appreciate this post very much as I deal with trolls every day. I don’t have much to add right now (hungry!) but I just want to say this post is fantastic. Thanks for writing it.

  50. Hello, commenters. Thanks for bearing with my ancient commenting system, and double-thanks for taking the time to respond here — and to respond so thoughtfully. I’ve been traveling and in meetings all day, but I hope to be able to properly address some of your individual points in the next day or so. But I want to say one thing now.

    In the thread above, I see some genuine disagreement, some very encouraging moments of agreement, and many thoughtful extensions of my post. What I don’t see is a thread full of flames and bickering. And that’s not because I had to mod it heavily, either. I’m a little overwhelmed by the response here and on Twitter — both because so much is positive and because so much of the disagreement is substantive and considered.

    The specifics of tactics and even underlying philosophy are complex and we’re never going to agree about all of it, but this is the conversation worth fighting for.

    Thank you. Thank you. Good night.

  51. I’m generally not one to comment, but I read comments and have always been someone who’s been appreciative of other people commenting on things – when I have a question, I can throw it into google and inevitably someone has asked and the internet has answered. Or when I want to know what conversation are happening around about the particular thing I’m reading. I’m all for different opinions. But it breaks my heart when people are their worst selves, bickering and hateful. But on top of that threatening another human being’s safety?! There has to be a line and those of us that care about others must do something about it. Thank you for writing this.

  52. Thanks, Erin.

    Well said.

    FYI: I found this from a Facebook post from Librarian by Day. I shared it forward to a bunch of folks who also write online.

    Best regards,

  53. Some poet observed that “A cannon fires only once, but words can detonate across centuries”. This article, these words, are going to do that I think. I hope. Reading them makes the world a little more bright.

    Thank you, Erin Kissane. You have done something good here. That’s all I have to say.

  54. I think John Scalzi’s blog is an interesting example of good humoured, strongly enforced but well respected moderation with extreme banhammering.

    Having been through a relatively mild experience of getting the attention of the Internet after a story I wrote (I tried co-moderation, then turned off comments and made sure not to read Slashdot), I’m feeling a couple of tensions myself.
    – I’ve been online since the early 90s, in a variety of online forums ranging from deeply supportive to utterly trivial. I find myself wanting to say ‘that’s stupid/wrong/hilarious because of how stupid & wrong it is’ perhaps a little more than in the past.
    – I’m seeing that the tone argument (state your argument-from-a-place-of-deep-personal-pain *nicely*) is being used against those to whom the Internet has given a relatively recent ‘voice’ (I don’t think ‘meet trolls with love’ is a tone argument BTW).
    – I see a lot of privileged group X expressing that their valid grievances about the way the world treats them somehow invalidate the problems of far-less privileged group Y and I feel both ‘no, that doesn’t invalidate anyone else’s problem’ and ‘your grievances are real and distressing to you and should be acknowledged – because if they’re not they’re going to drive you to be more of a hater and a troll; you have real pain – but could you please also have empathy for those with their own pain, because your pain does not invalidate theirs.’

  55. Thank you, Erin, for continuing to bring attention to this issue that I think a lot of us wish would just go away. It won’t though. It never will completely. Fight with love.

  56. Thank you so much for this wise and honest post. I appreciate it as someone who manages online spaces, someone who writes, and someone who is a person of faith.

  57. Hn. You make some interesting, valid and honestly very logical points. This suggests that you are distinctly unlike something like 90% of the participating population of the Internet even before we get on to the subject of gender. The simple fact (and the biggest problem) is that the Internet has given everybody in the world a way to splurge their thoughts into the global theatre without the slightest bit of moderation or accountability. Most people being lazy, this means that they do not bother to even try to filter their initial reactions before posting them online. Why should they? There’s not going to be any real comeback.

    The problem with this from the perspective of a company like Google is that it means they have probably billions of comments a day on all of their sites combined: Attempting to enforce any kind of community rules on an edifice that large is not technically impossible, but would be so expensive and time-consuming both in terms of hardware investment and staff costs as to make it economically and practically impossible.

    And to get to my main point, the problem with this when it comes to criticising anything that guys like is that guys, generally, are hardwired to be assholes. I know this mainly from experience: I am one. If you actually meet me, I am urbane, intelligent, logical and usually articulate. I am polite (most of the time) and I despise sexism, racism and prejudice. However, I constantly have a competitive urge to not only be better at stuff than other people around me, but to let them know that I am better than them. My first, gut response to any circumstance is usually not the one I eventually roll out with, because it is usually aggressive, very often negative and regularly violent. I dislike all of these things, and it doesn’t take much effort to keep them in check most of the time (I have learned well) but the key point is that it does take some effort, I have to be paying attention in order to not be an asshole.

    This is not unique to me. As far as I am aware from my conversations with others it is simply part of being a guy. That testosterone flame that always drives us to go faster than we should on the road, to one-up each other in conversation, to put others down and elevate our own standing. Moreover, the flame burns brightest among those who are at the bottom of the pecking order. Those at the top can afford to let things slide: The weak pawings of the insignificant are of no consequence. But to those at the bottom those pathetic love-taps take on the status of apocalyptic barrages, and a polite criticism of a form of entertainment media becomes a crushing defamatory tirade of all that makes them men.

    Combine the two circumstances, along with the third factor of adolescent teens who have not yet learned how to control their built-in stupidities in real life and are suffering from an excess of testosterone, and you have a recipe for disaster: A population driven by an aggressive asshole machine that now has all of the normal governors disengaged and is thus allowed to run free, unconstrained by such things as logic or intelligence that take time to apply, with self-esteem issues such that regardless of the actual content or wording of the criticism any suggestions for the improvement of their favoured entertainment medium will immediately translate into a listing of their own imperfections, will by its nature come up with some decidedly choice vileness.

    I’m not writing this to say that there’s nothing you can do about it. I am writing this in order firstly to apologise, inasmuch as I am able, for the collective stupidities of my gender, and secondly to encourage you and others who are willing to take on the monolithic hate machine that is the Internet that you are, in fact, doing very much the right thing by pointing out the flaws where you see them and that the tide of effluent that will inevitably return to you with the next wave should in no way discourage you: it is simply the wounded squealings of a population cursed with more aggression than it knows what to do with and less self-worth than it needs to survive.

    I would say a little love is exactly what it needs.

    • The problem with this from the perspective of a company like Google is that it means they have probably billions of comments a day on all of their sites combined: Attempting to enforce any kind of community rules on an edifice that large is not technically impossible, but would be so expensive and time-consuming both in terms of hardware investment and staff costs as to make it economically and practically impossible.”
      And our legal system is basically set up such that *ANY ATTEMPT* at moderation makes you liable for catching everything, whereas doing nothing except processing complaints in a timely manner as prescribed by law entitles you to full protection. The answer is to fix it ourselves, not call for mommy, daddy, Google, or The Government to come fix it for us.

    • Mike – that might be one of the best comments I have ever read. I intend to crib from it repeatedly to reply to trolls on comment boards. Especially this line “…it is simply the wounded squealings of a population cursed with more aggression than it knows what to do with and less self-worth than it needs to survive “. Genius. And thanks.

    • I think you’re hitting the nail on the head here. The writer asks how we can empathize with men who do this and you give us the answer. Biology is playing against these men. And it’s very possible that the way our childhood is now structured, with less emphasis on social niceties and spending early childhood with Mom at home and more emphasis on ‘manning up’ and being competitive and ambitious, combined with the open, face-less forum of the internet, we’ve cooked up the perfect recipe for the spread of hate and disrespect. These games are designed to reward aggression and violence as well so we can’t be surprised when we see it play out socially. It’s not the game’s fault, it’s not Mom’s fault, it’s not ‘society’s’ fault. It’s is the fault of no one, but we should make a collective effort to see these people as people who are missing integral pieces in the love and acceptance portion of their lives, the part that provides the self-worth it takes not to show off for the other guys. They are searching for attention and lashing out to gain approval.

      • Jen, I like your thoughts. Have you considered the odds in favor of being seriously injured in the process of providing love and acceptance to these frightened males?  I wish you well as you set out to help change society; I’ll deal with the old geezers (my age cohort) and pray for your safety and survival as you deal with the people you seek to help.

        • That post does sound kind of sarcastic and/or sinister, but I think you’ve touched on an important point. (I’ll never forget my little sister’s attempt to reach out to her poor, alienated junior high classmate…which resulted in her becoming the target of his stalking and rape threats. My family’s been paranoid about letting our home address leak out to the public ever since.) Sometimes trying to help those who aren’t interested in improving is a serious personal risk. I wish I knew how to handle such matters safely…

    • Really? I’m a man and I don’t feel burdened by my testosterone. I find it easy to be civil to people and to respect their accomplishments. I don’t feel the need to compete with people I hardly know, and I don’t feel the need to brag about it when I excel at something. I certainly don’t feel the need to shove it in their faces. When I do well at something, I enjoy sharing my accomplishment with my friends, but I also enjoy it when they share my accomplishments for me. We are not competing with each other. Why should we? It’s a win-win situation when like-minded people get together to do something, whether it’s conversation, gaming, fighting injustice, or what have you. 

      I think people who are competitive are people who are afraid that secretly deep down, they’re losers. They MUST compete in order to shore up their fragile egos. They have to find something to lord over somebody else to make themselves feel big. Such people can be male or female. It’s a particular risk for males because we’re taught from an early age that the world is divided into winners and losers, and losers suck, so we’d better get it in gear and pretend to be winners so we won’t hate ourselves for being the losers we secretly fear we are. This has absolutely nothing to do with testosterone and everything to do with how American society raises boys and socializes them to become Neanderthals. 

      Anyone who buys into ‘testosterone made them do it’ is perpetuating the notion that men are natural born Neanderthals and we shouldn’t expect anything else of them, and that therefore it’s not society’s fault they turned out like this, and therefore there’s nothing for society to do it about. It means that the person who blames testosterone doesn’t have to ask themselves hard questions, like, “Do I think less of men who are nice and polite? Or do I only respect competitive, pushy, ‘manly’ men who ‘act like real men’?” 

      To claim men are ruled by their hormones is every bit as sexist, false, and demeaning as to claim women are ruled by their hormones.

  58. Thank you for writing such a decent-hearted and smart-headed post. Carol from the Caultural Gutter advised me to read your words and I’m glad she did. I hope the days been exceptionally kind to you.

  59. You make a well-reasoned analysis of the actions of those who refuse to act with civility. Let me join with other commentators in support of your insights. Even where I might disagree with Ms. Sarkeesian’s work (about which I have no knowledge), misogyny and misanthrope have no place in our society, electronic or otherwise.

  60. The “Board of Shame.” When I ran a community at, we had problems with trolls sometimes. Sometimes they were longtime members and friends of many of the original “settlers” of our small corner of the internet. Then one day, the crazy would come out. They were like farm dogs who’d suddenly started chasing chickens. We loved them, but we could not let them kill the chickens, even if the chickens were younger and we didn’t have as much attachment to them. We would send them away.

    We had a zero-tolerance two-strikes policy. The idea was that everyone is entitled to one bad day. But also, anyone can make a complaint of harassment to a moderator. Moderators were judges. They would assess the altercation and hear the cases of both parties. They would bring their decision or inability to make a decision to the admin, myself, and I would do the banning. It seemed like we needed a one-strike policy because once someone started trolling, they were usually unable to resolve their conflicts effectively and had to be removed.

    When they were banned, we made a thread for them on the Board of Shame, a place where we hung up the names and offenses of the banned. The community was encouraged to come pay tribute and air their grievances while the banned party could only watch on in silence.

    Was it petty? Maybe. Did it build a sense of community rallying against a common enemy? Oh my yes. Did it demonstrate what was unacceptable to the community? I think so.

    It wasn’t love. But it was a clear signal: Act like this and you will be cast out of the herd.

    Perhaps it would help new (and old) users of the Internet if it were easier to model their behavior on a few good–and bad–examples.

  61. Also thank you for writing this. Very inspiring to someone like myself who finds it all too easy to return hate for hate, violence for violence. I am always learning how to be a better adult.

  62. Fantastic article and the comments from everyone enhanced the reading enjoyment. For me one of the fundamental things us men have to learn is that our opinions are not the last and final word on every subject. I work with a youth organisation and every year we have a discussion about opinions, what they are and what they mean and the primary lesson is that a persons opinion which is 180 degress opposite to yours is a fanatstic way to start a friendly conversation as you try to understand how they got to form that particular position.
    The key principle is that you dont have to change your opinion about the subject and you may still disagree with the person at the end of the day but there is never any need to attack what they believe.

  63. Very good article on a topic that obviously needs to be discussed. I think part of the problem is the fact that it’s rather easy to hide in anonymity online while expressing opinions and questionable ideas you wouldn’t get away with in the offline world. Sure, those views still exist offline, likely beneath the surface of that person – however it’s much easier to run wild with sick world views like the ones discussed here if all you’re exposing is that funny username “Playa97” you chose to use when participating in one of those god-awful Youtube -comment threads. No, I think comments, posts and blogs and anything else you express on the internet should be regarded as public statements that are tied to your real name. It shouldn’t really differ from giving a quote to a local newspaper – just to mention a similar situation from the real world.

    I’m just assuming here but I guess forcing people to use their real name on sites like YouTube puts the barrier for stupid low-quality comments much, much higher. It shouldn’t matter if you’re on- or offline: If you say it you should be accountable – a real name is a requirement for that.

  64. Great post.

    I certainly disagree with the “don’t feed the trolls” approach.

    I am told by many of my rationally-minded friends to ignore religious fanatics and that there’s no use in having discussions with them. But casting judgment on what people are like and what they’ll always be is extremely wrong in my book.

    People have the capacity to change, and we need to speak to others with respect and compassion. We should desire what’s best for others, rather than pray for the worst.

    I would say love is important, but ethical values (and what people feel justified in feeling, saying and doing) are the result of our thinking. To defeat the trolls we need to point out why their approach is wrong. This may not have an immediate effect, but it certainly conditions their thinking into considering alternative approaches.

  65. Hiya, I find this very interesting in terms of engaging women via the internet. This week Wikipedia revealed that they are having trouble nurturing and retaining women editors. This may not be a problem, not everyone wants to work for Wikipedia, however, it means that items that are of particular interest to women are not being entered. This creates a disconnect between Wikipedia and society as a whole. Could this hidden violence against women be the cause of lack of engagement? Food for thought.

  66. Good grief – loved this (thanks to NYT for linking) and love love love your writing. You go.

  67. As a WoW player for quite some time, I’ve become sick and tired of trolls. The thing is: you’re not hearing the voices of players unless you’re in a raid, which usually means you’re playing with members of your guild. This means voice chat is not really a problem on WoW. To make up for this, there are plenty of players who sit around in the main chat channel and endlessly harass people. There are trolls well known on each server (and that’s just one player name–I’m sure one person could be controlling the chat channels on multiple names). I’m glad I’m not a woman either, because then it can be that much worse. It sickens me when (young) men are so insensitive about a wide array of topics, like being sexist to hurt someone or joking about rape. Apparently WoW doesn’t screen names like I thought they did, so gamer names have to be reported by players in game (which isn’t always feasible). This allows trolls another way to harass people: by giving themselves or their pets disgusting names. Inappropriate language in the next sentence. >_> (I’ve seen Manglerape as a player name–I have NO clue how that got through–and Buttfuck too. Naming a pet monkey Blackpeople is just as offensive, but a little harder to police.) I’ve contacted the Blizzard (who made WoW) Customer Service through Twitter (because I usually get a response from them), so if you’d like to yell at them for allowing this kind of crap to continue, be my guest: @ BlizzardCS

  68. I just want to say I am so sorry for the ways these idiots speak to people, women included. I’m also ashamed of the game my fellow ontarioan made where you punch that lady. I try to be good to people when I play online, and I tell people not to speak in such racist/sexist/homophobic ways if they are playing with me. Unfortunately, these trolls see that as an invite to behave even worse. It seems to me that most trolls, if not all, have some pretty obvious mental, self confidence, and self esteem issues. That being said, if we don’t all report these people, nothing will happen and behavior will never change

    • Reporting is a way to get them out of the specific forum they’re in, but it won’t make them change… they’re victimizing others because it makes them feel powerful or because it’s something they perceive to be a pattern of behavior intrinsic to the kind of person they want to be seen as.

      Reporting them actually reinforces their worldview that there’s some kind of conspiracy designed to keep them from being treated fairly. But you can’t force them to change and you can’t force them into therapy, so banning them is the next best thing (the best thing is making them feel shame, but that can only be done on a case-by-case basis).

  69. Yea throw males in prison, that is always the answer given by the anglosaxon culture, including the women who have grown up in it and benefit from it. A culture that has taken over the world and has extinguished the sweet things of old that males once could posess. Afghanistan was the last vestige of the ancient males culture that existed on earth, where the males got sweet things.

  70. Trolls are not the problem. Bullies are. It’s as simple as a kid on a playground who doesn’t know or chooses to ignore the boundaries of ok behavior.
    I too was a long time WoW player. The first edition of the game didn’t have many options to shut up crazy abusive people, but you could at least turn off an offensive player’s chat by “ignoring” them. Each update of the game included more and better ways to deal with the bullies as the game moderators found that players could self police the community w/in certain boundaries. You could “kick” someone out of a 5-player dungeon if enough people voted to kick the person. If a player was kicked too many times, they were not allowed to join group play areas. These group play dungeons are the main way to get good items in the game, so there is a huge incentive for cooperation. Same with the Battleground kind of PVP area of the game. Cooperation was enforced.

    I also found that joining a Guild was a good way to avoid a lot of the bullies in the game. We were a well respected group, and kept a good name on the Server. However, one of our players was a well known Troll. He had some health issues and so had a lot of time to hang out on-line in the game and reply in great detail in the public chat. He was a nice enough guy in real life, big family, loving dad, but just enjoyed nailing people to the wall who made what he considered to be dumb comments. It was all very amusing mostly. We as a guild tried to tone him down a little. He was a far far cry from any of the real bullies in the game who were mostly quickly “/ignore”‘d by all.

    A game like WoW is an outlet for some people to be aggressive in ways that are not tolerated in real life situations. Allowing a community to shape the behavior of people who don’t understand how to act in public in humorous ways is a positive thing. Humor more than hugs seemed to help these people come to an understanding of how to behave. I would often make jokes when people said things like “that’s retarded, or that’s gay.” e.g.: Oh! so gay as in dashing and witty and fashionable like Lady Gaga?”

    • I’m not sure why you haven’t been upvoted yet. Well, I mean, that’s a terrible example of a joke, but the sentiment is perfect.

  71. /ignore, mute button or just have some self control and DONT FEED THE TROLLS
    plenty of tools for sensitive types in games already. Take care of it on your end and stop trying to legislate other people’s behavior.
    stop trying to abridge freedom of speech and expression, the internet isn’t meant to be your hugbox
    information wants to be free, that is an absolute principle.censorship of any kind undermines liberty.
    Also, the writer invokes image of violence IRL that have never happened. this is yellow journalism of the lowliest kind.

    • There are so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to start. Even the ACLU recognizes that hate speech with the intention to incite violence goes beyond the liberties of free speech. Yelling “fire” (when there isn’t one) in a movie theater is not protected as freedom of speech because it creates a public danger. Likewise releasing somebody’s address and inviting people to rape or abuse her, isn’t free speech protected by the first amendment either. We do, rightly, legislate behavior, when that behavior threatens the liberties and safety of others.

      • I think it was Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said “The right to swing my fist ends where the next man’s nose begins.”

        No idea what his opinion on the classic “I’m just going to start kicking air like this, and if any part of you should fill that air, it’s your own fault” scenario.

    • You’re misusing the phrase “information wants to be free.”
      The first recorded use of the phrase was by Stewart Brand, in a speech at the first Hacker conference in 1984: “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”
      He put it in writing in a book released a few months later: “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”

      In no way was it a moral authorization to release the home address of someone you disagree with alongside an incitement to violence.

  72. I really love this piece. I’m also deeply saddened that the gaming/geek community has become such a cesspool of hate.

    But, I’m not surprised. I’m going to post this anonymously, because I think we are at a point where showing any empathy for the misogynist gamers makes you a monster.

    I don’t think these gamers think of women as “stupid sluts”, they think of women as representatives of a world that denies them any value. I think that they are boys/men who feel deeply rejected, and are trying to re-empower themselves by rejecting back. Much as women are valued in accordance to how attractive and fun they are, men are valued in accordance to how successful and powerful they are. When we talk about geeks today, we make it seem cool, but much of what being a geek really is (or has been) involves being told repeatedly that you don’t matter. That you’re not worthy. That you don’t deserve love or respect. If you have any self esteem, your peers flock to try to steal it from you and take it for themselves. You are a “nerd” when you are young, and then a “man-child” when you are an adult. A loving relationship with a member of the opposite sex is one of the gold standards of belonging in this society, and it is something that “loser” men have been told that they don’t deserve. So- I think the misogyny comes from a reaction to this. Women are seen as agents of their ostracism, and these “losers” express hostility to them. Similarly, they feel disinclined to let mainstream culture, and especially women appropriate a space (video game culture) that they have felt safe in. They have created a society in which they finally get some validation, and they don’t want it appropriated by the people they ran from.

    Again, I’m not condoning the actions of these men and boys (at all. at. all.), but if you want to fight them with love, you need to start off by understanding where they are coming from. These aren’t just callous smug men, enjoying the privilege of the 50s, these are emotionally damaged men who are trying to hurt others as much or more as they have felt hurt. As ugly as these actions are, there is a certain amount of reaping what we (society, not women) sow here.

    But the good news is, I think, that maybe it isn’t impossible to fix some of this, because most of these guys don’t actually BELIEVE what they say about women. They are attracted to the shock value, not the underlying message. I think that a doctrine of love will actually work with a lot of these people, if you sincerely try to talk to them and get to know them. Not all, and attempts to do so should not be done in front of an audience, but I do think that most of these guys are capable of empathy (and actually may be a lot more sensitive than most men), and could be shown that there are healthier ways to get validation.

    • I think you’ve really expressed an important idea here. These men see “having” a woman not as a mutual relationship between two people who have free will, but as a “gold standard of belonging in society.” Women are a status symbol, not really even people! And as a society, we are “reaping what we sow”- misogyny is so accepted and popular that it’s a way for men, marginalized or not, to show their power and be accepted in society by expressing hate for women. Though really, this attitude is not only part of nerddom…it’s very mainstream. I guess that men who want to feel powerful and don’t have many other outlets for it might be more likely to lash out at women, and it’s a way of being included and knowing that you still have some status in society just by virtue of being male?

      • It’s narcissism. You reject the painful process of becoming something and instead search for symbols – rituals of behavior, conspicuous consumption, etc – that convey the status you’re too weak or too afraid to attempt to earn.

        There’s a blog, The Last Psychiatrist, that goes into great detail about this. I find myself saying “you’re a huge asshole” as I read his stuff, but also, as the saying goes, “well, you’re not wrong.”

      • I feel the “gold standard” is having a relationship (rather than “a woman”). It’s the relationship that is the status symbol, showing “I’m a person who someone else cares about.” It isn’t just men who have the desire to be in a relationship and get angry when the world doesn’t provide them with one. This sense of entitlement happens in many parts of society.

    • wrong .. the comunity hasn’t become a cesspool its a minority of idiots who think they are untouchable since they are on the net. The ones that make the most noise are the ones everyone see’s .. the real players  don’t get seen widely

    • I have a little story that backs this.

      It starts off when I discovered the amazing world of gaming and other geek mediums. I had been introduced to really competitive gaming by watching Sal through his youtube fatmop. He was really positive and the people in competitive scrims he filmed were also positive. I thought this was the stander.

      So, when a few months latter 5 guys invited me to train with them for a scrim I accepted, (I was a noob at the time and had no hope of getting better with out them.) They were the best couches I have ever had, but by accident one pressed a bind which made him say something sexist in chat. They all had binds like that, and most of them had more than one. I’m still not sure what to do, I still talk to them and work with them.

      • You need to be worried that you cannot formulate basic ideas using acceptable standard English grammar and spelling. Your response is an excellent piece of evidence for those who posit ‘gaming’ is a tremendous waste of time, let alone those who would simply opt for sexism as a defense for laziness.

  73. I have run a number of successful video game servers over the years (mostly Counter-Strike, but others as well), and am just starting to get back into it, and have joined up with a new community that runs the #1 worldwide server for the game we enjoy. (A semi-realistic first person WWII game)

    On every server I have ever run, trolling, excessive smack-talk, racism, homophobic or otherwise offensive language and anything that could be even remotely construed for sexual harassment have been bannable offenses. Players have received one warning, and if they argue with the moderator, or re-offend they are permanently banned.

    I am often frustrated by how my efforts have so little impact. For every offensive player I ban, there are hordes of misbehaved, nasty players who get their kicks by trying to get a rise out of others, and pride themselves in being as offensive as they can.

    Most of the time I don’t even think they believe what they are saying themselves, but they do it out of a sense to keep raising the bar, stand out, look “cool” among their friends in a group of people (gamers) who are increasingly jaded to such things because they care constantly surrounded by them.

    Does the author (or anyone else) have any suggestions on what else decent people who are disgusted by this behavior can do to help address the issue?

    As much as the current situation is abhorrent, I fear that the backlash to it will be worse. I am a strong supporter of Internet freedoms, and fear that attempts to solve these issues will result in online censorship and a loss of privacy (already many organizations are requiring people to identify themselves online by their real names to try to shame trolls into stopping their poor behavior, this is a dangerous direction to move in.)

    I hope this issue can be solved, but it HAS to be done in a way that does not sacrifice Internet freedoms and destroy Internet privacy and anonymity. These things are more important than anything else in this debate.

    • Well, in your position as a server op, the only thing you really can do is keep banning. Make sure that your community is involved – maybe set up a leaderboard for which clan forwards the most actionable abuse reports, or whatever – so that the good players know you’re working to keep their environment fun.

      You’re otherwise redacted all identifying information about your server, so I don’t know how the jerks are finding you, but maybe you could contact a few ISPs’ abuse departments ( and see what kind of information they need to process abuse complaints … AND how much of a grace period they give between offenses. If you start giving out one-week bans (because, say, your top three offending ISPs all have 7-10-day graces) instead of permabans, you might actually start getting them 30-day internet suspensions.

      • I say I agree that privacy an anonymity is more important than punishing bullies; someone downvotes anonymously. Delicious. Thank you for proving Karlsson’s point.

  74. dunno who will see this, but in reference to your (accurate) assessment of youtube comments, I recommend “youtube comment snob” for firefox. it doesn’t filter meanness per se, but instead filters grammatical quirks common to meanness. it works like a charm.

  75. The vitriol has hit a new generation, and this is literally why I went back to pen and paper games. The ideals that got me into games in the first place, that of experiencing new worlds and characters and situations I might never experience in real life, have mostly been lost I think. Instead we are left with cut-and-dry formulaic crap, pale imitations of real life. It should be a drastic improvement upon our life. They were meant as an escape from our reality, if only for a little while. Catering to the status quo, however, has gotten us here. We haven’t asked the right questions. This sexism, this hatred, this anger and negativity comes from us outside in the real world and no amount of heavy-handed policy, no amount of “political correct politeness” is going to push back the tide. It will simply send the surge of bile rushing up new courses, into new and unthought of forms of idiocy and anger. We are innovative. Sometimes we are evil, and sometimes we are good, be we are ALWAYS innovative.

    Man, I really hope we can just go back to having fun.

    • Really? You think women are getting rape threats from total strangers because we’re “catering to the status quo” in game design.

      I doubt your commitment to Sparklemotion.

  76. As someone who’s been neck-deep in the internet for decades I’m glad that everybody “in charge” is finally ready to have this conversation. I was getting bullied for being a nerd in *grade school* and when accessible-to-the-masses chat systems – like AOL’s in the early 90s – became available, I jumped at the chance to engage with others in a forum where my skinny neck or pale skin or big glasses weren’t the first thing someone saw only to find that when no one was picking on me I still couldn’t enjoy myself because competitive nerds were throwing around “fag” and “rape” as pejoratives and acting like cyberjocks. It seemed, at least, like everybody in a position of authority was still modeling their concept of power and success on the people I’d wanted to leave behind. And it’s not as if, as a teenager, I had the kind of wisdom, patience, and grace of Dr. King, so I resigned myself to waiting for people to learn we didn’t have to act like the jerks just because we could.

    Now it seems like the internet is finally grown up enough to realize that.

    However, I’m a little tired of the misuse of the word “troll.” The misogynists, bullies, bigots, and narcissists (the guy who made the “beat up Sarkeesian” app was later interviewed and said “I just wanted her to talk to me,” how bigger can your ego get?) who are causing all these problems aren’t trolls.
    Trolls aren’t guided by hostility or bigotry, they’re trying to take the field of global communications – human discourse on a global scale – and prank it. They’re somewhere between Jackass and a Dadaist performance artist; look at people like The Yes Men or Remi Gailard, for examples. It looks deceptively simple – just stand in front of the moving car with pillows tied to your shins, just cut up the dictionary into confetti and make songs pulling words out of a hat! – and so, like Jackass, it inspires numerous copycats who fail totally, and dangerously. And if a troll takes it too far or no one laughs, there’s really no chance of a graceful dismount OR EVEN AN APOLOGY, as the apology of a troll – “it was just a joke” comes far too close to the reply of an unrepentant bully: “can’t you take a joke?”
    But trolling isn’t the lowest-common-denominator of bullying; it requires enormous focus, practical knowledge of the relevant sciences, and a willing to engage in actions that entail great personal risk. That’s right. I said it. Trolling is a art.

  77. Don’t spam laws cover this? If someone sends you unsolicited email, abusive or otherwise, it’s spam. In the USA we have the CANSPAM Act, which I think ought to cover blog comments as well, shouldn’t it? If you send SPAM, the receiver reports you and your ISP will shut down your internet connection, I believe. Which is exactly what ought to happen. If you send me unsolicited/abusive spam emails, even if you do so to express an opinion, it is still SPAM because *I don’t want to receive it*. It’s not about what the sender wants; CANSPAM is about protecting receivers of email and electronic messages, so we don’t spend our days wading knee deep through irrelevant and irritating materials to get to read the stuff we wanted to read. Even if you are a blogger, I still think you should be protected from SPAM. You didn’t double-opt-in to receive these messages from abusers, therefore they are spamming you.

  78. I should add that the First Amendment in the USA guarantees free speech, it does NOT guarantee an audience. 🙂

    • If you’re going to talk about the Constitution, try to remember that the part about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was in the Declaration of Independence – none of the federal laws on the books guarantee that you’ll have a fun, easy life.

      Comments with URLs (such as the Wikipedia entry for CANSPAM) get put into moderation, so I’ll sort-of-repeat myself: the CANSPAM Act doesn’t do what you think/want it to do. It doesn’t address non-commercial or non-email communication at all, and it essentially forbids private actors from filing lawsuits against spammers in all but the most extreme circumstances.

      Basically, there aren’t many situations where conduct that wouldn’t be criminal in meatspace is criminal online (and where it is, it’s almost always the government punishing you on behalf of a multinational corporation).

      If someone engages in a pattern of targeted, abusive behavior after being asked to stop, that’s harassment. Here’s the kicker tho: if has to be every one of those words. A pattern, not just a “this is how it started with the last guy.” Targeted, not just using the word “fuck” like it’s a comma whenever he opens his mouth. Abusive, not “politely worded but really offensive and/or irritating.” AND you have to ask him to stop, not just secretly report everything he says to his ISP or the police. If you’re confident it’s harassment send that person an email, CC’ing their ISP, demanding that they cease-and-desist all contact with you. BEAR IN MIND: that doesn’t mean they can’t use the internet, or the same forums you do, just that they can’t contact you directly – there’s nothing to stop them from retaliating in other ways, without violating the rule of law. If they start posting in a different public forum saying how much they hate you, or start a blog or twitter feed making fun of you, they’re free to state whatever opinions they want, as long as they’re clearly opinions and not lies presented as facts. If you want to sue them for libel or defamation of character, skip contacting the ISP and go straight to hiring a good lawyer. Oh, and you probably shouldn’t make any direct contact with them at their blog or twitter account, or they can send your ISP a cease-and-desist as well….
      If someone issues credible threats against you, contact local law enforcement. They decide if they can handle it or if they need to refer it to a higher tier of law enforcement (county sheriff, state trooper, FBI, whatever). If it’s an obvious threat of violence and includes information like your home or work address, well, most (American, at least) ISPs will be able to pull up that offender’s name and address for the cops within an hour of getting the warrant. BEAR IN MIND: if you decide to “lynch” some troll by reporting him for “issuing threats” every time he posts a violent movie quote or meme (like an animated gif of the scene from Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega shoots Marvin in the head), and the investigators get tired of you crying wolf – or if they launch a costly investigation, get a grand jury, but lose – you may end up charged with filing false police reports.

      TL;DR – trying to crush internet bullies with the federal government is about as effective as, say, getting out of your truck with a gun because a black kid has a suspicious-looking bag of Skittles.

  79. Playing online games isn’t a necessity of life. It isn’t even a necessity to feel entertained. In fact, it isn’t even the best way to entertain yourself (e.g. compare the hundreds of hours of boring grind it takes to get to a point where you’re useful in World of Warcraft with the number of high-quality fantasy novels you could have read or the number of friendships you could have fostered by playing sports or games with people in real life). Abandon this sad little imaginary world to these pathetic little sociopaths and you will have a better life: if unlike them you’re capable of love, then save it for people or causes which actually have value.

    • My wife and I met online. We leveled to 80 in World of Warcraft together, we announced our wedding on Facebook and now we’re helping our daughter learn to talk with all the children’s television programming on Netflix, when she’s not playing Once Upon a Monster and dancing with Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Grover.

      Tell me more about how she’s a sociopath, you ignorant, condescending reactionary =P

  80. It’s great that you wrote this, but please understand, this is the internet. You completely disregarded the anonymity issue, which is why Dr. King’s words are worthless here. The main offenders in this incident are the usual suspects; they are spawned in the abyssal realm of the Quadriclover, what has oft been called “The asshole of the internet”. 

    As long as they have their 7 proxies, they have no heart you can appeal to.

  81.  When it comes down to it most men and young boys these days that play online are afraid and have not been taught to respect and be kind to women , A man sharing a opinion in a constructive manner is one thing but to verbally abuse and downsizing women among other things is disrespectful, rude and mean, The boys & men who do such nasty things to women will suffer for it in the long run.

    One thing that most boys and most men but not all have not quite got a grasp on yet perhaps Evolution is occurring as we speak, Most men but not all do not like change and this is notable when a boy or man’s daily routine has changed in some instances, men have ruled the earth for longer than 2000 years,men have dictated when, what and where etc and it is part of evolution that women will rise up and find that they are more than capable of doing the same stuff men can or even better and because more and more women are now finding and doing the same stuff that men are doing or even doing it better than men,Most men but not all do not like this and those who have not been taught discipline and to respect and be kind to the opposite sex are behaving like packs of arseholes,wankers and dickheads they have not adapted or accepted evolutionary change in women.

    For you women out there don’t give up, keep fighting for what you believe in and do what men do like Jobs and playing games etc do it better than us, I am a man who has been taught to respect and be kind to women, I have also notice the evolutionary change and yes you women can do the same stuff as us men and most often or not you can do it better sometimes than we can in certain areas and stuff such as jobs and playing video-games.

    I have accepted the change that is occurring and I think those other men that treat women like crap should be retaught discipline and to respect and be kind to the opposite sex and adapt to this evolutionary change that is happening in the world or they will for all or most part of their life will be without a girlfriend or a wife that will love them and if they choose not to adapt well then Karma will come back at them and bite them in the ass.     

  82. Thank you for this post. I don’t have anything to add to the already articulate and thoughtful replies. Your perspective is such a good reminder. I was brought up with a pacifist belief system, but I find that consciously and actively rejecting war in any form or format is a lifelong challenge and commitment.

  83. She hates men with a passion and blames them individually for the oppression of the individual woman like all feminist she is just another misandrist who thinks we are all sexist and violent towards women. 

  84. My one worry about the article and it’s message (which is overall a good one) is the loving the troll aspect. For those of you who are all for that rule, can you give me any example of how to actually use it in a real scenario. For instance, if someone in a youtube comment tells you to go to hell and then calls you an anti-Semitic slur and the equivalent of a female dog, what is your response using the “love them” rule? I get the concept of not completely villifying someone like this, but how do you put that into practice?

    Also, it’s a slightly problematic response to give someone who has dealt with attacks like this over a long period of time. Telling someone who has been repeated harassed that they need to love their harasser 1). belittles the offenses committed and 2). makes it the victim’s responsibility to fix the harasser.

    I really want to know where you are coming from as far as the love aspect of the post.

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