We Have Met The Shitferbrains, And They Are Us; Or, The Monsters Are Due On Wonkette Street
One of the things I've always loved about Wonkette is the community to be found in the commentariat. You Terrible Ones are smart, brilliantly funny, and incredibly supportive of each other. But as anyone who's ever lived in a small town knows, one of the risks of a tight-knit community is insularity, a narrow-minded suspicion of those who are not Of The Body. And when a really big news story, Wednesday's Mueller hearings, drew new folks to comment on Evan's excellent livebloogs, a significant number of Wonkers reacted to some of the newcomers with paranoia and hostility, accusing them of being bots or Russian trolls and telling them to get the fuck out. While we don't have an explicit "Don't assume anyone you dislike is a Russian troll" line in our Comments Policy, maybe we need one.
Here's the thing, beloveds: A big news story is going to draw new people, or spark longtime lurkers to speak up. That's the nature of a big news story! I started commenting at Wonkette during the 2008 election, because as a progressive in godforsaken Idaho, I wanted to talk to other people watching all the madness and hope.
Some of the new voices who arrived Wednesday were frankly disappointed, even distraught, when Robert Mueller turned out not to be a shining light of pure Trump-destroying TRVTH. That may have been an unrealistic expectation, but expressing disappointment is far removed from trolling. Quite a few of you raised the shields and armed the photon torpedoes anyway.
I'll also be the first to admit I jumped in far too late. I only saw the comment carnage well after it was over, when Yr Editrix forwarded emails from people who'd had their heads bitten off (they got better). I was watching the testimony too; next time, I'll try to patrol the comments more.
The very topic of the testimony provoked a certain amount of hypervigilance: There really was a Russian trolling operation against America in 2016, and Mueller noted that such efforts are continuing right now. That doesn't mean everyone with a contrary opinion is working out of Moscow. Progressives have a lot of different opinions, and progressives getting angry at each other is pretty much the norm. Again, that's a baked-in part of any political movement going back well beyond Will Rogers's "I don't belong to any organized political party -- I'm a Democrat." Or those goddamned splitters in the People's Front of Judea.
And yes, the Russian disinformation campaign exploited such existing divisions. But as Rod Serling reminded us in "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," you don't need any real monsters to get discord. Human beings start out clannish and paranoid enough. I'm pretty sure Wonkette wasn't visited by any actual Russian operatives, but some commenters -- who should know better -- sure were ready to go nuclear on newcomers, because after all, they'd never seen those people here before.
Perfectly articulate comments expressing frustration with Mueller or Dems on the committees were often met with replies like "Hi fellow American person! Are you fond of cheeseburgers and Pickup trucks? I, too, am fond of these things!"
And things got even more insane if the new person protested and tried to say they were a bona fide progressive, because isn't that exactly what a witch would say?
Consider this exchange. We're not sure we agree a hundred percent on the detective work there.
Wonkette Regular: Yet ANOTHER unfamiliar account with a couple hundred posts, posting defeatist sounding stuff...
Newcomer: You should probably actually check my posts...
Wonkette Regular: The posts I'm concerned that you may have made to season your account for Mueller day? Those posts?
Eat shit, troll.
Look, we get it: James O'Keefe's asshole fake "journalists" really did create fake social media profiles in their attempts to fool media organizations. It has actually happened. So if you proceed from the assumption that anyone expressing disappointment in Mueller is acting in bad faith, then it's not entirely unreasonable to assume that person also built a fake backstory by seeding their account with anti-Trump comments a month ago.
The downside is that you start accusing a lot of perfectly nice people of being Russian bots and driving them away from a little mommyblog that would love to have them here. Or in several cases, readers who have been here all along and were finally ready to dip a toe in the water -- only to find we have a lot of self-appointed sharks with friggin' laser beams to drive them away and then congratulate themselves on how well they've protected Wonkette.
No. YOU STOP THAT.
Here's an excerpt (by permission) from a note sent by one longtime reader:
Firstly, my huge thanks for your wonderful site and writers. Wonkette has got me through some dark times, including the recent death of my mother. It's my first (and often only) source of US news. Plus the wonkette toddler pics would brighten ANY day.
Today I finally came out of lurking to comment on Evan's mueller liveblog (it's a momentous day and I felt brave). My post was benign and to do with how mueller looked to be struggling and I felt bad etc. Almost immediately after my first post I was accused by other posters of being disingenuous, being a bad actor, right winger etc. And then almost all of my new posts (none of which breached rules) promptly disappeared. [Disqus sometimes decides lots of flags/downvotes = spam. Or it may have been a glitch -- Dok]
I get why, in the age of Russian interference and Breitbart trolls, folk may be paranoid. But I always saw Wonkette as a safe place and the speed with which I was shut down and then shut out, was quite distressing as a long-time reader.
Now, we cannot entirely prove this is from a real Wonkette reader. Maybe it's a Russian troll who gave us money and made up a story about how much Wonkette means to them, just to sound exactly like a Wonkette reader who loves the blog and what we do here. But no thanks, that's a level of paranoia I'm just not willing to entertain.
For that matter, can I prove, right now, that I'm actually the real pseudonymous Idahoan who posts here as "Doktor Zoom"? Maybe Wonkette has been hacked, and a sophisticated troll armed with a lot of Kurt Vonnegut and Monty Python references is fooling ALL OF YOU!!! So the rabbit hole goes.
And again, I do get it -- we get actual trolls here. Wonkette is a special place that we all want to remain free of assholes. But could you please not escalate minor disagreements into telling others to get the fuck out forever? That's my job (if I'm really me, at least).
As far as I can tell, the trolls we get are almost universally plain old US American jerks from the wingnuttosphere, not Russia. They tend to be ridiculously easy to recognize, since subtlety is a second language for them. I deleted a few of them from the Mueller liveblog, too. But again, they announced their presence loudly and obnoxiously.
And yes, Yr Wonkette's comments section has also been attacked repeatedly in the last year by a troll who had a feud with one of our regulars and followed them here, even creating fake Disqus accounts mimicking that reader and others. But again, that asshole outed himself very readily.
Hell, I'll readily admit that our beloved Dear Shitferbrains feature may have actively encouraged some of the antisocial behavior endemic to the internet. Pouncing on trolls can be fun, especially when they're as brainless as, say, Turgid Love Muscle guy. The problem with that reflex is that you can also start yelling at ordinary folks who thought they were part of an autonomous collective.
More broadly, beyond Wednesday's shitshow, some of you filthy fuckaducks are entirely too ready to assume the absolute worst of anyone who takes a position you disagree with, which is why I fucking hate moderating comments on any post about Al Franken. NO PLEASE NO DO NOT ARGUE ABOUT FRANKEN HERE, AIEEEEE!
All I can recommend is that we all try to approach people in good faith, whenever possible. (If they show up shouting MAGA slogans, that's another matter. Flag and block.) Despite the reality of organized trolling campaigns, please don't grab the shotgun every time a stranger shows up. They might actually be OK! If they do start trying to sell you rightwing bullshit, or "just asking questions" about whether racism or sexual harassment are even real things, then sure, flame away. WHAT IF THE STRANGER WAS JESUS! YOU JUST SHOT JESUS!
On the whole, though, all I ask is that we all remember, god damn it, to be kind.
We love you. Now stop yelling at each other and finish reading Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness for tomorrow, OK? I'd far rather talk about books!
Yr Wonkette is supported entirely by you, the readers. Please send us money to keep the servers running, the writers paid, and Dok in booze and antacids.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.