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Tag: Trolls


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The US Message Board & Online Anonymity (Phase 1) With Link to Final Project Blog

// Posted by on 04/14/2012 (5:09 PM)

Click here to visit my final research project blog…

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Throughout this semester the topic of online anonymity keeps resurfacing in different avenues of the digital landscape. In my project, I have immersed myself in the US Message Board website.… Read more

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Click here to visit my final research project blog…

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Throughout this semester the topic of online anonymity keeps resurfacing in different avenues of the digital landscape. In my project, I have immersed myself in the US Message Board website. The US Message Board is an online political forum that includes many different categories of politically related topics (such as: politics, religion, healthcare, conspiracy theories, race/racism) as well as more miscellaneous/general topics (such as: sports, food and wine, etc). While some users can choose taglines that reflect pieces of their assumed-to-be-real names, most choose fictional tag names, incorporating to some extent the idea of anonymity.

Many people critique the educational value, or lack thereof, of discussion forums like US Message Board. During my digital travels, I have been reading discussions while thinking about the following questions: What causes people to feel this way? Do users accredit their posts’ information or educational background? How do users interact and are discussions advanced? How does the idea of anonymity play into the discussions? Would they be different without it?

When I began my immersion in the US Message Board (USMB) site, I began by reading their “Rules & Regulations”. While the overall tone of the page at times appeared humorous and sarcastic, there were basic rules that they regularly enforce. Among them: linking information to sources (citing), no pornographic/obscene/indecent images, all users share the right to express their own beliefs/faiths/opinions, and every user must not reveal personal contact information about themselves or others (full name, address, phone number, and e-mail address). This page ends with, “Currently whipping the hamsters to keep things running.” In a way, USMB acts a little like 4chan – except it doesn’t tolerate porn. Every user utilizes an anonymous identity, and they can say whatever they want (though USMB doesn’t tolerate as much language as 4chan does). After reading these rules and concluding USMB members might be like 4chan users, I braved myself for some low-level educational value in the discussions. However, the topics on USMB actually hold relevance and importance; unlike say the “Sexy Beautiful Women” category on 4chan.

Since the USMB features so many different discussion topics, I decided to narrow down my investigation to the current debate over taxes. The discussion titled, “So people who earn a million a year pay a lower tax rate than the middle class” has been my latest investigation. While the first post presented how much a person earning a million dollars a year would pay in income tax versus a person earning fifty thousand dollars, shutting down the seemingly naïve claim of the discussion topic. Then you get someone commenting about how most Americans do not pay their fair share, then comes a user commenting “Obama bin lying…”. This combination of substantial, “fact” filled posts with random comments that don’t seem to add anything has appeared to be a common pattern in USMB discussions.

However, I have found (much to my surprise) many posts that seem to contain factual, relevant information that sparks questions and feedback that advance the conversation (not always the original discussion topic, but the current conversation of the board). Contrary to the USMB’s Rules and Regulations, many of these statistics, “facts”, or quotes ever appear to be cited to referred to another source. How can I accept these claims to be true? Many of the USMB users seem to either agree with other users’ uncited claims – perhaps by either knowing them to be true (if it could be considered general tax knowledge) or by blindly accepting and trusting their community’s members.

That being said, there are some comments by users who seem to have the untrusting reader in mind. One user provided links to various news articles, providing a point of information he summarized below each. While you didn’t have to agree with his conclusions, the sources he was basing them off were there for you to see. This brave user was consequently shut down immediately by the next user who picked specific points from the various articles to dismantle the other user’s claims. Poor guy.

While people like Stewart Brand envisioned online communities to be a place of trust, growth, and educational expansion, I cannot confirm this ideal for the USMB – at least not yet. While many opinions are made on the site, the replies seem to most often spark a back and forth bashing of different viewpoints, never opening up the table for compromise or an understanding of opposition.

In a series of negative reviews of USMB, retired users explain how much the site has changed since they initially began using it. The changes described remind me much of what many of the hackers we read about in Vanity Fair. Many of the USMB users became trolls and hackers who threatened other users via private messages with physical violence – including rape. Other threats were made verbally (well typed) with obscene language, which is tolerated on the site due to users’ protest for “freedom of speech”.

As of now, it seems my original doubts about anonymous online communities being a place for positive educational growth have been mostly confirmed. While I, like retired users, admit to many discussion posts containing educational, worthy information, sometimes it seems these posts are overshadowed by the hackers who use it for harm or uneducated users who post solely to undermine opinions not aligned with their own.

In the next phase of my project, I want to explore more discussions on taxes in other digital spaces. I will compare discussions utilizing anonymous identities versus real ones. How will the discussions be different? Will people be more concerned with citing their sources in an effort to legitimize their comments? Will people be able to criticize other posts as easily as they do in the USMB? My thoughts now are that when people post under the anonymous mask (and without source references), they feel much more confident and free to write whatever they wish, while users utilizing a true identity take more precaution in their online posts.


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Anonymous Audiences

// Posted by on 03/29/2012 (10:04 AM)

After reading Chris Poole’s argument for anonymity online I began to wonder about the pros and cons. Anonymity has been able to bring people together to act benevolently, such as the efforts to catch the cat abuser. At the… Read more

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After reading Chris Poole’s argument for anonymity online I began to wonder about the pros and cons. Anonymity has been able to bring people together to act benevolently, such as the efforts to catch the cat abuser. At the same time, anonymity permits us to act maliciously as highlighted by online bulling in Schwartz’s article. Why will we go out of our way to avenge cat abusers but we can’t call someone out for being rude online?

Part of this is propelled by the anonymity of the audience. Not only is the person who publishes this information anonymous, but so is the audience viewing the information. It makes it easy for people to enjoy reading these posts without the public conscious of worrying how others see you as a bystander. If you saw someone being beat on the street others around you would judge you for not stopping to help; however, online there is no incentive to step in. Instead you can sit and be a voyeur of the harassment without judgment.

There is a certain curiosity that we fulfill reading about these scenarios. It fascinates us to know about these relations; however, the minutes that we become the subject of the jokes and scrutiny we begin to feel differently about the abuse.  For those in the trolling community they feel a sense of pride in the amount of emotional disruption they can cause – sometimes to the extent that they can keep score:

“ “Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity.” – Schwartz, The Trolls Among Us.

Oftentimes we don’t take the time to prevent these issues until something bad happens. Tyler Clementi committed suicide after he was the subject of online bullying. In response to his the death the “It Gets Better” project was started to inspire the young LBGT community. Online harassment occurs all the time; however, we normally nothing is done in response. Anonymously, we are all willing to be non-acting bystanders.  When Juicy Campus was popular at Richmond everyone was willing to read the gossip until the jokes and rumors were pointed at them.

We need to recognize our position as bystanders in situations. It is easy to be an “innocent bystander” but those days are over. We are now becoming more responsible for our actions even though we are not aware of it. Some groups have learned to take advantage of our role as bystanders. Anonymous used its voyeurs as a tool one of its schemes to take down the Department of Justice. Unknowingly several of the bystanders on their site were used in some of their illegal activities.  I think all of these examples serve as evidence that we need to be more conscious of our role online. We may be anonymous but it does not mean that people aren’t watching what were doing online.


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Twitter and Trolls and Cultural Shifts, Oh My!

// Posted by on 03/28/2012 (11:42 AM)

I guess I’ll be one of the brave souls to mention trolling in a post because recent class discussions have caused me to consider the impact of technology on our culture (our Digital America, if you will). Throughout the semester,… Read more

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I guess I’ll be one of the brave souls to mention trolling in a post because recent class discussions have caused me to consider the impact of technology on our culture (our Digital America, if you will). Throughout the semester, I have read articles that argue that social media sites have changed our culture for the worse; we choose to interact with people through computer screens instead of in person, we are distancing ourselves from “real” human interaction, we are forgetting how to socialize, etc. These articles make a compelling and significant point in that nothing can replace the interactions we have in person that make us humans, and the new digital culture we live in is moving us away from this. One counter point to this argument is that social media sites are new tools that actually improve our connections with people, both from close up as well as from far away. Using a site like Facebook or Twitter allows people to share more of their lives with both those directly around them as well as those possibly oceans away. It is the times when people sit next to each other and are constantly on their smartphones, however, that causes this question of whether or not social media is making or breaking our new cultural age of communication.

I recently read an opinion in mashable.com written by Josh Rose. Rose attempts to argue that social media has a positive impact on our culture by describing the way in which he interacts with his son, whom he only gets to see occasionally because he and his wife are divorced. Rose says that the “I don’t care what you had for breakfast this morning” argument against social media may apply to some people, but in his case, he dies for the moments where his son tells him exactly that. Rose notes how confusing social media can be for those who engage with it: “Social media simultaneously draws us nearer and distances us.” People feel both pulled closer to the people far away from them but sometimes distanced from those in their physical proximity. Rose makes an observation from the coffee shop he is writing in: four people are reading newspapers while four people are on their laptops. He observes the “juxtapositions of physical and digital going on,” and observes that “people aren’t giving up long-form reading, considered thinking or social interactions. They are just filling all the space between.” This is an interesting idea, “filling the space between.” People who interact with social media aren’t moving away from their cultural surroundings, they are merely filling the gap between interactions. After all, as Rose puts it, “the Internet doesn’t steal our humanity, it reflects it. The Internet doesn’t get inside us, it shows what’s inside us.” Social media gives us a medium through which to share our thoughts, feelings, goings-on, etc. instead of replacing them in some way with something less real. The internet is the medium which the message is conveyed, it is not becoming the message itself.

 

After reading Rose’s piece, I began to think about how this positive impact on our lives he cites contrasts with the impact trolling has been cited to have. For those who are unclear on what exactly “trolling” is, knowyourmeme.com gives a comprehensive definition of trolling to make it more clear. The New York Times simply defines it as “manipulating other people’s emotional equilibrium.” There have been many stories about how trolling has caused not just emotional distress, but emotional destruction to its victims. One man in the UK was arrested for “trolling” about a girl after she committed suicide because she was bullied. (Read the article here). This is only one example of a story like this, but there are many others out there. I then came across an article called Top 10 Trolls in Internet History, which details 10 results of “trolling” that, while causing annoyance and frustration, do not go as far as to insult a child who has ended their life. Either way, trolling seems to have only negative consequences for its victims; a point that makes sense because its intention is “emotional distress.” Further down in the knowyourmeme.com article on trolling, the “Rules of the Internet” on trolling, beginning with the statement “We are anonymous” and continuing down to “Nothing is sacred” and “The more beautiful and pure a thing is- the more satisfying it is to corrupt it.” What, now? Nothing is sacred? The more beautiful and pure something is… the more fun it is to ruin it? These ideas play into the theory of psychology that we all have a little evil in us, and under the right circumstances it can come out. It is what was seen in Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 prison experiment at Stanford University in which participants were randomly assigned to part of “prisoner” or “guard” and the guards became sadistic, causing so much emotional distress to the prisoners that the experiment had to be shut down early. The “Rules of the Internet” begin with the statement “We are anonymous,” significant because psychological distress of those who troll seems to be the gasoline on the pile of wood while anonymity is the match. What causes people to want to cause harm to loved ones of those who have died? In the New York Times article “The Trolls Among Us”, Jason Fortuny says that trolling will only stop when people stop taking it seriously. This may be true, but this type of bullying would not and is not tolerated in person; there is a word for it, and it is harassment. Anonymity makes people more likely to troll and too resource-consuming for authorities to track.

 

 

Taking both of these perspectives into mind, do you think the internet has created possibilities for more positive or negative impacts on our culture? How do you personally think our culture has been impacted by this digital age?


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