President Obama visited a federal prison, and both Ellen Pao and Republicans pushed back at trolls. (More)

“What is normal is young people making mistakes”

Yesterday Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison and saw what his life might have been:

“When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” Mr. Obama said afterward. “The difference is they did not have the kinds of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”

He added that “we have a tendency sometimes to almost take for granted or think it’s normal” that so many young people have been locked up. “It’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people making mistakes.”

On Monday, the president commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, and yesterday’s visit was part of his campaign to reform a justice system that disproportionately tears young black men from their families and communities.

“I’m rooting for the humans over the trolls”

Predictably, wingnut readers at The Daily Caller wished the president had been locked away in his youth, or hoped that he soon would be. Their comments illustrate what former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao called “the bad and the ugly of the Internet”:

Fully 40 percent of online users have experienced bullying, harassment and intimidation, according to Pew Research. Some 70 percent of users between age 18 and 24 say they’ve been the target of harassers. Not surprisingly, women and minorities have it worst. We were naive in our initial expectations for the Internet, an early Internet pioneer told me recently. We focused on the huge opportunity for positive interaction and information sharing. We did not understand how people could use it to harm others.

The foundations of the Internet were laid on free expression, but the founders just did not understand how effective their creation would be for the coordination and amplification of harassing behavior. Or that the users who were the biggest bullies would be rewarded with attention for their behavior. Or that young people would come to see this bullying as the norm – as something to emulate in an effort to one-up each other.

Pao describes the abuse she endured as Reddit’s CEO, and also the support she received:

The writers of these messages often said they could not imagine the hate I was experiencing. Most apologized for the trolls’ behavior. And some apologized for standing on the sidelines. “I didn’t do anything, and that is why I am sorry,” one user wrote. “I stayed indifferent. I didn’t attack nor defend. I am sorry for my inaction. You are a human. And no one needs to be treated like you were.” Some apologized for their own trollish behavior and promised they had reformed.

As the threats became really violent, people ended their messages with “stay safe.” Eventually, users started responding on Reddit itself, using accurate information and supportive messages to fight back against the trolls.

In the battle for the Internet, the power of humanity to overcome hate gives me hope. I’m rooting for the humans over the trolls. I know we can win.

I hope she’s right.

“A toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense”

Speaking of trolls, yesterday GOP WHannabe Rick Perry took a swipe at fellow WHannabe Donald Trump:

I have a message for my fellow Republicans and the independents who will be voting in the primary process: what Mr. Trump is offering is not conservatism, it is Trump-ism – a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.

Arizona Sen. John McCain agreed in an interview with Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker:

“It’s very bad,” McCain, who was eager to talk about Trump, told me on Monday when I stopped by his Senate office. The Senator is up for reëlection in 2016, and he pays close attention to how the issue of immigration is playing in his state. He was particularly rankled by Trump’s rally. “This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me,” McCain said. “Because what he did was he fired up the crazies.”

Donald Trump is an attention-seeking bully, a troll, and we should keep that in mind when someone suggests, as Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff did yesterday, that to stop online abuse we must end online anonymity:

Ellen Pao is right. The trolls, those online idiots who harass, threaten and essentially ruin the Internet for everyone else seem, at times, almost unstoppable. What she neglects to mention in her thoughtful Washington Post op-ed is that there’s a simple, albeit painful, solution to this problem: End online anonymity.

Ulanoff’s argument rests on the flimsy reed that trolls rely on anonymity to avoid accountability. Yet research shows that emotional distance from targets and the lack of social consequences are the primary enablers of online bullying and bullies form online packs to reinforce each other

… like those who flock to wingnut blogs to cheer Trump’s white supremacist rants or say our president should have been thrown in prison as a youth. The problem is not that bullies can be anonymous online. The problem, as Pao wrote, is that too many Americans admire bullies.

But there is good news, and I have some tasty tidbits to share tomorrow.

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Good day and good nuts

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Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, AP