“When Internet Trolls Attack” – Karyne Levy on Internet Trolls and Refusing to Refuse to Feed Similar

September 26, 2013 § 5 Comments

A while back I wrote an article on the Daily Dot critiquing the phrase “don’t feed the trolls” due to its implicit victim-blaming (the idea being that if you hadn’t fed the trolls they wouldn’t have attacked you, making their actions ultimately your fault — bullshit I say). This morning Karyne Levy published a nice piece on CNET discussing trolls, platform moderation, and the value of online comment sections. After addressing Popular Science’s decision to shut off its comments section due to too many assholes, Levy discusses her own experiences with online antagonists. As she writes:

And I’m over the online bullying. Mostly. But some of the comments break my heart. They make me want to pack up my things, get off the stage, and go back to being a behind-the-scenes editor. I want to quit the entire thing, stop producing the show that I love, and give up.

She then mentions that my Daily Dot article changed how she looked at trolls, particularly the imperative not to feed them, which is really — I mean just nice, what a nice thing to read.

I’ve since then changed my tactics. Now, whenever the comments on my YouTube page are accidentally left on, I pop in there, comment back, and sometimes tweet the responses. It makes me feel better. Kind of.

Extrapolating out, she continues:

If comments can’t be moderated, should there be comments at all? If the whole purpose of reader comments is to engage the readers, and all I get is personal attacks, am I the one doing something wrong? The Internet can be a place that fosters free speech. And while yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion about my looks, does that mean they should let those opinions be known when it’s irrelevant to the work I’ve produced? I don’t think so. Maybe there shouldn’t be comments at all. Maybe this is why we can’t have nice things.

Years ago, when I first started my trolling research, I aligned myself with the “don’t feed the trolls” logic. But as I continued researching, and more importantly, grew the fuck up and started seeing more examples of the offline impact of online shit-stirring, I began to question how we should deal with online antagonism (note that I’m not using the word “troll” here and instead am focusing on the full range of bad behavior online, a category which includes subcultural trolling but also includes straight-up unambiguous bigotry).

My position these days veers somewhere between “SHUT IT DOWN,” putting me in the comment section-closing camp, and “LET ME AT ‘EM,” putting me in the “if you can’t beat them, then shame them straight to hell” camp. Context matters, of course, so I have a slightly different perspective depending on the specific forum and topic and community. But overall, I’m tired of how much airtime the assholes are getting, and support efforts to push back against those who feel entitled to do what they want, when they want, with little fear of impunity. And don’t even get me started on discussions of “free speech.”


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§ 5 Responses to “When Internet Trolls Attack” – Karyne Levy on Internet Trolls and Refusing to Refuse to Feed Similar

  • joewebb86 says:

    Hey Whiney. Glad to see you’re making your own moral position clear. Did you read this?


    Complains that research like your own has been too neutral or even pro-trolls, argues that hysterical media coverage has it right and researchers should follow mainstream media accounts rather than challenge them (i.e. write “abhorrent” every 2 or 3 sentences to avoid neutrality being misconstrued as being pro trolling).

  • Anonymous says:

    Since it’s share your links time… Curious if you’ve seen this ebook:


    Someone mentioned it on one of the articles you wrote for a different site (I can’t remember where). It isn’t particularly well written, but it’s a first hand account of someone investigating RIP trolls on facebook. You’re mentioned in it, the author throws some hate your way for a couple of pages. He seems to infer you were in cahoots with Paulie Socash or something along those lines (he was at U of O, you were at U of O, therefore you’re an RIP troll?). Idk, he’s kind of vague. I thought it was pretty funny. Aside from that it’s a mildly interesting read.

    • Yes, I have seen that self-published e-book. The author (not an academic or journalist, just some guy on the internet) never attempted to interview me for the project, and other than noting that I was working with the interview subject I have repeatedly admitted to working with, doesn’t have much to say, at least in relation to me. I don’t know how a researcher might interview one of their subjects without actually interviewing him, perhaps at the researcher’s university office (the “damning” piece of evidence is that Paulie Socash posted something with a University of Oregon IP address, meaning he was one of 35,000 students, staff, faculty, and guests with access to that network, which would make sense if, say, he’d come to my office for an interview and agreed to let me observe him in action), so…basically his accusation is that I was doing my job. Which yes, yes I was. I don’t really have anything more to say about that, when I took this project on I knew full well that I’d get some hate thrown my way, particularly by trolls. So more power to him, I guess.

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