TrollBusters Wants to Create New Laws to Fight Internet Trolls

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 10:28 am, October 12, 2016
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Anti-cyberbullying organizations have been popping up like mushrooms in the wake of Gamergate, ostensibly to combat the rising wave of misogyny and trolling on the Internet.

With the media’s narrative engine firing on all cylinders, Gamergate has been classified as an organized group of trolls intent on driving women from the game industry. In reality, the “movement” is nothing more than a loose, disorganized collective of gamers who rallied around a Twitter hashtag after gamers in general were unfairly painted as trolls by game journalists for raising a stink over collusion between certain independent game developers and journalists.

As we have previously detailed, anti-Gamergate proponents founded an organization that was later exposed to be nothing more than a front to bully and smear its political opponents and critics.

One of the newest organizations to follow in the footsteps of Crash Override Network is TrollBusters. Founded by Michelle Ferrier, an associate professor at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, the organization claims to be dedicated to fighting online harassment—specifically the trolling of women writers and journalists.

According to Daily Dot, TrollBusters found its footing during the Women’s Media Foundation event in 2015. Ferrier expressed to the publication her realization that Gamergate, which was in full swing at the time, was a good hook for launching such a program. Her pitch was successful, and it received a $35,000 grant from the Knight Prototype Fund to pay its staff and accommodate its team of volunteers to monitor the social media profiles of anyone who reported a trolling incident to the organization.

“Here I am watching all this Gamergate stuff on my Facebook feed, and it started triggering my own emotions about what happened to me,” Ferrier said. “And in the same anonymous way it happened to me, it was driving women’s voices out of journalism. So I proposed the anti-Gamergate solution.”

According to Ferrier, the organization does not engage with any of the alleged trolls and only provides support to victims in the form of inspirational quotes and safety tips. One might imagine them to be a bit like Butters in the 19th season of South Park. Incidentally, the TrollBusters website does not define what it regards as harassment or “troll behavior.”

It’s been well over a year since the TrollBusters organization launched, and they’re ready to ramp up their activities beyond telling the victims of cyberbullying to “feel better” or “stay safe.”

TrollBusters recently announced that it’s currently seeking 100 women writers and journalists to partake in a monitoring program called Pilot 100. TrollBusters staff will monitor the Facebook and Twitter accounts of its participants for a period of 6 months and “analyze and visualize how networks of harassers operate and figure out how to combat them.”

In order words, TrollBusters wants to map out the organizational structure of Gamergate—or at least invent one, given that such an organization doesn’t actually exist. What better way to say, “the bogeymen we love talking about exist and they’re organized” than by pointing to data map?

In reality, the only thing the map is going to show is that popular, vocal, and active users on social media networks—like journalists, pundits, YouTube personalities and Twitch streamers—are going to have more mutual followers than those who don’t use the service as much. They’re what you might call “influencers.” Should popular users be banned for signal boosting what everyone else is thinking? It boggles the mind.

Given the lack of any proper definition for what “troll behavior” actually is, the organization may very well be using Anita Sarkeesian’s nebulous use of the term, which encompasses the “day-to-day grind of ‘You’re a liar,’ ‘You suck’.” By Sarkeesian’s statement to the United Nations, trolling can be defined as any form of negative criticism.

One might ask why anyone who’s unable to take negative comments on social media doesn’t simply use the built-in block or mute functions available to them. In addition to these basic functions, Twitter recently implemented a variety of tools allowing users to passively filter out comments deemed “low quality” by its algorithms.

Speaking to Columbia Journalism Review, Ferrier says that what these platforms are doing isn’t enough, as people manage to “find their way around the language” by using emojis to “disguise what they’re doing.” In other words, she says the algorithms don’t help. Ferrier also says that blocking harassers isn’t an option. “If you’ve blocked that person and you’re no longer seeing it, you’ve eliminated the opportunity to be able to act down the road in some kind of legal capacity because you don’t have the evidence,” she argues.

That’s plainly untrue, given that you can always use the search function to see what people you’ve blocked or muted are saying about you and archive their words.

Ferrier concludes that the goal of TrollBusters is to “inform a larger international conversation” around policies, and how to train law enforcement and create new legislation to deal with online trolls. Should her plans go through, we can most certainly expect to see further suppression of free speech, because god forbid someone disagrees with you on the Internet.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and game critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.