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May 12 2013

Sometimes We Don’t

By now, you may have seen Ophelia or PZ talking about Justicar’s latest “You’re not really sincere because of this stupid thing I just made up and am treating as gospel truth” video. This one claimed that none of us feminist bloggers is really threatened by anything because we haven’t gone into hiding and obliterated all traces of where we live. The proof? Jen tweeted a picture of something near her apartment with an identifiable street sign…or something equally stupid.

Yes, you see, Jen having suffered a depressive episode and basically given up on blogging and on the secular and skeptical movements isn’t enough to demonstrate a negative effect. If her life isn’t destroyed to the point that she’s afraid to tweet something silly she sees on the street, the harassment she continues to receive–months after she’s stopped her activism–isn’t really harassment and no one should complain about it.

I will, for the sake of its utter obviousness, not bother to detail the glaring fallacy. I won’t linger of what a slimy excuse for a human being Justicar is. Instead, I’m going to tell you a little story about my Friday night.

I had tickets to a nationally broadcast comedy show. My husband and I and a couple of friends showed up a little early to have dinner at the food trucks outside. Eventually we wandered in, climbed some terrifying stairs and found our seats.

Unusually for a comedy show, there was no warm-up act. Instead, there was a Twitter wall. People would tweet at the show or using the hashtag for the show, and their tweets were shown for everyone to see. We were the warm-up act, and everyone did their best to be funny. Many of them even succeeded.

This being my first time at the show, I didn’t have much to say. “Ooh, look. I’m sitting in a theater with a bunch of hipsters, listening to adult rock and watching people tweet.” It seemed unfriendly.

Eventually, however, I came up with something that would add to the atmosphere instead of detracting from it. That was when the realization hit me. Here is what I tweeted instead:

If I tweeted where I am and that they have a Twitter wall for their hashtag, how long would it take the usual assholes to spam it?
@szvan
Stephanie Zvan

I’ve become a potential liability for any event I attend where tweeting is part of the event experience. More to the point, these assholes have decided that they have every “right” to become a liability to any event I and the others targeted attend. Seen the #wiscfi hashtag lately?

I was at a comedy show with a Twitter wall. If any of that crowd had noticed, how long would it have taken for them to pull out every comment about rape jokes or sexist jokes that they’ve managed to come up with over the last couple of years and every inanity about “freeze peach” and “political correctness”?

Yeah, that’s about how long I figured too.

I didn’t participate. I didn’t tweet whatever silliness had occurred to me. I didn’t become part of the pre-show. I didn’t become part of the intermission. I didn’t tweet any of the absurdity or genuinely cool things happening on the stage. Aside from a vague tweet about the music and one tweet on the hashtag after everything was over (posted on the Twitter wall with a glaring typo as everyone filed out), I didn’t share anything that happened in that theater with the world outside.

So, yes, sometimes we don’t tweet where we are because of the harassment. We don’t necessarily feel we’re in danger, but we still change our behavior. While we can choose adverse consequences for ourselves, the people around us haven’t made the same choices we have.

This shit doesn’t have to threaten our lives or our physical safety to be a problem.

35 comments

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  1. 1
    D. C. Sessions

    The objective of terrorism isn’t to destroy the target, it’s to get the target to change behavior out of fear.

  2. 2
    TCC

    Jesus H. Christ, I hadn’t seen what kind of a train wreck the #wiscfi hashtag is. I hope that’s not going to be the official one, as it will already be inundated by asshats like Elevator_GATE and uberfeminist. I don’t see how any person who is a disinterested outsider would see what they’re tweeting and sympathize with them. (Then again, people routinely surprise me, like the fact that there are people like this out there. Revolting.)

  3. 3
    TCC

    Nevermind, I see official-ish usage. Suck.

  4. 4
    Tony Sidaway

    For people who want to see a #wiscfi feed without the hateful crap, just follow @hashspamkiller which retweets the useful stuff. It has also been active during other events targeted by the hate mob.

  5. 5
    Anonymous Coward

    Hi Stephanie,

    I saw your tweet on Friday night and I really sympathise. I just wanted to speak to the claim at the start of the post – the one that ‘none of the feminist bloggers is really threatened by anything because we haven’t gone into hiding and obliterated all traces of where we live’. Except – some of us have done that. Hell, I’m nobody in the secular movement (and I’m going anonymous in this post for the obvious reason) but being as I am a regular commenter on freethoughtblogs I’ve been deemed worthy of online harassment by the likes of these pseudonymous trolls, who figure that anyone else on the Internet is a valid target, no matter what their circumstances.

    A while back I changed my handle to a pseudonym – and to no great surprise, the online harassment didn’t really stop. Same shit, just directed to a different nym. To the extent that I’m going through some rather significant life changes (but ones totally unrelated to freethought), I’m more or less coming to the conclusion that I cannot post under my real name or a stable, related pseudonym in these sorts of spaces for much longer – it’s too much of a gift to the haters to allow them access to ammunition that would easily target me and my family. Thanks for being assholes, haters!

  6. 6
    surreptitious57

    It is a shame that Stephanie feels she could not have just enjoyed herself without all the accompanying d drama or preception of it = No one has the right to be intimidated

  7. 7
    hjhornbeck

    Anonymous Coward @5:

    I’m more or less coming to the conclusion that I cannot post under my real name or a stable, related pseudonym in these sorts of spaces for much longer – it’s too much of a gift to the haters to allow them access to ammunition that would easily target me and my family.

    This is why it’s important for everyone else to speak up about this harassment. If you want this community to be inclusive, and you are not a target or you can withstand it better than most, then your words will provide a shield to people like AC. It’s simple resource exhaustion; if more of us speak up, they will have more targets to aim at, which will divide their attention, and make it that much tougher to silence anyone. There’s a reason why they love hashtag camping, or targeting specific bloggers; with fewer targets, their words and actions become far more effective.

    Speak up, for the sake of Anonymous Coward, and those who are too afraid to even mention they’ve dropped out.

  8. 8
    surreptitious57

    Stephanie = Please disregard that previous comment as accidentally pressed submit and as you
    can see it is not the finished article = So as I was saying it is a shame you feel you can not just go
    and enjoy yourself with out all the accompanying drama that this now inevitably entails = Now I do
    not know if you are exposed to this every single time or just most of it = Either way however is just
    an experience no one should have to go through = All for ideas being taken a part and brutally too
    but one must always respect the individual however = You have a perfect right to enjoy yourself as
    much as any one else and the fact that you may reference opinions or beliefs that others may find
    disagreeable is no excuse = I give unconditional moral support to any one that is being subject to
    this no matter who they are or what they believe = As there is no excuse for harassing anyone just
    because they say things you disagree with = Having said all that however this is a maxim that only
    I insist upon for myself and not others = You might be thinking this rather paradoxical now or even
    hypocritical of me but can only enforce moral conduct upon myself and not any one else = In other
    words it is not for me to tell others how to behave or what to think = For that is a decision only they
    can take not me = But harassment is wrong full stop = Never any excuse for it at all no matter who
    is perpetrating it or who is originating it = Stephanie should not have to put up this this = You have
    problem with any thing she has ever said or done then attack it not her = Am not interested in any
    of the negativity this comment will receive = I do not do anger so if any one wants to feel free shall
    not be stopping you and as some one who believes in absolute free speech will even support you
    in that respect = But what I said I stand by so feel free to rip it to shreds = Now I have been called
    a scumbag and a maggot and a cunt by others though that happens very rarely and anyway I have
    a quite thick skin so it matters not = Full moral support from me to anyone being harassed on line
    though and I would say exactly the same if it was Stephanie doing the harassing or if it was some
    one she agreed with who was doing it = No imaginary drawing of lines in the sand here = For this
    is an absolutionist black and white position and not a shades of grey one = Thank you for reading

  9. 9
    oolon

    @Anonymous, if you are not already using @the_block_bot it is totally anonymous. Just don’t follow the account if you sign up at http://www.theblockbot.com/sign_up. Makes it slightly easier to ignore the fools on twitter and deal with them when you want to rather than when they want you to. I’ve found Block Bot plus TweetDeck useful as when you want to see if there is any activity you can as it can be setup to show all mentions, even ppl blocked. So check it from time to time to see what the ppl blocked have to say… If you want to!

  10. 10
    oolon

    Forgot to thank Tony for the @hashspamkiller recommendation, its powered by the @the_block_bot list of abusive users and their coterie of followers, who while not “joining in” will more often than not retweet the rubbish.

  11. 11
    stever

    This sort of stuff is one of the main reasons that I still don’t have a Twitter account. I don’t have a Facebook account either, but I understand that Facebook probably maintains a profile on me anyway. Marx may turn out to have been right about the withering away of the State, but he was shockingly wrong about what will replace it.

  12. 12
    brucegee1962

    My list of reasons to join Twitter remains at zero — the list of reasons not to join keeps getting loooooonger.

  13. 13
    D. C. Sessions

    brucegee1962@12

    Yup, likewise. I have the added advantage of pleading geezerhood. Convenient that so many people assume that those of us my age and older are hopelessly unable to deal with 21st century technology.

  14. 14
    Kevin

    I signed up for Twitter to do some social media promotion of a performing group I’m in … and have not yet used it. I keep getting e-mails from Twitter to “JOIN IN THE FUN!!!” But it seems pretty worthless, to be honest. My friends know where I am … my enemies don’t. I’d like to keep it that way, thanks.

    So, yeah. Geezerhood for me.

  15. 15
    Hahmotelma

    Did Justicar not just give helpful advice? Even if he says he doesn’t believe that threat is real and believes you folks don’t believe that either… Wasn’t it still absolutely fantastic advise he gave?

  16. 16
    Stephanie Zvan

    Anonymous, there is absolutely nothing cowardly about you or what you’re doing. When they raise the price of engagement past what you can afford to pay, you simply have to make decisions. I miss those old comments of yours, but I would never ask you to pay more so I can read them.

    Guys, I enjoy Twitter quite a lot. There’s nothing about Twitter that causes any of this. It’s the assholes, plain and simple. It’s not as though they leave me alone in any other medium, you know.

    Hahmotelma, what “absolutely fantastic advise” was that? “Hide, damn you, because you said things months ago that made me mad, and I can come find you if I want to.” That’s your idea of great advice?

  17. 17
    Logan Blackisle

    If her life isn’t destroyed to the point that she’s afraid to tweet something silly she sees on the street, the harassment she continues to receive–months after she’s stopped her activism–isn’t really harassment and no one should complain about it.

    Harassment doesn’t necessarily imply threats, though they certainly can.

    Justicar said (in short); if you receive threats that you are genuinely concerned about, you should keep you home address absolutely secret.

    You said (in short) that Justicar said; if Jen’s not afraid to tweet about something she sees on the street, then she isn’t really being harassed.

    Harassment does not equal threat. Nice straw-man, though.

    So, yes, sometimes we don’t tweet where we are because of the harassment. We don’t necessarily feel we’re in danger, but we still change our behavior.

    And this is the point that Justicar makes: You might be harassed or you might not be, that is wholly irrelevant to this case. But since you say that “We don’t necessarily feel we’re in danger” you are tacitly saying that you are not receiving any credible threats.

    The two statements “I am receiving threats of rape and/or violence” and “I don’t really feel like I’m in danger” seem to me to involve some cognitive dissonance.

  18. 18
    Stephanie Zvan

    Logan, it’s cute that you commit the same fallacy Justicar does even after this post brings it up. You’re saying threats are never of unknown credibility? Really? We never have to decide how to deal with ambiguity and how much of our regular lives to give up to the unending crap?

    And no, being harassed is not at all irrelevant to those occasions when threats pop up. The harassment is what demonstrates the hatred. It’s what keeps the pressure on between threats that have to be rare enough to skirt the law and to allow the harassers to sneer. Do you know nothing about how this stuff works?

  19. 19
    SallyStrange

    Likewise. I have a strong interest in urban planning and bike advocacy. Tweeting about the features of the local streets on which I ride every day is a natural step for me in talking about the things I’m interested in. Yet I hold back, quite often, because I don’t want to deal with more threats, and more specific threats.

  20. 20
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    Hahmotelma, if that “advice” was so absolutely fantastic, perhaps Justicar could have given it to Jen. Instead he presented it where Jen was likely to miss it but it would be seen by those hostile to her.

    Also, why does this incredibly stupid point (Oh, but Justicar is just showing how much he cares!) keep coming up? Is that what passes for clever these days?

  21. 21
    Logan Blackisle

    You’re saying threats are never of unknown credibility?

    No, I’m saying if you feel safe, even after getting threats, then you obviously didn’t consider them credible. And, if you get threats and start feeling unsafe, it might be a good idea to act on those feeling, i.e. don’t post things that will help those who threaten you, find you.

    And no, being harassed is not at all irrelevant to those occasions when threats pop up.

    Certainly not, which is why I said this:

    Harassment doesn’t necessarily imply threats, though they certainly can.

    @dogeared, spotted and foxed:

    Also, why does this incredibly stupid point (Oh, but Justicar is just showing how much he cares!) keep coming up?

    The “advice” was not given because he cared, nor because he pretended to care. Rather, he made it very clear that the advice was more of a finger-point “look at what a nitwit Jen is”.

    Read again, where exactly does anyone claim that he cares?

    He actually spends a rather ridiculous amount of time pointing fingers and talking about how stupid other people are, occasionally while giving them “advice”.

  22. 22
    Stacy

    Shorter Logan Blackisle: harassment isn’t important. As long as you aren’t receiving absolutely unambiguous threats that you are 100% sure are credible, you’re a liar if you say you feel threatened. And how dare you strawman that nice Justicar, who was only trying to be helpful.

  23. 23
    Hank_Says

    Even Shorter Logan: it’s not a problem for me; it shouldn’t be a problem for you.

  24. 24
    D. C. Sessions

    What I find interesting in this “harassment must mean a threat” is that it depends on the hidden assumption that “threat” has to be a meatspace physical threat. Which is exactly what Our Gracious Hostess demonstrates to be invalid by her example: the “threat” in that case is that she is silenced from doing something she would otherwise have enjoyed participating in (and arguably paid to do) because as soon as she came out of cloaking, the mosquito horde would have moved in an ruined the evening for other, totally uninvolved, people.

    A threat does not cease to be a threat if the proximal victim is not the target of the terrorism. Hostages work too: “do as I say or I will set off a pressure-cooker bomb somewhere in the city tonight where there are large crowds of children.” Which is exactly the situation that the ongoing harassment has created.

  25. 25
    Stephanie Zvan

    Oh, Logan. How many times can people point you to the idea of false dichotomies and still not have you get the hint? Your argument, which is Justicar’s argument, and which is also incredibly bad is that either I feel completely safe (i.e., no threats I receive are in even the tiniest way credible, even in the midst of months of harassment) or I feel completely unsafe (i.e., I’m going to move the table to an undisclosed location so that I can cower under it).

    What you’re trying to tell me is that I don’t really believe cars pose a threat unless I refuse to go near an intersection. If I cross at an intersection with the light in my favor after looking both ways, I really don’t think one of those things could kill me if the driver wanted it to.

    In case you haven’t figured it out, that’s a non sequitur of serious proportions.

    The “advice” was not given because he cared, nor because he pretended to care.

    Right. He’s not pretending to care. He’s just telling people she should thank him: https://twitter.com/Integralmathyt/status/333702543861497858 Look, you want there to be no “Justicar cares” meme, take it up with the guy who’s pretending he’s not continuing to harass a blogger months after she stopped blogging about the shit he said made her deserve harassment. Otherwise, you’re just arguing what they are–that no one should take him at his word on any of this.

  26. 26
    Silentbob

    @ 24 D. C. Sessions

    A threat does not cease to be a threat if the proximal victim is not the target of the terrorism. Hostages work too

    Good point. Any negative consequences to oneself or others, not just physical harm, can constitute a threat.

  27. 27
    Silentbob

    How many women, I wonder, with valuable contributions to make, have been discouraged from becoming outspoken atheists by the treatment of Jen McCreight (and others)? This harassment works to the detriment of us all.

  28. 28
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Logan

    No, I’m saying if you feel safe, even after getting threats, then you obviously didn’t consider them credible. And, if you get threats and start feeling unsafe, it might be a good idea to act on those feeling, i.e. don’t post things that will help those who threaten you, find you.

    Wrong
    Many of us, for reasons related and unrelated to this deal with implied threats and harassment on a daily basis. Fear isn’t an on/off switch.
    Hey, the last man who sexually harassed me lives in the same house as I do. How do I know? Because he harassed me via the house intercom. I don’t even know who he is which doesn’t make the thing any better.
    So, am I justified in feeling just a tad unsafe in the very house I live in with the very neighbours with whom I usually have a friendly chat, not knowing whether I’m just chatting to the creep who harassed me and not knowing whether said creep draws the line at the intercom?
    If yes, do you think it would be reasonable / possible for me to spend some thousand bucks on a move from a good flat that is affordable in a place my children are well integrated to I don’t know where because of that?
    It’s not either/or. Quite often the price we would pay for more safety is just so high we cannot afford it.

  29. 29
    llewelly

    “There’s nothing about Twitter that causes any of this.”

    Except, of course, the complete lack of an effective anti-harassment policy.

  30. 30
    Bronze Dog

    The “threat” in that case is that she is silenced from doing something she would otherwise have enjoyed participating in (and arguably paid to do) because as soon as she came out of cloaking, the mosquito horde would have moved in an ruined the evening for other, totally uninvolved, people.

    This is a big part of what I think about the harassment coming from anti-feminists. Even if someone assumes there’s no physical threat, they’re still a social threat, and that’s one of their goals. It can also form a vicious cycle where if a feminist speaks up and gets noticed, she gets antagonized, and these antagonists go on to blame her for speaking her mind and causing their obsession instead of accepting the blame for their behavior. Sadly, some people will buy it and blame the feminist for being a trouble magnet.

    I’ve had a lesser form of this in the occasional isolated troll who just had to try to derail the comment thread of every blog post I put up to tell me how evil I was for being an atheist, pro-vaccination, or whatever. It generally meant just posting snide replies, deleting some comments for being off topic, or temporarily turning comment moderation on. It was irritating, but I could take it, since it was just one or two at a time. It’d be a different story if it was fifty trolls working together, and if they spilled into unrelated areas like spamming my PSN account, filling up my real name email inbox, or signing onto a Minecraft server just to burn down my jungle tree house. It’s not just about the degree of the harassment, but how widely they can spread it. That social threat exists to make online social interaction too costly and unpleasant in hopes of turning people into hermits.

    I haven’t experienced that level of harassment, so I won’t tell harassment victims to be gung-ho and power through it all. Blogging about these issues effectively requires a level of enthusiasm, and I certainly understand how omnipresent trolls can suck all the satisfaction out of it. I hope everyone who’s gone silent manages to get back into the fray, someday. The active people will endure and hopefully inspire others to speak up and take up the torch if they get worn out.

  31. 31
    Logan Blackisle

    @Stacy
    Nope, way off. A shorter version would look something like this: Harassment (can) involve psychological harm, threats are almost (but not quite) always about physical harm – stop equating the two. And just because Justicar’s a prick doesn’t mean you should use faulty argumentation against him; that only makes you look stupid.

    @Hankstar AKA Mandrellian, Kicker of Biological Goals
    How on earth did you get to that? If I have even implied that anywhere, please point it out, because that is most certainly not my opinion.
    Or are you just continuing the straw-manning?

    @Stephanie Zvan

    Your argument, which is Justicar’s argument, and which is also incredibly bad is that either I feel completely safe (i.e., no threats I receive are in even the tiniest way credible, even in the midst of months of harassment) or I feel completely unsafe (i.e., I’m going to move the table to an undisclosed location so that I can cower under it).

    Nope. My argument (can’t speak for Justicar, though I believe this is his argument, as well) is that your action/inaction shows whether or not you consider the threat credible.

    If I cross at an intersection with the light in my favor after looking both ways

    You’ve acknowledged that car pose a threat to your safety, and make sure to look both ways to minimize the threat. Thank you for making my point!

    You see, unlike the false dichotomy you’ve set up, once you’ve gotten past the action/inaction part, there are a myriad of actions you can take. Something as simple as looking both ways before you cross a road, as I stated above, is a tacit acknowledgement of a potential threat.

    As for Jen, is she afraid of stalkers finding her, or not? If she is, posting information that will help them find her, is stupid. Whether the threat is ambiguous or not, is irrelevant when it comes to how you feel about the threat, and what actions you take to soothe your feelings.

    He’s not pretending to care. He’s just telling people she should thank him

    Exactly. It’s called ridicule or harassment, depending on your point of view.

    the guy who’s pretending he’s not continuing to harass a blogger months after she stopped blogging about the shit he said made her deserve harassment.

    He makes videos about things that are public, which he thinks are stupid/laughable/whatever tickles him that day. Though he disagrees about what constitutes harassment, he has made no pretense about who he makes videos about – or will continue to make videos about.

    @Giliell, professional cynic

    So, am I justified in feeling just a tad unsafe in the very house I live in with the very neighbours with whom I usually have a friendly chat, not knowing whether I’m just chatting to the creep who harassed me and not knowing whether said creep draws the line at the intercom?

    Yes, most certainly. And if you haven’t taken even the simplest precautions – locking the door, telling someone about him, having a bat or something else you can use as a weapon within easy access (I will never suggest firearms, product of my culture, I guess) – then I would say you either haven’t thought things through, or you’re lying.

    Action/inaction. When facing threats, most people start at a black and white point of view: does this warrant action or not? If it does, a myriad of possibilities open up, and you determine which action you think fits the threat.

  32. 32
    Stephanie Zvan

    …threats are almost (but not quite) always about physical harm…

    You’re confusing content with intent. In order for them to be about physical harm in the same way harassment is about psychological harm, they would have to be carried through. The overwhelming majority aren’t, though there’s no good way to determine which is which ahead of time.

    As for Jen, is she afraid of stalkers finding her, or not?

    Jen was so incapable of dealing with the threat that–using the car metaphor–she didn’t just look both ways. She left civilization for the mountains. She hasn’t been talking about this stuff for more than half a year. To go back to the metaphor, you and Justicar are claiming she can’t be afraid of cars because she crossed a goat path without watching for traffic.

    Also, you’re trying to use Jen’s behavior to reason about mine or Ophelia’s, which is incredibly stupid. So is making broad claims about what people do when dealing with a threat. I’ve been hit by a car walking to work. I still do it–because the alternative is worse and, while the threat is real from each and every car, the likelihood at any given time of being hit is small. That still doesn’t mean I don’t think cars are dangerous.

    It’s called ridicule or harassment, depending on your point of view.

    Oh, I’m well aware of that. I know Justicar is lying through his teeth when he claims to be looking out for Jen. That you assume everyone else should find this completely obvious is telling, though. Mocking those people who try to take him at his word isn’t a great character reference.

  33. 33
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Logan

    Yes, most certainly. And if you haven’t taken even the simplest precautions – locking the door, telling someone about him, having a bat or something else you can use as a weapon within easy access (I will never suggest firearms, product of my culture, I guess) – then I would say you either haven’t thought things through, or you’re lying.

    Hey, thanks for calling me a liar.
    To be honest I generally lock the door.
    But in contrast to you I’m smart enough to know that “having a weapon ready” doesn’t give me any protection but greatly endangers everybody around. But hey, I could always count on people like you telling me how irresponsible I was after one of the kids harmed herself with the handy weapon I kept around.

  34. 34
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    It would have been an interesting news story if you had commented and the Twitter wall filled up with sexist abuse, because then the theatre would have had to deal with it, probably by shutting down the feed, and that would have ?shone a spotlight on the slime and how unacceptable it is for polite society. Maybe next time?

    It should become a news story about WiS 2, now that Lindsay has apologized, when the furor dies down and we start considering content of the rest of the conference. And then I hope there will be a published Proceedings of the WiS 2 conference.

  35. 35
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    I guess Logan and friends have never heard the phrase, “calculated risk.”

  1. 36
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    [...] Stephanie discusses a common fallacy about harassment. [...]

  2. 37
    Privilege, Dialogue, Harassment, and the Anti-Availability Heuristic » Lousy Canuck

    [...] are these people, who follow you out of a bar and grab your shoulder yelling “DON’T WALK AWAY FROM ME” after you’ve attempted to avoid an obvious bar fight, still being treated as honest [...]

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