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Blogger Murdered by Presumed Internet Troll Just After Giving a Lecture on Dealing With Internet Trolls

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This past weekend, Kenichiro Okamoto, a Japanese blogger and expert on internet crime and dark web cybersecurity, gave a two-hour lecture to approximately 30 people on issues of audience engagement and dealing with online harassment.

About 15 minutes after finishing his talk, he went to the restroom, where he was repeatedly and fatally stabbed by a man suspected of being one of Okamato’s longtime online harassers.

Last month, Okamoto wrote a blog post about a troll he dubbed “Mr. Low I.Q.,” whom he said frequently harassed him, and whose account was suspended by the blogging platform Hatena. Describing the abuse he received, Okamoto wrote (as translated by the New York Times), “It’s not a problem for people who are used to abusive language, like me, but a great many people would feel frightened when they receive invectives out of the blue.” (The man who turned himself into police following the murder has not been confirmed as being “Mr. Low I.Q.,” but according to NYT, that is the belief held by several of Okamoto’s readers.)

Online abuse can be incredibly frightening, even for those who experience it often. But while the vast majority of trolls are emboldened by the anonymity afforded by the internet and never plan to leave their hiding to make good on their threats, we’ve seen enough instances of real violence to know that a rare but dangerous few don’t want to keep their abuse confined to the virtual space. Some choose swatting or doxxing, opening the door for others to potentially inflict violence on their targets. Others have followed through on their death threats, or attempted to. Some, like Isla Vista’s Elliot Rodger and Toronto’s Alek Minassian, manifest their online anger as mass murder.

How can we tell the ones who just want to spew anonymous hate on Twitter from the ones who are truly dangerous? I don’t know. But it does make me reflect on why we treat these men as harmless until they prove themselves to be otherwise. Why we call them trolls and not terrorists. Why our go-to collective line of defense has been to ignore them as if they’re schoolyard bullies. The mantra “Don’t feed the trolls” may well have been the worst advice in the history of the internet. Yes, the anonymity of the internet makes it hard to impose consequences on every abusive asshole. But what if we treated every one of them as if they meant what they said, as if they were as dangerous as their outliers?

From incels to Star Wars “fans,” there’s a widely held belief that shining a light on their nonstop abuse is more than they deserve, and only serves to embolden them. But it sure seems like they’re bold enough anyway. Can–should?–we be done dismissing them as trolls, a word that itself carries connotations of fictionalization and trivialization? Why do we not treat every racist/homophobic/transphobic/misogynistic harasser making threats of death or rape or violence as being capable of those acts? I’m sure to some that will sound like an overreaction. But given the very real violence that sometimes results from those threats, I don’t see the sense in ignoring them because that clearly isn’t working either.

(via NYT, image: Thought Catalog from Burst)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.