Internet trolling is not random, it is not inevitable, it is a deliberate force with a political agenda—a strong-armed goon of the conservative status quo—whether every individual troll realizes that or not.
There’s a reason why the most violent, sexually explicit, long-term abuse is reserved for people who agitate for diversity in traditionally white-male-dominated spaces: video games, comedy, atheism. Internet trolls (or, more accurately, the agitators who whip them into a frenzy) want to control who gets to talk, because their dominance is threatened by what’s being said.
This, incidentally, is very notably obvious with regards to GamerGate, which was quite blatantly frothed up (and subsequently dumped) by right-wing pundits normally antagonistic towards gaming in general. It just-so-happened that, this one time, they saw an opportunity to use videogames as the scissors to cut progressives with, and ran with them.
Similarly, I’ve never actually met a Gator who wasn’t aligned with the political right, though they might cloak it in libertarian or neo-reactionary terms.1 This is one of those ones where I’m not even prepared to hedge bets with a “I’m sure they exist… somewhere, I just haven’t seen them”. Like, I honestly don’t even believe there’s such a thing as a progressive GamerGater. I don’t think you can be a “progressive” and support something like GamerGate unless, I guess, you’re incredibly confused (or naive) over what the term “progressive” actually means.
But, honestly? I don’t really want to talk about GamerGate.2 Because GamerGate is too obvious.
Instead, I’m going to talk about Requires Hate.
RH, you may recall, is the serial-troll-turned-book-reviewer-turned-pro-author who was outed recently, to much sturm und drang. RH is a troll but she’s a troll who’s notable for her abuse being framed in the language of progressive identity politics; about race and gender in particular.3 RH is proof positive that progressives can be just as nasty as conservatives, and that we are extremely bad (read: hypocritical) at dealing with the fallout, particularly when the accused abuser comes herself from a marginalized identity.
One of the things about the discussions around RH is just how quickly it degenerated from “here is someone who is being accused of long-term abuse by, it seems, other women of colour” to “I’m a white man writing SFF and RH said mean things about my book being sexist/racist it must be a CONSPIRACY!” See, in particular, this comment on Jim C. Hines’ blog, which in turn is discussing in phenomenon in another comment on another blog. Thing is, RH did target the SWARMs of SFF; that was, like, kind of her public shtick. But the mean-vs.-critical review debate isn’t why progressives–including white male progressives, like Hines–are so outraged; the outrage is4 over the allegations of harassment and abuse RH engaged in, both as “herself” and under her previous online personas, particularly as they’re perceived as contributing towards the suppression of other marginalised voices in the community.
Except because RH’s behaviour is so politicised along progressive/conservative lines–lines that are already hugely fraught within SFF–the ability for the community to have any kind of sensible discussion about it is quickly approaching zero. Particularly when RH’s conduct is used as a springboard by The Usual Suspects for whining about the evils of the Social Justice Warband.
This is the Problem of Requires Hate. In a sense, she’s perceived as turning the master’s tools against him, and progressives (particularly white progressives) do like a good bit of ironic schadenfreude. Except, in this case, the “master’s tools” involve targeting the vulnerable with doxxing, blackmail, rape/death threats, and extreme violent imagery. In other words, RH didn’t dismantle the master’s house; she rebuilt it with a coat of social justice paint. And yet its foundations are still laid across the same old bones as the houses of masters always are, i.e. those of women of colour in particular. And now progressive SFF is torn: between its ability to provide support to RH’s victims;5 between reassessment of fundamental concepts around anger and tone and target; and between the repudiation of appropriation by conservatives of RH as ammunition in their own front lines of the culture war.6
In that sense, RH’s actions have served to fuel the anti-progressive agenda in SFF more effectively than an entire Hugos full of Sad Puppy Slates. No wonder there are so many conspiracy theories flying around; how convenient for progressive SFF it would be if Requires Hate could just be “outed” as “really” being some middle aged white dude. Or even just a white women; we’d settle for that, too. Because how much self-reflection we wouldn’t have to indulge in, were that to turn out to be the case!
(No matter the fact that this thought is in itself sexist and racist; that we can ascribe agency to someone white and male in a way we can’t to an Asian woman is something progressives–again, white progressives in particular–share with our conservative critics. Go us!)
Anger is legitimate, and critique is legitimate; these are tools of the left as much as it is a tool of the right.7 But the specific form of online harassment we defined as “trolling”? Well. That is something else again. And it is something else that, as per the quote above, is inherently politicised along an anti-progressive axis.
In other words, maybe it’s time to think critically about the tools we use, before we use them.
EtA: I’ve already linked this post by Sunita above, but it might get a bit lost in the text. So I’m linking it again. Go read it, then read the comments. Because… yes. That.
- Protip: both these movements are conservative/right wing/anti-progressive/whatever. Yes, including you, libertarians. No, wanting to legalise weed doesn’t make you a radical. Fuck off. ^
- LBR, no one really wants to talk about GamerGate ^
- Albeit not class, as is pointed out here. Which is in German, so here’s the Google Translate. The author of that post, Peter Schmitt, posits this as almost a kind of conspiracy theory re. Requires Hate’s Thai background–Thailand having one of the highest Gini coefficients in south-east Asia–however, to me, it just reads like RH having been very indoctrinated by US-centric identity politics, CRT in particular. One of the things about US-centric CRT is that it tends not to deal well with class politics as distinct from race politics, because class and race are so intimately linked in the US. In other countries, where class and race aren’t so tight–or, at least, aren’t so tight along the white/PoC axis endemic to Western nations–the kind of “CRT 101” RH specialised in tends to… have less interesting things to add to the discussion, shall we say? It’s unsurprising that Schmitt, being–I assume–German, would notice this. ^
- Okay, I admit there’s also a big steaming helping of angst over feeling “duped” by RH’s sweet-as-sin author persona, plus a whole bunch of blatant revenge angst, vendettas from decades ago rearing their heads… look, the whole thing is just really, really fucking messy. ^
- Particularly given “providing support to victims” is something progressives usually pride themselves on. ^
- Putting bets down now that, from here on, RH will become to conservative SFF what Vox Day is to its progressive side. ^
- EtA: FWIW, because this seems inevitable: while I haven’t read 100% of RH’s reviews, the ones I’ve seen seem neither especially egregious nor particularly insightful; often there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on in the comments which, yanno. Comments, oy. But the reviews themselves are basically laundry lists of social justice dogwhistles, interspersed with some I-could-do-it-miles-better griping about prose, topped off with a sprinkling of author-directed bile. Nothing, in other words, I’m not used to seeing elsewhere on Tumblr or LiveJournal or GoodReads. What does seem to be different between RH’s reviews and other reviewers is that RH seems to have, on more than one occasion, gone out of her way to make sure her targets knew they were being reviewed, such as by engaging with them directly on Twitter. I know there’s been a lot of conflation in this whole issue between RH’s reviewing and RH’s harassment. Short version is I think this is wrong. Bad reviews are part of the job. A sucky part, but a part all the same. The harassment, however, is not. Particularly when it’s not targeting the pros per se but everyone else in the community. That’s the damage. Not the hurt fee fees. ^