Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
The Internet Communications

Why the Trolls Will Always Win 728

maynard writes: Kathy Sierra spent a tech career developing videogames and teaching Java programming in Sun Microsystems masterclasses. Up until 2007, she'd been a well regarded tech specialist who happened to be female. Until the day she opined on her private blog that given the crap-flood of bad comments, maybe forum moderation wasn't a bad idea. This opinion made her a target. A sustained trolling and harassment campaign followed, comprised of death and rape threats, threats against her family, fabricated claims of prostitution, and a false claim that she had issued a DMCA takedown to stifle criticism. All of this culminated in the public release of her private address and Social Security Number, a technique known as Doxxing. And so she fled from the public, her career, and even her home.

It turned out that a man named Andrew Auernheimer was responsible for having harassed Sierra. Known as 'Weev', he admitted it in a 2008 New York Times story on Internet Trolls. There, he spoke to the lengths which he and his cohorts went to discredit and destroy the woman. "Over a candlelit dinner of tuna sashimi, Weev asked if I would attribute his comments to Memphis Two, the handle he used to troll Kathy Sierra, a blogger. Inspired by her touchy response to online commenters, Weev said he "dropped docs" on Sierra, posting a fabricated narrative of her career alongside her real Social Security number and address. This was part of a larger trolling campaign against Sierra, one that culminated in death threats."

Now, seven years later, Kathy Sierra has returned to explain why she left and what recent spates of online harassment against women portend for the future if decent people don't organize. The situation has grown much more serious since she went into hiding all those years ago. It's more than just the threat of Doxxing to incite physical violence by random crazies with a screw loose.
Read on for the rest of maynard's thoughts.
These days, malicious trolls have taken to SWATting, where harassers call police and make false accusations to induce a SWAT raid. One prominent example is that of game developer Chris Kootra, who experienced a SWAT raid on camera while playing an online video game recently. There is also the troubling trend of developing malicious software intended to harm victims directly. For example, posting images on epilepsy forums which flicker at rates known to induce epileptic seizure. Given that Sierra is epileptic herself, this kind of harmful trolling hits home personally. She writes:

[While not photo-sensitive], I have a deep understanding of the horror of seizures, and the dramatically increased chance of death and brain damage many of us with epilepsy live with, in my case, since the age of 4. FYI, deaths related to epilepsy in the US are roughly equal with deaths from breast cancer. There isn't a shred of doubt in my mind that if the troll hackers could find a way to increase your risk of breast cancer? They'd do it. Because what's better than lulz? Lulz with BOOBS. Yeah, they'd do it.

And yet Auernheimer, the man who put her through all this horror, has for entirely different reasons become a kind of 'Net cause célèbre for Internet freedom. After having committed a hack against AT&T where he obtained the email addresses of thousands of iPad users, he attracted the attention of federal authorities. In due course he was convicted and sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for identity fraud and conspiracy to access a computer without authorization. Many thought his conviction and sentence egregious. Weev attracted support from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and prominent Georgia University Law Professor Tor Ekeland, and they worked together to craft an appeal and overturn the conviction. In April 2014, they succeeded. Auernheimer is now free.

Ekeland wasn't the only one bothered by the government's case. Even Kathy Sierra disagreed. Yet she's appalled that somehow she'd been dragged into supporting the very man who'd abused her.

But you all know what happened next. Something something something horrifically unfair government case against him and just like that, he becomes tech's "hacktivist hero." He now had A Platform not just in the hacker/troll world but in the broader tech community I was part of. ... But hard as I tried to find a ray of hope that the case against him was, somehow, justified and that he deserved, somehow, to be in prison for this, oh god I could not find it. I could not escape my own realization that the cast against him was wrong. So wrong. And not just wrong, but wrong in a way that puts us all at risk.

The lawyer Ekeland, in recent commentary at Wired, continues to defend Auernheimer as having been wronged by an overzealous prosecution, the precedent of which could have significant ramifications for 'Net freedom. "...the crucial issue here is not weev or his ideas but the future of criminal computer law in the U.S. You may think weev is an #@$hole. But being an #@$hole is not a crime, and neither is obtaining unsecured information from publicly facing servers."

Which leaves Sierra lamenting that Auernheimer still hasn't been charged and convicted for what she considers the real crime of harassment he'd committed, harming her and countless others. Where's the justice? Inciting violence and dissemination of "fighting words" are not free speech. Yet, as she admits, unless you're a celebrity, you're "...more likely to win the lottery than get any law enforcement agency to take action." So there is none. "We are on our own," she laments. "And if we don't take care of one another, nobody else will."

Thus, Sierra returned to push back — to push back against prominent journalists and members in the tech community who'd conflate prosecutorial violations of due process with the right to disseminate harassment and cruelty.

I came back because I believe this sent a terrible, devastating message about what was acceptable. ... To push back on the twist and spin. I believed the fine-grained distinctions mattered. I pushed back because I believed I was pushing back on the implicit message that women would be punished for speaking out. I pushed back because almost nobody else was, and it seemed like so many people in tech were basically OK with that.

Auernheimer, for his part, remains unapologetic. Responding to Sierra on Livejournal, he writes:

Yesterday Kathy Sierra (a.k.a. seriouspony), a mentally ill woman, continued to accuse me on her blog of leading some sort of harassment campaign against her by dropping her dox (information related to identify and location) on the Internet. ... Kathy Sierra has for years acted like a toddler, throwing tantrums and making demands whenever things didn't go her way. She rejects any presentation of polite criticism or presentation of evidence as some sort of assault on her. She was the blueprint for women like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, who also feign victimhood for financial and social gain. Kathy Sierra is the epitome of what is wrong with my community. She had something coming to her and by the standards set by her own peers in the social justice community, there was nothing wrong with what she got.

Some people never change.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why the Trolls Will Always Win

Comments Filter:
  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @09:39AM (#48110649) Journal

    Time for a Second amendment solution.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 10, 2014 @09:40AM (#48110651)

    It's about anonymous online sexual harassment, particularly when it's done by packs playing the part of street gangs.

    Trolling is like ranting about systemd in response to every single /. article.

    • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @09:58AM (#48110815)

      It's about anonymous online sexual harassment, particularly when it's done by packs playing the part of street gangs.

      Trolling is like ranting about systemd in response to every single /. article.

      No, it's about online criminal harassment.

      We have to face it, these things will get a lot more traction if we just treat the perps as what they are - criminals that need prosecuted, rather than people harassing someone soley because they are female. Once the dude started with her SS, fake CV, and death threats, welcome to skeeveland.

      As for trolling - eliminating that will be like eliminating anyone who disagrees with you. Because that's how some people define trolling.

      • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:53AM (#48111389)

        Let me define what real trolling is for you: Trolling is the attempt to get an emotional reaction out of a target by using social engineering. The primary goal of trolling is usually, but not limited to, getting targets to become less emotionally invested in online discussions.

        You can use trolling to harass a person.
        You could end up harassing a person while trolling.
        But they are 2 completely separate activities.

        Likewise, trolling is not chauvinistic or race related, but because those topics tend to elicit strong emotional reactions in people, they are obviously good subjects to use while trolling.

      • by bwcbwc ( 601780 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:09AM (#48111561)

        Technically, libel and slander are grounds for a civil suit, not criminal. Death threats and impersonation/identity theft are criminal but can be pursued civilly as well. Victims need to start lawyering up and getting rulings that bankrupt the trolls, and put them under restraining orders for their internet activity. If they persist put them under court orders barring them from accessing the internet, and throw them in jail for criminal contempt if they violate the court orders.

        The standard of proof for civil suits is significantly lower than beyond a reasonable doubt, so the main barrier is getting internet sites and ISPs to release information that can identify the anonymous offenders.

        And once again, this is not a feminist issue. Doxxing an SWATting are rampant against males as well. From Wikipedia:
        * In the past, there have been swatting incidents at the homes of Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Chris Brown, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Clint Eastwood.

        Brian Krebs has suffered various harassments for several years now, as documented here: https://krebsonsecurity.com/20... [krebsonsecurity.com]

        Basically once you reach a certain level of fame or notoriety on the internet, you are likely to piss off someone who thinks it's fun to engage in these kinds of activities.

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @09:43AM (#48110679) Homepage Journal

    I really wish we could just drop the sexism part of this right now. Both genders get attacked by these people.
    The second issue is if you want Anonymity than you will have this issue a lot.
    Third is the simple fact that it is just a small number of folks causing the issue. The trouble is that it does not take a lot of folks to cause a good amount of harm.
    The issue is that some people make heroes out of the idiots that do this when they do it to someone they do not agree with or like.
    It really needs to be a time where all attacks are looked down on and discussion takes it place.

    • Or you know, the majority of us could be actual good guys (and gals) and actually do something to fight back against this horrid behavior...

    • Sexism is just a tool that the trolls use where appropriate. It's all about personal power. For example, one of the trolls sent to jail for harrassing Caroline Criado-Perez [wikipedia.org] was a woman.

    • by jareth-0205 ( 525594 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:05AM (#48110871) Homepage

      I really wish we could just drop the sexism part of this right now. Both genders get attacked by these people.

      Both do, but it *is* sexist. It is far more widespread and vicious towards women. Ignoring that is not helping.

      • No, the choice of target is not necessarily related to gender. They choose a target based on any number of reasons, but it generally has something to do with their opinions or actions.

        Once they've identified a target, they use whatever weakness they can perceive to inflict maximum psychological damage. For many women, that is rape threats.

        They would target a man for the same opinions, actions, whatever, but they would use something he'd respond to, like threats against his family or his job.

        The sexist langu

    • by FirstOne ( 193462 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:05AM (#48110873) Homepage

      Agreed, I had to deal with these types on the Usenet forums. It seams no insult was too low for these types. They used 100's of aliases, I kept track of them and posted a list periodically.

      When they started posting criminal confessions in my name.. I called the FBI office near the perp, that only slowed them down.. Even a threat of legal action didn't seam to phase them. Eventually they stopped when they could no longer get a response from me.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @09:48AM (#48110735)

    But acting upon it is.

    Nobody really cares if you know a fool proof way to kill the prez (well, aside of some professional paranoiacs). As long as you don't act upon it, you're fine. If you DO, though, don't expect to remain free (or, for that matter, alive) for any measurable stretch of time.

    • by Jahta ( 1141213 )

      But acting upon it is.

      Nobody really cares if you know a fool proof way to kill the prez (well, aside of some professional paranoiacs). As long as you don't act upon it, you're fine. If you DO, though, don't expect to remain free (or, for that matter, alive) for any measurable stretch of time.

      Being an asshole may not be a crime. But threatening to kill somebody (whether you follow through or not) or spreading fabricated stories alleging criminal behavior to destroy somebody's good name is a crime. And rightly so.

      The "I only posted it, so it's all OK" meme is part of the problem here.

  • by dmgxmichael ( 1219692 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @09:51AM (#48110759) Homepage

    In any unmoderated discussion the loudest and most insistent voices win. This has been true since democracy started - "politic" meaning roughly in the original Greek "To shout down"

    We see this in our current political system as well - wingnuts running the show in both parties because reasonable people won't speak up.

    Time and again I've seen this on forums I've been on that have been unmoderated, such as the OkCupid forums. After awhile, only the rudest and the crudest remain there along with those willing to tolerate them.

  • by zildgulf ( 1116981 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @09:58AM (#48110817)
    Auernheimer is one of the reasons we nice people can not have nice things. The worse problem is his supporters supporting his underhanded crusade against anyone he doesn't like. He is a threat to the safety of his targets to the extent that it most people would be imprisoned for decades for doing what he did. The message our justice system say to would be Auernheimers is "don't screw with the businesses and don't get caught threatening and underhandedly attack people" meaning doing what he did to Kathy Sierra is OK as long as you do it in a way that law enforcement won't care about it.
  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:02AM (#48110843) Homepage

    I truly don't understand this. When I was a young awkward geek with very specific interests, I would have absolutely LOVED there to be women around with those same interests. Us guys totally loved the few geeky girls that were around and always wished there were more.

    Yet today we see guys trying to scare the women away. What the hell changed?

    • Because to be beaten by a woman would utterly destroy them.

      If they can scare the women away, they can preserve their illusion of superiority (in a mythical competition in a mythical world).
    • It's a mix of two things.

      Firstly you have frustration and anger that women don't seem interested in these guys. Like that Rodger guy they really can't see what is wrong with them and vent that anger by attacking women, who must all be stupid evil manipulative whores because they only sleep with guys they can get something out of and never the poor troll.

      Secondly the trolls are in serious need of some men's liberation. I bet you know exactly what a "real man" is. Masculine, strong, breadwinner, protects his woman, has loads of cool stuff. Now ask yourself what a "real woman" is. Not so easy to define.

      It wasn't always that way. Back in the 1960s the ideal woman was the model 1950s housewife. A mother, good at cooking and cleaning, beautiful but homely, always trying to satisfy her man. Women's lib changed that. Women became free to break away from that model, be what they wanted to be, not get neurotic about their weight or finding a husband by age 25. Now they get to decide what matters to them, not what society expects of them. Men need that too. These trolls only feel threatened because they are so insecure, and see women participating in any traditionally male dominated area as a threat to the ideal they are trying to live up to.

    • by Bob9113 ( 14996 )

      When I was a young awkward geek with very specific interests, I would have absolutely LOVED there to be women around with those same interests... Yet today we see guys trying to scare the women away. What the hell changed?

      Nothing but the volume. I loved geeky women back then, and some geeky men were hostile. Now, I still like geeky women, and some geeky men are still hostile.

      Nothing has changed, except the amplification of the extremists on both sides. The extremists on both sides want to drive a wedge to c

  • by Jahoda ( 2715225 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:07AM (#48110893) Homepage
    This isn't about women, or trolling, or "culture". Andrew Auernheimer is a fucking sociopath loser who has no concept of what it means to live in a society of decent human beings. that he thinks he is "fighting the rich" or "part of the struggle" is fucking meaningless. It's just the stuff he tells himself to try to give some meaning to his pathetic, pissant little life where no one gives a fuck about him or who he is.
    • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:30AM (#48111123) Journal

      What I Learned from My Time in Prison [dailystormer.com]
      Andrew Auernheimer

      I have some new tattoos that mark the wisdom I gained from my time in prison, which happens to be the same as the wisdom of my ancestors. [...] My first tattoo is a 4.5 inch swastika on my chest featuring Odinn, Baldr, Freyr, and Ãzor. My second is a Jormungandr-wrapped Ãzorshamar flanked by Huginn and Muninn on my forearm.

      There's also some comprehensive antisemitism in that article.
      http://www.dailystormer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/weev.jpg [dailystormer.com]
      This is not the hero you are looking for.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@nOspAm.world3.net> on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:47AM (#48111319) Homepage Journal

      His behaviour is extreme, but not as uncommon as you think. There is a lot of trolling and hate out there, and it can't all be a small number of sociopaths with sock puppet accounts.

      More over there is a general problem with more low level stuff. Any technical video by a woman on YouTube is full of comments from social retards asking to marry her, or offering pathetic complements about her appearance in the vain hope she might respond. Stuff like the recently celebrity photo leaks are pretty bad too, when you see the number of guys egging them on or even demanding to see their favourite wank fantasy nude. Photos of Matt Smith appeared, but strangely there were not a similar number of comments from women demanding them to be posted.

      Concentrating on extremes isn't always helpful because people dismiss them as just that, extreme and therefore not part of a more general problem. The question is are they just lone extremists with a mental illness or are they extreme but supported by a large amount of less extreme trolling. In a different environment would be have acted that way? If people didn't "like" his posts or watch the YouTube videos of other trolls in their hundreds of thousands would people like him be confident enough and feel supported enough to behave that way?

      • by Altus ( 1034 )

        It all depends on what you mean by a small number. Even if it was only a fraction of a percentage of internet users that is still an unbelievable number of people and while they are making a concerted effort to ruin peoples lives there isn't really that much that decent people can do to stop them. I cannot somehow stop a sociopath from finding and publishing some poor persons social security number and I can't stop an asshole from posting a death threat and even a ton of people supporting someone does not

  • by roccomaglio ( 520780 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:28AM (#48111097)
    Kathy Sierra has written several books that were very helpful when taking java exams. She has the ability to clearly explain things that not many people have mastered. She also created the javaranch.com site which is a great place to look when you have questions about java. I appreciate her contributions to the community and wish there were more people like her.
  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:31AM (#48111131)

    In the context of the Internet, the word "troll" used to mean, (according to Wikipedia):

    "...a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."

    The campaign that Kathy Sierra was a victim of goes far, far beyond this. How does it make sense that one word is used to describe such a wide range of behaviour? It's like calling a violent rapist a 'cad'. Trolls, (in the original sense of the word), are assholes. Auernheimer and his associates exhibited obsessive, psychopathic, downright evil behaviour and attitudes. We should never equate mere assholes and psychopaths - doing so trivializes destructive psychopathic behaviour while making assholery seem much worse than it really is. And the latter is perhaps more dangerous; it gives authorities one more excuse for implementing draconian laws in response to minor social infractions.

    • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:40AM (#48111905) Journal

      I agree with you. This is not trolling. Trolling is a art.

      I used to troll slashdot under another account. It was great fun. I'd see a good target story and write a well-structure comment. The first paragraph would be something on topic and sensible. The second would introduce minor logical flaws, which in the third paragraph would explode into completely ridiculous conclusions that would incense slashdotters, like that the only way to ensure privacy is for the government to monitor all communications at all times or something. Then you sit back and watch moderators only read the first paragraph and mod you +5 insightful, and then people come along and actually read the post and get enraged and write 12 paragraphs about how wrong I am. Then it gets moderated down to +1 troll, then people realize it's funny and it winds up at +5 funny. It was good fun.

      But sociopaths threatening and harassing people not just on the internet but spilling over into real life (phone calls, calling their boss, their customers, etc) is not trolling. It's...criminal. Online trolling can be ignored, but I think the only way to stop that kind of behavior is legal action.

  • by Thagg ( 9904 ) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Friday October 10, 2014 @10:39AM (#48111233) Journal

    Listen the the podcast on 5x5 called "overtired" [5by5.tv]. In episode 15, the incredible Christina Warren describes the shit that she gets every day, and how she deals with it. I have some hope that a younger generation of women like Ms Warren will be able to react to attacking idiots without disappearing from the 'net.

  • by Bismuthprince ( 2938227 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:04AM (#48111517)
    Weev is an asshole, no question and it'd be nice if he were reprimanded for his crimes.
    Somehow though, I have to be another one of those assholes and say that trolling is a big issue, but not solely a women's issue. If you want an example of trolling that reached an entirely new level and has most definitely contributed to the failing mental health of an autistic man, look up the story of Christian Weston Chandler.

    Trolling isn't new, it's always been mind-boggilingly terrible, but we couldn't be arsed to do anything but laugh back when the victims were usually mentally ill and male.
  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Friday October 10, 2014 @11:15AM (#48111627) Homepage

    Why the Trolls Will Always Win

    They don't.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-e... [bbc.co.uk]
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-2... [bbc.co.uk]

    And sometimes they really don't.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-2... [bbc.co.uk]

  • by meustrus ( 1588597 ) <meustrusNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday October 10, 2014 @12:37PM (#48112681)

    Why does it seem that the first response to these kinds of problems is always legal? To sue someone? Is it just because that's what is expedient to existing victims? Because it won't help future potential victims. Even changing the law or boosting enforcement won't get at the root cause.

    The fact is that sadly, sociopathic behavior like this is socially acceptable. Every time a woman speaks up, half of the crowd chimes in to defend the sociopath. "It was her own fault", you say. "Women are such whiners; this happens to everyone", you say. And let's be clear: it's easy for a woman to think women are unfairly targeted when she's come to know so many others who have been targeted, and the harassment is often sexual. There's a point to be made that women are perhaps too often thin-skinned. But often this point is made regardless to the severity of the harassment (total destruction of career, made to feel unsafe and insecure even in her own home or the home of her family, made to fear for the safety of that family). And most of the people making this point, especially in a place like Slashdot that allows people to post anonymously, make their point with misogynistic slurs. It's only understandable that this position is almost always attacked as "blaming the victim" when there are only a couple of rational voices in the mob.

    How can the law help us? Will it stop people from being sociopaths? Not any more than drunk driving laws made people stop driving drunk. Drunk driving used to be just as socially acceptable as wife beating and criminal harassment. What changed? MADD and systematic messaging from law enforcement and driver's education told entire generations of new drivers that it is not acceptable. Now drunk driving is the sort of thing only completely irresponsible people do, right? While that doesn't mean nobody does it, it does mean nobody defends the behavior. We need a single message to spread to every single child regarding harassment: this is not OK.

    Sociopaths are bad for society, which means that even when they aren't attacking you personally, their assaults still hurt you. Every time a Kathy Sierra is harassed out of her comfort zone, we lose another intelligent perspective. We lose the voice behind javaranch.com. And to all you lonely nerds out there: we lose one more woman that understands and appreciates what you do. One more woman that might have shared your dreams and obsessions.

    What can we do about sociopaths? First, we can learn to defend ourselves. My first rule of the internet is to use a pseudonym, and keep your pseudonym separate from your family and local friends. Never attach any pictures or personal information that could connect your pseudonym to you. Never, and I mean never take a nude picture of yourself.

    Remember though that none of this is a guarantee. All it takes is more effort to uncover who you are and where you live. So the second step is to support the victims. Now, I understand some of you are a bit obsessed with fraud, and think these victims are just seeking attention. You attack the victim's credibility. Stop. You don't have to personally believe the victim, but it does no good to cast doubt. Victims don't even want attention, and they definitely don't want to be assaulted even more. So many victims don't report crimes against them because they don't want to relive the experience, or because they are afraid of people like you. What victims (should) want is for their life to go on as if nothing happened, while also making sure the same thing can never happen to anybody else. What you can do is direct your attention toward the problem instead of the victim. Attack the crime, even if you don't believe it happened. You might say, "Harassment is wrong, and I am appalled to think this kind of thing even happens." You might say, "I actually have trouble believing the story because it's so unthinkable that someone could be this much of a sociopath." You might say, "I though this sort of thing never happened, and it certainly never sh

"You must have an IQ of at least half a million." -- Popeye