We're constantly told the trolls, bigots, attention seekers, derailers and trouble makers are simply a vocal minority and any community can police itself and keep their spaces clean. It's a sentiment intended to foster open dialogue and free exchange of ideas and opinion.
The idea is we decent folk, of any political, religious, sexual or social orientation can speak freely, oppose one and other in a civil way and keep the noise to a minimum given the right tools.
From comment section voting options, to flagging and reporting on social networking sites, we are responsible for making sure the quality of the discourse remains high.
But over the last few weeks I've started to get the impression the truth isn't so rosy.
...or The Fappening, as it has been dubbed over on Reddit, the mass leaking of nude photos of several celebrity women has proven to be the latest episode to test the theory of community decency.
I would be lying if I said I had not seen some of the pictures myself, more as a consequence of observing the story rather than sexual gratification, but I am sure the vast majority of people have not seen or sought out these pictures. This hasn't stopped the response from being overwhelming. The story has spread and run and distracted from other arguably more serious matters as the mainstream press, celebrity gossip press and technology press all scramble for their angle on the story.
One thing that became apparent was the different approaches some sites took to handling the initial release. Reddit immediately took a hands off approach letting community moderators handle it. Some subreddits outright banned the posting of the pictures, others revelled in whatever humour could be obtained from the fiasco. In the midst of all this someone created /r/TheFappening, a central hub for all things connected with the story. For the Reddit admins this was a godsend, a convenient central point which they could actively hide from the "front page" as their only action on the topic. Reddit as an organisation only hinted at taking action when it came to light some of the images leaked were taken when certain women involved were under-age, but this ultimately didn't elicit any actual reaction from them.
Despite only existing for two days the /r/Thefappening subreddit has over 130,000 subscribers and approximately 10,000 viewers at any given time. To put that in perspective /r/Pics, a Reddit default subreddit, has a little over 6,000,000 subscribers, yet right now only 10,000 people are viewing the subreddit.
Imgur, the go to image hosting site for the majority of Reddit and set and run by a Reddit user, took the initial step of immediately deleting any of the images that were hosted there. Sarah Schaaf, one of the community managers at Imgur tweeted "So happy to be getting in bed after a long day of deleting celebrity nudes.", but the tide has seemingly turned with so many reposts of the images happening that the staff simply can't keep up.
The Zoe Quinn Affair
Games are serious business. No really. In 2013 the video games industry generated $66 billion of revenue worldwide. With the growth of mobile and "indy" gaming it is also no longer the sole purview of reclusive shut-ins and nerds. But with broader appeal comes the need to reflect a more diverse and inclusive world. To that end there has been a recent movement to question and highlight the lack of diversity in gaming, the rampant misogyny and the troubling reliance on tired stereotyping.
This hasn't been received well.
To say there has been some push-back is an understatement. Once again the notion that the decent open minded commentators will lead the conversation regardless of which side of the argument they fall has been brought into question. What should be civil disagreement, reasoned rebuttal and valid criticism of a given position has given way to death threats and harassment.
In the case of Zoe Quinn, a games developer embroiled in a scandal that accuses her of sleeping with gaming journalists for favourable coverage of her games, the outcry and rage of the gaming community was so fierce and overwhelming even those unsympathetic to Quinn have had to back off from the whole affair.
On The Escapist message board the following warning has been posted, such is the overwhelming task of keeping the users in line:
- Mod edit: Due to the high amount of repeat rule-breaks in this thread, from now on any penalties incurred here in this thread will result in a MINIMUM of a probation. You have been warned.
Even amongst friends the trolls and vandals rule the conversation.
What has been clear about this particular case is the insistence of those involved to drag elements of Quinn's personal life that have no relevance to the story into the public eye. This has forced even Reddit to attempt to stifle the conversation in some way, but once again the sheer number of people who wanted to disrupt and troll was simply too much and everyone simply gave in.
With this scandal the decent majority have been utterly drowned out, from Twitter to gaming messages boards, by those hell bent on demonizing a single woman rather than the gaming journalism industry that should reasonably be the target of their ire.
Reddit and Racism
XKCD is a popular online comic strip by the artist Randall Munroe. Reddit is a popular content aggregator and social networking website. The overlap between the fans of each is massive.
Several months ago it became clear that the XKCD section of Reddit had been infiltrated and taken over by a holocaust denier. At first his activities went unnoticed, but over time he began to introduce elements of his agenda into the subreddit, one that prided itself on it's adherence to science and logic. A look through that users profile revealed their interests included anti feminism, racism, rape and both anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiment. Cross referencing that user with those they added to help moderate the many subreddits they had infiltrated revealed a larger network of racists, misogynists and general lunatics that had been organising and infiltrating for months and in some cases years.
The bigger picture seemed to be a massive off site campaign to take over as many minority interest groups as possible, and in the case of XKCD, even unrelated subreddits in an effort to spread their hidden agenda. This culminated in a site wide call to arms due to the amount of trolling that was taking place.
This again didn't really bare fruit as the task was just too mammoth.
20-Something Year Old White Males
The main reply I get when questioning all this is "the demographics of this site are 20 something year old white males" as if that alone should answer the query. The prevailing notion that where white males are gathered unhealthy discourse, marginalisation and trolling will follow is one I'm not entirely comfortable with. Are white men in their 20's so utterly irredeemable? Are white males unable to do empathy? What happened to the idea that the majority of us, even white males, are decent well intentioned people and the trolls are just a minority? Surely it shouldn't matter what the demographics of any given site are if that were true.
What I gather is that "decent" is a very subjective ideal. What some of us find to be reasoned discourse is dismissed as small minded bigotry and lack of perspective by others, what is deemed valid criticism by some is seen as baiting and troublemaking by the opposition. We all tend to operate in extremes.
Another thing I gather is that when ever a group or organisation is taken to task about these things there will always be a vocal cry of "hey, don't lump us all in with those guys!". Again the notion being that the trolls are a minority, but a vocal one and the decent people simply chose to sit in silence.
My question is this; can you still call yourself a decent person if your go to response is seemingly always silence? Why is it those voices only ever pipe up when it's time to defend themselves against the accusations rather than defend others during the trolling?
Above we have seen that in some situations the inundation of trolls and general rule breakers will kill any illusion of decency around certain topics, so where does the belief that we're all decent human beings online come from?