The Trolling of Joshua Goldberg

The saga of Joshua Goldberg is hard to take in. Here is a prolific troll who managed multiple personae and passed himself off in different spaces as a radical feminist, a white nationalist, a Jihadi supporter of ISIS, a Gamergater, a Zionist and an anti-Semite. He even spent ages arguing with himself on Twitter. I’m wondering if he has two sock puppets fighting both sides of the EM vs P4 wars.

It’s a reminder of just how much of the toxicity of internet discussions is the work of a tiny number of people. It’s also a reminder that many of the worst trolls aren’t true believers in a cause, but just delight in causing mayhem and damage for their own entertainment.

Most of those groups accepted Goldberg as one of their own, since he reliably repeated their memes and talking points. Which makes the “Hurr, hurr, my outgroup fell for him” I’m hearing sound a bit hollow. Your own sect probably fell for him too. As I’ve said before, if your rhetoric so predictable that an outsider can fake it without being immediately recognisable, you have a problem.

Has a successful troll ever passed themselves off as a pragmatic, principled moderate? It’s difficult to imagine, because they would involve laying themselves bare and expressing doubts, something that’s orders of magnitude harder to fake than fanaticism.

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6 Responses to The Trolling of Joshua Goldberg

  1. Being a moderate is hard to fake is a lesson I didn’t expect to take away from this mess. That’s one to share.

    One thing I do take away from this – among many things, since Goldberg’s key interest was a kind of free speech absolutism – is that people forget the old adage “on the internet no one can tell you’re a dog.” You never know who you’re dealing with on the internet unless you make the effort.

    And for all our sense of superiority, far too many of us don’t make a modicum of effort because we want to believe.

  2. It’s hard to see why a troll would want to try and pass themselves off as a pragmatic, principled moderate – they’d get much less extreme reactions from people, and reactions are by and large what they’re after.

  3. Colum Paget says:

    But are the trolls the problem, or are the groups the problem? The internet has shown us that most people are racist, sexist, anything-ist bigots. Feminists are bigots, masculinists are bigots, people on all sides of race divides, left/right, religous/atheist, they’re all the same. They’re bigots who use bigoted language and follow bigotted ideology, and refuse to admit it to themselves. Thus they get hacked. Being a bigot makes you stupid, it makes you prey. If you’re running an outdated, broken and poorly patched ideology, then you’ve no-one to blame if you get popped but yourself.

    We’re still in the early stages of this phenomenon, it’s still mostly a thing ppl do for fun, like hacking in the 80s. Things are going to get much worse sooner or later.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    I may be too optimistic about human nature here, but I don’t believe most people are bigots. Most conservatives are not racists; most feminists don’t hate men.

    The problem is that the bigots are the people who shout the loudest, and the nature of social media amplifies their voices at the expense of the wiser. What makes it worse are the so-called “filter bubbles” where so many people only hear the views of those who agree with them, and worse still, only see the very worst of the “other side” screencapped as outrage-porn.

    That’s an environment in which people like Joshua Goldberg can thrive.

  5. Colum Paget says:

    # I may be too optimistic about human nature here, but I don’t believe most
    # people are bigots. Most conservatives are not racists; most feminists don’t hate men.

    I’m sorry but my own personal experience is that most are. I’ve spent a lifetime looking for those who weren’t, believing that I was constantly finding myself falling in among ‘a bad crowd’ but that the noble majority were out there somewhere. The SF crowd were kind of the last hope in that regard, I thought ‘surely this lot will be different’. Instead they’re the worst bunch of haters I’ve ever seen: it’s constant fighting, name-calling and
    abuse among them. It’s fascinating to watch, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I know they’re not *all* like that, but any community is defined by how it deals with its extremists, and SF lets its extremists run riot.

    # The problem is that the bigots are the people who shout the loudest, and the
    # nature of social media amplifies their voices at the expense of the wiser.

    I somewhat agree with that, but I’ve seen a lot of extreme stuff come out of people’s mouths in person. You say most conservatives aren’t racists, well I don’t know that many people on that side of the political spectrum, but I’m always shocked by how many of those I do know are. With the feminists there’s a clear divide between second and third wave, with the later being very noticably hateful. But still, if you (not YOU, but a hypothetical feminist ‘you’) are using terms like “mansplaining” that link gender to an inherently negative behavior, if your reaction the the requires_hate episode is to still insist that “the real problem is the men in the community” even when they’re not in the frame this time, if you believe there’s a conspiracy of ‘men’ against you, even when many men are trying to support you on an issue and many women are voting against you, if you believe that most of the world’s issues are caused by something inherently wrong with men, then you do hate us. I see some feminists who stick up for men when they’re being wrongly maligned, but these are very much the minority, and they’re the outgoing wave.

    I think you (and this time I do mean you) assume that there’s a silent majority in these groups that doesn’t agree with the extremists, but if they didn’t agree they would speak up. I think the truth is that they are biddable, and that a great many of them are prepared to believe anything the extremists tell them about the hate-target of the group. The requires_hate phenomenon demonstrates this.

    # What makes it worse are the so-called filter bubbles”where so many people only hear the views
    # of those who agree with them, and worse still, only see the very worst of the “other side
    # screencapped as outrage-porn.

    Totally agree, but people are choosing to live in those bubbles.

    # That’s an environment in which people like Joshua Goldberg can thrive.

    Totally agree again, but that environment is built by the whole group working together. Goldeberg and Requires Hate don’t introduce hate into such environments, think of how much work that would be! Instead they identify the pre-existing bigotries of a community and leverage those.

  6. Tim Hall says:

    any community is defined by how it deals with its extremists,

    And that, in a nutshell, is precisely why Gamergate remains so radioactive. The fact that their opponents are guilty of exactly the same thing perpetuates the toxicity.