My goodness this was difficult. Putting together a list of my 100 favorite movies since 2010 was by far the most challenging movie-post I’ve attempted so far (because this is just so hard am I right?); there have just been so many great movies the last few years, and I’ve seen a lot of them. I’m honestly quite proud of this list, there’s a lot of diversity to it, I just wish I had seen more documentaries and foreign films, but what can you do. Without further ado, strap yourself down and prepare for quite the long post.
100. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Matthew McConaughey solidified his place as one of the hardest working and most versatile actors today. Alright alright alright.
99. Looper (2012)
Rian Johnson proved himself to be on of the most unique voices in sci-fi with this very thought provoking take on time travel. The future of the Star Wars franchise is in great hands.
98. Friends with Benefits (2011)
No, this movie doesn’t break new ground in the romantic comedy genre, but Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are so fun to watch that you can’t help but smile watching them fall in love.
97. The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have terrific chemistry in a movie that might make you all teary eyed if you have a sibling. Even if you don’t, this is a powerful, warm story about two people reconnecting and moving past darkness.
96. The Drop (2014)
James Gandolfini in his last performance is a slow burn of a crime thriller. And you get to see Tom Hardy hold an adorable puppy throughout. Nuff said.
95. Begin Again (2014)
Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo star in quite the feel good movie. And Adam Levine is a surprisingly good actor, plus Lost Stars is one of last year’s best songs.
94. The Ides of March (2011)
One of George Clooney’s more impressive directorial outings. A little bit like House of Cards before House of Cards was a thing.
93. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Quite possibly my favorite Edgar Wright film. This is one of the most visually exciting, fun movies on tis list.
92. Predestination (2015)
If you guess the twist, you are a psychic.
91. Tangled (2010)
One of Disney’s best modern films in its new Golden Age. The animation is simply gorgeous.
90. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
The first in what is absolutely DreamWorks’ best franchise yet. Unlike many of the studio’s efforts, this is an earnest film focused on heart above all else.
89. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
One of the best examples of why a reboot isn’t always a bad thing. Andy Serkis’ Caesar is one of cinema’s greatest characters.
88. Neighbors (2014)
My god this made me laugh.
87. The Master (2012)
I’m still not entirely sure if I understand this, but I do know it contains two of the best performances I’ve ever seen in Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
86. Don Jon (2013)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s very impressive directorial debut is the most honest romantic comedy in quite some time.
85. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
The only massive franchise to deserve a split managed to stay great through all eight installments. The Harry and Hermione dancing sequence is one of the best in the series.
84. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
The tear-jerker of two people who refuse to let their disease define their existence. Okay? Okay.
83. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Bryan Singer had the impossible task of reinventing the X-Men franchise, and he succeeded spectacularly. Let’s see if Joss Whedon can top this version of Quicksilver.
82. War Horse (2011)
No, this doesn’t stand up to Steven Spielberg’s best, but it is an emotional journey that made me want a horse. And my goodness, it’s beautiful.
81. John Wick (2014)
Keanu Reeves gives possibly his best performance since The Matrix, in one of the best modern action films around. Probably more deserving of a sequel than almost any movie out today.
80. Men, Women and Children (2014)
I truly don’t understand the hate this movie received. It hit my heart hard and it has a lot to say about the modern digital age.
79. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
It’s probably a little too long, but it’s funny and surprisingly emotional. Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling made for a terrific duo.
78. The Raid 2 (2014)
The Raid: Redemption was further proof of why American action films are lacking today, and it’s sequel was even more elaborate, and more exciting. That last fight sequence is perfection.
77. Nightcrawler (2014)
Jake Gyllenhaal is giving great performance after great performance and Lou Bloom is probably his most interesting, and disturbing character to date. If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy the ticket.
76. Contagion (2011)
If you don’t freak out when you hear coughing after watching this, you’re a stronger person than I am.
75. Rush (2013)
Ron Howard’s best movie in quite sometime, and Chris Hemsworth proved his has what it takes to be a movie star beyond the Marvel universe.
74. Moneyball (2011)
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
73. The Hunt (2013)
My goodness is this movie an emotional tornado. Mads Mikkelsen is unbelievably good here.
72. Shutter Island (2010)
I first saw this movie on a date with a girl I had just started seeing. She wanted to make out, I wanted to watch the movie. Her and I broke up, but I still vividly remember the first time I saw this. I made the right choice.
71. The Grey (2012)
This is more than just another Liam Neeson action film. This is a brutal meditation on how fiercely we hold onto life when we think we no longer want it.
70. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Jennifer Lawrence as one of the best modern heroes leads one of the best franchises in sometime. This is a sequel that improves upon the already very good first movie in every way.
69. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I don’t think anyone would have guessed that last years’ most memorable characters would be a talking raccoon and a tree, but Marvel continues to dominate the blockbuster landscape with the most fun superhero movie maybe ever.
68. The Conjuring (2013)
This may very well be the best horror film in over a decade. James Wan understood that great horror doesn’t rely on jump scares, and instead uses atmosphere and great pacing to create dread.
67. 21 Jump Street (2012)
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are two of the best voices in comedy working today, taking a concept that shouldn’t have worked and turning it into a buddy cop movie classic. And who knew Channing Tatum could be so hilarious?
66. Stories We Tell (2013)
A documentary that challenges what it means to be a documentary.
65. Frozen (2013)
In an era where Disney is creating nothing but great movies, Frozen stands on top as a modern animated classic. And with Frozen 2 just announced, it looks like they won’t be letting it go anytime soon.
64. About Time (2013)
What could have been a generic romance film turned out to be one of the best father/son stories I’ve ever seen. And Rachel McAdams is such a sweetheart.
63. Skyfall (2013)
This is probably the most beautiful, well shot action film in quite sometime. Daniel Craig as James Bond is perfection and I cannot wait for Spectre.
62. Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol (2011)
Tom Cruise is simply the greatest action star working today. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such an adrenaline rush watching a movie before.
61. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson at his most Wes Anderson-y.
60. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Marvel’s best standalone movie yet, and absolutely the best part of Phase Two so far. More than just a superhero movie, this is an intense spy thriller with some of the most exciting action sequences in quite a while.
59. 127 Hours (2010)
So much more than “the movie where the guy cuts off his arm.” Although that is something to see.
58. Locke (2014)
Tom Hardy carries a movie that has no right to be as compelling as it is.
57. Argo (2012)
Ben Affleck is simply one of the greatest directors working today, and even though this is his weakest film in my opinion, it is still a heart pounding experience.
56. True Grit (2010)
The Coen brothers made the best Western of the modern age, and it is the superior version.
55. Buried (2010)
Anyone who debates Ryan Reynolds’ acting abilities hasn’t seen this.
54. Let Me In (2010)
Another reason why not all remakes are bad. This is just as great as the terrific Swedish version. Forget Twilight, this is a great vampire film.
53. Source Code (2011)
Who knew repeating the same scene over and over could be so interesting.
52. Zero Dark Thirty (2013)
Kathryn Bigelow refuses to coddle her audience, creating war movies that actual delve deep into character and display America’s mistakes. Jessica Chastain gives an incredible performance.
51. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Last year’s biggest surprise. It’s Groundhog Day meets Aliens meets Saving Private Ryan and it’s awesome.
50. A Most Violent Year (2014)
Oscar Isaac channels a young Al Pacino in a very atypical gangster film.
49. Trust (2011)
I feel like I’m the only person in the world that loves this movie, but it’s so much more than just a Lifetime special like some of its critics say. Liana Liberato leads a very emotional, powerful story about how terrible people take advantage of someone who just wants understanding and love.
48. Ted (2012)
This might be my favorite straight comedy in years.
47. The Descendants (2011)
Alexander Payne gave us one of George Clooney’s best performances and introduced me to Shailene Woodley. This is a great family drama.
46. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
So much more than a romantic comedy. It deals with mental illness in a mature way and started the David O. Russell/Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper team.
45. Captain Phillips (2013)
Paul Greengrass is probably the only director capable of using shaky-cam effectively, and Tom Hanks reminds us why he’s such a legend.
44. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Forget all the behind the scenes controversy, this is a heartbreaking look at two lovers growing apart from each other. And Adele Exarchopoulos is everything.
43. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Possibly the most ambitious undertaking on this list. Somehow the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer made six interweaving stories in different parts of history meld together in quite the extraordinary experience.
42. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Even though the Swedish version is great, David Fincher’s take on the material is more styish and more compelling. Rooney Mara gives my second favorite performance of the decade so far (you’ll see number one later).
41. End of Watch (2012)
David Ayer’s cop film is one of the most emotional expereinces on this list.
40. Les Miserables (2012)
Tom Hooper’s epic musical. The “Can You Hear the People Sing” sequence is one of the greatest scenes of any movie on this list.
39. Midnight in Paris (2011)
I haven’t seen nearly as much Woody Allen as I would like to (which also sounds like a terrible Woody Allen joke), but this is such a charming, funny, unique film. I love it.
38. Hugo (2011)
Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema.
37. This Is the End (2013)
I lied, this is my favorite comedy of the last couple years. Jonah Hill getting raped by Satan is the funniest thing you’ll ever see.
36. Gravity (2013)
Alfono Cuaron’s revolutionary space-thriller is an experience that will leave you breathless.
35. Before Midnight (2013)
Richard Linklater is the master of taking normal life and making it into something as compelling as any blockbuster. This is the conclusion as one of the greatest and least likely trilogies in film history. I hope we get one every nine years.
34. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
My goodness, this is one of the most emotionally draining, but necessary films I’ve ever seen.
33. 50/50 (2011)
I never would have guessed a cancer-comedy would work so well, but this is a funny and ultimately a film that devastates the heart.
32. What If (2014)
This movie just makes me so so happy. It also made me cry. This charming, sweet romantic comedy is my life in so many ways.
31. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Matt Reeves wisely put the focus on the apes in one of the greatest sequels I’ve ever seen.
30. Foxcatcher (2014)
This is a slow, cold, brooding film with three of the best performances in any movie I’ve ever seen. Anyone who argues Channing Tatum isn’t a great actor at this point is just being foolish.
29. The Spectacular Now (2013)
James Ponsoldt has such a great understanding of what it’s like to be in high school, not knowing what the future holds. John Hughes would be proud.
28. The Town (2010)
Ben Affleck’s Heat is a terrific crime thriller with some incredibly tense moments.
27. The Fighter (2010)
This is so much more than a boxing movie. This is a story about two brothers who above all else in their life, love each other.
26. Shame (2011)
Steve McQueen’s study of sex addiction is the most powerful addiction story since Requiem for a Dream. Michael Fassbender is god here.
25. Selma (2014)
This is not a biopic that paints someone’s entire life in a Lifetime sheen, but instead explores Martin Luther King Jr.’s frustrations, fears, and hopes in vivid detail.
24. Blue Valentine (2010)
The most devastatingly honest story about love and the loss of love I’ve ever seen.
23. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
If The Conjuring is the best straight horror film in a while, this is by far the most enjoyable. Deconstructing horror tropes even better than Scream did in the 90′s, this is a brilliant, fun look at a genre that has been weighed down by constant cliche.
22. The Avengers (2012)
This is the movie every comic book nerd like myself has dreamed about, I just couldn’t have imagined it would be this great. The culmination of years of setup, this was cinematic ecstasy.
21. Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino’s bloody “Southern” is brutal, hilarious, dramatic, and gave us some terrific performances.
20. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
One of the best high school films of all time. A great soundtrack, great characters, and an author who directed his own terrific book.
19. Gone Girl (2014)
David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s great novel (and her equally great script) satirizes the media, Nancy Grace, marriage, and a host of other issues in this very effective mystery. Rosamund Pike is unbelievably good.
18. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
DreamWorks’ best film yet is an ambitious, beautifully animated, shocking film about taking on more responsibility than we think we can handle. Toothless is one of the greatest animated creatures of all time.
17. Black Swan (2010)
Natalie Portman gives one of my favorite performances on this list in Darren Aronofsky’s fable about the horrors of the quest for perfection. And Mila Kunis isn’t a bad addition either.
16. Warrior (2011)
What could have easily been just a predictable sports film turned into one of the most emotional stories I can remember. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are terrific in this brother vs. brother story.
15. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
One of the Coen brother’s best films is a depressing look into how success doesn’t find everyone. Oscar Isaac is amazing and the music is great. And that cat is so cute.
14. The Place Beyond the Pines (2014)
Derek Cianfrance explores the cause and effect fathers have on their sons in a family drama where the word epic can be appropriately used. This hit me hard.
13. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I don’t understand the disappointment some felt while watching this masterpiece. Christopher Nolan ended one of the greatest trilogies of all time on a somber, meditative note, and the last 10 minutes are some of the greatest I can remember.
12. Life of Pi (2012)
Ang Lee’s mind-blowingly gorgeous film will leave you awestruck. This is the most beautifully shot film on the list. This is a technical achievement like no other.
11. Boyhood (2014)
Rarely is a filmmaker able to do something that has literally never been done before, but Richard Linklater’s 12 year project is one of simple perfection. He shows us the small moments are what add up and make life worth living.
10. Short Term 12 (2013)
This movie will break your heart, rebuild it, break it again, tape it back together, and leave it up to you to pick up the pieces. Maybe this hit me harder than it will most people because this is what I want to do with my career, but if you’re able to sit through the “octopus story” scene and not have a little something in your eye, you’re cold.
9. Drive (2011)
Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir is the coolest movie I’ve ever seen. Ryan Gosling is perfectly cast in this very different crime movie, where the neon lights shine brightly, the people are brutal, and all the driver needs is five minutes.
8. Whiplash (2014)
My goodness this movie grabs you from the first scene and doesn’t let go. With one of the best final scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie, this film is non-stop excitement. J.K. Simmons is operating on a whole other level here.
7. Interstellar (2014)
Christopher Nolan shot for the stars with his space epic, and in my mind, he flew beyond them. This is one of the most ambitious and emotional movie going experiences I’ve ever had. Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, incredibly directed, this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
A perfect conclusion to one of the greatest franchises in film history. I can’t imagine Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s story ending in a better way. The Battle of Hogwarts is one of the most satisfying action sequences I’ve ever seen, and the “Snape memory” sequence is heartbreaking beyond compare. My favorite Harry Potter film.
5. The Social Network (2010)
In 50 years, if there is one movie that defines this generation it’s this one. Mark Zuckerberg changed the way we communicate forever, and David Fincher’s version of this story is one that made “the Facebook movie” so much more than that.
4. Her (2013)
The great romance of the modern era. Spike Jonze’s vision of the future is full of warm, light colors and a lot of loneliness. You believe in the romance between Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. You believe they love each other and you believe Theodore can grow past his inability to truly, selflessly care for someone.
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
The greatest animated film so far this decade is also the conclusion of one of cinema’s great trilogies. Pixar hit all the right notes in its sendoff to childhood and what it means to let go of the things you love the most. Toy Story 4 needs to be perfect. It just needs to be.
2. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan is unlike no other filmmaker working today. He’s able to craft intimate character studies in the backdrop of larger than life action sequences. This mix of The Matrix and James Bond is one of the most unique, bold sci-fi films I’ve witnessed. I left the theater euphoric.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The moment I saw this movie I knew it would be one of my favorites for a long time to come. Leonardo DiCaprio gives my favorite performance so far this decade and maybe one of my favorites of all time. Martin Scorsese made this drug-fueled-3-hour-party into the most exciting, hilarious, wild film experience I can imagine. This is a heroin shot to movie theaters while never losing its social importance and condemnation of what people like Jordan Belfort represent.
Well, there it is guys. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I would love to heart your favorite films of the decade so far, because nothing brings us together quite like the power of the movies.
This story is not a good idea. Not for society and certainly not for me. Because what trolls feed on is attention. And this little bit–these several thousand words–is like leaving bears a pan of baklava.
It would be smarter to be cautious, because the Internet’s personality has changed. Once it was a geek with lofty ideals about the free flow of information. Now, if you need help improving your upload speeds the web is eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will try to goad you into killing yourself. Psychologists call this the online disinhibition effect, in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it’s seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives.
The people who relish this online freedom are called trolls, a term that originally came from a fishing method online thieves use to find victims. It quickly morphed to refer to the monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people. Internet trolls have a manifesto of sorts, which states they are doing it for the “lulz,” or laughs. What trolls do for the lulz ranges from clever pranks to harassment to violent threats. There’s also doxxing–publishing personal data, such as Social Security numbers and bank accounts–and swatting, calling in an emergency to a victim’s house so the SWAT team busts in. When victims do not experience lulz, trolls tell them they have no sense of humor. Trolls are turning social media and comment boards into a giant locker room in a teen movie, with towel-snapping racial epithets and misogyny.
They’ve been steadily upping their game. In 2011, trolls descended onFacebook memorial pages of recently deceased users to mock their deaths. In 2012, after feminist Anita Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of YouTube videos chronicling misogyny in video games, she received bomb threats at speaking engagements, doxxing threats, rape threats and an unwanted starring role in a video game called Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian. In June of this year, Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor of the New York Times, quit Twitter, on which he had nearly 35,000 followers, after a barrage of anti-Semitic messages. At the end of July, feminist writer Jessica Valenti said she was leaving social media after receiving a rape threat against her daughter, who is 5 years old.
A Pew Research Center survey published two years ago found that 70% of 18-to-24-year-olds who use the Internet had experienced harassment, and 26% of women that age said they’d been stalked online. This is exactly what trolls want. A 2014 study published in the psychology journal Personality and Individual Differences found that the approximately 5% of Internet users who self-identified as trolls scored extremely high in the dark tetrad of personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and, especially, sadism.
But maybe that’s just people who call themselves trolls. And maybe they do only a small percentage of the actual trolling. “Trolls are portrayed as aberrational and antithetical to how normal people converse with each other. And that could not be further from the truth,” says Whitney Phillips, a literature professor at Mercer University and the author of Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. “These are mostly normal people who do things that seem fun at the time that have huge implications. You want to say this is the bad guys, but it’s a problem of us.”
A lot of people enjoy the kind of trolling that illuminates the gullibility of the powerful and their willingness to respond. One of the best is Congressman Steve Smith, a Tea Party Republican representing Georgia’s 15th District, which doesn’t exist. For nearly three years Smith has spewed over-the-top conservative blather on Twitter, luring Senator Claire McCaskill, Christiane Amanpour and Rosie O’Donnell into arguments. Surprisingly, the guy behind the GOP-mocking prank, Jeffrey Marty, isn’t a liberal but a Donald Trump supporter angry at the Republican elite, furious at Hillary Clinton and unhappy with Black Lives Matter. A 40-year-old dad and lawyer who lives outside Tampa, he says he has become addicted to the attention. “I was totally ruined when I started this. My ex-wife and I had just separated. She decided to start a new, more exciting life without me,” he says. Then his best friend, who he used to do pranks with as a kid, killed himself. Now he’s got an illness that’s keeping him home.Marty says his trolling has been empowering. “Let’s say I wrote a letter to the New York Times saying I didn’t like your article about Trump. They throw it in the shredder. On Twitter I communicate directly with the writers. It’s a breakdown of all the institutions,” he says. “I really do think this stuff matters in the election. I have 1.5 million views of my tweets every 28 days. It’s a much bigger audience than I would have gotten if I called people up and said, ‘Did you ever consider Trump for President?‘”
Trolling is, overtly, a political fight. Liberals do indeed troll–sex-advice columnist Dan Savage used his followers to make Googling former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s last name a blunt lesson in the hygienic challenges of anal sex; the hunter who killed Cecil the lion got it really bad.
But trolling has become the main tool of the alt-right, an Internet-grown reactionary movement that works for men’s rights and against immigration and may have used the computer from Weird Science to fabricate Donald Trump. Not only does Trump share their attitudes, but he’s got mad trolling skills: he doxxed Republican primary opponent Senator Lindsey Graham by giving out his cell-phone number on TV and indirectly got his Twitter followers to attack GOP political strategist Cheri Jacobus so severely that her lawyers sent him a cease-and-desist order.
The alt-right’s favorite insult is to call men who don’t hate feminism “cucks,” as in “cuckold.” Republicans who don’t like Trump are “cuckservatives.” Men who don’t see how feminists are secretly controlling them haven’t “taken the red pill,” a reference to the truth-revealing drug in The Matrix. They derisively call their adversaries “social-justice warriors” and believe that liberal interest groups purposely exploit their weakness to gain pity, which allows them to control the levers of power. Trolling is the alt-right’s version of political activism, and its ranks view any attempt to take it away as a denial of democracy.
In this new culture war, the battle isn’t just over homosexuality, abortion, rap lyrics, drugs or how to greet people at Christmastime. It’s expanded to anything and everything: video games, clothing ads, even remaking a mediocre comedy from the 1980s. In July, trolls who had long been furious that the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters starred four women instead of men harassed the film’s black co-star Leslie Jones so badly on Twitter with racist and sexist threats–including a widely copied photo of her at the film’s premiere that someone splattered semen on–that she considered quitting the service. “I was in my apartment by myself, and I felt trapped,” Jones says. “When you’re reading all these gay and racial slurs, it was like, I can’t fight y’all. I didn’t know what to do. Do you call the police? Then they got my email, and they started sending me threats that they were going to cut off my head and stuff they do to ‘N words.’ It’s not done to express an opinion, it’s done to scare you.”
Because of Jones’ harassment, alt-right leader Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from Twitter. (He is also an editor at Breitbart News, the conservative website whose executive chairman, Stephen Bannon, was hired Aug. 17 to run the Trump campaign.) The service said Yiannopoulos, a critic of the new Ghostbusters who called Jones a “black dude” in a tweet, marshaled many of his more than 300,000 followers to harass her. He not only denies this but says being responsible for your fans is a ridiculous standard. He also thinks Jones is faking hurt for political purposes. “She is one of the stars of a Hollywood blockbuster,” he says. “It takes a certain personality to get there. It’s a politically aware, highly intelligent star using this to get ahead. I think it’s very sad that feminism has turned very successful women into professional victims.”
A gay, 31-year-old Brit with frosted hair, Yiannopoulos has been speaking at college campuses on his Dangerous Faggot tour. He says trolling is a direct response to being told by the left what not to say and what kinds of video games not to play. “Human nature has a need for mischief. We want to thumb our nose at authority and be individuals,” he says. “Trump might not win this election. I might not turn into the media figure I want to. But the space we’re making for others to be bolder in their speech is some of the most important work being done today. The trolls are the only people telling the truth.”
The alt-right was galvanized by Gamergate, a 2014 controversy in which trolls tried to drive critics of misogyny in video games away from their virtual man cave. “In the mid-2000s, Internet culture felt very separate from pop culture,” says Katie Notopoulos, who reports on the web as an editor at BuzzFeed and co-host of the Internet Explorer podcast. “This small group of people are trying to stand their ground that the Internet is dark and scary, and they’re trying to scare people off. There’s such a culture of viciously making fun of each other on their message boards that they have this very thick skin. They’re all trained up.”
Andrew Auernheimer, who calls himself Weev online, is probably the biggest troll in history. He served just over a year in prison for identity fraud and conspiracy. When he was released in 2014, he left the U.S., mostly bouncing around Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Since then he has worked to post anti–Planned Parenthood videos and flooded thousands of university printers in America with instructions to print swastikas–a symbol tattooed on his chest. When I asked if I could fly out and interview him, he agreed, though he warned that he “might not be coming ashore for a while, but we can probably pass close enough to land to have you meet us somewhere in the Adriatic or Ionian.” His email signature: “Eternally your servant in the escalation of entropy and eschaton.”
While we planned my trip to “a pretty remote location,” he told me that he no longer does interviews for free and that his rate was two bitcoins (about $1,100) per hour. That’s when one of us started trolling the other, though I’m not sure which:
From: Joel Stein
To: Andrew Auernheimer
I totally understand your position. But TIME, and all the major media outlets, won’t pay people who we interview. There’s a bunch of reasons for that, but I’m sure you know them.
From: Andrew Auernheimer
To: Joel Stein
I find it hilarious that after your people have stolen years of my life at gunpoint and bulldozed my home, you still expect me to work for free in your interests.
You people belong in a f-cking oven.
From: Joel Stein
To: Andrew Auernheimer
For a guy who doesn’t want to be interviewed for free, you’re giving me a lot of good quotes!
In a later blog post about our emails, Weev clarified that TIME is “trying to destroy white civilization” and that we should “open up your Jew wallets and dump out some of the f-cking geld you’ve stolen from us goys, because what other incentive could I possibly have to work with your poisonous publication?” I found it comforting that the rate for a neo-Nazi to compromise his ideology is just two bitcoins.
Expressing socially unacceptable views like Weev’s is becoming more socially acceptable. Sure, just like there are tiny, weird bookstores where you can buy neo-Nazi pamphlets, there are also tiny, weird white-supremacist sites on the web. But some of the contributors on those sites now go to places like 8chan or 4chan, which have a more diverse crowd of meme creators, gamers, anime lovers and porn enthusiasts. Once accepted there, they move on to Reddit, the ninth most visited site in the U.S., on which users can post links to online articles and comment on them anonymously. Reddit believes in unalloyed free speech; the site only eliminated the comment boards “jailbait,” “creepshots” and “beatingwomen” for legal reasons.
But last summer, Reddit banned five more discussion groups for being distasteful. The one with the largest user base, more than 150,000 subscribers, was “fatpeoplehate.” It was a particularly active community that reveled in finding photos of overweight people looking happy, almost all women, and adding mean captions. Reddit users would then post these images all over the targets’ Facebook pages along with anywhere else on the Internet they could. “What you see on Reddit that is visible is at least 10 times worse behind the scenes,” says Dan McComas, a former Reddit employee. “Imagine two users posting about incest and taking that conversation to their private messages, and that’s where the really terrible things happen. That’s where we saw child porn and abuse and had to do all of our work with law enforcement.”
Jessica Moreno, McComas’ wife, pushed for getting rid of “fatpeoplehate” when she was the company’s head of community. This was not a popular decision with users who really dislike people with a high body mass index. She and her husband had their home address posted online along with suggestions on how to attack them. Eventually they had a police watch on their house. They’ve since moved. Moreno has blurred their house onGoogle maps and expunged nearly all photos of herself online.
During her time at Reddit, some users who were part of a group that mails secret Santa gifts to one another complained to Moreno that they didn’t want to participate because the person assigned to them made racist or sexist comments on the site. Since these people posted their real names, addresses, ages, jobs and other details for the gifting program, Moreno learned a good deal about them. “The idea of the basement dweller drinking Mountain Dew and eating Doritos isn’t accurate,” she says. “They would be a doctor, a lawyer, an inspirational speaker, a kindergarten teacher. They’d send lovely gifts and be a normal person.” These are real people you might know, Moreno says. There’s no real-life indicator. “It’s more complex than just being good or bad. It’s not all men either; women do take part in it.” The couple quit their jobs and started Imzy, a cruelty-free Reddit. They believe that saving a community is nearly impossible once mores have been established, and that sites like Reddit are permanently lost to the trolls.
When sites are overrun by trolls, they drown out the voices of women, ethnic and religious minorities, gays–anyone who might feel vulnerable. Young people in these groups assume trolling is a normal part of life online and therefore self-censor. An anonymous poll of the writers at TIME found that 80% had avoided discussing a particular topic because they feared the online response. The same percentage consider online harassment a regular part of their jobs. Nearly half the women on staff have considered quitting journalism because of hatred they’ve faced online, although none of the men had. Their comments included “I’ve been raged at with religious slurs, had people track down my parents and call them at home, had my body parts inquired about.” Another wrote, “I’ve had the usual online trolls call me horrible names and say I am biased and stupid and deserve to be raped. I don’t think men realize how normal that is for women on the Internet.”
The alt-right argues that if you can’t handle opprobrium, you should just turn off your computer. But that’s arguing against self-expression, something antithetical to the original values of the Internet. “The question is: How do you stop people from being a–holes not to their face?” says Sam Altman, a venture capitalist who invested early in Reddit and ran the company for eight days in 2014 after one of its many PR crises. “This is exactly what happened when people talked badly about public figures. Now everyone on the Internet is a public figure. The problem is that not everyone can deal with that.” Altman declared on June 15 that he would quit Twitter and his 171,000 followers, saying, “I feel worse after using Twitter … my brain gets polluted here.”
Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Del Harvey, struggles with how to allow criticism but curb abuse. “Categorically to say that all content you don’t like receiving is harassment would be such a broad brush it wouldn’t leave us much content,” she says. Harvey is not her real name, which she gave up long ago when she became a professional troll, posing as underage girls (and occasionally boys) to entrap pedophiles as an administrator for the website Perverted-Justice and later for NBC’s To Catch a Predator. Citing the role of Twitter during the Arab Spring, she says that anonymity has given voice to the oppressed, but that women and minorities are more vulnerable to attacks by the anonymous.
But even those in the alt-right who claim they are “unf-ckwithable” aren’t really. At some point, everyone, no matter how desensitized by their online experience, is liable to get freaked out by a big enough or cruel enough threat. Still, people have vastly different levels of sensitivity. A white male journalist who covers the Middle East might blow off death threats, but a teenage blogger might not be prepared to be told to kill herself because of her “disgusting acne.”
Which are exactly the kinds of messages Em Ford, 27, was receiving en masse last year on her YouTube tutorials on how to cover pimples with makeup. Men claimed to be furious about her physical “trickery,” forcing her to block hundreds of users each week. This year, Ford made a documentary for the BBC called Troll Hunters in which she interviewed online abusers and victims, including a soccer referee who had rape threats posted next to photos of his young daughter on her way home from school. What Ford learned was that the trolls didn’t really hate their victims. “It’s not about the target. If they get blocked, they say, ‘That’s cool,’ and move on to the next person,” she says. Trolls don’t hate people as much as they love the game of hating people.
Troll culture might be affecting the way nontrolls treat one another. A yet-to-be-published study by University of California, Irvine, professor Zeev Kain showed that when people were exposed to reports of good deeds on Facebook, they were 10% more likely to report doing good deeds that day. But the opposite is likely occurring as well. “One can see discourse norms shifting online, and they’re probably linked to behavior norms,” says Susan Benesch, founder of the Dangerous Speech Project and faculty associate at Harvard’s Internet and Society center. “When people think it’s increasingly O.K. to describe a group of people as subhuman or vermin, those same people are likely to think that it’s O.K. to hurt those people.”
As more trolling occurs, many victims are finding laws insufficient and local police untrained. “Where we run into the problem is the social-media platforms are very hesitant to step on someone’s First Amendment rights,” says Mike Bires, a senior police officer in Southern California who co-founded LawEnforcement.social, a tool for cops to fight on-line crime and use social media to work with their communities. “If they feel like someone’s life is in danger, Twitter and Snapchat are very receptive. But when it comes to someone harassing you online, getting the social-media companies to act can be very frustrating.” Until police are fully caught up, he recommends that victims go to the officer who runs the force’s social-media department.
One counter-trolling strategy now being employed on social media is to flood the victims of abuse with kindness. That’s how many Twitter users have tried to blunt racist and body-shaming attacks on U.S. women’s gymnastics star Gabby Douglas and Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno during the Summer Olympics in Rio. In 2005, after Emily May co-founded Hollaback!, which posts photos of men who harass women on the street in order to shame them (some might call this trolling), she got a torrent of misogynistic messages. “At first, I thought it was funny. We were making enough impact that these losers were spending their time calling us ‘cunts’ and ‘whores’ and ‘carpet munchers,'” she says. “Long-term exposure to it, though, I found myself not being so active on Twitter and being cautious about what I was saying online. It’s still harassment in public space. It’s just the Internet instead of the street.” This summer May created Heartmob, an app to let people report trolling and receive messages of support from others.
Though everyone knows not to feed the trolls, that can be challenging to the type of people used to expressing their opinions. Writer Lindy West has written about her abortion, hatred of rape jokes and her body image–all of which generated a flood of angry messages. When her father Paul died, a troll quickly started a fake Twitter account called PawWestDonezo, (“donezo” is slang for “done”) with a photo of her dad and the bio “embarrassed father of an idiot.” West reacted by writing about it. Then she heard from her troll, who apologized, explaining that he wasn’t happy with his life and was angry at her for being so pleased with hers.
West says that even though she’s been toughened by all the abuse, she is thinking of writing for TV, where she’s more insulated from online feedback. “I feel genuine fear a lot. Someone threw a rock through my car window the other day, and my immediate thought was it’s someone from the Internet,” she says. “Finally we have a platform that’s democratizing and we can make ourselves heard, and then you’re harassed for advocating for yourself, and that shuts you down again.”
I’ve been a columnist long enough that I got calloused to abuse via threats sent over the U.S. mail. I’m a straight white male, so the trolling is pretty tame, my vulnerabilities less obvious. My only repeat troll is Megan Koester, who has been attacking me on Twitter for a little over two years. Mostly, she just tells me how bad my writing is, always calling me “disgraced former journalist Joel Stein.” Last year, while I was at a restaurant opening, she tweeted that she was there too and that she wanted to take “my one-sided feud with him to the next level.” She followed this immediately with a tweet that said, “Meet me outside Clifton’s in 15 minutes. I wanna kick your ass.” Which shook me a tiny bit. A month later, she tweeted that I should meet her outside a supermarket I often go to: “I’m gonna buy some Ahi poke with EBT and then kick your ass.”
I sent a tweet to Koester asking if I could buy her lunch, figuring she’d say no or, far worse, say yes and bring a switchblade or brass knuckles, since I have no knowledge of feuding outside of West Side Story. Her email back agreeing to meet me was warm and funny. Though she also sent me the script of a short movie she had written (see excerpt, left).
I saw Koester standing outside the restaurant. She was tiny–5 ft. 2 in., with dark hair, wearing black jeans and a Spy magazine T-shirt. She ordered a seitan sandwich, and after I asked the waiter about his life, she looked at me in horror. “Are you a people person?” she asked. As a 32-year-old freelance writer for Vice.com who has never had a full-time job, she lives on a combination of sporadic paychecks and food stamps. My career success seemed, quite correctly, unjust. And I was constantly bragging about it in my column and on Twitter. “You just extruded smarminess that I found off-putting. It’s clear I’m just projecting. The things I hate about you are the things I hate about myself,” she said.
As a feminist stand-up comic with more than 26,000 Twitter followers, Koester has been trolled more than I have. One guy was so furious that she made fun of a 1970s celebrity at an autograph session that he tweeted he was going to rape her and wanted her to die afterward. “So you’d think I’d have some sympathy,” she said about trolling me. “But I never felt bad. I found that column so vile that I thought you didn’t deserve sympathy.”
When I suggested we order wine, she told me she’s a recently recovered alcoholic who was drunk at the restaurant opening when she threatened to beat me up. I asked why she didn’t actually walk up to me that afternoon and, even if she didn’t punch me, at least tell me off. She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Why would I do that?” she said. “The Internet is the realm of the coward. These are people who are all sound and no fury.”
Maybe. But maybe, in the information age, sound is as destructive as fury.