So we did this trolling thing

Circumcision, like vaccination, is kind of a controversial issue, it appears. Unlike vaccination, circumcision is not one of those things that you’re required to do to send your child to school or to keep a population safe from communicable disease. (Yes, there is good evidence that HIV infection can be curbed by circumcision, but that’s for another post.) I became aware of “intactivists,” people who are activists about leaving boys intact (uncircumcised), during the vaccine wars. As it turns out, a lot of anti-vaccine people are also intactivists, sharing the fear and anger at the government and pharmaceutical/medical systems. Intactivists can be quite nasty, just like anti-vaccine activists.

To show how angry, mean, and somewhat deranged intactivists can be, a few of us who monitor Facebook for anti-vaccine misinformation decided to bait them into showing themselves in an environment where we could control the discussion. We created a page about circumcision, made a few memes, and interacted with people posting comments. We also used the rules of some intactivist sites, deleting comments and banning people from commenting for no real good reason. All this was done with the intent of “getting them riled up,” as one of our colleagues put it. And riled-up they did get.

Let me just tell you this: I’m not pro or against circumcision. I really don’t feel anything towards it either way. There are plenty of people who live productive lives without any kind of problems after being circumcised. Likewise, uncircumcised people could care less about their prepuce. The intent of this “experiment” was to show the depths to which activists will go for what they believe in. Like anti-vaccine activists, they resorted to name-calling, ad hominem, quote-picking, and even threats. One intactivist dared one of my fellow admins who speaks Spanish to go to Florida when the intactivist will be there to protest the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting. He said he’d be there and meet “us” and show us what he’s all about, and he did so with very harsh, misogynist language.

So here’s a word of advice to the intactivists out there. Number one, don’t be evil. Don’t post personal pictures of people and make fun of them for circumcising their kids. Not only are you opening yourselves up to legal action for using likenesses without permission, you’re also dangerously close to committing crimes in several jurisdictions. Second, be civil. You make no friends calling people names and threatening violence. No one likes violent, rude, obnoxious activists who make fun of rape or use misogyny as a tool. Third, use facts, and nothing else. Half of the discussions descended into throwing out speculations and anecdotal evidence. People in power, the people you’re tying to convince to ban circumcision, they like facts. They hate conjecture. They hate it when you compare circumcision to rape. It’s not. It never will be.

And now, some images from that page:

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The page will be taken down at the end of the weekend, thus ending the experiment. Thank you all who participated.

42 thoughts on “So we did this trolling thing

  1. Again, thanks to everyone that contributed to this. I’m closing down the comments to allow us all to cool our heels a bit.

  2. I was one of the “pioneers” in the ongoing concern against circumcision of non-consenting infants and children. I am not opposed to immunization (although I’m sure that if I researched it to the extent that I’ve researched circumcision I would find out many things that I don’t know!) I am old enough to remember when people in wheel chairs of leg braces from polio was a common sight. I can remember elderly people tell about their siblings lost in childhood from scourges of meningitis or diphtheria. I hate to see our legitimate circumcision concerns become intertangled with other hot button issues like anti-immunization. Polio, diphtheria and the like are dangerous, often fatal diseases. A normal body part such as a foreskin hardly falls into the same category.

  3. I for one, even being an intactivist, am an avid user of the internet and saw this a mile away.

    Cool story bro.

    (nice work.)

  4. Your article fails to mention that the pro-RIC group is equally (if not more) aggressive. I’ve been a part of this debate for about a year now, and the amount of abuse toward intact men is astounding. Many of the most angry intactivists are circumcised men who are victims of this practice and for many reasons object to what was done to them while they had no voice in the matter. When the pro-RIC group presents their argument they are often extremely demeaning toward those men and laugh off and completely dismiss their pain and suffering. That is a form of abuse, and abuse makes people angry. Every circumcision is painful and carries many risks including death, disfigurement and amputation of the penis. I understand that those types of complications affect a small percentage of those who undergo the surgery, but when the stakes are so high, it seems very risky indeed, and does not negate the fact that a persons choice about his body was unnecessarily (and painfully) taken from him.

  5. I commented on that page, sharing a personal story in which I was lied to by a urologist and pushed towards a circumcision which proved to be unnecessary. I was accused of dragging sadomasochism perversion into a legitimate medical debate by an admin. My name doesn’t appear in the list here because I didn’t let myself get baited into it and walked away.

    My objection here is the statement that intactivists can get nasty. Any group of people can become confrontational and abusive, particular when they’re being trolled specifically to generate those responses. This is a case study on the nature of trolling, and apart from demonstrating how harmful such things can be to any cause, it really has no bearing whatsoever on intactivism.

    • Direct quote: “Ted, we’re not here to discuss sadomasochism involving machines and machine-like sexual toys. Take your perversions elsewhere, please.”

      Ah, the joys of email notifications.

  6. 1. Let me get this straight. You posted inaccurate and offensive content and then disrespected kind and informing commenters like myself who commented kindly and with factual information. Then you continued to offend the nice commenters, and even ban some(again, like me). A few extremists, infuriated by your lack of education on the subject and disrespectful responses, post some offending comments. Then you conclude that intactivists don’t use facts and are evil. How on Earth is this an unbiased experiment? You can’t possibly conclude that a group of people you intentionally offended lack manners when a few lashed out. That would of course happen to any group you intentionally offend. You constructed the results, so any conclusion you draw is meaningless. If this were a project for a sociology class you would most certainly fail the assignment.

    2. I am also extremely offended that you compare the intactivist movement to the anti-vaccine movement, intactivists to anti-vaxers, and by implication, circumcision to vaccines.
    Vaccines have proven, scientific value. Circumcision does not.
    Medical associations across the world accept the benefits of vaccines, but worldwide it is very rare to find a medical association that accept the benefits of circumcision, the AAP’s recent change in their stance to say that ‘the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks of the procedure’ was met with much criticism from other medical organizations(read what 38 heads and representatives of leading medical associations had to say about the AAP’s stance:
    You would be hard pressed to find a medical organization that does not recommend vaccinations, but no medical organization in the world recommends routine infant circumcision.
    Industrialized countries vaccinate all the time, but only in the US do we see non-religious circumcision on so many people.
    Vaccines have had nothing but good intentions since their inception. While circumcision started in the US in the late 1800s, the Victorian Era, as a way to curb masturbation and sexual desire. Over the years it’s been claimed to cure many things, such as syphilis, epilepsy, bed wetting, crossed eyes, tongue cancer, etc… as a way to defend the procedure. Each has been disproven time and time again. Vaccines, however, actually prevent against diseases.

    3. You said in your post that there is good evidence that HIV can be curbed by circumcision. You wouldn’t be saying that if you read more than one study, or even read through that particular highly flawed study that admittedly halted before all the results came in. For good measure, here’s why circumcision does not prevent HIV: By the Naval Health Research Center. By the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University. By the Health Association of Australia. By Instituto de Medicina Tropical Alexander Von Humboldt in Peru. By Future Medicine By a variety of HIV researchers, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. By Demographic and Health Surveys (this is a very long report. They talk about circumcision and HIV on pages 117, 123-125, and 149. There are a couple of really good charts on pages 123-125).

    And if you only read one, I recommend this:

    • Thank you, Ace. The intent was never to be unbiased. It was to push the envelope and see what would come out. As you can see, some ugliness came out of what I’m sure are otherwise smart, caring individuals. To be honest, some ugliness came out of some of our admins as well. We learned a lot about heated debates. Thank you for the references. I’ll give them a look later. It’s a nice day out. Let’s all get out and enjoy it.

  7. Maybe if you saw a video of the part of the circumcision where they stroke the boy to an erection for a “better, more accurate” cut you’d rethink if or not it’s sexual abuse.

  8. I can’t believe that you set up that Facebook page, Reuben. 🙂

    There are more studies that seem to indicate that circumcision affords some protection against transmitting other STDs:

    The AAP recently issued a new policy statement about circumcision and it generated some debate….

    But…I digress.

    Someone ought to inform that young man who underwent a religious circumcision in infancy, that he should not be posting under his real name.

    That “poll” you put up is a gem…nice to see how the intactivists prioritize their own fixation on infant circumcision as the “biggest societal problem we have”.

    • I can’t believe I went along with it. It was Ren’s idea. He got banned from FB for 12 hours because so many people reported the page. I warned him. But we got some good data and an idea of how bad things get in these discussions.

      • Good data? Do you consider yourself to be a professional troll? I noticed all your replies are also baiting and inflammatory. You think very highly of yourself, as if this whole experiment actually means anything to anyone outside of your group!

        • No, we’re not professional trolls. It was, again, to show how heated the discussion can get. The inflammatory comments at intactivists were also with that aim. No one was forced to be mean.

  9. So, Rueben, did you become more educated about circumcision through the course of your experiment? I know that your goal was to expose the rabid “intactivists” on Facebook, but I have never been one to find fault with people who are passionate about a cause. Sometimes people allow their emotions to taint any argument they make, but even if they do, I always try to look past those errors and see the facts. Often I use bits and pieces of what they say as a spring board to start my own research. Were you able to research more on infant circumcision? I never found your page Circumcision Circus while it was up, but I would have provided you with many links opposing the outdated practice, without the vitriol of course. 🙂

    • I know all there is to know about it. As I wrote, I don’t feel one way or another from it. This was just a slight departure from my normal, infectious disease-related work. It did open my eyes to how passionate arguments can turn humans mean and evil enough to threaten each other with all sorts of violence.

      • Unfortunately, you can find people who resort to denigration and violence in just about any debate. It probably stems from frustration. I can understand the helplessness felt by activists against circumcision. As you already know, it is such a widely accepted practice in the US, but elsewhere in the world (excluding Israel of course) the cutting of infants is minimal within the population. It can be very frustrating trying to reason with people who are stuck in a cultural myopia. American medical professionals cannot even be trusted because many are unfamiliar with a natural penis and their anatomy textbooks only depict and reference a circumcised man. How can those trying to defend silent victims stand-up against this kind of ingrained thinking? It is very difficult, and again, emotionally draining. I am not making excuses for any abuse you endured, but I hope you can look beyond the loudest, most offensive voices and see the real discussion.

  10. I think what you wrote shows you’re a [expletive deleted by admin]. One can easily find inelegant spokespeople for any cause. That does not mean the cause is not worthy, or that all people espousing the view you would mock are [expletive deleted by admin]] like yourself.

    If you still think HIV has anything to do with forcing circumcision on children, you’re just not paying attention.

    Foreskin feels REALLY good. Circumcision alters sex dramatically.

    Infant circumcision has very haphazard outcomes and a high rate of unintended effects.

    Any non-consensual irreversible intervention is ethical only if waiting for the patient’s own rational informed consent would lead to harm, and when less destructive options are exhausted.

    • Resorting to name-calling won’t win you any friends. Your comment won’t go through next time if it includes foul language.

  11. As a philosophy lover, I got into intactivism because it was a violation of basic human rights. I hate seeing anything or anyone in pain and I’ve seen too many babies screaming in pain during this barbaric ritual. I am never rude, I do not compare it to rape, but I do call it mutilation, because if it would have been done to me, I would feel mutilated, which many men and women do. Babies are created perfect and when you know better, you do better.

    • Funny, as a philosophy lover, I got into the circumcision debate because of the claim that it is a violation of human rights. I’ve seen many assert this, but I’ve yet seen anyone but together a valid argument on why it is a violation.

      I also got into the debate because of the false claim that circumcision is a mutilation.

      I agree that when you know better, you do better. Based on my critical thinking training, it is pretty obvious that intactivists resort to emotional manipulation because they cannot justify their position any other way. Resorting to intellectual dishonesty in their arguments totally negates the validity of their argument.

      Further, some intactivists don’t even know basic biology, like yourself when you say that “women feel mutilated”. Circumcision is done only on males and is not comparable to female genital mutilation.

      • Dear Kelly,
        Forced genital cutting is a violation because it is FORCED upon a human being who cannot escape and does not consent. Basic medical ethics dictate that parental (or proxy) consent is only valid for 1) diagnosis or 2) treatment of pathology. The foreskin is not a pathology, it is a normal, functioning and valuable body part. It composes half og the penile skin system. When the foreskin is removed, the penis loses its mobility and its protective sheath. Surely the owner of the penis should be the one to decide whether or not to keep this important and erogenous structure.
        Your philosophical viewpoint is ethnocentric; you live in a culture where boys are cut and girls are not. In my experiences talking to people from different countries, many are quite surprised that we do this in the U.S. Check out this link, complied by anthropologist Hanny Lightfoot Klien. She compares the beliefs of female cutting cultures to the beliefs in male cutting cultures: .


        • Dear Dolores,

          Who says I live in a culture where boys are cut and girls aren’t? You don’t know where I live.

          And if you think FGM and male circumcision are equivalent, that tells me you are ignorant about both.

          Smart? Think not.

      • Kelly, It is a violation. It is a mutilation. Ask an intact man what the most sensitive part of his penis is.

        When you say male circumcision is not comparable to female genital mutilation, you are engaging in the use of dishonest language to make an erroneous point. Both male and female genital cutting have a wide range of severity, from a small “nick” in the penis or vulva, to the radical ablation of a huge amount of erogenous tissue. Infibulation and penile subincision are probably the most radical and hideous instances.

        The point is, if there is a range of severity for men and women, why only condemn what is done to woman?

        Would you condone forced “hoodectomies” on girls, removing their clitoral hoods (the homologous structure to a male foreskin)? The clitoral hood, like make function, has important protective and sexual functions, and to remove for any reason other than a medical emergency is a violation of that baby’s human rights. A baby cannot consent to have his/her genitals cut; it’s wrong to do for any reason other than immediate medical need.

        In response to this blog post, I’ll just say that intactivists are very passionate about human rights, and many of us get frustrated when we see blatant ignorance and misinformation. Some of us express that with anger and viciousness; I think this is a mistake on our part. However, that doesn’t change the fact that forced genital cutting on minors is a violation of the basic human right to physical integrity.

        • Why? Because you say so? Sorry. Not good enough. But thanks for making my point.

          Why only condemn what is done to women? Because what is done to women is not at all equivalent to what is done to a newborn male. This ignorance of male and female anatomy and the purpose of genital cutting in each situation astounds me.

          If you get frustrated by blatant ignorance and misinformation, why don’t you educate yourself better? You are clearly very angry with yourself because you don’t really understand what you are talking about. Your claim that male circumcision is a violation of human rights is not a fact. It is your opinion. A opinion that isn’t actually supported by facts.

          • Kelly, I’ll infer from your reply that you would condone forced amputation of the clitoral hood on baby girls. Interesting.

            No one is claiming that male circumcision is “equivalent” to all female genital cutting. That’s a straw man argument.

            You accuse me of ignorance of male and female anatomy. Why don’t you tell me what the functions of the foreskin are? Don’t know? Or do you not care? The foreskin contains nearly all of the fine-touch receptors on the penis. It also acts as a natural lubricating mechanism during intercourse. Without it, sexual pleasure is greatly diminished for men and their partners. For circumcised men, the most sensitive part of the penis is on the underside, near the glans, where the frenulum used to be. This is the last remnant of the exquisitely sensitive nervous tissue that gets removed.

            Here is a well-written, well-cited blog post which summarizes the various functions of this amazing anatomical structure:

            Finally – as human beings, do we not all have a basic human right to not have our bodies permanently altered without our consent? This is ground zero of human rights. The US is changing with regards to this issue; in my lifetime, the newborn circumcision rate has dropped from around 85% to 50-55%. It will continue to drop. When an intact penis becomes the norm again, the general population will finally start to realize the harm that is done with this barbaric and wholly unnecessary procedure.

  12. Our non-consenting baby was suffering from an infection, her fever was refractory to treatment. We “forced her” (or was it raped her?) with antibiotics which relieved the bacterial infection of her tender ears.
    To view the idiots, we raped her with non-consentual antibiotics, how horrific! Dead is better than life, as an out of control bacterial infection in the head isn’t very consistent with the continuance of life.
    Politics, perhaps, due to brain death, but not life. Lousy joke ends.

    I have a mixed view on circumcision. Partially, it’s based upon that obscene very first amendment right for those religiously inclined, some would wish to do without our great Constitution, but also enjoy its protections or something.
    Partially, my objection is due to an unnecessary surgery, I’d like to see the full mechanism of protection elucidated, I’d also champion for the continuance of the practice until the data was in, then re-evaluate.
    I’m aware of surgical accidents, far better aware of the incidence rate than the idiots are.
    And yes, I call them idiots for a reason, their inability to utilize anything even barely resembling reason.

    That all said, never heard of the Facebook “experiment”. Hell, I’d have been bounced from the group for good cause.
    First, I’m a retired Special Forces medic. Second, I had to qualify as SF before I could attend the medic portion of the course, which is also quite intensive. Finally, I’m trivially capable of finding those who make a threat that is considered reasonable, to their very address. You’d be shocked how many in SF are also “geeks”. I’ve never responded well to actionable threats, hence the term actionable.
    Interact with me on a daily basis or even special occasion basis, I’m the delight of the crowd. Make a credible threat, I’m an absolute nightmare. I do not like that part of my life, but it is what it is.
    I far prefer peace and quiet and leaving people alone and not threatening them.

    THAT all said, I’m glad that I’m retired. Wearing that 45 pound kevlar vest, ESAPI plates all around, basic combat load, water and the LBV to hold it all really started to majorally suck.
    My back is gone, my knees are gone, that doesn’t limit me when adrenaline comes to call.
    As my 83 year old father learned when he collapsed after dialysis and I picked him up like a rag doll until his knees locked, then shifted him to his wheelchair that he didn’t want to wait for.
    Overall, I’m a nice guy. I’m also perfectly comfortable in being an ogre or even the penultimate dick from hell. It came with the rank and duties.

    • Told you it was controversial, and confusing. What parents decide for their children can be both protected (e.g. Vaccines) and denied (e.g. Circumcision) in their eyes.

      • ^^ What parents decide for their children can be both protected (e.g. Vaccines) and denied (e.g. Circumcision) in their eyes. ^^

        There is no duplicity. An intervention to a child is ethical if waiting for the child’s informed adult consent would lead to harm, and when less-destructive options are exhausted. Forced circumcision fails this test decidedly and is not endorsed by any medical association. Many vaccines are universally endorsed and ethically administered to children.

        • This is a common comparison, but I agree it’s not equal. It’s like saying we should remove your appendix at birth because it’s useless and what if you end up needing emergency surgery when you’re older to remove it? Wouldn’t it be better to just remove it at birth so it’s guaranteed your child will never have problems with it? I can’t imagine people agreeing it’s OK to cut a newborn open to remove an organ that is doing no harm. But when the organ happens to be skin (foreskin), and when there is constant misinformation fed to us about how it’s useless, its unneeded, its dirty, it holds disease etc then people are all for cutting it off. But in reality it is a needed organ, it has a purpose (as does the appendix) and it should not be removed when it is causing no harm, no conservative treatments have been tried, because there is no problem. It’s mind boggling people can argue it’s needed in any way

          • Major bowel surgery to remove an appendix is not comparable to infant circumcision.

            You are not cutting a newborn open to do a circumcision. Please familiarize yourself with the procedure before telling others what they should think about a surgery you don’t understand.

      • Dear Reuben,
        As I commented to Kelly, “proxy” or parental consent is only valid for surgery in case of 1) diagnosis or 2) treatment of pathology.
        Vaccines are not surgeries. Healthy body parts that perform protective and sexual function are not amputated for vaccination purposes. Forced genital surgery is not a vaccine. It is a surgery that carries risks and losses. It is quackery. The person having the surgery must live with the consequences for his entire life. He should be the one to decide whether or not to have the surgery. A person’s genitals do not belong to his parents, his doctor, or to the religion of his parents. His genitals are his. Leave them alone.

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