To weed out such messages, Jezebel's staff waded through the worst posts and manually deleted them — only to find new images from new anonymous posters at every turn. "It's like playing Whac-a-Mole with a sociopathic Hydra," the staff wrote.
A celebrity's quitting Twitter and a blog's staff having to delete a few terrible images may not sound like one of the most alarming problems the world faces. But trolling does not happen in isolation, and the routine, collective path of emotional damage left in trolls' wake can be devastating. This is particularly true for women — especially those who write about feminism or other hot-button topics — who have become a frequent target of trolls.
In an essay published in Pacific Standard magazine this year, the writer Amanda Hess pointed out that the Internet was becoming "central to the human experience," a place you cannot escape if you want to work, date, socialize, run for office, mount an advocacy campaign or open a checking account. "Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services and missed wages," she wrote, arguing that the unchecked rise of trolling posed nothing less than a civil rights issue for women.
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But combating trolling is a fiendish problem, like the cat-and-mouse fight against hackers. Both Twitter and Facebook have ways for people to report abuse, but the features are frequently described as inadequate.
Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president for trust and safety, said in a statement that the site had suspended the accounts of the people who attacked Ms. Williams. "We are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one," she said.
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Gawker Media said it was setting up a system in which only approved commenters will be allowed to post to the main comment section. Comments from the unapproved will be relegated to a "pending" section that readers will be advised to avoid.
Others have called for more far-reaching efforts, including reducing the possibility of posting anonymously on many online forums, or of posting at all. Responding to the Jezebel situation this week, Nicholas Jackson, the digital director of Pacific Standard, and Margaret Eby, a writer at Brooklyn Magazine, argued that new sites should eliminate comments.