May 20, 2013 § Leave a Comment
New article on trolling on definitions! The setup: These days apparently everything on the internet that is lame/upsetting is “trolling.” This framing isn’t doing us any favors! From the article:
[I concede that language shifts over time; I'm not mad, bro] But describing all problematic online behaviors as trolling and all online aggressors as trolls is a bad idea. Not because there is only one “correct” way to troll, as some trolls might insist, but because using the term as a stand-in for everything terrible online is imprecise, unhelpful, and—most importantly—tends to obscure the underlying problem of offline bigotry and aggression.
For the thrilling conclusion, go here.
April 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
NBC.com’s Nidhi Subbaraman just posted an article discussing the public’s role in the Boston Bombing case. I am quoted at the end of the piece, and wanted to clarify my position, because what it says I said is not entirely what I meant (word limits!).
…Shirky and others, such as Whitney Phillips, an Internet scholar and lecturer at NYU who has studied the trolling behavior of 4chan, think caution is necessary at times like this.
“Strong moderation is just what you need to keep this kind of ridiculous gossip at bay,” said Phillips, but strong moderation is not the kind of thing usually seen on Reddit.
“I think crowdsourcing is a terrible idea during criminal investigations,” Phillips told NBC News.
I do think that crowdsourcing is a terrible idea during criminal investigations, under certain circumstances — namely when the crowdsourcers are making up the rules as they go along, without any consideration for the serious personal and legal repercussions of their actions. Vigilante crowdsourcing, in other words. Once law enforcement has actual confirmed information and are looking for public feedback, great! I’m with Shirky; if you see something, say something. But until then, stop trying to solve the crime using MS Paint. As the Sulahaddin Barhoum and Sunil Tripathi cases highlight, this sort of approach has the potential to do far more harm than good. In fact nothing good has come of Reddit’s involvement in the story. (Friday night update: see this detailed thread criticizing participating Redditors’ haphazard sleuthing)
As for the issue of moderation — my full quote explained that platform moderators have and should exercise the ability to quash falsely incriminating details and/or surreptitiously acquired personal information before whatever information gets snatched up by lazy journalists and splashed across the front page of The New York Post. This is not a violation of “free speech,” as many Redditors might argue. Rather this is a preemptive protective measure. As Shirky explains in the NBC article, the cost of failure is very high — and above and beyond being the responsible thing to do, it is (at least, seems like it should be) in the platform moderators’ best interest to prevent, for example, being sued for libel.
April 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Today The New Inquiry ran my article “Dissecting the Frog,” which considers the cultural significance of humor. My primary focus is Gabriella Coleman’s analysis of humor within Free and Open Software (F/OSS) circles, but I also discuss my own work with trolls and the mainstream media tragedy-mongers who (are) troll(ed) (by) them. Here’s the overlap between both projects:
What Coleman’s and my respective research projects highlight, then, is the complicated relationship between humor, community formation, and the larger culture. Hacker humor and wit, for example, gestures both to the borders of the F/OSS community and to the much more pervasive logic of neo-liberalism, while specific trolling jokes serve as subcultural scaffolding and draw attention to the connections between trolling humor and mainstream culture, particularly sensationalist media. This culturally holistic approach to humor is particularly helpful when attempting to understand the most upsetting kinds of jokes. When framed as self-contained artifacts, hateful or otherwise corrosive jokes don’t do too much, beyond casting aspersions on the joke teller. But when placed in the context of a specific community, and even more revealing, when that community is placed in the context of the wider culture, corrosive jokes often have as much to tell us about the latter as they do about the former.
For a good time, read the full article here!
April 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The other day (how did I miss this?) Eric Benson at NY Mag posted a rundown of the increasingly elastic definition of the word “troll.” He interviewed me for the piece, which is always odd because these kinds of interviews are usually 30-45 minutes long but only yield one or two sentences. Media!
Quoth the me:
As with other robust Internet terms, trolling lends itself to more general meanings far removed from its origins. “To hear people talk about trolls in April 2013 is so different than people talked about it even in 2011,” says Whitney Phillips, an NYU lecturer in media studies who wrote her dissertation on Internet trolls. “You now encounter the word all day long.”
It’s a brave new world, kids!
March 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
My fiance is the best. Video description:
Before the verdict of the Steubenville rape trial, the defense and other witnesses demonstrated a lack of knowledge that what they did was rape. And we shouldn’t be surprised, given how violating the body of someone who is passed out is such a common occurrence. Certain forms of bullying, hazing, and practical jokes all contribute to normalizing rape culture.
March 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In case you’ve been away from your computer for the last hour, Chris and I put together a helpful synopsis of the internet’s reaction to NEW POPE, which is like New Coke except [insert joke here]. You’re welcome!
March 3, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Pretty much everyone who knows me even slightly knows that I treat television the way normal people treat comfort food. When I am grumpy or buried in a research project or seasonally affected, I have a few old friends I can always count on for a pick-me-up. Not meatloaf, not cookies, but The X-Files (just the first 6 seasons, obviously), Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock. Arrested Development and 30 Rock are relatively new additions to my repertoire; I’ve probably only watched each series from start to finish about four times. X-Files and Buffy have been with me much longer. I was a VHS hoarder of X-Files episodes by the time I was 10 (I distinctly remember speed-rollerblading home from swim practice so I could re-watch Eve; at one point in the episode, a 10 year-old girl who also happens to be a homicidal clone discovers the dead body of her father –her handiwork, of course– and when asked what happened, states simply that “he was exsanguinated” — to this day, one of my favorite lines of dialogue), and have probably watched each episode at least ten times, some episodes (like Eve) even more. The same holds for Buffy; once every few months I feel the tug of nostalgia and start plugging away.
So — as a superfan, I have opinions about the following video. Like, Xander falls in love with Cordelia before he meets Anya, and eventually Xander and Willow do get together, precipitating Xander’s breakup with the aforementioned Cordelia, and Spike is king of the embittered friend zone and especially during seasons 5 and 6 exhibits Twilight levels of stalkerish fuckery, so much so that he ends up trying to rape Buffy because he loves her so much and she keeps leading him on (read: talking to him) after she died and went to
hell heaven that one time which……I just can’t with that plot line, but I digress, the point is that this video should have a superfan trigger warning, but other than that is pretty great.
February 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
My fiance Chris Menning just posted a video that addresses the connection between violence, particularly gun violence, and gender, particularly uncompromising smear-the-queer type masculinity. This is smart, and you should watch it. Also I have two cameos in this video, so that’s fun (fun is the wrong word).
February 5, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Today Ethnography Matters posted my second in a three-part guest post series. Here is the opening!
As promised in my last post, this post will discuss my role as a participant observer in the 2008-2012 troll space. It was weird, I hinted, which really is the only way to describe it. Because space is limited, I’m going to focus on three points of overlapping weirdness, namely troll blindness, real and perceived apologia, and ethnographic vampirism. There are other stories I could tell, and other points of weirdness I could discuss, but these are moments that taught me the most, for better and for worse.
The three points of weirdness include:
- It’s Just a Death Threat, Don’t Worry About It
- inb4 apologist
- You’re a Vampire, Whitney
In other words, it’s a comedy. Click here for the whole article.