May
3rd 2009
The trolls under the bridge

Posted under: Gender

troll2As you all know, “Historiann” is a prankish name for this blog (and for this blogger)–I’m neither anonymous nor truly pseudonymous.  I made this decision for a number of reasons–mostly because I have specific training and areas of expertise, and I wanted to be clear about that.  But realistically, this blog caters to a community with a fairly specific cross-section of interests: women’s history, early American history, feminism, and the academic workplace, and how many people do you know who live at this exact intersection of “rusticated” and “fabulous?”  So it would only have been a matter of time (and an IP address locator) before I was unmasked in any case.  (That said, I realize full well that being “out” as a blogger is a luxury of my rank and status as a tenured Associate Professor.)  

I’ve renewed a lot friendships and acquaintances with people through my blog, and I’ve met a lot of new people inside and outside academia I otherwise would probably never have met.  I really value your interest in my writing here and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from you because of your different professions, disciplines, and fields of expertise, and because even the academics among us teach at different kinds of institutions and have had different career trajectories.  We all imagine that our corner of the blogosphere is normative to some extent, which I realize is delusional, but it still disturbs me when I see or hear about people who use blogging differently–specifically, when they use the shield of (partial) anonymity the on-line world offers to be disagreeable, to attack, or even to threaten others.  (I say partial, because it’s pretty easy to track people down, especially if you know they work in academia.  We all have IP addresses and pretty high internet profiles.)

This is an especially common problem on feminist blogs, which seem to attract an unusual number of male commenters who claim to be really groovy feminists, but whose comments consist solely of arguing patronizingly with feminist women commenters and bloggers, oddly enough.  As I have written before, it all has to do with boundaries:  one of the symptoms of unexamined male privilege is refusing to permit women to draw their own boundaries around their bodies, in their day planners, and on their blogs

Apparently not everyone is on-line with an eye towards being part of a scholarly community in real life, or even with an eye toward their own futures, if you want to be strictly careerist.  A blogger friend of mine recently told a story about a graduate student who has a Facebook account and a blog:  several people in this student’s fields of professional interest “have received incredibly vituperative attacks.  There’s been no differentiation between the way ze treats other people in hir circle” of on-line contacts, “faculty (tenured or otherwise), and other professionals with whom she might have dealings in future.”  My friend commented on this student’s job prospects after graduate school:  “I know that I’d consider hir a very bad risk as a colleague, based on hir attitudes, behavior, and some of the personal stuff ze’s posted.”  I suppose most bloggers learn as they go, and I know I surely have made a lot of mistakes along the way, but creating an on-line identity that may well conflict with the goals you have for your professional life seems idiotic to me.  (And for the record, although I think graduate students realistically have more to fear by behaving this way on-line, I would find this behavior objectionable coming from anyone, even Professor Bigshot.) 

We all know people who are jerks and creeps in real life, too–although their creepiness isn’t googleable the way Facebook, blogs, and blog comments are.  I find this kind of behavior especially puzzling in someone who’s already revealed a great deal about themselves–their secret life as a troll or blog stalker probably won’t remain such a secret–but then as GayProf has suggested in some recent e-mail exchanges, disturbed people may be driven by compulsions they don’t understand and can’t control.  Running into the occasional nutjob is one of the hazards of publishing on the world wide non peer-reviewed internets!

The long and short of it is that traffic has really increased this spring since our fantastically popular, quad-blog discussion of Judith Bennett’s History Matters in March, so it may happen that we get more “drive by” nastiness in the comments here, and more hangers on who really should just go build their own treehouses and stay out of mine.  If you see a comment from someone whose name you don’t recognize and you sense that ze just wants to pick a fight, to hammer away on an issue tangential to the point of a post and to the ensuing discussion, or who violates my comments policy, please just ignore that commenter.  (For more on trolls, see GayProf’s humorous primer, “Of Blogs and Trolls.”  TIPS FOR TOADS:  if you find yourself answering “C” more often than not, then you have a problem!)  These commenters want to derail a conversation and make it all about them–don’t give them what they’re looking for.  I haven’t always done this, much to my regret, but talking to the people who want to have a real conversation and ignoring the rest is the best way to keep the discussions here going.

18 Comments »

18 Responses to “The trolls under the bridge”

  1. GayProf on 03 May 2009 at 9:27 am #

    “These commenters want to derail a conversation and make it all about them”

    I really hate that. It really takes conversation away from where it should be: Focused on me.

  2. Notorious Ph.D. on 03 May 2009 at 9:27 am #

    As I’ve been teaching early women’s history, one of the recurring issues is the question of unescorted women in public space. Even when women aren’t legally prohibited from being in public space, they’ve often been subject to harassment simply for being there while female. And any harm they suffer is considered the price they pay for their presence in a public space that is gendered male.

    And it has occurred to me more than once that this is the new public space: blogs, comment threads, youtube — women are often harassed and shouted into submission. Oddly enough, in the online world this seems perfectly acceptable, where it would rarely (though not never) happen in the physical world.

    But I do like your rule for trolls, which seems to boil down to: never look the crazy person in the eye.

  3. Historiann on 03 May 2009 at 9:50 am #

    Notorious–I think you taught me that rule! I like your point about women in public spaces–this is something I think we need to think about when theorizing the “patriarchal equilibrium” that Judith Bennett writes about. There is a no-longer-new but still quite influential book by Christine Stansell called City of Women, about New York at the turn of the nineteenth century, that makes the same arguments about women in urban public spaces in the early U.S. Republic. So, if we consider the world wide harrassing web, we have at least–700? 1000?–years of evidence of women being harrassed, bullied, and/or punished for daring to occupy space in public. (Not to mention women who dare to preach/speak/write to a “promiscuous” audience, right?) As someone said to me recently, having an audience for our blogs is in and of itself a provocation in some people’s minds.

    And, GayProf: it’s always about you, isn’t it? (Well, you and Wonder Woman.)

  4. Notorious Ph.D. on 03 May 2009 at 10:11 am #

    Wait… who’s the “promiscuous audience” in this scenario? Is that me? Or GayProf?

  5. Tenured Radical on 03 May 2009 at 12:42 pm #

    Gayprof lives like a nun, so determined is he to finish his book.

  6. Janice on 03 May 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    I started blogging before I knew there were academic bloggers out there. And the first bunch of academic blogs I ran across were written by men. Many of the blogs skewed quite politically conservative, too. Not too many of them appealed to me but I realized that to come in and complain or pick a fight would be stupid.

    I just kept poking around until I found Invisible Adjunct and, from there, a host of women-authored blogs and politically liberal blogs where I felt more in tune. That’s where I began to comment because here was a conversation I could join. Not so much at the other sites.

    Unfortunately, a lot of blog commenters just troll the web looking for blogs where they can argue and shout down “the opposition” who they generally despise. They think that’s fun. They think that’s what blogging is about. *sigh*

    I think of blogging as a way to seek out a sometimes challenging but ultimately friendly community of peers. We may sometimes disagree, but we respect each other.

    The graduate student mentioned above sounds like they subscribe to the mentality of picking fights and shouting down enemies. Your friend is right that such a reputation will do them no good in academia, whether their politics are to the left or right. I wonder, though, if they picked that pugnacity up from being a regular at some certain online communities where the line between rough ‘n’ tumble disagreement and outright flamewars isn’t well-maintained?

  7. Historiann on 03 May 2009 at 1:00 pm #

    Janice, good points. That’s my attitude towards blogging and participating in conversations on other people’s blogs. But, some people just can’t leave an on-line community be! Like I said, jerky is as jerky does, and the comments on this blog will live forever and be forever recoverable. The trolls and banned commenters here are clearly antifeminist–they can’t stand to think that some woman on the internet somewhere hasn’t been corrected and shown the light by their awesome powers of persuation (or failing that, intimidation.)

    And TR: GayProf may in fact be living like a nun, but I don’t think it’s by choice!

  8. Sterling Fluharty on 03 May 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    I am glad you all have discovered the Internet tradition of DNFTT.

  9. Digger on 03 May 2009 at 7:10 pm #

    Some folks just don’t much care for women who are doing their own thing. Particularly if it involves having opinions. Most especially if it involves sharing them. And then not being appropriately apologetic when their errors are graciously pointed out by assorted trolls (who are not all male).

    I <3 that you posted the IP address locator url.

  10. Historiann on 03 May 2009 at 9:27 pm #

    Digger–it’s true that not all trolls are male. But the vast, vast, vast majority of them on feminist blogs are. (Or, my bet is that they’re men who are hiding behind a female sock puppet name.)

    And for those who aren’t down with all of the lingo, DNFTT = Do Not Feed The Trolls.

  11. susurro on 04 May 2009 at 8:46 am #

    IPs can be faked or changed fairly easily you know, I think I wrote a post 3 years ago about running mine through an IP Program and designating a “home” city after I witnessed a particularly viscious flame war in which the blog owner outed the person’s “home” city and encouraged people to find and hurt them.

    If you do feed the trolls once and a while, I find they particularly despise diets high in logic, politeness, and suggestions about following established netiquette. And some times the delete button is your best friend (just deleted a 5 page comment that literally questioned the content and the form of every sentence in the post & yet boiled down to “women are stupid. you are stupid. I am brilliant. Let me show you the ways.”)

  12. Historiann on 04 May 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Susurro–I wonder if we share trolls? I’ve found that some of my persistent trolls visit and comment on blogs that I link to. Super, super classy guys, aren’t they?

    I think DNFTT is the best troll repellent, along with the delete button. This post was meant to serve as a warning–I will delete without either explanation or apology. This is my space–I’m no more obligated to let people in here than I am obligated to let anyone into my home or my body.

    Yes, I’ve found evidence in my stats of people using services to scrub their IP addresses. It’s really sad, isn’t it, the amount of time and energy people want to spend harassing us? I can only imagine how emotionally stunted and socially maladjusted they are in real life.

  13. Liz2 on 04 May 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    I agree with your comment about career suicide in being an a-hole on blogs. I estimated last night that each of my departmental colleagues knows 300 historians if you include people they went to grad school with, their advisors, people they’ve been on panels with, etc. So if I have 20 colleagues, that means I am connected to 6000 historians in the US. That’s a whole lotta people!

  14. Historiann on 04 May 2009 at 8:47 pm #

    Liz2, I think your estimates are correct, although (as I’m sure you know), we don’t always know that we know the same people in common, so that means it’s not 6,000 direct or second-degree connections to someone. (I suppose it depends on how small your field is–if I recall correctly, you’re an Africanist, so I imagine that that’s a pretty small field in the U.S. compared to U.S. or European history.)

    The thing I am learning about trolls is that they don’t have the same value system as you and me. I don’t know you, but what I know about you is that you have the kind of life that people can’t have if they’re not taking care of their work and family/personal lives. (That is, the kind of life that people probably can’t manage if they’re spending 10 hours a day blog stalking.) So, fear of repercussions is not foremost in their minds–I think it’s a kind of mania or obsession with having a relationship with people who don’t want to have a relationship with you.

    In real life, this is called stalking.

  15. Unidentified "Blog Stalker" on 04 May 2009 at 8:53 pm #

    I just wanted to say, quickly, that I read this blog almost every day. I feel like I have learned a lot reading the posts and comments. However, with that being said, I never comment or add to the conversations. I am here to learn. I know who Historiann is, and I respect her intelligence and opinions. Anything she is willing to teach me, I am willing to learn. This blog is an excellent way for her to spread knowledge and wonderful conversation-starters to anyone who wants to read it. After reading this, I started to feel guilty about being a “blog stalker.” I promise, I stalk with the best of intentions, and an eagerness to learn from someone whom I really respect.

  16. Historiann on 04 May 2009 at 9:38 pm #

    UBS–you’re cool. Reading blogs is not in my opinion “blog stalking,” although I understand that people use it colloquially to mean “monitoring other people’s lives.”

    This blog is a public forum. All readers are welcome–all but a few commenters are.

  17. “Hit and Run” Comments and How to be Productive on the Internet « Like a Whisper on 30 Jul 2009 at 4:48 pm #

    [...] Historiann deals specifically with activist or “identity based” blogs and people who disagree with them – while I am a lot more lax here, I do think her comments about how your behavior is interpreted is a warning to everyone who is tempted to lash out at other comment makers or blog owners [...]

  18. Revisiting Blog Comments & Community Building « Like a Whisper on 09 Mar 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    [...] Historiann deals specifically with activist or “identity based” blogs and people who disagree with them – while I am a lot more lax here, I do think her comments about how your behavior is interpreted is a warning to everyone who is tempted to lash out at other comment makers or blog owners [...]

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