The Internet of Garbage
By Sarah Jeong
Aug 28 2018
Today, The Verge is publishing an interim edition of Sarah Jeong’s The Internet of Garbage, a book she first published in 2015 that has since gone out of print. It is a thorough and important look at the intractable problem of online harassment.
After a year on The Verge’s staff as a senior writer, Sarah recently joined The New York Times Editorial Board to write about technology issues. The move kicked off a wave of outrage and controversy as a group of trolls selectively took Sarah’s old tweets out of context to inaccurately claim that she is a racist. This prompted a further wave of unrelenting racist harassment directed at Sarah, a wave of coverage examining her tweets, and a final wave of coverage about the state of outrage generally. This is all deeply ironic because Sarah laid out exactly how these bad-faith tactics work in The Internet of Garbage.
Lost in all of this noise was the fact that Sarah Jeong is an actual person — a person who was an integral and beloved part of The Verge’s team and a deeply respected journalist for years before that. Her extensive reporting on online communities, norms, and harassment is rigorous and insightful in a way that few others have ever matched. Discussing Sarah’s tweets in a vacuum without contending with her life’s actual work in the very field of online communities and harassment is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
The Internet of Garbage provides an immediate and accessible look at how online harassment works, how it might be categorized and distinguished, and why the structure of the internet and the policies surrounding it are overwhelmed in fighting it. Sarah has long planned to publish an updated and expanded second edition, but in this particular moment, I am pleased that she’s allowed us to publish this interim edition with a new preface.
In that new preface, Sarah stresses that her original text was written from a place of optimism. But the years since have not been kind to internet culture. She writes that the tactics of Gamergate, so clearly on display during the harassment campaign waged against her over the last few weeks, have “overtaken our national political and cultural conversations.” That new culture is driven by the shape of the internet and the interactions it fosters. “We are all victims of fraud in the marketplace of ideas,” she writes.
I hope everyone with a true and sincere interest in improving our online communities reads The Internet of Garbage and contends with the scope of the problem Sarah lays out in its pages. We are making the entire text of The Internet of Garbage 1.5 available for free as a PDF, ePub, and .mobi ebook file, and for the minimum allowed price of $.99 in the Amazon Kindle store. Below, we have excerpted Chapter 3, “Lessons from Copyright Law.”
—Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief, The Verge
The intersection of copyright and harassment
On December 15th, 2014, a full en banc panel of 11 judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sat for oral arguments in Garcia v. Google. Cris Armenta, the attorney for the plaintiff, began her argument:
Cindy Lee Garcia is an ordinary woman, surviving under extraordinary circumstances. After YouTube hosted a film trailer that contained her performance, she received the following threats in writing:
Record at 218: “Are you mad, you dirty bitch? I kill you. Stop the film. Otherwise, I kill you.”
Record at 212: “Hey you bitch, why you make the movie Innocence of Muslim? Delete this movie otherwise I am the mafia don.”
Record at 220: “I kill whoever have hand in insulting my prophet.”
Last one, Record at 217. Not the last threat, just the last one I’ll read. “O enemy of Allah, if you are insulting Mohammed prophet’s life, suffer forever, never let you live it freely, sore and painful. Wait for my reply.”
At this point, Armenta was interrupted by Judge Johnnie Rawlinson. “Counsel, how do those threats go to the preliminary injunction standard?”
Indeed, her opening was an odd way to begin, and the observers—mostly lawyers deeply familiar with copyright who had followed the case with great interest—were confused by it. Wasn’t Garcia a case about copyright law and preliminary injunctions?
For Cindy Lee Garcia, of course, it wasn’t. It was a case about her right to control her exposure on the internet. But in her quest to end the barrage of hate aimed at her, she ended up in a messy collision with copyright doctrine, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Communications Decency Act (CDA), and the First Amendment.