ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the June 6, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] stardreamer and [personal profile] we_are_spc (Fallon). It also fills the "Big Brother" square in my 2-1-17 (Love Songs) card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the August 1, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl reaching its $200 goal. It belongs to the Kraken thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains controversial topics that many readers may find disturbing. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features suicide, cyberbullying, failed therapy, an internet troll, revenge by ostracizing someone from electronics, and other mayhem. If there are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding if this is something you want to read.

"Big Brother and the Cyberbully"

Capricorn was on BlackSheep
when word hit the shadow bands
that Minkie had killed herself.

Everyone knew that she had
problems. (This was BlackSheep.
Who didn't have problems?) At school
her classmates teased her about being
both smart and pretty, and online she
made a tempting target for trolls.

She was in therapy, though, and
talking about college or trade school --
she loved STEMZ, so Capricorn had been
quietly looking into possible scholarships.

Minkie had been doing everything
right. It just wasn't enough.

Capricorn rubbed his hands
over his face. No matter how
he tried, he couldn't save them all.

He was rather good at revenge, though.

It didn't take long to trace Minkie's account
on BlackSheep back to Evah's, then
hack into the records to see what
people had been saying to her.

Capricorn read the fatal post
written by someone who used
the unfortunate name Goateater.

Ur such know-it-all, nobody
would ever want to fuck u.
why don't u just kill yrself
and get it over with?

Despite pretensions of
competence, Goateater wasn't
as good a hacker as he thought, and
it took very little effort to find him.

The man lived in the basement
under his parents' house, rarely
emerging into the light of day.

It would be easy to kill him;
nobody would notice for a while.

Capricorn wasn't in that forgiving a mood.

He called up the core file that held
modules of code for what he called
ElectrocuShun, and then began
customizing it for Goateater.

He plugged in all the usernames
(some of them even worse, how was
that even possible?) and the legal name
(Mortimer Smee, what were his parents
thinking?) and the home address (basement)
and the fingerprints from that cyberstalking case
(his kung fu was not strong).

Capricorn taught the program two things:
how to recognize Goateater, and
how to turn things off.

He sent the cyberbully two things:
a cartoon of a goat butting a troll
off a bridge, and a text message.

You picked on the wrong girl.
-- Big Brother

Capricorn smiled
as he watched through
the computer camera while
the man opened the message.

And that was the last time
anything computerized
worked for Goateater,
aka Mortimer Smee.

His desktop shut itself down,
wiping the hard drive.

His smartphone was bricked.
So was his vidwatch.

None of his music players,
movie players, video games,
or other entertainment worked.

He couldn't turn on the microwave,
although it worked fine for his mother.
He had programmed the houseware
well enough for it to tell the difference.

His parents' car wouldn't start
if he was in it, only if he got out.

Trying to borrow a library computer
made it lock up until after he left.

He couldn't use a self-checkout lane.
Or interactive vending machines.
Or the e-Bus touchscreen.
Or even an ATM.

If he wanted to go anywhere,
he pretty much had to walk,
and if he wanted to do anything,
it had to be dumb stuff.

Everything connected to
a computer system turned off
as soon as it recognized him.

Other people could still
save things about him, though.
His criminal record, for instance,
remained perfectly intact.

Goateater hadn't been killed.
He was just dead to the internet.

If he wanted to hurt anyone else,
he'd have to do it in person, and
observations indicated he was
too much of a coward for that.

Capricorn leaned back in his chair
with a smile of grim satisfaction.

"Rest in peace, Minkie," he said.

* * *


Minkie (Evah James) -- She had fair skin, gray eyes, and long straight red hair. Always interested in STEMZ, Evah found her way onto BlackSheep, where she posted as Minkie and talked about wanting to go to college or a tech school. But her peers at school teased her about being both smart and pretty, while internet trolls found her a tasty target. She was in therapy and doing everything right. The constant harrassment wore her down, though, and she wound up killing herself.
Qualities: Good (+2) Pretty, Good (+2) Smart, Good (+2) STEMZ
Poor (-2) Suicidal Tendencies

Goateater (Mortimer Smee) -- He has fair skin with copious body hair, brown eyes, and curly brown hair past his shoulders. He wears glasses and is quite fat. Mortimer lives in the basement below his parents' house and rarely leaves. He has no real job, but does make some spending money with online scams and gaming. His main occupation, however, is internet troll. He is frustrated by how few people get the joke of his username, Goateater, and instead misconstrue it for sexual perversion. He's actually heterosexual and vanilla, even though he rarely gets laid.
Qualities: Good (+2) Hacker, Good (+2) Indulgent Parents, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Stirring Up a Crowd
Poor (-2) Basement Bum

* * *

(These links are harsh.)
Suicide is increasingly linked to cyberbullying, and has become a public health concern. There are tips on how to stop cyberbullying. Understand how to cope with suicidal thoughts. Dealing with a suicidal friend is difficult, because there are limits to what you can do, especially if the person doesn't want help. Sometimes people do all the right things and die anyway. Read about dealing with suicide loss.

(So are these.)
An internet troll is someone who stirs trouble for fun or profit. Various countries including Russia and America have hired trolls for nefarious purposes.  And there is this waste of carbon, who demonstrates that Mortimer Smee is not, alas, an implausible exaggeration.

"Three Billy Goats Gruff" customarily includes a reference to the troll wanting to eat the goats. This fairytale appears in different variations across many cultures.

"His kung fu was not strong" has been used in reference to hacking as well as the original martial arts.

Bricked means that an electronic device ceases to function as such and becomes inert.

Interactive vending machines are just starting to appear in local-America. In Terramagne-America, they are widespread. They're perky things that will chat with you about available food options, your health and any special dietary needs, the latest news about food, and so on. Many of them will play educational games with you, often offering prizes if you score well. So Mortimer just lost a whole swath of "friends" there.

Touchscreen bus stops are another innovation here that is common in T-America. Not all towns or routes have them, but many do, especially in high-traffic areas. Aside from being convenient for travelers, such systems can also alert bus companies to surges in demand, alerting them to roll out more buses. In theory, Mortimer could hop on a bus that wasn't linked to any outside electronic system, but in practice, he can't easily tell which things are connected and which aren't. So much has quit working, it leaves him feeling that nothing works.

A killswitch in a car can remotely disable it. This is a matter of fierce debate, because many people -- police, the government, lenders, car dealers, GPS companies -- love being able to take over vehicles; but consumers resent it. The plain fact is, if someone else can disable your device, then you don't really own it; you're just paying for the privilege of using it, which people in power can take away from you whenever they please. Many people don't wish to buy things under this deal. Also, shutting off cars in transit is downright dangerous to everyone, and even rendering them unable to start causes serious disruption not just to the person who may (or may not) have annoyed someone, but also their coworkers,spouse, children, and everyone else caught up in the mishap. It makes a small localized problem much bigger. Well, supervillains don't necessarily care about that.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-10 01:11 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Ah, yes, the old UDP. Usenet Death Penalty. Anything coming from THAT machine or user gets summarily cancelled.

I wish someone would do that to Lord MoldyWart.

Re: Hmm...

Date: 2017-08-10 06:59 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman

(Broom parking only, violaters will be toad?)

Re: Hmm...

Date: 2017-08-10 07:24 pm (UTC)
across_space_and_time: A dense scattering of stars set on a bottle-green backdrop (Default)
From: [personal profile] across_space_and_time
An entry from Urban Dictionary describes it as a form of punishment in an online community in which a member gets kicked out, deleted, or killed in virtual reality for doing something wrong. I'm guessing that's the right meaning, though I'm not familiar with the term and don't know the nuances.

- Deacon

Re: Hmm...

Date: 2017-08-10 07:55 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Toad the Wart? (Like wag the dog?)

I like it.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-10 01:56 pm (UTC)
we_are_spc: (Default)
From: [personal profile] we_are_spc
:dddd :d

(Jay gets a smile every time he reads this; the revenge is sweet.)

I was hoping this would make it up here one of these days. :d :d So good!


(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-10 03:21 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: "Sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness" - Terry Pratchett (flamethrower)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
"My object all sublime / I will achieve in time / To let the punishment fit the crime / The punishment fit the crime..."

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-10 07:01 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Those lyrics with that icon.... *chuckle*

Re: Yes...

Date: 2017-08-10 07:33 pm (UTC)
across_space_and_time: A dense scattering of stars set on a bottle-green backdrop (Default)
From: [personal profile] across_space_and_time
>> It's like being a ghost, <<

Fitting, considering what he did. I wouldn't be surprised if Minkie wasn't the only person he's targeted either.

>> And I don't think he's smart enough or flexible enough -- and definitely not industrious enough -- to resolve the challenges <<

In that case, it looks like he's going to be entirely reliant on other people to help him with even basic things, and probably stuck right where he's at unless he does something to get kicked out or land in jail, and he seems too cowardly to get in enough trouble for the latter to happen through his own actions.

- Deacon

Re: Yes...

Date: 2017-08-11 07:21 pm (UTC)
across_space_and_time: A nebula shifting in rainbow hues from red to blue (Rainbow Galaxy)
From: [personal profile] across_space_and_time
>> they raised him and are likely contributing factors to Mortimer's habit of hurting other people for fun. <<

I didn't even think of that. Huh. Now I wonder if it's possible he *will* get kicked out, since he's doubtless going to have to do more interacting with them. Either way it isn't going to be a happy situation for any of them.

- Deacon

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-10 07:39 pm (UTC)
across_space_and_time: A nebula shifting in rainbow hues from red to blue (Rainbow Galaxy)
From: [personal profile] across_space_and_time
Blinking at the extent of the revenge, though I can't say I feel bad for Goateater.

Does T-America has anything in place to help people navigate when tech refuses to work around them? It seems like a place where that could cause a lot of trouble, though I imagine there are enough alternative communities to provide options for people who want them. Though transportation might be another issue, but then there are teleporters.
Come to think of it, we've seen a lot of T-America's technology, but I don't think as much about people or communities who are living away from it willingly.

- Deacon

Re: Yes...

Date: 2017-08-11 05:07 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Ohh! I need to remember to prompt for Ansel's grandparents! :D

Re: Yes...

Date: 2017-08-11 06:17 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Thanks! That is very kind of you!

Re: Yes...

Date: 2017-08-11 07:49 pm (UTC)
across_space_and_time: A nebula shifting in rainbow hues from red to blue (Rainbow Galaxy)
From: [personal profile] across_space_and_time
>> Society should not be creating disabilities where there were none before. <<

It really shouldn't be. Even for normal people, the more tech here progresses the crappier and more unusable it seems to get, at least for most machines used in daily life.

>> Public toilets are increasingly useless, not just for me, but because all the "automatic" functions are so much less reliable that many people give up dicking around with them and just do without. <<

So much sympathy. It's a relief when somebody finds a non-automated toilets, soap/towel dispensers, etc. in a bathroom lately. The only things that most people here *don't* mind as much are paper towel dispensers, but that's because we can do without a paper towel. We can't do without the other things.

One of the local libraries recently got renovated. It's amazing, but the one downfall people noticed were the bathrooms. *Everything* is automated. They don't even have paper towels, only the air driers that are renowned for blowing germs everywhere more than they are for sanitation.

>> It is routine to see a mix of technological and simple options <<

That's smart of them. I really don't get the eagerness locally to replace everything possible with the new tech. Balancing it with the old makes sure that people who prefer older things can still interact and *aren't* majorly inconvenienced, and old things that worked okay are a good backup in case the new tech breaks or doesn't do some things as well.
It seems like a good way to honor the past ways of living too, in a subtle sense. Like reminding people that old ways worked too, and there's something to fall back on or grow from as they choose.

>>I've seen a mall disabled that way. << >> T-America just puts up a "No Internet Right Now - Cash Transactions Only" <<

Lance almost had that happen when he was in the mall the other day. There was a weird power outage, but everything came back on after a few seconds. The most trouble he saw was a few cashiers having trouble connecting, but they worked through it.

>> T-America just puts up a "No Internet Right Now - Cash Transactions Only" <<

Is it common practice for people to carry bills with them, or maybe checks, than it is here? I don't know what effect losing internet would have on ATMs, if any.

>> Very few teleporters would continue serving Mortimer after that -- and probably all of them would hike the price due to supply and demand. <<

Good on them.

>> However, T-America also has generous support for human-powered travel. <<

It sounds amazing. We do pretty well where the body lives, but it's still pretty lacking. People notice how nice the parks are, and how many of them there are, but also the distance you need to travel and how the streets are arranged that don't promote going out and *doing* things as much as they could.
Skatable structures sound great. Most of this area is hills - steep hills - so skating in the street isn't very practical even when there aren't cars around. There aren't any skateparks within reasonable driving distance, so a few people have taken to going to the library parking lot because it has a lot of curves and slopes, but it would be great to find more public places that are *meant* for skating that aren't in isolated parks. Or climbing, or exploring in other ways.

>> As Mortimer is a couch potato, this probably does not comfort him. <<

Sucks for him. It's *almost* too bad... As much as I wouldn't want him being nasty to people offline too, I wonder if walking around *outside* would have some positive effect on how he sees the world and people around him. But he doesn't seem the type to put himself out there willingly, which I think would be needed for him to get any appreciation out of it. :/

>> :D They're out there! I just haven't written much about them yet. <<


I think you've mentioned Warshirt a few times before, but not what he appeared in? Which poem/s were they? I'd like to go find them.

>> but others are tribal folks on reservations who are devout traditionalists <<

Any who Kenzie or the Iron Horses are likely to run into?

>> If any of these pique your interest, please prompt for them in Tuesday's "anything goes" fishbowl. <<

Will do, though I'll probably have to ask somebody else to prompt for me, since I don't think I'll be here on that day. Ansel's grandparents and Turq sound like something that a few other people could go for, outside of my group. :)

- Deacon

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-11 10:11 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I think the revenge was entirely appropriate. It was derived from a vaguely-remembered short story (by Asimov?) about a society in which all financial transactions were done by computer and the equivalent of a debit card, and someone who had tried to run a scam was sentenced to be cut off from that system completely. He was issued a different ID card which entitled him to get things like food for free, but he could never use a computer that was part of the system again.

We're well on our way to that kind of society now, and this is the sort of fate I've wished on any number of computer trolls. Cut them off entirely, make them do everything the old-fashioned manual way that everybody did back in the 60s and 70s.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-10 08:33 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
You know.. in a limited fashion that could work here... although it'd be a pig to code that worm! Just because L-space is less rationally connected.

Although, GoatEater richly deserved what he got, and more. Although I'd have wiped his records as well, bank accounts and so on.. well, except the criminal records.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-10 10:07 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Alas, toading (or at least denial of practical ability to use the internet or a portion of it) and the toad imagery has been co-opted by the not-so-funny 'ironist' haters of the online alt-right.


I'm uncomfortable with this poem because of the way it plays into stereotypes and systems of punishment that I believe ultimately are more useful to the trolls than to non-trolls.

In particular, the 'basement troll' stereotype is an ableist, classist one, which flies under the radar because the implied negative stereotypes of physical or mental impairment in a disabling society and poverty-creating economy seem less biased when applied to males, to white people, and to people who have access to housing and technology. Shaming people for living and socializing online with parents/family is hurtful to many autistic people, me included, who have depended or do depend on that limited safety cushion to have any chance of eventually living independently - or of living a good life *without* that expectation of independence. I think that because the character wasn't fleshed out much beyond aspects playing into this stereotype, the - probably unintentional, given my knowledge of author and audience - implication is that the stereotype itself is a valid and negative characterization.


Ysabet sometimes uses stereotypes deliberately - though far less often, in my observation, than Y deliberately bends, folds, and spindles them to make something new - but I think this usage missed the mark because it wasn't explored in enough depth to make it credible unless one also accepts as credible the baggage it brings. Are there people like the villain of this poem, villainy included? Sure. Is featuring one here worth the collateral damage? Not to me.

Both the internet-death described within the poem, and the stereotype of the basement troll on which the poem depends, are weapons that can be used for good or for ill, but they work *better* for the bad guys because of how smoothly they grade over into shunning and shaming, and I'm not smooth with that.

(Still looking for a particular post in this series to link, but posting anyway...)


I do, however, support firm and transparent moderation that prevents hate speech and online bullying/harassment from flourishing. A case can be made that Capricorn was acting in the capacity of such a moderator for the *entire* internet, within the context of the poem.

However, I don't think such a super-moderator could exist in L-America in this era, and anyone who tried to emulate him across the board would do more damage than they prevented because of the lack of checks on their personal biases.


That said, I don't expect to like *everything* someone writes, and I'm not going to shun anyone because of this one poem, which is, at worst, an edge case for qualifying as endorsing measures and memes I dislike.

I;d be interested to hear people's thoughts, but also fine with moving on from this topic, if Ysabet prefers.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-08-17 12:43 am (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
(the following is a collection of random philosophical thoughts - probably too deep and too meandering to be usefully connected to this particular poem.)

One of the things about shunning and banning is the ease with which either can be used first and most vigorously against the unpopular, annoying people who aren't evil. I can be annoying in a very well-meaning way - and at my best, I'm weird and strange-seeming, so that's a particular worry of mine.

Banning is easier - make it a few days for a first offense, more for a second, and expand it. Few trolls care enough about damaging a community to keep coming back but it does allow for redemption over time and reduces the risk of a single Godwin-argument leading to pointlessly permanent consequences.

(Remember that Godwin's Law is that, as conversations (on Usenet) get longer, the odds that there will be a comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1. This is not an observation about *either* side - merely that long running conversations tend to live on because they tend to be important, which means they often arouse strong emotions, and such things tend to intensify.)

Shunning is harder because it depends on people, and showing dislike can be a powerful motivator for a lot of people.

As a work of fiction, this doesn't bother me. In reality? When Mortimer drinks himself to death, or blows his brains out, it's as much of a tragedy as any other slow-or-fast suicide. (Not arguing just or unjust - something can be either, and tragic.)

It also plays into a common meme that is promoted by the bad guys: that there are good people, and bad people, and the bad people are irredeemable. It can be used to some degree for good - there's catharsis in saying "evil was punished, in a manner that appears just" and it validates that there *is* evil, that merits consequences - that's why, as fiction, it doesn't bother me. But it can also oversimplify things, and can increase blood lust. A thirst for blood and suffering is bad - a thirst for justice is hard to instill especially when there's plenty of other drink readily available.

None of this matters, of course. In the end, these people don't exist; no one is actually suffering, there is no need to ask if perhaps Mortimer wasn't one of the worst, just the proverbial straw that snapped the camel's back. There's the ability to wish that harming others would snap back like the broken rubber band of karma, and *SMACK* cause some immediate punishment for poison-mean behavior, something that brings home that evil doesn't just end with the lulz.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-11 10:17 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I'm glad to see this one up. This is one of my "if a genie offered me 3 wishes" temptations.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2017-08-11 06:18 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
>> It's wish fulfillment, but it has a dangerous edge. Well, Capricorn is a supervillain. They aren't inclined to put up with someone getting away with cyberbullicide. But extralegal punishment has risks and disadvantages. <<



ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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