Hillary Clinton Facebook group overrun by troll mob

a trollThe Hillary Clinton group got overrun with trolls last night. A Facebook bug — that’s been reported and unfixed since February — prevented the admins from being able to react. I saved a snapshot of a series of 25 threads with sexist (and in many cases racist) subjects; I won’t quote them, but trust me, they’re vile. In the middle of this was a plaintive plea for adult behavior by an Obama supporter — with a bunch of responses from trolls. Sigh.

Update: Will Bower’s Glitch-Plagued Clinton Facebook Group Cries Foul; Obama Page Glitch Free in the Huffington Post has administrator Candy Elizabeth’s excellent open letter.  Why yes, now that you mention it, that is the same Will Bower who was mentioned in comments in How to respond when Facebook censors your political speech on Tales from the net.  Small world!

Members of the Clinton group migrated to a private group, always a good thing to do in a situation like this. This morning, the board seems calmer but it’s hard to know whether that’s just a temporary lull. There are aftermath threads like since only the trollzz are here thread and (in the Obama group) The Hillary group has become a trollfest.

Clinton group members, not unreasonably, see Obama supporters as responsible for this: there’s been a lot of gloating and taunting in the last week, and several Obama supporters have been banned from the Clinton group for trolling over the last few months. On the other hand, the Obama group was also getting trolled last night, as discussed in What’s with all the hostility tonight and What has gotten into some of you people? The garbage in the Clinton groups is similar in a lot of ways the trolling/hate speech we’ve gotten on the Obama boards; I see some familiar names (“Ian Hussein Wright”) and posting styles (brief all-caps hate speech, typical of “Munya Smith” and “Piper Lee” under their various aliases). As I said in my apology in the Clinton group

to be clear, i am not saying that to disclaim responsibility; but please, don’t give these racist and sexist trolls a further victory by adding to the tensions between Clinton and Obama supporters.

There are some major questions about Facebook’s role here. At a minimum, failing to fix the bug hampering a political activism group for three key months during the primary season is very irresponsible. And especially given Facebook founder Chris Hughes’ role with my.barackobama.com, since the much-larger Obama group wasn’t suffering from this bug it certainly gives the appearance of anti-Clinton bias. In Facebook’s “defense”, I should point out that many of the Obama supporters who were censored by Facebook in February and March brought up accusations of anti-Obama bias. Then again, a couple of months ago Facebook did tell one of the Obama group members that they were going to introduce a mechanism to ban an IP address, not just a profile, from a group in response to our requests for help dealing with repeated trolls. If they actually did implement this while ignoring the Clinton requests, it raises some troubling questions — about their software engineering process, and possibly more deeply.

Hopefully this incident will get the attention it deserves in the press and blogosphere and we’ll start to have some serious discussions about questions like this … and the general problem of trolls and hate speech online. I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m sick of trolls and haters disrupting online conversations and shattering groups. I think it’s long past time we start doing something about it.

This is probably a good time to mention the resource page we’re putting together on the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) wiki on Dealing with hate speech and trolls. So far, there’s about a dozen useful links (sample moderation policies, essays) and a handful of tips. If you have of tips, resources, or success stories about dealing with trolls, please add them to the page — or as replies here.

I’ll be leading a session on dealing with hate Speech and trolls at the Workshop on Activism and Education Using Social Networks on May 22 (specific time still TBD), and will try to get somebody from the Clinton group involved to discuss this experience. If you’re interested in the subject, there’s also a CFP panel on Wednesday, May 21, at 11 a.m. EST on Privacy, Reputation, and the Management of Online Communities, and another Friday, May 23, at 11:00 a.m. on Hate Speech and Oppression in Cyberspace; We are hoping to have streamed audio and a chat backchannel, although as always with CFP the details are still being worked out.

None of this helps the Hillary Clinton group in the short term, though. Hopefully they’ll be able to regroup and regain control of their discussion board. It’s an unusual vivid example of how trolls and haters can disrupt an online community – and how the people writing the software don’t appear to taking the problem seriously.

Originally posted, in much shorter form, as a comment in Community Defense vs. Trolls