McNeill: For most correspondents, it has become an unpleasant morning ritual: opening the laptop and wading through abusive tweets and mail. One of my recent articles, on Japan’s plunging press-freedom rankings provoked this response: “You’re anti-Japanese scum. Japan grows weaker because left-wing traitors here mix with the likes of you. Get out, moron.”
That’s mild compared to the slurs that percolate on the Twitter feeds of star reporters. Hiroko Tabuchi, former Tokyo correspondent for the New York Times, recalls a stream of invective laced with sexual and ethnic smears (see sidebar).Justin McCurry, Tokyo correspondent for the Guardian has been branded an “ultra-leftist North Korean spy” and repeatedly invited to “Fack off.”
Many reporters trudge the path taken by McCurry, from engagement to frustration, and resignation. “I have tried several different ways to deal with trolls, from snapping back to taking the time to dream up what, in my mind at least, is a rejoinder so withering that it will surely be the final word on the matter. It never is, of course.” Increasingly, he says, he reaches for the Twitter mute button: When trolls send an abusive message now “they are simply pissing into cyberspace.”
But McCurry says it’s important to understand the difference between legitimate criticism and trolling. “I’ve had my share of critical emails, tweets and Facebook postings,” he says. “When the point is made in a temperate manner and, more importantly, with a real name attached, I take in what has been said and, if necessary, respond. But I regard this as reader feedback, not trolling.”
Debito: One thing I might add, as a longtime veteran of being targeted by trolls, is that it’s worse for some of us than you mentioned above. For example, I have numerous online stalkers, who dedicate many electrons on cyberspace (even devote whole websites and hijack Biographies of Living People on Wikipedia) not only to misrepresent my arguments, but also to track my personal life and advocate that I come to harm. I’ve endured death treats for decades, and I can’t conclude that merely ignoring trolls and hoping they’ll go away is an effective answer either. After all, as propaganda masters know, if enough people claim something is true, it becomes true, as long as through constant repetition they gain control over the narrative.
I for one never visit these stalker sites, but lots of people who should know better do look at them without sufficient critique, and (as you noted above) assume that my not commenting about their false allegations is some kind of admission in their favor. What the stalkers actually get out of all this wasted energy truly escapes me…