Dragging Hate Across the Internet

Main Street WIRE Trolls Migrate

David Stone

When trolls supporting the Main Street WIRE found their racist posts deleted and themselves banned, they weren't ready to give up. One of them sent me a message: "Maybe I'll pop over to Rick's blog and out you there since he seems to moderate nothing..."

(Find the initial article about the trolls here.)

"Rick's blog" is the popular Roosevelt Islander, and as a friend, I alerted Rick O'Conor that the racists were on their way.

But O'Conor hosts a platform more open for comment than I am willing to do.

"I delete comments which I believe meet the legal elements of defamation," he wrote back. "Anything other than that generally I don't delete. I would not have deleted 'old white men' but we all have our own standards."

"...impotent old white men," was the full phrase used, then repeated by another troll. Any reference to race in a derogatory tone is, per se, racist. It may not seem immediately apparent, but substitute another skin color to see how denigrating of one racial stereotype it really was intended to be.

I told him that he was opening up fertile ground for racists. (The Main Street WIRE trolls also specialize in gender ("bitches") and age bias.)

But the Roosevelt Islander is his site, and he's managed it well for a decade. It's O'Conor's choice about how he lets it thrive with opinions - or not, as it turned out.

Trolls Spread Like a Virus

What happened next with the antics of the trolls - "Joanne," "Human Person," and "Amber" - is interesting in its own way but deflating for anyone optimistic about the future of the Roosevelt Island community.

These three individuals - because they hide behind fake names, no one is really sure they are women - ramped up the hate in surprising and morally offensive ways.

For a while, taunting me with messages that I should come over to the Roosevelt Islander and view the carnage, the trolls ripped on Frank Farance and me, calling us "misogynists," women haters, "old" and, god forbid, "white men," all generated by a single satirical reference to the WIRE.

I can't speak for Farance, but this stuff registered on the meter somewhere between amusing and annoying, but insignificant. My work, using my actual name, has been around for years. Anyone who wants can easily see where I'm coming from.

If you look at red and call it green, the color doesn't change. So, they could say what they wanted. It didn't change anything.

But an awareness of how ineffective their taunts were must have dawned on the trolls because they soon escalated. They went from posting so much they came off as pathetic cranks with nothing else to do to, surprisingly, taunting Rick O'Conor, the man allowing them the space to post anything at all.

Then, they quickly ramped up to shaming and embarrassing other women. And finally, slander became part of their game. Slinging hateful barbs is one thing. There's plenty of that around. But tossing outright lies into the mix to hurt other women enters a universe apart.

Storms of Hate

Trolls Amber, Joanne and Human Person started piling on O'Conor as another "old white man," which struck me as weird until it became apparent that they'd shifted the focus of their support from the Main Street WIRE to the PTA-PS/IS 217-Mandana Beckman crowd.

First, they started taunting with the names of three women - how they chose these three is inexplicable and maybe an expression of insanity - repeating a mystifying chant about how they were my "heroes" and were awaiting for their awards.

Don't ask me where that came from. Maybe crazy, maybe just muddled thinking.

Note: I will not give the trolls the courtesy of repeating the names of the women they've tried to shame, embarrass and, in one instance, slander.

Then, they got down to the nitty gritty of their hatred's inspiration. 

They were attacking Farance, O'Conor and me because they didn't like the coverage we published about PS/IS 217, its Principal Mandana Beckman and the local PTA.

Using names of women whose professional reputations they hoped to harm, the trolls - who never use their own names - claimed to be aligned with the PTA and threatened two, long established nonprofit groups with a loss of funding as punishment for using the Roosevelt Islander and The Daily for promoting their efforts.

In one, chilling incident, a troll claimed that a woman took a four figure amount from the PTA that was supposed to be used for programing and gave it to O'Conor and me instead. It was a lie, potentially a very damaging one because some readers might think it was true, but O'Conor chose not to delete it.

Lies can inflict lasting damage. We have a responsibility to limit it when we can.

Conclusion

Two troubling things won't go away.

The first is that O'Conor made a mistake in allowing his blog to be used as a platform for racism and bigotry. Slanderous comments should also have been deleted immediately but were not.

There is no free speech justification for slander, by anonymous sources yet, nor for letting racists and/or bigots infect the community.

The other issue is the PTA and the Main Street WIRE's knowing compliance with trolls identifying themselves as their supporters. While it's entirely possible that the PTA's administration had nothing to do with the trolls and does not support their conduct, but if so, why haven't they said so?

Silence in the face of hate is damning.

The WIRE's situation is worse. While one of the trolls appeared to be recognizable as a WIRE participant, Managing Editor Kelly Turner, using her own name, actively participated in the trolling campaign.

Aligning herself with Amber, Human Person and Joanne, assumed names, Turner posted a claim she knew or should have known was a lie, slandering Frank Farance in perky collaboration with the trolls.

Turner never retracted or apologized for doing so, even when called on it. The obvious conclusion is that she stands by it. Just for the record, she could easily have edited out the lie but chose not to.

Is this what's become of journalistic ethics at the newspaper started by Jack Resnick, forty years ago, with such noble, community intentions?

Turner's activity in coordination with the trolls is part of why I will soon be calling for either replacement of the WIRE's editors or, alternatively, shutting the newspaper down for good.

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