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2015 in review: The roots of troll culture

11 January 2016 | Jeff Sparrow

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things by Whitney PhillipsThe common perception of internet trolls is that they are outsiders descending on a particular platform in order to wreck it. But there is a close relationship between trolls and the culture in which they operate. If you're a publisher seeking virality, you need to foster the strong emotions in which social media trades. Getting people to love your content is great, but outrage, incredulity and even hatred also work.

My mother's last Christmas

17 December 2015 | Catherine Marshall

FarmhouseOn her last Christmas, my mother produced a Christmas dinner for 14 people on an ancient anthracite stove in the kitchen of the farmhouse I'd recently moved to. Nothing could distract her from the preparation of this Christmas lunch on a stove that was built last century - except for the pain that had been growing for some months just beneath her ribs. As she stirred the stock and pressed cloves into the ham I saw a wave of discomfort wash over her. It was uncharacteristic and unnerving.

Australian film industry boys club needs redressing

22 November 2015 | Rochelle Siemienowicz

Kate Winslet in The DressmakerThe success of the Australian comedy The Dressmaker is thrilling to those watching the local film industry. There's more to cheer in the fact the film is proudly female in both story and production. We're not as bad as Hollywood, but even in Australia, there are not enough films for women, about women and by women. Since the 1970s male directors have been responsible for more than 85 per cent of the feature films made. Why does it matter? Because women are more likely to tell stories about women.

My trip down the grubby tabloid rabbit hole

19 November 2015 | Catherine Marshall

Mail Online screenshotThe best thing I ever did was give up reading the Mail Online. I'd log on at the end of a long day for a dose of what I thought was harmless, digestible fun. But it wasn't long before this mental junk food started to bloat my mind. When Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry appeared before a committee at Sacramento's state assembly to press for the introduction of laws aimed at protecting children from the paparazzi, I realised I was engaging in a despicable act: the consumption of other people's private stories.

A fascist by any other name

16 November 2015 | Jeff Sparrow

Green and yellow UPF logoIn journalism, 'he said, she said' often functions as an evasion. Reporters' loyalty should be to accuracy, which isn't about compromise between extremes. When denialists and climate scientists take diametrically opposed stances, the truth doesn't lie somewhere in the middle. Sometimes, one side's right and the other's just wrong. The same can be said of reporting about the rightwing United Patriots Front. While they deny being fascists, that's what they are, and that's what we should call them.

Images the catalyst for action but not change

10 September 2015 | Ellena Savage

Aylan Kurdi photoThere are few activities more unsettling than viewing the bodies of deceased children. But I'm not convinced that visual tokens of suffering, shared within safe, affluent settings, change much. A photo can suggest that a woman is abused by her partner and motivate people to donate money to a charity. But it won't make anybody voluntarily give up the privilege that fostered the pain.

Ashley Madison leak exposes a prurient and uncaring society

25 August 2015 | Jeff Sparrow

Ashley Madison website screengrabThe media has greeted the infidelity website leak with unabashed glee. We could instead ask why so many ordinary people are seemingly so discontented with their marriages, and what might be done to alleviate the wretchedness both of those who cheat and those who don't.

Don't be a Twitter twit

03 May 2015 | Amy Clarke

Woman using Twitter on phoneJust because you can legally say something, doesn't mean you should — or that it is professionally responsible to do so. As SBS presenter Scott McIntyre discovered when he was sacked for his controversial tweets about Anzac Day, the internet can sometimes be a treacherous place to test the boundaries of 'acceptable' free speech. McIntyre learned this lesson the hard way, and he is hardly the first to do so.

Why Selma needs no Oscars

19 February 2015 | Fatima Measham

Oprah Winfrey in SelmaIt is hard to escape the impression that even in 2015 the only black characters that the American film industry can reward are maids, slaves or dysfunctional urban archetypes, in stories where there is an identifiable white saviour. Any triumphs are of the spirit, of personal fortitude, nothing that compels social responsibility, invokes political will or even a sense of historical reckoning.

Death of a disability dynamo

07 December 2014 | Fatima Measham

Stella YoungDeath loses its abstraction when a person like Stella Young dies. It becomes material. It makes itself manifest in the silence, which it somehow solidifies: the unwritten word, the unspoken retort, the unmade joke. 'Disability doesn't make you exceptional,' she told a TED audience in Sydney last April. 'But questioning what you think you know about it does.' Stella flipped what we thought we knew about many things.

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