Troll Hunting by Australian journalist Ginger Gorman is a new book which examines the world of online hate and its human fallout. Along with interviews with a small number of trolls and general reflections upon this hateful world, Gorman’s book includes a number of case studies of trolling, some of which are relatively well-known while others not: all make for disturbing reading. While it’s of general relevance, many of the characters and events which populate this world would be especially familiar to (Australian) readers, or at least those who take an interest in such matters: on the one hand, ‘GamerGate’, convicted terrorist Joshua Goldberg, Andrew Auernheimer (AKA ‘weev’) and GNAA; on the other hand, those subject to what Gorman calls ‘predator trolling’, including writer Van Badham and lawyers Josh Bornstein and Mariam Veiszadeh (among others). Gorman’s book is well-written and engaging, and weaves together the author’s own experience of being ‘trolled’ with those of others, along with some examples of ‘troll hunting’ and ‘troll hunters’, the latter category including journalist and lawyer Luke McMahon. As well as being of general interest, the text is of particular interest to me because of the ways in which the ‘world of online hate’ has been ‘weaponized’ by elements of the far right, a theme explored in more detail in the anthology Cyber Racism and Community Resilience: Strategies for Combating Online Race Hate (Palgrave, 2017). At a little over 250 pages long, the text includes endnotes, which are useful, but — rather annoyingly — no index.
Gorman’s book is divided into three parts: ‘Trolls’, ‘Targets’ and ‘Troll hunting’. The first part examines the evolution of online trolling, the emergence of ‘predator trolls’ in particular — which Gorman defines (p.18) as those who set out to do real-life harm — and details the author’s lengthy conversations and interactions with several of its enthusiastic practitioners. In the second part, Gorman provides case studies of predator trolling and investigates the ways in which law enforcement has responded, or more precisely failed to respond, to these activities. Gorman also explores how social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have dealt with trolling and cyberhate generally — which is argued to be less-than-adequate. The third and final part of the book explores how some trolls, including Goldberg, came unstuck. Throughout the text, Gorman reflects upon her journey into this ‘world of online hate’, and how her interactions with the creatures which inhabit it change her understanding of them, their world, and its relationship to broader social and technological trends, especially racism and misogyny and the central place of social media in everyday life.
While the second part reveals varying degrees of incompetency and indifference on the part of tech companies, after documenting the systemic failure of law enforcement to address cyberbullying, Gorman does detect a more hopeful sign (pp.119–120):
Some stories are emerging of more appropriate, and effective, responses to cyberbullying complaints. Take comedian and writer Catherine Deveny. After making controversial comments on Twitter and Facebook about Anzac Day in 2018 — describing it as ‘Bogan Halloween’ and a ‘fetishisation of war and violence’ — she was doxed multiple times. Her home address was posted all over the internet and she received an avalanche of credible rape and death threats. She was the focus of several facebook hate groups. One night, five men in a ute turned up to her house. One of them knocked on her door and videoed himself doing it.
Within forty-eight hours of Deveny’s original comments being posted — and the resultant blow-up of public vitriol — Victorian counter-terrorism police reached out to her. They got her statement and started investigating. Police patrolled outside her house and work events. An investigator from the Office of the Federal eSafety Commissioner also got in touch. In contrast to many who’d gone before her, Deveny received significant and appropriate support. After hearing so many dire stories, it’s great to hear one like this. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all predator-trolling victims could rely on getting this kind of assistance?
For what it’s worth, I remember when this incident took place, and at the time made brief reference to it on the blog. In which context, a few things. First, those responsible for paying Deveny a nocturnal visit included right-wing activists Julian de Ross (AKA ‘Hugh Pearson’), Rino ‘Bluebeard’ Grgurovic and Ricky Turner. Secondly, whatever became of the intervention by Victorian counter-terrorism police and the Office of the Federal eSafety Commissioner, the boys carried on as before. Thus one month later, members of the same crew — on this occasion consisting of Paul Exley and Danny Peanna/Parkinson from Sydney, together with the Melbourne-based Grgurovic, Logan Spalding, and their ringleader Neil Erikson — filmed themselves disrupting a church service in Gosford; in June, Erikson, Turner and several others paid another nocturnal visit to a private address, on this occasion that of rival right-wing entrepreneur Dave Pellowe. While it’s unclear if those responsible for attending Deveny’s and Pellowe’s address faced any legal repercussions (it seems not), for his part in the disruption of the church service Erikson at least was later charged under an obscure law making it an offence to ‘obstruct a member of the clergy in the discharge of his or her duties’.
It’s possible, I suppose, to characterise this behaviour as ‘IRL trolling’ — but there’s certainly other interpretations. One critical difference is that, while it may be performed for teh lulz, unlike almost all of the examples of ‘trolling’ Gorman provides in her book, such actions are not really all that anonymous. In fact, while there’s occasionally some effort made to disguise the identities of those responsible, for the most part it’s very public — and by public I mean ‘filmed and then published by/on Facebook’. When de Ross, Grgurovic, Turner & Co. visited Deveny’s home; Exley, Peanna, Grgurovic, Spalding and Erikson disrupted a church service; and Erikson, Turner & Co. visited Pellowe’s home; these actions were undertaken precisely in order to be documented and distributed via Facebook. So too, the numerous other occasions upon which Erikson in particular has undertaken the role of a serial pest, from disrupting council meetings and various left and ‘multicultural’ events to stalking and abusing various public figures he happens to dislike. (Note that Grgurovic is due in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on February 26 over assault charges; Erikson, along with his kameraden Ricky Turner and Richard Whelan, have a date on May 13 over similar.)
All of these acts have been performed publicly and for the benefit of his Facebook audience, the corporation having granted Erikson permission to do so for at least the last four years. Thus, it was only in the space of the last few days that Facebook, for unknown reasons, banned a number of Erikson’s accounts. (It’s possible that the pest may have come unstuck upon announcing the re-launch of the ‘United Patriots Front’ by creating an event page for a February 16 rally at Federation Square — the UPF collapsed after Facebook banned its page in May 2017.) Still, there are hundreds if not thousands of very similar pages on the site, and it remains the critical tool for far-right organising in Australia and elsewhere. (See, for example, Fraser Anning’s Neo-Nazi connections (The White Rose Society, January 11, 2019) and Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests (Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, The New York Times, August 21, 2018) for two among innumerable other instances.)
More broadly, while Gorman makes fairly short work of the corporate pablum spewed by Facebook and Twitter concerning their commitment to combating trolling and ‘hate speech’, if Facebook in particular is understood as being a massive private data-collection agency — one which derives a substantial proportion of its profits from selling this information to advertisers (and whoever else can pay for it) — it’s possible to cut through this nonsense fairly easily. Further, like corporations generally, Facebook is able to use the enormous financial and political power at its disposal to ensure the forms of regulation which might inhibit its continued growth and profitability are kept at bay. And while YouTube/Google doesn’t feature in Gorman’s account, its role in promoting racist and fascist propaganda, along with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, rivals that of Facebook, and has long been understood as a key node in the distribution and promotion of race-hate and other forms of hate speech (see, for example, ‘Fiction is outperforming reality’: how YouTube’s algorithm distorts truth, Paul Lewis, The Guardian, February 2, 2018 and ‘Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube’, Rebecca Lewis, Data & Society, September 9, 2018).
In any case, to return to Goldberg and Veiszadeh (pp.218–219):
Towards the end of 2014, [Veiszadeh] publicly voiced her outrage that a Woolworths supermarket in Cairns was selling singlets printed with the Australian flag alongside the tagline,’If you don’t love it, LEAVE’.
Three months after her tweet, the far right anti-Islam group The Australian Defence League posted her tweet to their Facebook page. From there, it was picked up by the alt-right Daily Stormer website. Chillingly, The Daily Stormer post about Veiszadeh, written under the byline Michael Slay, demanded of its thousands of followers: ‘Stormer Troll Army … assemble!’ ‘We need to flood this towelhead subhuman vermin with as much racial and religious abuse as we possibly can,” the spite-filled post reads …’
(Note that a few weeks ago the former ‘President’ of the ADL, Ralph Cerminara, was found ‘guilty of two counts of intimidation and one count of common assault’ after attacking his neighbour in Sydney.)
In addition to being attacked on The Daily Stormer, Veiszadeh’s tweet also triggered a Queensland woman, Jay-Leighsha Bauman, to send Veiszadeh messages calling her a “whore”, a “rag-head” and [telling] her to return to her own “sand dune country” — Bauman was later sentenced to 180 hours of community service for the crime. A few months later, an Ordinary Mum™ and Reclaim Australia supporter was charged with threatening to slit Veiszadeh’s throat. On these and other occasions, it seems the chief fault of those charged was not bothering to anonymise their threats; the fact that Bauman’s threats were reported on by both the BBC and CNN may also have prompted authorities to take a closer look. That said:
Later in 2015, Luke McMahon and Elise Potaka reported in Fairfax newspapers that Michael Slay turned out to be not one person, but two. One of those two men was Joshua Goldberg, whose main trolling preoccupation was preserving freedom of speech. As the troll hunter explained earlier, this was how he ended up choosing targets such as Josh Bornstein.
Nathaniel Jacob Sassoon Sykes
The ‘other’ Michael Slay was of course Jewish neo-Nazi and toy-doll enthusiast Nathaniel Jacob Sassoon Sykes, who was exposed by McMahon in April 2017. Like Goldberg, Sykes contributed scores of articles to The Daily Stormer, inter alia attacking Veiszadeh along with Badham, Bornstein, Dr Tim Soutphommasane and yours truly. Currently, Sykes is the chief writer for the ‘United Nationalists of Australia’ blog, the online shitsheet of the ‘Australia First Party’. In that capacity, Sykes attacks the various enemies of the AFP on the left as well as the right. Sometimes, this creates legal difficulties. Hence, after publishing an article in June 2017 by party leader Dr Jim Saleam which detailed alleged crimes committed by members of rival fascist groupuscule ‘Klub Nation’, in May 2018 legal action against Saleam and the blog was apparently taken by various persons associated with KN. (Member of this radical right-wing network are also implicated in an attempt to infiltrate the Young Nationals in NSW last year.) Beyond this, members of the neo-Nazi ‘Lads Society’ and, more recently, a man called Michael Freshwater, have also been attacked by Sykes on the UNA blog. While Sykes was dismissed by ex-UPF and Lads Society organiser Tom Sewell as a ‘divisive little Jew’, Freshwater, it’s alleged, has been part of a conspiracy to undermine AFP, embracing elements of the Liberal Party as well as neo-Nazis like Mark McDonald, the leader of the Lads Society in Sydney and former leader of neo-Nazi groupuscule ‘Squadron 88’.
• Joshua Goldberg (as ‘Moon Metropolis’) published a statement on Medium on December 28, 2018 which provides a defence of sorts to his actions: ‘It was always my intention to infiltrate online jihadist spheres so that I could eventually become either a journalist, an FBI agent, or both.’ The statement also refers to … when I got Milo Yiannopoulos to publish that “expose” on Shaun King, I did it purely to see the shitstorm that I knew it would create, not because I actually care in the least about anything involving either Shaun King or Milo Yiannopoulos (both of those people are complete and utter clowns as far as I’m concerned). The article, ‘Did Black Lives Matter Organizer Shaun King Mislead Oprah Winfrey By Pretending To Be Biracial?’ (Breitbart, August 19, 2015), is dissected in this blogpost on Internet Famous Angry Men. Yiannopoulos is of course a very well-known troll who for several years was able to translate his trolling activities into sponsorship by wealthy right-wing reactionaries and sought to acquire more filthy lucre by conducting (semi-)lucrative tours. In fact, Yiannopoulos, along with Gavin McInnes and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, are supposedly being brought to Australia by Penthouse Australia publisher Damien Costas next month (March 9–14) for a speaking tour. For his part, Costas is currently embroiled in a legal battle with publicist Max Markson regarding alleged unpaid debts; there’s also allegedly been some fisticuffs. See also : Here’s How Breitbart And Milo Smuggled White Nationalism Into The Mainstream, Joseph Bernstein, BuzzFeed, October 5, 2017 (A cache of documents obtained by BuzzFeed News reveals the truth about Steve Bannon’s alt-right “killing machine.”).
• Gorman makes reference (pp.199-200) to a category of trolling known as ‘media fuckery’, and cites US academic Whitney Phillips who defines it as ‘the ability to turn the media against itself … by either amplifying or outright inventing a news item too sensational for media outlets to pass up’. This brought to mind two things. First, a recent example of ‘media fuckery’ in which a fake Facebook page titled ‘Melbourne Antifa’ applauded the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. This later featured in an article in The Daily Mail by Stephen Johnson (‘Melbourne Antifa extremists praise Las Vegas shooter’, October 2, 2017), was fact-checked by FactCheck.Org and Snopes and in May 2018 also triggered a bizarre interaction between myself and a right-wing blogger in the US. Secondly, the phrase immediately brought to mind similar terms such as ‘culture-jamming’ and ‘subvertising’, political practices which pre-date both ‘media fuckery’ and teh intarwebs as a whole. See : How To Make Trouble And Influence People.
• Gorman also makes reference (p.47) to local neo-Nazi activist Blair Cottrell in the context of a discussion regarding ‘hate leaching into the mainstream’ and Cottrell’s appearance as a very special guest on Adam Giles’ show on Sky News in August last year. As noted elsewhere, Cottrell – following an appearance on Sky News – told his 25,000 Twitter followers he might as well have raped presenter Laura Jayes on air because “not only would she have been happier with that but the reaction would’ve been the same”. In which context, a few things: first, while Facebook has banned the UPF and Cottrell, such commentary is considered acceptable by Twitter (to which platform Cotrell shifted after being kicked off Facebook). Secondly, his kamerad Neil Erikson made a similar remark directed at another female journalist, Jodi Lee, in November last year: ‘Jodie [sic] Lee acted like I had raped her on live TV….. She wishes!’ Thirdly, Cottrell has an extensive criminal record, mostly revolving around his stalking of an ex-girlfriend. Finally, Cotrell, Erikson and fellow white nationalist Chris Shortis were convicted in September 2017 of inciting hatred for Muslims; Cottrell is appealing the conviction on the grounds that the Victorian Act under which he was convicted (The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001) is in fact un-Constitutional, and will be appearing in the County Court in Victoria on February 19.
• While Gorman devotes relatively little space to d0xing, it’s relevant in several instances. In her chapter on weev, ‘A Professional Racist’, for example, Gorman notes (p.232) that weev appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast with Mike Enoch and Christopher ‘Crying Nazi’ Cantwell. Later in the chapter (p.236), Gorman also refers to ‘Azzmador’, who along with Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin wrote a post for the site encouraging their fellow neo-Nazis to attend the murderous ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. As it happens, Mike Enoch is in fact Mike Peinovich, who got d0xxed in January 2017, while ‘Azzmador’ is Robert Warren Ray. (According to a November 2018 report, Ray is currently a fugitive after being charged with a felony allegedly committed at the rally.) As for Cantwell, late last year he voiced an audio version of local neo-Nazi Ryan Fletcher’s tract ‘From HEMP to Hitler’, which has been promoted on David Hiscox’s AltRight website XYZ. See also : The far right, the “White Replacement” myth and the “Race War” brewing, Julie Nathan, ABC (Religion & Ethics), February 12, 2019:
The potential for violence which such online posts portend was graphically demonstrated in the United States in October 2018 by Robert Bowers, who wrote on Gab, a Twitter-like platform which is a haven for extremists and racists, “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Shortly afterwards, he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and murdered eleven Jews. Afterwards, Bowers told police that he was motivated by his belief that “the Jews” were “committing genocide to my people.”
Chillingly, these words were echoed by another Gab user, an Australian named Ryan Fletcher, who wrote, “I think its [sic] about time to say ‘f*** your optics I’m going in’.” Fletcher has a dark history of calling for the murder of Jews in Australia and worldwide, and of posting images of Jews being killed, on his Gab account. Fletcher subscribes to the myth: “#White gentiles are waking up to the agenda of #ZOG (which is #WhiteGenocide).” “ZOG” stands for “Zionist Occupied Government,” a term used to insinuate that “the Jews” control the United States and other Western governments. Fletcher also writes articles for XYZ.
• Speaking of neo-Nazis, Gorman notes that inre her own experience of being trolled in 2013 (pp.10–11), Six days after Newton was sentenced in 2013 came the second frightening moment. Don found a photo of our family on the fascist social network Iron March. The now-defunct website carried the slogan ‘Gas the kikes’ on its homepage. Iron March was of course the birthplace of Australian neo-Nazi groupuscule ‘Antipodean Resistance’. Its British cousins, National Action, have been proscribed as a terrorist organisation (see : See Graham Macklin, ”Only Bullets will Stop Us!’: The banning of National Action’, Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol.12, No.6 (2018) [PDF]). See also : Extreme neo-Nazi ‘death cults’ drawing in children as young as 13, report warns, Lizzie Dearden, The Independent, February 17, 2019 (‘Exclusive: Children as young as 13 being drawn into ideologies ‘harder, darker and more committed than ever before’’).
Below : Nathaniel Jacob Sassoon Sykes (Australia First Party/United Nationalists (of) Australia; Jacob Hersant (Antipodean Resistance/The Lads Society):
See also : Online abuse of women in the media, Justine Landis-Hanley, The Saturday Paper, February 16, 2019 | Meet The Woman Giving A New Face To Troll Hunting, Jamila Rizvi, Future Women, February 2019 | The ‘Canary In The Coalmine’ Link Between Terrorism And Trolling, Alex Bruce-Smith, Ten Daily, February 5, 2019 | Internet trolls are not who I thought — they’re even scarier, Ginger Gorman, ABC, February 2, 2019 | Troll hunting: a journey to the dark side, Karen Hardy, The Canberra Times, February 2, 2019 | Twitter, the barbarian country, or how I learned to love the block button, Van Badham, The Guardian, January 31, 2019 | Troll Hunting review: Ginger Gorman goes in search of the online bullies, Jonathan Green, The Sydney Morning Herald, January 18, 2019 | Staring down the trolls: Mute, block or resort to ‘digilantism’?, Ginger Gorman, The Sydney Morning Herald, June 16, 2017 | Cyberhate With Tara Moss, ABC, 2017 | Misogyny Online: A Short (and Brutish) History, Emma A Jane, SAGE (2017) | Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, Gabriella Coleman, Verso (2014). As well as providing some further detail regarding weev’s activities prior to his going full nazi as an editor for The Daily Stormer, Coleman’s book also contains important background on the various (sub-)cultural contexts from which the ‘predator troll’ emerged. (Note also that, in conversation with weev in August 2010, Coleman writes (p.22): ‘His denunciation of “the repulsive order of the financiers” had the ring of truth, given the recent financial mess their recklessness has engendered, so I found myself, only minutes into my first bona fide conversation with a world famous troll, in agreement with him.’ LOL.)
Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman, Net Loss by Sebastian Smee
February 16, 2019
In 2010, journalist Ginger Gorman, then working for the ABC in Queensland, interviewed Mark Newton and Peter Truong, a gay couple with a five-year-old son born to a Russian surrogate mother.
The interview was framed as part of a series on discrimination and its effect on the LGBTI community, and in the course of it Gorman asked the men if they believed Australian authorities were suspicious of their efforts to bring their son to Australia because of their sexuality. Newton was unequivocal: ‘‘Absolutely. I’m sure that was completely the concern.’’
Three years later, Newton and Truong were sentenced to, respectively, 40 and 30 years in prison for conspiring to sexually exploit a child. A joint investigation by the US Postal Inspection Service and Queensland Police Service had exposed the pair as members of a global pedophile ring, to which their son (now ‘‘Boy 1’’) had been trafficked.
Gorman, whose photograph of the convicted men would become a sort of visual shorthand for the story (they are sitting either side of their victim, whose face is now obscured with an ominous black disc), was profoundly distressed by the news.
But she was in for another shock.
Shortly after the sentencing, she began to receive scores of angry tweets from people who had read her 2010 article. Some suggested she should have known better, implying her liberal politics had blinded her to the real situation.
Others were deeply menacing. (‘‘Your life is over,’’ read one.) A photograph of Gorman and her family found its way on to a fascist website. The journalist began to worry that she may be in danger of physical violence.
This episode is the starting point for Gorman’s book Troll Hunting, an exploration of how the internet in general, and social media in particular, has facilitated (and possibly catalysed) the ‘‘spectrum of behaviours’’ known as trolling.
As Gorman suggests, that spectrum is a broad one. At the lighter end of the scale we find pranks such as ‘‘rickrolling’’, where internet users are tricked into viewing a video of Rick Astley singing Never Gonna Give You Up, while at the other extreme we find an open sewer of white supremacy, cyber-bullying, ‘‘RIP trolling’’ and graphic misogyny.
Overwhelmingly, and for obvious reasons, Troll Hunting is concerned with this nastier milieu, though ‘‘milieu’’ is perhaps too gregarious a word to describe the gallery of cranks and loners Gorman calls ‘‘predator trolls’’.
One of Gorman’s aims is to take on some of the ‘‘myths’’ about trolling: the idea, for example, that trolls are just losers, too frightened to face the real world, or that trolls can’t hurt you if you simply ignore them.
To that end, she talks to a number of trolls, including the notorious “weev’’ (aka Andrew Auernheimer), and the more conciliatory Meepsheep, an energetic Wikipedia vandal. She also talks to some prominent Australians — in particular journalist Van Badham and high-profile lawyer Josh Bernstein — whose experiences at the hands of trolls put paid to yet another myth: that only the unduly sensitive are affected by their attentions.
On the contrary, Gorman shows, the capacity of trolls to ruin lives is limitless.
There are some interesting things in Troll Hunting. The account of how journalists Elise Potaka and Luke McMahon (aka ‘‘the troll hunter’’) were able to establish the true identity of the infamous troll Australi Witness is well told and illuminating, and there are also interesting details about trolls and their modi operandi.
But the book is undermined by Gorman’s decision to frame it as a personal narrative. The countless references to her own state of mind become overwhelming, while her prose, in trying to enact her emotions — through verbless sentences, sudden switches of tense and passages of italicised text — becomes irritating.
Gorman’s subtitle promises to take us ‘‘inside the world of online hate’’ and anatomise ‘‘its human fallout’’. But the fallout has spread back over the analysis in a way that isn’t helpful to it.
Accordingly, the author’s conclusions are rather weak, amounting to little more than some thoughts on the importance of diligent parenting and some observations to the effect that the police need to raise their game and social media companies take more responsibility for the bile spread using their platforms.
The idea that the popularity of trolling might mark a more general sociopolitical turn, as Irish writer Angela Nagle argues in her book Kill All Normies, is not explored.
Concentrating largely on the alt-Right and its periphery, Nagle set the irony and transgression implicit to trolling in the context of the culture wars, suggesting that those performative values have migrated from the Left to the Right as liberalism has become the dominant creed, one enforced, as often as not, through forms of social media shaming.
A liberal herself, Gorman misses (I think) this broader ideological dynamic, and thus misses out as well on an opportunity to connect these behaviours to the broader political situation. (What is US President Donald Trump doing, after all, if not trolling ‘‘official’’ liberalism, to the delight of those it has left behind?)
While Troll Hunting sets out to analyse one aspect of online behaviour, Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age, by art critic Sebastian Smee, assays the effect the internet is having on the human personality in general.
Like Gorman, Smee is concerned about the ugliness ventilated on social media, but he is also alive to the ways in which those platforms engender a preference for performance and superficiality over introspection and emotional honesty.
Such platforms, he argues, are quite bad at representing our ‘‘inner’’ lives. Their algorithms can aggregate our personal data, but cannot reproduce the human personality in its most intimate aspects.
But habituation to social media, with its open and ongoing invitation to curate our lives for the consumption of others, has changed our subjectivities. The face has grown to fit the mask. ‘‘[S]tare long enough at something that claims to represent you,’’ Smee writes, “and it can come to stand in for that more inchoate, cumbersome reality.’’
Notions of the ‘‘inner life’’ are liable to attract either impenetrable philosophers or self-help gurus with wraparound microphones, and Smee is wise, I think, to keep his distance from both of these constituencies.
Declaring himself ‘‘agnostic’’ on the question of whether the self is a material entity or one with its own ‘‘existential coherence’’ (a ‘‘soul’’ in old money), he neither accepts nor rejects the view that ‘‘inner being’’ is a ‘‘leftover of an exhausted and tattered humanism’’.
But that our sense of ourselves, and indeed of each other, is changing rapidly as a consequence of social media strikes me as undeniable, and so the question of whether it is changing for the better is a sane and urgent one to ask.
Though he notes that it can be therapeutic to indulge in the limited realities afforded by the new technology, Smee concludes (as per his title) that we have suffered a ‘‘net loss’’ in this regard.
The conclusion is a personal one, born of a mind steeped in art and literature but afflicted as well by the ‘‘passivity and inertia’’ of life on social media. Indeed, one of the pleasures of Net Loss is to witness (and to share in) the excitement of the author as he re-engages with favourite passages from Anton Chekov, Saul Bellow and Iris Murdoch, writing that dramatises the feeling of being at once a social and a private self and thus serves as a sort of counterpoint to the flattened selves of Facebook and Instagram.
Another pleasure (a more predictable one, for those who know and enjoy Smee’s work) is the way the visual arts are used to illustrate the analysis. The section on US video artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch is particularly fascinating.
In Smee’s reading, Trecartin and Fitch’s work explores how the human personality is reconfigured — inverted even — in the age of online performativity. As he puts it: ‘‘Their characters are like literal incarnations of the avatars and clones of internet culture, the ‘selves’ who spew vitriol, humour and random assertion, and unspool across YouTube comment threads and social media.’’
Even many habitual users of social media recognise intuitively that greater connectivity in the digital sphere has engendered disconnection in the human one, and Net Loss is a smart and magnanimous exploration of this inescapable modern theme.
It is beautifully written and, although its conclusions are tentative, its contemplative, careful approach to the subject is also a sort of tonic to it. It’s an intelligent look, in other words, at a frequently shallow phenomenon. I’d tweet about it, but I need to read some Chekov.
It’s true that some people are just arseholes, and there are no two ways about it.
It’s also true that there are online groups who enjoy slumbering in the comfort of the ideological tropes that are peculiar to their particular herd. When someone comes along and upsets their somnolence with some cogently argued criticisms many are apt to cry, “Troll!” It’s easier than coming up with a counter-argument.
Penthouse editor allegedly assaulted at Darlinghurst cafe
The Sunday Telegraph
December 16, 2018
It’s usually the contents of his magazine that raises eyebrows, but Penthouse editor Damien Costas was the one turning heads when he was on the wrong end of an alleged punch-up at a Darlinghurst cafe.
Costas copped a blow to the face that knocked his glasses off and an elbow to the ear that left him bleeding during the incident.
The alleged attacker was a former business associate who claims the porn magazine editor left him in significant financial hardship following a business loan.
The man who allegedly landed the blows is Dean Steven Tate who appeared in the Downing Centre Local Court on Wednesday charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and larceny.
In court, Mr Tate’s lawyer Omar Juweinat accused Mr Costas of lying to police and said: “It seems another deliberate attempt to avoid the payment of a long standing debt owed to the accused.”
Mr Costas did not return calls.
We’re told the pair are in arrears for a debt they both owe to another company. But police will say Mr Tate is now in a worse financial position than Mr Costas and that emotions spilt over at the Stop Valve Cafe on Riley St at 9.30am on Monday. Mr Costas attends the cafe every day and when he saw Mr Tate he waved him over because their relationship was still amicable.
After waiting 15 minutes for Mr Costas to finish a phone call, Mr Tate demanded repayment of $3000 because he was being “pressured by certain individuals”, police documents allege.
Mr Costas declined and Mr Tate said, “You won’t see it coming, they’ll smack you around the head”, the documents said. Mr Tate then picked up the Penthouse boss’ mobile phone and bag containing his laptop and walked away.
When Mr Costas grabbed the bag back police allege Mr Tate struck the magazine editor in the face, knocking his glasses off.
Mr Tate allegedly tried to stomp on the glasses, but missed, before elbowing Mr Costas in the ear when he picked up the eyewear. Mr Tate handed the goods to Kings Cross Police at 6.10pm and was charged.
He will return to court on January 30.
Predator trolls driven by Psychopathy and sadism
February 15, 2019
The word “troll” — what does it mean these days? We use it so broadly, in online and offline life, it almost ceases to have any solid meaning. The only thing we can safely say is that it probably refers to someone needling another person. Yet the truth is that even powerful trolls themselves don’t agree on this (and I’ve spoken to many of them).
Through a long and strange process, I’ve become a cyber-hate expert. Differences of opinion or winding another person up are not the circumstances that targets of sustained online harassment describe to me. Instead, they talk about the wholesale destruction of their lives: threats so extreme they’ve had to move house; being fired from their job or multiple jobs as a result of cyber-hate; becoming unemployable after having their reputation wrecked online; taking their perpetrators to court at great cost; hiring security guards and installing alarm systems in their homes; being stalked online and offline; considering or attempting suicide; needing medication and therapy for PTSD.
Journalist Sherele Moody, founder of the Red Heart Campaign, is a constant target for hordes of trolls because of her campaign against gender-based violence.
She pays a steep price. In 2017, someone gave her dog acid. He barely survived. Last year Moody received an anonymous message threatening her horse, which was found dead in a nearby paddock. (Incidentally, research from British think tank Demos shows women in the media are attacked three times more than their male counterparts.)
We need to be clear here. The block and mute buttons will not stop this problem.
It’s ignorant to think they will. These dangers do not stay online. One way or another, the physical, psychological and economic harms against victims stack up.
This is why, in my book Troll Hunting, I define “predator trolling” or “cyber-hate” as “repeated, sustained threats or attacks on an individual through the use of electronic devices that result in real-life harm to the target.
These harms may be physical and/or psychological. The attacks may be perpetrated by one or more individuals.
People who choose to speak out about their experiences of being attacked online — such as Moody — are commonly labelled “snowflakes”. The implication is that the impacts on you, as an individual, aren’t serious. And instead of whining about people being “mean” you, the victim, should toughen up.
The implication is so wrong. And I set out to prove it. I commissioned The Australia Institute to do nationally representative polling mapping the incidence and cost of cyber-hate. TAI’s survey last year of 1557 people found 44 per cent of women and 34 per cent of men have experienced one or more forms of online harassment. That’s 8.8 million Australians.
Perhaps even more alarming is the financial cost to the community. Taking into account medical costs and loss of income, the institute estimates cyber-hate has cost Australians $3.7 billion, not including the burden on courts and policing costs. Or the expenses for victims who must move or take additional security measures.
But why do trolls do it? What motivates them?
I’ve spent years talking to trolls and have formed strange and enduring relationships with them. But there are no easy answers.
No two trolls I met and developed relationships with were the same. Some had political or social aims. Others just wanted to hurt other people and took pleasure in this. Research from the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba has found that internet trolling correlates strongly with three of the four so-called “dark” personality traits: psychopathy, Machiavellianism and sadism.
Sadism, deriving pleasure from inflicting pain and humiliation on others, has the strongest link. This means predator trolls set out to hurt you and enjoy it when they succeed.
The predator troll I’ve met who most strongly fits this bill is “Mark”, a vicious and committed online harasser. He’s a member of an international online syndicate that tries to harm other people and wreck their lives. They document all their exploits on a wiki. At one stage he told me about predator-trolling rape victims and the families of people who had died by suicide. He says trolling gives him “Entertainment. Not pleasure.”
When we first spoke a few years ago, Mark spent up to 14 hours a week trolling people. Two years later he tells me it’s more like 30. He says he is a psychopath and that his psychopathic tendencies are getting worse as he gets older.
While all this can seem terrifying and hopeless, it’s not.
Yes, this is a complex issue and it needs a multi-pronged approach, but let’s start with expecting a whole lot more from law enforcement and social media companies. The internet is a public space and, like all town squares, we need to be safe there.
Having said that, it’s not the internet that’s the problem. It’s the people. Misogyny, racism, homophobia and hatred didn’t start online. If these attitudes didn’t exist in the community, they wouldn’t proliferate online.
Trolls weren’t born that way. They are products of our community. Frequently, these kids are from damaged, violent and neglectful homes. They are left alone on the internet from a young age, consuming torrents of hate and bigotry in chat rooms. As you’d expect, they then grow up to be angry young men who want to hurt others. Had they been raised with love and care, the story would be very different.
Fake Facebook sites spreading political lies
news dot com dot au
February 2, 2019
Fake news is already infecting the 2019 election cycle with reports a man was “lynched” and “bashed” on Australia Day for wearing the Australian flag going viral.
Controversial senator Fraser Anning shared claims a man had been attacked on Facebook to his 83,500 followers in an “authorised” post this week as it spread through a network of far right groups on social media.
It comes as experts predict the federal election will be Australia’s biggest fake news election ever and Labor urges Facebook to take responsibility for misinformation spread on its site.
The claim about an Australia Day attack was based on a clash between change-the-date protesters and so-called “patriot” Ricky Turner at the Invasion Day march in Melbourne.
Mr Turner was asked to leave the area by police when a fight broke out between him and a small group of activists. No one was charged.
A video focusing on the moment of the clash posted by fellow far right agitator Neil Erikson, the self proclaimed “biggest troll in Australia” who confronted former Labor senator Sam Dastyari in a pub last year, has already been seen more than 290,000 times on Facebook.
That’s about the same audience Channel 7’s Sunrise program gets on an average weekday morning from five capital cities.
News Corp understands Labor is urging Facebook to establish a dedicated rapid response team to tackle complaints about fake news during this year’s campaign.
Shadow Communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland did not comment on specifics but, following Facebook’s confirmation that it would be rolling out “additional protections” for Nigeria, India and the European Union for elections this year, she told News Corp: “Fake news is a significant threat to the health of our democracy and we all must be vigilant.”
“We expect major digital platforms to be doing all they can to combat misinformation.”
News Corp also understands the Australian Electoral Commission is in talks with Facebook about strengthening political advertising transparency for Australia ahead of the election.
Special Minister of State Alex Hawke said the deputy electoral commissioner had held talks with social media companies in January on a trip to Canada and the US.
It follows talks with the Australia and New Zealand arms of Facebook, Twitter and Google in 2018.
University of Canberra researcher Dr Mike Jensen told News Corp this year’s campaign would be a “playground” for groups seeking to sway voters with fake news.
“It’s the first election to come after the 2016 US election and a lot of groups around the world were watching what happened there. Basically, Russia created a playbook which other actors can pick up readily,” he said.
“I would expect to see this as a playground for both domestic and foreign actors to see what extent they can appropriate and adapt these tactics to the Australian context.”
Australian National University political marketing expert Andrew Hughes also predicted the May election would be a “tipping point” for fake news in Australia, adding that the “lynching” claim was a clear case of fake new which showed just how quickly it could spread.
“Lynching in most people’s minds is being strung up on a poll [sic] somewhere or a tree with a rope around your neck. I can’t recall that happening and I’d be horrified if it did happen in Australia,” he said.
Dr Hughes added that such blatant misinformation wouldn’t cut through to mainstream audiences but other, harder to identify, fake news could slip through as influence groups sought to sow distrust in major parties and democratic institutions.
Senator Anning, who has billed taxpayers thousands to attend far right rallies since entering parliament, declined to comment on the post or the Australia Day incident.
There is no law to regulate truth in electoral communications.
Meanwhile, an analysis by social intelligence and news agency Storyful Australia has identified Facebook pages like “Fair Suck Of The Sav, Mate”, “Australia — ‘Love it, or Leave”, “Save Australia” or right wing “news” site The Unshackled as “fertile ground” for fake news during the election.
The analysis by Storyful, which monitors about 180 political pages and fringe groups on Facebook, also reveals Senator Anning’s popularity has skyrocketed with his page receiving triple the number of “interactions” from punters than One Nation leader Pauline Hanson in January.
A 2018 digital news report by the University of Canberra found one in four Australians had already experienced fake news online and 67 per cent were concerned about it.
Mr Hawke said the government had updated electoral laws last year to boost political advertising transparency.
ASIO meets with Facebook and Google over upcoming election
news dot com dot au
February 14, 2019
Exclusive: Facebook and Google have been called to Canberra for urgent meetings with the nation’s top spy agency on how to deal with foreign interference and tackle fake news during the upcoming federal election campaign.
News Corp Australia has confirmed the social media and tech giants met with officials from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation over the past two weeks to discuss the looming federal poll.
The organisations also met with the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Electoral Commission among others.
The government was interested to know how best to deal with any foreign interference during the election cycle, particularly following a cyber attack on parliament’s computer network last week.
China was suspected to have been behind the attack.
Google was understood to be proactively in Canberra offering training to government agencies.
Twitter said it had met with all the major parties, but not ASIO.
Twitter representatives also briefed parliamentarians offices from both Labor and the Coalition this week on Twitter’s plan for the upcoming election including the development of a handbook on how to best use the platform during the election cycle.
It follows speculation Facebook may set up a “war room” to deal with fake news and foreign interference similar to what it did in the US during last year’s November midterms.
ASIO would not comment when approached by News Corp Australia today.
The Department of Home Affairs and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also went to ground, with Mr Dutton’s office refusing to answer calls.
The Australian Electoral Commission said it regularly met with representatives from the social media platforms, but that it was aware meetings had recently occurred with other agencies.
“We are aware of meetings with social media companies occurring across a number of agencies,” assistant director of media at the AEC, Evan Ekin-Smyth said.
“Electoral integrity and security is a specific area of focus and a range of security measures will be implemented for the 2019 federal election.”
A Facebook spokesman said they regularly had meetings with government to brief them on updates or special projects for the platform but would not confirm or deny the meetings with ASIO.
Labor’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland urged social media companies to take strong action to retain the integrity of the upcoming election.
“Labor acknowledges the focus major digital platforms have had in addressing fake news and we urge them to redouble their efforts to combat misinformation around elections,” Ms Rowland said.
Deputy director of Deakin University’s Cyber Security Research Centre Matthew Warren said fake news and foreign interference was one of the biggest issues leading into the election campaign and urged the government to fund a public awareness campaign on the issue.
“Once people are aware of how to spot it and start to question the sources of their information fake news loses its power,” Professor Warren said.
During the 2016 US election, Russia was accused of employing a variety of tactics to sway the election result, particularly using social media.
The foreign power set up hundreds of fake social media accounts to promote Donald Trump and ridicule Hillary Clinton and spread distrust in the political system in general.
“Fake news” stories were also promoted on social media platforms, with many saying the interference led to Donald Trump’s victory.
A 2018 digital news report by the University of Canberra found one in four Australians had already experienced fake news online and 67 per cent were concerned about it.
News of the meetings between the tech giants and ASIO comes after Scott Morrison faced a horror first sitting week in parliament, losing a key vote on the floor of the House of Representatives relating to the transfer of asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia for medical treatment.
It was the first time since 1941 the sitting government lost a vote on the floor of the parliament and prompted calls for the Coalition to go to an early election.
However, Mr Morrison remained steadfast the election would be in May, following a budget in April.
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Who’s Michael Freshwater? Nazi? Antifa? Liberal stooge?
I’m definitely confused You go on about “trolls” But surely you are the biggest troll of all , spending your entire life sitting in a room typing away on your computer slandering abusing and defaming hundreds of folk I don’t get it , you ran with the Nathan Sykes story like it was the biggest ducking thing on earth , the hypocrisy is striking , you even goaded the ANTIFA tools in the area of the Court proceedings to turn up and cause crap , doesn’t that make you a troll of the highest order And as you know not one of your ANTIFA heroes showed , only took a few discreet words and messages Anyway enjoy ya trolling