Weaponized Social

I want to give special thanks to Meredith (@maradydd), Sam (@metasj), and the Berkman crew (@berkmancenter) for help in parsing all these complicated ideas. I’m forever grateful for our conversations.

The existing harms of social scripts we ran while in smaller, geographically-constrained groups are being amplified due to network effect. Tiny unchecked errors, scaled, become large harms as people find ways to exploit them, in life just as in software.

I propose we hold a 2-day event to understand “weaponized social” historically, tangentially, neurochemically, and technically — and to arrive at ongoing ways of addressing them. These challenges are not new, they are simply arising in space we consider new. Given the erosion of trust online, I see meeting in person as vital to rebuilding trust. You can suggest when and where the event takes place via http://goo.gl/forms/2iBJbHXD5E


There was a time when the hacker and academic circles I run in had the default assumption of “it’s better to have your idea broken by your friends than by someone else.” The implicit assumption being that we’d build even better ideas, together. I *hate* that loving dissent is disappearing from my corners of the internet, when I used to dream it would spread. I hate that there’s a vanishing chance I can reasonably assume a trolling comment online is social commentary from an yet-to-be-known compatriot dealing with the same bizarre issues of a system that I am; but rather must now deal with such as a potential precursor to having to leave my home based on legitimate death and rape threats. I hate that some of my intelligent male-shaped or neuro-atypical friends are scared to join conversations online for fear of being severely and permanently ostracized for slight missteps. I hate that some of my intelligent female-shaped friends feel unwelcome online – yes, because of “trolls” who often happen to be self-male-identified, but ALSO  because of an incredibly strange practice of women belittling each other. I hate that I only know how to speak to these issues in a gender-focused way, despite knowing damn well race and class come strongly into play, and having the sinking suspicion that cohorts don’t feel safe calling me out. I hate that nearly all my lovely friends of all genders feel unwanted and unsafe because they and others happen to be organisms interested in sex, and respond to culturally indoctrinated shame (in response as well as in self-assessment) by pinning problems on the tangible other, building self-fulfilling prophesies of distrust and violence. And I hate that we’re driving each other off pro-social paths, making taking an anti-social one more likely. I’m sick of these social scripts we’re auto-running, and I’m set on returning to lovingly breaking my friends’ ideas, and us examining and strengthening those ideas together. Please join me in this act for this event, the surrounding ideas, and the rest of life.

Since online conversation is currently so focused on gender divides, let’s look at that for a moment. This proposed re-scripting is complicated by women being socialized to understand men, to reach out to them, to be accommodating. In a desire to NOT run dis-equalizing social scripts, we as female-types are instead falling into scripts of victimization and back stabbing/”you’re doing feminism wrong.” I’d consider the former set worth embracing as human, the latter to be consciously left to the wayside. Those socialized to be masculine have social scripts they’re bucking and/or selecting, too. Scripts about being protective, and reliable, and strong. Scripts about being stoic, and angry, and omnipotent. But such re-scripting is entirely doable, and we should hear from people about why these cycles happen, and how other disciplines have escaped cycles and built new scripts. Attendees will be trusting me that other attendees are here in good faith, a meatspace web of trust, and that means attendees will be vetted. We will talk about difficult things, and we will set an example of doing so with an interest in begin tough on ideas but kind to people. There will come a time that we can expect every human to stand open but unwavering; but personal, cutural, and institutional histories matter. Violence across these has left a wake of torn-down individuals, and in this space everyone will be expected to be kind.

The re-writing of scripts has proven powerful and useful in other spaces. There are communities in conflict zones which refuse to adopt the identities of victim nor aggressor, instead providing pockets of increased stablity in tumultuous geographies. They do this not out of pacifism, but because that particular conflict doesn’t work for them. We see things like Popehat emerge to offer a way out of victimhood and isolation in being targeted by unparsable legal threats. We see groups like Strike Debt question entire financial structures, providing paths to visible solidarity in otherwise isolating systems. Others have shown it is possible to forge new paths, many in more dangerous and complex situations than what we face. Let’s learn from them.

If you’d like to contribute suggestions to who should be invited to speak, examples to look at, or even helping with the event itself, please be in touch!


  • I am a big believer in the gathering of amazing folk (ohai) to explore possibilities, discuss, frame plans, and commit to action in group response. Location and date selection currently occuring at http://goo.gl/forms/2iBJbHXD5E
  • This event will be focused primarily on action. While every story is important context (a society is made up of the individuals within it), and every person’s experience is legitimate, the event will not hold time for commiseration. We’ll maintain the right to refocus discussion on actionability if story-holes are fallen into. A nearby, quiet pub will be booked each evening to provide space for those stories. We hope you’ll tell and examine them in the same good faith as the event.
  • Just as self-defense classes for women do not address the issue of rape (these are a stop gap at the individual level to a systemic problem), creating online toolkits to respond to trolling attacks are a way to help people feel safer and empowered. This is great for the individual stop gap, and this event will include understanding these tools, but the main purpose is to re-script ourselves and the people we interact with such that these stop gaps might not be necessary at some point.
  • Nuanced conversation is falling to the wayside in the current mess. At this event, and in the surrounding context, dissent and disagreement are encouraged. Debate which derails the conversation is not. Critique is a vital part of solidarity in a growing movement, to prevent  stagnation and laws of oligarchy, and we’ll practice questioning in good faith at the event.
  • I will be wrong about things. I will misstep. So will you. I will trust you to lovingly call me out, in a way that I learn not just the specific but the context. I will trust that you want me to to do the same.
  • We’ll operate on “rules work down, rights work up.” – we each have a right to dignity. Forming rules around how to make that work lead to a paper-mache monster of unknowable core values.
  • We will also want to know what initiatives work towards achieving equal representation, and in what contexts. Using tools like Gender Tracker (quantitative) and ongoing conversational space (qualitative), we’ll take baseline and ongoing data in areas directly adjacent to the initiatives schemed up at the event, as well as some control groups.

About Such an Event / Schedule Components

  • Talks from people who have successes in other fields. Popehat, Opting Out of War, neuroscience about the brain in stress
  • Workshops around reframing tactics – what works, what doesn’t, how to improve.
  • Working groups around different topics and aspects, as listed below in “possible projects.”


  • Overview packets, including ways to find and ask if people want to join
  • Plans for dissemination and examination of techniques for loop-back
  • Informed and empowered attendees altering their social groups and interactions

Farmer’s Market

A “farmer’s market” in this context is a quick building of resources around each of these ideas. Usually a big piece of paper laid out into topical grid, with attendees putting up post-it notes with details.

  • Community policies that handle responses to abuse well, while encouraging dissent (rules work down, rights work up)
  • List of forums and platforms that need to adopt policies/platforms
  • What groups are possible to alter? What should we abandon? Create?
  • What is success? More vulnerable people feel safer, the tone of discourse changes, better response when trouble comes?

Breakout Groups

breakout topics would be curated, including prepared facilitators, with gaps for emerging topics.

  • Dangers of doing this wrong – resulting or deserving of surveillance state
  • Censorship and penalizing people for what they say
  • How do we have “hey I don’t agree with you” in a civil/civic way?
  • Difference between “I’ll shoot up your school” and “I’ll kill you” and  what is joking, what isn’t, etc.
  • Understanding technical structures – bot nets and sock puppets. Use the tool to identify the class of IPs being used in an attack
  • Men who are wary of feminism, and what that means
  • Women who are wary of feminism, and what that means

 Possible Projects

Framed around how to implement robust but nimble processes that we can turn to address manifestations of power inequities

  • How-to on responding differently when people are scripting
  • Implement better conflict resolution (while safe for dissent) tools online – generate negative press stories about the platform as well as the people
  • Defining nuance / danger status / how to respond to each in a more granular way
  • How to put pressure on the surrounding social groups of people who are being dangerous?
  • How to embrace play/fun trolling
  • Policies at different levels – gov regulation, platform regulation,  community self-regulation. If you want to support a healthy community,  commit to this.
  • Scripts to help people self-regulate their communities – track for people they should reach out to.
  • Wikipedia pages / Wikimedia pattern repository
  • Create language to communicate social justice ideas to people who have never heard of them

End with Speed Geek Around the Project Outputs

7 thoughts on “Weaponized Social

  1. I think this is a very fine idea, especially if it results in work going forward that focuses on ways of people who are targeted by “trolling” to empower themselves. Easy to employ “internet self-defense” is vitally needed.

    However! I think there’s an important component missing from the above. Much of this is not just about “social scripts”, it’s about how fundamental underlying human socialization works. It’s about in-group formation, identification, and preservation. There is no disgusting depth to which humans will not sink if they perceive that they are protecting their in-group and attacking an outsider. History is replete with examples.

    This is closely-related-to, but not the-same-as what you have written above, re: social scripting, and I don’t think it can really be left out of the conversation, as it presents a very, very serious obstacle that must be handled if you want to engage in re-scripting processes on the individual and community scales.

  2. The commenter who shares most of my name is 100% correct. That said, I also think that in-group/out-group formation and social scripting are interdependent. Using a social script is a way of signaling which group you want to affiliate with, *whether you mean to or not*. People don’t decide “Oh, I’m going to signal as part of Team Feminist” in *those terms*; I think that far more often, particularly in social media, people read something that resonates, share it or emulate it in their own phrasing, and then *audience members* decide “this speaker is part of my in-group” (and therefore I will defend them from perceived adversaries) or “this speaker is part of my out-group” (and therefore I will act as their adversary”.

  3. I recommend inviting participants from Tamera. ( http://tamera.org/ )
    They have been researching peace between the sexes for several decades, starting back in the mid 1970’s. (The Tamera community project itself began in the 90’s, but the people involved with it had been working on the issue formally starting in the 1970’s.) Tamera has also done work with Israel & Palestine, and in Colombia. If you would like me to assist in outreach to Tamera, I am happy to do so.

  4. Pingback: Three selfies, and two appreciations of fellow travellers | ... My heart’s in Accra

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