Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Zombie Apocalypse is Here and You Didn’t Notice

Have brain eating, society crushing, putrefying, corrupted, stalking creatures missed your attention?  If you are looking out your window, yes. But they are all around you on the Internet - and commonly called trolls. Not literally brain eating, but sucking the intelligence out of anything they can and drawing their strength from the meat viciously torn from innocent victims. Trolls are a species, a different species. Zombies are ruined, rotting humans who procreate by contaminating others. Zombies are much more like what we think of when we think of Internet trolls.
Zombie purists probably do not like this line of thinking. They would rather we grapple with a weaponized version of an ancient middle/northern European demon than risk exploring the real meaning behind the current popularity of zombies. 
Certain entertainment subjects have been popular in the past because they are a blurry reflection of what is going on around us at that time. Intended to or not, these images resonate with us in some way.  The Marx Brothers deflating fat cats, expressing the hidden desires of depression weary Americans; The Invasion of the Body Snatchers echoing America’s unease with McCarthyism’s “enemies among us”; the racism reflected in The Day the Earth Stood Still and now the obsession with zombies in this,  the heyday of hate on the Internet.  It is not a coincidence.

Hate on the Internet is one of the most destructive forces in our society today (1st Amendment? that’s for a later blog post) and it is ugly, vile, contagious, indiscriminant and corrosive.   Zombies are vile, thoughtless, degenerate, dehumanized, creatures preying on the minds (brains) and hearts (flesh) of innocent vulnerable people who are then forced to hide in order to survive. Sounds like internet hate, sounds like trolls. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Haters Pride

No one is proud to be a troll, at least not publically proud. The trolls I have managed to engage quickly shift to righteous indignation – I troll because I can, I’m allowed, I’m entitled. There are many things in life that we can do but shouldn’t; drinking cleaning products and eating those moisture absorbing silica packets that come in the box with electronic products come to mind. Just because we can do something does not mean we should or must. That is the hallmark of civilized behavior. Trolls know this.

It is a rare troll that uses their real name. It is not a Snowden or Assange-esque fear of big brother but a fear of being the subject of the kind of abuse they are heaping on others that keeps them from using a real identity.

The interviews with umasked trolls such as @sweepyface (Brenda Leyland) and Violentacrez (Michael Brutsch) speak volumes. Leyland was unmasked by a UK  news agency as one of the primary trolls of the McCann family, whose daughter disappeared on holiday in Portugal in 2007. Brutsch, outed by Gawker, was one of Reddit’s most intentionally offensive and high profile denizens. Leyland’s last public words in her own defense were, “I’m entitled.” She was immediately the subject of a fusillade of online hate. Soon after, Leyland was found dead in a nearby hotel – cause still unknown.  Brutsch told Gawker that, “I just like riling people up in my spare time,” and asked repeatedly what he could do to stop Gawker from outing him.

Leyland and Brutsch both wanted sympathy, but offered none for anyone they may have impacted.

It is not just common sense that trolls don’t like to be confronted or have to defend their usually unprovoked and unsubstantiated attacks, it is a studied phenomenon. Facebook has been experimenting with a facet of their complaint mechanism which allows users to contact other users who have posted inappropriate material and ask that it be removed. Whether or not you agree with the idea of contacting your attackers, the program has had a measure of success.

Whatever you call them – trolls, snipers, haters – they all share the same characteristics. There are legions of people who serve-up criticism honestly, genuinely, responsibly and without anonymity. It is easy to come up with any number of reasons for not using a real name online, but hiding your identity to dish-out abuse, and avoid it in return, is the weakest of them all.   

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Real Problem with Nicki Minaj’s Video

There is nothing new about Nazi imagery in music, games, movies and video or on the Internet in general.  What is new and wrong is the loss of context. This is especially a true when the use of the images is casual and the audience is young.  This is the real problem with Nicki Minaj’s latest video “Only.”  In no way does this video attempt to illuminate the problems with Nazis, totalitarian governments or the glorification of their symbols and images - exactly the opposite.  This is even more shocking because, if you think about, had there been a significant black community in Hitler's Europe, they certainly would been on the extermination list too.

Regardless of what apologies or justifications have been offered,  the true sentiment of Minaj'a camp is hard to miss - a bunch of older whites are upset about our video and we really don't care,  they're not our audience. 

I could be wrong, but if Minaj was really upset about offending people, she would have pulled the video and ordered it be re-edited.  At the very least, add a statement at the end about how the Nazis were evil destructive,  anti-American, anti-democratic and should not be emulated or glorified.  But perhaps doing the right thing just takes too much effort.

Monday, November 10, 2014

English – The New Language of Hate

The blooming of the information age and the commercial Internet in the U.S. has made English the default language of the medium. In addition to all of the other businesses that have emerged, website hosting companies and services in the U.S. are the primary home for websites from around the world. Because of the US commitment to free speech, hate filled websites from around the world, websites seeking to evade hate speech laws in their own country, often seek out and find willing hosting services in the U.S.

Between hate speech generated by home-grown sources and hate sites from around the world English is now the international language of hate.

Not all hate is in English, far from it. But many haters love and use English. It is the mother tongue of the new media. It is also the native language of free-speech and the U.S., where their most vicious rhetoric has a place to be heard. In conferences, at hearings, meetings and court proceeding around the world, when the issue of hate online comes up, the U.S. is cited as the welcoming home for hate. Criticism of the United States and the First amendment often follows.

International hate mongers will post their vitriol in their own language when speaking to their home audience. When racists, extremists, anti-Semites and fear-mongers want to reach an international audience, their content appears in English.

 This is not a bad thing. It is fitting and possibly even good that English has come to be associated with hate in this way. In addition to being the language of hate, English is also the language of free speech, freedom and equality. The U.S. cultural ethos of free-speech is not about to change, so English is going to remain the language of hate. On one hand, hate speech will not be going away – on the other hand its persistence means that freedom of speech is alive and well. English, in addition to being a platform for hate, is uniquely positioned to be the most powerful tool against hate speech. Just as the concept of free speech protects people’s right to spew hate, it also protects the right of people to identify and criticize hate speech. Speaking out against hate speech does not compromise free speech; it is perhaps the highest form of free speech. It is counter speech. It is the start of debate, dispute and dialogue that is us at our best, hate and all.