Yes, it may sound like a stretch but bear with me. These subjects do have a common thread as you will see. Today’s NY Times op-ed section offers an interesting column about trolls and their pollution of internet discourse. And yes, believe it or not I’m coming back to this topic after a longish detour into a distantly related, but important subject.
The writer, a product manager at Facebook, interestingly places trolling in an ancient philosophical context:
Trolling, defined as the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums, is a problem as old as the Internet itself, although its roots go much farther back. Even in the fourth century B.C., Plato touched upon the subject of anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges.
That mythical ring gave its owner the power of invisibility, and Plato observed that even a habitually just man who possessed such a ring would become a thief, knowing that he couldn’t be caught. Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly.
This, for me, is the money quote:
Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior...In the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways.
I’m not sure we would all behave unjustly if we were invisible, but surely there are those who not only would do so, but DO do so. Take the Israeli Mossad. They just murdered an Iranian nuclear scientist, severely injured another, and wounded both their wives, with the help of a few assassins riding motorbikes. Since 2007, two other such scientists were also murdered.
Think of the issue of transparency as it relates to such brutish violations of the norms of civilization. Would such black ops–could they exist if the activities were open to the light of day? Of course not. And that is precisely why this blog exists. No, I can’t fully expose Israeli skullduggery or killers in real time. But I can do my small part to force a greater degree of accountability on the Israeli cowboys who run roughshod over civilized norms.
Think of what’s necessary for a nation to contemplate, plan and execute the murder of an enemy: the engineering expertise, explosives experts, logistics, etc. All these professionals using their knowledge for the sake of shedding human blood. All I can think of is Conrad’s Captain Kurtz exhaling: “The horror” with his final breath. Is this what the Zionist dream has come to? In what are we a light unto the nations? Murder? Electronic surveillance? Is this why Israel was placed on earth?
If Israel wants to play by the rules of Mafia assassins, then let them be called out for it and face the consequences on the world stage. If Israel can’t devise a policy regarding Iran’s nuclear program that is based in civilized discourse such as negotiation and diplomatic engagement and chooses to resort to the laws of the jungle (remember Ehud Barak, who once said that Israel was a “villa in the jungle” of the Middle East?), then let them be known as the cunning killers they are. And let the rest of the world beware: when you lie down with these dogs, you will get up with fleas.
An Israeli reader of this blog just e mailed me with a very important additional consideration concerning the fallout of such Israeli brutalism. If Israel wants to assassinate Iran’s scientists, what is to stop Iran from assassinating an Israeli scientist? Perhaps those working within Israel might enjoy a higher level of protection, but what about such scientists working outside Israel, where they might face a lower level of security?
Let me be crystal clear, I am not arguing for anyone to kill anyone else. I denounce any such killing. But Israel has let the fox into the Iranian hen house without accounting for the fact that Iran has foxes of its own it can let loose on Israeli hens. State terror is a two-way street. Israel believes it only goes one way.
Perhaps I should take that back. I believe Israeli spymasters and prime ministers are cynical enough that they don’t really care about the impact. If they lose one of their own I’m fairly certain that’s a price they’re willing to pay. Besides, think (and again, this is Israel’s cynicism I’m portraying, not my own) of the sympathy that would redound to Israel should such a tragedy happen. Think of the opprobrium that would attach to the Islamists or Iranian agents who carried out such bloodshed.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. Of course, this blog has dealt with the troll problem from its inception in 2003. In fact, I abandoned one blog platform, Typepad, because it offered insufficient protections from such trolls. Wordpress and some tools offered by my web host provide more robust tools to protect comment threads from the poison spewed by the haters. But even they can’t defend against semi-pro trolls who have developed experience in shielding themselves from accountability by using proxy servers.
A troll who wishes to stalk a blog as several do here, merely needs unlimited access to IP addresses and he can keep coming back for more. All he needs is a good proxy server to serve up those anonymous IP addresses and no comment filter can stop him. He’s so eager to target the blog he doesn’t even care that his comment will be caught and not published (as virtually none are here). He wants the satisfaction of knowing the author will have to read his comment before the latter presses a button to send it to the oblivion it so richly deserves. Actually, I’ve trained myself to recognize abusive keywords as I scan the comments in moderation and I don’t even read the junk. But I think even here the trolls derive some perverse pleasure in even eliciting from me a momentary reaction of disgust as I say: “Oh no, not another one.”
It’s pathetic really. The fascination with genitalia, pedophilia, homosexuality, terrorism, rape fantasy, death threats which these trolls manifest. The ironic thing is that these are thoughts originating in their own mind which they attempt to dump upon you as if you’re the one guilty of the aberrant behavior they’ve dreamed up. This used to bug me until I built up an immunity to it and came to realize that the sicko is the troll, not me. Yes, it’s an invasion of my privacy especially since they delight in invoking my children by name in their perversities. But that’s part of the price you pay for being out there with strong views on such a subject. The truth is that I gore a lot of people’s oxen and they all want their pound of flesh. But what they don’t realize is that they are the monsters among us and everyone but them knows it.
The truth is that Israel itself, or at least its policies, are responsible for this verbal violence. When the IDF lets loose a fusillade that cuts down a Palestinian walking down the street, or suffocates a man in a hotel room, or blows an Iranian scientist’s brains out, it lets loose the dogs of war not just on the battlefield but on the internet. These anti-social troll types take Israel’s behavior as an endorsement of their own violent tendencies. Of course, the anonymity of the internet reinforces the effect as this op-ed notes. But the root of the violence is in the Occupation and those who enforce it through death and blood.
- Mondoweiss, now trolling for you on Facebook (blogs.jta.org)
The internet has always been a playground for perverts, and they’re attracted to such blogs as yours, Richard, due to your strong stances on sensitive issues. The net offers so much anonymity that people who would never spew their filth to you personally feel no qualms about doing it online. The same goes with people one can meet on the net. They can sometimes turn out to be not quite who you thought they were.
Of course, the Mossad is so proud of what they do that they seem to be deliberately sloppy at it. I cannot doubt their involvement in the targeted killings of those Iranian scientists.
Very well written, Richard, quite possibly one of my favorites! I hope everyone can keep cool and have a live and educational debate that will better the world rather than commit to hurting those individuals that are harmless either through trolling and whatnot.
If there is any perceived threat to the American Jewry from Iranians, Iranian Americans will undoubtedly commit whatever resources they have to unfolding those plans and stopping any violence that is done in our name. It should be remembered that the Iranian people held random candlelight vigils on 9/11 for the victims. We filled up Tehran Stadium and mourned collectively for the fallen on 9/12. Amongst our constituency in America are a great amount of Iranian Jews, very pious ones, who are our brothers and sisters and we love and appreciate them.
Happy Chanukkah to you and all, may your strength, wisdom and integrity break all swords.
Well, one thing about anonymous writing on the net, too many phishers, hackers, and virus-makers on it and I suspect are some of the trolls as for my real name, I don’t want to give it to them as some would use it to stalk or steal.
My second thought is, those that call me names and talk trash gives me permission to cuss them as those who judge open themselves to judgment.
And thirdly; this is a tough thing to learn to do in a new way for us people who are taking a long time to get used to it (computer and internet) and working on talking when it’s faster to type what you’re thinking…sometimes people snap and slap before they think about what you’ve written and the fight has begun…
I know because when I have written letters to Senators or Representatives, it would take me as many as 3 or 4 days and re-writes would be required for me to approve it to send it. And as well as at LEAST two weeks for an essay.
Hard to learn people when ur so much closer to their personality that way….is it it not?
Have a nice holiday. Blessings. 🙂
Wow… I think you’ve looked way too much into it. Trolls will be trolls. People who criticize the Mossad and Israeli policy aren’t the only ones who get sent pedophilia. You are a mere victim amongst thousands. This is the internet, deal with it. WARNING: link highly NSFW and generally offensive if you don’t know what the internet is like.
Richard Silverstein says
You’re being entirely too flippant. I have possibly a thousand of these hardcore vicious comments I’ve received. This isn’t garden variety stuff. It’s seriously aberrant sociopathic stuff.
Nick G. says
I know you’ve shared some of these hardcore gems previously, but offering them up, en masse, as a stream-of-aberrant sociopathic-consciousness might be informative. Certainly, a broader public who reads the NYT Op-Ed probably doesn’t understand the depth of issue. As you say, there’s garden variety 1st Amendent poor judgment, and there’s outright criminality. You may, unfortunately, be in a unique position to share the extremities of the troll profile.
Richard Silverstein says
I considered doing that. But in the past a few commenters have written that they thought the comments were so outrageous and disgusting that they detracted from the general tone. If others feel this way or agree with Nick G. let me know. I’m torn by how to approach this. On the one hand, I want people to understand graphically how sick these far rightists can be. But on the other hand I don’t want to be dragged into the gutter with them.
I’m just curious as to how horrible they might be. I’ve seen many, many things on the internet.
Richard Silverstein says
If your e mail address is real I can send you a representative sampling. But be warned, wear a raincoat or some protective clothing when you read.
Richard, it’s my personal opinion that this is your private website and you are entitled to have complete discretion over who uses it. No other domain on the Internet with moderators would tolerate non-civil conversation, so why should you bear that burden?
We have limits on the so-called free speech in our country as well. For instance, you cannot incite to riot. You cannot libel or slander someone.
Is my address real? I’ve used it to email you over 20 times already. I don’t have a raincoat (there is hardly a need for one here), but I think I’ll manage.
Richard Silverstein says
You’ll need a raincoat to keep yourself clean when you read this crap or at least a good long shower.
That’s what I was expecting in the aftermath of the Doha assasination, that somebody from the other side would track down the gaggle of Mossadniks and kill them, but nothing happened. Certainly the bloody goons were exposed one by one, but nobody blew them up, tortured them, any of the stuff you would see in the freewheeling 1970s. There is an elemental bloodthirstiness to the modern Israeli state; if they aren’t killing directly or indirectly they don’t feel that they are doing their job. Finally I would agree with you that this is a gigantic feedback loop and that unintended consequences are highly probable.
“There is an elemental bloodthirstiness to the modern Israeli state”
If by “modern Israeli state” you mean the one that began in 1948, then I would agree with you. If you are suggesting a more recent development, then I suggest that you go back and review the entire bloodthirsty history not only of the State, but of the movement that led up to it.
I was really with you there until the last paragrah. Are you really blaming even troll-sim on Israel?
Richard Silverstein says
I’m not blaming all trolls on Israel of course. But yes, the ones that stalk this site and spew the bile that they do are militant Kahanist, settler extremist types and the violence of the Israeli Occupation fuels their rage. Definitely. These trolls are sick people but so is the Israeli Occupation & ea. fuels the other.
Meant troll-ISM, of course.
Seems to me that any organization that works under secrecy, tends to develop some kind of mafia-like patterns. The more secrecy (hence anonymity) it enjoys, the more its behavior resembles that of a mafia, the less regard for the law or morality it bears.
Naturally, the organizations of this kind aspire for more and more secrecy, and less and less public supervision. If there’s no sufficient checks and balances outside the organization, it becomes a monster.
“Security concerns” is the ideal excuse. Mossad isn’t the only one, although lack of virtually any supervision at all makes them one of the best in their league.
Wow, thank you for sharing this. I had no idea you were being subjected to this degree of abusiveness. I know you mentioned your site was attacked by a hacker or malaware.
It just makes me respect twice as much what you do given the risks and abuse you’re subjected to.
I hope this never discourages you. Yours in one of the most interesting blogs on the subject of Israeli occupation that I have the pleasure of reading daily.
You definitely make a difference no matter how impossible the task of ending this occupation.