SuttaCentral

Australian MP addicted to online commenting

There’s an Australian MP who has been called out for sexual harassment. He blames it on his ADHD, which is very unfortunate. The Guardian quotes psychiatrist Dr Karen Williams, the founder of Doctors Against Violence Against Women, saying:

ADHD is … not a cause for remorselessness or other antisocial behaviour such as harassment. Medication for ADHD serves to improve focus and attention but it doesn’t change your ethics, it doesn’t change your levels of compassion or empathy. There is no drug for empathy.

But the really interesting thing here is that he runs over 30 online social media accounts, posting over 50,000 comments under the guise of community and news groups. How has he, a sitting Government minister, got time to do all this?? I can’t even keep up with my emails!

The thing is, this is not unusual. It seems that the overwhelming quantity of posts on user-generated media, whether Facebook, Reddit, or Wikipedia, are made by a tiny circle of people. Which begs the question, who are these people who are always online? What is it that drives them to such obsessive and weird behavior? When we read, we tend by default to assume that the writer is like us. But in the online world, that’s a questionable assumption.

Obsessive posters obscure their tracks by posting in different communities or under different names. But by sheer presence their words assume a prestige that is probably unwarranted. It turns out that by enabling “user generated content” everywhere we have handed the public square over to the kind of person who, well, likes to stand in a public square and yell at everyone.

There’s an old saying in tech-critical circles: there are only two types of people who refer to their community as “users”—drug dealers and tech companies. Perhaps the similarity is closer than we thought.

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A relevant article Revealed: the Facebook loophole that lets world leaders deceive and harass their citizens | Facebook | The Guardian

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Yes, I’ve read multiple times now that for example Chinese prisoners had jobs like responding to criticisms of china on social media with fake accounts. Also in India and Philliphnes they have “phone farms”, basically one person sits in front of a hundred phones and likes products or makes fake reviews for a client.

And also some of the rich elites have people posting things for them anonymously on reddit, which is widely known for Astroturfing.

There’s a lot of power and incentive to control narratives on the web as that can sway opinions and votes. There’s no point in arguing with people online, as for all you know, you could be arguing against a firm of hundreds of people pretending to be unique individuals when instead they’re hired to push an idea.

The age of free information is coming to an end, as you can’t tell what is real or fake anymore, just like the Buddha said about counterfeit dhamma and gold, when people can’t tell what is real, they give it up all together.

Now with AI, CCTV cameras can be faked, images can be faked, voices can be faked. Someone can fake the voice of another’s child and pretend that they’re being kidnapped for ransom. Someone can fake a genocide video footage with AI, anything can be faked.

When everything can be faked, and you can’t tell the difference between real and fake, there is no more evidence to be used in court, and we’re back in the wild west before video cameras were used. Like in the 1930s when people didn’t know what was happening in the world until a paperboy showed up. So the age of information is coming to an end. And when that happens, the power of video cameras to stop people from commiting crimes is coming to an end, body cams, dash cams, will all lose their power to disincentivize crime.

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Yes, the downside to giving everyone a platform is that everyone gets a platform. And for some reason, we haven’t learned to distrust social media as a news source. All you need to do to start a widespread rumor is post an image with some text on reddit. That’s it. If the format looks familiar, people won’t question it. I’d be pulling my hair out if I had any.

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This would be solved by not allowing people to manifest themselves anynomously everywhere.

To me, anonymous abusive and trollish posting is akin to gang/criminal grafiti.

We almost never see the vandals who come and mess with our walls but have to clean their mess or learn how to turn a blind eye to it.

When I visited my home town, Rio de Janeiro, a few years ago I was shocked by the huge amount of grafitti everywhere. :man_facepalming:t4:

When I asked people if that did not disturb them they would say they just learned to live with it.

A sad case in which a minority of vandals sees itself empowered to makes the lives of the majority less enjoyable.

Hence, similarly to what happens in the internet with the anonymous bullies and trolls, if we allow them to come anonymously and spray all their bull$hit on our virtual walls, our choices are restricte to keep cleaning their mess or learn to live with it / turn a blind eye to it. :man_shrugging:t4:

:anjal:

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Oh, yes. There are the so-called click farms, a catch-all term for people who do these things for pay, hired by people who are trying to influence the online world, whether it’s political or just commercial advertising. There’s also a content mill industry, which I personally worked in for a couple years, that generates the endlessly re-worded schlocky webpages that have filled up Google search results. The people who pay for the low quality content are typically just looking for Google ad payments or Amazon associate commissions.

The end result is a good chunk of what’s online today is artificial compared to 20 years ago.

He probably has other people helping out. Sounds like quite an operation, too!

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This politician’s behaviour is an example of over-active mental activity. This is an imbalance in practice of insight over tranquillity, and could be an opportunity for Ajahn Brahm to offer services as a personal counsellor. As the suttas show the Buddha often advised people in positions of power.

We have a number of these dangerous types of politicians in the United States. My guess is there is more than a small degree of narcissism and/or sociopathy with these characters. They cause harm to others, waste/divert taxpayer money in almost criminal fashion, and when caught, come up with fanciful excuses to “explain” and excuse their bad behavior. In other words, they are remorseless and, when caught, are unable to take responsibility for their own harmful actions. The faster these types are jettisoned by their parties, the better, as it is only a matter of time before these bad actors offend again.

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Indeed, and it’s important not to take their words at face value. After all, they have just been caught lying on an industrial scale.

Interestingly the Guardian has revised their title to focus more on his misrepresentation of mental illness:

Expert says ADHD can’t explain Liberal MP Andrew Laming’s antisocial behaviour

I think it’s important to bear in mind that if we want to help people like this, the most basic and important thing we can do is simply to not enable them. Don’t amplify their platform.

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Sorry Bhante, this does not wish to be a criticism but an observation for future better explanation.
The sentence “ mental illness is no excuse for harmful behavior.” needs a bit more carful wording and carful rethinking. I am sure you can understand that some forms of mental illness exonerate from the capacity of moral perception. I can guarantee you that the Alzheimer elderly person who punched me due to the condition of mental degeneration is excused exactly because of his neuro-cortex degeneration. Knowing the brain, I can understand that that punch probably had to do more with my kamma as much as the Alzheimer affecting the person than a bad action by the person.
I personally think that when we speak or express a judgement about mental illness we all should be extremely carful because we can crate stigma and deeply affect with our words those whom suffer it or their relatives.

Mental illness is a very complex reality. Probably your sentence needed more words to clarify your point concerning mental illness and responsibility.

With metta
:pray:

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Thanks for the perspective. It is an interesting question.

I think it comes down to how we define “behavior.” If the action was intentional, there is karma there, even if that intention was formed through the distorting lens of a damaged brain.

In the final (Buddhist) analysis, all evil-doers are “mentally ill” and deserve our compassion, even if (especially because?) they are 100% responsible for their actions. :thinking:

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Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu :pray:

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Indeed, you are quite right! It is a complex area, and in some cases people with certain kinds of mental illness are not morally culpable. In the Vinaya, this is also the case, if something has gone mad they are not held accountable. I think what this refers to is what in modern terms is called a psychotic break.

I’ll rephrase it more carefully.

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This is something related I have quoted regularly on Reddit, and have then also thought about a lot – I wasn’t trying to take these words for granted. It’s from Ajahn Chah:

Here is an example. Suppose one morning you’re walking to work and a man yells abuse and insults at you from across the street. As soon as you hear this abuse your mind changes from its usual state. You don’t feel so good, you feel angry and hurt. That man walks around abusing you night and day. Whenever you hear the abuse, you get angry, and even when you return home you’re still angry because you feel vindictive, you want to get even.

A few days later another man comes to your house and calls out, ‘‘Hey! That man who abused you the other day, he’s mad, he’s crazy! Has been for years! He abuses everybody like that. Nobody takes any notice of anything he says.’’ As soon as you hear this you are suddenly relieved. That anger and hurt that you’ve pent up within you all these days melts away completely. Why? Because you know the truth of the matter now. Before, you didn’t know, you thought that man was normal, so you were angry at him. Understanding like that caused you to suffer. As soon as you find out the truth, everything changes: ‘‘Oh, he’s mad! That explains everything!’’

When you understand this you feel fine, because you know for yourself. Having known, then you can let go. If you don’t know the truth you cling right there. When you thought that man who abused you was normal you could have killed him. But when you find out the truth, that he’s mad, you feel much better. This is knowledge of the truth.

I’ve stopped using Reddit at all because I realised that, sometimes, I was the person upon whom others would best look on in this way. Because it’s too easy to use your voice for the quick win of laughing at, denigrating, and otherwise harming someone else.

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I teach Psychology, and still read within the field as it does interest me. I have seen no empirical evidence that – as a worldly being, wrapped up in worldly concerns – there is such a thing as persistent mental wellness that ensures that all thoughts, intentions, speech acts and physical acts are without bias. In fact, working ‘well’ in terms of cognitive systems arguably requires bias e.g. in the form of heuristic processes.

So, I’d like to argue that we should apply this generosity to all beings. “There but for the grace of God go I” is something that I find can be profitably applied when used broadly and without distinction.

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There was a story about an Arahant, in one of his past life, he tricked a lot of people, so in his final life, he has to use his psychic powers to mutiply his body to attend the invited meals of 500 families, all at the same time! And then he had to leave the area, and the families thought that it was their own family that the Arahant went especially to receive their meal.

As a society, we will need to figure out all the implications of this new technology, and how it may help or hurt people. Hopefully some new positive developments happen in the coming years. In 1991, relatively few people had heard of the Internet. Now, in 2021, everyone depends on it. It’s hard to overstate what a radical transformation that is.

I miss the days when hideous-but-charming websites were created by hobbyists, universities, etc., because they actually cared about something. Now much of the Web is characterized by huge corporations just harvesting personal information and preying on peoples’ insecurities.

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