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Fascinating (and frankly disturbing)

Mattathias Schwartz has an article in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine that you can read online here.

Still digesting the piece, but I thought I’d share it.

26 Responses to Fascinating (and frankly disturbing)

  1. thetathx1138

    So, basically, if I’m reading this piece correctly, people troll because they’re emotionally damaged or self-important douchebags?

    I think I would have preferred this to be set in the context of what happens when human beings get their hands on near-perfect anonymity. Just as an example, they taught us about the stocks in my New England schooling…but never mentioned what happened to people clapped in the stocks overnight.

  2. kozemp

    Sweet zombie jesus.

    Does Christopher Priest still keep that list of “People Who Need To Go To Hell?”

  3. fenrirvallin

    I think it’s more a subset of people who have a need for attention and a fear of scrutiny.

    Which probably falls under emotionally damaged, but it’s not necessarily evil.

    Some people just like to push buttons. And the internet is a great place for it.

  4. lithera

    I know Jason Fortuny, strangely enough. He was a friend of a friend in college and crashed on our floor more than once. Every time he did, though, we would come home to an amazingly clean apartment, some times flowers and always a nice note on the table.

    That said, the man is deeply messed up and one of the few people I can say truly enjoys being a complete asshole. He’s got a very strange, strange view of the world and every conversation I’ve had with the man is a complete battle of wits. I had to take him off of my LJ friend’s list years ago because it was like being battered every time I read something he posted. He’s been banned from the Seattle community which is one of the snarkiest communities I’ve ever been a part of.

  5. thetathx1138

    Oh, I don’t think human beings will automatically default to evil if they know they’re not accountable at all. I do think they will tend towards doing things that they can’t engage in otherwise, and that can be good or bad. I think PostSecret is a good example of the positive end of things.

  6. pullthestars

    Jason Fortuny is a strange man. Hard to put it any other way.

    By the way, it was a pleasure to meet you at Comic Con this last week (I’m ‘s roommate). It’s always nice to meet big-name folks in person and have them be utterly charming and personable :)

  7. supergodginrai

    Over the years, the internet as brought me years of interesting adventures, pleasure and happiness.

    I met my wife on the internet over 11 years ago. We adopted our 1st dog from the internet. I’ve found old friends, made money, had contact with writers, actors and various other people I would never had before and recently even found a new job.

    But as much as I’ve enjoyed it, it as created or enabled people to act without actual repercussions.

    Fortuny acts like provoking/trolling someone on the internet is something that should be normal and that if you were sure about yourself, you wouldn’t let it affect you. He’s not causing the issue, he’s just digging it out from under a little sand or dirt.
    Is idea of “not pushing someone in the fire”/”Watch someone burn without helping” show how sad and mentally / socially inept the guy is.

    He can attack people online, with somewhat a sense of anonymity, because the only thing that can really happen is verbal retaliation by the person targeted.

    It’s the “Internet Cojones” effect. (sorry Greg, figured that would be a little more pc)

    A person like Fortuny would never have the guts to go to someone’s face, let’s say me for example, and say something to push my buttons. The reason; there could be multiple consequences to his confrontation.

    A) I’m a fairly imposing guy and I do not like people getting in my face. I could, if I really chose to go to the extreme, just use force and cause him physical damage. Of course, I’m not suggesting that violence is the way out of this, just that it would be one of the outcomes.

    B) If he were to say the right thing, I could feel threatened by Fortuny, contact the authorities and get him in some trouble which could cost him is job and credibility in general.

    C) It could just result in a verbal argument where no one really wins and everyone leaves without further confrontation.

    I don’t see any way out of this. The idea suggested that no more reaction to the trolls would kill the trolls is as silly as saying no more guns = no more violence.

    Education and good parenting could be a solution. I don’t go out of my way to cause people grief, my parents always thought me to respect others for there different opinions and choices.

    Sorry about the long comment. Thanks for posting the article.

  8. crisper

    Another POV into the inescapable fact of barbarians, just like your vandalized car. The recent Dark Knight film riffs on this pretty explicitly: some folks just like to see things burn, whether they are institutions or physical structures or just someone else’s peace of mind. The power of anonymity is huge; even the soldiers of Charles V knew that nobody, maybe not even God Himself, would know exactly who did what to who if they all stormed their way into Rome and sacked the Vatican. /b/ and the SomethingAwful goons and their ilk just do the digital equivalent of the same thing – sack whatever is in front of them, that maybe has something, that can’t stop them.

  9. jeditigger

    Very strange. And interesting. Small world.

  10. jeditigger

    I absolutely commend you for your comments and heartily concur with them.

  11. insektmute

    I’ve been online for quite a long time, but through it all, this sort of behavior has been a pretty consistent presence. I also notice it frequently among nerds/geeks that I’ve met, particularly among computer geeks and AD&D players, where their social capabilities seem to start and stop with their ability to try and one-up someone else. Regardless of where it happens, it all smacks of deep insecurity; a sort of self-delusional superiority complex to offset the fact that on some level, their personal lives are comparatively lacking on some level.

    That isn’t to say that all insecure people will act like douchebags at the first opportunity, but I think it’s one among many possibilities. I haven’t known many people suffering from severe depression, aspbergers, or anxiety to engage in trolling or pranking, for instance. That includes myself.

    I forget who said it, but there’s a quote to the effect of, “the oppressed are waiting for their turn to become the oppressor.” That seems to fit pretty well.

  12. nealbailey

    I was thinking, reading this (which I did, page to page, which is rare for news stories for me), about responsibilities that come with rights.

    I mean, I’m that guy who goes to extremes to say that anybody can say anything that they want. That’s your right. But you have to bear the responsibility of that. You have to own what you say.

    The internet has stretched the freedom of speech in this regard, in that any asshole with a keyboard can (and does) get on and ruin someone’s day. If they had to put their name and address down, they would not, obviously.

    It’s why I put my name and my address on the internet. When I want to condemn something seriously, I want the full weight of myself behind it, I don’t want to hide behind a tree and wait, because that devalues my statements.

    I don’t understand the notion of causing misery for the sake of misery. To me, it’s villainous. Criminal? I have no idea. But these fuckers certainly deserve a time out of some kind.

    So what’s the solution? Make everyone register who they are on the internet? Yeah, right. Trustability ratings? Look at Ebay… 99.9999, not gonna help the guy bilked out of ten grand.

    I like your solution, just ignoring and deleting immediately. What disturbs me more than that these bastards exist, however, is the continuing, somehow human need and want to continue to do battle with them. I want to know where THAT comes from, even when the knowledge that it’s fruitless has been won.

  13. parakkum

    It’s what killfiles are for.

  14. jerrymcl89

    What I took from that is that some people’s purpose in life is to try to make everyone as miserable as they are.

  15. anw

    What a horrible, disturbing article. I realise now that ‘troll’ just means ‘bully’ in a very particular context. To justify your willingness to harm others because of harm done to you is terrible enough, but to justify it as a lesson – to exploit freedoms as a means to suggest that people don’t deserve them – is obscene.

  16. admin

    Very well said, and very succinct.

    Missed you at SD. Would love to catch up with you soon.

  17. sodapopnskii

    As a psychology person, I would guess, the “trolls” profiled are in one way or another mentally ill.

    Internet harassment is simply the most non-threatening way for their psychosis to manifest. If they didn’t have the internet their illness might manifest in any number of ways: gang violence, excessive drinking/drugs, punk bands, any number of positive art projects or just beating up 12 year olds (which is what most of the victims are anyways). Anything that would supplement what they are missing, but gain from this harassment: respect, community, control and autonomy.

    The last statement from Fortuny, is that he is making a connection between his childhood abuse and the faults of his parents, to the abuse he spreads to others. Honestly, a few months of talk therapy could help him come to terms with this destructive perspective on life. Sadly, it may take years before he seeks that help, if ever.

    It is a waste of a life.
    He has my sympathies.

  18. douwgie

    Those people in protest seemed pretty sane to me, but what do i know.

  19. sodapopnskii

    Oh sorry, my bad.

    I could have said “they have issues” instead of “mental illness”.

  20. lithera

    Here’s an update:

  21. dewline

    The guy who asked that “how to end 4 billion out of 6 billion humans” question is, frighteningly, not alone. There was a gent from Europe who was asking a variant of that question out loud, signing his real name to it, and wanting what he would consider a useful answer. I wish I could remember his name, or where that newspaper article is. I know it’s where I found my understanding of the term “eco-fascist”.

  22. kali921

    Greg, I’m going to have to publicly eat some crow.

    Greg, I’m going to have to pubicly eat some crow regarding Georgia and Russia. See middle of entry.

    I’m still not convinced that Russia is going to engage in a full scale land war in Georgia – that means going to war against a nation of five million people and antagonizing a goodly portion of the rest of the world in terms of public opinion – but bombing 25 kilometers from Tbilisi? Good GOD. That’s risky business, and apparently the current Russian leadership still thinks that it’s 1810.

    I won’t bore you with a detailed discussion of South Ossetia, but now Abkhazia’s involved – talk about opportunism!

  23. nbs_totg

    No need for the snark, you come off like a..well snarky idiot.

  24. admin

    Re: Greg, I’m going to have to publicly eat some crow.

    Yeah, you know…I wasn’t going to say anything, but, woohee…

    …sad thing? I should’ve trusted my gut at the time.

  25. kali921

    Re: Greg, I’m going to have to publicly eat some crow.

    Go ahead, go ahead, get the mocking out of your system. :-)

  26. dewline


    Oh joy. They really are going to milk the excuse – assuming it stands up as at least that much – for all it’s worthy, then.

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