November 8, 2014
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Some people on Twitter were upset by my piece on Trolls, concerned that I was unfamiliar with the literature. Unfortunately, the literature on the topic is broad and shallow: there’s a lot to read, and a great deal of it is very poor.

There is every likelihood that I have overlooked some critical research. I’ve read a ton of Web Science, a good deal of Wiki research, and a lot of the early Weblog research; this topic has been discussed in all of these. I’m familiar with the Hypertext Research literature, which touches this as well. I've been program chair for ACM WebSci and ACM WikiSym and twice for ACM Hypertext, for which I’ve typically read all the accepted papers and the rejects. I’ve read a fair bit by people who don’t publish in these places: Corey Doctorow is one obvious contributor.

But important material pertinent to the topic can appear in all sorts of places I’d miss anything that appeared in law reviews, philosophical monographs, or cryptography workshops. Aaron, whose birthday would have been today, might well have written something important on the topic and stashed it in a white paper in the backroom of some obscure Harvard site. That happens.

Consider: a decent respect to the opinions of mankind. If you know a lead reference that I should know, great: tell me what it is, and give me some idea of how to approach it. Over the years, I’ve done this hundreds of times — perhaps thousands of times. Sometimes the person asking is a famous writer or a distinguished professor, and sometimes they’re a graduate student, and sometimes they’re 14 years old and have an idea for a novel they want to publish and can you help them? It’s the basic obligation of the scientist: if you know something a colleague needs to know, you succinctly direct your colleague in the right direction.

Standing on the Twitter corner and shouting "You’re ignorant but I’m busy” betrays the principles of collegiality and of Science.

Sources for Trolls?

Partly, I’m rehashing my 2005 Blogtalk Downunder argument and adding a specific straw man proposal because otherwise it’s just handwringing. After GamerGate and RequiresHate, the time for handwringing is past.

Partly, I’ve thought long and hard about Stacey Mason’s GamerGate responses, temperate and otherwise. Don’t dismiss these as superficial castings of plagues on both houses: Mason’s arguments are deeper and more courageous than they first appear.

Partly, it’s What I Learned At Swarthmore. You had to be there, but if you weren’t, you might start with the work of Jane Addams and her circle, and reflect on Quaker leadership of Abolition.

Partly, it’s Emerson’s Self-Reliance mediated through Roosevelt’s Fear God and Take Your Own Part and Mamet’s True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor: “Stand up, speak out, and stay out of school.”

Also: a small mountain of Web Science papers on coordination of revolutionary movements (and their suppression) in Egypt, Syria, Libya, China, and elsewhere; Tilmann Altenberg’s intriguing but (in my opinion) wrong-headed study of Jorn Barger; and a good deal of Wikipedia policy discussion with pseudonymous colleagues, some of whom are knowledgeable and thoughtful. And let’s also remember Jorn Barger, Kali Tal, Nirelan, Devorguilla, Director, and all the other skilled trolls I’ve met.

Anonymous internet publication should be legal, safe, and rare.

“Morbus Iff” asserts out that doxxing can break anonymity. We now know, as we did not when I wrote in 2005, that a persistent anonymous identity can potentially be revealed through its social graph, allowing even an honest escrow to be circumvented. I bet this can be addressed, even for persistent identities, by keeping your own friends away from your pseudonym, but I’m not sure we need persistent identities. If the pseudonym is short-lived or seldom used, I can’t see how doxxing is feasible without evading escrow.

It may be necessary in some circumstances to stand anonymously athwart history and yell “Stop!”, but if you need to make it a lifestyle, it may be that you’re doing it wrong.

My foundation here is responsibility. The problem with trolls is that they are irresponsible: they can do great damage, yet suffer no consequences. That this is wrong is a proposition on which most (though not all) of us can agree. That this is inexpedient is now, I think, unmistakably clear. A troll has single-handedly torn a swath through SF/F, one that will take years to repair and which as irrevocably damaged the lives of many artists. A small group of trolls has tied gaming in knots and is causing untold harm.

This has got to stop.