Culture Shock

Anti-Asian rants rile netizens

As difficult as it is to believe, there are people out there with nothing better to do than try to disrupt Usenet newsgroups. These strange, parasitic beings are known as "trolls," and they like nothing more than to embroil a newsgroup in a lengthy, meaningless, profanity-filled argument by posting deliberately provocative and offensive messages.

I wrote about such an invasion a few months ago when the newsgroup alt. california was taken over by a handful of posters who filled the group with messages complaining about the inherent inferiority of Mexican culture and the gall of immigrants wanting to come to America-legal or illegal, it didn't matter, as long as they were brown-skinned. That little fracas culminated in one of the posters threatening to have his attorney feed me "a shit sandwich" for calling him a racist.

A few days ago, reader Walter Lee e-mailed me that the newsgroup soc.culture.asian.american had suffered the same fate and asked for advice on how to deal with it. I checked out the group, and Lee appears to have quite an infestation on his hands. Here's a couple of samples from the poster who stands at the center of the shitstorm, a man calling himself Rushtown:

"Now many Asian guys can't find wives at all, and boy, are they CRANKY and horny. You can see the frustration and jealousy in this newsgroup. What are they to do? Beat up the white guys who take their women? Nope, can't do that-might get their ass kicked."

"Asian males are another 'odd man out' in today's multicultural America. They can't compete with the taller white and black guys for the women. And so they feel bitter. They also are socially inept, don't go out for sports, don't contribute sports heroes to American culture (unless they pitch and are from Korea or Japan), and have boring personalities."

Rushtown denies that he is a troll; when I asked him about several postings in which he openly admitted it, he claimed they had been forged. But whether he's a deliberate troublemaker or is simply expressing derogatory and (dare I say it?) racist opinions, he has managed to embroil the entire newsgroup in a convoluted argument over anonymity, privacy and racism. Self-proclaimed trolls would be proud.

The screaming began in late October, when one newsgroup participant who was fed up with Rushtown's anonymous postings posted a list of names and addresses he/she claimed belonged to Rushtown and his relatives, including Rushtown's son, who is apparently a student at UC Irvine.

Another participant, Richard Lee, proposed sending copies of some of Rushtown's posts to his son, who is apparently half-Korean (Rushtown says he is white and his wife is Korean). Rushtown threatened to sue Richard Lee, who counterthreatened to sue Rushtown. Other posters condemned Rushtown's "outing," seeing it as an implied threat against Rushtown and his family. Some argued that the value of the Usenet is that it allows anonymous flames and that everyone has a right to post opinions, no matter how offensive, behind a comfortable veil of anonymity; they challenged Richard Lee to post his own address. Lee cheerfully complied, which led to a round of absurd self-outing, with participants posting names, addresses and phone numbers all over the group.

The dust finally seems to have settled. Rushtown told me in an e-mail message that he is no longer considering suing Richard Lee and that he thinks posting public information online is no different from publishing it in the phone book. But he added that he felt his children should not have been dragged into it. He also said that, contrary to some newsgroup members' beliefs, he has not stopped posting to soc.culture.asian.american-he has simply changed screen names.

But one of the sadder results of this little contretemps is that other discourse on the newsgroup-such as politics, music, art and more-is being drowned out.

"What can I do to help keep the peace and keep them from taking up valuable bandwidth?" Walter Lee asked. "I'd rather talk about Asian-American culture, and I don't want to talk about hate stuff."

After all this fuss, my advice is going to sound kind of anticlimactic, but here goes: ignore them. People who post offensive opinions live to provoke a reaction. Rushtown chortled gleefully in one posting (assuming that one's not a forgery, too): "What's this about Orientals being so inscrutable? They are responding to my posts just as predicted and getting very upset at that. I couldn't do this to Brits."

The way to deal with people like this, Walter, is to take a pledge that you will refuse to respond to Rushtown (or whatever name he's using now). No matter what he says, don't rise to the bait. Encourage your friends to take a vow of Rushtown abstinence. If your news reader has a "kill file" option, use it to block his future posts so you don't even have to think about them anymore. And if enough of you do this, eventually Rushtown and his ilk will dry up and blow away. Just like advertisements, fairies and Bob Dornan, they wither and die when people ignore them.

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