Tuesday, June 05, 2012

We Get Letters

Lady writingAnother successful fundraiser has ended. As I said to one donor, it’s like throwing a dinner party: even if the RSVPs are in place and all is ready, it’s still a bit scary to think — omg…what if no one shows up?? I agree, that’s not rational, but I’ll bet every hostess has experienced fleeting moments of the same “what if…”

As usual, my fears weren’t grounded in reality either. There was, so to speak, a wealth of donors…the wealth of acknowledgments will follow a bit more slowly.

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I offered to write the wrap-up for this, our week-long consideration of the two kinds of diversity available: the first, dictates passed down from on high, gives you the rules and reasons for a poisonous and Politically Correct Diversity. That’s the kind, when you’re subjected to its strictures, makes you feel large waves of anomie. That is its purpose, or one of them. The other diversity, the organically grown (heh), bottom-up diversity, leaves you feeling in control of your own life. It’s an open-ended experience and one which is becoming all too rare.

Long-time readers of Gates of Vienna sometimes write to mourn the passing of the old days, back when we didn’t moderate comments, but simply deleted the occasional troll. Several people have observed a drop in the numbers of comments and in the range of the conversation since we moved to moderating every single thing that comes through the Gates. They sigh for the old days and the old dynamic.

So do we. But the ripples from the Breivik massacre spread far and wide, causing many changes. One of the immediate casualties was our comments function. We didn’t think about it ahead of time, but as soon as the first Scandinavian drool began to puddle and then flow under the Gates, we shut down the Input section.

It was all too obvious this horrendous slaughter had unhinged more than a few people up there. Frustrated in their attempts to scourge us publicly on our blog they resorted to emails instead. Oh my. You have to wonder at the stability of those who hate so intensely. No one who inscribed emails in acid admitted to having a relative to mourn — that would have been understandable — and, in fact, few of them touched on the central tragedy in Oslo at all.

As we’ve said repeatedly, civil disagreements are fine. But they don’t seem to teach rhetoric in schools anymore. If you rule name-calling and ridicule off the floor people become mute. Where comments aren’t moderated, the license of anonymity can quickly descend to a primitive and obsessional and regressive hatred. Sadly, I don’t think people like that can help themselves. As hemmed in as they are in their daily lives by an increasingly oppressive level of Diversity Rules and Political Correctness, in the half-light of a comments section their anonymity becomes a license to unload on their antagonists.

Since we can avoid having our readers subjected to this primitive hatred, we do so. On occasion one of us will miss a key word and then be forced to delete the rule-breaker. Or sometimes people don’t seem to understand how civil rhetoric functions and become frustrated in their attempts to comply with an unfamiliar environment. Many American commenters with a whole lot to say cannot grasp the notion that their First Amendment rights are rights only in potential. They are never a license to unload at will. Some have left here in a huff, absolutely certain we have violated their Constitutional rights, by heaven! What they never seem to notice is that there is no one to whom they can report us for this violation. That should be a clue, no?

The disgorgement we see — and hide from you — seems to come and go. Who know why? The phases of the moon? The news? Their own personal demons?

Today there was an essay in a small magazine on the subject of Comment Trolls. It covered the problems well, better than most. Here is what the author says:

The trolls of the internet: A guide

The sheer nastiness of some nameless commenters is poisoning discourse on the Web. Does it have to be this way?

What are trolls?

They’re the anonymous provocateurs who flood the internet with inflammatory insults, threats, and profanity. The term originates from the fishing technique of dragging a baited hook behind a moving boat; someone who uses offensive language to provoke a response is said to be “trolling.” The practice has existed since the earliest days of the internet, and was long considered to be harmless, if annoying. But in recent years, trolls have become a scourge.

“Scourge” is apt. Especially if the author is referring to the level of inflammatory insults and threats. One has only to visit a site without moderation to realize how degraded it has become.

Reasoned political discussion is often so overwhelmed by venomous, tit-for-tat name-calling that websites have to shut down their comment boards, as hundreds and even thousands of invective-filled responses pour in. On sites across the internet, liberals are regularly slammed as “libtards” and conservatives as “teabaggers”; comparisons to Auschwitz, Hitler, and the Nazis run rampant. Letting people comment about a racial controversy like the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, said Slate.com political reporter David Weigel, has become the equivalent of “putting out a freshly baked pie on the windowsill, smack dab in the middle of Racistville.”

Right again. I may post about the Zimmerman trial but when I do, comments will be closed for that very reason. The Baron can tick off on his fingers the topics sure to draw the fighters.

So: the parameters are predictable, as are the arguments. The worst thing about a free-for-all is that no one is required to think, only to react, and the reaction is often thermonuclear.

The author continues, but with a disappointingly cherry-picked example:

What motivates these people?

Trolling gives its anonymous practitioners the catharsis of venting forbidden feelings and ideas without suffering any consequences. On the internet, you can cuss out a stranger with even more vigor and impunity than you can a bad driver from the safety of your own car. “The enjoyment comes from finding a context in which you can let go, take a moral vacation,” says psychologist Tom Postmes of Exeter University in the U.K. “Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment.” That prospect is particularly appealing to disaffected men in their late teens and 20s, but they are hardly alone: CNN tracked down a troll putting anti-Islamic screeds online and found that he was a 39-year-old father in Belgium. Rider University psychologist John Suler says an “online disinhibition effect” allows people who might never utter a hateful word in person to unleash withering vitriol on comment boards. Politics, race, gender, and religion all serve as lightning rods for troll rage…

I don’t buy that one example about the Belgian. The haters and killers in Belgium are not the natives. But there goes CNN again — the infamous channel that sold its integrity to stay in Iraq while Saddam continued his murder and mayhem. Amazing they’d have the chutzpah to cover the subject at all.

Even with that little knife, it’s still a thoughtful essay. See here to find the other sub-headings:

  • Why have comments at all?
  • Could legislation deter the trolls?
  • So are sites powerless to halt personal attacks?
  • Cleaning up after the trolls

That last section made me glad all over again that we’re as small as we are.

Note from the Baron

For our spring fundraiser, this is the final line-up of locations (through June 5):

Stateside: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, N. Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, W. Virginia, and Washington

Near Abroad: Canada

Far Abroad: Australia, Belgium, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and the UK

Thanks, y’all!


Anonymous said...

ChristianInfidel says:

For my small part, you are very welcome.

And thank you!

Anonymous said...

That is interesting. All along, when I have read "troll," I pictured one of those ugly critters sitting under a bridge, waiting to eat a billy goat. I'm not sure tf I'm disappointed or not.