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Feb 09 2013

Enormous splash damage

On the rest of Christian Munthe’s post on internet harassment in Sweden and in general.

The behaviour of the “net haters”, as the established term has come to be, is often equivalent or very close to criminal harassment, libel or threat. However, existing laws are obviously not constructed for a situation where these sort of patterns are the rule and occur in a systematic and coordinated (albeit perhaps not always in a specifically planned) way.

That’s an interesting point. So a one-off is criminal but a systematic campaign is free speech?

At the same time, as had it been pre-ordered, we have another sort of reaction – the idea of the haters themselves as either victims or, at least, guiltless due to structural forces that direct their actions. The former type of reasoning is, of course, a well known spineless tactic from the new racist movement – it’s your own fault that you’re being attacked, you should count on it when saying such things as you do. Not so little resembling the rapist’s or molester’s so-called defense that “her dress/smile/dance/intoxication made me do it” (surprisingly similar to the orthodox islamist motivation for obligatory veils for women, by the way).

Well that certainly is their official view. I won’t let them post mildew here, therefore I deserve whatever they choose to dish out. They think I should stfu, so they try to make that happen.

In conclusion:

It is of extra importance to note that the institutions of free speech, opinion and expression in liberal democratic societies in fact rest on the presumption that people keep within the sort of moral limits just set out. It may of course, be debated exactly how harmful a behaviour needs to be for the limits to the just mentioned freedoms to be approached. But what in any other circumstance would be considered as unlawful threat, libel or harassment is clearly residing in this territory.

It’s very important to note that, because in fact threats and libel and harassment do inhibit free speech, opinion and expression.

In comments on a post of PZ’s about “the peace process” for instance, Cyranothe2d talked about that.

I am really fucking tired of people who have harrassed, stalked and threatened women I look up to and love being treated (by people like you) like they have some rational points, and we are just having a jolly chummy academic argument. Ask Jen if she thinks being harassed off the internet was just a “difference of opinion about the roles of women”. Ask Ophelia. Ask Rebecca. Fucking ask any woman in this thread.

Because this “fight” has been about and remains about my fucking dignity as a human being. My right to inhabit atheist spaces without fear of reprisal or attack because of my gender. My right to be represented by other women.

I saw that comment late in the day yesterday, and it was helpful to me. I was feeling very over-harassed yesterday, and Cyrano’s second paragraph there reminded me that shit that’s done to me is also done to all the women who are aware of it. (Mind you, a few of the women who are aware of it are fine with it, I suppose because they think it will never happen to them, and perhaps it won’t.) Today Cyrano said, replying to me, how it does inhibit her free speech, opinion and expression.

I really think that the reason you’re targeted is because you’re public. That’s it. Its nothing that you’ve done to bring it on. It could be any one of us. That’s why I say, “When they do it to you, they do it to us.” Because I’ve no doubt that they would harass, stalk and attempt to run ANY OF WE WOMEN off the internet if we dared to talk about sexual harassment or feminism on a popular blog. And the harassment, while targeted at you, has enormous splash damage. *I* am offended and angry and feel hated, trapped and afraid because of these people. *I* have decided not to go to conferences because of them. *I* have curtailed my net presence because of them.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have it directed at myself, day after day.

That shouldn’t be happening. It shouldn’t.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Silentbob

    Y’know, the thing about Shermer’s second response to Ophelia that really stuck in my craw wasn’t the paranoia about witch-hunts and purges that bothered everyone else; it was the blithe ignorance of the closing argument. The last sentence reads

    To conclude on a positive note, if the worst offense against women in secularism today is a ten-second quip taken out of context and redacted to the two-second line “it’s a guy thing” (which in any case was not meant to be sexist) then I would count that as evidence of significant moral progress deserving of celebration, not vilification.

    Got that? There’s not really anything left for women to complain about, so let’s hear a rousing three cheers for our wonderful moral progress!

    I can scarcely conceive of how infuriating and insulting that sentence must be to women on a steady diet of this for at least the last year and a half.

  2. 2
    Martha

    Absolutely right, Cyrano! And double congratulations for helping Ophelia out on a rough day with these cretins.

  3. 3
    jenniferphillips

    Very true. The more public the woman, the more direct abuse she endures, but we are all suffering the consequences. Frustration and misery at how insurmountable this problem seems to be has often tempted me to just quit. Quit reading. Quit participating. Quit learning from the women bloggers I admire so much, because the topic is so often this unending ugliness. I had planned to start a personal blog to say all the stuff I can’t write about on my sciency one, but I chickened out because I barely have time to blog in the first place–no way I could manage the time suck of moderating any haters who might find me and make the place feel unwelcome to the readers I’d actually be writing for.

    But, while the blog may be on hold, I’m not leaving the movement. Ophelia, Greta, Jen, Stephanie, Rebecca, Amy and Amanda have shown incredible courage and resilience through all this. I want to stay to support them. I want to add my voice to the chorus saying THIS IS WRONG, and it must stop.

  4. 4
    Dr. Free-Ride

    I was feeling very over-harassed yesterday, and Cyrano’s second paragraph there reminded me that shit that’s done to me is also done to all the women who are aware of it.

    Quoted for truth and also to pose the question: won’t it be nice when we achieve a state of affairs in which “over-harassed” makes no sense because we no longer need to assume such a high baseline level of harassment just for daring to exist with non-doormat opinions in public spaces?

  5. 5
    Brian Engler

    “Ophelia, Greta, Jen, Stephanie, Rebecca, Amy and Amanda have shown incredible courage and resilience through all this. I want to stay to support them. I want to add my voice to the chorus saying THIS IS WRONG, and it must stop.”

    Brava!! Couldn’t agree more.

  6. 6
    Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally

    Oh wow Ophelia, I’m so incredibly glad that I helped!

    And I say again: Them doing this to you is them doing it to ALL OF US.

  7. 7
    Natasha

    You’re right this shouldn’t be happening but it is. This does affect every woman on the internet. These toxic wastes of protoplasm will most definitely not drive me off the internet or my blog but they have convinced me that the atheisr/skeptic movement is not worth my time. I ill direct my energy into LGBTQ and trans* activism. I just don’t have the spoons to deal with the vitriol and hate that hese scum throw up.

  8. 8
    AndrewD

    There is at least one harrasser who has found that making internet threats is not a safe and harmless sport, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-21393978
    The law in the UK takes a less lenient view of “Free Speech” than that in the US.

  9. 9
    ismenia

    When I told my mother about my “Why I am an Atheist” piece being printed on Pharyngula last year she seemed very subdued and then asked if it was going to attract the attention of all the misogynist haters I’d told her about. I had to reassure her that there was nothing in the piece that atheists were going to object to and that it was not likely to generate interest anyway.

    It did make me think about what it would be like if I did become more prominent. I’m increasingly involved with secular activities and giving a university talk soon. Who knows?

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