Sadist Behind the Screen

by TheIdealCynic on March 21, 2017 - 5:39pm



We are in the midst of a troll epidemic. Despite being a virtual world, the Internet has become an increasingly dangerous place where anyone can become a victim of psychological abuse. Cyber bullying, however, has ramifications that go beyond an individual's self-esteem, threatening social progress by deterring free speech. In fact, research has proven that certain topics receive a disproportionate amount of hate, subsequently silencing significant groups who cannot tolerate the constant influx of hate and abuse. A recent Guardian study showed that of their ten most-trolled writers, eight were women and the only two men were black. It seems that the sexism and racism pervading the real world is reflected and perpetuated within the virtual world. 

While an ideal computer world would drag trolls into the trash bin, boundaries of censorship and free speech are unfortunately far easier said than done. Therefore, the moral dilemma remains: how can we preserve and promote free speech without comprising it through censorship? Google's Counter Abuse Technology Team has launched a software program entitled Perspective, which aims to undermine free-speech deterring trolls by regulating their ability to cyberbully. The tool uses machine learning to analyze comments and compare them to statements deemed "toxic”. A "toxic score" can then be used by publishers to filter out those damaging the positive dialogue. 

The program's ability to effectively regulate trolls lends itself to the merits of various ethical frameworks. Firstly, the software borrows ideas from the virtue ethics school of thought. According to virtue ethics, actions and people should be valued according to their virtuosity. Google’s Perspective is built upon this notion, valuing ideas on the basis of the virtue they bring to the conversation. Virtue ethics is often criticized for its inability to unanimously outline and define virtues and vices. In spite of this systematic flaw, virtue ethic's focus on the self's ability to internalize morality is a major win for society. Indeed, by providing publishers with tools to erase malicious content, organizations can embrace their own ethical identity’s and develop collective characters or codes of conduct - a win for humanity. 

Deontological ethical systems, in which moral decisions are made in accordance to universal maxims, are unfortunately not very useful as a practical solution here. A deontological moral decision must pass the categorical imperative, or should be deemed acceptable as a universal moral rule. However, censorship does not pass the categorical imperative because it is impossible to draw a precise line between censorship and free speech. 

Finally, teleological ethical theory plays the most fundamental role in constructing Google's Perspective tool. According to utilitarianism, a subset of teleological ethical theory, morality's ultimate 'Summon Bonum' or goal is to produce the greatest quality and quantity of happiness for the greatest number of people. Google's perspective works according to that logic, optimizing society's ability to protect discriminated groups. In other words, by ranking comment toxicity to prioritize those who are most targeted online (women and people of color), the greatest good can be achieved. Furthermore, teleology is often critiqued for the fact that society cannot accurately predict the outcomes of moral decisions. However in this case, the stark reality of cyber bullying and calls for censorship can be clear cut and predictable in the form of statistics and data. Therefore, by knowing and strategically pursuing the outcome we want to achieve (less hateful dialogue towards women and people or color), Google's Perspective tool may be the best way of containing the awful troll epidemic that pervades the digital world.




I’d like to begin by saying that I thought your title was very intriguing, this is what initially got me interested in your post. As well, I enjoyed the fact that your post discusses such a relevant topic in today’s society due to the extreme integration of the internet into our everyday lives. However, by adding a gendered lens we can even further see how impactful the trolling epidemic can truly be, especially towards women. In 2014, we witnessed the rise of the #gamergate scandal, where many women were the targets of inhumane cyber attacks. Female game developers such as Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu were subject to much worse than comments that could be “deemed toxic” by a software. Their personal information was stolen then released to the public and their various accounts were hacked. So as much as Google’s perspective tool will help in dealing with the day to day issues women may face on the internet, there still needs to be a way to combat the more extreme cases. Hopefully even further developed technology will be introduced to help solve this problem. Finally, your mention of teleological ethics and how it will help Google’s perspective tool is a very important point. Realizing that women are largely targeted on the internet is vital in solving the problem and it will surely help with this integrated into Google’s perspective tool.

Helpful site:

Not only did your title catch my attention, but your post was also very informative. In fact, I have never heard of an anti-trolling program that could regulate toxic contents like Google’s Perspective before. It is always so interesting to see what technology is able to accomplish. Looking at this text through a gendered perspective, I feel like this issue mainly addresses to third-wave feminists. In fact, the invention of the internet was supposed to help realize the third-wave dream: a place where people with different intersectional background can have a voice in anonymity. However, one of the biggest obstacle to this plan has been the internet trolls. Very quickly, their misogynistic posts bloomed in the cyberspace and turned the third wave dream into a virtual battle ground. There was this case where a 27 years old man who had a history of abusing women through social media tried to lure a feminist woman in real life through a fake online advertisement. This specific situation shows how severe internet trolling can get. Therefore, it is important to take in gender perspective in consideration when dealing with internet trolling, because the third-wave feminism has a major role to play in it.

Anyway, if you want more information about the third-wave feminism, here is a link:

The growing population of internet trolls that plague digital society have a reach that extends beyond the confines of tiny screens and binary code, even going so far as to effect the physical safety of its targets. This article was therefore fascinating, as it analyzes Google’s Perspective, a program that aims to make the internet a safer space, walking the fine line between online censorship and free-speech through an analysis founded on multiple ethical systems.
While this program would be a vital addition to the fight against internet trolls, it remains a reaction to the offense after it has occurred, whereas a preventative measure would be preferable. The first paragraph of the article mentions a study done by The Guardian wherein it was found that of its ten most trolled writers, 8 were women, and the 2 men were black. This therefore suggests that internet trolling stems from the teachings and pressures of the patriarchal world view and hegemonic masculinity, wherein the worth of a man is determined by his domination, usually of a violent or sexual nature, over his inferiors, notably women and visible minorities.
The #gamergate controversy is an example of this, wherein female video game developers and critics who challenged the issue of representation in video games were met with a violent lash back by an almost exclusively male online community. Their masculinity having been threatened, a huge number of internet trolls sought to reassert themselves through primarily online death and rape threats.
While a program such as Perspective would help in limiting the damage done through the censorship of comments such as these, the underlying issues permeating our society remain the same. If we wish to fix the issue, we must tear down the ideas at the very foundation of this patriarchal mentality, and not simply its refuse.

An introduction to the patriarchal world view:

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