Pot Meet Kettle

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

No Country for Democratically Elected Trolls

So Arizona thinks trolling should be a Class 3 Felony, because some legislators watched the ABC Family movie Cyberbully and have decided that no one should be allowed to say mean things on the internet, to anyone.

This is stupid for all kinds of reasons, and I’m not even talking about issues of Free Speech. Other people can talk about Free Speech all they want, that’s the obvious concern I suppose. For me, the issue is less about white boys’ unalienable right to say racist things on the internet and more about the precedent these kinds of laws set.

The problem, and it is a tale as old as time, is that lawmakers don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and end up throwing their weight behind statutes that either have (or in this case, will have) absolutely no effect on the intended targets (they’re called proxies you idiots) and/or end up making the internet a more oppressive place for regular users, since this sort of language effectively dismantles the notion of context and gives the State the power to decide what qualifies as profane. To say nothing of what counts as being “annoying,” dear god. Again, this is not about protecting white boys’ right to be racist shitheads on the internet — it’s about allowing for dissent and pushback in ALL corners of the internet, including pushback against said shitheads.

This isn’t to say that bullying and other forms of aggression –online or off– isn’t a problem. It absolutely is. But why don’t we address the root of that problem, starting with homophobic lawmakers whose platforms are predicated on institutionalized bigotry, oh excuse me, “protecting the children,” children who for some reason can’t stop being hateful towards each other, particularly the gay ones, who for the record shouldn’t be allowed to adopt or marry because EW GROSS, but really you kids should stop saying such mean things to each other, I know, let’s call that trolling and make it illegal.

A+ you guys.

Dumb, Poorly-Researched Article is Dumb and Poorly-Researched, and Why This Matters for the Internet

November 12, 2011 § 3 Comments


There is nothing unusual about this article, which discusses the latest in 4chan fuckery — some sensitive photos were leaked, allegedly by a female NYPD officer, and consequences will never be the same. Same shit, different day. Not to dismiss the particulars of this case, since this is very serious business for the officer accused of posting the photos, and the family of the woman whose photos were leaked. Real-world connections wholly acknowledged. It’s the tone and general ignorance of the article that bothers me, which is the same tone and same general ignorance you see in most articles about trolling (and certainly articles about trolling in the Daily Mail, a troll unto itself):

4chan has been one of the main websites blamed for Internet ‘trolling’, where users abuse each other on-line.

Those who post on the website’s message boards are known for their dark ideas and for egging each other on to break the law but win the respect of their fellow hackers.

According to the Washington Post 4chan users have also ‘managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet’.

Really, this is boiler-plate language — you might as well cut and paste quotes from Fox 11′s news report on Anonymous. Of course –and as a nice young man pointed out in an incensed email– Anonymous is never mentioned in the article, probably because the person writing the article doesn’t know, and wasn’t expected to know, what the hell he’s talking about, but also –and this is where shit gets endemic– because trolls and 4chan and Anonymous are almost always (at least in mainstream media circles) treated as interchangeable categories. From a research perspective, this is annoying because it is sloppy; a 30-second journey into the magical land of Wikipedia would clear up much of this confusion.

But it’s not just that the framing is annoying, the framing is dangerous. Not only does it collapse the nominal categories into an undifferentiated mass of darksidedness, it implies that these very discrete behavioral categories –trolling, hacking, abuse– are actually one in the same, which again, is very annoying from a research perspective but is HUGELY problematic from a policy perspective, and is precisely the sort of rhetoric that encourages politicians and those at various levels of power to do stupid, short-sided shit “for the children,” or whoever they’re pretending to care about. Because if all they ever read are free-association polemics about how trolling is hacking and hacking is a threat to national security, you know just like all that cyberbullying they’ve been hearing so much about on the teevee, then why WOULDN’T they do everything to contain the (perceived) threat, even if –especially because– they don’t know the first thing about the alleged enemy.

In short, these sorts of articles are so dumb and so off the mark that they don’t, or at least shouldn’t, justify a response, other than maybe a quick eye-roll. The problem is, this is the only information that normal, otherwise reasonable people have about these sorts of spaces. So when it comes time to decide how best to deal with problematic online speech and behavior –and yes, I readily concede that there should be some protective measures in place, FOR HARASSMENT, which is not the same thing as trolling or hacking– people are more likely to accept measures that might sound reasonable (who would come out in support of abuse?) but actually run the risk of criminalizing half the internet. Which would set all kinds of myopic legal and institutional precedents, and trust me, will only send the truly problematic behaviors deeper underground (and we all know how well the war on file sharing has gone)…

Hackers on Steroids

August 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (2004)

Oh my god WORDS. Abstraction (n.) Boundless possibility exploited by an abstract class of abstract hackers abstracted via abstraction. Class (n.) That which drives the world towards further abstraction; divided into pastorialist class, capitalist class, vectoralist class. Classes of production vs expropriation. Hacker class critical to development of latter, due to abstraction. Question mark, sure. Education (n.) See hegemony. Battleground in whatever current class war. Biopower etc. Hackers ambivalent to education; desire knowledge instead, unless dicks. Hacking (n./v. sing.) Elegant and beautiful. The revolution will not be commoditized. Either vilified or minimized, due to FEAR AND LOATHING. Lightning round: History is an abstraction begging to be hacked. Information wants to be free. Nature is a thing, except not really. Production is produced via hacking. Property is theft abstracted. All representation is false because news flash it’s called REPRESENTATION not TRUTH. Revolt happens, sometimes. The state is a lie (/abstraction). Subjectivity is a lie (/abstraction). Surplus is a lie (/abstraction). Vectors are real you guys. The world is a vampire.

tl;dr we’re the greatest people to ever live.

Gabriella Coleman, “Old and New Net Wars Over Free Speech, Freedom and Secrecy; or How to Understand the Hacker and Lulz Battle against the Church of Scientology” (2010)

Two disclaimers: trolls are offensive so gird yr loins, also it might be helpful to think of trolls as tricksters. I’ll get to trolls later, but first hackers. Divergent origins in phone phreaking communities (also possible forerunners to trolling?), plus battles over open-source software. Distinctions when dealing with Scientology even trickier, because hackers? Trolls? Both? Oh lord, it’s a mess. Anyway, the story. Scientology + hacker foes = the ultimate in hate-fucking nemeses, due to near perfect ideological inversion. Have been mortal enemies locked in CYBERBATTLE since early 90s, origins on Usenet group alt.religion.scientology, and hitherto unprecedented legal battles the result of unauthorized postings of church documents (THETAN DUMP LOL). Welcome to Mortal Combat, per 1995 Wired article. Basic idea, Scientology super litigious censorship-mongers while hackers all about transparency & unlocking locked doors, because why not, anyway the more padlocks you instal the more alluring the door becomes. Bizarre-o world versions of each other: freedom vs. repression, plurality vs. monopoly, science vs. comical science fiction, openness vs. proprietary, etc. Hackers –> Anonymous –> Project Chanology. Connexion to 4change, background there. Encyclopedia Dramatia, Version 1.0. LULZ, the only reason to do anything. Earlier protests mostly political while Chanology primarily characterized by good old fashioned internet motherfuckery, at least at first. “Perhaps the first accidental protest movement in the world.” That picture in place, three brief points: Scientology metaphorical. Trolling tactics hugely effective. Trolls as tricksters? Potential for ethical dimension. With serious reservations, due to is it ever possible to do something “just” for the lulz?

Part one, two, three, four, five, six of Coleman’s talk.

Douglas Thomas, Hacker Culture (2002)

Jesus, what does the term “hacker” even mean? It’s not nearly as simple as the Mainstream Media would have you believe! There’s even controversy (perhaps more vitriolic controversy) within the ranks of those who would classify themselves as hackers, oh boy! This seems sort of appropriate, though, given the scope of this book, which considers the intersections between mainstream culture, the legal system, and hacking subculture (both defined from within and without), and which posits that hacking is more about ethos (approach) than tools (specific machines). Meaning that. Hacking ain’t just for programmers anymore, though I pretty much confine my research to “proper” hackers, whatever that means? Something about boy culture, something about historically contingent iterations of notions of secrecy.

Whatever! Hacking! Although as a set of behavioral practices it spans nearly 5 decades, there’s a pretty clear split within the ranks, namely between the old and new schools — the former encompassing proto- and golden-age hackers from the 50s, 60s and 70s and the latter referring to the much more maligned CYBERTERRORISTS of the 80s and 90s. The old school is characterized by a utopian sense of Possibility. They believed that information wanted to be free, and that the world would be a better and more open place thanks to Technology. Recall Levy’s Hacker Ethic! These brave virgins were almost always affiliated with universities or with the government, and were motivated by discovery. They may have been somewhat solipsistic, but the hackers of yore sure did…stuff, like make the internet a thing. The new school i.e. CYBERPUNKS are much more dystopian and, to overly simplify, stand on the shoulders of their hacking progenitors in order to undo the damage said progenitors have done since selling out and enacting the same indignities which in their younger years they would have –should have– fought against. Verily it is the circle of life! The important thing is, hackers occupy a hugely prominent role in contemporary popular culture; how the mainstream media reacts to hackers is less about hackers themselves and more about prevailing cultural attitudes towards technology, the end.

What I learned from these fine scholars

Dear god, definitions are just impossible aren’t they? Slippage in every single direction. In itself this isn’t a bad thing — as Biella Coleman explains, sometimes it’s just not possible to define these sorts of nominatives, sometimes the most accurate definitions consist of one slippage piled atop another. Between hacker and troll, between troll and anon, between 4chan and Anonymous, between abstraction and…every other goddamn noun in the dictionary, the beat goes on. Problem is, when there’s not a lot written about a given subject, there’s greater pressure, not to mention a very strong impulse (at least for horrifying A-types like myself), to carefully define whatever thing, if for no other reason than to make crystal clear what the hell it is I’m talking about (i.e. this not that).

Trollshit really is the worst, in part because a series of unofficial definitions –which cropped up due to there not being an official definition, and/or like 50 makeshift definitions to choose from– have obscured the most basic meaning(s) of the term. What ends up happening is, you find yourself rolling uphill to the drumbeat of CYBERBULLYING, and have to spend half your argument explaining what your argument is not before you can make any major claims. That can be a little frustrating, but I suppose it would be worse if a specific definition had been fully top-down and bottom-up codified. In part because I’m sure after a year (let alone an academic lifecycle) the definition would already be wrong, and probably laughably so, consisting primarily of exceptions. I would reference a few contention-bones with Judith Donath, here, but I can’t even remember what all I’ve written in the last few weeks, and would like to leave this terrible place as soon as possible — after her summer-long absence Mother had forgotten that PLC smells like the ghost of a thousand asses. The ass of a thousand ghosts? I wouldn’t doubt it. In conclusion, a) who cares how we define our words, it’s the behaviors that matter and b) it’s critical we use the right words because the right words make all the difference.

p.s. Trolls are third-gen hackers (“hackers” used in the metaphorical sense), standing on the aforementioned shoulders of those who stood on the shoulders of the people who built and subsequently ruined the system hackertrolls are now fighting against, for freedom. This however is a topic for another post.

Today’s Travels – Honesty is the Best Policy

July 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

So you're saying...it's a store.

OH WUNDERBAR it’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down et cetera

I won’t even try to explain this.

Why I miss being on Facebook.

Speaking of regret, sorry Vati! lol j/k I do what I want.

I lol’d, because it’s about my tv-boyfriend.

I lol’d, because lol.

(original here, which is possibly even lollier)

Yeah, those people must be crazy.

Speaking of all kinds of wrong

Today’s Travels – The Road to Hell

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

I think they were trying to make a point about cyberbullying. The producers were like, AIN’T SO EASY TO TALK SHIT WHEN THE PERSON’S STANDING IN FRONT OF YOU, HU PAL? And pal was like, pretty sure I can manage LOL.

Speaking of first-world problems


Insert joke about everything.

Spotlight On – MISANTHROPY

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Originally published January 21 2011; the beta version of this post had been about a recent encounter with some trolls, which Carol and I decided I shouldn’t publicize)

For reasons I shall take to my watery grave, the post formerly known as “You say misanthropy, I say high spirited…wait WHAT” has been replaced by the following account of “cyberbullying,” which seems to be an obvious second choice. VanDerMemes related; it’s me, realizing that I needed to write a new post.

At first I was like...

At first I was like...

and then
and then
…I Dawson’d

First of all, let’s talk about the word “cyber.” Although quite amusing if deployed ironically (lol u cybering? is one of the best ways to disrupt the frantic Facebook/iChat/Skype/whatever chatting of a classmate or colleague), the term “cyber” is annoying at best and highly misleading at worst. Yes yes, it serves a purpose — “cyber” means there’s computers afoot, and not just regular computers but networked computers. “Cyberstalking,” for example, also known as “going on Facebook,” is something you can only do on the computer, and “cyber security” refers to online privacy/security concerns. This might seem benign enough, but the term “cyber” does more than simply indicate that something (behavior, person, whatever) is restricted to the internet. It also suggests that a given action is born of the Internet, which has the unintended effect of reifying the difference between the online world (i.e. everything you do and say and think and feel online) and the “real world” (i.e. everything else). Not only does this (perhaps inadvertently, but still) privilege the terrestrial (meat-based) to the virtual (code-based), it also ends compromising, or at the very least downplaying, the agency of those who engage in “cyber” [whatever]. Cybersex, in other words, isn’t the same as “real” sex; cyber-affairs have none of the emotional consequences of “real” affairs; etc. In short, “cyber-” behaviors are framed as being different, somehow, than behaviors irl. Because it’s online, and things online aren’t real, and things that aren’t real life don’t mean the same thing they would if done face to face.

Cybrbullying, for example, is a deeply troubling emergent phenomenon, one which (purportedly) highlights the dangers of unrestricted/unmonitored technological access. Cyberbullies attack their GLBT classmates, sometimes resulting in the victim’s suicide; cyberbullies deface people’s Facebook walls, causing untold distress to friends and family members who accidentally stumble upon the questionable content; cyberbullies hold their victims hostage via email and chat and blogs and Facebook and Twitter and anyplace else that might pop up in a basic Google search. In short, cyberbullying –which is not necessarily synonymous with trolling, and implies that the bully knows his/her victim irl– represents the dark underbelly of the Internet; it allows users to do and say as they please without any concern for the consequences (which, as we know, will never be the same).

Sure, ok. Except the problem is, when we talk about “cyberbullying” we have a tendency to focus on the “cyber” and less so on the actual “bullying.” And this is where I take issue with the designation. Of course we can and should talk about the ways in which technology facilitates –or perhaps more appropriately, makes more convenient– aggressive or seemingly misanthropic (BOOM goes the keyword dynamite) behaviors. But by leading with the medium, literally framing the result with its delivery method, it’s all too easy to lose track of who is being bullied, and why, and by whom. All-too-frequently (in the mainstream media at least), the subsequent discussion devolves into a screed against the technologies themselves. It couldn’t possibly be the case that hate and intolerance of difference is built into the very language we use; it couldn’t possibly be that our kids reflect the tone and content of our political discourse; it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us, and the way we speak to and treat each other. It’s the damn Facebook’s fault, which is nice because if it’s Facebook’s fault it’s not our fault, and therefore we don’t need to do anything except take a stand against cyberbullying, probably on Facebook, because otherwise how will all our friends know that we’ve taken a stand against mean people (who totally SUCK, amirite?).

lol no really, y u mad

no srsly y u mad

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