No, the system does not work


It’s fashionable, this hobby of bullying women. Kelly Diels explores the fashion in Salon.

When Rebecca Meredith took the stage in March at the Glasgow Ancients, an annual university debate tournament, she and her debate partner, Marlena Valles, were prepared for a little heckling. After all, Meredith is ranked the third top university debater in Europe in 2012 and Valles won best speaker in Scotland’s 2013 national championship, so between the two of them they’ve “beaten men in debates hundreds of times” and “can deal with heckles,” writes Meredith in the Huffington Post. But even before the two debaters started speaking, a cadre of men in the audience began to boo, continued to boo throughout the debate, shouted “Shame, woman!” and “analysed their sexual attractiveness.” When a woman judge intervened, reports Lucy Sheriff, the men called the judge “a frigid bitch.”

That’s no good.

There are resources for bullying that I wasn’t aware of.

Encyclopedia Dramatica, a deliberately offensive wiki outlining the worldview and language of some of the people congregating in the forums and chat rooms of 4chan.org, defines “trolling” as “Internet Eugenics.” Trolling is designed to enrage and traumatize targets – especially women and minorities – so that they’ll go ahead and “leave the internet.”

That’s no good.

Online campaigns designed to punish particular people are called “lulz,” the phonetic version of the acronym “LOL,” meaning laugh out loud, which describes both the systematic process for chasing people off the Internet as well as the result (maximum amusement!). Lulz has “standard operating procedures” and the first of those procedures is trolling, or leaving a large volume of offensive comments on a person’s blog and tweeting hateful messages to them. Trolling is both a signal and a threat. Shut up and get off the Internet, is the message, or there will be further consequences – such as the publication of your personal details (called “doxing”) so you can be harassed not just online but by phone and at your home, followed by denial of service (dos) attacks on your website or, if you’ve really infuriated them, distributed denial of service attacks (Ddos) against your host provider (which will crash not just your site but thousands of other sites also hosted by those servers).

To recap: 1) trolling, 2) doxing, 3) dos or Ddos attacks. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And repeat they do. Set up only nine years ago, in 2004, Encyclopedia Dramatica contains hundreds of entries documenting past and future victims of a “lollercoaster.” Writer Melissa McEwan, owner of Shakesville, a multi-author blog about feminism and intersectionality, is one of the targets. Her address and phone number are published and so are suggestions about how to troll her, ranging from emailing her penis pictures, to “revenge-raping her,” to targeting a Shakesville audience member who also owns a blog by extracting “their info from whois database, Facebook, or a phone book then proceed to raep.” (Rape, deliberately misspelled as “raep,” can mean a dos or Ddos attack.) In 2007, the Shakesville website, along with several other feminist blogs, was the subject of Ddos attacks – but the primary tool used to harass McEwan, year after year, is threats of sexual violence and death. At one point, McEwan says, Encyclopedia Dramatica “used to feature a campaign offering a financial reward to anyone who could offer proof of raping and/or murdering me.”

That’s no good.

That’s a system in which the only people who can be genuinely free to participate are psychopaths. What the hell good is a system like that? Who wants to hear from no one but psychopaths (apart from other psychopaths)? Who wants to live in PsycopathWorld? Who wants online intellectual life handed over to psychopaths?

So the first and most easily sustained method in the lulz process is the online hate storm – like the one directed at McEwan for the last several years, or the most recent one directed at Caroline Criado-Perez for her successful petition to have Jane Austen’s face put on the back of the UK’s £10 note. After the Bank of England announced that, yes, Jane Austen’s visage would grace the new bank note, Criado-Perez began receiving rape threats and death threats via Twitter – sometimes as many as 50 an hour. Criado-Perez told the BBC UK that she had “stumbled into a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women.”

“This is a systemic issue, the people doing this, this is their hobby, they just move from target to target, they’re like a roaming gang of some kind,” explains developer and consultant Adria Richards. She has “screen shots and screen captures of places where they were organizing these attacks,” Richards says, and sure enough, “they have scripts, templates.”

No good, no good, no good.

With legal recourse either unavailable or unenforceable, does the speech of trolls – online hecklers actively seeking to silence their targets – constitute a Heckler’s Veto? [Wendy] Kaminer says no. Trolling doesn’t interfere with articles and blog posts published online in the same way that a speaker can be silenced at a live event. Online, even when websites are bombarded with offensive comments or speakers are sent volumes of frightening messages, those communications don’t interfere with a person’s ability to publish a text or with an audience’s ability to read it. The words remain.

I’m sorry, I like much of what Kaminer writes, but that’s just obtuse. The words don’t remain – they never appear if the people who would write them have been bullied into leaving the internet (see above). In PsychopathWorld, most words are filtered out by the psychopaths.

As Diels says.

Except the words might not remain. In 2007, after receiving rape threats and death threats, tech blogger Kathy Sierra canceled her speaking engagements, moved house (her address had been published and messages and packages were being sent to her home), and stopped writing and blogging for six years. (One of Sierra’s tormentors was later revealed to be “Weev,” an online identity of Andrew Auernheimer, who was later arrested and sentenced to 41 months in prison for hacking AT&T’s customer data.) Writer Linda Grant told journalists Vanessa Thorpe and Richard Rogers she quit writing her column for the Guardian because of “violent hate speech” that included anti-Semitism and misogyny. And just a few months ago, in June, Ms. Magazine canceled a series of blog posts by Heidi Yewman because it was unable to adequately moderate a trolling backlash that included attempts to publish Yewman’s home address. Ms. later reversed its position and reinstated the series, but the magazine’s first reaction is revealing. If a politically seasoned and professionally staffed organization with decades of experience confronting controversial issues can be destabilized by a trolling and lulz campaign, it’s not surprising that individual women quit, too.

“I’ve spoken to many women who simply stopped engaging,” says feminist activist and author Soraya Chemaly. “They don’t support other people online because they don’t want to be targeted, they’ve stopped writing about certain topics, they silence themselves – which is of course the issue.” She adds, “I’m happy to talk about free speech, it’s very dear to me […] but the free speech we have to take care of first is the speech that is already lost,” because women are being intimidated off the Internet, out of public life and into silence.

I’ve spoken to many such women too. I’ve also spoken to many women who say they would have stopped engaging if it weren’t for women who refuse to get off the Internet, out of public life and into silence. Kaminer would apparently read that as “See? The system works, those women stay.” That would be a fatuous and callous mistake. Yes, some of us stay, but we pay a price that we should not have to pay. Yes, others stay because we stay, but they too pay a price that they should not have to pay. It’s not a stable system and it sure as hell is not a fair system.

 

 

Comments

  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Encyclopedia Dramatica is the thing that gave me that last extra kick away from the “it’s all fun and games” stance. That shit is scary creepy. Absolutely no regard for basic human decency whatsoever.

  2. seraphymcrash says

    If similar campaigns were conducted in physical space, or through phone lines, no one would argue it wasn’t criminal harassment. Our legal system desperately needs to catch up with our technology. This is the systematic abuse of people and it’s unacceptable.

    The effective solutions I have seen so far involve heavy moderation of comment spaces so that trolls and other harassers can’t feed off of each other and don’t drive away the regular audiences. But that is burdensome for the people running those places.

  3. says

    So…this looks like an area where the NSA could really do some good. Wasn’t that why “No Such Agency” was created in the first place — to gather communications intel and identify threats to our freedom?

  4. Pteryxx says

    …Going by the military, security, and tech industries’ records, probably a good portion of the NSA is engaging in it.

  5. Claire Ramsey says

    That gang of men is truly sick. Psycho- and probably socio-pathic too. Yes, some of the words remain. But Kaminer’s definition of things is ridiculously narrow. Perhaps, in her scheme, troll-ers and lulz-ers don’t have anything to do with “free speech.” Instead the larger issue is criminal harassment and threat. Free speech is a right that I cherish. Psychopathic and violent abuse of the internet transcends free speech.

  6. iknklast says

    Kaminer apparently never read Jen’s blog. How many words have been missed because she was driving away? And some of us have decided not to take up blogging because we can’t afford to take the risk when we’ve sufferered from depression in the past. Those are words that were never created, so they can’t possibly remain.

  7. says

    “It’s pretty clear that we are dealing with a political movement that is actively opposed to free speech.”

    Except…the people in the trolling movement actively lean on their First Amendment rights to justify and protect their activities. They’re for free speech, as long as it’s theirs.

    And, it seems to me – and disappointingly so – that the free speech advocates more often side with the trolls than the people being chased out of the public arena. (Where are their op-eds and editorials and blog posts worrying about the chilling of debate and loss of speech?)

    (PS Thanks for considering my piece.)

  8. says

    Kelly, well there are some op eds of that kind, and there are lots of blog posts – I’ve written several hundred of them myself. (Ok slight hyperbole but only slight.)

    That was a great piece – thank you for writing it!

  9. says

    Kelly Diels

    Except…the people in the trolling movement actively lean on their First Amendment rights to justify and protect their activities. They’re for free speech, as long as it’s theirs.

    They favor what one might call ‘libertarian freedoms,’ which aren’t really the same as normal, day to day freedoms. Basically, libertarian freedoms can be summed up as ‘everyone gets to to whatever they want. Unfortunately a lot of them are bigger than you’ (Paraphrased from a game book describing Hell, not my original compostion). They favor an authority that does nothing but ensure a certain set of property rights, which deeply favor all kinds of entrenched privilege while providing a facade of equality ( In the words of Anatole France”In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.”). The upshot of this is that they basically see as an intolerable imposition on their sacred liberties any suggestion that organized authority should prevent them from doing anything that doesn’t materially (in its strictest sense, limited to destruction of property or physical violence) harm anyone with who shares certain privilege markers with them and/or shares their ideology (for instance, I’ve met Randists who literally claim that no one who isn’t a Randist has any rights that they are bound to respect, and complain about the hideous tyranny of laws that prohibit them from acting on this belief)

  10. latsot says

    By coincidence, I stumbled upon Encyclopedia Dramatica yesterday and it took me a few minutes to understand what I was reading. It’s a mentality that’s hard to fathom: making people miserable, scared and – above all – silent as a hobby. A fucking *hobby*. It’s hard to think of a worse use of anyone’s time and yet there are whole, mutually-supporting communities dedicated to it.

    There were people at school, of course, who treated bullying as a hobby, but – as far as I know – bullies from different schools didn’t hang out and share tips on the best ways to intimidate people. But the MO was basically the same. I think societies tend to trivialise school bullying. Pop culture – and particularly American pop culture for some reason – pretends it’s about popularity, always with the implication that unpopular people are unpopular for a *reason*, which is a bullying sort of idea in itself. Bullying is depicted as mostly about wedgies, noogies and swirlies, which are laughed off as trivial assaults.

    But of course, bullying in reality is much more sinister. It involves sustained campaigns of intimidation and aggression against individuals for the crime of being themselves. It’s frightening. It’s debilitating. Even if threats of violence aren’t particularly credible, they can still frighten people. They tell people that they’ve got someone’s attention and that *something* bad is going to happen to them, probably lots of times, probably over several years. Teachers and parents don’t seem to understand this simple fact. They’ll ask what the bully said and you have to answer with some ridiculously over the top threat of violence and they roll their eyes at how stupid you are for being intimidated by such nonsense.

    My point is that the MO is basically the same. The only difference I see between online and school bullies is that the former have global support groups, bask in the admiration of thousands of other like-minded people and are – of course – pseudonymous. This makes fighting back even less effectual and enduring it perhaps even more difficult.

    And yet we still have people denying that bullying is a problem, that victims are being over-dramatic. Like teachers and parents, they can’t seem to take the time to empathise with the people they claim to care about.

  11. Ant (@antallan) says

    “They’re for free speech, as long as it’s theirs.”

    “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” — Noam Chomsky

    /@

  12. says

    Here’s the thing: Encyclopaedia Dramatica is Anonymous. I used to peruse it a lot. I used to think a lot of that shit was funny. I used to be somewhat a part of it, and though I didn’t go much beyond prank-calling Gamestops over Skype asking for Battletoads my experience with SJ has led me to just block that shit out of my otherwise notoriously good memory (it’s heavily associated with a time period I generally block out of my memory, which makes things a lot easier). That is the essence of Anon distilled into a single, sick, horrible walking trigger warning of glorifying privilege and abuse.

    It’s scary shit, and ya know what else? Anon leans heavily towards the no-rules, right-wing libertarian end. They just get a shitton of cookies for the so-called “civil libertarianism”, so much so that many leftist “supporters” of Anon seem completely fucking oblivious to the existence of ED and the oppressive shit that goes on right beneath the surface, perpetuated by some of the same people they trumpet as heroes of access to information. And like right-wingers elsewhere, Anon claims to hold a diverse set of views — in the case of Anon, they claim to not be a cohesive group even though they can damn well act as one — in order to erase how prevalent right-wing views and the glorification of oppression are when you actually read what they have to say.

  13. says

    I pride myself on my ability to understand crazy people and their opinions. If you want someone to translate the babble the comes out of the mouth of a crazed evangelical, I’m always up to the task. But, I literally cannot understand this sort of behavior. The immense anger that some men feel towards women and the disgusting amount of delight they get from torturing and taunting them makes no sense to me.

  14. Arawhon says

    As a frequenter of a small part of 4chan, /tg/ -traditional games, the PnP RPG and wargame board, the site as a whole deserves every bit of vitriol tossed its way. Its a cesspool of people who have bought wholesale into rape culture. There is a small but growing number of people like me who are trying our best to change the culture over there, but we are just completely outnumbered and are actively fought against. They really don’t like rules, being a decent human being or even thinking really. The scary part is that many of the companies I like to purchase from also, sometimes but rarely, will post and get feedback from that board.

    After the series of extremely depressing posts from the past week, I’m even more inclined to still frequent the site and fight the culture there to make it more inclusive of women and minorities.

  15. believerskeptic says

    I made a video highlighting some of the misogyny of the slymepit, so that no one can continue to proclaim, “Misogyny in the skeptic movement? Where is it? What evidence do you have?”

    Major trigger warnings.

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