Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On Wrecking of Online Conversation Spaces by Trolls: Recent Commentary

Because I happen to have run across two very good pieces of commentary in the past day or so, about how trolls are trashing open discussion spaces online and causing some news sites to shut down their commentary threads, I commented on this topic on Facebook today. I thought some readers of Bilgrimage might be interested in what I had to say.

1. As this Time article by Joel Stein says, one of the worst effects of online trolling (which far and away is the domain of straight white males, Trump's key constituency — and what's up with that?) is that it increasingly legitimates saying any damned thing you want to say. Out loud. No matter how taboo and hateful.

Like: "You people should have been burned in the ovens."

And letting people feel self-righteous about saying hateful, destructive things right out loud is NOT good for a society, nor is encouraging the use of profanity-laden expletives in "communication" about important issues.

Trolls are, quite simply, old-fashioned bullies — as the article makes clear. As it notes, 

When sites are overrun by trolls, they drown out the voices of women, ethnic and religious minorities, gays–anyone who might feel vulnerable.

These are the online version of the folks who march around grocery stores carrying assault rifles — because they CAN do so, at least in some areas. What they want to communicate is that they have a "right" to intimidate you and me, and that you and I will pay a price if we push back against the intimidation.

It would not be a good idea for a society to put someone like this in its chief leadership position — say, in the White House. And yet that very well could happen, because there's a wide swathe of people in the U.S. (and certainly elsewhere) who actively enjoy being bullies, and who admire anyone running for office who "tells it like it is" and lets whatever lame idea that enters his head fall out of his mouth, no matter how destructive to others.

2. As this article by Alicia Shepard at the Bill Moyers blog notes, NPR is shutting down its comments section, because it can no longer handle the filthy comments placed there by hordes of trolls who keep descending on the site and bullying others out of the "conversation." As Alicia Shepard notes, this is a decision now being made by more and more news sites that previously had open discussion forums, and considered those forums a service to journalism and democratic conversations.

3. And then I shared a vignette about a man who is a regular commentator in discussion threads at National Catholic Reporter. I did not keep a record of the comments he made yesterday that I am about to discuss, and so I cannot point you to links. 

This is a man who has had a number of incarnations in the NCR threads under different usernames — a very angry man, it's apparent to me — who is (I happen to know) associated with the secretive Catholic cultic outfit Opus Dei. Though he has posted comments about what a wonderful sex life he and his wife enjoy, with Jesus watching and approving, and how much his wife relishes what he has to offer her in the bedroom, his wife is curiously silent on NCR threads.

He talks for her. 

The fixation on proving how wonderful heterosexual sex — one man, one woman, for life — is, especially when men and women are in their rightful places (man on top, woman on bottom), is a growing fixation in right-wing Christian circles, one that strikes me as downright creepy. I mention it here because, as I have read this man's comments at NCR over a period of time, I've become increasingly convinced that not only is he an angry man, but that his wife must bear the brunt of a lot of his anger. 

I'd love to hear from her mouth and through her words what she thinks of that wonderful sex life about which he boasts as a model for the rest of us, with Jesus watching delightedly on the sidelines.  

And so back to his comments yesterday at NCR. There's a woman in the NCR threads who routinely stands up to him, and he does not like that, so he dogs her steps and yaps at her comments. When she asked him once again yesterday why he does this, he said something to the effect that he's there to help save her soul.

She needs him, powerful, righteous man that he is.

Then, within minutes after this — and I am not making this up — there he was at another NCR thread saying that one of the things he dislikes about the current pope, Francis, is that he has a savior complex.

(I've shared the Diarmaid MacCulloch quotation with you before. It just seems too apt here not to bring it to your attention again. Clicking on it will make it more legible.

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