February 24, 2022
Social justice journalist, author, and cyberhate expert Ginger Gorman joins Jameela this week to discuss her experiences being embedded in the troll community, the role big tech plays in encouraging this behavior, understanding the ways many of the young men trolling are marginalized human beings, law enforcement’s intentionally ignoring the troll community, and more.
99 — Internet Trolls with Ginger Gorman
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil. A podcast that aims to change people’s minds. Hope you’re alright, and if you’re not, well fuck me. No wonder, you’re not, look at what is happening. It’s just unfathomable. There are really no words. And especially depending on where you live in the world right now, I can’t imagine how anxious you are. I don’t think any of us are even able to comprehend the kind of chaos that we seem to be descending into so fast just again and again and again, and region upon region, upon region, around the world. And I send you all of my love, and I’m thinking about you all the time. And I urge you to get offline as much as you can, as much as possible and safe for you because our brains are just not built for this. For this much information about this many terrible things. Just try to preserve yourself and know that it’s OK and you don’t have to be a hero 24 hours a day. Sometimes you have to build back your strength. And speaking of the importance of being offline and the online world and how stressful it could be. Today’s guest talks to me in depth about just that. Her name is Ginger Gorman, and she is an expert on online trolls, and I think a lot of people who listen to this podcast may have experienced trolling themselves, and it may have happened to a loved one or maybe someone that you look up to, maybe a politician or a public figure. And considering the subject matter of this podcast, I imagine you’re the kind of people who feel fucking horrified when you see that kind of behavior and you see where it can push people to sometimes people of any age, any background. And so Ginger wrote a book called Troll Hunting about her own journey into the world of trolls, into being trolled herself and then trying to understand what makes a troll become such like a hateful person. Like what are the what are their childhoods? What are the links? How do we how do we prevent a society that breeds so much hatred and damage and desensitization? And her book Troll Hunting is fascinating, and she is fascinating, and she came onto my podcast today to talk about that book, to talk about her story and what she’s learned and more hopefully, how we could actually get out of this pattern that does seem to be getting worse, especially in the last two years in which we’ve all been online. I love how open she is. I love how clear and passionate she is, and I’m absolutely fascinated by her decision to befriend some of these terrifying trolls and the closeness she developed with some of them and and her kind of insights into their humanity, which I think a lot of us don’t think about very often because we’re so angry with them for behaving like such fucking creeps or bastards. And it’s so important to understand the cause and not the symptom. Otherwise, we can never stop this from happening effectively. And so I hope you can listen to this with an open mind and understand that when Ginger and I similarly to my episode with Natalie Wynn about incels, when we talk about the more empathetic angle regarding trolls, it’s not because we are condoning them or making any space for their behavior. We’re just trying to understand in order to prevent more people like this cropping up in future generations. It’s oddly quite a hopeful interview, but it’s also just an interview that makes you feel so much less gaslit because this is the shit that most of us feel must be behind these anonymous accounts. These are the people, these are the experiences, these are the intentions. And she just breaks it down so clearly. And it’s so fascinating that it’s left me just kind of wringing for days since I spoke to her. I’d love to know what you think about it. Please message me and please follow Ginger’s incredible work. You can find her online @GingerGorman, but she’s also got her own podcast called Seriously Social, and she really is a proper expert in all of this stuff. Her origin story is mind blowing. I do also just want to remind you that you can find transcripts for this episode on the Earwolf website. A lot of you have been asking me lately how we get around that and and that has been the main way we found thus far to be able to bring you an accessible version of this podcast. Anyway. I can’t wait to talk to you about this, and I send you all of the love and strength in the world. And I hope you look after yourselves and I hope you enjoy my chat with the excellent Ginger Gorman. Oh. Ginger Gorman, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Ginger [00:04:56] Good, it’s so good to finally catch up with you.
Jameela [00:04:59] I know we’ve been DMing for months.
Ginger [00:05:02] We have. Are you feeling better as well because everyone in your family seems to have COVID?
Jameela [00:05:07] Yeah, we’re all good. I think the whole world’s got Covid and now it’s nice to just have it over and done with. And how how have you been?
Ginger [00:05:17] Good. No, really good. It’s funny when you contacted me, Jameela, because I wrote my book, as you know, back in 2018, and I just didn’t expect it to go so global and so viral. So I’d actually been saying no to most media requests, but I couldn’t resist you.
Jameela [00:05:35] Absolutely. And I really want to get into the kind of spectrum of trolling to kind of figure out all the different types of places the trolls come in. Some of us don’t realize we’re being trolls when we are. It’s not always something that is deliberate because there are impacts and effects of our actions online that can lead to certain circumstances. But I think that was kind of why I approached you was my own kind of one of the first things I said to you is that I used to be a troll and I, or at least I considered myself one, and I have grown up and recognize that a lot of my poor treatment of other people online came from my own internal pain. And that has changed the way that I look at now other people’s behavior towards me or towards other people. Doesn’t mean I condone it. But there’s a difference between excusing and explaining something. And so when I was talking a lot about this online, someone suggested that I look at your work and then I read your book and then I slid into your DMs and thankfully you were very receptive. But it’s just such a fascinating topic to me, and it’s something that I god I mean, the chances that you would write this before 2020, when trolling would go on to become kind of an Olympic global sport was just ridiculous timing. So take me back to what made you enter into because I mean, this is a fuckin dangerous territory. You are chartering because you are. You are directly in contact with you are exposing the kind of behaviors of and and intentions of some of some pretty dangerous people online whose danger doesn’t only stay online as you kind of like hinted already. You know that talking about the things that lead to mass shootings, et cetera. Can you talk to me about what led you to this?
Ginger [00:07:35] You know, Jameela, I’m not a very techie person, I don’t love the internet, I can’t really even, you know, you just asked me to put my phone on silent. I struggle with that stuff. You know, I’m I’m interested in humans. You know, my ex-husband used to say, I can’t even scroll on my phone. How do you not know how to use this stuff? So it’s not like I was obsessed with the internet or anything. What happened was I used to work for Australia’s national public broadcaster, the ABC. No connection to the American ABC. And I’ve always been a human rights journalists or I call myself a social justice journalist. So I did this story series of stories while I was working for the national broadcaster on people in the LGBTIQ+ community and human rights. And these were not, you know, CNN hard-hitting kind of stories. These were features about their lives. And one of these couples was a gay couple Mark Newton and Peter Truong. And I met them and I met their little boy and they told me that they had had their little boy via surrogacy in Russia. And so I did this story it went on the radio and it was posted online. And that was in 2010. And then a few years later, I moved back to Canberra, which is the capital of Australia, where I was from, and I went about my life. I was on maternity leave with my second baby and these two men, one of them, Mark Newton, was an American citizen. They had been arrested in Indianapolis for a horrific pedophile pedophilia crimes against this boy. And it turns out that he hadn’t been born via surrogacy had been purchased from his Russian mother for 8000 US dollars, and from the time he was two weeks old, he was horrifically sexually abused by these men and he had been shared with pedophiles all over the globe. And that’s the reason that they were traveling in the United States. And in fact, international police had been trying to pin them down for a few years at that stage. But so what happened then was, you know,
Jameela [00:09:42] your old article resurfaced.
Ginger [00:09:44] Yes, so start of 2013. You know, it’s like hot. Or maybe it was the middle of the year by that stage. So boiling hot. I’m there with this new baby and then I start just getting torrents and torrents of cyber hate. Like, unbelievable. And, you know, I mean
Jameela [00:10:02] Because they were angry that you’d platformed, right? They were angry you platformed.
Ginger [00:10:05] Yeah. So the accusations were that I was somehow responsible for the crimes against this little boy that I was morally morally culpable and that I should pay. And it was all being instigated by this US journalist, very right wing conservative journalist Robert Stacey McCain. And he was really inciting his followers to shame me, and they bloody well did. They really went hell for leather. And so at that stage, like 2013 in the states, trolling was much more common, and this extreme predator trolling was happening. But in Australia, really having a hit like that, we didn’t really know what that was. So, you know, I mean, I’m of a Jewish background, and my then husband found this photo of our family on a fascist website with quite threatening stuff underneath. And you know, it included a picture of me with my two year old pregnant with my second child. And then we also got a death threat at the same time. So, you know, I said I wasn’t techie, so my tweets were geo-located. So you could actually look at this death threat. And if you looked on Twitter below my tweets, you could see where our house was on Google Maps. And so at that point I was just like
Jameela [00:11:20] Insane that that is something that they even allow on social media my god.
Ginger [00:11:24] Yeah like it but we didn’t know back then, like the national broadcaster kind of insisted I had to be online for my work and I had to have a profile and so forth. I was a radio announcer, you know. So it was part of my job, actually, and I rang the police here and they said what they always say to victims all around the world, which is just stay off the internet love. And I was like, what? And I remember ringing my boss, and he said, Do you want to see someone at the employee assistance scheme like you want to see a psychologist? And I was like, No, you fucking moron. This is what I was thinking. I need to know is someone going to kill my kids? You know, like I was lying in bed in a cold sweat, listening to my two little tiny babies in the next room, asleep and breathing and thinking that someone was going to kill them, or all of us. And so that’s really where it started. Like, I, you know, was so, so afraid. And luckily for me, because I know what can happen now, I know that you can be killed as a result of this stuff. Nothing did happen. They were empty threats. But I guess, like within about 18 months, my fear died down and then I was like, Who are these guys, you know? And I was watching people like yourselves, like women, journalists all around the world, largely in the states, and the UK, but like a lot of females online, really, really copping this stuff like rape threats, death threats, behead of women in their inboxes. And I was thinking, like, what is going on, you know? So then I went out to find these guys like, I wanted to know why they were doing that. Well, who are they? But you know, Jameela, like, I didn’t understand. I didn’t know how dangerous these guys were, really like I. I mean, when I think about it now, I was so naive. Like, I went to meet Mark, one of the trolls in my book. That’s a pseudonym. And he’s such a psychopath like, he really is responsible for quite a lot of deaths.
Jameela [00:13:17] And, you know, you’re not using that term like sort of loosely, you mean he’s actually he’s but I mean, it’s like me has been debated as an actual like term, I know. But like you’re saying,
Ginger [00:13:29] No he he fits the dictionary definition of a psychopath like he has no empathy. He has cognitive empathy so he can understand how to upset you. But he doesn’t have affective empathy.
Jameela [00:13:41] That’s fascinating. I’ve never heard of that before.
Ginger [00:13:44] So, yes, so this is research
Jameela [00:13:46] So cognitive empathy is understanding how to push someone’s buttons without then feeling like any kind of responsibility for it afterwards or remorse.
Ginger [00:13:55] Remorse. Yeah, yeah. So he and this is a funny thing, like there’s a kind of idea that these guys are dumb idiots in their mom’s basement. Not at all. Like most of the guys, I got embedded with highly, highly intelligent and therefore very terrifying. So Mark really fitted this research that came out of Federation University in Australia, and the research shows that trolls, especially savage trolls, have cognitive empathy so they can understand how to hurt you. And they take pleasure from that. But they don’t feel affective empathy, so they don’t feel for you. They have no remorse or concern that they’re going to hurt you, and that’s really dangerous. So, yeah, I mean, I just went to meet Mark literally like in a cafe with my tape recorder.
Jameela [00:14:41] In person.
[00:14:42] Yeah, and I didn’t understand like this person could get me killed. I didn’t even tell my husband at the time, you know where I was going. I just started along there. And then, you know it’s stressful. But I know like retrospectively, right? Because we know what we know now. We know that these guys are related to terrorist attacks. We know that they are high school. She knows we know that they are the lights of the Christchurch killer. But back then, nobody knew. And so like, I remember just sitting there and then, you know, a few minutes into the interview, he’s thinking, Holy hell, like, I am actually in physical danger now. And you know, my relationship
Jameela [00:15:25] Oh my God Ginger. Stressful to even hear about.
Ginger [00:15:25] I know like retrospectively right because we know what we know now. We know that these guys are related to terrorist attacks we know that they are high school shooters. we know that they are the likes of the Christchurch killer. But back then nobody knew. And I remember just sitting there and a few minutes into the interview thinking holy hell. I am actually in physical danger now.
Jameela [00:15:25] Was, what was it and what was it that kind of triggered that? That realization?
Ginger [00:15:30] Well, he was talking about inciting people to suicide, and he was talking about some of the swats that he had been involved in. So this is where you kind of prank armed police. So the the the sections of the police that have massive machine guns and you prank them and you say there’s a hostage situation or something happening at someone’s house and then the armed police come and kick people’s doors down in the middle of the night. And you know, they shoot people’s dogs and stuff and they often, you know, they might accidentally even shoot somebody. And you see this in the gaming community all the time. But this is a really common predator calling tactic, and he had been very involved in this. So it was that, but also I could just see he had no human empathy. The thing that protected me because people, you know, lots of people have criticized me for the way that I made these relationships with these guys and I stayed embedded with them. The thing that protected me and the reason I’m alive, not dead, is because they ended up trusting me. And so this is a really complicated part of the story like these guys are mainly young white men between the ages of 18 and 35, and it’s very hard to wrap your head around this as a left wing feminist, right, like me, but they feel marginalized. These are your classic kind of angry, disaffected Trump supporters. We have the equivalent in Australia. Kind of shorthand would be like white trash, but I came to understand they actually are marginalized, most of these guys. Which is hard to wrap your head around coming from where I was coming from, but you know, like another one of the guys that I actually became very good friends with, which sounds strange, his upbringing was unbelievable, like he came from a really violent, neglected household. His mom was an alcoholic. She beat the crap out of him. When he would go stay with his dad they were separated he would starve him. Like, You can’t be amazed if you’ve got these kids that are completely unparented. You know, like abandoned basically by their parents and by the community. And then like, they’re on the internet, on the cesspit of the internet, imbibing this stuff and they get radicalized into trolling.
Jameela [00:18:04] 100 percent. I mean, you’ve you’ve said before, I think that this is this is kind of come from that. There’s so many fascinating things about your interactions with trolls. I mean, first of all, the fact that you could ask them anything and they were never failures didn’t matter how personal your questions were, because that is the nature of the way that they conduct themselves. It’s like there is nothing is off limits in behavior. So therefore they can’t they don’t actually expect that to be, you know, giving back to them, either. They don’t have any boundaries. And so you were able to like really kind of like penetrate that exact mentality, their exact intentions and their exact life stories. And it was through doing that that you realized that they were saying, you know, people assume because, you know, we’re men or we’re straight or we’re cis or whatever. I mean, a lot of them maybe are white. I have no idea about the kind of ethnicity of trolls. I’m sure it depends on maybe where in the world you are, but they are people who often many people will look at as well, you know, you’re not as marginalized as everyone else. So therefore, you know, you don’t have something systemic up against you, but it doesn’t mean that these people didn’t slip through the cracks. And that’s something that I love about your work because it’s something that I try as delicately as I can to talk about. You know, we had an episode like with the brilliant Natalie Wynn on here about incels where we talk about like mental health, that kind of leads to or the low self-esteem that leads to someone being radicalized in that way. And so I think it’s fucking vital that we have this conversation because if we don’t understand the cause we’ll never understand the fucking symptoms.
Ginger [00:19:38] Right. And these guys, so MeepSheep the guy that I’m still friends with, he was messaging me yesterday, you know, I know it’s mad, right? I understand it’s very hard for people to accept, and some of my journalistic colleagues have gotten very angry with me about these relationships. But the thing is, so he’s a tiny little kid. He’s completely left alone, starved, abused. You know, his dad at one point left him with no food in the house for 10 days. He was a pilot. He just left him. And he’s on the internet, imbibing this stuff and the internet’s parenting him. And he’s imbibing misogyny. You know, he’s imbibing racism and he’s radicalized into trolling. And he said to me, You think you found a community of people who are as angry at the world as you are and you set out to get the world back with them. And that is so powerful, right? That’s what everybody wants. They want a sense of belonging. And you know, I get it.
Jameela [00:20:34] It’s a community, isn’t it for like these lonely, suffering people.
Ginger [00:20:38] You know, I mean, it’s hard to understand from the outside. And it took me a long time, but. They speak in a different way, as you’ve suggested they have their own morality, and MeepSheep was almost like my guide through that world. He answered thousands and thousands of questions on and on and on and on day and night for like, you know, a year, I would be asking, Who is this person? What does this mean? Why was this person swapping syndicates? You know, they all are in this huge international syndicates. And so, you know, he wanted
Jameela [00:21:15] What do you mean by that? Can you explain to the audience?
Ginger [00:21:17] Oh of course. So I mean, I didn’t understand this either that most of these guys, with the exception of one guy that I wrote about, they all in some kind of syndicate or some kind of group. So the best way to understand this is like what we call outlaw motorcycle gangs in Australia. You have these kind of motorcycle gangs in the states, too, where you have a president and a vice president, and there’s quite strong moral codes in those groups and quite strong rules. And then they do things together, so they go on a raid together or they might join syndicates and go on a raid. So when someone is being attacked and there are floods and floods of messages and there’s floods of cyber hate against them and they’re being doxed and their personal details are put online and so forth. It’s not just like one angry person doing that. That’s usually an organized activity. And so that was really interesting for me as well. But you know, it’s taken a long time for law enforcement around the globe to get a handle on it. So I gave evidence here in Australia at our Senate hearings into cyber bullying in 2018, and I had already finished the manuscript to the book pretty much. And like I remember saying at this is Senate hearing these groups are linked to terrorist attacks. These groups are linked to hate crimes. These groups are linked to real life assaults to domestic abuse, and the senators were just looking at me like this woman is out of her freakin mind.
Jameela [00:22:47] Oh yeah, she’s hysterical.
Ginger [00:22:49] Yeah, she’s just like, What the hell is she talking about? And the Senate report came down, and it had most of my comments in it, but it didn’t have that in it because they obviously thought that that was insane. And then, you know, right after my book happened, the Christchurch massacre happened in New Zealand, and then the narrative completely changed. And that was devastating for me because like, I was trying to stop something like that happening. I could see it all happening online. I could see the high school shootings and stuff happening, and I was like, This is going to get ugly, you know? And now no one’s no one’s questioning it, unfortunately. But I just it makes me so angry and it’s racist, you know, because if these were brown guys mobilizing online like this, if these were Muslims, this is not the conversation you would have had. There would be no dismissing it.
Jameela [00:23:42] Oh mate I’m Pakistani, I’m too scared to even say backpack in text message. Like, trust me, I know.
Ginger [00:23:47] Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, right? So I mean, I just was so angry when Christchurch happened because I was like, If these were brown guys, you know, the cops always come out and say, so my my book starts with this high school shooting in New Mexico, and that happened like live, kind of as I was writing the manuscript. And the guy, William Atkinson, that did that shooting had been saying online forever that he wanted to copy Columbine, and he was one of Mark’s administrators. So Mark sent me a whole file on him. Mark sent me absolutely everything about this kid. Everything you ever said about wanting to do a shooting. All his GPS
Jameela [00:24:28] What do you mean by one of his administrators?
Ginger [00:24:30] So they have a website where they file all the raids and everything they do. So all of the information that they like to collect about their history and all the things they’ve done and all the people they’ve targeted, it’s all like documented.
Jameela [00:24:42] It’s like a burn book.
Ginger [00:24:44] Yeah. But anyone can find it. This is a thing. And so the cops like after that high school shooting in New Mexico and even after Christchurch, they kind of say, Oh, we had no idea. And I’m like, How the fuck did you have no idea? Because it is everywhere. It is all over these chat rooms and it’s really accessible for anyone to see, like the Christchurch killer. He was saying everything he was going to do quite a while before he did it. So it’s just incredible. I just feel like, no, you’re not looking in the right places because these guys are white and actually factually white terrorists kill far more people than brown terrorists around the globe like white supremacists.
Jameela [00:25:24] Would you say the vast majority of online trolls are white men?
Ginger [00:25:29] Look, I wouldn’t say that because I am just looking at this one cohort, and since my book came out, I’ve been made aware like academics in Sri Lanka who have contacted me. Trolling is huge there in India. Yeah, in India, like you know, lots of Kashmiri folk have contacted me. There’s massive predator trolling against people there. Lots of Indian women, in particular journalists who are outspoken. You know, there’s a woman in my book, a female Indian journalist who got killed, and there’s another one who was really worried would get killed as a result of predator trolling. So, no, I mean, I always look into
Jameela [00:26:10] That’s why I asked, because the reason that I stopped talking about what’s happening in Kashmir between Pakistan and India and Kashmir is because of the amount of death and rape threats I get every time. And then when everything was kind of like flaring up again with Israel and Palestine, I put out a statement saying that I was like, Please stop pressuring me to talk about this when I speak about global, like, you know, any kind of war or any kind of any kind of global situation that is violent. If I speak about it, I receive a terrifying amount of violence, violence that someone with 200 followers or 2000 followers couldn’t even you couldn’t. You couldn’t even imagine. Some like the amount the tidal wave of death threats that women specifically, especially if you are brown, get in the public eye. I then ended up speaking about it and doing, you know, whatever I thought was best, but but that’s why I was asking you because I feel as though I obviously get trolled a lot by the alt right. But a shit ton of what I get online is from men who look like me.
Ginger [00:27:13] Yeah. So I’m so sorry that that happens to you. I mean, and I wish I could say I was surprised, Jameela. But you know, I’ve been in this game a long time now, and I know that this is what happens like if you’re a woman and you want to use your voice. The patriarchy wants to silence you. And it doesn’t matter whether you are white or whether you are brown. The thing is, if I can just zoom out a little bit and say this particular issue made me question one of my really deep values as someone who considers themselves progressive because I always thought everyone deserves a voice, right? But that’s so naive. Does Mark, who gets people killed? Does he deserve a voice? No, he doesn’t. So this is a really interesting thing about the naivete with which platforms like Twitter and Facebook have been set up. You know, like when I was trying to get interviews from Facebook and Twitter, which is a whole chapter of my book, like they claim to be all pro free speech, but then won’t actually answer any questions. They say this naive stuff like We’re here for everyone to have a voice. You know what a load of shit like, you know, as we saw with Francis Hagan’s Senate testimony, you are not there for everyone to have a voice. The primary motive of all these giant platforms is profits, and therefore they will turned a blind eye or even make it easier for extremism to flourish on their platform. You know, they target children with ads promoting anorexia and so forth because they want the money. And the fact of the matter is like if, say, someone’s piling on to you or let’s say you say something about Kashmir and India and you’ve got thousands of people piling on to with cyber hate. Guess what? That makes them a ton of money because of the advertising. So it’s absolutely deluded. You know, this report came out from the Pew Center. I think. Maybe it was 2018 and 1500 and something international experts on IT were canvased and over and over and over again, they were saying the motive is profit, the motive is profit. So therefore, these companies need to be reined in. This is absolutely like what Teddy Roosevelt did in the eighteen hundreds with big oil and big gas. They were damaging the community and therefore those companies were legislated against. These big companies need to be broken up and they must be forced to have a public duty of care because they’re not going to do it on their own. They’re not. We can see it. We can see the unmitigated damage that they are doing.
Jameela [00:30:12] I mean imagine how much like during the kind of like tremendous rise of trolling and political divide worldwide, we’re seeing like a rise of fascism we’re seeing. I mean, so much division everywhere and such vile behavior, I mean, people pushed to suicide. Young people pushed to suicide in increasing numbers by online trolling. I imagine social media platforms made a fucking killing. We were all at home stuck online.
Ginger [00:30:35] Yeah absolutely and they’re still doing it.
Jameela [00:30:38] And really like the only time I’ve seen on the, you know, like, I think it’s important that there is a crackdown on COVID misinformation, of course. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen them kind of take really aggressive action is when someone puts down public, puts public misinformation, COVID misinformation out. And while I’m glad that that’s happening, I also have to say I’m a little bit pissed because now we know they can fuckin act really fast and they can flag things and they can monitor things. And they have chosen to neglect women and children’s the violence that we receive online, that the fuckin the the trans people that I’ve seen have like people in their DMs saying they’re going to behead them, etc. They could have done something about this all along and have chosen have chosen not to because.
Ginger [00:31:29] Absolutely.
Jameela [00:31:30] Because now because now, you know, like that, there is also like a there is a profit and this is not me being remotely like against the fact that they’re like, you know, monitoring vaccine information. But there is profit from Big Pharma. You know, so if they shut down any kind of vaccine misinformation, that’s that’s also part not just because they’re just great people who want us to all get out of the pandemic faster because the pandemic is actually serving them really well financially. It’s also partly because there’s someone potentially in their pocket who’s paying them for advertising.
Ginger [00:32:01] 100 percent. And, you know, I mean, I had someone in my family who I love desperately, and she was unvaccinated and she died the most horrific death because of Covid. And it’s because of misinformation on Facebook. And the thing is like, we shouldn’t be so naive about this, like they’ve had since 2006. They’ve been bleating about fixing this, and they haven’t. I mean, if they can target me when I put on two pounds and give me weight loss advertising, you know, they can fix cyber hate. They’re not because they don’t want to. Like they have user bases bigger than China and India are put together. They are nation states with unmitigated power. They pay no corporate tax and they have the best engineers in the world working for them. They’re just like we’ll fix this, but they don’t.
Jameela [00:32:50] Do you think how? What? OK, this is a fucking stupid question, but fuck it. How what percentage do you think as you studied this for so long? Of the of of social media use is just for trolling. The reason I’m asking that is that because there there must be an engagement, they are terrified of losing. And so therefore that must be quite a significant amount of engagement.
Ginger [00:33:16] Yeah I don’t know the answer to that because they won’t argue data.
Jameela [00:33:21] Right. I almost I almost exclusively now just see negativity online, directed at other people, you know?
Ginger [00:33:26] And I mean, there is a problem with cancel culture, which you were talking about where you almost can’t say anything. And that is a silencing almost within the left. But it is exacerbated by that environment, like it’s almost like a culture. Right? But the thing that one of the things I was saying in the Senate hearings is like, you know, what is the data? And they won’t give you the data, they wouldn’t answer any questions about their data. And how much money do they put towards solving cyber hate? How do they triage cyber hate claims? All that stuff, they won’t. There is legislation coming in in Australia or it’s just come in. It came in on January of the 23rd trying to make those companies report to our esafety commissioner. We have a federal esafety commissioner and we’re the first country in the world to do that. I know that Britain is also bringing in really interesting legislation to try to force them to have a duty of care. But at the moment, I mean, it’s actually quite amazing. If you think about it. This is like a big corporate car company or something putting cars on the road without seatbelts that they know will kill people. And there’s no recourse. There’s no accountability. The government doesn’t crack down like why?
Jameela [00:34:43] It’s fascinating to hear you describe it as a nation state. It is almost like it’s its own planet. It’s this like separate civilization where we behave separately to the way that we behave within face to face civilization. Like everything about it, it’s kind of like it’s our tethers. You know what I mean? It’s like I worst our worst shittiest angrier selves, our most like uncivilized selves interacting with strangers, sometimes from anonymous accounts.
Ginger [00:35:12] Yeah, I mean, I also don’t want to say it’s the government needs to fix it like it’s all of us, right? All of us could behave better online, but it is problematic when you have companies that are so large and so powerful that they don’t feel that they need to be accountable to governments. Look, I’ve watched Mark Zuckerberg not answer a single question.
Jameela [00:35:36] Oh yeah he word salad’s his way through those.
Ginger [00:35:38] How can you have someone who thinks they are beyond government that thinks they don’t need to answer? And it was the same with the Senate hearings here, like the Facebook and Twitter representatives of those companies. They didn’t answer a single question. So how can we elect a democratic government? Right? And these companies think that they are beyond the law. They are unanswerable to them. That’s that’s a problem. That’s a problem if you think you’re beyond the law and beyond democracy.
Jameela [00:36:09] And just back to like the mentality of the trolls, just because I really want to make sure that I kind of get into this with you. The way that they brag openly online about what they do, I said, burn book earlier. I meant brag book like the way that they like, document all of their behaviors that you know, whatever they’re quote unquote like winds, you know, when they have successfully trolled or been a part of something like incredibly destructive, the way that they answer all of your questions and let you fully into the whole like web of darkness, like are these people who also like is there are narcissism to it as well where they like they want to be found out. They want to be known, they want because, you know, you talk a lot in the book and like also, just like I’ve, you know, been watching your talks and stuff. You talk about the fact that actually sometimes the best response to a troll is just no response at all, which is incredibly frustrating to do.
Ginger [00:37:05] I mean, I’ve changed my mind a little bit about that but in terms of. So it’s really complicated in terms of their psychology, we’ve talked a little little bit about empathy, but. There was a really interesting paper called Troll’s Just Want to Have Fun that came out of the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba, and that paper found that trolling is strongly correlated with what they call the dark tetrad of personality traits. So it’s psychopathy, Machiavellian ism, narcissism and sadism, but sadism is the strongest link. OK, so that’s the strongest correlation.
Jameela [00:37:42] And define sadism.
Ginger [00:37:43] Yeah. So what that means is that they enjoy harming you. They take pleasure from winding you up. OK. So I would say a lot of us have a tiny bit of sadism in us, but this is extreme. So in terms of why are they boasting about it? Why are they doing the behavior? Is sadism, why are they boasting about it is a bit of both. It’s a bit of narcissism and narcissism and some of the other traits. But what are the most interesting things? Because I did have this question like why the hell of these guys all talking to me, right? Like if it was a dating app, I’m their hate match. I am left wing. I am a journalist. They hate left wing people. They hate journalists, they hate Jews. At that time, I was in a mixed race marriage. They hate that like.
Jameela [00:38:33] Also a woman. And so therefore,.
Ginger [00:38:35] Yeah, I’m a woman. Like, I’m just everything. So it was really hard for me to understand, like, why are they talking to me? First of all, they feel unheard. Second of all, they are proud of what they’ve done like, you’re suggesting that there is a level of narcissism and they want people to know about it. And third, like they’re in a culture, it’s hard to understand this from the outside, but they have a history and a lore, and they wanted that written down. They wanted to contribute, you know, a couple of them said to me, I want to make sure trolling history is documented. I know it sounds bonkers, but to them it was just like, you know, as if they were part of a really interesting new movement. They wanted it written down. And the other thing is, not all of it was sadists, so some of it was designed to make political points, for example. And this is why I think trolling is really interesting. It’s not always damaging. There is actually a place for it socially. So. MeepSheep was he was president of a trolling syndicate, which I’m going to name now, and it’s pretty offensive, so just hold your breath. The Gay N-word Association of America, right, is the GNAA. And they called it that deliberately as an offensive prank on the media, because what they do is they prank the media all the time and it gets loads of coverage on really, really right wing channels and so forth and some other platforms as well. And then we are forced as journalists to write that down every time they do one of these pranks. And they would do these incredibly sophisticated pranks often to show us how biased we were. So one of them, I’ll give you an example, which I find fascinating because this is not about hurting an individual. This is about showing the media that they are left wing and biased. So in during Hurricane Sandy, the GNAA made up that black people were looting. They completely fabricated it and they made up all these Twitter handles of black people. And they were posting these ridiculous tweets to see if they could play into the media’s racial bias and show up that a) the media doesn’t fact check and b) they’re willing to believe anything, anything negative about black people. And it worked. You know, all of these platforms reported this as if it was a story. And then they put out a statement saying, Look, you guys in the media are so left wing you think you’re all enlightened but look how racist you are. Look how biased you are. Look at the fact that you don’t fact check. It’s really clever.
Jameela [00:41:16] But did did the media then come back in like then apologize for what they said and own up to having made that mistake?
Ginger [00:41:21] Not as far as I know, one of the platforms
Jameela [00:41:23] That is wild, isn’t it?
Ginger [00:41:24] Yeah so I mean, that’s a really interesting social commentary. So this is where I’m saying that these guys are not usually dumb. These guys are actually often quite self-educated, very, very bright, like MeepSheep who I became friends with. He when I met him was very misogynist, but he had read all the feminist texts. You know, he could go into combat with me, like intellectual combat hard. He’s not a misogynist anymore, interestingly, because like after I’ve been embedded with him for a long time, he just realized that women could be kind. You know, and the women could listen and actually we were human beings. So that’s an interesting thing, too. Like what happens when you’re just a human being, when you show radical empathy for
Jameela [00:42:11] Well that’s the fucking problem with online is that you can’t like you can’t tangibly connect to someone else’s humanity. So they are just kind of like avatars to each other, everyone. And I think, you know, imagine like the kind of the rise of filters and Photoshop, and all those things makes everyone seem even more like a kind of dehumanized doll. You know what I mean, this perfect montage of our lives that we put out like that further dehumanize us, like we kind of accidentally dehumanizing ourselves, which is not does not excuse any of this fucking behavior. But I’m just saying I’m just trying to I’m trying to understand it. And I think I what I wonder is, is that if some of these people, I don’t think a lot of them are necessarily that smart, maybe the ones who are in these kind of, you know, intelligent kind of, I don’t know, targeted trying to make a social point. But a lot of these people are not very bright and they say really like abhorrent, ignorant, stupid things. But what I will say is that I wonder if they feel neglected in the world for some reason, maybe it’s me. Maybe, maybe there are like, I think it’s fair to say that there’s some sort of like, I don’t know, Venn diagram within cells and trolls and like somewhere in the middle where they all kind of meet. And these are people who feel like ignored, like they’ll never be noticed, who now have found a way to be noticed.
Ginger [00:43:28] Yeah, I mean, these are not separate groups necessarily like we like to label them as incels or this or that, you know, but they’re they have they very much criss cross over. You know, and I think it is about power when it comes down to it, like it’s about folks that feel disenfranchised in some way and they are trying to change that. Like it’s almost like before you had the internet, there was a pressure cooker of disenfranchised folks who had nowhere to put that anger. And suddenly they’ve all got a voice. And not only have they got a voice, but they can connect very fast to each other and spread those ideas very fast, like we’ve just seen with the anti-vax movement, you know?
Jameela [00:44:12] But then there’s a question that there’s a question that which is like, maybe this is a bit chicken or egg, but you know, there’s there’s a part of us that feels like the internet has further dehumanized us. And obviously there’s the blue light that comes from our phones that we stop producing whatever chemicals enable our empathy when we’re looking into that blue lines in our phone, which like further de sensitizes us and stops us from being empathetic. So. It’s a bit like when Donald Trump, you know, came up in America and suddenly it felt like racism took a kind of like 150 percent, and bigotry in general and misogyny all took what kind of 150 percent surge. The question I think a lot of us had was, is he causing this or has he unleashed what was already there. And I sometimes I can’t figure this out about online, like so I’m like, has it made us worse or were so many people like this disgraceful. And now we kind of finally have access to being able to put that all out there is this is this our human nature? Sort of like uncivilized human nature at play when we’re not living by societal norms.
Ginger [00:45:16] So I think we need to hold a lot in our heads at the same time when we talk about this. The internet did not create misogyny or hatred. That existed in society a long time before the internet. And we saw that like there are so many examples like the Rwandan genocide. You know, well, you know, Hitler gassing six million Jews, you can go on and on and on. Right. So
Jameela [00:45:38] But I’m talking about the sharp rise. That’s all.
Ginger [00:45:40] Yeah. So the the thing that the internet has done is it is a tool. And as I briefly talk about in my book, some tools insist on being used in certain ways. There are aspects of the tool that make a behavior or a thought that already exists comes to the fore. So what the internet has done, it didn’t create the hatred, the hatred and all of those isms already existed in society. You know, ableism, misogyny. Racism like that was all there. But when you create a tool that connects every person on Earth and anyone can have a voice and you can proliferate an idea at the speed of light and connect people together very, very fast, you have a tool that’s insisting on being used in a certain way. So you’re reaching far more people and you would have had people. We’ve seen this in Canberra really recently with the so-called convoy to Canberra, where we had anti-vaxxers coming from all over the country to kind of converge on Parliament House, right? All these disaffected people, they might not have known why they were angry. They might have been just felt pissed, you know? And in the old days before the internet, they would have been doing that in their individual communities and houses, and they might not have known where to find other people like them. They can find other people like them in a second who are reinforcing these ideas, giving them new ideas, and therefore they get groundswells.
Jameela [00:47:08] So it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire that’s already there, basically.
Ginger [00:47:11] Absolutely and
Jameela [00:47:13] Because pre-internet maybe if we had problematic views or thoughts or feelings, if the only people we have access to are the people right around us and they don’t share those values, let’s say at school or work or whatever or in our household, then we’re more likely to question those values and maybe not speak about them and maybe even change. But if you then put people directly into immediate contact with people who reinforce and maybe sometimes go further to like indoctrinate others into that value system, then they are no longer. There’s a benefit to social pressure, you know, and then they no longer are subjected to that.
Ginger [00:47:48] Absolutely. And this is the first time in history that instead of getting the social norms and morals just from our families and our immediate communities, we can get them anywhere and we can get them anywhere we go online, you know? So that is a problem. And so it’s not that the internet created these issues, it’s just that the tool gives us the ability to proliferate this very fast. I think if you look at the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, you know, they’ve been tracking hate for a long time and they do these incredible quarterly intelligence reports. And it’s slightly terrifying to see how fast this stuff is, proliferating. But do we blame the internet? No. But do we need to reclaim the internet for the good of humanity? Yes, we do. And so this is a kind of question for governments, really and for us. Like, how do we do this so that we can use it for wonderful things? We can use it to share knowledge, we can use it for its original purpose. Although I have to say
Jameela [00:48:53] And also we do need it to question like individuals and systems, though, you know, like there’s this is a it’s a really tricky, blurry line because there’s, you know, liberals or the left or whatever. Like, you know, there’s a a necessity to like the Black Lives Matter movement, the MeToo movement, and even like the I Weigh movement like. And so this involves tearing down systems and that involves kind of, you know, like a tight like targeted efforts. However, then when it kind of when there are people on the opposition who in their heads feel as though there’s a rise of, I don’t know, a different kind of like fascism on the left or they, you know, they feel as though they are fighting something valid we’re all of a sudden like, No, no, no, no, no, but what you’re doing is wrong and troll and like. In an ideal world, social media would go back to being, you know, we wouldn’t need it to be anything more than. Just showing each other our avocado toast but that is massive life benefits, too. You know, I think, what happened with I think Biden being able to beat Trump was a response was it was a result of online mobilizing of activists.
Ginger [00:50:08] Yeah. And I mean, you need to be really clear that this is a really important place for vulnerable groups to meet and discuss and to make change.
Jameela [00:50:16] But they should be allowed to be safe.
Ginger [00:50:18] Absolutely. Like, I’m the editor of a feminist website and we publish a lot of research and a lot of stories that are not being told anywhere else and that is crucially important. It’s crucially important to be able to connect with other people. And, you know, there’s sometimes an argument, Oh, we just get rid of anonymity. And it’s so, so simplistic because there’s lots of groups like if you’re a Rohingya Muslim fleeing Myanmar and your life is at stake, you need to be anonymous online. You know, there’s lots of reasons why people need to be anonymous online and that need to be able to meet and talk online. But it’s just a matter of protecting conversation and also being having the ability to disagree, I think there’s disagree politely, you know, they
Jameela [00:51:05] You can’t tell someone to kill themselves.
Ginger [00:51:07] No, you don’t. I mean, there’s a difference between saying, Ginger, I hate what you’ve written for these reasons, you’re wrong. Why do you need to say to me, I’m going to kill your kids and cut your uterus out? Like, why do you need to say that? So and this is a thing as well. Back to social norms like you wouldn’t say that to me if you met me in the grocery store, if you met me in the supermarket. So don’t say it to me online. And I mean, I guess this comes back to education as well. So there’s kind of lots of things, you know, when we do need to legislate to make the internet safer, we law enforcement needs to understand this better and be resourced and have the tools to investigate these crimes. But also, we badly need to introduce and stick by online etiquette and teach it to our kids and teach them online resilience skills because otherwise it’s just going to go on and on forever. And I mean, personally, I can’t live without the internet. You know, the internet was just recognized by the United Nations as a human right like having access. So it’s ludicrous to say to people, stay off the internet like economically, socially, politically, we need it. It’s a crucial tool. But why have we let it devolve into this dangerous cesspit? We can rescue it, but we need to act.
Jameela [00:52:22] So, OK, so we have educating kids in school. I think also something you’ve touched on early on in this episode is the need to also understand that these are people who are slipping through the cracks. And again, that’s something that maybe we need to approach younger like, you know, and I get I get piled onto whenever I suggest that there is a mental health element to this because I think people feel as though I’m stigmatizing mentally ill people. I’m definitely not. I’m not saying that all mentally ill people behave in this certain way. But what I am saying is that things like depression, things like anxiety, things like, I don’t know, severe narcissistic disorders, you know, and borderline disorders. These are all things like trauma, PTSD. Some of these people, you know, you’ve touched upon someone who has severe PTSD has gone on to then become an online troll. We have to be able to have this conversation. We cannot become so precious around the mental health conversation. I say this as a hugely mentally ill person myself that I don’t want us to become so precious about the conversation of mental health that we therefore don’t even recognize when it is part of something that needs to be resolved because we can’t talk about it like we can’t get to that place of fragility because we will end up allowing this kind of cesspit to grow. And this is not stigmatization in any way. I don’t do these things. I have PTSD. I don’t go and treat people like where I’m going to, like, tell them that I want to kill their kids or, like, cut their fucking body parts out. My God, I’m so sorry that was said to you. But but I still recognize that there are still people in pain who need help. And maybe if we were to help them, they would go on to not behave like this.
Ginger [00:54:04] Like, you go back to that chapter I was talking about, which is probably the one that hit me the most, and that was so hard for me to deal with, and I really had to sit with it for a long time. That chapter the internet was my parent. These are little boys. These are 10 to 16 year old boys, that are completely abandoned by society and by their families that are getting on the internet and getting radicalized into these behaviors. And at 18 or so getting spat out as the Christchurch killer. Like, we have a responsibility to these kids to step in there. That is a crucial intervention point for those boys to grow up in a healthy way, but also so they don’t end up walking into a mosque in New Zealand and shooting more than 50 people dead. So there absolutely is a responsibility there.
Jameela [00:54:58] Or even on a lesser, on a lesser scale, like sending terrifying death threats that maybe they don’t even intend on following up on to marginalize people to women like, because that can impact it’s impacted my mental health being on the receiving end of very, very violent like descriptions of how I’m going to be sexually assaulted, etc. like from strangers online, like they might never follow through on that. But it doesn’t change the way that then that makes me feel in my home, you know?
Ginger [00:55:25] Absolutely. And so that’s you on an individualistic level, right? That’s just you. But if you think about if I think about everybody that silenced all those marginalized voices that no longer speak. And that then young white white supremacist men have the floor that is fucking terrifying, like do you want to live in a society where they are the people that have the voice, where they are the people that speak and nobody else? I don’t. I want to live in a pluralistic society where I hear all these different voices. So it’s one thing on an individual level and the damage that it does to you. And I mean this book, by the end of this book, I had really bad PTSD. I had to get treatment for it. Very alcoholic, you know, because people were all being murdered in real time like it is a violent cesspit. You know, I understand the damage it does to us on an individual level, but I am more terrified, like as someone who has spent my career fighting for a more equitable and just society. I am so scared about what this is doing on a macro level across the globe to everybody that needs a voice, to everybody that needs to talk.
Jameela [00:56:51] Thank you so much for your work. I strongly suggest that everyone goes out and and read your book Troll Hunting and follows you online and and reads your writings. I think it’s unbelievably valuable and just so helpful to kind of humanize the situation and also like talk about what an emergency this is. And like, you are raising really important alarms in really high places. I really appreciate you. So before you go, would you mind just telling me, what do you weigh?
Ginger [00:57:17] That’s the hardest question you’ve asked me so far. You know, one of the things that this work has made me do is turn inwards a lot and think about the things that are really important. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how, particularly in the media, it’s not a meritocracy. You know, women wants to have babies get put on the mommy track and so forth. So I really wish wish that I had in my life not worked as hard and done more beautiful things. And so if I think about what I weigh, the things I put weight on are having people around me who love me and cooking for friends and spending time just doing things like being outside. We’ve got such beautiful parrots and kangaroos and things in Canberra, and I’m teaching my kids, you know, to look at all the native orchids and things like that and pay attention to the here and now because I’ve spent a lot of my life kind of trying to please other people, and I’m trying to say no more and take it back and not take it back to do radical, exciting things like travel the world and go to rock concerts, take it back to just, you know,.
Jameela [00:58:30] Take it in.
Ginger [00:58:31] Yeah. And read a Caitlin Moran book and like, go outside and talk to my chickens and collect their eggs and grow some zucchinis, you know, like, try to be much quieter, much more in the moment. I’m not very good at it, Jameela, but I’m trying. And you know, my marriage broke up through the course of writing this book. It was very damaging all the cyber hate and all the stuff that came with it. And I’m now in the most beautiful relationship with the most kind, caring, loving man, and I’m trying to really nurture that and pay attention to that and put my weight there.
Jameela [00:59:02] Well, thank you for saying yes to this interview. I really appreciate it, and I look forward to working with you in the future and helping you amplify your important work.
Ginger [00:59:12] Oh, Jameela, thank you for asking me. I got that little squeak when I got your message. I was delighted because I followed you for years. So thank you so much for having me.
Jameela [00:59:21] Thank you. Lots of love. Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnigan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson, and the beautiful music you’re hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month Stitcher Premium by going Stitcher dot com forward slash premium and using the promo code anyway. Lastly, over I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at one
Ginger [01:00:02] eight one eight
Jameela [01:00:03] six six zero five five four three or email us what you weigh at AI Weigh Podcast at gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners. Someone wrote in saying, I weigh my two brothers who are the best people I know. I was a man who loves me very much and who I love to. No matter how much my brain tries to sabotage that, I weigh the two films I made during a pandemic and the short story I wrote that got shortlisted nationally, which like not to brag or do brag and Ireland’s small and all. But that’s pretty cool, and I weigh a hell of a lot of resilience and bounce back. I love that.
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