Editors’ Choice: How to See the Forest for the Trolls – Studying Digital Rhetoric on Compromised Platforms

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Content warning: References to sexual assault and online harassment

As we consider digital rhetoric’s futures, I want to think about ways that we can study digital networks, and communities and interactions on digital networks, better. And by better, I mean, more thoroughly, more descriptively, more rigorously. How can we better examine digital writers and the traces that they leave online? To start that conversation, I need to tell you a story, one I haven’t been able to get out of my head.

The Incident

This is a story about Andrea Noel, a journalist based in Mexico. I first heard her tell her story on the technology podcast Reply All, a show produced by Gimlet Media and hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman that tells human stories about technology and tech culture. While I first encountered Noel’s story in podcast form, you can also read her account on the Daily Beast, here.

Noel’s story began with what she calls “The Incident” – on a walk through her neighborhood in Mexico City, a man came up behind her, lifted up her skirt, pulled down her underwear, and then ran away. Immediately after the assault, Noel noticed a surveillance camera on the street that captured the entire incident. She tracked down the footage, which showed a blurry close up of the man’s face as he ran away. Noel decided to share the footage of her own assault on Twitter and asked her followers for help in identifying the man in the video.

Noel’s tweet inspired an outpouring of support, with others sharing their own stories of assault and harassment, using the hashtag #MiPrimerAcoso (MyFirstAssault). Noel’s story was also one of several stories around that time that led to one of the largest demonstrations in Mexico against sexual violence. But it also brought Noel harassment and death threats, which got worse when Twitter users accused Andoni Echave, an Internet personality with a television show called Master Trolls, where he played pranks on unsuspecting pedestrians and bystanders. Echave’s show was cancelled, and the online conversation around the assault footage was described by Vogt “like the Kennedy assassination film,” as each side argued over whether it was Echave in the video. Noel was also harassed on Twitter by a coordinated troll gang; no matter how many times she reported the account of the ringleader, who went by the name “Pasta Prophet,” and his followers, they were soon back on the site with new accounts and 10,000 immediate followers. He would retweet her messages for his followers to attack, and even tweeted out her real-time location. After being targeted in her own home, Noel moved and then finally left the country.

 

Read the full post here.

This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Justin Broubalow based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: Jajwalya Karajgikar

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