It has occurred to me, mostly brought to my attention by my buddy Don, that whenever I have been ranting on the subject of whatever and whatnot, as I do sometimes, I’ve been giving the content to Facebook. That’s kinda shitty. I mean, they own my ill-thought-out, wildly inaccurate and wholly spurious political rants, my vacation journals, and my general grumpiness.
While it’s understandable that Facebook would want to monetize my brilliant emissions, it’s not so exciting for me to rant there in such empty settings, where fake Lego kits from China and political BS are filtered through to me in order to engage me on various marketing endeavors thought up by very smart people with masters degrees. They’ve been set upon the world with the task of re-purposing Reddit memes into technical recruiting ads that might, perhaps in some alternate universe, entice me to apply for a job which I am completely unqualified for. Reporting for years on technology means those buzzwords pop up in recruiting searches, despite my not actually being a programmer… The depersonalization of the Internet
The Internet as we knew it is gone. It’s overcrowded, now, filled with a billion Star Wars Kids, for better or for worse. The originality of what we were all experiencing online in the 90’s and the aught’s was an entirely desktop based ecosystem, where just the very act of being online meant that particular thing was the first ever.
Whether it was “Mr. T Ate My Balls,” “All Your Base Are Belong To Us,” or Jennicam, those quirky little block-party style memes, chat rooms, Web rings, and video coteries were all just trailblazers for the next million versions of their particular flavor of public exposure. It’s not that those days were special, it’s that those days were formative. The only real difference between the Internet we knew and the Internet we have today is the number of people on it.
But the change goes deeper than that. It extends down to the very basis of how we interact online these days: the vast majority of the world’s Internet participants now use mobile devices to get online. This has obvious consequences. Rather than setting aside time in our days to go and utilize the Internet, we now use it as a distraction. It’s about filling time, not making time.
Phones are compact, and lend themselves to short, intermittent communiques, not novelizations. Some can read that way, but most browse Reddit, the news, their Instagram/Snap/TikTok whatever, instead. The Internet is no longer a place, it’s a television.
The current insane every day assholery in the US is coming from many causes, but the real end-of-day root of Internet assholery has already been identified: Anonymity lends itself to being an asshole. We all learned this the day we joined the Internet. I, myself, found my way into IRC channels focused on MacWarez on Undernet, where I was quickly taught the tropes of online interactions through kicks, bans, and k-lines. Par for the course really.
Once acclimated, I spent a LOT of time online being an asshole. From hacking into Pontiac’s servers, to trolling Christian chat rooms, to making prank phone calls, to pirating software, the IRC gang I took up with was filled with jerks, low lifes, and assholes. And I was one of them. I even went deeper into the world of the trolls as the years went by, rubbing elbows with the heads of major troll networks, hanging out with Weev, and socializing with hacker clubs.
This wasn’t intentional; I wasn’t some star fucker, it was just the product of hanging out in “underground” tech circles. These were our college years. Our crazy 20’s. The time when, if shit went down online, we could all look around and be like “OK you nerds, who did it?”
That Internet isn’t gone. It’s bifurcated, trifurcated, quadfurcated until thousands of such “Scenes” now exist, and it is impossible to walk in all of them. It’s getting damn near impossible to walk in any of them, frankly, as people like me age out, move on, lose their bile and venom. A large number of us prototypes of the human form I call “Internet Scum” have moved on to become the CTO’s, CSO’s, and CEO’s of this massively commercialized Internet we now inhabit.
I literally just had a meal this past week at a 2 Michelin star Restaurant in SF with the CTO of a security company. We’d actually frequented the same #phreak chat room on Undernet back in the day. Happens all the time.
That world still exists, but it is now a good ol’ boys sort of network. It’s not got the power of the real Good Ol’ Boys you see in Louisiana government, Chicago government (Less so this past year, though from what I hear) or the GOP. But it is a network nonetheless. A network of validation, of old school trust. “Which IRC networks did you hang out on?” is a question you can ask any techy with grey in their hair and immediately understand where they come from when they answer. Even if they weren’t on IRC, that says a lot. One fellow I knew was never allowed online as a kid, so he started diff’ing AOL disks that came in the mail to see what they’d changed between mailings. Not that he could ever run the client and get online, mind you…
I guess I am writing this to defend the mentality of the anonymous asshole online, and remind the world that there is one ultra-effective method of avoiding said trolls: keep your fucking head down!
Internet Scum’s favorite target, and I know my personal favorite targets back in the day, are people who think they’re awesome. If you think your Instagram stream is absolutely hot lava, you’re probably going to get trolled. If you’re trying to be a famous Twitch streamer and act like you’ve got a million followers when you only have 5, trolls may notice you. If you get really angry when people say mean things to you online, and you think your response is going to get you on /r/murderedbywords and make you famous, just delete the response RIGHT NOW and forget the whole thing.
As an example, one of my favorite targets back in the day was Lord Jon Ray. I mean, I didn’t even do anything to this guy personally, but I sent the site to everyone and encouraged them to sign the guestbook and generally make fun of him. I heartily encouraged people to troll this guy. I mean, look at his site! Today, it’s quaint and awesome to still have such a site, but 15 years ago, it was a ripe target: someone who acts like they know a great deal about technology, and thinks they look really cool and bad ass. I mean, look at this guy:
Like, the perfect target right?
Anyway, I was a bully towards this guy, albeit a relatively unseen one. I don’t reeeeaaally regret it. Generally, the mentality of Internet Scum is that the only people who are fun to torture are the ones who take great pride in their online presence and identity. Especially those who’s online identity is super lame or egotistical.
Trolling online is basically the modern form of bullying. Of pranking. Of teenaged mischief. I really don’t think there’s any more sinister motives behind 90% of the trolling that takes place online these days. Frankly, most of it is so utterly lame and stupid, it borders on infantile, not even ascending to the level of childishness.
The real issue isn’t that people troll, it’s that most online platforms suck at handling those trolls. Trolls are a fact of life online, and there will only ever be more of them. There’s even a subset of the human population that are unintentional trolls: people who aren’t trying to be mean, but write comments in such a way as they can be read to be hostile. It’s a viscious world out there, and we need solutions built into tech, not some random hope that trolls will just go away.
We’ve always had trolls. They’ve existed as long as humans have.
Sending death threats and rape threats on Twitter is so fucking lame and stupid. It’s the modern equivalent of calling up your crush on the phone and masturbating while he or she demands to know who’s breathing so heavy into the line. The dick pic bomb is the modern version of exposing yourself like a flasher.
The real, orchestrated mass trolls, today, are a lot closer to protests, frankly. The tactics of the trolls actually work very well in politics, for better or for worse. Spreading misinformation, harassing people in real life, doctoring photos, making nasty memes, it’s all in the toolbox of the modern political activist, consultant, or stooge.
Frankly, the little jerks online sending sexist messages to Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkesian are just a bunch of harmless assholes making prank phone calls. The occasional outlier who makes a move in real life is certainly a dangerous criminal, but the vast majority of the online trolling we see these days amounts to denial of service attacks on social media accounts: you can’t use Twitter anymore because people send you mean messages there. Boo hoo.
I’m not saying Gamer Gaters are excused, or harmless, but as a whole, and when compared to the semi-pro trolls of old, these folks are just a bunch of lonely losers passing nasty notes in class. The fundamental truth they seem unwilling to accept–as it would basically suck all the hope out of their movement–is that there have NEVER been ethics in games journalism. Not from day one. I was fired from Computer Gaming World for bad mouthing a game that never shipped because it was trash. In 2001. So the idea of ruining the lives of other gamers just because you want more ethics in games journalism is basically the same thing as blowing up your town because there’s no breathable oxygen in space. Be as big of an asshole as you want to other gamers, guys, ain’t shit gonna change in games journalism. Ever.
The mentality of people who call themselves Gamer Gaters makes me want to pull my own teeth out with pliers. They’re the type of person who will sit and explain to me how the video game industry works, when they themselves are a plumber, a carpenter, or work in IT for some brick and mortar. Fine if you don’t know who I am, but every time I meet one of these dinguses, they listen to me explain my work history, then refuse to listen to anything I have to say. The point being: I have had to sit and listen to fucking idiots who don’t even work in the industry try to explain to me how the industry works. And every time, invariably, they have no actual idea how the industry works. It’s not a good look. These guys aren’t evil, they’re just complete fucking idiots. Some of them are violent and crazy, but then, so are some flashers, some prank callers, some creeps. The movement as a whole is just giving the especially egregious among them a reason to unleash their ugly on the world. They could as easily be unleashing that violence at a nearby bar, or at the local barista. Someone online just caught their attention, and now they’re sending death threats.
Small aside: legal prostitution would help with this, I swear. If every basement troll could just get laid every so often by a safe, clean, and taxed person, the world would be much happier. I don’t think society quite understands just how angry and violent a male can become when he feels like he’ll never get laid, ever again. There’s a lot of biology at work, and it’s why traditionally solutions tend to be restricting women’s clothing in public because “Men can’t control themselves.” Yes, men can control themselves, they just need to be taught how, AND they need a healthy outlet. The problem is that men don’t have proper outlets for their urges, and are made to feel ashamed of them. Human beings have evolved for 1 million years to basically be raging, angry, violent monkeys with huge boners trying to impregnate everything with a pink hole. We’re horrid. I wish we’d just admit that and build regulated monkey spank houses. Until we do, we’re going to have lots of angry, lonely men sending death threats and dick pics.
Anyway, this cluelessness has sorta happened to the media in general: people just don’t want to hear how the media works, and they don’t care. I get all these weird looks like “How could you possibly know how things work at CNN, or the NYT?” when I try to explain to people what a fact checker is, a copy editor, a managing editor… People just don’t want to hear that these things they hate are mostly just making mistakes instead of actively conspiring against them, personally.
The real danger to our day to day lives comes from political trolling. And I don’t mean just trolling in favor of your candidate. I mean trolling as an active attempt at political gain. It’s becoming more and more common for this type of online thuggery to be the go-to method of winning hearts and minds. Whereas the left used comedy as a way to spread messages, through the Daily Show and Colbert, the right is now all about “Cucking Libtards,” as if there were some sort of high score they were all shooting for. Their ambition and dedication reminds me of the more militant troll groups of days past, where the folks who trolled were all competing with each other to out do previous exploits, and to find better targets.
Here’s another person I trolled, just by finding her picture online and spreading it around and using it. I made a fake Craigslist ad about wanting some hot sex and needing the Yorkies to watch. A dentist in Salisbury Maryland was VERY interested…
This was a long winded rant that I didn’t intend to go where it did. I just sorta followed my mind on this one, so if anything in here seems half-baked and poorly reasoned, that’s because it probably is.
But I do have some fundamental advice, here, and I already said it up top: keep you fucking head down. Don’t be Lord John Ray. Don’t try to look cool online. It just attracts attention. Some of that attention is from jealousy. Some is from just plain old meanness. Some of it comes from a strange sense of self righteousness. The sort of self-assuredness only a teenager can muster in their view of the world. Particularly that punk teen archetype. In my day, I was absolutely sure I had to make sure idiots got off the Internet. Maybe I should have worked harder at that.
I’m not really a troll anymore. Now, I’m just an asshole. But you could probably say I am still Internet Scum. That stain never comes off.