July 19, 2018, 3:54 am
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Despite cybercrime law, troll victims are helpless

by Raymond G.B. Tribdino

CYBERTROLLS and bullies are a plentiful but cowardly lot. 

e news, circulate shams in Tweets andposts and resort to mostly ad hominem attacks, in attempt to divert attention from the real issues, political or otherwise. 

To argumentum ad hominem or abuse of the person or personal attacks is added a new dimension—attacking those around or loved by the person—in an attempt to divert attention in an argument.  This has to do with many acts including name calling (example, “Dilawans” or “Dutertards”), refutation by caricature (“Trillianes is a coward who lost the coup).”

Attacking the person making the argument or persons close or connected to that person, rather than the argument itself, is completely irrelevant to the argument but seems to create an atmosphere of victory for the attacker.

Social media offers a platform where these cowards put up a brave face because they are protected either by distance (the most rabid protectors of the rampant rubouts and assassination of known criminals come from countries like the United Kingdom and the Middle East) or by layers and layers of profiles which can be easily set up by automated bots in places like China or Serbia. But trolling-as-a-service can be hired in places as close as Sampaloc, Manila.

Bib M., a mother of five and a staunch advocate of personal freedom and good governance was attacked recently by an army of trolls who took a really deep dive. The trolls bullied her for a comment about President Duterte’s management style, which she did not agree to. Her post was straightforward and forceful but was written with no malice.

The result? Not only was her Twitter feed and Facebook page overflowing with the worst kind of intelligible and trashy comments, someone involved her child into the scenario. Bib cried foul and reported for the accounts of the attackers to be blocked.
Multi-awarded journalist Ed Lingao chose to take a stand on radio commentator Erwin Tulfo’s rant against Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Unlike the posturing of trolls and the troll leaders, Lingao’s comments simply pointed out violations of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) code of ethics and Tulfo’s insults aimed at Senator Hontiveros for allegedly expressing support for the Maute terrorist group. Tulfo’s tirade focused on a photo that appeared on Facebook, which turned out to be fake.

Lingao pointed this out, while commenting point by point on a 38-minute video rant made by his TV5 colleague against him. But what pains Ed more is how trolls have taken to personal attacks, involving his innocent daughter who just recently passed away. 

Camille regularly posts about human rights amidst the “tokhang” killings and shares material from Jim Paredes. A student blogger, she is also a Greenpeace volunteer and 

a human rights advocate. One day, her Twitter feeds and Facebook page was full of malicious attacks against her person, calling her a slut for being a single mother of two children sired by two men. To add to the pain, netizens attacked her “ugly children.”

In the U.S., Curt Schilling, a former major league pitcher, announced over Twitter his daughter’s plans to play college softball. The 17-year-old girl suddenly became the target of horrifyingly vulgar comments. Actual threats of sexual violence against found its way into the feeds. All these attacks inspired Schilling to condemn the “cyberbullies” on his blog “38 Pitches.”

Personal, ad hominem attacks are done because there is no other form of response from the attacker. If the correct logic of a post (or an argument) exceeds the 

capability of the attacker to comprehend and form a reasonable argument, retaliation comes in the form of a verbally abusive attack.

Parker Settecase writing a column called “Fighting Fallacies” in the blog Parker’s Pensées, writes, “of all the fallacies tossed around today, the abusive ad hominem is the most malevolent.”

“The abusive ad hominem fallacy..isa fallacy of relevance. The phrase itself is Latin for “to the man” or “against the person”. This fallacy is deployed as a personal attack against an opponent in order to draw attention away from their argument. It fits nicely under the category “fallacy of relevance” because the attack on the person is irrelevant (when it’s irrelevant) to the person’s argument,” Settcase says.

In all the examples above, the cybertrolls went about bullying the persons involved through their loved ones, cheered on by their followers who throw fuel into the fallacy by reposting their nonsense or repeating nefarious messages over and over again.

Bullying and its cyber counterpart comes only from an imagined superiority—that of say numbers of followers willing to engage in an unending word fight shielded by multiple Twitter or Facebook profiles—or even by bots that do nothing but replicate text phrases fed to it through thousands of fake accounts. 

In civil society people can argue about everything, without resorting to immature, personal attacks. Politics, in particular is a field that must be open to debate and criticism.

On the lighter side, people talk about telenovelas and Koreanovelas, the antagonists they hate and the protagonists they love. The level of discussion can be fun, sometimes shallow, but are considered opportunities to learn. Conducting healthy debate challenges conventions, questions our assumptions. 

Oftentimes a good argument will create change—in thinking and in action. And even there is nochange of mind or shift in thought, explaining to another person or group of people is both a good mental exercise and emotional outlet.

But sadly over the Internet, there is a dearth of good arguments. And since good arguments are hard to come by in the real world, they are almost impossible to be found on the Internet. Instead attackers—many of them educated people, students, professors as well as fascist followers—resort to violent words and act upon the helpless and the helplessness of family members dragged into the already invalid argument for no other reason than to create a diversion.

And once the massive number of organic and fake attackers join in the fray, the poor victim has no choice but to retreat or keep quiet. Keeping quiet is considered a win by the trolls.

“Oh walana siyang masagot, sigurototoo,” is a common point of contention.

Are there remedies for the this extreme form of cyberbullying?
Facebook and Twitter have taken positive steps to control if not eliminate cyberbullies.

Facebook has the Bullying Prevention Hub to find solutions to these problems while Twitter has proactively created ways to engage users reporting these accounts—including monitoring accounts considered to be repetitive in these actions.

Twitter has solutions from expanded notification, muting content, “Twitter time-out,” greater transparency on reporting, collapsing abusive Tweets, ensuring safer search content, and stopping the creation of abusive accounts.

Brutal attacks from cybertrollsmay not see an end in sight now. But artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are now being employed to seek and remove cybertrolls. the very technology that allows cybertrolls to exist, will be the very technology that will end them.
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