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Troll hunter

imageThere is an interesting-sounding Swedish TV series called “Troll Hunter.” The show tracks down Internet trolls and confronts them on camera. Now that’s my kind of reality TV.

A new story in the MIT Technology Review by Adrian Chen talks about the show and also journalistic efforts to expose racists in high places through their anonymous Internet comments. It talks about the tension this creates between free speech and privacy.

It is generally no longer acceptable in public life to hurl slurs at women or minorities, to rally around the idea that some humans are inherently worth less than others, or to terrorize vulnerable people. But old-school hate is having a sort of renaissance online, and in the countries thought to be furthest beyond it. The anonymity provided by the Internet fosters communities where people can feed on each other’s hate without consequence. They can easily form into mobs and terrify victims. Individual trolls can hide behind dozens of screen names to multiply their effect.

The story of how the Discus commenting system was reverse-engineered to disclose real email addresses was particularly interesting.1

I’m interested in what readers here think about the ethics of private citizens or journalists using legal technical means to determine the identities of anonymous posters on the Internet, and then publishing the results. What if we were talking about birthers at Birther Report, or commenters here?

I recommend the article.


1Disqus was including an MD5 hash of the real email address a part of the information provided by its public API (intended for use by Gravatar). All one had to do was to take a known email address (and lots of email addresses are known), and compare their MD5 hash to the one reported by Disqus. According to Disqus, the MD5 hash is no longer provided by the API.

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24 Responses to Troll hunter

  1. avatar
    Lupin January 1, 2015 at 3:32 am #

    As long-time posters here know, I’m not enamored of your first amendment; while its lofty goals are noble, and it’s certainly proved very useful in numerous instances, it also comes with very negative consequences.

    I think one can achieve the same effects in terms of protecting the freedom of the press, etc. without giving cover to hate speech and libel.

    If Gerbil report was a French website, there is no doubt than an anti-racist/semitic association could sue some of its members and win. Some of their posts would even fall under criminal law here (e.g.: retouched photos of Obama making him look like a monkey).

    In any event, I personally would be all in favor of exposing “Falcon”, “Barack Obama Esq” and a few more of the more obnoxious and vile posters of GR. I accept they can’t be prosecuted under your laws, but at least they should publicly face the consequences of their actions.

  2. avatar
    bovril January 1, 2015 at 8:01 am #

    Lupin,

    The fact is the sweaty little denizens COULD for libel be sued by a variety of folks for some of the disgusting sh#t they post. The issue is proving that a tiny, ineffectual sad little web site caused actual damage and then there is the matter that you give the free oxygen of publicity to these scum if you sue them.

    Why should Obama or McCain etc deign to take any notice of these feckwits..?

  3. avatar
    alg January 1, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    bovril: Lupin,

    The fact is the sweaty little denizens COULD for libel be sued by a variety of folks for some of the disgusting sh#t they post. The issue is proving that a tiny, ineffectual sad little web site caused actual damage and then there is the matter that you give the free oxygen of publicity to these scum if you sue them.

    Why should Obama or McCain etc deign to take any notice of these feckwits..?

    “Feckwits,” what an apt description for these individuals. 🙂

    I can certainly appreciate Lupin’s frustration with the breadth of tolerance our first amendment affords feckwits to wit fecks, but over the long run we are all eventually held accountable for what we say – witness Donald Trump’s forever feckwit association with the term “carnival barker.” And these days, internet anonymity isn’t what it used to be.

    Of course, if anyone deserves to be sued it’s Bob Nelson who runs Birther Report. He knowingly and willingly invites others to say slanderous and libelous things on his website. I agree with Bovril, however, in that given BR’s feckwit insignificance, a plaintiff would have a hard time proving damages amounting to more than the value of an expired free pizza coupon.

  4. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 1, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    I respect that opinion and the reasons for it. The hard reality, for good or ill, is that the American 1st Amendment isn’t going to change short of some cataclysm, so those of us concerned by hate speech have to take other approaches.

    Birther Report is subject to the same vulnerabilities that made possible the outing of right-wing racists at Avpixlat as described in the MIT article. While I currently have an anti-outing policy (based on the fact that outing works both ways), others do not. I agree with the article, that Internet anonymity is fragile.

    Lupin: As long-time posters here know, I’m not enamored of your first amendment; while its lofty goals are noble, and it’s certainly proved very useful in numerous instances, it also comes with very negative consequences.

  5. avatar
    Arthur January 1, 2015 at 10:44 am #

    Lupin: In any event, I personally would be all in favor of exposing “Falcon”, “Barack Obama Esq” and a few more of the more obnoxious and vile posters of GR. I accept they can’t be prosecuted under your laws, but at least they should publicly face the consequences of their actions.

    Birdboy is SO mad! He’s really taking the gloves off this time!

    “By the way – I’m done paying taxes – That’s my New Years resolution. Let them come and get it. They spent it – they pay it out of their pockets. I spent the day melting down 8 pounds of platinum. Come and get it and see what I have as a New Years wish.”

  6. avatar
    j.d. reed January 1, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    Under NY Times v. Sullivan (1964), citizens have wide latitude in criticizing public officials, including sometimes circulating false and defamatory allegations, as long as they are made without malice. (As legally defined, not as in everyday usage. The vast majority of false statements made by political hyper partisans ARE malicious.)
    However political and public figures do occasionally win libel judgments. The late TV news anchor Chet Huntley id so in the ’50s after being labeled a communist, and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater prevailed, after the campaign, against a left wing rag that had purported to prove he was certifiable mentally ill.
    Lincoln, however, articulated best the impracticality of a president challenging his critics. To even read all the allegations leveled against him, Honest Abe said, would mean closing his shop for all other business.

  7. avatar
    Dave B. January 1, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    Our outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction, a.k.a. “Thucydides” and “Falcon9” found out about this.

  8. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 1, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Arthur: Birdboy is SO mad! He’s really taking the gloves off this time!

    “By the way – I’m done paying taxes – That’s my New Years resolution. Let them come and get it. They spent it – they pay it out of their pockets. I spent the day melting down 8 pounds of platinum. Come and get it and see what I have as a New Years wish.”

    I assume the platinum is being melted down for bullets for that two gun rig he wears 24/7?

  9. avatar
    Dave B. January 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    Now there’s a career opportunity– selling “platinum” to the disgruntled, by the pound.

    CarlOrcas: I assume the platinum is being melted down for bullets for that two gun rig he wears 24/7?

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 1, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    8 pounds would be about $136,572 (not sure what real people pay).

    Arthur: Birdboy is SO mad! He’s really taking the gloves off this time!

    “By the way – I’m done paying taxes – That’s my New Years resolution. Let them come and get it. They spent it – they pay it out of their pockets. I spent the day melting down 8 pounds of platinum. Come and get it and see what I have as a New Years wish.”

  11. avatar
    Arthur January 1, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    CarlOrcas: I assume the platinum is being melted down for bullets for that two gun rig he wears 24/7?

    I thought perhaps he’s using the platinum to make a magic jock strap to preserve his male essence–anyway, what’s left of it.

  12. avatar
    roadburner January 1, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    considering the metling point of platinum (1768.3 °C, ​3214.9 °F), if he was supposed to have melted 8 lbs of the stuff, i´d find it unlikely. hell, those kind of temps would burn his trailer down!

    probably another falcon fantasty

  13. avatar
    Arthur January 1, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

    roadburner: he was supposed to have melted 8 lbs of the stuff, i´d find it unlikely. hell, those kind of temps would burn his trailer down!

    Unless he used his Falcon Super H-8 powers to focus a high-intensity beam of Obama Derangement Syndrome to melt that platinum in mere seconds.

  14. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 1, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    8 pounds would be about $136,572 (not sure what real people pay).

    Chump change for *FALCON*.

  15. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 1, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    Arthur: I thought perhaps he’s using the platinum to make a magic jock strap to preserve his male essence–anyway, what’s left of it.

    That would only account for a couple ounces. I assume he used the rest to fill the void between his ears.

  16. avatar
    John Reilly January 2, 2015 at 1:28 am #

    Doc, platinum today is about $1,200 per troy ounce. There are 12 troy ounces per pound, so a pound of platinum is about $14,400. 8 pounds would be about $114,000 or so.

    I’ll let Lupin weigh in on the source of our “English” words for ounces. It is common knowledge that the Founding Fathers used French terms for these weights as that is what Vattel used.

    We use precious metals in electronics. Belief me, if you go to the Treasury and say that you need x pounds of platinum they turn white. They keep track of the stuff by ounces.

  17. avatar
    Lupin January 2, 2015 at 3:01 am #

    Regarding weights & measures, before the French Revolution, the standard ounce was 1/16th of the French livre (pound), ie 30.594 grams.

    My understanding is that for precious metals they still used the Roman ounce which is 1/12th of something or other ie 31,1034768 grams.

    Regarding the 1st Amendment, yes, I know & accept it is the way it is, for better and worse.

    I’m less concerned about libel than hate speech, frankly. It is protected under it in your country; it is not protected under our laws in France, Germany, etc. nor do I believe personally than it should.

    Yes, I agree that GR is far too small a target to seriously worry about, but nevertheless some of their “lone wolfism” does worry me at times.

  18. avatar
    bovril January 2, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    Minor correction

    There are 14.58 troy ounces in a standard pound

    8 pounds is roughly 117 troy ounces

    Purchase price, assuming bulk purchasing in 11 x 10oz troy bars, 7 x 1oz troy bars

    http://www.apmex.com/category/33200/platinum-bars-rounds-by-weight

    11 x 12,478.90 = 137267.90
    7 x 1249.09 = 8743.63

    Grand total = $146011.53

    Probability of BirdBoy telling the truth…… well, you make your mind up…

  19. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 2, 2015 at 10:15 am #

    The site where I looked it up had prices in kilograms, but I don’t know what kind of price they were quoting.

    John Reilly: Doc, platinum today is about $1,200 per troy ounce. There are 12 troy ounces per pound, so a pound of platinum is about $14,400. 8 pounds would be about $114,000 or so.

  20. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 2, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    It seems that the definition of “troll” is evolving. When I first encountered the term, a troll was someone who was disruptive for fun. My kid used to visit warez channels on IRC and say things like “stop software piracy.” In the MIT article, a troll is more like what I used to call a cyber bully or an online stalker.

  21. avatar
    Dave B. January 2, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    And so we have the odd circumstance of a pound of feathers being heavier than a pound of gold, even though an ounce of gold outweighs an ounce of feathers.

  22. avatar
    Lupin January 2, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    What the GR poster known as BSE does strikes me as bullying or stalking, way worse than simply being an a**hole like FALCON. I think he is the worse of the lot.

  23. avatar
    Northland10 January 2, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    Lupin: I’m less concerned about libel than hate speech, frankly. It is protected under it in your country; it is not protected under our laws in France, Germany, etc. nor do I believe personally than it should.

    Yes, I agree that GR is far too small a target to seriously worry about, but nevertheless some of their “lone wolfism” does worry me at times.

    I would be far more concerned with sites like Stormfront and VDare. That is where the truly professional haters hang out and many acts of violence have sprung from those cesspools. The problem with increased monitoring by the feds and more exposing by the SPLC is the potential for these haters to go underground.

  24. avatar
    RanTalbott January 3, 2015 at 12:52 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: It seems that the definition of “troll” is evolving

    Or devolving. I’ve been kvetching for at least a decade about the fact that “troll” and “spam” have been debased from “a poster who tries to disrupt discussions with inflammatory postings” and “excessively repetitious postings” to “anyone I don’t like to hear from” and “anything I don’t like to read”.

    And I agree about lumping in cyber bullies and other bad actors: it muddies discussions when precise terms are replaced with broad/vague ones.