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 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!
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.
January 7, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In “videos I wish didn’t have to be made ” news, here is Chris’ take on the recent Steubenville football rape story. For those of you who haven’t heard, several high school football players in Ohio raped a teenage girl in August, posted videos and pictures of the assault online, and then went about their lives as usual because, you know, football. They were even publicly defended by their coaches, because according to Coach Nate Hubbard, the girl was probably just embarrassed she got so drunk and needed an excuse for her behavior. Which — I mean that’s what all rape defenders say. The problem is never THE MAN WHO COMMITTED THE RAPE, it’s the girl who let it happen to her. It reminds me of how people always blame the victims of random shootings for leaving their houses, or robbery victims for having things to steal. Oh wait, no one blames those victims for the crimes other people commit? Huh, I wonder why that is. But I digress. Anonymous ended up getting involved, which the local authorities didn’t like; they have since created a website in order to debunk (at least, attempt to debunk) the assumption that law enforcement was involved in a coverup, because, you know, football.
Chris’ video discusses the story, but is careful not to restrict his condemnation just to Steubenville’s football team. What those boys did to that girl is repugnant, inhumane, disgusting, the list goes on — but they are far from violent, anomalous monsters. If only they were. As it is, rape –and the culture that engenders it– is so deeply engrained that it has become almost normal, something 20% of all women can look forward to experiencing at least once in their lifetimes (though of course that statistic is misleading; 1 in 5 of women REPORT having been raped, which doesn’t account for the untold numbers of women who haven’t). And not just because some men are rapists. But because lots of men (and women) normalize the conditions in which rape is likely to happen. That’s the tragedy. That this isn’t an isolated event.
This is another one of those cases where the only kind of justice –at press time anyway– is of the vigilante variety. Yes yes, there are always risks with these kinds of interventions; the information provided by Anonymous (and everyone else who has disseminated information about the involved parties) could be wrong, and innocent people could end up in the crosshairs. But it’s difficult to muster any sympathy for the people who belong there.
December 19, 2012 § Leave a Comment
After about 50 rounds of edits (THIS WAS NOT AN EASY ARTICLE TO WRITE), Kate Miltner and I finally finished our latest Awl piece on online shaming/vigilantism. We are much indebted to Carrie Frye at the Awl for her fantastic comments and revision suggestions, and her willingness to publish such a long read. Here is the opening section:
Whitney: Contrary to Nathan Heller’s Onion-worthy New York Magazine article lamenting the loss of the “hostile, predatory, somewhat haunted” feel of early web, the internet of 2012 is not always a warm and fuzzy place. In fact it can be pretty terrible, particularly for women, a point Katie J.M. Baker raises in her pointed response to Heller’s article. The internet is so far from a utopian paradise, in fact, that lawmakers in the US, UK, and Australia are scrambling to do something, anything, to combat online aggression and abuse.
Not everyone supports legal intervention, of course. Academics like Jonathan Zittrain readily concedethat online harassment is a major concern, but they argue that the laws designed to counter these behaviors risk gutting the First Amendment. A better solution, Zittrain maintains, would be to innovate and implement on-site features that allow people to undo damage to someone’s reputation, livelihood, and/or peace of mind. As an example, during an interview with NPR, Zittrain suggested that Twitter users could be given the option to update or retract “bad” information, which would then ping everyone who interacted with the original tweet. Existing damage would thus be mitigated, and draconian censorship measures rendered unnecessary.
Regardless of the impact that either type of intervention might have, the fact is that today, this very second, there is often little recourse against behaviors that might be deeply upsetting, but aren’t quite illegal either. In those cases, what should be done? What can be done?
If recent high-profile controversies surrounding Violentacrez, Comfortably Smug, racist teens on Twitter, Lindsey Stone and Hunter Moore are any indication, it would seem that many people, members of the media very much included, are increasingly willing to take online justice into their own hands. Because these behaviors attempt to route around the existing chain of command (within mainstream media circles, the legal system, even on-site moderation policies), I’ve taken to describing them as a broad kind of online vigilantism. It might not be vigilantism in the Dog the Bounty Hunter sense, but it does—at least, it is meant to—call attention to and push back against some real or perceived offense.
Full article here!