By Bill Maher
President Trump has been bragging, as usual, about spending quite a lot of money on weapons, to protect us from the world, even though they respect us like never before. It doesn’t really track, and I dare anyone at one of his rallies to name the weapons we didn’t have before that we…
Notes from the trenches.
Advocate for the kind of cyber space you want. Tell people flat out that their behaviour isn’t appropriate.
Set the standard yourself, don’t wait for someone else to do it.
Don’t just post your little comment and read a couple more and leave. Claim the comment space, especially if you’re being attacked or take exception to certain nasty trolls. Scan the comments, look for the repeat abusers and hound them. It freaks them out, it never occurs to them that people could be watching. It’s a simple tactic that works well.
If you’re keen on the research, familiarize yourself with the culture of 4chan and other sites where anonymous comment culture thrives. Go there and spend some time. This helps with identifying the way these groups function, some codes of conduct, what motivates them, what their particular ticks are, which includes:
Disruption for the sake of disruption.
Adherence to hive mind and a commitment to non-hierarchical anarchy.
Harsh, spare-no-feelings culture.
NYPA. Not your personal army. A common refrain when someone tries to enlist the hive mind.
Don’t assume anything about trolls, they’re comprised of all kinds from all strata of society.
Teenage trolls are easy to spot and easy to rebuff. Their style is generally the one-liner attack; most are used to online engagement that involves the modern version of trading cards, and excel at brevity: one word, one phrase, one line at a time.
Personal attack and fake outrage are the troll’s stock in trade.
It’s fairly easy to mess with their heads. Disrupt their disruption.
Do experiments. Post a comment that’s passionately in support of one side of a polarized argument and watch the pile-on. This serves a couple of purposes: pulls the agitators away from real discussion, identifies repeat posters, shows the percentage of trolls at work.
Foreign trolls give themselves away by the off-sounding English. Grammar is lacking and the comment looks odd—it’s been put through Google translate, which does a terrible job.
Tell them you’re conducting an experiment. Tell them your “team has been hired to gather names”. Get creative and sound authoritative.
Lie to foreign trolls so they’ll doubt themselves. Use all caps and tell them that doing so alerts Admin to a problem for investigation.
Reply to trolls. Ask them if they are getting minimum wage. Ask them if they’re being paid by the post. Make fun of their fake name if it’s something stupid, offensive or immature—like ‘Rams Herhard’.
Push back with force. Scathing humour trumps almost everything. Wit is respected. Appealing to niceness, manners or their better nature will only elicit derision and anger.
Foreign players whose first language is not English have difficulty holding up their position and will rarely reply back. Most foreign trolls aren’t there to engage with you, they might even be bots. Their job is to dump onto the comment thread, seeding it with whatever brand of poison they’re being paid to deliver.
Becoming more troll-savvy has important implications during elections where the fight for control of narrative is becoming fierce. Last month’s New Yorker magazine (February issue) contains an in-depth report about how troll culture is being copied, refined and weaponized. Check it out: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/02/18/private-mossad-for-hire
Last but not least. Any news organizations who are manipulating the current mysteries of social media must stop now. I’ve noticed that one particular news outlet was inundated with an army of nasty trolls over a period of several weeks. But the other news outlets of similar heft/import did not have the problem. Then, lo and behold, this news outlet tried to float the idea that because trolls were such a huge problem on their site it was time to change their comment rules and everyone would have to sign in/sign up and have their data managed by a savvy new internet company. Thank the god of bumbling Canadians because the initiative didn’t float and, voila, the army of nasty trolls disappeared. Hard to say what exactly was going on, but let’s go out on a limb: news outlets absolutely must not play the data mining game.
Some news stories are like burrs that won’t let go. In 2014, CBC radio host, Jian Ghomeshi, took a precipitous nosedive from media star into notorious pariah when his penchant for rough/violent sex was revealed. Voracious national conversations and debates ensued, including those around sexual violence, rape and the shortcomings of Canada’s judicial system.
At first I supported Ghomeshi. If you read his Facebook post explanation it sounded sane and rational, it led you to the conclusion that he was the victim of a vindictive ex-girlfriend who was twisting the truth of their kinky sex life. Then days later he was fired from his high profile job at CBC as beloved host of the morning program “Q”. I thought, no doubt it’s because of staid, prissy mores, which is a relatively easy conclusion to make in Canada; sexual permissiveness is more about theory than practice and plenty of repression still hunkers down at the margins. But soon more women came forward with accusations and shocking details and the full story began to emerge: Ghomeshi is no self-aware, safe-practicing kinkster who always had his partner’s consent, he’s a manipulative predator and serial abuser, a narcissist who needs violence in order to get off. And like many others who followed and watched this gong show, I sat in muddled amazement and horror and asked myself, why wasn’t this guy outed sooner?
July Op-ed for the Bridge River Lillooet News
~ Post newspaper publication comment: This Op-ed created some conflict in the small, remote town where I live and I learned some important things, including: It’s important for the writer to be tested occasionally; is your skin thick enough to bear the effects of your words; even after writing for decades, the writer is still learning the craft; best to offer a direct and sincere apology to those who felt they were wronged; if you believe your words to be fair and accurate, then let go; those who object are fewer than those who thank you for speaking up.~
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Gratitude is the back door into positivity so I’m reminding myself how many years I’ve enjoyed great postal service, especially all those years when my letters and postcards arrived safely from far flung locales such as Australia, Nepal, and China. When you think of the transportation logistics, all the mail handlers involved, and the pittance it costs, postal service is miraculous.
April Op-ed for the Bridge River Lillooet News
One night in winter when my dog was still a puppy we went outside about two a.m. and while he did his business I walked to the fence to look out at the street. I inhaled the crisp, clean air and searched the sky for the Big Dipper and then from the darkness about ten feet away something uttered a warning growl. My abdomen muscles clenched. The hairs on my neck stood up. My puppy also heard it and we both dashed for the house. I’m not sure who made it back indoors first.
February Op-ed for the Bridge River Lillooet News
Valentine’s Day is difficult for those who’ve lost—or are losing—someone they love. And it’s harder when that person is far away, like my close relative who’s recently been diagnosed with a life-shortening disease.
For now we are connecting through technology, which is a blessing except for the texts I was receiving. The first time she punctuated a text with a black heart my own heart squeezed in empathy and sorrow: she’s grieving the loss of her future, the black heart must signal the bleakness and dread she’s feeling.
Afraid she was giving up hope, I texted back loving and supportive messages loaded with colourful hearts. Red, purple, blue, gold, green and of course the many pink ones. I’d stack them together like a sentence until they looked like a chain of candy. I hoped the dose of colour would lift her spirits, however briefly. And maybe they would nudge her toward replacing the black one.
But not so. They kept coming. Within a couple of weeks I developed a Pavlovian response. Seeing one would literally make me feel nauseous. But I censored myself from saying anything. How much time does she have left? How could I object to anything she was choosing to do?
Finally I texted a mutual friend and asked if she was also receiving black hearts. No, she wasn’t, just the coloured ones. That made me feel worse. Did she have unspoken grievances, had I failed her too many times over these many years? I needed to ask but didn’t; she was dealing with so much, my insecurity was irrelevant and selfish. Then I thought, maybe she only sends me the black heart because she believes I’m strong enough to handle her darker feelings.
Which is accurate, usually I am that strong person. But that isn’t so right now. I just had to say something. That night I got little sleep as I tossed and turned and wrestled with the decision. In the morning she sent another text and there were no words, just one black heart.
So I sent the text. Is there a reason that I’m receiving the black hearts, I asked, they are like little black darts and I’m worried enough already. I waited for her reply. The minutes that passed were very long and very silent.
Her text was stitched with exclamation marks. She was so sorry I’d been feeling bad! She would never ever do that to me! The hearts were supposed to be gold, red, or purple!!
Some of my worry lifted. Then I cast around for the right explanation and soon realized that the problem had to be with my cell phone, which has been doing strange things for a while and at six-plus-years old is dinosaur technology compared to her brand new iPhone. My cell sends out colourful hearts just fine, but incoming hearts that should be full of colour and love were all defaulted to black. And that’s already further into the symbolic than I ever wanted to go.