Sunday, October 6, 2013

Steph Guthrie trolls TED

Steph Guthrie gave a talk at TEDxToronto:

It was quite provocative. So it's probably trolling! Right?

It's a short video, but here's the rundown to prime discussion.

0:09 - "I have a folder on my desktop called 'death threats' - it's sad to say this can be par for the course when you're a woman with an opinion on the internet"

1:22 - "Tell me why I shouldn't take these kinds of things seriously"

Things that show up on screen:

  • A jibe about how much she might spend on hair products
  • Testimony that someone was called a bitch, ugly, and told to go make dinner
  • An insult along the lines of "you're so stupid you must be drunk"
  • An invitation to perform a blowjob
  • A statement about how the subject may be "bed hopping" (i.e. promiscuous) 
  • Three statements either threatening or indicating happiness about beatings or rapes
So a few things came out of the "death threats" folder. However a few came out of the general "jerks" folder.

2:18 - "There's something else that really bothers me about using the word "troll" to describe garden variety misogyny. It suggests that it's an internet problem rather than a society problem. [...] Why qualify it with a word like 'trolling' when really it's misogyny?"

2:47 - "I'll talk about some of the features of online communication that have allowed misogyny to flourish"

3:00ish - Talking about a game created where the player can beat up Anita Sarkeesian.

3:50 - "What is it about the internet that encouraged this guy to publish this game and put that out there?"

Reasons presented:
  • "Social distance" - creator didn't have to "look Anita in the face"
  • "Performance" - creator had an audience to share the game with
  • "No consequences" - doing things on the internet is not viewed as having consequences, law enforcement is behind, no perceived social consequences

6:00ish - Describes the process of tracking down the game creator after the game was deleted.

6:21 - Tweets game creator and advertises his existence - "do you punch women in the face IRL, or just on the internet? (This guy made the Anita Sarkeesian facepunch game). Others, RT."

6:41 - Tweets the local paper of the game creator : "Sault Ste Marie employers, if you get a resume from <creator>, he made a woman facepunching game"

7:10 - Screencaps of how she used ElevatorGATE's favorite tool, Storify, to bring justice down upon the game creator

7:40 - How internet can apparently cure misogyny:
  • "Performance" - People can participate in shaming creator as much like others participate in the game
  • "Visibility" - creator's "misogynist views" were on "permanent record" rather than "he said, she said"
  • "Virality" - popularity of the "anti-misogyny" campaign can be as viral as the "hate" campaign
From this point on, it's an endorsement of the usual "aggregators" of of daily bigotry, as it's said to be somehow useful for everyone to digest examples of people being awful to one another without context.

The finale:

"Strike 'Don't feed the trolls' from your lexicon if you're talking about a misogynist. We feed bigots by meeting their hatred with collective silence."

First things first.

A quick transition from death threats

It's interesting how the talk began speaking about a folder full of death threats and then launched into a very lengthy discussion about a woman-punching video game.

Interestingly enough, the game focused on a single online spat. Not a word was said about another woman-punching video game, Grand Theft Auto V, which seems to be one of the highest grossing video games to date.

Perhaps it's Sarkeesian's department to speak about GTA V, while it's Guthrie's to speak about Sarkeesian's opponents.

It is interesting to consider that both games will allow one to find entertainment to violence.

What sets the Sarkeesian-punching game apart?

Is it that the violence is against an identifiable person instead of a persona? Is it that the violence depicted is not fictional enough to be on HBO? Is it perhaps too interactive?

Whatever the differences, we've lost the connection to this folder of threats. Guthrie has muddied the waters enough to convince the audience that they are related entities in what could be said to be a war on feminism, however no effort is made to connect the dots in a convincing manner.

The reference to death threats set the tone, and then the audience is quickly led into judgment of the punch-Sarkeesian developer after their pitchforks were sharpened and the torches were well lit.

Is trolling misogyny?

When someone says the c-word or tells a woman to "get back in the kitchen" - is it misogyny?

It is definitely misogynist weaponry. But it doesn't mean that the heart of the feedback is part of a misogynist campaign.

Trolls can send racist, sexist, homophobic, fat-shaming messages. But this does not mean that trolling is any of those things.

For example, if one were to find someone online sending messages calling Paula Deen a "big fat nasty c-word", the conclusion one really cannot make is that the participants in this trolling are effectively fat-shaming misogynists. Such an answer makes a mockery of the entire situation.

When the context of debate is a particular "feminist" group's activism, then perhaps it's much simpler to present trolling as misogyny. As whatever negative things happen to a "feminist" group will be defined after the fact as misogyny by definition.

Luckily the internet is much larger than a flame war with "feminist" groups.

Accepting that fact, calling trolling misogyny is simply inaccurate. Even when sexist language is used.

Is the internet allowing people to unleash their inner misogynist?

What an evil place! It seems the internet is a place unencumbered by rules, where people can abuse others at will and get away with it. We'd all get along if not for the misogynists... right?

Oddly enough, Guthrie begins her talk saying that trolling is a form of "garden variety misogyny", then continues to talk about what makes the internet a special case and how people behave differently in real life (IRL).

The internet is different.

It is true that people can be, in some sense, more misogynist. More bigoted. More awful to one another.

However it is also true that people can be more obtuse. More irrational. More dismissive. More vengeful.

One way to be dismissive and vengeful is to create a game where the player can assault an effigy of the person you dislike.

Another way to be dismissive and vengeful is to insert yourself into a pissing contest about video games, sleuth out details about a perceived enemy and attempt to end their career.

Maybe the actions are not equivalent, but they speak to the internet's capability to amplify everything.

Before the internet, one could give a speech to an audience in Toronto and in all likelihood begin and end in Toronto. The audience in the room might be the only participants and the only potential critics.

Now, as Guthrie points out, the internet allows the contents of the speech to be put on a "permanent record". The video would act as a sort of global flypaper for people that vehemently disagree. Heated debates that had little opportunity to materialize live in the room after the speech are almost guaranteed to happen online as every sentence is pondered.

For the first time, people are presented with an endless rain of "feminist" theories readily indexed for easy consumption. Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook present the concepts not in 100 page research papers but as bite-size focused critiques of the behavior of specific people. Things get about as deep as the rage-fest that was donglegate.

While we may be learning the true opinions of the so-called misogynists, we are also learning the true opinions of the self-appointed speakers for all women everywhere.

And everyone seems to be quite awful to one another. The secular movement discovered this quite some time ago, and attempted to do something about it - the leaders of various groups suggested choosing different methods of communication.

Internet "feminists" essentially told these leaders of several large non-profit organizations to STFU. (They love f-bombs)

That'll help matters.

Everyday sexism

But to put in concrete terms of "every day" sexism that "feminists" adore talking about, the situation simplifies.

Women will receive sexist messages online. In their "real life" daily lives, as Guthrie mentions several times, women will be also hear sexist insults and slurs. Maybe the person using these slurs are their brother, sister, spouse or boss.

Can they be deemed misogynists for life? It does not happen. It would be a ridiculous result.

But it's what Guthrie is essentially advocating for online. It's just another variation of the positioning one's own political group against the evildoers that lack a conscience.

Where does all this leave us with a solution to end trolling?

It isn't absolutely clear.

What is clear - if we rely on Guthrie, Watson, Criado-Perez, or McCreight to teach the world what conflict resolution looks like, we're in deep trouble.

It would not be if World War III will happen, but simply when.


  1. What these feminists never seem to get is that this supposed torrent of abuse doesn't come out of thin air. It's a feedback cycle, and they are fanning the flames themselves.

    Someone says something nasty about a woman, and feminists get offended because it must be misogyny. A few people think this is an overreaction, and then start actually trolling because the overreaction is so predictable and easy to exploit. This creates indignation on account of the trollee, who just can't fathom why this rampant misogyny is allowed to continue, so they bring out the megaphone and draw even more attention to it. Rinse and repeat until they sit around screening each other's inboxes because of how horrible it all supposedly is.

    I'm a guy who has done some visible stuff on the web. Some of the messages I've received would undoubtedly go into Guthrie's "death threats" folder. I sent them to Spam instead. And when I point out to these whiny women on Twitter that nobody cares when the exact same thing is said to a man, they show not an ounce of their much vaunted empathy.

    If you automatically react to everything, you are incapable of controlling anything.

  2. Rebecca Watson recently tweeted a rhetorical question, something to the effect of,
    "I wonder how long a 'Kill Mark Zuckerberg' Facebook page would be allowed to stay up?"
    A 5 second Google search, however, would tell you the answer is "3 months and counting", for the one page I found (a page which didn't contain any sort of "don't engage in violence, lawbreaking etc." disclaimers either).
    The same search would also tell you that, in GTA V, the most expensive video game ever produced, you can hunt down and kill a Mark Zuckerberg stand-in (presumably in a myriad of violent ways)


    I'm sure Anita has some rationale as to why it's wrong for people to say they want to kill her, but perfectly okay for her to openly endorse a fanfic where she murders Randy Pitchford in cold blood.

    Strangely, when I've presented this to Anita's supporters, the exact same people who claimed that the threats inherently validate Anita*, they tended to go quiet or try to dance around the subject. I wonder why?

    >As whatever negative things happen to a "feminist" group will be defined after the fact as misogyny by definition.

    Unless it's criticism of a malefem, at which point many feminists will be torn between their usual desire to pretend malefems don't exist, and the fact that the "misogyny" defense doesn't work as well when the feminist is a dude.

    >Is the internet allowing people to unleash their inner misogynist?

    Counterpoint; spend five minutes on tumblr and tell me that there aren't lots of people who think "ironic" misandry is the bee's knees. Anita herself has argued that even ironic sexism perpetuates actual sexism. But she seems to think sexism only happens to women.

    > Now, as Guthrie points out, the internet allows the contents of the speech to be put on a "permanent record". The video would act as a sort of global flypaper for people that vehemently disagree. Heated debates that had little opportunity to materialize live in the room after the speech are almost guaranteed to happen online as every sentence is pondered.

    A feminist talk at U of Toronto about MRAs in Sept banned any recording devices. Almost as if they didn't want to be put on record or analyzed.

    Even Anita herself claims to want a conversation about sexism, but AFAIK has never acknowledged that criticism of her that isn't harassment or encouragement exists. She never talks about constructive negative criticism, from man or women, feminist or non, gamer or non-gamer.

    I've seen many a tumblrfem respond to reasoned criticism with "drink bleach" or suchlike.

    Or course, Guthrie's talk seems to be based on Anita's own TEDTalk, which was basically her damseling herself for ten minutes.

    * Notice how it's being a victim that makes Anita right, not the quality of her analysis.

  4. "Strike 'Don't feed the trolls' from your lexicon if you're talking about a misogynist."

    In other words, "feed the trolls".

    "We feed bigots by meeting their hatred with collective silence."

    In other words, "trolls are fed by silence".

    Therefore, saying "feed the trolls" means "be silent". So, she wants women to be silent. That sounds a little bit like misogyny...

    On a more serious note, how do you know if someone is a misogynist and not just a troll? The 'feminist' argument seems to be "they say sexist things", but that doesn't contradict the motivations of a troll, and actual misogynists would have realized by now that it doesn't result in silence, it results in speeches like this one, which would discourage them. Yet this is exactly what trolls want to see.

    This, combined with the long history of trolling, strongly favors the case where it's 'just' trolling without any motivation to (somehow) silence women. This doesn't mean that none of them are misogynists, but a vast majority should be garden-variety trolls.

  5. It takes a lot of narcissism and self-absorption to believe that online harassment only happens to "feminists". They use the abuse they receive as validation that they're "shaking the waters" and making an impact on society. They valourise themselves through victimisation.

    Internet threats and insults happen to everyone and are almost always meaningless; the bickerings of angry and petty people. I have received hundreds of threats from people all over the world. There's a guy in Singapore who once told me that he'll murder me in my sleep with a screwdriver through my neck. That was five years ago, still alive. If you can't handle the abuse, simply don't read the comments and messages you receive. That's the price of putting yourself out on the internet. With great publicity comes great dissent.

    Anyway, great blog, my good chum. Keep up the good work!

  6. '6:41 - Tweets the local paper of the game creator : "Sault Ste Marie employers, if you get a resume from , he made a woman facepunching game"'

    She really did that? That's low. Thankfully the employers probably couldn't care less.

  7. It is only through a few people like you that I hear about stuff like this. You best believe that I am not going to spend my life worrying about it, much less getting involved with it at a deeper level. Incidents like that you relate here essentially reveal the narcissistic dumbness of feminists like Guthrie. This is a person who attempts to ruin the life and reputation of an individual for doing things she doesn't like. Were roles reversed she would be howling from the rooftops. But apparently this level of self-awareness does not exist if you are a feminist. Frankly, I just shake my head and close my eyes. I do not want to know that fuckwittery like this exists in the world.

    PS the point of view that there are nasty people in the world who will insult you and say nasty things about you is evident to most people by the age of about 5 or 6. It is known by everyone. So why we need sites cataloging the fact that people are shitty is beyond me. It is merely a rol log of victimhood.