Adventures with internet trolls and real world ogres

I haven’t posted here for a while, other than my regular word of the week. Real life and the task of writing for a living has got in the way. I have an enormous amount of work on. And other than that, real life is getting increasingly edgy. Here in New Zealand there is a tenseness that wasn’t there a year ago. The fact that the Reserve Bank botched the economic side of the Covid response in 2020, first blowing house prices out of reach, and now sending interest rates spiralling, is part of the mix. Everybody seems on edge.

There’s also the fact that social media is increasingly toxic. Blogs are fine – there’s something about long-form media that provokes thoughtful discussion. But I’ve become very tired of the short-fuse, trigger-happy keyboard warriors who lurk in short-form places such as Facebook, particularly some of its enthusiast groups. As one example, recently a pseudonymous guy on a group associated with my home town told me to ‘put on my big boy pants’ and admit that a 1945 U-boat drive-by hadn’t happened. There are multiple verified primary sources, including the commander’s wirelessed status reports, Allied intel intercepts, crew diaries and so forth, showing what happened. But apparently these mean nothing. According to my critic, it wasn’t in a 6-minute YouTube video, therefore it never happened, proving how wrong I was.

Yup! Go to the internet, where idiots consider themselves experts, and experts are treated as idiots. Apparently my academic qualifications and 40-odd years experience internationally in analytical history, for which I’ve received awards and affiliations including being elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, was nothing against my pseudonymous critic’s ability to obtain Thuh Troof from an unsourced internet videos. What’s more, he ‘proved’ it not on what the tuber said, but on the basis of what the tuber didn’t say. (A friend of mine calls such behaviour the ‘dunny clogger’ effect. I leave you to figure out the etymology.)

Oddly enough, the tuber who made the video was similarly qualified to me – even had the same affiliation – but he’d got it a decade after I did, and had less than a third of my publications in the same field. By my critic’s standards, I was therefore a comparable or better expert. But, of course, that didn’t count.

Stuff like this can be easily ignored – I mean, my critic wasn’t even using his real name. But there’s an awful lot of it, and you never know what word (always a word, not a concept, interpretation or idea) will trigger someone. A week later, that same group began promoting a white supremacist conspiracy theory about local prehistory, which they also treated as true. I didn’t even bother dignifying the moral and intellectual void by engaging.

There’s a fascinating article on Medium, synthesising Bonhoeffer’s theories and modern evolutionary psychology, which casts excellent light on the dangers associated with social media and stupidity.

But still – onwards and upwards. I can see a light a the end of my own workload tunnel. So watch this space for 2023. I’m also angling towards something new. Hint:

Part of the score I’ve written as background music for my podcasts.

I’ve been planning a podcast series, and I’m doing my own theme and background music for it. Who knows where that will lead? Hopefully to money in monolithic quantities, because I’ve decided I want a modular synth larger than Hans Zimmer’s, not so much to spend endless hours programming, but because it’s cool. Also, I want a writing room like his music studio.

Hans Zimmer’s studio. The synth is the whole back wall (Moog modules on the left, Roland System 100m modules on the right). Note also the Bosendorfer 280 VC 9’2″ grand to the left. Photo by Peter Gorges, via Flickr, cc 2.0 license.

There are also other media I haven’t tried yet – Mastodon, for instance, about which I’ve heard good things. Also Instagram, though I don’t really know if that’s for me. I mean, an endless succession of carefully staged selfies designed to reveal how fantastic my life must be, and hey, MEEEEE, you know, MEEEEE – well, it just doesn’t cut it as far as I am concerned.

Anyhow, that’s where things have been, so take care everybody, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2022

9 thoughts on “Adventures with internet trolls and real world ogres

  1. Unfortunately nowadays, people that are educated are dealing with kids which I call the call of duty generation that pretend knowing very thing. Moreover, it is somehow difficult to establish a conversation where you could express your point of view in an intelligent manner. Those subjects, revert to offenses demonstrating what they are, keyboard warriors, the hearsay generation but no knowledge whatsoever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, a lot of the problem comes from the anonymity and inexperience. The hearsay issue is interesting: according to evolutionary psychology, humans are hard-wired to believe it, however crazy the gossip. It’s how ‘witch hunting frenzies’ exploded periodically in the early modern period. The principle also explains why wild stories gain such credence via social media. It’s not just a youth generation either – I know who my pseudonymous critic was, and he’s (theoretically) an adult.

      Back in the 1950s, Cyril Kornbluth wrote a brilliant satire of period US society – proposing a corporatised, commercialised future in which people had become idiots: ‘The Marching Morons’. Aspects are dated, but in other ways it seems oddly prescient. It’s on Project Gutenberg:


  2. Dear Matthew,
    I sincerely hope that you delete all of those subversive internet Trolls and real life Ogres from off of your site because they will only contaminate your site and your followers especially since you write for a living and as for me poetry and writing are relaxing fun and enjoyable hobbies.


  3. Watched a brilliant skit by comedian Wil Anderson just a few days ago in which he parodied the ‘do your own research’ meme. In theory, asking questions and yes, doing your own research, is the best way to learn and expand one’s knowledge. But that’s still a world away from being an expert. Imagine watching a Youtube video on brain surgery and then scrubbing up to ‘give it a crack’? -shudder-

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    1. I think one problem with the ‘internet expert’ is they lack any formal training in critical analysis. Just this morning I spotted one of the ‘experts’ on a Facebook group I occasionally visit spouting off about the ‘truth’ contained in a history book he’d found, written soon after the events it described, because it allegedly had only ‘the facts’. In reality the book he’d cited was part of a complex historiography of its subject, all of which was partisan, all of which demands proper context to understand the content. ‘The facts’ often do not speak for themselves – I mean it is verified fact that in the 1920s and 1930s a certain former soldier made a point of being nice to children. He also enjoyed eating cream cakes. And he was instrumental in making sure the everyday people that he favoured in his country had cheap motor cars and good places to go for holidays. These are all facts. Was he a nice guy? Absolutely not, I’m talking about Adolf Hitler, one of the worst psychopaths of all time. OK, so that’s an extreme example, but the point remains that ‘thuh facts’ themselves need putting in proper context to be understood. I find, time and again, that this isn’t done by ‘internet experts’. Sigh…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lol – what a beautiful example! I’m not an expert in any field whatsoever, and am never likely to become one because the more I learn, the more I realise how much I simply don’t know. And that is all down to those analytical skills.
        Back in the days when I used Twitter, I’d often follow links to so-called ‘proofs’ only to discover that either the first person to start the conspiracy had misinterpreted the ‘facts’ completely, through ignorance, or that the so-called proof was no proof at all. One example that springs to mind is the one about scientists debunking climate change when most were in radically different fields with no overlap. Or directly aligned with the fossil fuel industry.
        The devil is always in the details, but most internet ‘experts’ can’t be bothered with unimportant things like that.
        The thing that I find truly infuriating is that the same people who decry experts in one field are more than happy to trust in the work of experts in another field. Apparently the science [and engineers] that keep planes in the air is ok, but the science that takes them out of their comfort zones is not.

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  4. I recently got a slew of comments on my blog about how everything NASA says is a lie. One of the commenters told me if I’d “do my own research,” I’d find the truth. I’m a Sci-Fi writer, and I write a blog about how I do my own research.

    For the most part, my experiences on the Internet have been good and helpful. I’m perfectly happy to engage with people who disagree with me, or with people who want to point out my mistakes. Sometimes these people really do know more than I do, and I’m glad when a comment leads to me learning something new. But then there are a few people who seem to be determined to ruin things for everybody else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They do seem to be a minority, but they’re very loud! Such people also cannot be reasoned with. I actually had one tell me that nothing I said or did would make him change his mind. I keep wondering whether it’s a survival mechanism from the old hunter-gatherer days that (like so many of these mechanisms) doesn’t really work in a large complex society.

      It also occurs to me that the scale of such thinking, these days – facilitated by social media so it’s front and centre for the rest of us – might not just be a function of the fact that social media has acted as an amplifier. It’s also possible that such thinking is a reaction to the powerlessness felt across wider society, near-globally, these days. I pose this as a question and intend looking into it.

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