Tangent: McNeill in No.1 Shimbun: “Into the Valley of the Trolls”: Is ignoring them really an effective strategy?


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Hi Blog.  Excellent potential for discussion being broached with the following article, long overdue.  Excerpt and my comment follows.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Into the Valley of the Trolls
Is growing online harassment just part of the job or should it be confronted? And when does it cross the line?
by David McNeill
No. 1 Shimbun, Sunday, December 27, 2015

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.”

Cyber abuse is a serious issue, notes a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review. “There’s far from any kind of consensus on how to deal with it and what journalists’ roles are,” says author Lene Bech Sillesen. Law enforcement struggles to deal with the proliferation of anonymous online harassment. Platform providers often “suck” at dealing with trolls, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo memorably admitted this year.

Increasingly, the consensus seems to be shifting toward confrontation. The Review cites a growing genre of stories about unmasking trolls. In the Swedish TV show Troll Hunters, journalist Robert Aschberg tracks down and confronts offenders on camera. “It’s a huge problem,” says Aschberg, “and it’s no different from exposing, let’s say, corrupt politicians, or thieves.”

THE RISE OF THE troll, and the shifting terrain it represents in our networked society, is a particular dilemma for journalists. For decades, virtually the only rejoinder available to print readers was the carefully moderated letters page, but the internet has opened up multiple channels of feedback. Many bloggers view journalists as fair game because they are public figures.

Inevitably, the result is a steady river of bile, but most journalists are understandably wary of trying to block it. As Martin Fackler, a former Tokyo bureau chief of the New York Times notes: “You’re walking a fine line. Journalists dish out criticism, and need to take it with the same grace. Otherwise, we look hypocritical. And we need to support freedom of speech, even for our critics.”

In practice, most journalists follow Fackler in not feeding the trolls, and many don’t even block them to avoid the providing the veneer of cyber-street cred. Fackler, who says he has yet to block any troll accounts, advocates only shutting down those that cross boundaries of decency. “Short of that, I think everyone deserves the same freedom of speech that we demand in our own work.”

Where, however, do these boundaries lie? Perhaps the only line everyone agrees on is the one dividing incivility from threats of violence….


The rest is at http://www.fccj.or.jp/number-1-shimbun/item/724-into-the-valley-of-the-trolls/724-into-the-valley-of-the-trolls.html

I did leave a comment at the article:

January 29, 2016
Thanks for the article. 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.

So after realizing that being ignored still works in their favor, now they are going after journalists, which brings into the debate issues of freedom of the press. Plus journalists have a more amplified public soapbox and credibility to advocate for change than we activist-types do. I hope you will continue to research and speak out against this, and not fall into the mindset that anonymous threats and stalking are simply part of being a public figure.

Thanks again for broaching the subject. Arudou Debito


9 comments on “Tangent: McNeill in No.1 Shimbun: “Into the Valley of the Trolls”: Is ignoring them really an effective strategy?

  • This article seems to stop short of connecting the final dot, or hasn’t seen the ‘big picture’, IMHO.

    Yes, the internet is full of abusive trolls, and they should be subjected to exactly the same kind of legal repercussions for their on-line threats and insults that would result from doing the same in real life to someone’s face.

    As far as Japan is concerned (the article mentions three journalists who cover Japan and have a troll problem), isn’t the bigger picture here NOT that they are being trolled, but rather that they are being trolled as being ‘anti-Japanese/leftists/communist paid’ and a variety of other hate-speech ethnic slurs?

    Isn’t that a common theme for journalists who cover Japan?

    I stopped reading the comments section on Japan Times and Japan Today because of the hateful racial slurs and racism that is posted AND allowed to stay up.

    Doesn’t that say something about the level of tolerance in Japan for such racism? Doesn’t that speak to the xenophobia ingrained into Japanese society that reacts aggressively to critique? Doesn’t that tell us something about the social climate of Abe and Nippon Kaigi’s ‘strong and beautiful country’?

    In my opinion, that’s the real story that the author here seems to be missing;
    The concerted (government sponsored or endorsed?) abusive right-wing effort to control all international narratives re: Japan, and the society that permits it.

    It’s indicative of the much more worrying and abusive society that Japan is for NJ in general.

    Thankfully, all these comments flying around the blogosphere seeking to insult journalists who cover Japan are all rendered in (passable) English, and leaving them for all to see will tarnish Japan’s international image (further) as more and more casual readers are exposed to the vile rantings of Japan’s right-wing as they enjoy their constitutional right to insult and abuse whilst Abe’s government sits on it’s hands regarding hate-speech and discrimination.

    This exposes the reality of the right-wing administrations goal of making Japan an ‘international player’; Japan’s right-wing seeks to gain ‘respect’ for Japan based not on co-operation and appreciation, but rather based in intimidation and fear.

    It’s a message sure to ‘turn-off’ the rest of the world.

    ‘Japan is back!’, ‘Japan is committed to making an international contribution to peace!’- please don’t bother on my account, I’d rather you didn’t.

  • Richard Parker says:

    A recent study showed that trolls have an extremely unpleasant psychological profile. They are narcissists, psychopaths, and sadists. The terms narcissist, psychopath, and sadist here are used in their technical psychological senses, not as mere insults.

    Before the internet, such people would have had to find real-life situations in which to exercise their horrible tendencies. Now they can do so around the world by tapping a few keys.

    This study has been cited as one reason not to take too seriously the revolting comments one seems to find under almost every online article, no matter what the subject or the language it’s written in.

    I read four languages easily and a few more with difficulty, and I can’t remember ever looking at a column of comments and coming away with the feeling I’d just dealt with intelligent, informed, or even nice people. This seems to be particularly true on Yahoo Japan, where almost every article on every subject provides further evidence to the Net-Uyo that all the world’s troubles can be traced to foreigners, Zainichi, or Korea and China.

    For the most part I’ve given up reading comments sections for the sake of my own mental health.

    The study I mention is cited here.


  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Regarding the troll, here are interesting sources you might want to dig in.

    1. “What an Academic Who Wrote Her Dissertation on Trolls Thinks of Violentacrez” by Whitney Phillips


    2. “Anonymous Communication on the Internet and Trolling” by Allison Klempka and Arielle Stimson


    3. “Benefits and drawbacks of anonymous online communication: Legal challenges and communicative recommendations,” Free Speech Yearbook, 41 (2004): 127-144. by Craig. R. Scott, Ph.D. (see especially p. 130-133)


  • Ive never really understood the troll/stalker phenomenon, perhaps it takes an outside perspective to really see it for what it is: very sad.

    It goes without saying Japan is not the most welcoming place for outsiders, and for those outsiders who defend it, it can become very perplexing if you ponder it or try to make reason of it, so why bother?

    now for the natives who do it, thats coming from another place, well perhaps they live and feel trapped on the same dot on the planet known as japan, but as a minority in the world they feel nationalistic pride and are obligated to defend it. Perhaps a large part of it is the loser syndrome and watching your place in the world slip.

  • My ‘favorite’ troll at Japan Today is full of anti-NJ venom and hate; constantly repeating the mantra that NJ shouldn’t even be allowed to have an opinion re:Japan.

    The irony is that this xenophobe goes by the name of ‘Tina’, which is an NJ name (used with a Japanese family name).

    I used to wonder why someone who hates NJ so much would go by such a western name? Then I realized that her Japanese name was probably Chinatsu or Chinami, and when shortened, it becomes China. But this looks like the name of the country China(which this troll also hates), leaving her equally frustrated whatever she does; choose to use her name that makes her look like a westerner, or the name of the country China, both of which make her shrill with hate every day!

    The literal living hell in her head every day can’t be good for her mental health.

  • Richard Parker says:

    A fascinating link on the LDP Net Supporters’ Club.
    This would explain the depressing posts under almost every article on Yahoo Japan.
    The picture of those zombie-like young men facing their laptops ready to do the LDP’s bidding across the web truly chills the blood.
    And the Net-Uyo have the nerve to complain about how the Communist Party controls information in China!
    Once again I am very glad I left Japan.


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