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Why We Get Harassed

Two days ago, shortly after I asked 18 questions of him in a post, Justin Vacula promised me answers. All of the answers.

I will have all of the answers for Stephanie Zvan later tonight. For now, it is "reputation management" http://t.co/XlrxPs099n @
@justinvacula
Justin Vacula

Late that night, he produced an eight-minute video. That seemed awfully short to provide advice in response to that many questions, as well as being a highly inefficient way to deliver information when text was available. Well, as it turned out, the video wasn’t about answering the questions I’d asked. (This is not terribly surprising, as non sequiturs seem to be Vacula’s stock in trade, from his very first appearance on this blog.)

Vacula appears to have no interest in answering my questions, so I guess I’m just stuck continuing to point out the ways in which his self-serving “argument” doesn’t hang together. Let’s go through the video, shall we?

The first minute or so is just introduction:

Hi, Justin Vacula here, recording a YouTube video in response to [image of a comment by Melody Hensley on Center for Inquiry's blog] Stephanie Zvan’s blogpost February 26, 2013, titled “Think About the Consequences!”. Stephanie Zvan responds to some advice that I provided for people who face criticism and hate on the internet. I wrote:

Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.
Avoid commenting on websites of your ideological opponents.
Refrain from attacking individuals; stick to criticism of ideas rather than persons.
Consider how people might respond to what you write. Can something be reframed so as to not lead to undesirable criticism?
Avoid sharing content when experiencing heightened emotions (great anger, disgust, stress, etc)
Consider sharing something with friends before it becomes public. A second (or third) set of eyes might suggest helpful edits which would avoid negative feedback.

[image of a different comment by Melody Hensley on Center for Inquiry's blog] Steven Novella agreed with this and said, “Your specific recommendations at the end of your last comment are all reasonable.”

Stephanie Zvan does not like what I had to say. She authored a blog post here, and she talks about [dismissive tone] harassment that some people face. She says she faces harassment on the internets [sic] and claims that Novella says I am minimizing and mischaracterizing the situation.

Well, no. Actually I linked to the comment in which Novella told Vacula this. But hey, I can quote it too, for people who don’t follow links.

justin – “less than charitable feedback” does not begin to cover it. Please Google “Rebecca Watson” and see what you find. Really try to imagine that you were the target of such attacks. Do you imagine that any online activist, blogger, etc. could stand up to this level of obsessive negative scrutiny?

Vacula then goes on to do more of the same in his video:

The situation which is Stephanie Zvan and friends experiencing negative…negative pushback on the internet, [image of a different comment by Melody Hensley on Center for Inquiry's blog] which is people commenting on Twitter, blogs–some of them saying nasty things admittedly. She considers it cyberstalking and harassment.

Well, it’s really besides [sic] the point of this YouTube video, and I’ve addressed this before.

Funny thing, every time Vacula addresses this, he leaves things out. Important things. Things like what the cyberstalking parts of this behavior actually entail. He leaves out the part where people went through my old comments on Greg Laden’s Blog to quote them out of context. He leaves out the bit where people dug through the Google search results on me until they found the one that listed my employer and posted that information in the slime pit (without anyone complaining that I’d been doxed, naturally). He leaves out the part where people dug up pictures others had posted of me online to make their cute little Photoshopped “satire”. He leaves out the part where the pitter have explicitly endorsed a policy of showing up when we are mentioned in spaces we don’t control or that are unmoderated in order to talk about the horrible things they claim we’ve done. He certainly leaves out that he’s taken part in that kind of swarming more than once himself.

And Stephanie Zvan writes:

I’m not sure what I would have done in his position. [sic]

Again, no. I said, “I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have done the same in his position.”

…referring to Steve Novella. She continues:

It generally sounds reasonable until you realize that half of those amount to [Valley Girl accent] “Stop talking” and the rest–given as advice–assume facts not in evidence.

I’m not really sure what she means by that.

That might be because, as far as I can tell, this is where Vacula stopped reading my post. The rest of that paragraph said:

For example, one of the strengths of Skepchick is that multiple authors means multiple eyes on a piece before it’s published. Telling someone who already does that to do that is very much like just telling someone who disagrees with you to “Think about what you’re saying.”

In case Vacula did read that and simply did not understand it, here’s what it means. In the particular example I gave, Vacula is advising Rebecca and Amy, who write for Skepchick and already have multiple eyes on their writing, to “Consider sharing something with friends before it becomes public.” Just as someone may still disagree with you after they’ve thought through their position, people may well (and, it seems, frequently do) post things Vacula doesn’t like with the benefit of advice from several people. I certainly have.

[image of a comment by EllenBeth Wachs on Center for Inquiry's blog] My recommendations here, for people who face criticism and hate to reduce the criticism and hate, are very reasonable things people can do. It’s what Karla Porter refers to–and I’m sure many others–as reputation management. The way people present themselves [image of a tweet by Amanda Marcotte] has something to do with their perception, with the criticism they receive.

I’m kind of surprised that this is the idea of reputation management that Vacula has come away from Porter with, and that Porter isn’t out there correcting him for all it’s worth. As an independent consultant, I would want my clients to think I understood a business term at–minimally–a Wikipedia level.

Reputation management is the practice of understanding or influencing an individual’s or business’s reputation. It was originally coined as a public relations term, but advancement in computing, the internet and social media made it primarily an issue of search results. Although it is often associated with ethical grey areas, such as astroturfing review sites, censoring negative complaints or using SEO tactics to game the system and influence results, there are also ethical forms of reputation management, such as responding to customer complaints, asking sites to take down incorrect information and using online feedback to influence product development.

Reputation management isn’t about dealing with individuals and shaping how they treat you. It is about influencing what people see when they Google you. Impression management is closer to what Vacula is talking about. It still offers nothing like the advice he’s giving. As far as I can tell from researching the two topics in a nonextenstive but targeted way, Vacula made up a list of things he wants other people to do and slapped a jargony name on it.

Back to the video:

After all, as I’ve pointed out on many occasions, there are many women on the internet–there are many feminists on the internet, some of them including men, who write about feminism, who write about women’s issues, who write about anything given in the world, and they don’t receive the level of criticism, negative feedback, what Stephanie Zvan calls harassment and cyberstalking. [image of a Twitter exchange with EllenBeth Wachs] They don’t receive this.

So the situation is that some people negative criticism and pushback on the internet while other don’t. So there has to be some kind of reason why this is the case.

There certainly does. However, before moving from this step to figuring out why the difference exists, we have to know who the people who don’t get harassed are. This is very basic. Define your control group.

Magical harassment fairies, magical cyberstalking fairies, magical negative dissenters–whatever you want to call them–don’t just appear out of thin air and criticize people on the internet. It doesn’t happen that way.

But there has to be some reason behind it, right? These people aren’t just going to randomly pop up. So I give some advice for people.

And Vacula does this without identifying his control group, without identifying competing hypotheses. I can come up with lots of reasons why any individual might escape harassment:

  • Lack of an audience: How do the harassers find targets that no one is reading, who aren’t indexed highly on Google? Is this a case of security by scarcity?
  • Lack of demands: Even harassers have finite time on their hands.Someone who talks about gender issues (or “women’s issues”) who doesn’t want anything to change is not likely to be perceived as a threat to anyone.
  • Lack of effectiveness: Feminists generally don’t just talk about gender issues. They also try to accomplish something. Are people who manage to do that more likely to be targeted by harassers?
  • Social and organizational circles: Does it matter where a feminist is? Do certain subgroups, either due to characteristics of the members or due to events like rapid change, tend more to harass?

That’s just off the top of my head. Feel free to suggest others. Don’t do what Vacula did and act as though one possbility is correct because it was the first one that occurred to you.

[image of a tweet from EllenBeth Wachs] And I really think that if you’re going to be on the internet, you’re going to be talking a big game, you’re going to be saying really nasty things about people–calling people “sexist”, calling people “misogynsist”–

Hold up a second. Is it “really nasty” to say that someone is sexist if they are sexist? Is it “really nasty” to call a misogynist a “misogynist”? Are these words somehow taboo?

instead of approaching the situation in a different manner and being charitable and saying, “Well, maybe what you have to say there could have been reframed differently.” Instead of engaging in a call-out culture in which you’re going to talk about how your ideological opponents or whomever said this nasty thing–this alleged nasty thing–

Here, of course, “nasty” can only be alleged, as opposed to when someone uses the words “sexist” or “misogynist”.

you can use the moment as an instructional tool [image of Vacula's advice] and say something like, “Well, here’s how I would have said it. Here’s the message I think that’s being conveyed by this piece.” Not making it nasty; not saying nasty things about the people.

This assumes that the only problem people have with speech is wording. The funny thing is, if all I disagree with someone about is their wording, I do tend to say, “Not how I would have said it, but…eh.” For the record, this has not proved to be protective against harassment or–yes–cyberstalking.

It’s different when I disagree with the content of someone’s speech. There is no way to resolve that with a simple rewording. I can tell you what I think the message is intended to be, but even at my most generous interpretation, I’m going to tell you that I disagree. The need for harassment policies at events? Not a question of wording. The idea that a site with no moderation is not a site that the vast majority of people will want to use? Not a question of interpretation. Even when I understand you perfectly, this does not compel me to bow to your point. You can be wrong, just as I can..

This, of course, doesn’t begin to cover talking about harmful behavior.

But Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, PZ Myers—they don’t do that. They’re very often very uncharitable, and they reach the worst conclusions possible.

Oh, goodness, no. For example, I have never said or suggested that the reason Vacula doesn’t support harassment policies at conferences is because he wants to protect his ability to harass at them. You can’t reasonably call me, or anyone else, extreme on the basis of a failure of imagination.

And I believe (and this is just my hypothesis) that the reason they receive the negative pushback is because of the way they present themselves on the internet. Again, there are many people who would identify as feminists. There are many people who are women. There are many males who identify as feminist. There are so many people on the internet, right, who are similar ideologically to Stephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, etc. on gender issues–as some call gender ideologues…whatever you’d like to call them…feminists…whatever.

Ah, there’s that charity and generosity at work. “Gender idelogues”. Nothing prejudicial in that wording whatsoever. Nothing in it that ignores all the evidence presented on the topic around here and elsewhere. But I’m sure that’s just Vacula including terms his audience would use but he wouldn’t, right? That’s the charitable interpretation? That he’ll start responding to the people in question #9 of the post he said this was a response to and not eliding that they’ve spoken?

There are people writing about feminism who don’t get the pushback, so why is it that Stephanie Zvan gets the pushback, and other people writing about feminism don’t get the pushback?

It’s a good question, I’d like Stephanie Zvan to answer that question. I haven’t really seen an answer to this just yet. I’m all ears. I’m all ears.

We’ll see. Really, though, getting these sorts of basics settled is really the sort of thing Vacula should have done–in the spirit of charity and generosity–before wandering around the internet saying that people are being harassed (or “harassed”) because of their behavior.

When people like Stephanie Zvan complain about the treatment they receive and they engage in the same tactics of this call out-culture of imputing malice, thinking people have these horrible intentions behind the words they type, when that might not be the case. They look at the worst situation possible instead of being charitable, again.

No. Or better than that: Point to examples of me imputing motives instead of talking about consequences or simply describing behavior. Here are a few posts you can use as a starting point to search:

Closest I can find to talking about motives is here, where I talk about someone having clearly stated their motives. That’s not “thinking” something. That’s listening when someone tells you something.

Well, why is it that she receives the criticism? I pose some tips here to reduce the criticism, and I’m fully aware that some of Stephanie Zvan’s critics are not going to go away. There are just nasty people out there who are not voicing reasonable opinions and being charitable, and some of these people, I must say, have tried in the past, but the efforts at diplomacy have failed so they’ve just resorted to ridicule and satire. But either way, I think that if Stephanie Zvan and company want the alleged bullies to go away…if they presented themselves differently on the internet, that they would go away, that people would stop talking about it.

Citations, please? I haven’t been able to find a source for Vacula’s advice, much less any evidence that this will work.

Still, we have a recent situation that can shed some light on how well this advice will work. A few days ago, Surly Amy reached out to Harriet Hall to patch up misunderstandings of the events at TAM last year that drew so much attention and reach for common ground going forward. This is, presumably, the sort of behavior Vacula would like to encourage. This, however, is what he retweeted yesterday, two days after the news about Amy and Hall.

It's going to look so bad if #TAM goes off without any drama. Because people might notice what the missing ingredients are this year.
@AngrySkepchick
Angry Skeptic Woman

So, no, this doesn’t seem to have a positive effect, even on the behavior of the person offering the advice.

But week after there’s a new Witch of the Week, a new person who’s horrible sexist, misogynist, women hater! when it really isn’t the case. And instead of using instances as an educational opportunity and just talking about the issues (not being nasty, not accusing people), they participate in the call-out culture. And that’s I think why they get this criticism, because of the way they present themselves.

So let’s look at what it takes to be a Witch of the Week, since Vacula uses the term. What constitutes a witch hunt? Well, you could be Wooly Bumblebee, A Voice for Men‘s Canadian news editor, who made several bullying videos, including one of Jen McCreight when she quit blogging that featured images of Prozac, tissues, and a back-patting device, and you could have the target of one of your videos ask her friends to flag it as bullying. Apparently it’s still witch-hunting if YouTube reviews the video and agrees with its target and her friends.

You could be Matt Dillahunty and get kicked off a forum for violating its terms of use and have an argument among some people as to whether you should have been kicked off.

You could be Tim Skellet/Gurdur and have some of the people you’ve been chatting with informed that you participate in the slime pit, ask why that’s a problem, and be told.

You can be Maria Maltseva and have a blog post written to correct the record when you repeatedly lie directly and by omission.

Witch hunting is not what it used to be. For that matter, neither is being called a “horrible sexist, misogynist, women hater!”, since that didn’t happen in any of those cases. What did happen, however, is things being posted at that site like, “Possibly because Steph is in love with Laden. Probably for blog hits and the sadistic pleasure Steph gets from hurting others.” But that’s just to be expected in response to things that didn’t happen.

When you’re on the internet and you going to say nasty things about people, you’re going to get a nasty pushback. It’s not to say the nasty pushback is morally justified, but it’s just a state of fact; it’s just to state how the internet “is.” It’s not to justify the behavior.

So the million dollar question once again is this: “Why is it that some feminists experience negative feedback on the internet while others do not?”

It’s a wonderful question to explore. And I can’t wait for the comments in the article and hopefully a response from Stephanie Zvan and Ophelia Benson who also commented on what Stephanie had to say.

So, we await the response.

So Vacula–and whomever else that “we” represents–want a response. Try this one on for size.

Drawing of beaver face with text "Dammed if you do. Dammed if you don't."

Picture courtesy of Surly Amy Roth. Used with permission.

In my last post, I listed nine situations of “nastiness”. The people involved are all feminists, to the extent I know about. They did not, however, all call anyone “sexist” or “misogynist” or engage in “call-out culture”. Debbie Goddard didn’t. Masala Skeptic didn’t. Heina didn’t. EEB didn’t. They still all received “nastiness”. Between that and the recent tweet about Amy and TAM, it rather looks as though Vacula’s thesis just doesn’t hold up.

There is, however, an alternate thesis suggested by the data. While the examples I gave didn’t have call-out culture in common, they did have one other thing in common. That, of course, is Vacula himself.

So, if we look at the data rather than making up some rules that don’t work, it kinda, sorta, you know, maybe looks like what we have to blame for harassment–is the harassers.

Go figure.

Comments

  1. hjhornbeck says

    Wow. THAT is a textbook example of a proper skeptical rebuttal, and something I’d be willing to pay for. My next donation to FtB is in your name.

  2. says

    Thank you.

    I’ve been reluctant to talk about this publically, because a) I really (really really really really) don’t want to make this all about me, and I know I just got a tiny fraction of the shit some of y’all get, and b) I don’t want to open myself up for more, quite honestly. But yeah, thanks so much for doing this, and I totally agree on every point.

  3. says

    I hope that Ashley will forgive me for exploiting her situation to make this point, but LOTS of people are in interracial relationships. In public, no less. They don’t ALL get harassed and threatened by racist fuckwads from Stormfront. Therefore she must have done SOMETHING to deserve it.

    RIGHT JUSTIN? RIGHT? Good game, bro.

  4. glodson says

    That was well done.

    As for coming up with other reasons…

    I am curious if some people don’t end up being harassed because the harassers feel they are somehow betrayed or entitled the person somehow. I was thinking of this in light of a post by about the study Jadehawk referenced, which has made the rounds around here.

    I don’t want to make a blanket statement, because there can be many causes, different for each person. But I would guess that some harassers are reacting out of a feeling of betrayal as someone they respected or followed said something that brushed against their worldview a little too hard. Or maybe, in the worst cases, they believe that since they supported this person in the past that this person owes them somehow.

    I say that because PZ talked about how the harassers are there all the time, but it isn’t like the Creationists or Christians who pop off with one or two exchanges then go on their way. And it isn’t even the same level as bile and mean-spirited attacks.

    This is just conjecture, but it is like there’s a deeper reason as to why it is so intense. It is like they feel so hurt and betrayed, they are lashing out. Maybe I’ll look into behaviors that are similar, like a study on stalking to see why it happens there, and if it is applicable here.

    Sorry, I thought I would add my own idea to your list. Mine might be way off base.

  5. says

    Ugh. Wording fail. By “her situation” I explicitly do NOT mean her relationship with Emmett. I mean her situation of being serially harassed.

  6. says

    Also, he’s wrong about Skepchick (big surprise, there).

    For example, one of the strengths of Skepchick is that multiple authors means multiple eyes on a piece before it’s published. Telling someone who already does that to do that is very much like just telling someone who disagrees with you to “Think about what you’re saying.”

    In reality, we don’t look over each other’s pieces unless one of us specifically asks for feedback for a draft on the backchannel. We all have full control over our own posts and even each others’. Obviously, we consider each other and each others’ views before we post, but no one reviews or edits our posts before they go up but ourselves unless help is requested.

    If I wanted to replace all of a fellow Skepchick’s posts with the body text “la la la WOOOO~~~”, I most easily could. If I wanted to publish a post this second that read “Skepchick is stinky!”, I could. However, we inherently trust each other not to be counterproductive and rely on each other for support and constructive feedback. It’s really much less hierarchical and authority-based than Vacula claims.

  7. says

    Heina, the mistake is mine. Vacula’s making it as a suggestion, not thinking that’s the way it’s happened. I guess I’ve mostly talked process with the writers who make use of the extra eyes there, then.

  8. says

    There are so many people on the internet, right, who are similar ideologically to Stephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, etc. on gender issues–as some call gender ideologues…whatever you’d like to call them…feminists…whatever.

    Wow, that’s really lazy of him not to make any attempt whatsoever to hide the dog-whistle in that.

  9. mythbri says

    I’d like to say this, because nearly everything that I read that involves Vacula makes me think it:

    Christ, what an asshole.

  10. fantysq (a Radical Feminist and a Militant Atheist) says

    Radtransfem recently made a post that addressed why misogynists tend to have such vicious and over-the-top reactions to the most minor of demands, and it really reminded me of the harassment we’ve been seeing in the atheist community. Here’s the relevant quote:

    (…) the response of privileged people to a challenge to their dominance should be seen as an instrumental response which achieves certain goals. Of course an individual man may feel himself distressed when somebody shows that something he thinks is a human right is in fact a product of male power and is appropriated from women. But what I’m saying is that within the system of male dominance his distress serves a structural function, namely overprotection and zero tolerance.

    In My System, an influential book on chess strategy, Nimzovich outlined the positional theme of overprotection, in which a crucial square should be defended by more pieces than seemingly necessary. This makes it useless for the opponent to attack that square and gives the pieces defending it a certain freedom of movement (since one or more of them is free to take on other duties without critically weakening the square).

    And in the so-called “zero tolerance” approach to policing, even the slightest action “out of line” is met by an immediate, non-discretionary punishment. Advocates for the system (which has been widely discredited) suggest that this avoids what they call the “broken windows” syndrome, in which once visible signs of resistance start to accumulate, more and more people are encouraged/empowered to break the law.

    It’s overprotection because, strictly speaking, it seems unnecessary. Dominance is, well, dominant. It won’t be shaken by a few women refusing to cook dinner. There’s no need to respond so strongly to small acts of resistance. But doing so marks those sites of potential resistance as too painful/dangerous to fight for, while freeing individual men to not to have to bother to act to keep up the system at every moment – enough other overzealous defenders will do that for them.

    Here’s the post itself: http://radtransfem.tumblr.com/post/43730537617/privileged-distress-today-once-you-grasp-the

  11. jose says

    “When you’re on the internet and you going to say nasty things about people, you’re going to get a nasty pushback. It’s not to say the nasty pushback is morally justified, but it’s just a state of fact; it’s just to state how the internet “is.” It’s not to justify the behavior.”

    Translation: When you say nasty things about me, you’re going to get a nasty pushback from me. It’s not to say my nasty pushback is morally justified, but it’s just a state of fact; it’s just to state how I *am*. It’s not to justify my behavior.

    The internet doesn’t do anything by itself. You and your friends at the pit are the ones doing the harassing, Vacula.

  12. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    “If a woman mouths off to her husband, he’s gonna slug her in the face. I’m not saying it’s morally justified, but it’s a state of fact; it’s just how marriage ‘is’. It’s not to justify the behaviour.”

  13. hoary puccoon says

    Jose @ 16-

    Sweetie, when somebody identifies him/herself as a designated starker, you can assume it’s a joke. Sorry if logical inference is too advanced for your dear, little mind.

  14. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Don’t use quotation marks for stuff people didn’t say.

    Why? It’s clearly a hypothetical person talking.

  15. jose says

    Because of this. How is a casual reader going to tell it’s not real? What if I take a screenshot and post it on facebook or reddit for all to see? People aren’t going to get out of their way to investigate the source and see it’s not what it seems. The harm is done.

  16. jose says

    Now, since this Vacula guy asks questions, let me ask one as well: lots of people dislike liberal feminism, yet only you and a handful of your friends are harassing Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan and others daily.

    How is it that it’s only you and your pitter friends, and not everybody who dislikes liberal feminism, the ones who stalk and harass these bloggers?

  17. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    jose wrote:

    Because of this. How is a casual reader going to tell it’s not real? What if I take a screenshot and post it on facebook or reddit for all to see? People aren’t going to get out of their way to investigate the source and see it’s not what it seems. The harm is done.

    I gave up trying to cover every possible interpretation of something I wrote a long time ago; it wouldn’t matter if I’d inlcuded satire – not to be taken literally at the beginning, end or even between each word of what I wrote, there are still people who would interpret it to mean whatever the heck they wanted it to mean.

    Should a ‘casual reader’ make up their mind based on one comment on one blog without reading either the rest of the comments or any of the other posts linked in the OP or the subsquent comments, I’m fairly sure I’m not going to care what they think, since they’re almost certainly going to be a shallow twit not worth communicating with.

  18. Mandrellian, Kicker of Biological Goals says

    Everything Vacula says and writes is civil and emotionally detached, yet is toxic fucking sludge that simultaneously denies, minimises, excuses and enables more fucking harassment.

    Vacula is the embodiment of why Dan Fincke’s forty-nine-thousand word “Pledge To Be Frightfully Civil At All Times, Old Chap” can go and chew on a generous handful of boiled arseholes.

  19. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    How is it that it’s only you and your pitter friends, and not everybody who dislikes liberal feminism, the ones who stalk and harass these bloggers?

    The stock response to questions like this is to engage in even more farfetched hyper-skepticism: “There’s no real evidence that the harrassers are even atheists. They could be all a false-flag effort by religionists to make atheists look bad.”

    I put quotes because I’m quoting an anti-feminist on Facebook who indulged in levels of hyper-skepticism so extreme that it looped all the way around to complete credulity. The mere possibility that it could theoretically be false flag christians makes the feminists blatant, bald-faced liars to even suggest that they are really atheists (like they repeatedly claim to be).

  20. doubtthat says

    The dumb thing is that most of the people getting harassed generally follow most of those “suggestions” inadvertently. Largely because they 1) don’t know who the harassin’ assholes are and therefore 2) don’t go post at their hovels.

    That being said, what would happen if a female blogger, say, Rebecca Watson, just decided to do everything Vacula suggested for the next six months. Does anyone seriously believe that the amount of shit she gets, the random, non-sequitor howls of anger directed her way, and the general unjustified shittiness would diminish even one bit?

    The only for the women receiving this nonsense to stop receiving this nonsense is to just disappear…which is sort of the point, no matter how hard goofballs try to dress it up as rules for civil engagement.

  21. doubtthat says

    @26

    And yet they could equally make atheists look bad by coming here and saying horrible things about the pitters, make fake twitter accounts, and photo shop to their hearts’ content…yet it doesn’t happen. Strange, that.

  22. Stacy says

    I think that if Stephanie Zvan and company want the alleged bullies to go away…if they presented themselves differently on the internet, that they would go away…

    And that’s I think why they get this criticism, because of the way they present themselves

    In other words: It’s your fault you’re being bullied. You must be doing something to cause the bullies to behave that way. See what you made them do?

    How is it that it’s only you and your pitter friends, and not everybody who dislikes liberal feminism, the ones who stalk and harass these bloggers?

    Hatred can be fun. If you don’t feel very good about yourself, you can get a quick, cheap ego boost by putting someone else down. We all do it sometimes. Those among us with ethical standards, those capable of honest self-reflection, don’t make a habit of it. These folks have.

  23. athyco says

    Stacy @29:

    And that’s I think why they get this criticism, because of the way they present themselves

    In other words: It’s your fault you’re being bullied. You must be doing something to cause the bullies to behave that way. See what you made them do?

    Of course, you know it doesn’t stop with what Vacula calls “criticism, negative feedback..and pushback” and you call “bullied.”

    There’s this back-channel nobody YouTuber I found through the Matt Dillahunty/A+ forum situation Stephanie mentioned as a “Witch of the Week” entry. His latest video came about because he was browsing the Slymepit and found a response to a radical feminist’s blog post from July 2011. He took a Vacula-comparable 8 minutes to come to the conclusion that mainstream feminists better shut those radical feminists up. The “accusations” of rape culture/rape culture supporters, you see, created the potential for men to be so disgusted they no longer cared about sexual violence against women. The pendulum would swing! Radicalism is not without a cost!

    Then he has this exchange in the comments. (TW)

    Well I am definitely a rape supporter…..

    until laws are put in place to protect men against false allegations from women and until people in general start to give a fuck about men who are raped in prison and boys who are molested by women.

    Until that day (when pigs fly), the more women raped = the better. Maybe it will help them understand what real rape is for a change.

    If I saw a woman being raped, I would do nothing to stop it. They don’t care about us, so I don’t give a fuck about them!

    This is exactly the sort of attitude I expect will become more widespread among men unless feminist learn to put a lid on their more radical spokespersons. Men are being trained to hate women in the current atmosphere.

    Yeah, shut up your extremists, feminists. Watch how you present yourself on the internet. You’re training men!

  24. says

    Of course, you know it doesn’t stop with what Vacula calls “criticism, negative feedback..and pushback”

    Perhaps one line between feedback and pushback and criticism comes when the recipient indicates that they’re not interested in any more of it.

    I’ve had similar experiences with some of the art projects I’ve been involved in. A self-appointed critic comes along and starts telling me how they’d have done it differently* I have often replied “your unsolicited critique is not interesting to me.” When they accept that and go away, it’s pushback, feedback and criticism. When they don’t accept it and argue about it then they have decided that my opinion (that their critique is not interesting to me) is wrong and that, in fact, their critique is interesting to me, which is kind of an interesting conundrum. At that point, I consider them to be annoying (and they almost always are, because now the discussion has changed from their critique to them feeling put out that I wasn’t impressed by their critique and taking it personally) I think some of this applies to Vacula: if someone is offering feedback and is told that the method, tone, or content is not interesting or is insulting, then if they double down, they’ve taken it personally and it’s no longer innocent harmless feedback.

    (* I almost wrote “he” because in the last 10 years it’s always been someone identifying themself as male)

  25. says

    @ Improbable Joe 34:

    Yeah, seriously. My first response when I heard there was a video mocking me (which I still haven’t watched, btw) was, “Are you kidding? Who the hell am I?” My second response, after seeing all the spam* the video drove to my blog, was a lot less amused and a lot more fear/anger/embarassment, so. Goal achieved, I guess, point to Vacula.

    Except, not really, because I think the ultimate goal is to get us to shut up. To a) scare us away from offering support to people who are victims of harassment (much like, oh, an abusive spouse tries to emotionally isolate his/her partner), with a wider goal of b) scaring us away from getting more involved in the movement, from spreading these ideas, making our own blogs, etc. Kind of a Terminator strategy: kill the activist before he or she is even born.

    *Spam being a relative term. In this case, like, four rude OT comments. In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal at all, and it took about three seconds to handle. But it still shook me up, a bit. As did the comment on my facebook page, because, whoa, that’s my Real Life, there. (And how the fuck did they put my handle here together with my blog and then reach my facebook, anyway?) Not that it’s a huge deal–I’m pretty open about who I am everywhere I go, and it’s not so much that I’m trying to keep these lives seperate as that I’ve not figured out who to integrate all the forms of social media I use–it was just unsettling to see my FtB “life” showing up on my “real life”. I don’t know if that makes sense.

  26. says

    PS: Wanted to add to that…yes, I know that my FtB name links to my blog. I’ve got that step down (how they found my blog, I mean). Still not quite sure how they made it to my facebook. I assume it’s because I use the same email address for FtB/blogger/twitter/facebook? Maybe? I am not a computer person, can you tell?

  27. says

    Yeah, I’m nobody too, but I’ve got my own mythology, remember that time I faked a rape threat against myself on Thunderfoot’s blog? I don’t check the slymepit for references but they showed up on Ben Radford’s post at CFI, what a couple weeks ago, repeating that lie from over a year ago now, I think.

  28. doubtthat says

    @EEB

    If it makes you feel any better, literally anything can be mocked by reading it in a stupid voice. There was no point made.

    Go get a copy of the Gettysburg address, set up a camera, and read it in the whiniest voice you can generate. I just say that to point out you shouldn’t feel ashamed on any level, that guy just made an ass out of himself, and no one laughed because they thought it was funny, they “laughed” based on a sort of political support.

  29. Stacy says

    athyco @32, Jesus. That sounds like something Paul Elam, the founder of A Voice for Men, would say. Shit like that is why the SPLC designated AVfM a hate site.

    (Remember when Justin Vacula wrote for them? And then lied and claimed he didn’t really write for them, they just “picked up” his article? And then people found his own words on the Slymepit saying he was in the process of writing an article for them?

    That’s the guy lecturing us about “reputation management.”)

  30. says

    @EEB, I’d second that all the incident involving your comment showed is how daft he is and it in no way reflected badly on you…

    [BTW as for blog->facebook link you have at the bottom of your posts a name that on Googled shows a Facebook page. Didn't spend any time looking but if that's you there is your answer. It can be very easy to get info on people online but turning up in someone's private space in that context is stalkery behaviour and an implicit threat so no wonder it took you aback]

    @Stacy, that AVfM thing is a perfect example of how rumour and smear like the one against Sally gets perpetuated because it looks bad for her (No critical thinking or investigation required) and distortions like the Vacula didn’t ask for the AVfM article to be posted gets repeated because it looks good for him (No critical thinking or investigation required)… One of the reasons why Al Stefanellis video where he generally trashed FtB and A+ while opining about how the Slymepit is primarily a group of “skeptics and critical thinkers” jarred so badly for me!

  31. says

    I’m still waiting for Vacula to tell us who those alleged feminists are who are comparable to Stephanie, Ophelia et. al and who don’t get the hrasssment because they’re nice.
    But I guess I can just go on with life in the meantime…

  32. athyco says

    But I guess I can just go on with life in the meantime…

    That is a very good idea. *big cheesy grin*

    After all, it seems that Vacula believes he’s made the case that there is no answer except his to “Why is it that some feminists experience negative feedback on the internet while others do not?” You see, his latest blog post takes on the response “Intent is not magic” that’s expected as the next volley after the call-back culture uncharitably reaches the worst conclusion possible, starts hastily and unfairly claiming offense rather than giving the open-minded, more productive, and charitable benefit of the doubt.

    One of his examples is of someone claiming offense because another person wrapped chewed bubble gum in a napkin rather than taking it directly to the trash can. I beg of you all; please don’t read it. Mi brane stil hurtz.

  33. Bjarte Foshaug says

    The funny thing is, if all I disagree with someone about is their wording, I do tend to say, “Not how I would have said it, but…eh.” [...] It’s different when I disagree with the content of someone’s speech. There is no way to resolve that with a simple rewording. I can tell you what I think the message is intended to be, but even at my most generous interpretation, I’m going to tell you that I disagree.

    Exactly, some views are just inherently hostile to other people’s rights, and no amount of “civility” or tweaking of the wording is ever going to make an ounce of difference. There is no non-hostile way to say that women should just shut up and be grateful for whatever level of “respect” sleazy, entitled male perverts from Hell are willing to grant them or face the same treatment as Rebecca Watson. If the content of your argument is that others should not treated as equal human beings, exactly how it’s worded is the least of my problems with your position.

  34. says

    Looking through the comments here I see a lot of things that line up with what I have experienced the last several years of my life. Now I’m not claiming that any of this is as hurtful as what feminist bloggers have experienced, in fact my opinion is that the harassment that female bloggers face is that it is more hurtful and significant. Its still interesting the parallels that I see though.

    I am a moderator on an image board that was spawned from 4chan and is devoted to adult fans of the My Little Pony reboot (there is a lot of good despite this sinister information). I moderate the discussion board actually. During this time I was also (and still am) a substitute teacher in a southern US state, and have been obsessively reading neurobiology and psychology literature because of my own mental issues.

    I first joined that fandom about two years ago and due to my own weirdness spent all of my time in the discussion board because I liked to discuss things and have spent my whole life hanging out in discussion arenas in one form or another. I would say that in universal terms I have watched some very basic human cultural evolution play out when it comes to the establishment and survival of new communities within established societies. It has been an interesting ride.

    When I first got there every sensitive topic imaginable was covered in different threads (politics, religion, science, culture…). But the dynamics were anything but friendly to actual discussion. I was witnessing emotional saturation and suppression combined with robotic and stereotyped avoidance of actual positions in place of anything that actually resembled an exchange of ideas. My whole experience there resulted in me seeing that most people have two modes of “discussion”. The first mode is the one that we think of as an honest exchange of ideas and I don’t need to say any more. The second one is the one that outspoken feminists deal with and the one that was dominant in the early days of the Ponychan discussion forum. Rather than trying to be correct about how they see the world, they merely want to win emotionally.

    “Winning” is sometimes just for the person, and usually the interaction is couched in those terms, but the underlying psychology is all about issues that have to do with groups so I think it has to do with enforcing group sameness and the person just rationalizes it individually. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the people that I encountered that were the most abusive to others in their “discussions”, and the “best” at avoiding what their opponent (rather than discussion partner) wanted to discuss, were people who wanted to attack feminists, socialists, and communists. Since it was a brand new internet community all sorts of people that I would not normally get to interact with were showing up to just talk and I was interested in what they had to say. But these adult children were intent on disguising insult, lies, and misinformation as “that’s my opinion”. The interesting people I wanted to talk to would get exhausted at dealing with a dozen adult children at once.

    The communists were actually the best example of this phenomena. A few showed up willing to discuss what they believed and were actually quite willing to answer questions related to the failure of soviet communism, what communism really is, the different schools of though. They were quite willing to answer criticism and were delightful conversation partners. But they had to deal with the dozen assholes who would repeatedly insist (without any evidence) that communists were all murderers, and worse. They would spout off rapid fire comments that were unsourced, insulting, and every time they were replied to they would pretend through their actions that the replies never even existed and repeat this over and over as the thread progressed.

    How does a human being react to this? Is it fair to have to spend all of your emotional resources trying to point out things that are not true over and over only to have no time to actually discuss things with people? The communists left, and the socialists, and people who wanted to talk about the economy and then I made my decision. I took the role of comment vivisection and ultra-critical discussion analyst. Instead of trying to participate I make the ones creating an emotionally suppressive environment my targets and remorselessly went on about precisely how and why they were not worth listening to, how they were dishonest and merely emotionally suppressive bullies not interested in discussion but only in making other people go away at any cost. I came out of the world of arguing with creationists and this, was FUN.

    A year later I was asked to be the moderator of that board and after two years we finally have a community where people can actually talk about things without other people blasting them with emotional childishness. Two of our rules are actually “Have some regard for the living, breathing people on the other side of the screen.”, “Don’t make unnecessary drama. People are allowed to like things you don’t like, and to argue against such is a waste of time here.”, and “Be polite, or at least civil, when disagreeing or arguing with somebody, and do not insult others. This will help you to get your point across more easily.”

    I’m damn proud of my role in this. After two years a spawn of 4chan is a place where people can have conversations in an environment where even people who don’t like MLP stay because that can actually communicate with people without grandiose flaming. You can still have strong opinions and passion, but being an emotional child is out. I think the atheist/skeptic community is having a similar situation. The people who want to exist in an emotionally hostile environment eventually started their own MLP image board and we have a “live and let live” relationship with them professionally (though we both still deal with hate from 4chan because some people can’t stand adult male fans of entertainment for little girls).

    I don’t suppose organizing comment vivisection teams is a valid strategy?

  35. says

    I can come up with lots of reasons why any individual might escape harassment:
    <snip>
    That’s just off the top of my head. Feel free to suggest others.

    In my experience, feminists may be deemed “acceptable” if:
    * their proposals to solve inequality primarily consist of women changing their behavior.
    * they explicitly position themselves as the “reasonable” feminist by throwing “those militant feminists” under the bus.

  36. says

    Thanks! It’s a little scary how quickly you can find personal information on someone with the internet, but I’m relieved that it’s such a simple answer. That’s what I thought, really, because there was no effort taken. Seriously, it was like four comments total. So not a big deal, just…unsettling, as I said. ::shrug:: I took it as a warning. Y’know…this is what happens if you step out of line, do it again, or on a bigger scale, and we can fuck you up.

    Not that I plan on listening.

    (Read that in a mocking voice, asshole.)

  37. numenaster says

    @Brony #45:

    “I don’t suppose organizing comment vivisection teams is a valid strategy?”

    I’m strongly tempted not to stop at the comments.

    And congratulations on what you’ve achieved. I marvel at your energy.

  38. jenniferphillips says

    @EEB, I know the feeling. I am no one of consequence. I blog only in a professional capacity, never about atheist/skeptic/feminist issues at all, the only internet presence I have that’s detectable by the haters is through comments at FTB. Nevertheless, I’ve been receiving ‘stuff’ in the mail–to my physical home and work addresses, and occasionally email, periodically for the past couple of years. The content of what I’m receiving is consistent with atheist/hyperskeptic/MRA prank fodder. I tweeted about this a couple of months ago and was scoffed at the slymepit–how ridiculous it is of me to claim that it’s coming from someone in that camp, etc.

    So while this doesn’t compare to your comment being plucked out of obscurity and mocked, I can certainly relate to the creepy feeling of being located IRL. None of the things I’m receiving are scary, content-wise, but the fact that they’re coming at all gives me pause.

    Again, I marvel at the free time some people must have to do shit like this.

  39. says

    @numenaster 49

    Thanks! But for some odd reason Tourette syndrome and my background provide an advantage in that department. If I could bottle it and give it away I would :P

    Its like arguing with creationists and trying to become a scientist gave me some useful OCD’s

  40. numenaster says

    @Brony, way to make sciency lemonade out of creationist & brain chemistry lemons!

  41. says

    Seriously though.

    Getting away from adventures with asshole pony-fans and back towards dishonest “criticism” of ladies speaking their minds, what about a group of people willing and able to neutrally tear apart, judge, and legitimately criticize floods of asshats? When PZ mentioned Tsalima was being inundated with Bangladeshi bigots I had no trouble jumping in there for some rhetorical assassination. I just wish I was faster. After Jen had more of the same on her fathers blog I went there too (and had to smack around some fellow Bronies sadly.)

    There are those of us who are able and willing to deal with this kind of crap and actually enjoy it. The best part is that you can be perfectly neutral and it still feel like an attack so you get the satisfaction of showing them to be empty shells instead of advocates, and rustling their jimmies. (Sorry I’m a brute at heart)

  42. athyco says

    There are those of us who are able and willing to deal with this kind of crap and actually enjoy it.

    I don’t want to do anything, Brony, that will increase the pressure. There are times that it does feel right to jump in with both feet. Sometimes the mode is scathing, sometimes it’s the perfectly neutral but veneer-stripping job you’re describing. But I have been mortified, on occasion, to think that something I wrote in a YouTube comment thread, on a blog post, wherever–seemed to be shaping into another weapon to attack those most visible and already taking the most heat.

    PZ doesn’t care. I’m virtually certain Rebecca doesn’t care. But when Surly Amy steps back for a month, I don’t want to keep fanning any flames (although the flames which kept burning proved that Justin Vacula’s “very reasonable things people can do” were bunk before he wrote them). He says that what Stephanie gets is “pushback,” but I’d be willing to be that he’d come up with a different noun if we had anything organized. I just don’t know if such an organization would be more effective than the derogatory labeling it’s bound to receive.

  43. says

    Brony #45:

    don’t think that it is a coincidence that the people that I encountered that were the most abusive to others in their “discussions”, and the “best” at avoiding what their opponent (rather than discussion partner) wanted to discuss, were people who wanted to attack feminists, socialists, and communists. Since it was a brand new internet community all sorts of people that I would not normally get to interact with were showing up to just talk and I was interested in what they had to say. But these adult children were intent on disguising insult, lies, and misinformation as “that’s my opinion”. The interesting people I wanted to talk to would get exhausted at dealing with a dozen adult children at once.

    The communists were actually the best example of this phenomena. A few showed up willing to discuss what they believed and were actually quite willing to answer questions related to the failure of soviet communism, what communism really is, the different schools of though. They were quite willing to answer criticism and were delightful conversation partners. But they had to deal with the dozen assholes who would repeatedly insist (without any evidence) that communists were all murderers, and worse. They would spout off rapid fire comments that were unsourced, insulting, and every time they were replied to they would pretend through their actions that the replies never even existed and repeat this over and over as the thread progressed.

    Dude? I’ve been spilling massive amounts of characters on observing both the overlap between libertarian and anti-feminist “skeptics” and the overlap between slymepit tactics and those of the radical Right lately.

    And, well…dunno if you could call it vindication, but this fits that to a T. There is a trend here. A trend that is not being discussed enough. we need less blog posts eviscerating long-refuted slymepitters, and more posts talking about what to do with this little contingent of right-wing “skeptics” who appear to only use skepticism as a means to elevate themselves above others intellectually =/

  44. says

    Setar, then go write them, or go read them at Ophelia’s, because she does write them. In the meantime, I’ve got people like Steve Novella telling the guy who’s harassing me and several other people that his ideas for how I should change my behavior (shut up) in response to that harassment are good ones. For fuck’s sake, it’s not like I don’t have writing projects that I’d rather be working on.

  45. says

    Deen:

    In my experience, feminists may be deemed “acceptable” if:
    * their proposals to solve inequality primarily consist of women changing their behavior.
    * they explicitly position themselves as the “reasonable” feminist by throwing “those militant feminists” under the bus.

    It’s continually bizarre to me that these atheists don’t realize that those are the same things that theists (and the moderate religion-friendly atheists) say would make atheists acceptable. If only they would recognize the nice positive parts of religion and stop being so mocking and militant like those nasty New Atheists…

    I realize it’s not the same level or degree that women face, but maybe if these assholes could see the points divorced from the context that their sexism blinds them to, it might get through? But I guess the ability to be optimistic grows out of my privilege.

  46. says

    @athyco 54
    I don’t want to do anything, Brony, that will increase the pressure. There are times that it does feel right to jump in with both feet. Sometimes the mode is scathing, sometimes it’s the perfectly neutral but veneer-stripping job you’re describing. But I have been mortified, on occasion, to think that something I wrote in a YouTube comment thread, on a blog post, wherever–seemed to be shaping into another weapon to attack those most visible and already taking the most heat.

    But isn’t that also a tactic that the harassers are counting on? I’m not trying to minimize blowback, a bruised ego is a bruised ego and they are not rational. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt as well but part of what they count on is the pressure working. Suppose that the existence of Ophleia, Greta, Stephanie and more just having forums like this where they can flick away people from their comments causes harassers to move on to someone else? I’m not saying that they are immune to pressure themselves, but could not someone say they should let the harassers run wild in their spaces so they don’t hurt others?

    PZ doesn’t care. I’m virtually certain Rebecca doesn’t care. But when Surly Amy steps back for a month, I don’t want to keep fanning any flames (although the flames which kept burning proved that Justin Vacula’s “very reasonable things people can do” were bunk before he wrote them). He says that what Stephanie gets is “pushback,” but I’d be willing to be that he’d come up with a different noun if we had anything organized. I just don’t know if such an organization would be more effective than the derogatory labeling it’s bound to receive.

    Organized by the people doing it, not people like Stephanie and such. That made me realize that I have to be such a person to organize it then. Because I don’t want it to look like any of them are involved in it because frankly I have never so much as had an email conversation with any of the them and I have only recently been commenting on FTB more so it would be nice to keep that in mind from the start.

    As far as his descriptors are concerned, his problem is no different than the one that politics and religion is full of. In a post on the discussion forum I moderate I have a thread devoted to researching and approaching reality so that a person can more effectively argue and advocate for what they want to support. I recently made an addition on the use of “Non-Literal Language” because I think that knowing how it works is critical to opposing folks like this. They will always have a way of summarizing how they view you, what matters is how to demonstrate that the vector of their summary is directed away from reality as opposed to towards it. Its a never ending and always present problem so facing it is entirely necessary.

    @Setar 55

    Dude? I’ve been spilling massive amounts of characters on observing both the overlap between libertarian and anti-feminist “skeptics” and the overlap between slymepit tactics and those of the radical Right lately.
    And, well…dunno if you could call it vindication, but this fits that to a T. There is a trend here. A trend that is not being discussed enough. we need less blog posts eviscerating long-refuted slymepitters, and more posts talking about what to do with this little contingent of right-wing “skeptics” who appear to only use skepticism as a means to elevate themselves above others intellectually =/

    The reason that I mentioned my current career as a substitute teacher up there is that the experience has acted like an odd scientific control for general human behavior. I think that the intersection of offensive persons reveals interesting things about humans generally:

    1. Both the offensive libertarians and the anti-feminists seem to be against anyone trying to change how they act. They want the freedom to be offensive and do what they want, even if it hurts someone else. Its a knee-jerk “Leave me alone!” at being criticized that I believe represents a genuine emotional immaturity and unwillingness to functionally acknowledge that they are part of a society. They are fine with skepticism being used on what they want it to be used on, but since it is a tool it can also be turned on them and the only outlet they have to oppose that is social. What supports this is the observation that when feminism was attacked on Ponychan I always saw the critics show examples of feminists like SCUM, or talk about women complaining about doors being held open and other petty things. They never had the courage to even try to address things like rape culture (I actually saw demands to stop bringing it up, which was great at demonstrating cowardice rhetorically). A serious discussion partner will immediately go after their opponents strongest argument. I see similar things in libertarianism. Just try to get a libertarian to talk about externalities. If you find one you have found a person who loves debate as a thing to make themselves stronger.

    2. Its gets at two of the most deep emotional things for any human, resources (money/economics) and getting to breed in a neutral sense. So if any kind of logical fallacy is going to hit these issues, will hit and you will see the worse of the worst when it comes to irrational defense of what they want to remain unchanged. Just expect it because humans and psychology. The whole experience made me see that the common denominator of any logical fallacy is simply to avoid what your opponent is really saying at any cost. Is the person really representing reality correctly? No? Then there is a logical fallacy present even if it has no name yet.

    3. Its the basic human decision with respect to something you don’t like, are you going to talk or fight? Except here you are the fight is over Objects in the real world (things, arguments, positions…) and Meanings. If they want to talk they will try to work with you so that they understand your meanings with respect to the object in question as you do the same. If they want to fight you are effectively grappling with them using the object. Instead of physical twists, locks, and other maneuvers they will twist meanings, try to lock out positions and do everything they can to avoid and undermine your meaning while they substitute theirs.

    I have been accidentally making this a primary area of study for the last several years. I wish I was still in research except that I think I would know none of these things if I was not immersed in these worlds. The greatest problem? Lack of empathy at every level.

  47. georgelocke says

    can come up with lots of reasons why any individual might escape harassment:

    That’s just off the top of my head. Feel free to suggest others.

    Pure chance is a sufficient explanation. Certain people draw a small amount of attention, then the twitter and facebook messages snowball and then through positive feedback processes (like a monkey sneeze in brazil causing a hurricane in Virginia) ubiquitous in social media the attention is magnified. Once in the spotlight it’s hard to get out of it.

    The initial barrier isn’t high, so those who break it aren’t necessarily very different from those who don’t.

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