Jadehawk has an interesting post up on what psychology considers harassment — that is, when the pros assess effective harassment campaigns, what do they do?
Conclusion: Even mild interruption, ridicule, and criticism elicits stress responses, and all these mild stress-response-elicitors count as harassment in psychology. That doesn’t mean we should stop criticizing people, and it doesn’t mean that people who want to be skeptics, scientists and/or activists don’t need to learn to deal with a certain degree of both criticism and “trolling”. However, as with microaggressions, a constant barrage of aggression (some low-grade some decidedly less so) is typically more wearying/damaging than the occasional blatant, massive outburst. Consequently, telling a person who’s subjected for months to non-stop criticism, “satire”, parody, “trolling”, and plain old “as defined by every college campus everywhere” harassment* on multiple fronts that they aren’t being harassed is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Even the thickest skin will eventually be worn down** my months, or even years, of this sort of thing.
Yeah, years. But here’s the surprise from my perspective: what creationists and Christians did to me would not be considered harassment. They were not camping on my virtual doorstep greeting me first thing every morning with a flood of stupid videos and photoshopped images. They were not using twitter to masquerade as my friends under pseydonyms. They were not setting up blogs and forums with no other purpose than to malign me and a few other atheists personally. Even when I pissed off the Catholics, what would happen is that many individuals would fire off an angry letter or two, and then move on with their lives. It meant I got a deluge of email, but it wasn’t one or a few nuts going on a prolonged tear. Mabus was an exception. He isn’t anymore.
It wasn’t until I annoyed a subset of atheists that the real harassment began. Serious harassment. People who have no lives and think the most important thing to do every day is to pour out their hatred for me, or Rebecca Watson, or Ophelia Benson, or anyone on the Atheism+ forum. I’m not talking principled disagreement or even stupid disagreement: I mean commitment to do any dumbass thing they can to lash out, and being driven by hatred for a few people.
I do want to address one bizarre comment from some guy named Hunt, though, who is commenting on Jadehawk’s article.
A lot of these people deserve each other though. The Slymepit seems to be a perfect counterpart to PZ, who has trolled and harassed creationists, for instance, for a decade. He’s finally come up against people who are as willing to put the same energy into trolling back, irreverently and in a very similar way to what he’s done to others for years, and it’s pissing him off. What goes around comes around.
Nope. He doesn’t get it. I disagree strongly with creationists, and they disagree with me, but I don’t troll or harass. When I visited the Creation “Museum”, I informed them of my plans, I even signed an agreement to not cause trouble while I was there, not that I planned to; when I encourage my students to attend creationist talks, I also tell them to be polite and non-disruptive, and that the goal is to get information, not interrupt them. I don’t criticize creationists by sneering at their sexuality, defacing photographs of them, and getting up every day with cheery enthusiasm at the prospect of calling them fat, or ugly, or thinking of ways to tweak their names to make them sound like terms for genitalia.
I have a blog that ridicules creationism by dismantling their idiotic arguments, and that isn’t even obsessive about that…and definitely isn’t focused exclusively on just a few individuals.
What those jerks are doing isn’t in any way similar to what I’ve ever done. And what’s worse, it isn’t similar to what creationists have done: Eric Hovind may not be very bright, but he’s never sunk to the depths that the denizens of the Slymepit have.
But then, the false equivalence is one of the most common tools in use by the trolls. “He has criticized creationists, therefore he is fair game for me to draw him having sexual congress with a dog. It’s ‘dissent’!”
You know what’s most annoying to me, though? For years we’ve been trying to make the case to the public that you can be a decent human being while not believing in god. And then these slack-jawed, 4chan-lovin’, youtube-chatterin’ privileged gits come along and instead demonstrate that atheists can be the biggest assholes of them all.