By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
There is a serious problem with Independent Media Centers (IMCs) in the open comment areas. IMCs end up publishing as much content *against* freedom, racism, sexism, classism, etc., as they do *for* those things via the open comment areas. “Trolls,” or people who stalk indy media sources and writers, work hard at publishing as much hate mail in comment areas on IMCs as the individual IMC editorial groups will allow or overlook. They do not deserve to be published, plain and simple. It is time the plug was pulled on the trolls.
I have noticed a few trends with troll behavior. Most trolls, judging from their own wording and phrasing, are male. Most, if not all, use “anonymous” or pseudonyms as their identifiers. The act of cowardice involved therein, in attacking someone’s character, behind an anonymous mask, is appalling and repulsive. The high level of aggression displayed by these trolls would be markedly decreased if someone pulled back the curtain of anonymity and exposed them, like the Wizard of Oz. Perhaps IMCs should trace IP addresses and publish an ongoing “outing” list of redneck trolls’ real names who frequent the sites, like stores do for people who bounce checks.
The most interesting trend I see with troll behavior, though, is how they do not generally send me personal hate mail to my email inbox. I have several theories about that. The biggest red flag to me is that these trolls want *everyone* to see the writer ridiculed. If it was done in private between the writer and troll, they get nothing off it. Which means what the trolls are getting off on is the actual *publishing in public* of their hate mail comments and dehumanization of IMC writers. If it was just between the writer and the troll, in private, they do not get their jollies. So that says to me, the first thing to do to disable these trolls is to cripple their open comment posting abilities.
The second reason these trolls do not send me private hate mail via email and prefer open IMC comment areas, is I could trace them via email easier. I could sue them for stalking me, and slandering me, with access to their IP addresses. So these trolls avoid emailing me with their character assassinations personally, to protect their masked identities. If the open comment areas of IMCs did not automatically allow anyone to post any comment on every article, I would have received 98% less character defamation for simply trying to write constructive and educational articles, for free, for the community, over the last year.
I have progressed through many feelings about open comment areas. At first I thought it was cool that anyone could comment. But then I was called a cunt, dyke, and slut (and not in a good way), a welfare bitch, insane, psychologically dangerous, a criminal, a “hog,” and every other name in the book, on IMCs. I was dehumanized in ways that had absolutely nothing at all to do with the articles at hand. At first, I came out swinging, defending myself, not aware I was playing into the troll game. I did not realize I was “feeding the trolls” when I would react in raw emotion. I now understand that, a little too late, but oh well. Over time, I realized these trolls were like that jerk in elementary school who bullied and taunted certain girls until they cried, to the bully’s enjoyment. I tried to get editorial crews at IMCs to edit the negative comments, but there was so much of this, as I am prolific, that IMC crews, and myself, could not keep up with the troll comments. In utter frustration, I simply quit writing for IMCs. The trolls won.
Even though I have not personally posted articles on the IMCs for a while now (with the one exception of an article on editing trolls posted on Oct 27, 2004), my articles still show up on IMCs at times. One of my recent articles posted to an IMC was lifted directly from Infoshop.org, as I had posted it nowhere else. Another situation exists where I send a member of one of the IMC’s in Ca. my articles on an email list I send out. He posts articles he wants to off of that list to the IMC he works with, and I said that was fine as long as I was not just hosting troll’s character assassinations of me on my own articles.
Last week, I wrote an article on how to feed vegans and vegetarians during the holidays. It was posted to the Ca. IMC I referred to. And three comments appeared. Among them were: “Why don't you write a diet book, you hog” from “amused,” “What, you are a vegetarian. How did you get so damn fat?” from “jmango,” and another with a picture and mean words from someone using the name “veganboy.” First of all, why on earth would someone post that crap three times on one article? Secondly, what does it serve IMCs to facilitate attacks like that on women? Thirdly, why are IMCs just “hiding” such comments, rather than DELETING them? The comments in question above, went to a hidden section of the IMC, where people can still read them. Why on earth are we filing things like I need to write a diet book because I am a hog?? What is the importance or relevance to *anything* in that comment? Why would IMCs waste space holding on to such nonsense? Is it in the name of anti-censorship that I am permanently called a hog on an IMC? What about *my* rights to *not* be called a hog? Where is the line here? So these people can spew racist, sexist, classist slurs, and we are going to publish them forever for these trolls? Why? And how is that different than the media we are trying to be an alternative to? This is pretty weird stuff.
After much thought on the subject, I have decided the easiest fix for this is to allow the writers, themselves, to choose an open or closed comment area after their articles. This would allow open comment areas for *most* articles, but also cut off the opportunity for trolls to stalk certain high profile writers, such as myself. It would also offer women writers who do not want to be called “hogs” and to be told to go on a diet, or to go write diet books, a safe space to write within IMCs. No woman should have to suffer the slurs and indignations I have, in public no less, just for authoring articles with community value. What if I had been seriously bulimic, and these trolls, by attacking my weight when it had zero to do with the article’s content, threw me back into body hatred and a health crisis? These trolls do not know the personal history of women writers on IMCs.
I was once at the Saturn Café in Santa Cruz, a place that serves homemade ice cream as one of its main features, with a thin, blonde girlfriend of mine. She was a recovering bulimic. When we went to order two sundaes at the Saturn, the male cashier said to my friend, “Do you know how many calories are in this?” She was devastated. She did not want the ice cream after that, she cried and wanted to go home. This had been a big step for her to go out in public and eat ice cream with me. This man seriously hurt her, and set her back many months in the healing process. I was furious. Knowing that several of the owners were at that time large women, I marched into the Saturn to talk to the women in charge about what this male cashier just said to my friend. The women working there were appalled and reprimanded the male cashier in front of my friend, and they took special care to really apologize to my girlfriend. But this is a prime example of how words can truly hurt someone, especially words about weight, aimed at women, in a society hell bent on bone thin women who starve themselves and do all kinds of dangerous surgery, etc. to meet the unnatural and unattainable beauty standards the media sells us. It is a form of sexism when men attack women’s size like that. It is reducing us to size. It is telling us we need to shed big chunks of ourselves for male approval. I am not into it.
This is very dangerous behavior these trolls are exhibiting. And I think they know it. Their intent is to ridicule, humiliate and chase away strong writers, especially women, on the IMC system. I am not interested in taking the degradations just to show the trolls who is boss. I can just take my writing elsewhere and be done with them. When I publish an article in a magazine or newspaper, the trolls cannot reach me. They have to submit a letter to the editor with their *real* names, and they need to give identifying info. Additionally, their comments must pass an editor’s eye. Those 2 factors stop trolls dead in their tracks. It cuts them off at the knees. Likewise, websites without open comment areas are safe places for me to publish without assaults. Basically, it is the media with open comment areas that allow me to be violated, repeatedly, and often, by trolls. Thus I avoid most open comment posting arenas.
This is a gender issue, though no one wants to deal with that. This is also an issue of censorship, of my work. The trolls are censoring the IMCs through (passive and blatant) aggression and bullying. I am not willing to be their punching bag just to write for IMCs. I would rather disempower them by pulling the plug on their publishing. They like posting degrading comments to my articles, as they know they will be read. I refuse to promote and publicize trolls on the IMC anymore.
I recommend the IMCs provide a means for writers, themselves, to *choose* open or closed comment areas after the articles they post. (Or allow the author of an article have free reins in editing the comment area on their article). That would meet the needs of the most, in my opinion. The IMC editorial could still edit a malicious article, as it could have before. The open comment area being blocked would not stop editorial from removing racist articles, for instance. I, for instance, would choose to post articles with a closed comment area, so the only comments on the article would come to me personally via email, which is something trolls avoid, as I have said. Or I would choose to delete all troll comments. The thrill for the trolls is in the power of having their degradations of the writer published. They are exhibitionists, like weenie waggers, who use women against their will, nonconsentually, to get their rocks off. If IMCs quit publishing the trolls, they would leave. Or at least we would not be as aware of their presence. I think we should prioritize the rights of women writers on the IMC before the rights of gross trolls using the IMC for their jollies, getting kicks from trying to ruin radical women writers. The IMCs are losing good writers, especially women writers, due to this phenomenon. The IMC is losing readers due to this crap too. What good are IMCs if eventually they are overrun by aggressive trolls, and the radical women writers leave to safer places where they are not called “hogs” for writing decent stories? I think this issue has been swept under the rug for long enough now. I call for a *choice,* as a writer, to block the comment areas from abusive trolls, on my articles posted on IMCs by me or others. And I call for it now.