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Monday, September 9, 2013

Solidarity with Arianna Huffington and her timely views on user generated content and online 'trolls', the people who use anonymous comments to denigrate, destroy, defame and demoralize. Stand up and be counted as we make the Internet a far, far better place.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

 Author's program note. Over the course of the last three years, I have written  over 1000 articles of what I call "cultural commentary," that is on any subject  relating to mankind, our acts, thoughts, behaviors, works, triumphs, and tragedies.  These articles are read by over 1,000,000 people each month who visit me at

 The subjects are timely, the research precise and thorough, the conclusions my  own... and always, always signed, never anonymous or signed with a nom de  guerre or "handle".

 Most readers are supportive, even lavish and fulsome about what I write, how  I write it and the essential fairness of my approach, the attempt to understand  different people's often astonishingly disparate (and fiercely antagonistic) points  of view. However, I adhere to severe standards.

 I must be fair, scrupulous, true to my subject and true to myself, not just a man  with an opinion but a man honorable about the facts at hand, even where I disagree  with them. I say anyone can have an opinion about anything, but commentary,  about any aspect of man and man's affairs, must be based on, sustained and  bolstered by rigorous fact and cool deliberation.

 Even so, there are readers who find my conclusions, however factual, however well  presented and unarguable they may be, disagreeable, enraging, infuriating, controversial,  irritating, and, because irrefutable, the more annoying and aggravating; sometimes rising  to the unhelpful level where reason and a reasonable response give way before the bitter  expletives of grammatically challenged and misspelled choler, anger, and  vulgarity; the  noxious tools of those who do not aim for respectful understanding or peaceful persuasion  but rather maximum hurt, as sharp and painful as possible, all covered by the cloak  of secrecy and anonymity; offering near total protection to the insidious perpetrators  who make the most destructive use of it. 

 Here is where the trolls reside... in the dark bowels of the 'net... a place where there is  no light, no harmony, no respect, no courtesy, no truth, no justice, the dangerous,  destructive and pernicious place where intentional man made mayhem and violence  of thought and action are the order of the day, every day.

 It is these people, the dregs of our species, capable of any outrage, any violation,  cruel for the sake of cruelty, inflicting random pain their constant study and endeavor,  their putrid minds taking joy from every wanton act good people abhor.

 It is time to curb and curtail these diseased creatures and their dark usages, for they  are the persistent, irrepressible enemies of civilization, carrying their malignant views  to the wide world via the Internet, a technology they purport to love but which their  disgusting behaviors, ignoble, unfettered, cowardly, abhorrent without any redeeming  social value, threaten. There is evil in these people who stand against everything that  makes a community work, whether online or off.

 "The March of the Trolls" ("Trolltog").

 Edvard Grieg (1843-1907 has captured the atmosphere in which these outrageous  trolls live and contrive their deadly works. The piece is "Trolltog", one of the 66 short  compositions for solo piano he wrote between 1867 and 1901 under the name  "Lyric Pieces". "Trolltog" is one of the most well known, short, brilliant, a work of  eerie perfection. You will find it in any search engine. Go now and listen. Grieg's  work is so evocative and precise you will not merely see the trolls at their outrageous  capers but even smell their acrid stench and rancid perspiration. Thus the stink rises  as they disport themselves, regaling each other with past outrages while bragging  about outrages yet to come, each designed to be more outrageous, more  offensive than the last.

 "May I hack him on the fingers?/ May I tug him by the hair?/  Hu, hey, let me bite him in the haunches!/Shall he be boiled into broth and  bree to me/ Shall he roast on a spit or be browned in a stewpan?/  Ice to your blood, friends!"

 Yes, Grieg captured the precise environment where evil in all its manifestations  can ferment until its irresponsible perpetrators decide it is ready to provoke maximum  pain and bitter outrage. They then release it... safe in the knowledge it can always be  delivered anonymously, their work certain to create pain... their part unknown, a  totally contemptible, irresponsible act; a crime against humanity; perpetrated against  all of us on the Internet which was invented to bring the world together, not empower  yet another means of keeping us divided and at odds, when instead we should all  be working for mutual understanding, respect, civility and the maximum unity possible.

 What Arianna Huffington has proposed.

 Here is how she opened her remarks at a recent conference in Boston, a city  well acquainted with the benefits and drawbacks of the Internet:

 "Trolls have become more and more aggressive and uglier. I feel that freedom of  expression is given to people who stand up for what they're saying and not hiding  behind anonymity." Such people have no desire to advance the discussion and  understanding about important aspects of any problem; their goal is nothing short  of destroying the necessary rules, procedures, protocols and recognized usages  for the useful dissemination of information.

 They hurt because they can hurt... the hurt helping no one, not even the offenders  themselves. They don't want to be part of a constructive dialog; rather, they aim to  destroy the environment in which such dialog can occur and the benefits that result  from sharing and cooperation.

 Huffington has announced that starting this month, readers of the Huffington Post  will no longer be able to post comments anonymously. They can still use their  handles, but they must register their real identities with Facebook before they can  comment. By thus forcing commenters to identify themselves, even if only behind  the scenes, Huffington hopes at least some of the most offensive comments will  be eradicated along with the bullying that has proliferated online; bullying which  would never be tolerated anywhere else, in any civic forum, where people might well  differ, but not to the extent of demonizing them, their unacceptable comments  worsened by shocking language and unadulterated anti-social thoughts, views and  actions.

 Is this the only constructive action that could be implemented now to advance the  solution to this worsening problem? Certainly not, nor does even Huffington say  so. But we must start somewhere, and for this we must thank Huffington, who has  always been a frank and informed voice on the benefits and drawbacks of the 'net,  and what must be done to effect improvements instead of giving way to despair and  a pervasive sense of "What can I do?" What indeed...

 How about an international conference on wiping out the trolls and eradicating  their baleful ways? There are plenty of online billionaires who could lend their  names and a few bucks to kick things off. Let's hear what the best and the  brightest have to say. It could only be instructive. Then let's mount a determined  Web wide cleansing operation. After all, as Edmund Burke said in 1770, "All that is  necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". Let us be those good  men and women, each and every one of us.

 The issue of "free speech".

 The trolls, of course, will not go gentle into their good night. They will howl with  outrage and leave a trail of sulphur and the rawest and most malodorous  sewage.  That, after all, is their way and that will only change as we pick up the rocks under  which they exist and force them into the most radiant sunshine.

 As they are identified, they will scream bloody murder that they are being victimized,  that their intentions have been misreported and misunderstood and, above all else  that their right to free speech has been thwarted, trampled, twisted. For this moment,  we need one of the greatest of American jurists, a man of Harvard, of Cambridge,  and, above all, of common sense. We need Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate  Justice of the Supreme Court, 1902-1932, his proud sobriquet, "The Great Dissenter".

 In March, 1919 in the case of Schenck v. United States Justice Holmes spoke to the  issue of what constituted "free speech" and what restrictions, if any, might be allowable.  His common sense opinion entered the language: "The most stringent protection of  free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a  panic." Moreover, "The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which  it is done." By this standard anonymous defamatory messages where the subject can  get away with any amount of distress, yet be held responsible for not a single word,  cannot be called "free speech" but rather unaccountable license, proof unnecessary,  nothing attributed, whatever the subject and degree of rancor and accusation. "Free  speech" is not the question; responsible speech is.

 Thus consider this. Change the word "trolls" in this article to "Nazis", and you will  clearly see what must be done, what you must do. You would be outraged if Nazis  did what the trolls do. You would demand thorough immediate action.

 Thus, we must protect the maximum amount of responsible speech and destroy all  vestiges of hate speech and of those who use the 'net to deliver their anti-social views  and opinions; views and opinions safe-guarded by our sloth and the feeling that there  is nothing that can be done to improve matters. But there is and the ancient Greek story  of Pandora's box shows us the way.

 In classical Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. Zeus ordered  Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create her. In due course, Zeus presented  Pandora to Epimetheus. She came with a beautiful container and instructions not  to open it for any reason. But of course she did, thereby freeing every evil, allowing  each to proliferate.

 This box, filled with malignities, is the Internet, where we may all find every evil any  time we go online. However, there is one last thing in the box, the thing that makes all  the difference. There is hope... hope that we may yet cleanse the menace and restore  its utility and integrity. That is what Arianna Huffington has done... and what each  of us must do. That is the power of hope, a power that can change the world if  we will but do what is so clear and necessary.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is the author of over a dozen print publications, several ebooks and over one thousand online articles. Republished with author's permission by Glen Brink:

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