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)