Blog #1: A Brief Look at Malicious Online Communications

My personal favourite example of a malicious comment.

Have you ever received a negative message online?

I feel like in this day and age, it’s almost impossible to find someone who would say no. Negative messages can come in many different forms and differ in severity; anything from a minor insult during a Facebook tiff with someone on a local buy-sell group, to rape and death threats – all from complete strangers. Why does this behaviour seem to be largely ignored, and in some cases, even glorified?

This was a question that came to me after reading Julian Dibbell’s article, A Rape in CyberspaceThe further I delved into it, the more parallels I began to draw to another real life incident that I’d read about a few years ago. Dibbell writes about a harrowing experience shared by a friend from an online community; acting as a second hand source. In the second article that I have linked, written by Kim Correa, Correa writes about her own experiences first hand.

“Months later, the woman in Seattle would confide to me that as she wrote those words posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face — a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words’ emotional content was no mere fiction. The precise tenor of that content, however, its mingling of murderous rage and eyeball-rolling annoyance, was a curious amalgam that neither the RL nor the VR facts alone can quite account for. Where virtual reality and its conventions would have us believe that exu and Moondreamer were brutally raped in their own living room, here was the victim exu scolding Mr. Bungle for a breach of “civility.” Where real life, on the other hand, insists the incident was only an episode in a free-form version of Dungeons and Dragons, confined to the realm of the symbolic and at no point threatening any player’s life, limb, or material well-being, here now was the player exu issuing aggrieved and heartfelt calls for Mr. Bungle’s dismemberment.”

– Excerpt from Dibbell’s “A Rape In CyberSpace” (1998)

The similarities are undeniable between the two stories – and these are only two examples of the seemingly seedy underbelly of peer to peer online communications. When we access these digital worlds, we do so to relax, and not to be harassed – certainly not to feel personally violated in any way.

“The guys who shot me made moaning and groaning noises. You can still talk in chat, so I tried to yell at them, but they were louder. I gave up and was too rattled to respawn, so I just logged off and left my desk. I didn’t play again that night.”

Excerpt from Correa’s “Being a Lady and Playing DayZ” (2014)

Knowing this, I would like to investigate the attitudes and even cultures behind these kind of comments or actions – not just in videogames (where I have personally experienced harassment), but also in other forms of online communications; on platforms such as Twitch, Youtube, Tumblr, AskFM, and even reddit or imgur. In addition to this, I would also like to look at cases where such comments evolve beyond simple trolling into incidents with real world consequences or harassment – such as “doxxing” or “swatting”.

Why do people celebrate malicious behaviours with real life consequences?

As a minor point – I’d like to have a look at treatment of the cybernetic, robotic and artificial intelligence bots (such as the infamous Tay incident) and see if there are any similarities to be drawn between the treatment of artificially intelligent beings and the way people are treated online.

By the conclusion of the project I’d like to be able to conclude if there is a true psychological explanation of such behaviour, and what there is to be done to combat malicious incidences of such behaviour.

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