D. J. Grothe, Psychopath?

A funny thing happened nearly two and a half years ago. When I say “funny”, I mean the kind of thing where the principals get together years later, look each other in the eye, and laugh because what the hell else are they going to do?

In early January 2012, after months of hesitation, I wrote a post about three incidents involving JREF president D. J. Grothe’s reactions to pseudoscientific rape apologia, child sex trafficking, and misogynist, threatening comments aimed at a feminist blogger. I pointed out that Grothe, in each case, had stepped in to defend the anti-feminist actions in question and suggested he needed to take a look at that trend.

The response from him at the time was the now-infamous chant of “Doin’ it for the pageviews!”. The response a few months down the road was to blame me, among others, for the decline in female attendance at The Amazing Meeting, an assertion that was contradicted in the very thread where his comments were left. The ongoing response has mostly been futilely derogatory, vague comments on Facebook and Twitter and blocking anyone who might have an interest in discussing those comments skeptically in public.

The responses from people other than Grothe, however, were enlightening. There was the usual back-and-forth of “Thank you for speaking up publicly” versus “How dare you say bad things about a public figure?”, but I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the people who have known Grothe personally. [Read more...]

TBT: Negotiables

This post was first published in April 2009. It astounds me how many people continue, years later, to think this is about some specific behavior or another instead of about consent.

Having been mostly away from the internet for the last couple of weeks, I’m late to the party as usual, but I still think there’s something that needs to be said about the reception that Sheril of The Intersection received at Discover Blogs. Well, not so much about the reception itself. Sheril said just about everything that needed to be said about that. Scicurious’s take on the incident is well worth reading, as well, as is DrugMonkey’s commentary on why this should and does matter to men too.

So after all that, and everything else that’s been said, what’s left to talk about? Maybe the fact that every single time a discussion like this occurs, someone wants to know when compliments are appropriate. Sure, the temptation is there to dismiss the questions as distractions from the discussion at hand, but it is a real question for many people. Some of those comments are honest cris de coeur. And the conflicting responses, plus the occasional “never outside a relationship” aren’t helpful.

The real answer is both blindingly simple and incredibly difficult in practice: it’s negotiable. [Read more...]

What Courage Looks Like

Our narratives around courage are lopsided. We recognize derring do, rushing into bad situations. Even when it’s poorly thought out or downright suicidal, we reward that kind of behavior by calling it bravery.

We’re not nearly as good at recognizing the courage required to hold our ground. I don’t know why exactly, maybe because we want to be able to intimidate people with our strength rather than having to use it. Whatever the reason, it’s wrong to forget or discount this kind of courage. It takes real bravery to face opposition with the power to hurt you–physically, emotionally, or through damage to your social standing–and persevere.

So I got a little emotional when I saw this today.

Screen cap of pic from Melody Hensley. Text in the post.

I will relapse. I will be retraumatized. I will come back. One day I hope to conquer this disorder and feel in control every day.

She shared a pic of one of her dogs with David Futrelle, too, after he wrote a very supportive post over at Man Boobz. It’s not business as usual, but it is claiming her Twitter account as something harassment can’t take from her. That’s brave as hell, especially given that the abuse goes on.

If you’d like to reward Melody’s bravery, you can send her a supportive message, either on Twitter or here (where the comments are screened for her), or you can donate to a campaign she set up to raise money earmarked for PTSD research. Even if you don’t do that, though, at the very least you should recognize it for the courage it is.

The Failure Mode of Naked

Note: This post contains an image you may not want to view at work. You can also read a pdf of the post with a description of the painting rather than the painting, produced for an art teacher who wanted to share this with their students. This pdf may be reproduced for use in an educational setting.

A few years back, John Scalzi wrote a blog post with a line that has made its way around the internet. “The failure mode of clever is ‘asshole.’” It’s a useful thing to remember on its own, but it’s even more useful in the context in which it was presented in the post.

1. The effectiveness of clever on other people is highly contingent on outside factors, over which you have no control and of which you may not have any knowledge; i.e., just because you intended to be clever doesn’t mean you will be perceived as clever, for all sorts of reasons.

2. The failure mode of clever is “asshole.”

It isn’t just that you really need to succeed at being clever. It’s also that clever is ridiculously difficult, because it’s a two-party interaction. You can put work and thought into being clever, you can test your material on other people first, and you can still find that your audience isn’t in the mood, has heard the joke too many times, has a sore spot under what you intended as a gentle poke, or just has a very different sense of humor.

While Scalzi is talking about dealing with strangers in this post, I’ve seen clever fail among friends for all these reasons too, particularly during times of stress. The difference in that case is that your friends are somewhat less likely to dub you an asshole for one failed case of clever.

Why do I bring this up nearly four years after Scalzi’s post? Because I’ve been chewing over a different case of failed communication in the last few days, and I realized that it can be generalized to a rule very much like the one Scalzi posited: The failure mode of naked is “objectification”. [Read more...]

How Twitter Can Combat Harassment in Three Easy Steps

Dear Twitter:

A language hotspot map using color to designate threat level.

Shouldn’t hotspots always receive the most attention?

I can see that you’re overwhelmed with the idea of policing your service. It’s been obvious for a while, but when you start issuing service ticket numbers for complaints without having any way for people to check the status of those tickets, then you’re shouting it from the rooftops. So here’s a little suggestion about how to make your own lives easier while still cleaning up your service to keep people on it long enough to see your sponsored tweets. And it will only take three easy steps.

  1. You already have an algorithm that detects spikes in the use of phrases or hashtags. It’s what you use to create your trending topics. Use that algorithm to detect when people’s mentions spike. Sure, it will take a little bit of fine-tuning, because the spikes are smaller, but it will be worth it.
  2. Why? Because your next step is to set someone in Twitter support on the job of looking through that person’s mentions. Again, this will be an easy job, because all this person needs to do is determine whether this person’s mentions are full of something benign, like congratulations, or full of the kind of toxic crap my friend Melody Hensley is still receiving two days after I documented an onslaught of abuse. The difference is easy to spot. Go take a look.
  3. Once you’ve identified a thread with a high degree of abuse, go through and clean it out. Ban your repeat offenders and accounts freshly created for the purpose of abusing someone. Suspend and/or warn your first-timers depending on their degree of depravity, and mark their accounts as having been warned so you know when you see them again.

That’s it. You’re done. You’ve found the people who exist to make your service hell for other people, and you’ve dealt with them en masse. You’ve gone to the trouble spots and dealt with the troublemakers. You haven’t had to go through and individually look at tickets for each one and individually look at all the tweets involved. Sure, you’ll still get tickets on smaller situations, but there will be a whole lot fewer of them.

No need to thank me or credit me for making your jobs easier or your service more user-friendly. Just take the advice and make it happen. Clean the place up.

Image: “Language Hotspots” by whiteafrican.

How Could Twitter Possibly Cause PTSD?

When I started this Storify, I didn’t expect it to be nearly this long. Then Thunderf00t stepped in, and the volume increased to multiple tweets per minute. It’s only starting to slow down in the last hour, but I have to stop somewhere if this is going to be published. If it gets to you, either in volume or in ugliness, then at least keep scrolling until you get to the part where they start contacting her boss and her organization. That should be witnessed.

If the embed on the Storify doesn’t work, you can read the whole thing here.

So You’ve Got Yourself a Policy. Now What?

I talk to a lot of people about anti-harassment policies. For a long time, those discussions were mostly about why we should have them for our events. After that, figuring out what to put in them predominated. Much discussion has gone into how to treat people who come forward to report abuse and how and whether to share information with people who might have a legitimate interest.

Those are all good discussions to have. I think they’ve generally been productive. Some of them, like sharing information, will be ongoing for a while as we make good decisions and bad in these uncharted waters. Lately, however, a different topic has been surfacing.

We know from situations in which they’ve failed that “zero-tolerance” policies, policies in which any act that is deemed to be unacceptable results in expulsion and exclusion, don’t work well. They fail in three main ways. People who are against harassment policies in general are quick to point out that they leave no room for honest mistakes. They are correct when talking about zero-tolerance policies, even if they make the same criticism about all policies.

These policies also fail because they discourage reporting. People who experience undesirable behavior under zero-tolerance policies know that reporting may well lead to expulsion. That frequently isn’t what they’re looking for. They just want the behavior to stop. This means that much undesirable behavior goes unreported. Even people who have experienced significant harassment won’t always report if reporting means taking responsibility for someone being expelled and excluded.

Finally, zero-tolerance policies fail because they’re difficult for organizers to follow. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. When there’s a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy, it gets harder for organizers to determine they’re making the right choice. Patterns of behavior are easier to work with than a single incident. Except in blatant cases, a single incident may be ambiguous where a pattern of behavior won’t be. This can lead to very high standards of evidence being required for action because the only action allowed is drastic.

It’s little wonder that we avoid zero-tolerance policies. At the same time, however, we haven’t talked much about how event organizers should deal with behavior that, on its own, may not merit expulsion. And if organizers don’t feel they have the knowledge to do more than expel or ignore, we end up with de facto zero-tolerance policies. [Read more...]