Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist. She has an innate ability to connect and communicate with some of the most interesting and marginalised people in our community and works hard to translate those untold stories into powerful and insightful journalism.
In 2013, Journalist Ginger Gorman was trolled online and received scores of hateful tweets, including a death threat. Over the next five years Ginger spoke to psychologists, trolling victims, law enforcement, academics and the trolls themselves, embedding herself into their online communities and their psyches in ways she had never anticipated.
Journalist Ginger Gorman, in conversation with Channel 9's Chris Uhlmann, leads us through the mindset and motivation of online trolls, exploring what makes them tick and who they really are.
Troll Hunting is an utterly compelling read and an important window into not just the mindset and motivation of trolls, but the history of this kind of aberrant behaviour.
Filename: Troll Hunting with Ginger Gorman
*Speakers: Male (M), Chris Ullmann (C), Ginger Gorman (G)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 12 February 2019
M: - for this today. It’s great that so many of you have joined us today to listen to Ginger Gorman speak about her latest book, Troll Hunting, a compelling read and an important window into not just the mindset and motivation of trolls but the history of this kind of aberrant behaviour.
Ginger is a fearless and multi-award-winning social justice journalist. She has an innate ability to connect and communicate with some of the most interesting and marginalised people in our community and works hard to translate those untold stories into powerful and insightful – [recording skips]. Ginger was trolled online and received scores of hateful Tweets. Understandably she was terrified but once the attacks subsided she found herself curious. Over the next five years Ginger spoke to psychologists, trolling victims, law enforcement, academics and the trolls themselves in ways she had never anticipated. Through her comprehensive investigation she formed strange and enduring relationships with the trolls and has created a watershed book that is impossible to put down.
This evening Ginger speaks with Nine News [recording skips] is a two thou [recording skips] Walkley Award-winner for broadcast interviewing and has worked extensively as political editor for ABC News and many other media organisations over the years. Please join me in welcoming Chris – Ginger Gorman and Chris Ullmann.
C: Thank you and it’s great to see so many familiar faces in the crowd, some of them going back to our days at Triple 6 ABC Canberra where Ginger and I knew each other or now going on for nearly 20 years ago. I don’t know what you read into the portents but there's a dust storm settling over Canberra at the moment at the same time as the Australian Government’s time in [unclear] 1:57. It’s a sign of the dust that’s being kicked up online by trolls and – or them coming out of their hideous hiding holes to make people’s lives miserable and I can’t think of a more timely book. Just briefly on Ginger, we have known each other for a long time and I remember what stood out about her was that she was an original, that she looked into places that other people did not go and she’s also courageous and this by any measure is an absolutely courageous book. If you haven’t read it you should and you should buy [recording skips].
G: Thank you, Chris.
C: Ginger, just to kick off for those that don’t know this story, and I know it must still be hard to tell –
G: So I was based in Cairns and I’ve always had a passion for social justice which you know and I put together a series about the lives of people who are LGBTIQ in that community and there were actually nine stories in that series and one of them was about this gay couple who told me that they had had a child via surrogacy in Russia. So we broadcast those stories on a lot of ABC local radio stations and those stories were also put online. Three years later I was on maternity leave with my second daughter and those men were arrested as members of an international paedophile ring of a [recording skips] man, Robert Stacy McCain who was a very high-profile journalist at The Washington Times which is a conservative paper. He blogged about it, he used my Twitter handle and he was essentially inciting his followers to shame me and that’s what happened, they just piled on. It started as a trickle and then it really became a torrent of hate.
I mean I really had not thought about trolling, I didn’t know much about it. It wasn’t really a thing that was being discussed in Australia at the time and there’s just too really scary moments that occurred. The first was we got a death threat at night and we got this Tweet that said your life is over [recording skips] and tech-savvy. You could just about pinpoint our house on Google maps. Then Don also found a picture of our family on a fascist website so my mum’s family had fled the holocaust, a number of them had perished in the holocaust and then there this photo was of us and our children on this website with all this horrendous commentary. So together those things were absolutely petrifying. I really did have a moment lying in bed listening to my kids kind of breathing asleep in the next room and thinking did I [recording skips] as a journalist so -
C: This is something the book really addresses because we’re seeing violence essentially move from the [recording skips], shut it down, you don’t need to worry about it into the real world.
G: That’s right. Yeah so one of the things I was trying to prove all the way through is the real life harm that this causes so the word troll is used so widely now it almost has no meaning, people wind other people up in public and they say oh he’s trolling her, she’s trolling him. We call President Trump a troll, what does it mean? I was really trying to define a kind of behaviour where the victim of this orchestrated online hate suffered real life harm and I called it predator trolling ‘cause I was trying to say this isn’t just about being a snowflake or pulling your big girl panties up, this is about real life harm. If you haven’t read the book I mean it shocked even me. I had been talking to trolls for four or five years and in that book trolling is linked to terrorism, it’s linked to real life stalking, it’s linked to murder, it’s linked to domestic violence, it’s linked to incitement to suicide so these are very serious crimes. I was trying to make the point, this isn’t something we can brush off. It costs a lot of money as well, it’s not just hurt feelings.
C: Yeah, let’s just look at what you decided to do because a lot of people could go about writing a book and doing a sort of a sociological survey where they go and they investigate other things that other people have done but the thing that makes this book so valuable is that you decided to try and find the people who were stalking you, who were threatening you and your family with violence and talk to them. Is that a difficult thing to do?
G: So Robert Stacy McCain, yeah, I mean it took me four years to email him and it’s probably the weirdest email I’ve ever sent in my life and I sat there for a long time like how do you write an email to somebody who has made you and your family very unsafe? That was a very weird moment and actually he wrote back to me straight away like almost within a few hours and he was very polite and he did actually engage with me quite a bit, he was quite accusatory. But then he never came through with the interview. The other trolls were members of quite big syndicates and they were not backward in coming forward so you know as a journalist like it’s actually really hard sometimes to get marginalised people to talk to you if you’re trying to find someone who is doing an aberrant behaviour, they don’t want to talk to you. These guys really wanted to talk to me and I think that’s because rightly or wrongly they feel marginalised. So it was not hard to find them and it was not hard to get them to talk which I still find really odd.
C: Well let’s go through some of the characters and I think the most disturbing character in this book is Mark. What can you tell us about him?
G: Yes, he is. So Mark is a very vicious and committed predator troll and he doesn’t really experience empathy in the way that you or I would so he’s got what they call cognitive empathy, he can understand how to hurt or upset you but he doesn’t feel for you, he doesn’t feel the emotions with you. So he really goes out to hurt other people, he’s a classic sadist, he takes pleasure from hurting other people. He finds victims, often people he considers to be marginalised so –
C: Or finds people who’ve just suffered a bereavement and trolls those who are mourning.
G: Yeah so this is called RIP trolling and it’s the most hard to get your head around. He’ll find the Facebook page of say a young girl who’s died by suicide and he will troll their family and finds it funny, he finds it amusing. Not only that – ‘cause he’s part of a syndicate so they pile on, he’ll profile what’s going on, they’ll work out the way that’s going to hurt that family most and then – yeah. I mean that is a very strange relationship that I have with him, he is very threatening. He will often troll me but then he keeps in contact with me too like if I try to keep out of contact with him he will eventually get back into contact with me.
C: But again stepping out of the virtual world into the real world at the very beginning of this book he contacts you and says that someone who’s just committed a murder in the United States was one of his people.
G: Yeah so the book opens with a high school shooter who shoots two people at his former high school and shoots himself and that is one of the administrators of Mark’s Wiki that he works on and where they document everything. So I guess that’s where I'm trying to say these things are not separate, the trolling isn’t separate. The thing about that was that the local police said we had no idea what he was doing, he didn’t even have a speeding ticket. That actually is just kind of rubbish, that just shows that the police have no idea what they’re doing because Mark sent me a file about this high school shooter, William Atchison, and everything was online, everything about what he intended to do was online, him making jokes about Columbine and wanting to do that – Columbine High School shooting and wanting to do that himself. So all the evidence was online and this points to the fact that law enforcement here, law enforcement there, law enforcement in the UK, they have no idea really what they’re doing when it comes to cyberhate.
C: So these are people who are hiding in plain sight.
G: Absolutely. Like when I looked through the file that they sent me like it was just a public link, it’s – I sent it to the FBI through the AFP in the end and I said I don’t know if you’ve got this but you actually need this because this guy just killed a couple of people and I’ve got it so could you send it to them? So these are not – I mean these are not – this is not the dark web, this is the internet, it’s there. I mean in my book I’ve interviewed an amazing woman who is Colleen Mahoney who’s high up in the NSW Police and she has a doctorate in social media and she says that they are doing all this stuff. But if you go and report this stuff, you walk into your local cop shop and you say I am being trolled you will most likely be told get off the internet, love. So these things are not connected in the mind of law enforcement and they really need to be.
C: With Mark you interview him but then you take what you’ve done and you play it to a psychiatrist and what’s the readout that you get on him?
G: Yeah so the psychiatrist is a psychopath expert, for want of a better word, and I mean he is almost a classic kind of narcissist, he wants the attention, he has no fear for his own safety, he is perhaps the victim of something when he’s younger although Mark denies that. Yeah, he has no human empathy, really so yeah, I mean the psychiatrist was fascinating, the psychologist was fascinating and told me a lot of stuff that I also didn’t understand about it that I missed.
C: So he would be part of what we might call alt right so this is a right wing troll that we’re talking about at the moment –
G: That’s right.
C: - and his gangs and for a large part your book concentrates on that. But you also talk about Craig early on who’s from a left wing group.
G: Yeah, I mean Craig was really interesting so there’s this idea that trolls are right and the left doesn’t troll and that is plainly not true. Craig was actually far, far left and he would troll other people on the left who he thought weren’t left enough so like it kind of – he said I troll the earnest left and I was like would that be like me? He’s like yeah, no, that’s you, that’s totally you. So he wasn’t – he didn’t troll on the basis of gender or race or other things that we might feel are consistent with trolling, he mainly was just trying to make a political point. But he also like the others was trolling in a syndicate so one of the ideas that we have is that these guys are like alone in their mother’s basement, that they’re not very bright, that they don’t matter and basically none of the above like none of the stuff that we think is true is actually true.
They are incredibly bright, a lot of them like they’re trying to converse with me about feminist texts and things like that, they’ve read them all, right or left. They are in syndicates, they’re not alone bar one guy that was alone? Yeah. I mean he’s a fascinating case study too because he actually gave up trolling after I interviewed him which is not what I set out to do. As a journalist you’re not trying to actually be a player in the situation, you’re trying to report but – yeah so I first interviewed him in beginning of 2015.
C: This is?
G: A couple of years later I contacted him actually to be on Tara Moss’ cyberhate program and as part of the stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor he said oh yeah, I know, I gave up trolling because of Ginger Gorman and it was because I was saying to him this stuff that you’re doing is correlated with a dark t[unclear] 13:29 of personality traits so psychopathic, narcissism, Machiavellianism and sadism but sadism is the strongest link which means you want to hurt other people, are you a sadist? He said yeah, no, I think I might be and then he didn’t like that so he gave it up after that.
C: I want to bring in just one more character from the book and there’s a lot more in it that this, obviously. Meepsheep, what can you tell us about him ‘cause you developed quite an interesting relationship with him?
G: Yeah and so my actual husband who’s sitting here in the front row, he started calling him my troll husband because I talked to him so much –
C: ‘Cause everyone needs one of those.
G: An extra husband who’s a troll. So I met Meepsheep actually through Mark because Mark said he’s one of the key figures in trolling. He’s President of this horrendously named trolling syndicate. Please excuse me, they did this on purpose so that we have to say this in public. The trolling syndicate is called the Gay Niggers Association of America and they do these huge big media stunts, they get reported in the media so the media has to report it and it’s called media fuckery so they’re all about media fuckery. Very right wing, Trump-loving. When I met him he was quite womanhating, gun-loving like all the things I’m not, basically. I was his hate match, you know what I mean? I’m basically with Jewish backgrounds, in a mixed race marriage, I’m a journalist, I’m left wing, I’m all the things he hates.
So he just was really open to talking to me in the first instance, I think because they feel very marginalised so they feel like no-one’s listening so that’s the first thing. They want trolling and trolling culture to be learned about and understood by the mainstream society and the points they’re trying to make. Very difficult life, brought up in a really difficult family and so I interviewed him, he was very scratchy, he was very standoffish but then also bizarrely very helpful. So have you seen this link? Have you seen that? He helped me interview Weev who’s the most notorious troll in the world. He just wanted to help and I couldn’t really understand why but he said I need people to know about trolling culture. Then a few terrible things happened in his life and we got talking on a much more human level which is really uncomfortable for a journalist. Anyhow I ended up friends with him. One of his really good friends passed away in the time that we were connected and yeah, we just ended up talking and he helped me access that culture in a way that you couldn’t from the outside.
C: But he did shock you because at one stage he decided you were going to engage him on this group’s hatred, literal hatred of white women, that it shot through almost all of their discourse that they –
G: Oh so that was XT so that’s a different – yeah so there was another troll, XTY also became –
C: Didn’t you ask Meepsheep about the same thing?
G: Oh yeah, I definitely did ask him about hatred of women and he said - I guess because – his mother was a very violent alcoholic and things like that so he said it’s really hard to figure this stuff out on your own. Their childhoods are actually a really interesting part of this stuff like almost every troll that I interviewed, predator troll, had had this terrible childhood where they had essentially been left alone online and I'm talking about completely alone. So there’s a chapter in the book called The Internet Was My Parent and this is about 10 year olds being completely brought up by the internet, there’s no parents around, they’re imbibing extreme hatred against women, extremely neo-Nazism, all this stuff and then like what do you know? A few years later they get spat out as a troll.
I actually got that after a while, I was like alright, you know what? This is a parenting story, this is not just nasty guy that fall out of the sky as psychopaths, they – and this is what the psychologist you were talking about earlier said to me. He said Ginger, if the flowers are growing funny look at the soil and it was like this profound moment where I was like whoa. The soil is this parenting like this horrendous kind of way they’ve been brought up.
C: What is this –
G: Yeah, the white women and cancer thing, oh my gosh like that was like a –
C: So that’s – and I thought that was Meepsheep that said that white women and cancer –
G: No, it was XT that said white women and cancer.
C: What is their profound hat – because what strikes me about it in reading your book is essentially the way they behave and work in packs and the fact that so many of their victims are women. It’s almost like a kind of online gang rape that they’re engaging in.
G: Yeah, they really hate women and at some point like it was almost intractable like I – I mean the darkness in there, it was incredible and by the end of it I was just drinking and crying and shouting at my children, you know, it really was very hard to deal with. They feel left behind by society, they feel that their kind of rightful place in society is the top of the food chain as white men has been knocked off and they blame white women and particularly feminists. So a lot of this stuff is very simplistic, it’s just – instead of looking at the structures of power and control in society and looking at the economic issues that may have left them behind they just blame white feminists.
C: Let’s look at some of the things that you discovered that they’ve done to women so what were some of the examples that you found and again where this crosses from just being abuse online to where it has real world consequences?
G: Yeah so one of the most kind of horrendous case studies that I came across was the Australian journalist, Sherele Moody, she came from a very violent and difficult background and is now a sort of anti-domestic violence and anti-gender-based violence campaigner as well as being a journalist. The kind of men’s rights activists trolling against her is very orchestrated and ongoing and I mean it’s so extreme it’s actually hard to quantify but in the time I contacted her right before - I’d already submitted the first draft of the book. As a result of the cyberhate against her her horse was killed and her dog got given acid so you can’t say that these things are separate, they are the same. Really I mean Facebook can whine and whinge about the way that they’re treated in my book but they didn’t do anything about it and they don’t do anything about it and neither did the police.
C: Is this why you’ve coined the term, predator troll?
G: Yeah because I think like that – when I started writing the book and people got hold of it they were saying oh this is just kind of white feminists whining about stuff but I was saying no like this is real life harm and we need to have a term for it because at the moment the languages used is so vague like is it cyberhate? Is it cyberbullying? Is it – what is it? Is it trolling? People say to you Ginger, it’s just people being mean online, just block and delete and I’m like look, at the Unite the Right rally in the United States in August 2017 The Daily Stormer and their troll army incited their hordes to go to that rally and one of those guys drove a car into the rally and killed a woman so I’m sorry, block and delete is not going to solve this. I mean there are actually stories of hope, though. I can tell you a really hopeful story if you want ‘cause it’s like oh my god, it’s a [unclear] 21:15 like this is intractable.
So one of the guys in this book, and he wouldn’t let me put this in so I’m telling you now. It’s not in there but I wish he would have let me. He was an incel when I met him so these are guys that hate women, they think that women are only there for sex and they want – if they can’t get women to give them sex they believe in using violence. The chatrooms, I mean honestly, they made me nauseous. So I met this guy, I talked to him for about a year and then after a year he said to me thank you so much because I no longer hate women and he’d actually started dating somebody and he said that’s because of you.
C: Lucky her.
G: Well no, I mean I was actually thrilled about that moment ‘cause I was like wow, he – wow like this is not intractable. The eSafety Commissioner is here, I know she gets this stuff all the time but I had this moment where I was like wow, this stuff cannot survive human kindness. We need to – rather than bring our hateful selves to this we need to bring our greatest humanity to this problem.
C: Which is commendable but I have to say that some might think that you – and you trying to understand them, that you might have an overly sympathetic view of them. I do not share your level of sympathy towards some of these guys.
G: I know and you get trolled really badly sometimes too, don’t you?
C: Yeah but it approaches nothing that I’ve seen of the trolling of my friends like Leigh Sales, Annabel Crabb and my wife and look, without going into too great detail the most appalling thing I ever read didn’t come by way of a Tweet, it came by way of an email and we’re talking about personal safety to Gai one night. I was sitting next to her on the couch and she said look at what I’ve just got and I read this thing which was the most vicious sexually violent things I think I have ever read and it was directed towards my wife. Remarkably he put his name and address on it and a contact. I have – and we have these Chinese walls which were never normally broken down but I could not resist.
I made one phone call before I rang him and then I rang him to say is this you? Is this what you’ve said? Yes, it is. Why do you believe that you could say this to anybody? Why do you believe that you have a right to say this to anyone? Why would you speak like that to a woman? Completely unrepentant and I said well listen, buddy, I know the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and you put your address on this and the cops are on their way over there now so enjoy the conversation.
G: Did you actually call the police?
C: I called the police before I rang him.
G: Did the police go?
C: Yes, they did.
G: But is that because you’re Chris Ullmann?
C: Yeah, I know and the other thing too is that I have an advantage but that was the second incident where – this is why we sort of improved the security on our house and so yes, I had an opportunity that other people didn’t have but it’s hard to stand by on that. He eventually rang back, sort of made contact and apologised. I’m sorry, I don’t care and I don’t care what his life was like and I don’t really care what made him like that.
G: But I wonder like if you weren’t Chris Ullmann, if the police would have done anything. I mean there are some –
C: This is what I’m saying, I said I’m in a privileged position but it was -
G: Like that woman in the book, Justine, who has tried to suicide because of the predator trolling by her partner, Facebook and the police have never done anything ‘til I rang and I said this is going in my book. Basically – excuse my language – take this shit down like – and I mean I know that the eSafety Office has a very high cooperation with the police and with social media companies but most of us don’t so that – but –
C: But the other thing that’s really clear in your book too is that – and it’s so true that every time we try to talk to Facebook or Google or to these monoliths, will not actually respond to questions.
G: No and it was absolutely incredible sitting in the Senate hearings into cyberbullying like you had these Australian senators, loads of them, not just one or two but a whole panel of them asking Facebook and Twitter these questions and the obfuscation was amazing. Like at no point did they give any useful information about how they deal with complaints, how quickly they do – how those complaints are triaged and why not? I mean they obviously don’t have a duty of care to the public, really. Like they say they don’t want people hurt on their platforms. Well for goddamnit, do something about it. You’ve been whinging about this since 2006.
C: Do you believe them that they don’t want people hurt or is it actually part of the business model?
G: I really question this, I mean they have the best engineers in the world working for them. If they wanted to I think they could stop this. It – I read a huge report as part of writing that book by the Pugh Centre in the United States and they canvassed more than 1,500 academics and experts worldwide on this stuff and over and over again they were saying discord on those platforms actually serves the platforms, it doesn’t – it brings people to the platforms. So the platforms say that they don’t want this on their platforms but if you don’t want it stop it. At the moment you’ve got like law firms like Maurice Blackburn actually saying we need a legislated duty of care. I don’t know whether I agree with that or not but I think at the moment there is no motivation for them to stop it. If there was they would have stopped it like why haven’t they? They – I mean the way that I explain this to people is like if there was a company putting unsafe cars on the roads and we were getting maimed and killed in those cars we would expect them to – we would hold them to account. They’re not being held to account.
C: Now I know people have plenty of questions so I want to leave plenty of time for it so if you could start thinking now if you’ve got one, stick up a hand and I think we’ve got some microphones that we’ll move to either side of the room. Did this damage you?
G: So by the end of it I was a real mess, Chris, and I like I said was crying and drinking all the time and shouting at my children and I do have a trauma support person through the D[unclear] 27:21 centre but that wasn’t enough so I’m now doing yeah a specialised course of therapy for trauma in journalism. It’s amazing, actually. Yeah, I didn’t expect it to be so dark, I really didn’t, I didn’t – there were lots of funny moments ‘cause the trolls are really funny like I said to Meepsheep at one stage are you -
C: It’s called black humour, I guess.
G: Like you find yourself laughing at these really weird moments but I said to him are you going to be cast out by your syndicate because of having such a close relationship with me and what’s going to happen? I’m worried about your safety. He said don’t be stupid, Ginger, trolls can’t read. They’re not going to read your book, you know? So there’s actually – there were quite a lot of moments of humour in there as well.
C: No worries, do we have some questions from the audience? So one over on – near the back up there. If you could just identify yourself if you don’t mind and we’ll go –
A: Hi, I’m Angela, a Canberra resident. I was going to ask Ginger, do you also have female trolls and is their behaviour different?
G: Yeah so there – actually we had a case study in the book of three women trolling each other and they all ended up in court but we took it out just because – not for any gender reasons, just ‘cause it really slowed the narrative down. Can I just shout out to Arwen Summers who is the reason that the narrative reads like a thriller? She’s my publisher. There’s a case in there of Marion Versader, the Australian lawyer and her major troll was a woman and got charged, actually, under the Criminal Code Act so yeah, there definitely are female trolls. One of the main – one of the women I really wanted to talk to, Jamie Cochran, was a transgender woman who used to be President of [unclear] 29:06. She died actually right when I was meant to talk to her, sadly ‘cause I thought that would be fascinating like how do you as a transgender woman think that this whole thing works? Do you feel marginalised? But yeah, a lot of them die because they are such damaged individuals and they take a lot of drugs so unfortunately I never got to talk to her but the answer to your question is yes, there are.
C: Question at the back.
A: Hello there, I was just wondering whether there is any documentation around any cost to society around trolling?
G: The what –
C: Costs, we were going to come to this.
G: Oh yes so we didn’t get to this but – so one of the things – thanks for your question – one of the things I did which is really not that usual for a journalist – is I was looking at the case studies as a cohort so not as one and I was trying to find patterns in what was happening and I realised that it was just costing so much money like people were describing the absolute destruction of their lives, they were describing losing multiple jobs, having their reputations wrecked online, having to go to court, all these costs associated with being a cyberhate target. So I started ringing economists saying please help, I need this data and they all said no except The Australia Institute. Rod, Tom, Ebony, are you here tonight? Hello, where are you? Hi. Thank you, Australia Institute.
G: So The Australia Institute, I rang Richard Denniss, economist, and I said Richard, I need help and he said this seems important, we’re going to get you this data. So they did nationally representative polling on my behalf and they found that cyberhate is costing the Australian economy $3.7b and that’s only days off work and health costs so the actual real cost is a lot more. The amount of Australians who have been subject to cyberhate so more extreme attacks and online harassment is 8.8 million adult Australians so this is not something we can say is a minor thing, this is a big thing.
C: I’ve got a question here and then one at the back.
A: Hi so I’m only halfway through the book so apologies if you do answer this but you mentioned parenting as a major cause and I listened the other day to the mother of the Columbine shooter and she swears that she couldn’t possibly have known, that she loved her son and gave him everything and was aware of some depression, was working through it but had no idea. Did you ever see instances where that – the parenting –
G: It’s not one thing so I would never say they are all the same by any means but – for example Weev who is the world’s most notorious troll, the letter that I quote in there from his mother is so heartbreaking. She’s obviously the most lovely person and she does charity work and she adopted – they are a white family, she adopted these two black kids. She really seems to be a loving and wonderful person and her son has done the most horrendous things and I mean you cannot say always that parenting is linked to this but I think in cases like Meepsheep’s case where the kid is totally left alone and is not parented and is left online in kind of echo chambers of hate, that does have an impact. So I would not want anyone to go away thinking they’re all the same, they’re all sadists, they all do this. It’s not one story but there are definitely threads in there that we need to pick up and when we’re looking at bullying programs in schools we need to also be looking at these kids that are alone and isolated and are growing up with the internet as their parent so I hope that answers your question.
C: At the back.
A: Hi Ginger, I’m Mick. I work in PR –
G: Where’s Mick? Hi, Mick.
A: - and a lot of professions now require their people to be online.
G: Yes, that’s right.
A: How do we protect our people and I guess how does society protect those people going into those industries?
G: So I wrote about this about five years ago and as far as I can see no-one is doing anything about it. Most social media policies actually are about protecting the organisation, not the individuals and they’re essentially sending their staff into unsafe workplaces. So this definitely happened at the ABC where you were really encouraged to be online but there was no social media self-defence training. So yeah, that’s what I'm saying, social media self-defence training like what are you sending your staff into? Do they have the psychological and physical skills to deal with this? Do they have the contacts of the eSafety Commissioner? Do they know what to do and who to contact if this happens? Do the know the motivations of trolls? Like all this stuff they need to know before going into that space ‘cause it is not safe at the moment.
C: Some people are more resilient than others too and some people do manage to cope with this a whole lot better than others so it just depends on the person –
G: It does.
C: You point out too that one of the chief targets of this are women in the media.
G: Yeah, that’s right so women in the media are getting attacked three times as much as their male counterparts which wouldn’t surprise anyone in the media. Actually PEN America said – that’s an organisation that promotes literature. They’ve just put out the most amazing field guide to online harassment, actually teaches people who write and are in the public eye how to deal with this stuff so yeah, I would like to see all organisations that require people to be online to be thinking about this stuff. It’s not just like oh Ginger’s feelings are going to get hurt, there is a social media lawyer quoted in this book, his name is Roger Blow, and he has said to be listen, these staff who suffer trauma as a result of being online for their work are going to sue their organisations and they are going to win because those employers have sent people into unsafe workplaces. It’s just like sending someone onto a building site without any appropriate gear or training, it’s exactly the same. So we’re going to see in the next 10 years some of these claims, they’re going to succeed and then you're going to see organisations change their behaviour. I hope it happens before then but it won’t.
C: I think we got a question over here.
A: Thank you, Ginger, it’s Diana here.
G: Oh hi, Diana, nice to see you.
A: Good to see you too. Obviously this is Ginger who came to sort of minorities and so we’re always thankful that you always really go to those groups. I mean coming to minorities people like myself from a Muslim background even though I was born here, we are attacked simply for having an opinion let alone anything else and we’re not out there as journalists. So there’s this – right across – and only last night I had to block again somebody on our community page simply because how dare we have an opinion on anything and if you are a high-profile Muslim woman for example you’re shot down completely because how dare you have an opinion? Only yesterday I had to update my security clearance, why do you use so many different surnames? My answer, so the trolls can’t find me. So you're doing all sorts of things to hide from the trolls and the haters but simply existing is a [unclear] 36:34 to be trolled. So there are communities out there who are really suffering because of simply existing.
G: Absolutely and I'm really sorry that that’s the case and I mean really I wish society was better and one of the things – I mean I say to Meepsheep in the book is you are [placing] 36:57 discourse with white men at the centre and you are basically shutting everything down, you are not a bastion of free speech, you are actually [cooling] 37:06 speech and you are making people afraid online. Until social media companies do better and law enforcement does better and we expect better it’s not going to change. The other thing that I say to people - I heard Malcolm Turnbull say at Safer Internet Day – Julie will know, was it last year or the year before? He said the internet is causing people to do this and it just made me livid because the internet is just a vehicle like this stuff exists in society so if you want the internet to be a nicer place you need to stop people being racist and misogynist and that stuff. So I think what it tells us is society needs to be a lot better than what it is. Yeah but I'm really sorry that your commu [recording skips] and Muslim women like there’s data so that they’re attacked more than anyone else, you know? I wish that wasn’t true, that’s why I was taking these guys to task.
C: Question over here.
A: Hi Ginger.
A: My name is Val, I’m honours student from the University of Canberra and first of all congratulations on your first published book, it must be a great feeling. Look, I’m doing research related to artificial intelligence and seeing that you’ve experienced harassment from a human I was wondering, let’s pretend a situation that our future is little bit different and programs are taking advantage of people and what if one day all of us may face the situation that we might experience cyberbullying from artificial intelligence. How is that possible and what are your thoughts on this situation?
G: I mean that is not so farfetched like that is what we were seeing in the 2016 election, Presidential election in the United States like a lot of that trolling was done by bots and it is done by bots. What – I talked about that Pugh Centre report and this is just kind of hilarious in the context of trolls thinking they’re bastions of free speech. That report predicts that what’s going to happen to the internet is loads more surveillance and loads more walled-off communities and loads more censorship because of this stuff that you’re describing as well as human trolls, bots and all of that stuff. So I mean that isn’t a very bright future and I hope it doesn’t come to that but yeah, I think we’re going to see a lot – the internet is going to change a lot. It’s not going to be as free and easy as it is now but –
C: It’s certainly changed a lot from those that promised these Elysian fields of intelligence that we’d all be wandering in, it seems to have shone a very bright spotlight on the nasty parts of the human soul.
G: That’s right.
C: Someone just here?
A: Yeah, Ian from Isaacs. Ginger, are these guys outliers or do you see any relationship between what they’re doing and the libertarian arguments about free speech and 18C? Is there any relationship between the two?
G: Well they definitely all call themselves libertarians. I mean I don’t know if there are formal relationships between them but they are free speech absolutists like they believe that they should be able to say and do anything that they want. Which is actually a crazy argument when you think about it because you can’t sexually harass or bully someone in real life so why can you do it on the internet? It just doesn’t make any sense. Like someone can’t tell me that they’re going to cut my uterus out and kill my kids in the supermarket so why can they do it on the internet? It’s really crazy. Even - I mean I was on The Drum the other day and I think it was the head of the Diversity Council was saying I'm scared of censorship on the internet like what? Like it’s your people that are being attacked, you know? That doesn’t really answer your question but they definitely do see themselves as libertarians and free speech absolutists and I think those ideas are dangerous because when you have absolute free speech you then are taking away the liberties of other people.
C: The other end of the spectrum is dangerous too, though, and one of the things I know that Josh Bornstein says is we need to have legislation on this. Well Australia already has the worst defamation laws in the country and –
G: We do have actually –
C: Sorry, in the world.
G: I mean we do actually have very good legis – like federal legislation, under the Criminal Code Act it is illegal to use a carriage service to menace and harass someone and so basically what that means is you can’t use the internet to harass someone. We’ve had it for 10 years, it’s not doing that well. I think partly the reason it’s not doing that well is not because of legislation, it’s ‘cause we’re not using it properly. The police don’t understand it, the judiciary doesn’t understand it. Let’s use it, you know what I mean? It’s there, it’s been there for a decade, let’s use it properly. It is getting increasingly used but not enough.
C: Towards the back, I think?
A: Hi, my name’s Belinda, I’m a recent convert to Canberra.
G: Hello, welcome.
C: Don’t sound so reluctant.
A: You might have actually already answered my question a bit but I really didn’t understand trolling and how bad it was until I started reading all the things that people write about Clementine Ford who’s one of my favourite writers and it almost caused me to leave the internet because reading the things people said about her and what they were going to do to her and her child and everything was so sickening I just thought I don’t want to give those people a platform.
What confuses me, and I suppose now you’ve been talking about the legislation is that you can find these people so if you can find them surely the police can find them and there must be some kind of offence they’re committing. I mean how can they say those sorts of violent things about people and there be absolutely no consequences? I don’t really understand.
G: No, I mean it is baffling. I think the thing is, this is like the way that domestic violence was treated 30 years ago where it was someone else’s problem, it’s a lot more women than men so it’s 34% men, 44% women getting attacked, it’s a private matter, what’s she whinging about? There’s all that stuff. They don’t understand the legislation, they don’t have the technical skills to deal with it and they don’t have the resources to deal with it. There are some very good police, you can go down to your local cop shop and stumble across someone amazing but good luck, you know? Because I don’t think that’s generally the experience. So there’s a kind of reality gap if you like between the legislation and the expectations of society and the training of police. So it’s not that it’s not illegal, it’s just that we’re not charging people and prosecuting people in the way that we should. I mean there’s also horrendous stories of it going to court and the judge is like what’s Twitter, you know? You’re like yeah, I'm scared my kids are going to be killed.
C: Just in the centre here.
A: Hi, I’m Emma. This is carrying on the conversation we’re having, is the Michelle Carter case in America is an interesting one, I think and relates to what you’ve been writing about. She’s just started her jail term, she was found guilty of inciting her boyfriend to kill himself and that is a very interesting piece of case law which is now coming into play in America where it wasn’t before and they actually tried to defend her using free speech, the light under free speech. What a lot of people – you were talking about the absolutists, they also tend to find that that’s convenient to them when they don’t want to have - they want to be able to say whatever they want but when it actually comes back to them they’re not as keen on that and they want to protect their rights and their things. So you talk about narcissism and sadism, they do pick and choose, they cherry-pick free speech and how they use it.
In terms of legislation, yes, having someone where you can get someone charged. What we need to start building is actually also case law so there are precedents that people can start to use and start building upon to be able to get people charged and jailed for these terms.
G: I mean it is happening more and more so I looked at Victoria and New South Wales statistics and charges under the Criminal Code Act in those two states, mainly just because they have more charges so increasingly though people are being charged under that legislation and there is a patchwork of state and territory laws to do with stalking and other kinds of offences. The problem is it’s not necessarily uniform. I actually wonder – I mean this is a really – something we need to discuss as a society, really, rather than just in a piecemeal way but it’s more about our expectations that tho – we need to, like what we’ve done with domestic violence, except that this is a serious offence and that people will be charged and they will be prosecuted as opposed to any actual problem with the laws.
Yeah, I mean I don’t know, I would like to see the social media companies have a duty of care but not everyone agrees with that but it’s about our expectations as a community, I think like do we think that this is okay? Did anyone see the video that Constance Hall put up where she had been considering suicide because of the stuff that had been said about her, the constant cyberhate. Like is that an acceptable state of play? I don’t think it is and if it’s not what do we expect? What are we going to do about it?
C: Just towards the back, I think, there?
A: Hi Ginger, I’m Shelby, Canberra local.
G: Where are you? Oh over there.
C: Yeah, sorry, no, there’s someone up there. I’m just pointing over here –
A: What practical advice can you tell someone who is thinking about making their way online and whether they should or shouldn’t do it? After being made redundant last year I feel like I’m allowed to express my opinions in public now but – available for consultancies – but one of the things that has held me back is that fear that if I do start drawing attention to myself, particularly in that social justice space where I have been working, is it something I should be avoiding? I did feel a little more empowered after your TED talk a couple of years ago but not enough to actually do it so is there practical advice?
G: Well congratulations on being a free bird. I just have to say from personal experience in being made redundant by the ABC it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and being able to shout my mouth off about whatever I want. I would never say be silenced, I think that’s really dangerous advice, the kind of get off the internet advice. The United Nations recognises internet access as a human right so – but I think forewarned is forearmed. I think the eSafety Office has all this amazing – there’s eSafety Women, there’s all these amazing resources on there. I think just know what you’re going into and have a game plan. Part of actually dealing with trolling now like I mean I’ve got a cow hide like I just don’t care what they say and part of that is knowing what's out there and what to expect. For example does anyone know the amazing academic, Susan Carland? She’s Waleed Aly's wife. She taught me the best trick ever because I’m not actually a funny person, really and so she taught me this trick where people say these horrendous things to her, she’s a Muslim woman and she uses mean girl GIFs all the time.
So people’ll be like you stupid Muslim whore, I’m going to send you bacon or whatever and she sends back GIFs in – you know Regina George? Why are you so obsessed with me, right? So they want to hurt and upset you and that’s her saying I really don’t care what you’re saying, I don’t - and I’ve started using humour all the time and it’s absolutely amazing like thank you, Susan Carland. So when I released the cover of the book I started getting this horrendous trolling like you’re a subhuman, c-u-n-t, you’re a filthy journalist and then I would screenshot and go Clayton says I’m a subhuman filthy journalist, buy my book and find out if I am.
G: So number one like it stopped the trolling straight away ‘cause they were like damn like – and I actually wrote a post saying hey, good morning, trolls, just letting you know if you’ve come here to troll me about my trolling book, I am feeding you into my publicity machine. They hated it ‘cause it was the exact opposite to what they wanted so there are some things that you can do. You can actually use speech back if you’re clever. It doesn’t always work and in extreme cases it doesn’t but yeah. You can put on armour.
C: We’re going to take two final questions ‘cause alas we must make an end at some stage but towards the back.
A: Thanks Chris. Hi Ginger, it’s Peta.
A: I’m still checking the post-box.
G: Her book disappeared.
A: That’s okay, I’ll have to buy two more. So listening to the sort of what do we do about this I’m hearing a thread here. You’ve mentioned a number of people have been prosecuted or their cause has become celebre ‘cause they’re a woman inciting suicide. You’ve also talked about the lack of action, the lack of political will and I’m hearing a distinct sort of misogyny in the legislation, misogyny in the police force or maybe it’s just ignorance so how much do you think - given that women are predominantly the victims here how much do you think that more women legislators who have a reason to understand these laws and to apply these laws to protect the women in their electorates, how much do you think that women in the police force who again would have a motivation to go and become psychologists and learn about these sorts of people, predator trolls, how much do you think that women being more involved in society than our allotted 25% currently would have an effect on the actual consequences or the changes that we can make legislatively or societally to combat these predominantly male trolls?
G: I don’t even want to answer that, I just want to clap. Look, a lot of people have said to me that if you look at Silicon Valley, and people should bale up Julie when we’re drinking wine, Julie over there, the eSafety Commissioner, if we look at Silicon Valley this is largely young white men who are programming these – who are creating these platforms and if that wasn’t the case this would be a very different story. So I think you’re absolutely right and I want to tell you that one of the people that emailed immediately – she was sent an advanced cop – reading copy of my book was Professor Elanor Huntington. She’s a dean of computer science at the ANU and she’s one of the few female deans in the world and she called me into her office.
She’s probably had like three minutes, 30 to spare, she’s one of those amazing people and she said to me what I want to do is basically what the eSafety Commissioner calls safety by design so design this stuff to be safe from the outset. She might have called it something slightly different but she said essentially she wants her engineers that go through her course to think about the human impact from the start. So if we get the Eleanor Deans on our side we’re going to win, basically so yeah, great questions and I think that’s probably a step in the right direction.
C: Final question.
A: You’ve talked a lot about legislation and the fact that the legislation in Australia is quite good but it’s not being used. How much of the difficulty with that is cross-jurisdictional and cross border and things like that where you might be here in Australia, you’re protected by the Crime Act about not using a carriage service but the worst of the troll is in the United States or they’re part of a syndicate –
A: - being trolled from Israel and the US, UK and a whole bunch of different places. Where you might be able to get one troll who’s in Australia you’ve still got this whole band of trolls who are in different jurisdictions and with each of them in a jurisdiction you’ve got to go after each of them individually through separate law enforcement. How much is that a barrier to being able to confront and stop the trolls?
G: I’m going to answer your question in two parts. One is that the eSafety Commission is the only kind of its office in the world and it has jurisdiction to take down powers for children so Julie can force social media companies to take stuff down – when it comes to – like cyberhate when it comes down to children and I would love to see her office expand it so that it has takedown powers for adults. But her office is incredibly successful in working with the social media companies, she has a stick to use if she needs it, she doesn’t really need it ‘cause she’s actually quite successful about targeting the social media companies to take it down. The Senate Committee I talked about earlier, they did recommend that her remit be expanded legally to include adults and that would be amazing.
There is – when it comes to stuff like child pornography there’s an international network called In Hope and they take stuff down within 24 hours – 48 to 24 hours and it includes dozens of countries. I would love to see a really similar thing with cyberhate where if it’s extreme it gets taken down straight away basically because there’s no reason that a death threat or that sort of stuff should stay online. So yeah, there is a jurisdictional problem at the moment but we’ve solved it when it comes to other crimes and I don’t see why we couldn’t solve it for this as well.
But the – Britain and other countries are looking at copying the eSafety Officer. We are actually – lots of countries are, Ireland, I think Korea so we are doing some stuff right, there is some hope but we need to do a lot more.
C: Now I know you would know from our radio days that we’re supposed to time out to the half hour and we’ve just crashed over it so – it’s knocked the news out and somebody somewhere is a little upset but I know also that you want to thank a couple of people so –
G: I do, I want to thank you because you’re amazing and thank you for coming.
G: Thank you for being my old friend. I do want to thank my troll husband although he’s not here, Meepsheep, for the incredible help he gave me, and my husband, Don, my daughters, Kitty and Elsa. They ate so much frozen pizza, I can’t even tell you. Arwen Summers who is my publisher but did the most incredible structural edit like I essentially just gave her fabric and she made a dress from it so the way that the book reads is up to her. Casey who is a publicist who is just out of this world, she’s doing an amazing job. My sister, Kate, and also Rachel, my dear friend, who I cried a lot and had a lot of wine and tea with them while I was writing the book. Also Tom and Rod and Ebony from The Australia Institute. The eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, who gave me amazing support. And Stewart, Catherine and Katrine from the Library.
So thank you, I mean this is an incredibly hard project, it’s left a really big mark on me and my family and I’m incredibly grateful to you for being here and for the support that you’ve given me.
C: I want to thank Arwen because I’ve always wanted to meet someone who was named after a character in Lord of the Rings. I was trying to think – particularly an elf so – and especially I think we all need to thank Ginger Gorman. This is an important book, buy it for your friends, talk to people about it and you never know, we may begin to see some sort of change because you wouldn’t buy a car where the brakes didn’t work so –
G: Can I give you a kiss, Chris?
C: Oh ‘course you can.
M: I guess that brings our conversation to a close. I hope you can join us for refreshments upstairs in the foyer. Copies of Troll Hunting are available in the Library bookshop this evening with a 10% discount and Ginger has kindly agreed to sign copies of her book. Please thank everyone.
End of recording