More in the ongoing discussion of the damage trolls (and heavy-handed censorship) are doing to online discussion spaces: at Salon yesterday, Colin McEnroe argues persuasively that if internet discussion sites don't soon deal proactively with "orange-fanged morons" trolling these sites, the promise of the internet as a place for open, fruitful discussion of important issues affecting all of us will be choked in its infancy. As many other observers of the trolling phenomenon also note, McEnroe points out that an overwhemling percentage of the online attacks target women.
In recent days: a feminist culture critic was driven from her home by violent comments and emails; Jezebel, frustrated by the deaf ear of its Gawker father ship, published an open letter to management begging for help with rape GIF trolls; and over at Reddit, which would seem uniquely well-poised for self-policing its trolls, one subreddit was so overrun that it resorted to (wait for it) publishing an open letter to management begging for help.
Meanwhile, online publishers need their noses pushed into the following truth: your comment section really does say a lot about your whole operation. If it’s uncivil, indifferent to humanity, hostile to women, sub-literate, sloppily administered and shitty, well, maybe that’s you. I suppose here is the place to say I think Salon’s comments are pretty good. I mean, they’re negative and grumpy but suggestive of a well-informed, keen-eyed reader who inevitably thinks he could have done a much better job with this topic. I’ll take that any day.
But if your comments are full of racist taunts, rape GIFs, blowjob putdowns, and off-topic personal invective, please understand, that stuff is all sitting, metaphorically, in your lobby. You might want to tidy up.
Meanwhile, over at the National Catholic Reporter site, where a longtime commenter who writes exceptionally literate and thoughtful responses to news articles about Catholic issues, Jerry Slevin, recently found himself banned from commenting, other people continue to be given free rein to leave comments full of venom directed at certain targeted minority groups, notably gay folks and women. Just this morning, I opened my email inbox to find an email from a regular commenter at this blog, who also comments on NCR articles.
In an email entitled,"Ugly Comments," this e-friend tells me that she has been trying to carry on discussions in the thread following David Gibson's recent NCR article about Cardinal Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and American nuns. My correspondent writes,
There are hundreds of comments to this story and many, many more trolls than I have experienced so far in NCR stories. Of course I am thinking of the Gerald Slevin discussion. I don't know how to react to the tone of these comments and probably took a tone a bit arch. I am astonished by this experience and wonder if the NCR world has gone batty?
Back in January, when NCR temporarily shut down its commenting system due to what editor Dennis Coday called a plethora of "vile and demeaning comments," Coday noted (and here) that "the worst attacks are directed at writers and story subjects from the LGBT community and at our women writers."
If the e-friend who sent me a report today entitled "Ugly Comments" that specifically focuses on the misogynistic comments being left by "hundreds" of commenters at article discussing Cardinal Müller and U.S. nuns is correct in her assessment of what's going on (and I think she is), then one has to ask: why is NCR devoting so much time and energy to silencing a thoughtful, intelligent commenter who has contributed a great deal to discussion at its site, while the trolls continue to be allowed to come out and play anytime women and gay folks are discussed at this site?
For Jerry Slevin's latest statement about his censorship by NCR, noting the strong support he has enjoyed from other NCR contributors, see here.
If any reader knows the author of the trolling graphic, I would be grateful for the information, and will gladly give credit for the authorship of the image. I find it used at many blog sites, but none of the ones I've consulted provides any information about its original source.