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Q&A: Wrestling with the unsolvable problem of internet toxicity
Q&A: Wrestling with the unsolvable problem of internet toxicity Exclusive
February 21, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

February 21, 2014 | By Alex Wawro
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    56 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Indie, Design, Exclusive, GDC



Adam Orth is a man who knows a thing or two about dealing with toxic behavior on the internet.

Orth resigned from his post as creative director at Microsoft last April, shortly after publishing a series of Xbox-related remarks on Twitter that incited large swathes of the game-playing internet to pepper Orth with derogatory messages, angry phone calls and death threats.

"It was a feeding frenzy. Everything I'd ever done, good or bad, my public and private life, was now fair game for ridicule and abuse," said Orth during a revealing GDC Next talk on the subject. "I felt like an outcast, complete human garbage. I had completely destroyed my career, and endangered my family's life."

Orth's GDC Next talk offers a brief taste of the internet bile developers like Flappy Bird's Dong Nguyen and Depression Quest's Zoe Quinn have to deal with when they do or create something contentious. Too brief, in fact -- Orth had an hour's worth of material to cover, but ended up having to truncate his presentation to fit within the proscribed half-hour time limit.

So he's coming to GDC 2014 to revisit the topic with an hour-long talk about how destructive toxic online behavior can be, and how some game developers are working to address the problem in a positive way. Orth himself has already partnered with industry veteran Omar Aziz to work on a game called >Adr1ft, which challenges the player to deal with the aftermath of a destructive calamity in a non-violent way.

Gamasutra recently spoke with Orth to find out what he'd learned from dealing with a campaign of online harassment, how he planned to apply those lessons to his work going forward and what other developers can do to stop toxic behavior in their own communities.

How do you solve a problem as nebulous as online toxicity? For those of us who spend the lionís share of our day on the internet, toxic behavior seem unstoppable.

Orth: Well thatís what I say in my talk -- I personally donít think itís solvable, I donít think that genie can ever be put back in the bottle. But my counter was that, while itís not solvable as a whole, there are little micro-universes where you can go -- the companies and games that I mention -- where theyíre actually trying to do something about it.

One of the companies I highlight is Riot -- I donít know of any other company in the game industry that is doing as much hard work to make a safe, fun place for people to play their games.

The thing about Riot's approach is, it's not really about punishing people -- it's about reforming them. Itís about teaching players that maybe negative actions arenít the greatest thing, and showing them how they can be better. It doesnít seem punitive on their part, so much as transitive.

Yeah, I canít think of any other game where I get rewarded by my fellow players for good conduct after a match.

Right, yeah! So what I found when I was making the talk the first time around was that I had a hard time coming up with companies that were being really progressive to try and do something like that, you know? Thereís not a lot of them. So what Iím hoping to do is find at least one more outstanding example to round out that section of the talk.

My talk is such a weird hybrid of information and narrative, and the purpose was...I had never spoken publicly about anything that happened to me; that was the first time. And I havenít really since. So it was important to get my side of the story out, but I didnít want to be like "Oh, everything sucks."

I wanted to show that if you take [negative experiences] and try to turn them into positive things, you can actually change things in your life a lot. Itís very important for me to show that, and then also show examples of how the game industry is trying to change this.

But like I said, there arenít a ton of high-profile companies trying to do this. The three examples I chose in my original talk were Riot, thatgamecompany, and Valve -- Counter-Strike has this awesome feature called Overwatch. So I dunno, Iím planning on digging more deeply into those three so I can actually show some better examples, because I didnít have time during GDC Next to dig deeper into that part of the talk.

Are you nervous at all about getting back up on that stage?

I am nervous about it. There was an announcement that I would speak and when Polygon wrote a story about it, I got a brand-new batch of internet hate.

Itís tough, you know? Itís impossible to be impervious to those kinds of things, because when people say terrible things about you, it hurts. Even if theyíre total strangers, it hurts. It makes you feel terrible, and when someone says that stuff it brings me back to that whole dark place again and I hate that, by my own hand, Iím scarred for life when it comes to these kinds of things. Itís a very hard feeling to explain -- Iím not sure if I even understand it.

Itís a very scary thing, and so yeah Iím pretty scared to get up and talk about it. But Iíve received a lot of positive support from when I talked about it at GDC Next, and I think developers need to hear this stuff. If they donít want to hear it, they donít have to attend the talk.

I want to share my experience with people and show them that hey, if this happens to you itís not the end of the world -- itís survivable. I chose to turn it into a positive thing, and it was hard, but I want other developers to see that and understand that Iím not the last person this will happen to. Itís going to keep happening, and itís going to get worse. I think thatís unavoidable, but I think if I can put myself out there and let people see how bad it got -- and how it didnít destroy me -- then I guess itís worth it. If it gets even one person through a tough day, or just to not be a dick on the internet, itís worth it.

I donít think Iíll serve as an advocate full-time or anything -- I prefer to let the software do the talking.

I canít imagine what it must be like to speak out and ask people ďHey, donít be a dickĒ on the internet.

Especially when Iím perceived to have been a dick on the internet! And thatís totally fair. What I said wasnít meant to be that way, but people took it that way and, with time, I can understand that. Itís totally fair. But I donít think the punishment fits the crime.

But it happens, right? I guess I have to take my own advice and deal with it.

When this is all over, would you ever pitch another GDC talk?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Iím making a game right now, and I hope to talk about that -- what I learned making it, how I went about making it, why it succeeded or failed, that kind of thing.

I donít want to be ďThat GuyĒ forever, you know? Everything I did in my career, up until ďThe Event,Ē has been wiped out. I have to get back to being a creative game designer who makes things. Thatís what I want to be known for, not for making some pretty unfortunate mistakes on the internet.

Do you think an extra half hour in your talk about online toxicity will significantly change what developers take away from attending it?

I think so! I think if Iím able to show more positive examples of how game companies are doing things well, maybe that will rub off on other developers who are thinking about how to solve this problem. I know indie developers who are making games and saying "Iím never going to have a comments section on my website or anything attached to my game." Itís a real problem.

Itís a strange position to be in because I never wanted to be an advocate for this kind of stuff, but I find myself forced into it.

Are you going to do more of this work going forward, or is this it for the foreseeable future?

Yeah, of course Iím going to try to practice what I preach. The experience I had changed me profoundly, in ways that have completely bled into the way I make video games. It would be impossible to not address that in my games.


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Comments


SD Marlow
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Well "hate" takes more than one form, and the in-game or developer targeted stuff is a little different than the "gamified trolling" you find in comments (tweets, forums, blogs, etc). It's one thing to sooth a sour gaming experience, but "out hating" someone has become internet sport. While no one should have to endure these kinds of branding attacks, I suspect many, if not most of those involved have no knowledge or interest in the target/victim. It's a detached thrill to find and post where someone lives, and a "more cred worthy" post an hour later with a Google street view of a targets house.

Hate bombing is just a sad form of socialization in the digital age. Some people just want to feel like they belong, and joining a verbal assault (angry mob mentality) is the gratifying, low-hanging fruit.

Dave Hoskins
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"Gamified trolling" - I like that description, a lot!
I agree with everything you've commented on, it sums it up perfectly some of the sneering I've seen towards software developers. Of course, it happens in every industry, and to everybody even remotely famous.
Human mobs are a shameful reminded of our monkey heritage.

Matt Jahns
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Toxicity shows how emotionally deaf and dumb our world is. Just remove people from each other by a single step, the internet, and they treat each other like animals. It should not be that easy to forget another person's humanity.

Emotional intelligence needs to become a core part of children's education. It's baffling that you can graduate high school without developing it.

Of course, humans have always been this emotionally stunted. What has changed is the internet. Without it, social norms are enough to keep our behavior in check. But with it, a higher degree of emotional intelligence is needed.

Josh Neff
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Its not a case of emotional intelligence so much as an increased level of disconnect. It is the same reason the top 1% do what they do... they don't see or deal with the repercussions... the same holds true for the internet.

Dylan Rueter
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It's unfortunate that what Adam said on Twitter is all some people will remember, regardless of if they're aware of his attempt to turn things around or not. Nonetheless, I have a large amount of respect for someone who can try to take a bad situation and use it to better himself. Here's hoping he can put the toxicity behind him one day and get back to doing what he wants.

Mike Jenkins
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"Adam Orth is a man who knows a thing or two about dealing with toxic behavior on the internet. "

He also knows a thing or two about his own toxic behavior on the internet. I can't get behind anything he's involved in while we keep hearing this story:
"Orth resigned from his post as creative director at Microsoft last April, shortly after publishing a series of Xbox-related remarks on Twitter that incited large swathes of the game-playing internet "

Sorry, no. "Why on earth would i live there?" He marginalized large portions of the population of the USA, please stop pretending his biggest offense was "Xbox-related remarks." It's disingenuous and insulting.

Adam Orth
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There is a big difference between being maliciously toxic online for the purpose of derision and making the mistake I made of having a sarcastic conversation with a friend in a public forum.

I've apologized publicly, reformed who I am as a person, owned up to the mistakes I made and paid for them dearly. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel badly for offending people with my tweets, but it is time to move past this.

There is nothing new to see here. The lessons have been learned and there is nothing to gain by holding onto bitter feelings of anger and resentment. What does it gain you? How does this enrich your life? Who among you would stand up to the same scrutiny?

Instead of lurking in the comments section wallowing in anger, take something from this and turn it into something positive for yourself or the world.

evan c
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It's not up to you to tell people when to move on. Apologizing doesn't undo what you did or said.

It's amazing that even after getting lynched online you still sound like an ass.

Adam Orth
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"Apologizing doesn't undo what you did or said."

No, it doesn't. But it demonstrates the recognition, admission of guilt and participation in the offense. It shows that the individual understands the issue and is taking active steps to heal all involved by whatever means necessary.

Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever had to apologize for anything? The answer, of course, is "YES", but we'll never know anything about it or you, because as an anonymous poster you can't be held to any truth or consequence for what you say. It's an act of cowardice to snipe from behind a keyboard and your contribution here is a perfect example of being part of the problem.

jin choung
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"There is nothing new to see here."

and yet you're giving talks on the subject... REFUSING TO LET IT DIE...

??????

(i've got my hands outspread to the monitor like richard lewis... disbelief edging out exasperation)

doesn't that strike you as a tad... CRAZY?

"my dismissal of the concerns of others is done and in the past so let's move on.... and talk instead about how they wronged me and how much they suck!"

how is that moving on? do you see how that comes off?

like someone who still has not learned his lesson and is focusing on his bruises rather than his part in instigating the clusterfuck in the first place.

it is tone deaf for you in particular to be talking about the problem of the wrath of the internet instead of (if you really have to talk about it ... for some unfathomable reason) something that owns up to your part in the mess like, "how not to make the internet hate you".

doing what you're doing is just bound to (continually) rub people the wrong way. as evidenced here.

---------------------------------

look, imo, you have nothing to feel bad about anymore.

your dismissal of others concerns was snide but good lord, it's not a capital sin. people DEFINITELY had a right to be angry at you about it but "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel badly for offending people with my tweets" is ridiculous.

and OF COURSE the abuse that you've suffered at the hands of internet lynch mob is beyond the pale...

but being your own greatest defender doesn't help here either.

the best thing for you would be to just get your head down and move on. wouldn't it?

if you don't "let it go" (and you're not by dwelling on it in this way), other people won't let you forget either.

Lars Doucet
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I'm just going to leave this word here as some people apparently have never heard of it:

Proportionality.

"Person X deserves absolutely everything that has happened to him, and also deserves zero sympathy" simply does not follow from "Person X did bad thing Y in the past and I'm still mad about it."

evan c
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I do make mistakes and apologized. I just don't tell people to move on for my convenience.

Michael Uzdavines
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I agree with evan, you cannot force people to move on. You can apologize, repent (which Adam seems to have done), and learn from the mistake (which in this case was not even close to the worst thing any of us have done). At that point, if the aggrieved party won't offer forgiveness, then they are the one who remains imprisoned by the feelings of the whole ordeal. It's like they are drinking poison expecting the other person to get sick.

Adam Orth
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I'm not "telling people to move on for my own convenience". I'm simply asking the question "why does this still matter?".

- I was vilified world-wide for my inappropriate and hurtful comments
- I resigned my position from the company over the incident
- Xbox One and has been released does not require an internet connection

There is simply nothing more to be said on the topic. It's run it's course. Months ago. Holding onto the anger as if somehow it is going to affect the situation in some way that benefits the outrage is pointless.

Focusing that energy into something else could power whole new universes, which is what I am attempting to do by using the experience to better myself, create new game experiences and speak to developers about how not to make the same foolish mistakes I made and how to survive them if you do.

Josh Neff
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I might actually have had some sympathy until you made the "It's an act of cowardice to snipe from behind a keyboard and your contribution here is a perfect example of being part of the problem" comment, Adam. I'm sure you've heard the saying that one "Aww-crap" wipes out a thousand "atta- boy"s. I'd have thought you'd have developed a filter for dealing with those in the public arena by now. Clearly that's not the case. Not only have you opted to marginalize anyone behind a keyboard that isn't personally identifiable, but you've managed to make your apology feel more like a dodge by connecting it to a redirection and attempt to characterize the anonymous poster as the real villain. Real or imagined, that's what you just did. Your intrapersonal communication skills need work. Until you get that addressed, this cycle will keep repeating itself.

Droqen is who I am
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Everyone the world over could use some intrapersonal communication skill improvement in some way or another, but you have chosen to pick at this guy's further minor faults (real or imagined, the straws you're grabbing at here are *minor*) because /you're/ the one attempting to characterize him as the villain.

jin choung
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that's a good point....

but the problem is that orth showed a lack of proportionality in dismissing the concerns of (and making enemies of) a GIGANTIC SWATH OF XBOX USERS AND FANS.

it's a little bit like a little snot kid taunting a crowd of people that vastly outnumbers him and then getting up in arms when he gets pounded to jelly because of it.

sure, that response is overblown but there's another part of the evaluation where you go, "wtf was that kid thinking???"

jin choung
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he didn't deserve the ridiculous amount of punishment he got... but....

he did indeed bring it on himself. and in saying the things he keeps saying, he is propagating the internet friction he seems to keep getting.

Josh Neff
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Drogen, when someone makes a point of pretending to be apologetic, then does a hypocritical about face, then yes, I feel inclined to call them on the carpet for it. Your distractive comment fails to detract from the truth of my previous statement. If the "straws" were, as you characterized them, minor, then Adam would not be in the predicament he's in. Sorry to disappoint, but while you feel these faults are a minor issue... gamers across the world beg to differ... and well, when you're insulting the people paying your bills, what you term a minor issue, becomes dangerously huge in exactly the amount of time it takes to make an insensitive comment in a known target market forum.

jin choung
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yes... you've said it sooo magnanimously, compassionately even and true.

whenever i see or hear orth speaking and writing... i've got my teeth gritted like jerry seinfeld when he hired the contractor to renovate his apartment... and i'm hissing as loud as something can be hissed....

"STOP. FUCKING. TALKING!!!!!" for your OWN sake goddammit!!!!

Amir Barak
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"he didn't deserve the ridiculous amount of punishment he got."
No buts, nothing, he didn't and that's it. Can people stop trying to excuse the legion of fools that came after him. Stooping to someone's level (and, let's be frank, far far far far far far far lower) only makes you look like a dick, nothing else.

""STOP. FUCKING. TALKING!!!!!" for your OWN sake goddammit!!!!"
Why? why should he, his talks are about trying to understand and deal with internet brutality. That's not a negative topic. Why should he stop? How is that a bad thing?

Whatever he said and however he said it (and while it was dismissive and pompous, it was neither negative nor hateful, merely ignorant) the reaction people have and still (for some reason) are having show a lack of intelligence on their part not his. Should we all roll over and smile while a moron on the internet talks shit?

"but the problem is that orth showed a lack of proportionality in dismissing the concerns of (and making enemies of) a GIGANTIC SWATH OF XBOX USERS AND FANS."
I don't think you understand the meaning of the word proportionality in this context...

jin choung
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"No buts, nothing, he didn't and that's it."

again, a snide little kid thinks he's invincible and starts taunting a big crowd of muscular guys.

snide little kid gets beaten to a pulp and has to be hospitalized.

did the kid deserve everything he got? of course not. but HE STARTED HOSTILITIES.

there's a side to bullying that rarely gets addressed but there is a kind of kid that INVITES ABUSE. he keeps creating the conditions in which torment finds him.

if anything, this kid needs to stop looking OUTWARD to blame and start looking INWARD to reform.

this kid is not the kid who is able to talk about bullying.

the problem with him continuing to speak about the "horrors of the internet" is that he continues to play the victim instead of owning up to causing the mess in the first place. you can't speak with authority on the evils of humanity when you - in part - helped make it the way it is.

it's EXACTLY like that snot little kid then going on to talk about how cruel and terrible large crowds of people are... even though he instigated the attack by taunting in the first place.

that kid has no business talking about that subject. he got jacked up. what perspective does he have on that? and continuing to be inadvertently snide and terrible at being his own advocate, how can he make anything better?? in the world or for himself?

by playing victim, by blaming the big bad internet, he implicitly (and constantly) disowns his own responsibility.

what he CAN rightly talk about is how HE FUCKED UP. and how others can avoid the same fate. that's what he can talk about without constantly broadcasting that he has learned nothing at all.

TC Weidner
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I would just suggest you always let the product be the focus. Personally try not to allow yourself ever to become the focus, try not to become any sort of gaming personality. Once you do, you become a target.

Its one thing if someone says " your game sucks". " Game XYZ is a POS" etc etc, It rolls off pretty easy. But when it becomes "John Doe YOU suck, " Your family sucks etc etc", now you crossed into a whole new sphere.

You will never ever please everyone, so if you put yourself out there , personally, you are gonna get haters.

Lets remember celebrities, whether tv, movie stars, writers etc all put an "image" of themselves out there because they have to.They have PR departments and its all a sort of a game because they need to sell their "image" in order to make money, attract crowds etc. Its part of the schtick and territory for them ( Not that it is easy, but it is probably necessary for them)

As game makers do we need to put ourselves into the mix in order to sell product? well if you think you do, I suggest first you get a PR team,and create a Persona. That way the hate can be directed away from the real you.

Adam Bishop
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I don't think the problem is "The Internet", I think it's any open social grouping of people. Let's look at it this way:

The comments in Gamasutra may get a bit heated on some topics, but generally the level of conversation here is pretty good. I think there are some obvious reasons for that: particularly nasty comments are quickly deleted and there's a sense of community among like-minded people. I've posted on other sites where the same kind of thing is evident, where there's a clear attempt to build community and moderate anti-social behaviour. These are places on "The Internet" and the standard of behaviour is very similar to what you'd expect offline.

You see the same thing offline. I play in a rec basketball league and because the community is small and we're all there to have a good time there's great sportsmanship. But when you leave the game and hop into your car, you're back out into a big community of people who have no relationship and sense of responsibility, so you're suddenly spending your time with people who tailgate, cut you off, and so forth.

The poor behaviour that we sometimes see online isn't a problem with "The Internet", it's a problem that appears any time you get large groups of people together with no real sense of community. If you work on building that community and uphold a fair standard of behaviour (like Gamasutra does) then you'll see the fruits of that.

Matt Jahns
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I can't agree that this is true at all. There is a definite, qualitative difference between poor behavior in the real world and poor behavior on the internet.

I have never heard someone make a death threat in person. I have never heard one person tell another to commit suicide. I have not witnessed verbal harassment since I graduated high school. I've never seen anyone openly scheme to get an individual fired. If you did any of those things, you would be rightly labeled antisocial.

The internet is another story. I see all those things on a regular basis. And no one is made a pariah for it.

Scott Simpson
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I agree with both of you to an extent.

I believe that the extent of the social violation is directly tied to the offender's level of anonimity. That increases due to number in the population and other things that come between individuals making a human connection, i.e. the internet or a vehicle in traffic.

I recently moved to South Florida from Wisconsin, and I noticed two things about the traffic here. Almost everyone has very tinted windows, and there are an unbelievable number of dicks on the road.

I think these examples play well together. If there is no social accountability, people have the tendency to think only about themselves. I believe that the solution lies in social accountability, but that's all I've got. How to make that happen on the internet is the bigger problem.

Luka Vider
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I actually felt sorry for all the backlash that he got, but I also think he should've seen that coming after saying "deal with it" and "why would I live there".

However I do feel that generally speaking the level of discourse on the internet is only getting worse and worse.

Craig Schwab
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While I do appreciate how difficult feedback toxicity can be for developers, and it's concerning how it could hinder creativity, I hope that developers understand that they are often they are creating environments which help to breed this type of behavior (or at least pay little attention to if it does).

Whatever antidote game developers use to protect themselves from such abuse, I hope they decide to share it with their customers. In an industry that seems obsessed with integrating social networking into every platform and finding new ways to connect people, game developers almost never give players the tools to protect themselves, often forcing them to either depend on absent/overworked moderators or just quitting altogether. This is especially concerning with the growing trend of forced, always-on multiplayer (ie Dark Souls, Diablo 3).

While there may be some high-level, out of the box solutions that could eventually bring about some sort of order, in the meantime they could at least provide players with simple tools such as muting players by default, more options to ignore (mute particular players by default or prevent them from joining your games), more effective parent controls, age/reputation based matchmaking, etc.

Michael Joseph
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Sounds to me like Mr Orth experienced a collision at the intersection of Sheltered Delusion and Reality. The young prince made the mistake of leaving the keep and venturing into the squalor and deprivation of the outer bailey. Battered and bruised upon his return, the prince asked his father why there were so many maniacal paupers out there and why weren't they being educated and refined.

"LOL!" bellowed the king. "Refine them? And undo generations of good work?! That rabble is our greatest creation. Their purpose is to be exploited by people like us. You will learn."

The king handed his son a copy of "The Prince."

"What's this?" asked the prince.

"It's a treatise on the art of public relations." said the king as they strolled toward the dining hall. The tantalizing aroma of roasted boar filled the air.

SD Marlow
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After reading some of these comments, all I can here in my head is "thou has slighted us, and we shall never forget." Not sure about the psychology at work, but rapid polarization on every issue will only lead to social stagnation and death (or something less dramatic along those lines). I figure everyone is equal until you do something to stand-out.

If you are liked, people will always be there to carry you on their shoulders, no matter what else you do. But equally, if you are hated, people will always go out of their way to walk all over you, with no chance for redemption.

Moral of the story: Do NOT upset the internets!

Amir Barak
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The problem is that it's very hard not to upset the internets seeing as they're mostly filled by idiots.

jin choung
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you've provided the solution to your own dilemma. if you think the internet is filled with idiots, then don't address the internet.

jin choung
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or more colloquially: tread lightly. good advice in most settings.

Amir Barak
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or better yet; tread lightly but carry a big stick.

jin choung
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oooooo big talk....

what would a big stick be?

:P

Alan Barton
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Its a very difficult problem because while there maybe a thread of truth in what people don't like (and we can't loose sight of that), the problem is that any controversial issue on the Internet will attract people who like to abuse others and they will lead the attacks. Its a sad fact of life that a minority of people unfortunately get a very big kick out of attacking & abusing others and some also get a kick out of rallying others to join them in attacking & abusing someone. (Its also not just sporting fun, (as some like them would try to deceitfully say ... these kinds of people really are deeply lying Machiavellian people who combine that behaviour with some other very bad traits).

Worst still, on the Internet, unfortunately they can more easily find like minded people to help them. Plus the Internet brings us all closer together. So we are all getting to see the worst of humanity much more closely that we would like these days. But they are a minority, its just they are an extremely loud in your face minority, and even a minority (say 2% for the worst of them in the population) means that even just a small percentage can still be a lot of people on the Internet.

Also we are pack animals after all, so the Machiavellian ones who want to be the pack leaders do all they can to lie to and incite and rally the masses behind what they want (in all walks of life, not just the Internet). (This can amplify the 2% into a lot more of the population until they see through the leaders). Sadly all too often the ones leading the pack can be very Machiavellian narcissists who can in the worst cases even be psychopathic sadists.

Here's some basic psychology info links on these kinds of people. They are not exactly nice people, but they are most definitely the core of the problem as they seek to rallying others to follow them, although anyone who shares anything in common with this kind of person will do their best to deny and distract away from the idea they are the problem. (Lies to rally, manipulate and distract others away from seeing the truth is very easy for them).

Here's some links. Knowledge is power. :)
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/climate_desk/201
4/02/internet_troll_personality_study_machiavellianism_narcissism
_psychopathy.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_triad#Dark_tetrad

The best way is I think to sideline them in society and spreading more info and helping to education more people about them is I think the best way to achieve that.

Benjamin Branch
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I think the thing is people's individual comments on the internet are like drops of water in a river. Individually they have a lot to compete with and are relatively unimportant, so people tend to use stronger wording to maximize effect for readers since people have need for feedback. When the majority shares the same feeling, it can be quite overwhelming for any individual since the tone is completely different than it would be face to face. So many channels of communication are lost in text, so things can get kind of... weird.

That said, I'm not a fan of Microsoft or its people. Take that as you will. Just don't take it too harshly.

Kevin Fishburne
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There should be an axiom chiseled in stone somewhere saying that if what you read on the Internet doesn't help or amuse you it's usually safe to ignore. It is true that some people who actually want to harm you or your family express their very real intentions online, but that is extremely rare and should be dealt with as any material threat: file a report with the police department.

I don't mean to belittle people's traumatic experiences reading comments on the Internet, but unless you legitimately fear for your safety or immediate possessions, does it really matter if someone online is writing cannibalistic poetry about your child or otherwise acting like a psychotic asshole? Just ignore it. A public reaction other than idle dismissal is food for trolls. Trolls may be sad, but starvation is always the best remedy for what ails them.

Dave Hoskins
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Yeah, "Don't feed the trolls" is a good phrase to remember.

Adam Orth
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Kevin,

I hope you never find yourself in a situation where anonymous people are sending you photos of your child with the text "I hope your daughter dies of AIDS" photoshopped over it.

When that happens to you, hopefully you can "just ignore it".

Jeff Hamilton
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I've never suffered anywhere near the level of hate that Adam surely got, and I've had ulcers I attribute largely to the vitriol of strangers on the internet. It's not ignore-able for all personalities, and it's not noble to toil under the delusion that it is.

Kevin Fishburne
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As much spam as I delete I'm pretty sure I'd ignore it as much as the usual "med store" emails. My imagination of ultimate cruelty would inevitably surpass the magnitude and creepiness of their own, so they'd be hard pressed to surprise me even if I took time to read.

Again, other than for assistance or amusement, what is said on the Internet is no more important than that scrawled on an infinite number of rotting papers and walls over thousands of years.

If it's a privacy matter, one shouldn't post photos of family members online without the expectation of remix and repost, offensive or otherwise. Common, yet uncommonly-executed, sense.

Ben Sly
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I don't doubt you could ignore the first ten or hundred, but I'd imagine that the collective weight of vitriol week after week from thousands of anonymous people online would have some effect on pretty much any person. In situations like these, there's a lot of people out there egging eachother on to spam their target with creative insults - I'm pretty sure that anyone would be surprised with their ingenuity.

And as far as not expecting photos of family members online to be defaced goes, it's simply not a reasonable alternative to say don't post them. Even if he, seeing his position as a Microsoft executive, didn't do anything online for fear of some nebulous public scandal in the future, it's highly unlikely that he could convince the rest of his family to stop from posting their pictures online.

Kevin Fishburne
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Perhaps you're right to some degree. If so many people are sending anything your way constantly it amounts to collective harassment. DDoS attacks, social messaging spam, blowing up known phone numbers, sending inappropriate material by snail mail, etc. would make anyone get medieval.

Maybe it's a sign of the social apocalypse and the threads of online humanity are dissolving. I saw similar things on the usenet in the religion forums before I knew what the web was and still used dial-up terminals. People can be irrationally emotionally vicious and social media has yet to rein in or automate the moderation of attacks disguised as innocent comments. Maybe Twitter and other services should police themselves better when a user claims a pattern of hate comments are being made to them.

Jakub Majewski
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Kevin,

Consider the fact that, as the old saying goes, "no man is an island". You can ignore bile and hate when it's directed at you personally. Think about the wider context of what Adam said - the messages regarding his children - and consider that all too frequently, when somebody does something like this on the internet, they actually feel proud of it and show off their handiwork at various public venues on the internet. So ask yourself, how long would it take for some "helpful" kid at school to show Adam Orth's daughter the messages he'd been getting about her? Can you imagine the psychological impact on a child, of finding out that there's people out there wishing she were dead? It would be pretty challenging to explain to her that these people aren't really serious.

Ben Sly
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Kevin,

I really wouldn't call it the sign of the social apocalypse; it's not all that much different from, say, how prominent politicians have been treated since the beginning of government. People in public positions have always been very vulnerable to hostile public opinion, especially when the media gets involved to throw gas on the fire.

The major difference now is automated convenience - that email is much cheaper money-and-time-wise than writing a letter, hyperlinks are much easier to click on than newspaper headlines, and that records of informal conversations are being kept automatically by computers. All those contribute to making public scandals easier to start and bigger once they do start.

Kevin Fishburne
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@Jakub and Ben: Good points all around. I have a few thoughts about principles and theories some prominent thinkers have proposed:

The power to communicate with impunity corrupts. The absolute power to communicate with impunity corrupts absolutely. From one famous guy to the next, perhaps anonymity (or lack of serious consequence) removes the super-ego, allowing the id to do as it likes with the full faculty of the ego.

As an example, it's pretty easy for me to say out loud while driving after being cut off, "You piece of shit. I hope you and your entire family dies in a fire." If, however, we happened to share the same destination and get out of our cars at the same time, I'd be hesitant to even give them a dirty look. In anger I can say whatever I like in my car because I know they can't hear me, and even if they could I'm reasonably protected. Face to face, you recognize them as a person, very much like yourself, who could if angered sufficiently break your nose and give you a piledriver into the pavement. Maybe that's a decent analogy for what's happening here?

To Ben's comments, technology may be facilitating the streamlining of our nature as humans, or perhaps just as individuals. Maybe an important distinction to investigate is if this sort of trolling is limited to emotionally disturbed individuals or if it affects us equally as a species. I'm leaning towards a 50/50 split. :)

Carter Gabriel
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I'd like to comment on people's reaction and hatred for Adam Orth.
I read what he said, and am totally confused as to how it is such a big deal.

1) ...what? He said what any microsoft employee would say. Why would anyone even consider this something abnormal?

2) Even if he was a dufus for not seeing the evils of "always on" tech (especially a console). Even if he failed to see how insane or ridiculous the "always on" requirement is. Preferring the city over the country...is bad? THIS is what you're offended by? THIS makes you rage? Oh dear God...

People who rage and have hatred for him because of what he said must be so full of rage and hatred, that if someone sneezes incorrectly or believes differently, they erupt like a nuclear bomb inside.
What he said is so inoffensive compared to...pretty much anything else ever said that was offensive, by anyone.

Don't get mad at mass murder and genocide, destruction of our rights, bankers stealing your money, social corrosion, racism, bigotry, injustice, murder of innocents, rich people getting privilege, any political, social, or life-threatening events or injustice in the world. Don't get mad at Microsoft for being so corrupt, or Steam being a monopoly. Get mad at some employee of a company for saying what all employees there probably think, and nearly all city folk think. Wow. Just wow.



My only words are

To the hateful: Wow, you are sad. To have so much anger and hatred for this, you must be a nuclear wasteland on the inside (mad at so much more than this, and imploding like a black hole over real problems in the world) or you live in a tiny psychotic shelter-bubble and get mad at stuff like this while ignoring real problems in the world like an apathetic sheep.

"MOMMY!!! Adam Orth made my xbox ALWAYS ON."
"Sorry Billy, I'm still on the phone with the President dealing with the genocide in Somalia. Go deal with Mr.Orth by yourself."
"But moooooooooooooooom... he is a meanie pants!!! WAAAAAAAA!!"
"Oh for heavens sake Billy, you are 43 years old. Get a grip and go back to the basement I'm on the phone!!"

To Adam Orth: From the "always on" perspective, unless you've changed...you're just a microsoft sheep. So who cares? I don't even see why people would hate you, as if you are this big shot who decides always-on or not? People probably assume weird things about you, as if you own Microsoft and it's YOUR FAULT they got the red ring of death or something. What you said shows you were/are either brainwashed by Microsoft or are a total fool. If you've changed, then accordingly you wouldnt be so anymore. If you still think always-on isn't a big deal, you're still an idiot. Either way, if you have something good to say, smart people will listen. If you still have much to learn, smart people will ignore you. No matter what, some dumb people somewhere will eat up what you say. It's win-win-win for everyone.

jin choung
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i think your reaction is disingenuous.

the people who are reacting to orth are people who spend $500 on a videogame console and have not even THOUGHT of the plight of genocides and starving around the world in years if ever.... nevermind spend a red cent to help.

yeah. these are the people who will indeed get offended when what they care about (again, does not involve genocides and mass death and suffering in any way) get threatened.

this is to be expected.

Carter Gabriel
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I always think it is hilarious when people who aren't psychologists, try to contemplate, suggest, or resolve the problems of internet toxicity.

You know WHY RIOT has some great ideas and actually show results? They actually hire the correct professionals, who are educated enough to know how all of this works.

Everyone else just shoots in the dark, because they have no idea what they're talking about.

I applaud Adam Orth for taking the good examples that are helpful, such as the work at RIOT, and spread the news as an example worth looking at.
However, most companies do not have the resources to hire a psychologist to handle this type of stuff for them. And the ones that do have the resources? They are probably run by ignorant people who have no idea how complex humans are, so they probably don't even realize how amazing a good psychologist can be for the company. And most people probably don't know the difference between a crackpot moron with a doctorate in psychology and a real psychologist. So good luck hiring the right one.

However, it's VERY practical to use their examples, and copy their work. I mean, you basically get a free psychologist (RIOT) helping out the entire industry by improving 1 game. Everyone else benefits by getting to use the examples. Sharing those examples is great. Putting it in the minds of developers that they need to pay attention, is even better.

I mean, just recently 3 Canadian "doctors" (psychologists, maybe psychiatrists) just labeled all internet trolls as sadistic psychopaths. Their resource methodology relied on trolls being honest in self-reporting, as well as equating psychopathy to enjoying playing a villain in a video game. Total morons, who are the psychology equivalent of grandpa and grandma who "don't believe in computers" or think pagers are a new fangled technology... Because as we all know, Gamer + Play Villain = RL Psychopath


So props to Adam Orth for highlighting the correct work (such as RIOT) and not bringing up the unscientific "research" where gullible scientists get trolled trying to give out self-reporting online surveys to trolls and believing their answers were completely honest.

Michael Joseph
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Are you a psychologist? By your own measure, you should be providing us with your qualifications so we the laymen can *determine if you are the correct type of professional to be able to evaluate the correctness of other professionals.

[*Actually we the layman could not determine any such thing because who are we? We would be at the mercy of professionals to tell us what is correct and incorrect. Not a particularly conservative view.]

You don't have to be a psychologist to understand internet toxicity. You just need to have an open mind and a desire to understand it that is borne out by doing the work. A piece of paper may make someone an accredited professional, but it doesn't mean they understand psychology and it doesn't mean they're unbiased or apolitical. You alluded to this with your gandpa and grandma example.

There is no resolution to internet toxicity in general that could be confined to changing the rules of a game of chat. And gamifying chat and player conduct seems to be central to Riot's solution. It's a bandage measure made necessary by systemic cultural issues that yield internet toxicity, obsessive compulsive disorders, low self esteem, anxiety, depression, sense of entitlement, and host of other things.

Riot is tackling the problem from a business perspective and it's a big deal for them because they make extremely competitive games and their players are extremely passionate about those games and passionate about "winning" and "losing." Riot may make inroads, but this is not something they can ever "solve." Nor would they.

In the parallel universe where this problem is solved... nobody is playing League of Legends.

It's ironic because this culture is perfectly suited for companies who make ultra competitive games. Maybe we'll see companies in the near future that actually embrace the societal dysfunction that makes these games' huge success possible and instead of trying to mitigate it, cultivates it. Rankings and taunting sound bites and animation hot keys do some of that, but all of it could be taken so much further. Hopefully not.

And I don't believe Riot's solutions would have carried over to prevent for example, any of their customers from threatening Mr Orth.

Craig Jensen
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The problem with trolls, and why they are so hard to get rid of, is that everything they say does have a kernel of truth.

The attitude of Microsoft, as exemplified by Mr. Orth, *WAS* very cavalier and uncaring toward the consumer. I actually consider it a great triumph for the consumer that people were able successfully to point out that the stance Microsoft had been taking with the Xbox One was outrageous and anti-consumer in the extreme. It was nice to see that the "little guy" or "common man" actually could make a difference against the "corporate ogre."

The downside is that Mr. Orth had to be the fall guy for what was doubtless a corporate position that he had little control over. And of course trolls over-react to everything and have made sad, pathetic threats against Mr. Orth and his family. I think the fact that the "common man" gets so little victories over the establishment has probably made the attacks against Mr. Orth even more vindictive and gloating.

It is doubtless difficult to be the spokesperson for a large organization. If you attempt to take the job, you probably should be ready for the worst, and you should make sure that your communication skills are up to par...

Peter Thierolf
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I think this was in no way a triumph for the consumer but exactly the opposite for most.

The kind of features Microsoft wanted to provide were absolutely great (well, minus the 'kinect spies on you *all the time* instead of only when you play ;) - just think of being able to freely trade your digital downloads.

In order to roll in these features, they had to manage rights, which requires online.

I think the industry got set back a full generation, if not more by Microsoft folding their plans - mainly because of their failure to properly communicate.

I must admit I was having one or the other sarcastic giggle when I saw that whole thing exploding on them whilst Sony along the lines could turn from the bad DRM company that patches away your PS3 functionality into the supporter of indies whithout changing a bit of their policies.

Daniel Backteman
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Really didn't think there'd be anything left to contribute at this topic.

Digressing from Adam Orth's situation, I don't believe internet toxicity will change unless there are repercussions for one's actions, and an understanding that speaking on an public forum is, indeed, public.

We all know the anonymous-fuckwad theory. Either censor users by restricting their speech, or create an, and I write this without irony, internet police.

Do you see any other solution to stop individuals from harassing other humans via what they only see is a name and possibly an avatar?

Duvelle Jones
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That has been one of the bigger questions, isn't it?

I will be honest, even a public forum (like a political debate) has some form of moderation. I have always wondered why moderation of some form tends to be a subject that is avoid when the internet is involved.
I can't anything happening with the toxicity found over the internet without some form of policing, and/or encouragement to do better.

But the question that I have is how would someone or any organization go about that?

Ara Shirinian
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I have concluded a few things from situations like this.


1. Extemporaneous speech should never be taken seriously when it comes to offense. To insist otherwise is at a minimum intellectually dishonest about what we are and how we socialize.


2. Consider what kind of life conditions compel somebody to commit so much emotion, effort and expertise into performing these psychological games. It is a problem for our culture that so many people actually experience fulfillment from these behaviors.

It's like internet-"socializing" is increasingly a surrogate for real-life-socializing, and as the surrogacy becomes more complete we are left with populations that are less emotionally adept, less socially adept, and in general just less capable to operate within real social dynamics.

Eric Berne is trying his best to tornado out of his grave as we speak.


3. I wish to be part of a culture that speaks much more freely, and much more readily gives people the contextual benefit of the doubt one way or the other, and is much less emotionally affected by crazy utterances.


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