Kali Holloway thinks online trolling is getting much, much worse. Because Trump, to a great extent. Trump legitimates bullying, overt expression of hatred ("I love him because he has no filters," his supporters like to say), the attempt to shut down necessary conversation with screams about trumping b——es, or hanging and assassinating political opponents.
It's getting much, much worse, and it's going to continue to get worse. Just yesterday, the same day that Holloway published her essay, Mary Elizabeth Williams published an article at Salon noting that she is leaving Twitter because she can no longer stomach the threats, the trolling.
Who's doing the trolling? Holloway cites Whitney Phillips' 2015 book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture:
Phillips, who has spent nearly a decade e-staking out the virtual spaces trolls frequent, such as 4chan, Reddit, Facebook and Twitter, notes in her book that there is "every indication that the vast majority of subcultural trolls—certainly the ones I interacted with—are relatively privileged white males for whom English is either a first or second language."
Note: when I have made similar points here, I've had at least one Catholic woman who claims to be an expert on such matters bash away at me with charges that I demonize heterosexual white males, who are the salt of the earth and do not form the primary engine of Donald Trump's campaign — though the data about where Trump's support comes from (from straight white men!) have long been very clear and cogent. This woman does not want open discussion of the connections between white skin, male gender, and heterosexual orientation as we look carefully at who's responsible for an overwhelming amount of violence in our society, and who stands behind Donald Trump. So I chose to block her from posting here, since her interest was not in fostering conversation, but in subverting conversation, and I did not appreciate her personal attacks on me as I tried to foster conversation.
Note: I once included in my bloglist here a blog by a young(-ish) Catholic heterosexual white male who is a convert to Catholicism. Several times in postings, I noted that, though I seldom agreed with anything this man wrote on his blog, I wanted to draw attention to it because he seemed to be intelligent, reasonable, willing to engage in conversation.
Then I began to notice how important it seemed to him to keep Club Catholic a space that gives unmerited privilege to heterosexual men — men like himself. When Steve and I married in 2014, he sent congratulations via a Facebook message.
But the day that the Obergefell decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, making our marriage actually meaningful in law, he went into enraged attack mode, accusing me and other gay folks (in Facebook postings) of bullying people like him, of having coerced the Supreme Court to do our bidding (!), of trying to shut down good people of faith like himself as they insist on what the church has "always" taught about gender and sexuality.
At that point, he had shown me his real hand, and who he was became clear to me. It became clear that he had joined Club Catholic because of the unmerited privilege that Club Catholic gives to men like himself — but certainly not to women or to men like me. And so I dropped his blog from my bloglist and unfriended him on Facebook. I felt confirmed in that choice some months later when I saw his Disqus username popping up at National Catholic Reporter after he had hit the like button there to express his approval of ugly anti-transgender statements by ugly trolls who constantly haunt that site, to try to blow up Catholic conversations about gender and sexuality.
More from Holloway on where all of this has brought us, as Trump campaigns for the presidency:
This is where trollism—or what we now refer to as trolling—has led. On 4chan, Reddit, and other forums where hate was encouraged and allowed to grow unchecked, the alt-right has developed into a loose coalition of (mostly) angry white men who believe and propagate the idea that they are this country's oppressed class. In this alt-landscape, Latinos and blacks are stealing their rightful spoils; feminism is upsetting the natural men-on-top order of things; Muslim invaders are destroying the country; and an international Jewish conspiracy is trying to wipe out the white race with tools that include miscegenation and homosexuality. Men who aren’t on board with the alt-right's retrograde cause are labeled "cucks," a corruption of cuckold (or "cuckservatives" in the case of Republican opponents). (The SPLC notes “the phrase has a racist undertone...implying that establishment conservatives are like white men who allow black men to sleep with their wives.”) They describe revelatory moments—in this warped context, going all in on racism and misogyny—as swallowing the "red pill," as in the film The Matrix.
Angry white men who believe and propagate the idea that they are this country's oppressed class: do you see what Kali Holloway is saying here? They are the oppressed ones.
When it cost that young(-ish) Catholic convert nothing at all to congratulate me on marrying in 2014, when many of my other Facebook friends were posting congratulations, when it could be spun as an act of magnaminity and tolerance — of charity — by a conservative, anti-gay-marriage Catholic, he posted a note of congratulations. Cheap grace.
But when this position began to have a cost attached to it, when Obergefell gave my marriage legal status after people of faith in my state kicked and screamed for almost a year, holding up legal clarification of my marriage: then, he went on the warpath, and accused me of being the bully and aggressor.
He became the aggrieved party. Because I could now claim a right he had long taken for granted for himself, and wished to deny to me on grounds of Catholic faith, even as he pretended to congratulate me on my marriage.
I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this commentary, except to say that I agree with Kali Holloway that it's a little too simplistic to say, "Don't feed the trolls," and "Don't read the comments." That approach yields online conversation spaces to trolls, and it plays right into their hands.
What they're seeking is to shut down conversations that move in directions of which they do not approve. We cannot let that happen, if we value these conversation spaces — above all, if we value the conversation space that is the American public square in a pluralistic secular democracy that thrives on open, free discussion which solicits, in particular, the contributions of those the overweening strong love to shut up.
I suppose I'm also pointing you to the particular kind of nastiness — twisted nastiness with a toxic religious fillip — that trolls at religious conversation sites exhibit. I've been tracking one of these folks for some time now, as he pops up at religious sites online discussing gay issues. I have no doubt at all that this is a white male.
His contributions to discussions of gay issues, citing his Christian faith as his warrant, are hate speech pure and simple. He has posted comments about how he smiled when all those LGBTQ folks were massacred at the Pulse nightclub. He has posted statements about how, when Trump wins the White House, he and other Christians will come for us and drive us from the land — will purge it of evil by force.
"We don't like you," he repeatedly says, seeking to magnify his bullying presence by pretending that he stands for all Christians, and that Christian soldiers intent on murdering LGBTQ people in the U.S. are legion. And here's what's remarkable about this hate speech: it's entertained by the religion-based news and blog sites at which he posts.
It's treated as one opinion among other opinions in the marketplace of ideas. None of these religious blog sites or news sites would for a minute entertain this kind of murderous hate speech if it were directed to Jews or African Americans — nor should they do so.
Part of the problem at many online sites is that very same false-equivalency meme that has wrought such destruction in the 2016 election cycle. All viewpoints are not equal. Some speech is toxic, and should not be allowed haven in faith-based conversations. Period. Full stop.
The graphic: yours truly trying out a Krampus mask in the Museo Civico of Bolzano in December 2013.