The Skeptic Canary

The blog of Dr Tom Williamson, atheist, humanist, skeptic and Norwich City fan!

Archive for the ‘internet’ Category

An “in car” video about Internet comments

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I’ve been experimenting with “in car” videos, where you record yourself speaking about something while driving. I’ve been inspired by Matt Dillahunty, so I thought I’d give it a go. The first video is about Internet comments, let me know what you think!

Written by Tom

October 5th, 2012 at 8:26 am

Posted in Car Vids,internet

wisdomofchopra.com has a smart new design!

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wisdom of choprawisdomofchorpa.com, a site that generates Deepak Chopra style pseudo-profound meaningless quotes, has had a major facelift thanks to the generous guys at peltenberg.eu. It’s certainly a vast improvement on my own design! Thanks guys, much appreciated! Go and check it out:

Written by Tom

August 29th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Posted in bullshit,internet

Dealing with trolls

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There is still much talk in the skeptical community about “trolls” and what to do with them, most notably from Sam Harris. For those of you not familiar with the concept of trolling allow me to give a short introduction. On the Internet, a “troll” is someone who makes comments on forums/blog posts etc with the intent on disrupting discussion, usually winding people up. The “trolling” phenomena has been around since the early days of the Internet and persists until this day.

Trolling varies hugely in nature. It can be rather innocent and frivellous. For example, someone might read this blog, see that I support Norwich City, and leave a comment saying that Ipswich Town are a much better team in an attempt to rile me (of course that wouldn’t work right now as Norwich are in the Premier League and Ipswich have been linked with Emile Heskey). However, all too often it is completely vicious and repugnent, with people issuing rape threats and encouraging people to commit suicide. It’s serious stuff.

So, how to deal with trolls? It’s kind of hard to find any data on them (if it exists, please let me know). I’ve had an idea for a randomised double blinded controlled trial to test methods of combating trolls, but that’s another story. In the meantime, I’d like to illustrate exactly how I feel you should NOT deal with trolls through the medium of Rage comics:




Although it can be very tempting to engage with trolls, doing so will only cause you hassle. You are not going to teach them the error of their ways, and by giving them any sort of publicity you are giving them what they want, and this only encourages more trolls. The best thing to do is not engage with them at all.

Depending on the medium, you will have ways to report them. Although trolls can hide behind the anonymity provided by the Internet, there are ways of tracing them. If you are on a forum or blog, report them to an admin if you can. Users’ IP addresses can be tracked, and if the troll is stupid enough to not use a proxy then they can get banned.

I do speak from a small amount of personal experience on this issue. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember I went to Leeds Skeptics in the wake of them cancelling a talk by known misogynist Steve Moxon. We had a very interesting, thorough and open debate, which I decided to write up. Ophelia Benson at FreeThought Blogs picked up on it, and linked to my blog. A few commenters flew in, and left some comments which were largely unconstructive dismissive statements or just plain insults. Rather than feeding these people who I considered to be trolls, I simply didn’t publish the comments. None of them came back screaming “WHY DIDN’T YOU PUBLISH MY COMMENT?!?” and no-one aimed accusations of censorship at me. This is my blog, and I will moderate the comments as I see fit. The Heresy Club have spelled out their policy, and for future reference mine is pretty much the same.

To sum up, I’ve come up with another Rage comic which shows how I deal with trolls, I suggest you do the same.

Written by Tom

August 8th, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Posted in internet,skepticism

On the bizarre arrogance and willful ignorance of PZ Myers

5 comments

Sigh. The skeptidrama doesn’t stop. I don’t feel happy writing about it, but something has gone down that I feel is serious enough that I just have to write about it. Please, if you’d rather not get involved (and I would have every sympathy if you didn’t) please stop reading now.

PZ Myers is someone I’ve always greatly admired. I’ve loved his fights against creationism and intelligent design, and I’ve admired his brazen no-nonsense approach to things like Eucharist desecration. I was very happy to meet him at TAM London 2010.

PZ Myers

Myself being a pathetic fanboy back in 2010

But now, a fellow skeptic has been incorrectly labelled as someone who uses vulgar gendered insults (specifically c**t) against Rebecca Watson, and PZ is largely to blame. Coffee Loving Skeptic (henceforth referred to as CLS) has given his version of events, complete with actual evidence of what was said and when. PZ Myers has responded with his version, lacking such evidence. Seeing as Rebecca Watson’s tweet was a reply to one of mine, I feel compelled to give my version of events.

I saw a tweet from CLS saying that PZ had blocked him. Seeing as Twitter is a public forum, I thought I’d ask PZ why he did that. Although he was under no obligation to do so (I don’t usually expect a response from celebs on Twitter), he replied saying that he didn’t believe that he had. With two people who I tend to trust saying conflicting things, I thought it might be a Twitter bug (certainly not unknown) and asked CLS to check again. He then provided conclusive evidence that PZ was blocking him. In the meantime, Rebecca Watson had replied to PZ saying that CLS was the guy who called her a c**t, and after he begged to be unblocked called her a c**t again. This is clearly untrue, and possibly a case of mistaken identity. CLS then wrote his blog post where he clearly showed that he DID NOT call Rebecca Watson a c**t. PZ then produced a few tweets mentioning “entitlement”, and went on a rather baffling blocking spree more reminiscent of the climate change denier James Delingpole.

So, why do I care? Why don’t I treat this as a piece of tit-for-tat that just isn’t worth my attention? I care because someone has pretty much been libelled as someone who calls women c**ts, firstly by Rebecca Watson to her 24,000-odd followers, and then by PZ Myers with his 100k followers, when he retweeted her. So combined, Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers have let it be known to about 125,000 Twitter accounts that CLS is someone who uses gendered insults against women, when this is clearly not the case.

It’s also very frustrating that all that’s required from Rebecca Watson (at least if she wants to be civil), is a quick acknowledgement of her error and an apology. Instead, PZ has repeatedly obfuscated the issue by trying to make out that it’s about “entitlement” and moaning about being blocked on Twitter. This is dishonest and evasive. I’ve amended the Twitter exchange to show the sort of thing that would make things so much better:

  • PZ Myers: Don’t know that I did. He has a protected account, apparently. RT @skepticCanary: why did you block @TPRyan007 ?
  • Rebecca Watson: @pzmyers That’s the guy I blocked for calling me a cunt. He emailed begging me to unblock, then called me a cunt again when I didn’t. Ha ha
  • Rebecca Watson (if she was being civil): Sorry everyone, @TPRyan007 did not call me a cunt

Is that really too much to ask?

Written by Tom

June 27th, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Nastiness on Reddit: a result of unlimited free speech?

7 comments

You may have noticed that Reddit, in particular the “subreddit” r/atheism, has been getting a lot of attention in the skeptical community. That’s not that surprising given that Reddit is one of the most popular sites on the Internet, regularly dealing with around 67 million hits per day with an Alexa rank of 124. The atheism subreddit is currently readily accessible from the Reddit front page.

The concept of Reddit is quite straightforward. It’s described as a social news website, where users find or generate content that they think is interesting and post it to one of the many “subreddits”. Other users can then add their own comments and either “upvote” or “downvote” the posts. The most popular posts appear on the front page of Reddit, which Reddit itself refers to as the front page of the Internet. As you might expect, any post which ends up here receives a huge amount of traffic!

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Reddit carries the burden of a gigantic double-edged sword: it is almost completely uncensored. As a result, pretty much anything is available on Reddit. Have a look at the highly NSFW /r/spacedicks to see what I mean. Actually, don’t.

As a result of this lack of moderation, Reddit can be an uninhibited playground of ideas where you can criticize any world religion or batshit crazy post without fear of censorship. However, it’s infested with various idiots, bigots of all kinds, and probably the most prevalent of all, trolls. Although a lot of these people on Reddit repulse me, I have a coping mechanism.

Firstly, I never expect too much. I know that if I need advise on any serious matter, I’m not going to get it on Reddit. After that, I set my default position on Reddit to “meh”. In other words, I need a good reason to care about something I read if I see it on Reddit. If it’s an insult, I’ll ignore it. If it’s a weak pun that Steve Wright would be proud of, I’ll ignore it. If it’s funny, insightful, intelligent etc I’ll read it and take it on board. As an example, I made a Rage Comic a little while ago after a mildly traumatic experience in the shower:

I’m a big fan of anything that grabs people’s imaginations and develops organically, so I’m right at home with the sillyness and general flippancy of Rage Comics. It took me about 30 seconds to make this comic, and it received quite a lot of upvotes and a fair few comments. They ranged from the utterly ridiculous but imaginative to the insulting:

fag

Only fags and women use conditioner. Let’s hope you’re a woman.

Nice eh? I know people have experienced much worse than that, but the point is I didn’t react (yes, I’m aware of the irony of writing about it here). I just ignored them and carried on, the trolls remained unfed. Unnecessary drama avoided. If you are being trolled/insulted on Reddit, the best thing you can do is rise above it and ignore it.

At the end of the day, if you want the level of free speech Reddit offers, you’re going to have to accept that it also extends to people who you wouldn’t cross the road to save. As you can’t get rid of them, the best thing you can do is not encourage them. Don’t feed the trolls.

Written by Tom

April 25th, 2012 at 2:30 pm