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Being Trolled is Unpleasant

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I’ve been trolled. Before LGM implemented its registration system, I got trolled occasionally. Very occasionally; I feel silly complaining about it, so I won’t. I’ve been the recipient of sneering, condescending, snarky comments. Someone called me a cunt. (At one point I considered not blogging here anymore.) But when it comes to online trolling, that is bush league stuff. That is smallest of small potatoes. I feel lucky, so, no, I’m not going to complain about the people (person, maybe?) who troll(s) me. I’m going to complain about the people who troll much more prominent feminist writers. They are just the worst.

Being trolled takes a toll on the person receiving the trolling. The remarkably “mild” trolling I experienced had a profound effect on me, mostly because it was “mild.” More prominent online feminists have experienced what I’ve experienced multiplied by a thousand, at least. It’s a remarkably depressing thought.

Imagine being relentlessly snarked and sneered at, being called an idiot, being called dumb. Being called fat and ugly. Being called rapeable. Being called not rapeable enough. Receiving death threats. Being told to kill yourself. Now imagine having that happen with any sort of regularity. Can  you really deny that that wouldn’t take a pretty profound psychic toll?

I know what it was like trying to keep a home and raise a 3-year-old son while dealing with some–by internet standards–pretty mild assholishness. It was difficult. I don’t have the time or energy to care about what some douche on the internet thinks about me. I’ve got family and a million little obligations to think of every day. I simply can’t afford the psychic toll it takes. So I can’t imagine the toll that prominent feminists (or just outspoken women) pay.

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  • Nobdy

    Did you listen to Lindy West’s recent This American life where she sort of confronts a guy who used to troll her? It is worth a listen.

  • Aimai

    I know how you feel, bspencer. When I first started blogging and commenting online I used my own real first name. The ugliness and sheer personal nature of the things said to me was so shocking that I switched to a psedonym just to kind of remove itself one degree.

    I am interested and enthralled by tales of women confronting and “converting” individual trolls but the truth is that these are basically wish fulfillment fantasies which have no real validity in terms of the world women face online. There are just too many trolls, and too many of them are irredeemable. There isn’t going to be any conversion for the majority of them–or if one or two see the light there are literally hundreds more with a taste for blood.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I’m sorry you had to go through that, Aimai. You don’t strike me as the overly sensitive type, so I imagine the attacks had to be pretty vicious…..Its a different medium, but you often hear athletes saying that they don’t read the sports pages…And judging from half the movie critiques I read, I’d hope that actors don’t read the Lifestyle sections either.

      • Aimai

        I’m not at all sensitive–though I don’t think that’s really what is under discussion here. Targeted venom, threats, degrading and spiteful attacks, gendered or racialized historically meaningful slurs have an entirely different valence.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Much of what you describe goes beyond trolling into stalking and other criminal activity. I mean I am a proud card carrying member of the Troll Party ™, but I think people who make rape threats online should be imprisoned.

      • brad

        Athletes and jocks, however, are not private citizens expressing personal thoughts and opinions to anyone who seeks their words out. Part of what Aimai is talking about requires the ability to freely engage in back and forth. You can’t tell bloggers and commenters to ignore, even not read, the responses they get, it’s nonsensical.

        • brad

          *Actors and jocks…
          Derp.

    • Conversely, everyone here will agree that I am an obnoxious git; yet no-one e-mails abuse to me (although my e-address is a google search away). It is as if some part of my nym shelters me from the abuse.

      • Nobody wants to mess with a doktor.

        • I hardly ever talk annoying people into swallowing their own tongues. Professional ethics!

          • Lee Rudolph

            I hardly ever talk annoying people into swallowing their own tongues.

            Where do you stand on talking annoying people into swallowing each other’s tongues?

  • ThrottleJockey

    To broaden the discussion a bit, I see writers (mostly men) of all stripes complaining about trolls. I think its over sensitive of the writers; in the words of Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” Me, I say ignore the trolls.

    I do understand the emotional attachment that many writers have to their ideas and words, but I think discussions tend to be better when its a free-for-all than when its overly refereed. I don’t see any great improvements in the discussions here since the registration system began, and I rather enjoyed the spirited, snarky take downs of Jen Bob.

    • I for one am shocked, SHOCKED, that you would completely dismiss the feminist side of this conversation.

      • KmCO

        At least TJ has not started himself trolling taking up a righteously contrarian position in this thread (yet).

        • ThrottleJockey

          Dismiss? I don’t dismiss it in the slightest, hence my note to Aimai. Feminist writers have a more specific complaint as Aimai notes above, but I hear a lot of male writers complain as well…I myself tend to be a free speech absolutist. There are blacks who get all bent out of shape when the KKK adopts a highway, or some such. I’ve just long since learned to ignore the hateful taunts that Erik somehow imagines I’ve never heard.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Yes, your remark that you didn’t think aimai was the overly sensitive type was such a masterpiece of feminist concern and empathy on your part.

          • Ramon A. Clef

            “To broaden the discussion” to the point where you attempt to shift the discussion’s focus to “over sensitive” male writers is the very definition of being dismissive of the feminist aspect of the topic.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      i don’t think as commenters, particularly when we use pseudonyms, we really have any idea what it’s like to be on the wrong side of a committed troll

      • wjts

        Back in the pre-moderation days, the worst I ever got was Jenny calling me ugly. (Actually, he called Anna Karina ugly – I was using a picture from Made in USA as my Gravatar at the time.)

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          i thought for quite some time that anna was one of the ramones

        • Jordan

          I got a somewhat graphic death threat!

          Except, not really. It was just that one comment (before he got banned, and I was egging him on pretty egregiously). To my pseudo-pseudonym on a blog I comment on. I didn’t get those threats to my personal email, or to my twitter (if I had one), or to my employer, or my house, or to my family, or to my friends. It was an empty threat, that happened once, and then it never happened again.

          I think this kinda … explains? … some of the typical dude minimizing response to this type of thing. They think: man, I’ve heard *lots* of bad shit thrown my way online! I weathered it just fine, don’t be so sensitive! (chicks, amirite?)

          In addition to all the other ways this is a fucked up response, it betrays a fundamental ignorance. Having some dude throw a one-off internet threat to you is *in no way* comparable to the sustained and deeply personal campaigns of harassment that are routinely directed at prominent (or not so prominent) women.

          These dudes’ experience with online “harassment” is (to put it in terms they might understand) comparable to many womens’ in the same way their experience hitting an open 3 at the Y is comparable to Damian Lillard hitting that open 3 against Houston in the playoffs last year.

      • ThrottleJockey

        I can imagine it, though I’m sure I can’t fully appreciate it. Its creative work. When you make a baby you want the whole world to think its the most beautiful baby ever…But I believe in compartmentalizing emotions, especially when it comes to free speech debates.

        • Just for my curiosity, are you being willfully obtuse?

          Bspenser is describing harrassment. Not criticism. Not mean criticism. Not heckling. These, of course, may be elements of harrassment but experiencing mean criticism is not the same as experiencing harrassment.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            i think he’s talking about *trolling* as “creative work”

          • ThrottleJockey

            experiencing mean criticism is not the same as experiencing harrassment

            Ummmm, BP, trolling is often described as mean criticism. Its not my fault that an uncommonly narrow definition is being used here on this individual thread. From Urban Dictionary:

            Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it’s the internet and, hey, you can.

            Hell, people have accused Loomis of “trolling” his own audience every time he posts about ketchup.

            And, yes, I know what its like to be harassed, for being black, if not for being a woman. I’ve been called nigger more times than I can count. So save the self-righteousness and get off the high horse. I don’t support laws/rules against hate speech, but I do consider rape threats to be criminal.

            • So you are being willfully obtuse! Thanks for clearing that up! I really appreciate it.

              I think simultaneously claiming that the use of troll is both too narrow and too broad for your goldilocks sensibility is taking it a bit too far but tastes vary.

              And even if some trolling is merely mean criticism it doesn’t mean that all of it is. The original post was crystal clear about this, hence your need to put a special effort I to the obtuseness.

              One does not need hate speech laws to have laws against harassment (both civil and criminal). One does not need laws to oppose harassment.

              I’m not sure why you think pointing out some obvious problems with your commentary is an expression of self righteousness or why such an obviously unmoored complaint would be effective.

              To the degree you have suffered harassment, you have my sympathy. To the degree you minimize harassment I condemn you. Seems straightforward.

    • joe from Lowell

      I think discussions tend to be better when its a free-for-all than when its overly refereed. I don’t see any great improvements in the discussions here since the registration system began, and I rather enjoyed the spirited, snarky take downs of Jen Bob.

      Yahbut, if you actually look at the type of verbal abuse bspencer is talking about, in both its character and volume, that is common for women writing on the internet, it’s not really comparable to JenBob. She’s not talking about having a commenter write “Romney is surging!” type comments to generate an off-topic subthread.

      No discussion is being made better by, say, multiple threats of rape. I think the use of the term “trolling” in this post is a little misleading, because it’s not about the type of trolling behavior you’re talking about.

      • ThrottleJockey

        I’m (obviously) not defending rape threats. What I’m saying is that most blogs who go the censorship route tend to suffer from group think. You read one comment, you’ve read them all. They don’t stop at eliminating rape threats they go on to eliminate anything that doesn’t correspond to said site’s received dogma…This is the only blog I’ve visited that has avoided that fate.

        • I’m (obviously) not defending rape threats.

          This isn’t obvious. It’s really. It obvious that you aren’t minimizing them.

          I see later on that your claim is that the use of the word “troll” mislead you. But the I do wonder whether you were being willfully obtuse.

          And criminality is not the threshold for significant harassment.

          • “It’s really NOT obvious that you aren’t minimizing them.”

            Phone typejnd can’t sales trup you up.

          • cpinva

            “But the I do wonder whether you were being willfully obtuse.”

            it’s been my experience with TJ that his obtuseness isn’t “willful”, it’s a gift, a part of his DNA.

            having been witness to some of the online harassment being discussed, I have concluded that most of them fall into the following catagories:

            1. 12 year-old boys who have no friends (can’t imagine why!), hate their life and realize they get attention, any attention, by being a 12 year-old asshole boy on the internet. they generally (unless caught) grow up to keep neat homes, be the first to offer to help their neighbors, and are serial killers.

            2. are un/under employed post-adolescent males, living in their mom’s basement. they have no friends, never had a gf and, having no ability to distinguish between reality & fantasy, believe that being an asshole online somehow bestows great power on them. they finally make the tv news, when they kill their mom, after she gets tired of the constant police visits to “chat” with her son about his computer “issues”, and tells him he needs to get a job and his own apt.

            3. the constant male loser, who’s only “friends” are other MRA’s. the one girl that ever went out on a date with him is still in counseling. his job pays just enough to afford an efficiency and broadband. he hates his life, which is everyone else’s but his fault. eventually, he’ll pick on the wrong woman. she will track him down and beat the living shit out of him. her bf/gf/spouse will be laughing on the side and taking pictures, as she shoves loser’s laptop up his ass, sideways, as a final personal insult, before leaving him lying on the sidewalk, naked and bleeding from all bodily orifices. he will find this, um, exciting.

            4. the “professional” blogger. he makes $5 or $10 a month, from the creepy ads that populate his site, just enough for a case of Bud Lite. he’ll eventually be arrested, for posting naked pics of other’s ex gf’s on his site, as “revenge porn”, for a fee.

            these are really the only people who have the time required to be a stalker/harasser, of the dangerously creepy sort. eventually, they flame out, because mom cuts off the internet, they end up homeless or incarcerated. or, they piss off the wrong person, and they end up in the hospital.

            definitely creepy and most definitely can be scary, because you don’t know which category they fall in, until they finally spin out of control

            • Lee Rudolph

              these are really the only people who have the time required to be a stalker/harasser

              Hey! Some retirees (like me) have the time (even if, like me, they’re still “employed” doing other things, just not on anybody else’s schedule [or payroll]). And I am sure that some younger people on disability do too.

              Whether any significant number of stalker/harassers fall into either category, I don’t know.

              I’m sure a lot of what in another era would have been “rich playboys” have the time, too; but, just as then, I’m sure they do all their stalking and harassing off-line.

            • these are really the only people who have the time required to be a stalker/harasser, of the dangerously creepy sort

              You would be surprised how much more you can accomplish when you stop sleeping. It’s the one trick they don’t want you to learn.

            • JL

              This idea that only “loser” types harass and stalk is as poisonous as it is incorrect, just as is the case with sexual assault. Charismatic popular guys harass and stalk. People with active sex lives and/or committed romantic partners harass and stalk. People with nice white-collar professional jobs harass and stalk. What, do you think people can’t dox someone or send threats over Twitter from their work computers? I actually have a friend who got a death threat from one of those the other day.

              • Lee Rudolph

                What, do you think people can’t dox someone or send threats over Twitter from their work computers? I actually have a friend who got a death threat from one of those the other day.

                A death threat from a work computer? Wow. Somehow that seems like a seriously bad move for the threatener, and I dearly hope that it turns out to be worse than it seems for (presumably) him.

    • Thers

      What a load of shit.

      Women get a lot more personal and disgusting abuse on the Internet than men do. I’ve seen what I get as compared to what my wife has gotten — it’s not even close. Nobody has ever used the word “rape” in regards to me, for instance.

      Bluntly, if you want to say it’s not worse for women than it is for men on the internet, that just means you refuse to listen to what women have to say. Also, bite me.

      • A couple of years ago I was commenting on yahoo and I didn’t log out my wife’s account and log in under my own so my screen name was “Jennifer”. The discussion was about the “Muslim terror mosque” in NYC. I received all sorts of sexist responses. Apparently I am a naive liberal feminist who deserves to be raped and forced to wear a burkha.

        • gmack

          I had a similar experience here, many years ago (back in the JS-KIT days, iirc). It wasn’t too bad–nothing to the degree you’re describing–but it was a bit shocking to me at the time. I have been commenting on this blog almost since the beginning, and that incident is quite literally the only time any comment I’ve left here has received personal and gendered attacks in response.

    • brad

      Did you read any part of bspencer’s link? I’m going to be generous to you and assume not. Broaden your own self and change that.
      Trolling, like any form of harassment, has degrees. And you’re conflating spitballs with bullets.

      • From the other comments in this thread, I’d say your assumption is correct.

        • I’ve often wondered but this thread just about convinces me that TJ is straight up trolling. The misreading is too blatant and they kinda messed up the line a bit.

    • LeeEsq

      It’s possible to disagree with every single word in a post and criticize it without trolling.

      • ThrottleJockey

        People are apparently using the phrase trolling a shit load more broadly in this thread than is generally the case. The Brianna Wu stuff goes beyond hate speech, its actually criminal. And its a much more violent variety than the type of stuff that Valenti and company saw posted in the early years of Feministing. When Feministing moved to heavy moderation they didn’t really face a problem of rape threat postings; what they faced were postings by people who mostly disagreed with their politics.

    • Hob

      TJ: That just may be the most thoughtless thing I’ve ever seen you say here– and that’s really saying something.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        he’s totally missed the stalker aspects

        • ThrottleJockey

          Stalking–and death threats–are crimes, and I distinguish that behavior from trolling.

          • DrS

            In the same way that one distinguishes between fedoras and trilbys

          • Four Krustys

            For about the millionth time, dumbass, read the fucking articles linked to here. Why is that so fucking hard for you to do? Seriously, what is your fucking deal? Read the articles, dipshit. Read the fucking articles.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Ummm, yeah, Humpty Dumpty, whatever-you-fucking-say. And in case you don’t get the fucking allusion, here you fucking go. And save the condescension for your mama.

              When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

              ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

              • brad

                I missed where you were designated to define trolling.

                • I believe TJ is offering the Humpty Dumpty allusion as a defense of his misreading.

          • elm

            You and, possibly, Otto are the only ones who didn’t seem to understand the usage of trolling employed in the post. Did you skip bspencer’s third paragraph as well as the linked posts?

    • brownian

      This is the strangest thing about pro-troll libertarian types: their knee-jerk reaction against any attempt by people who are not law enforcement to modify or reduce unwanted behaviour. Codes of conduct at cons? Unacceptable! Moderation on blogs? That’s like punching discussion right in the face! Registration for blog commenters? Why do you hate freedom and its delicious fries?

      Oh sure, if it’s a crime then by all means go to the police and let the authorities handle it, they’ll magnanimously grant. But unless a law is broken, citizens have no recourse but to ignore it for the sake of Liberty! Who cares if registration reduces the amount of shit bspencer gets flung her way? If it doesn’t lead to any great improvements in the discussion here, then how does it benefit me, they wonder.

      • brownian

        But this “Cops or GTFO” attitude is just bizarre. So authoritarian.

      • Aimai

        And of course it does lead to advances in the conversation here. I mean–I do miss the occasional drive by moron commenter that gives everyone here a chance to show their chops but Alicublog demonstrates that people can be very funny without having trolls to stimulate them. And in any event nothign is stopping idiots from registering and becoming regular members of the group and offering dopey comments that people can make fun of. People like JenBob weren’t banned for just being stupid and awful the were banned for continuous hostility, lies, and derailing.

        • having trolls to stimulate them

          Let me be the first to say: ew.

          • Aimai

            OH, like a bear can be so picky?

  • brashieel

    Honestly, just watching the Twitter mentions/responses of feminists that groups like GamerGate target is exhausting. Just this endless barrage of unfocused rage, entitlement, and random slanders. Interspersed with yet more people coming it to deny it’s even happening. And this is the stuff that’s done in full public view.

    I cannot imagine what being the actual recipient of all that hate must feel like.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    it was sort of eye opening and depressing- because i’ve led sort of a sheltered life- to see guys talking ‘to’ women online the same way i sometimes hear a certain kind of guy talk about women behind their backs. it was something that made me use a ‘nym myself for quite a long while– and hell, i have nothing at all to worry about in comparison

  • When I was attacked by the gun nuts and right-wing hate machine, it was pretty bad. After it was over, one of the first realizations I had was that for someone like Amanda Marcotte, my experience was like an average Tuesday. Putting up with all that, that’s tough.

    • UncleEbeneezer

      Imani Gandy (AngryBlackLady of Balloon Juice) spoke of this recently recounting the experience of waking up to see endless pages of N-word and B*tch comments on her Twitter feed everyday.

      • Aimai

        And remember people were so awful to her, routinely, that she no longer blogs at Balloon Juice. People basically refused to engage with her in ways that were other than insulting–they refused to acknowledge her right even to blog there at the invitation of the host. It was unbelievable, reading those threads sometimes. Perhaps the majority of the people who were attacking her were not regular posters there but they succeeded in poisoning the experience for her. And for everyone else reading her threads.

        • UncleEbeneezer

          Fortunately I missed (or abandoned) most of those threads. Terrible.

          When Chait made his mindnumbingly obvious statement that the internet response differs depending on who says something (his concern being won’t someone think of the white male writers??), her response was pitch-perfect. To paraphrase: “Gee, Jon, ya think? It’s kinda hard not to notice that when Jon Chait says something he has a couple people call him an idiot, but when I say something I get called N-word for the next 5 hours.”

          I can’t even fathom the emotional damage of being the target of that sort of thing.

  • skate

    I’ve seen tweets and blogs comments suggesting that scientists I work with should be executed and/or investigated by Congress (either or both would make them happy). Now imagine the woman at my office who recently decided to take up science blogging. I can’t even think about what she’s going to suffer without requiring a stiff drink.

    • JL

      What is it with trolls and execution fantasies? This was a major theme for trolls during my brief period of notoriety as well.

  • Murc

    This is one of the reasons Charli left us, if I recall correctly.

    (I miss Charli. I do not miss The Donalde.)

    • The Donalde somehow discovered I was on Twitter today and started insulting me repeatedly. I blocked him in like 5 seconds. I was like, hey, that guy’s still around!

      • Thers

        Pretty sure that on Twitter the Donalde got mad at me because I was trolling Stacy McCain and not him.

  • Barry Freed

    Very sorry to hear you have had to go through this, bspencer, but don’t stop the blogging. I just read an article by someone I forget (maybe it was in the Guardian?) talking about the very real psychic toll this is taking on many people, mostly women. It’s hard to read stuff like that and not think that the bastards are winning but I don’t think they will. Just rambling here really but: solidarity.

    • Yeah. Since we – the non-troll commenters – can’t stop the trolls, the least we can do is offer written support.

  • tsam

    I’ve noticed that the especially viscous trolling is usually aimed at women. In fact the actual occurence of it seems to be more prevalent against women. I say we kill a few of them to teach the rest a lesson.

    Since I can’t kill them (as far as you know), I keep the navy seal Copypasta on my clipboard for them.

    • especially viscous trolling

      I, for one, will not eat trolls even when they are slathered in honey.

      • tsam

        I see what I did there. Ummm FYWP

      • We will not know whether they are viscous until they have been squeezed through a narrow tube under known pressure.

        • tsam

          Does a wood chipper meet that definition?

          • How about a shopvac?

            • tsam

              I’m open to your suggestions. I can build a machine in my garage. I have a bunch of cult followers to help me.

  • UncleEbeneezer

    There was a pretty interesting discussion over at Freethoughtblogs about trolls a couple weeks ago. Two of the participants are trained in Psychology and all of them have had extensive experience/battles with trolls.

    • If this is to do with the theory that trolling is associated with sadistic psychopathy, the evidence is pretty unconvincing.

      • weirdnoise

        Online surveys are at the bottom of social science instruments…

        I’d assume that the same personality type that’s into trolling is also into other forms of bullying. And if I recall correctly, motivations for bullying aren’t as uniform as one might think (e.g. the old-fashioned idea that most bullies have low self-esteem seems to be discredited).

        • Lee Rudolph

          Online surveys are at the bottom of social science instruments…

          No love for E-Meters???

          • Lovely Wall-E-meter maid
            Pixar and Hubbard conflated
            When it gets dark
            I watch your escapades…

        • Online surveys are at the bottom of social science instruments…

          A lower circle of hell needs to be invented for anonymous on-line surveys of people who have already professed to enjoy making stuff up on the Interwebs for shitz’n’giggles.

          I mean, in the paper in question, subjects were essentially asked “Do you behave in a profoundly deceptive, dishonest way on the Interducts?”, and if they answered ‘Yes’, they were invited (on the Interducts) to describe their personalities. In what mad universe does this make sense?

          • Epimenides the Cretan

            I don’t see a problem.

            • Now I want there to be a ‘MechanicalCretan’ webmarket, analogous to MechanicalTurk, but providing access to subjects who promise to lie to the researcher.

  • efgoldman

    Even a relatively unknown blogger, if she treads into “male” territory, can get a ration of shit. As I’ve noted before, my daughter was hired by a relatively small gaming website because she was a woman and they wanted that point of view. She is a feminist, but that wasn’t her reviewing stance. Even though the comments were filtered, I had to stop reading them.
    Now she writes for a bigger, better known consumer website, one of several women on staff, and it isn’t an issue any more. She gets paid a lot better, too.
    Oh, and week after next she’s flying out to LA to be Jeopardy contestant. Just thought I’d throw that in.

    • Woodrowfan

      Good luck, I hope she wins!

  • grouchomarxist

    A Mr. Zappa had these trolls’ number a long time ago:

    [cue doo-wop chorus]
    What’s the ugliest
    Part of your body?
    What’s the ugliest
    Part of your body?
    Some say your nose
    Some say your toes
    (I think it’s your mind)
    But I think it’s YOUR MIND
    (Your mind)
    I think it’s your mind, woo woo

  • Thers

    I know from my experience running my own ridiculous blog that women get it worse than men do.

    Hell, the worst that ever happened to me online involved lunatics going after my wife.

    The simple fact is that is that the emotional and personal costs of having an online presence are higher for women than they are for men. In my own small way I’ve tried as best as I can to encourage women to get involved in the blogosphere — but it’s tough, man.

    And from what I’m told, and from what I’ve seen, it’s not even the direct abuse that’s bad, it’s the constant need to put up with snide, pompous, pointless, endless mansplaining.

    B-Spen can say more about this, but from what MollyI tells me, it’s not just the nastiness of online sexism that makes a woman say “why bother,” it’s the sheer fucking tedium of it all.

    • Ramon A. Clef

      The simple fact is that is that the emotional and personal costs of having an online presence are higher for women than they are for men.

      Perfectly said.

  • Bspenser: I salute you for your generosity in posting for our frequent edification and pleasure in spite of the soul wearying crap you endured as a result. I’m truly grateful.

    • I would like to march alongside this comment, waving placards, in a spontaneous rally.

      • I’ll march behind you guys with a broom. We wouldn’t want the BSpen Day parade to leave a mess.

        • Thanks for the support, guys! But I’m doing just fine, honestly! Reading the accounts of other women is what’s got me concerned.

    • I endure almost *no* soul-wearying crap since we began having commenters register. I think I’m going to be just fine here at LGM. I am worried about other women online, and I’m worried that women are not going to be able to enter certain fields because of the atmosphere both online and offline.

      That being said, it’s totally my pleasure and it’s good seeing your name here again.

      • I’m very glad that registration improved matters for you!

        I share your worry. It’s going to be an ongoing and lengthy slog as best.

        I’ve been around sporadically. I’ve seemed to be missing your posts’ active commenting time for some reason. Time zone weirdness, I imagine.

      • junker

        But, you haven’t taken into account how this registration affects throttle jockeys life, which is the real tragedy here.

  • kateinbelfast

    Yes, keep posting. I, myself, particularly like the weird stuff found in nature. And dinosaurs. And really weird dinosaurs. Well, really all of it.

    Besides I have a teenage daughter and she deserves to live in a better world.

    • Thanks, kateinbelfast. Keep reading!

    • Karen24

      I have two teenaged sons. They each had a feminist awakening when female friends of theirs on Tumblr got trolled with scary threats over GamerGate. The girls did nothing but link to feminist articles about women game developers and got threatened. Andy, who’s sixteen, linked the same article and didn’t get anything. I’m happy to report he responded to that by becoming an ardent feminist linker. Of course, now he gets the standard insults questioning his manhood.

  • Cheerful

    With any individual troll there’s kind of a temptation to confront and, if not convert or pacify in our better moods, overpower and defeat (at least verbally) otherwise. But you come to realize after a while that it is so pointless, draining, time consuming and there will always be others and you may have spent your life arguing with idiots. Trolling is like a direct peek to the lizard brain, strangely translated to speech, and impervious to any argument or reason and infinitely renewable.

  • WabacMachinist

    And the whole point of trolling–if there is one besides sheer nastiness for its own sake–is to run you off the blog so you stay off. You see the same tactic in political discourse generally. Raising the toxicity and decibel levels of political debate can cause a good many intelligent people to just stop debating altogether. For some folks out there that’s a feature, not a bug.
    The scenario calls for you to throw up your hands in disgust and quit. So don’t.

  • c u n d gulag

    I get a ton of crap – and I’m a middle-aged white guy.

    I can’t imagine what level of hatred, fear, and bigotry, women and minority people on the internet get.

    • Aimai

      I think you get a ton of crap, c u n d gulag –more than many other white male commenters–because I think you are very open about your life circumstances and (extremely generously) have revealed that you are a gentle, generous, soul who is not living an invulnerable life of wealth and power. And all trolls, misogynist or just misanthropic, love to attack people who they think are vulnerable.

      • efgoldman

        Plus, he’s a Yankees fan.

  • searcher

    Can I say how goddamn weird it is that we apply the label “troll” to two very different kinds of creatures? When I hear the word “troll”, I think of the topical troll, who starts arguments he probably doesn’t believe in and refuses to concede and derails entire communities. Or maybe the spamming troll who doesn’t really try to engage, just aggravate by posting thousand-line C&P posts or 10000×10000-pixel images post after post.

    But there’s also this creature called the violent or misogynistic troll, mentioned above, whose goal is to spew so much hate and (credible!) threats at a target, usually a woman, that neither their target nor any other woman will feel comfortable speaking out ever again.

    Why do we call these creatures the same thing, “troll”? Why does Wikipedia describe weev as a “troll” for destroying Kathy Sierra’s life? Why isn’t that under a section labeled “violent misogyny”?

    Or if the violent misogynists have won, and “trolling” is the correct way to refer to what they do, why do we still apply it to the “harmless” trolls, at least some of whom are probably merely assholes and not misogynists?

    As long as we keep conflating these two types of activities through this single word, people are going to keep saying “don’t feed the trolls” instead of “we’ve got to stop these violent misogynists”.

    • Lee Rudolph

      I totally agree with your wish to keep the two activities distinct and to keep the word “troll” for the first. However, I think it’s too late to get that wish, and I (at least) have given up.

      But by all means let us call violent misogynists “violent misogynist trolls” (when they are also trolling) rather than simply “trolls”: and call them anything at all, so long as it includes “violent misogynist”, whenever and wherever they show up.

      • searcher

        Gremlins, then?

        Gremlins you don’t feed after midnight, trolls you expose to sunlight.

        • Gregor Sansa

          I like the analogy. Gremlins need some kind of intelligence to function… trolls just bash everything with the same old ugly phallic object. Gremlins make it so nothing works the way it should… trolls are actually dangerous. Two gremlins arguing with each other is more than twice as bad as one gremlin arguing with you… two trolls arguing with each other is popcorn time. Gremlins are always moving things such as goalposts… trolls just stand in the same fucking place not dying (without sunlight or fire).

          Unfortunately, the chances of this redefinition being widely accepted or even understood are about 0.

          (And what about boggarts? Harry Potter style; they pretend to be scary until you laugh at them.)

          • Lee Rudolph

            And what about boggarts?

            You missplet “bloggarts”.

            • Aimai

              Oh very good.

            • Why are you harshing on my blog-art!!!

            • Gregor Sansa

              Bloggarts are people like Chait: mansplaining braggarts who troll the entire internet from their own blog.

  • Karen24

    Back in the early 90’s I volunteered on Democrat phone banks, generally being assigned to call women in east Texas. The Ann Richards campaign gave brownies to the person who got the worst insult during each session. I won for the guy who called me a ‘baby-killing Communist.’ Even though I knew what he said was stupid, it still wasn’t an experience I want ever to be repeated. I’m a litigator, so I get formalized hostility all the time and still hate it. I don’t think I’d be very good at dealing with this kind of crap constantly.

    Also, conservative websites don’t have to deal with trolls — they moderate comments aggressively. The slightest disagreement gets banned.

    • Do you have a young-sounding voice? Maybe he meant you were a baby killing-communist.

    • kateinbelfast

      Several years ago, I may have worked as a policy officer for a political party in Northern Ireland. And some elected reps of the party may have done something to shore up the government at the time. And people who did not like that may have responded with various measures(Including a petrol bomb at the main office) but I got to answer the phones and one person who called to complain said something about how ‘they were teaching children to be homosexuals’ and I had to ask, who were ‘they’. Which lead to something about what God in his wisdom wanted. And I may have countered with how did he know the gender of the divine being. Then I was asked if I did not know that God was male. I replied no. Then I was told I was going to burn in hell. I hung up. I didn’t think my job really covered that. (and no, I won’t talk about the guy who called me many years later with his theory about the anti-Christ, certain politicians and numbers. and no, I did not subscribe to his newsletter).

    • kayden

      You are spot on about conservative websites not allowing any disagreements. It’s hilarious that rightwingers often are the loudest voices espousing “free speech” but do not hold their own websites accountable for banning opposing viewpoints and allowing little or no dissent.

      That’s why I see nothing wrong with left leaning websites not allowing trolls to spew anti-Black, anti-women, anti-gay, etc., hate speech. There is nothing wrong with creating safe spaces for interaction given how many places are hostile towards females and minorities.

  • NewHavenGuy

    Should go without saying but ugh, awful to hear. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

    On some level I think this is reflective of the reactionary Serengeti Strategy— if you can’t win the argument, intimidate and terrify people one at a time until they go away and leave the field to you. (Say what you will about Chuck C. Johnson, he’s at least openly embraced this as his life’s mission. He’s human sewage but he will never want for a meal, there’s a market for that.)

    Not to be cute and miss the point: on a cultural level it is notable and disturbing how often and how grossly women in particular are routinely abused like this in what passes for internet discourse. Our society seems to have a built in permission structure for that. Sometimes I wonder if we have a civilization at all, or just a spider web of privileges and oppressions.

    • WabacMachinist

      That’s what most “civilizations” amount to: spider webs of privileges and oppressions. That’s why the people who gain economically, politically, or emotionally from the established order can be incredibly vicious towards anyone who ventures to question that order. Gender hierarchy has been baked into the Western world’s established scheme of things for centuries, so not surprisingly people whose only sense of importance is based on their wee-wees are going to defend it to the bitter end.

  • JL

    I feel similarly, bspencer, in that my experiences have been pretty mild – I’m sufficiently obscure that that works – and yet it’s still upsetting when they happen. And being in any marginalized group – women, black, LGBTQ – seems to increase the level of nastiness.

    For me, the worst usually seems to happen around the Black Lives Matter movement. There are people who watch the #Ferguson hashtag all day in order to troll. They mostly target the better-known Ferguson activists, but I’ve been called a “stupid cunt” and sent astoundingly racist (and sometimes violent) text and images by people who may have assumed that since I was talking about Ferguson I was black. I’ve seen some of the stuff they say to the openly LGBTQ Ferguson activists, to Ferguson’s Palestinian-American livestreamer…you get the idea.

    After I got arrested last month at the I93 Black Lives Matter protests, the group of us were the subject of a great deal of media notoriety for a few days. I remember getting out of arraignment, where I’d been taken directly from police station cells, finally getting my phone back, and tweeting that I was out, that there had been injuries, etc, using the protest hashtags. I had no idea at that point what the tenor of the media coverage and public reaction had been. I got some troll replies (like stuff saying they wished the police had injured all of us) almost immediately, and was surprised (and stopped sending anything to those hashtags). Then I found out about tone and slant of the media coverage, helpfully egged on by the police…and started seeing what people were saying around the Internet and on TV about the group of us – lots and lots of stuff about how we should all be/have been killed, and also a bunch of stuff about how we should be tried as terrorists. I was nervous going out in public for a week.

    Just the other day, looking for photos for my case, I stumbled on tons of crap, shitty Internet meme images, mocking one particular arrestee who is a young fat woman. It was really depressing. Shortly after the arrests, on Facebook, someone (a woman, naturally) got doxxed merely for suggesting that making fun of an arrestee’s weight was out of line.

    It all gave some perspective on how bad it is for women, black people, LGBTQ people, more frequently in the public eye.

    • Aimai

      Nothing to ad here but, I guess, this thought.

      I think what male/white commenters don’t get is that the idea that you are your ideas/voice on the internet, that you can freely engage with people without class, race, or gender markers getting in the way of “pure reason” or argument or thought is just not the typical experience of women, non whites, or anyone else that has some kind of marked category/stigma attached to their identity like fat, non white, lgbtq, (sometimes) jew/muslim/non standard.

      I’m not talking, even indirectly, about anyone on LGM. I’m mostly musing on my experience on the internet generally.

      Speaking mainly qua woman (but also older, jewish) I would say that my experience has been that ordinary conversations about ideas very quickly become derailed as other commenters go for the jugular choosing to attribute to me or other people identified as female gender/race/religion/height/weight/age in the most degrading and hurtful way they can imagine. Not only do (male) commenters personalize their insults they often prefer to go on the attack to continuing the discussion. The discussion, if it continues, is entirely couched in terms of historic cultural insults that aim to force me as a woman, or as a jew, or in Imani Gandy’s case as a black woman, out of the discussion entirely and (in the case of the most misogynistic trolls) out of existence.

      Women/LGBTQ people and black people are routinely described as utter failures by random commenters online. Their imagined appearance and sexual identity, their family relations, their dignity are routinely attacked with slurs that the insulting commenter has very good reason to believe are quite common in real life so are all the more hurtful. People are urged to kill themselves, are threatened with stalking, doxxing, and death. In the case of one of the gamergate women the fact that she had a history of depression was raked up and used to try to get her to kill herself.

      You are stupid “like all women” and you are ignorant “like all black people” are just qualitatively different and more hurtful from even strong argument/insults from a person who is your literal co-equal “you are a jerk programmer just like me.”

      I guess what I’m arguing is that the very thing that makes the internet so liberating for some of us, some of the time: the fact that we can range widely and “meet” other people for discussion who we otherwise never would, the ability to time shift, the ability to jump from topic to topic is undermined for women (especially) but for atypical body people, non white people, etc… when a large enough body of other commenters seize on what makes us unique or what is personal and turn it into a weapon of majoritarian oppression.

      • matt w

        I think what male/white commenters don’t get is that the idea that you are your ideas/voice on the internet, that you can freely engage with people without class, race, or gender markers getting in the way of “pure reason” or argument or thought is just not the typical experience of women

        Yes, for me at least. Up till a few years ago I had basically a point-and-laugh attitude toward trolls… until I really started listening to “This is what, as a woman, I have to deal with every day.” It was stunning–even after I’d seen the disproportionate amount of condescending bullshit bean had to deal with posting here compared to the male posters.

        So that was when I realized, yeah, the Internet as an unregulated freewheeling marketplace of ideas doesn’t work, because there’s always going to be someone to shout down women, and black folks, and lots of other people.

        Related experiences are why I’m not too concerned to distinguish the violent misogynistic trolls from the trolls who are just trying to get a reaction and disrupt communities. Seems like having someone pop up and demand that you argue for feminism from first principles every time you say anything vaguely feminist is also wearing and likely to drive you off the internet. Those kinds of troll can crawl back into their caves too.

        • STH

          I think it was Greta Christina who pointed out that not moderating online discussion is not a neutral stance. It actually means taking the side of the harassers because the ones they are targeting will be forced out of the discussion or shouted down.

  • I have long thought that the internets needed stronger words than troll and trolling to describe these misogynist comment-tater-tots and the hate fueled invective which spews from their keyboards. After all, I have gleefully trolled many a right-winger over the years, and I don’t equate that behavior in any way with the behavior bspenser is talking about.

    I think the etymology came from the verb, trailing a baited line behind a slow-moving boat hoping to get a bite; reinforced by the noun mythical cave-dwelling being.

    So, what’s worse than a troll? First thought off the top of my head was ork. Makes a nice verb, to ork, orked, orking.

    Although generally I am wary of turning nouns into verbs. Using the hard k-helps in the pronunciation of the past tense and participle forms.

    I would also like to thank bspenser for her posts, and ask her to keep up the good work. I have followed many of her links to excellent feminist writing, which I would certainly otherwise never have read.

    • I have long thought that the internets needed stronger words than troll and trolling to describe these misogynist comment-tater-tots and the hate fueled invective which spews from their keyboards.

      Alternately, we can use and maybe redefine “troll” for the hate-fueled scumbags and if that causes splash damage to the milder form of troll that’s just too bad.

      • Aimai

        Yes, what N_B said. Does it really matter if ordinary trolls get their feelings hurt by being associated with trolly misogynist trolls?

        • J. Otto Pohl

          No, it is not a matter of hurting feelings here. But, rather noting that there is a serious difference between the two. One is often criminal the other is usually just annoying. The real problem is diluting the seriousness of the criminal stalking by using terms associated with merely being persistently annoying and irrelevant. As much as people may dislike being annoyed it is not the same as being threatened which is a much more serious matter.

          • Aimai

            So perhaps the people who are annoyed at hearing about annoying trolls in the same breath with misogynistic terrorist trolls could stop blathering on and on and on about how annoying it is? Since merely “being annoyed” is now officially no big deal?

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Yes, in the big scheme things being annoyed which is usually the worst that happens to straight white men on the internet is not a big deal. The other stuff you are talking about is a big deal.

          • brad

            You’re still missing the point, and it’s hard not to suspect the blindness is self-indulging. Trolling is a category of behavior that falls on a spectrum. What you do here is perfectly harmless and amusing, I’m not trying to accuse you of anything at all, but it still should make you pause and reflect to know that how you act shares some basic dna with the truly toxic forms of trolling.

            • Aimai

              Give it up, Brad. Its Trolltown.

            • So an interesting question is whether this continum is “natural” or not along an escalation dimension. So, I think we can reasonably classify a wide range of online behaviors as “trolling” (roughly, commentary meant to frustrate the goals of a discussion usually by provoking outraged responses) and then order then roughly by severity (from harmlessly amusing, to annoying, to disruptive, to harrassment, to criminal harrassment, or some such scale).

              Now a key question is whether any, some, or most trolls escalate through the severity scale (either in general or in particular encounters).

              My guess is that some do, and these are basically stalker like people (stalkers have a pretty well defined escalation mode).

              What would be interesting is if escalation played relatively little role in nasty to criminal level trolling, ie, basically trolls have a fairly narrow band of behavior that stabilizes quickly and remains settled for long periods of time. You might expect flashes of much worse behavior eg in a mob situation. It might also be the case that their worst behavior isn’t constant but appears as outburst punctuationinf otherwise normal behavior.

              (Group dynamics could have analogous structures.)

              Depending on what model is correct, one might have very different coping mechanism. If the behavior is stable (except with incitement) then you do want to identify and isolate or ban such individuals quickly. If escalation is the norm, then focusing on behavior is key. (Roughly!)

  • J. Otto Pohl

    I know this has been said before. But, the type of behavior that involves things like rape threats or death threats really seems to be stalking or something else rather than trolling. The first seems to me to fall clearly into criminal activity that has a qualitative difference from trolling.

    • Aimai

      But the mental struggle that women and others who are being attacked, not just daily but sometimes every minute, when they work/live/post online is just the same whether the trolls are “merely” swarming and crowdsourcing or a few are taking to meat space to begin doxxing, stalking, and harrassing. In actual reality, for example, the people who were crowd sourcing their attacks on Jessica Valenti (I think it was JV) and posting her locations online were a mixture. Some individual was actually doxxing and stalking her, but a lot of other guys just joined in and “trolled” her, as they saw it, anonymously or for sport. Origami Isopod, I think, calls it “stochastic terrorism” and by that I think she means that some things that are absolutely harmless or can seem individualistic and random when performed by a single individual can become terrifying and threatening when performed by mobs, especially by flash mobs.

      And if you were to think about it for one moment you’d grasp how this process of what you see as harmless trolling (must be some kind of guy thing to think that trolling, sadistic behavior, derailing, lying, pontificating, and behaving like an asshole to random strangers is merely annoying and not extremely destructive) easily phases over into something pretty scary. Because trolling and cyberstalking and attacking people online is a form of sousveillance in which the person being stalked can never express themselves or share in a communal space without being watched and attacked. And whether the attacks are going to escalate is purely in the hands of the attackers who, being both legion and anonymous, are not easily escaped.

      • Lee Rudolph

        behaving like an asshole to random strangers

        I don’t think that J. Otto’s style of (what he himself calls his) trolling is “behaving like an asshole to random strangers”—he (arguably) behaves like an asshole, but he does so within the confines of a quite well-defined, highly non-random commentariat that in important ways has very few “strangers” (and the “strangers” who drift in and out are, often though not always, themselves trolls of the type you describe).

      • J. Otto Pohl

        This strikes me as again fundamentally different than run of the mill trolling and something qualitiatively different. First, it involves a mob rather than an individual troll. Second, it is not confining itself to particular forums. Third, it involves random strangers targeted due to their gender. What you describe is destructive. But, I think it also goes far beyond what most people understand as typical trolling.

        • Aimai

          I don’t think J. Otto is trolling, actually. He sincerely believes the crap he says and he is just socially tone deaf enough to constantly repeat himself even when its obvious he is, at the very least, uninteresting to the people he is talking to. The fact that he believes that other people, real trolls, are “merely annoying?” that’s a sign that he’s very tone deaf to other people’s experiences too. That’s a personality trait of his, not a moral failing and its not deliberate in the sense of manufactured.

          • Gregor Sansa

            And sometimes the stuff he says is on-topic or interesting, too. (Rarely both.)

  • The topic of identifying trolls brought to mind a 2014 Ignobel award, to

    Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones,and Minna Lyons, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

    “Creatures of the Night: Chronotypes and the Dark Triad Traits
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886913001918,”
    Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, Personality and Individual
    Differences, vol. 55, no. 5, 2013, pp. 538-541.

    I will stay up late tonight reading the paper.

    • Hogan

      Once I retire, I plan to become a lot more self-admiring, manipulative and psychopathic.

      • Self-admiration is difficult when you can’t see your reflection in the mirror. Or so I hear.

        • Hogan

          I’d be much more self-admiring if I couldn’t see myself in a mirror.

          • I’ve found that using two mirrors allows me to see my good side.

    • I am disappointed that the main author (Dr Minna Lyons) did not change her surname to ‘Harker’ for the purposes of this publication.

      • wjts

        I am also prepared to accept “Murray”.

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