Rarely have I read any article that so enrages me as this:
From the hater’s POV, you (the Koolaid server) do not “deserve” that attention. You are “stealing” an audience. From their angry, frustrated point of view, the idea that others listen to you is insanity. From their emotion-fueled view you don’t have readers you have cult followers. That just can’t be allowed.
You must be stopped. And if they cannot stop you, they can at least ruin your quality of life. A standard goal, in troll culture, I soon learned, is to cause “personal ruin”. They aren’t all trolls, though. Some of those who seek to stop and/or ruin you are misguided/misinformed but well-intended. They actually believe in a cause, and they believe you (or rather the Koolaid you’re serving) threatens that cause.
I am angry at the injustice being suffered by this woman and by others like her. Read it all. It’s words we need to hear. We are failing, and failing badly.
But I think the writer got one thing wrong. She believes that this behavior is motivated by some kind of jealousy over how much attention women get online, and believes that the goal is to silence women. I don’t think that’s it at all. Oh this might be true for some of the trolls, but those guys are a mere nuisance, and their behavior cannot account for the kind of abuse inflicted on Kathy Sierra and others like her. The real problem here is a much smaller group of “trolls” whose goal is to get away with the virtual, online equivalent of rape. These are not geeks defending some kind of boys-only turf. These are perverts acting out rape fantasies with real victims and real harm. Women who make significant contributions are targets, not because the trolls resent the attention they get, but because the online rapist gets a bigger kick out of attacking an influential and well-known woman than attacking a more anonymous female. The goal is not to defend anything. It’s to attack and destroy the woman. For “kicks.”
Go back and re-read Kathy’s account. Compare it to what happens during and after a rape. The rapist’s goal is not just to get off—he could do that with a box of tissues and some lube. But that’s not what he’s after. His goal is to get off on humiliating and demeaning some significant woman, hurting her wherever she is the most sensitive. Read the account again. What’s the goal of the “trolls”? Humiliation. Harassment. Stalking. Terrorizing. Even after she went offline.
These are rape fantasies, brought to life and acted out online. This is everything about rape that makes it evil, except the physical penetration. It is a sexually-motivated attack on a woman, intended to inflict suffering and degradation for the gratification of the perpetrator. The attacks themselves may not be overtly physical (although even that’s not guaranteed), but the motivation, the intent, and a large part of the consequences, are those of sexual assault. This is not just sexism, and it’s not just trite make-me-a-sandwich male privilege asserting itself. This is hurting and degrading women purely for the sexual pleasure of hurting and degrading women.
That’s why none of the standard anti-troll tactics are effective against it—not ignoring the trolls, not going silent, not trying to defend yourself or to answer all the accusations against you. You don’t defend yourself against rape by ignoring the rapist or by shutting up or by denying the degrading things he says and does. The only thing that works is to outlaw the assault, apprehend the perpetrators, and them to justice, cutting them off from being able to engage in further assaults.
And that’s what we need to do. We need to do this now. Online sexual assaults are malignant and devastatingly harmful, both to the women who suffer these attacks (through no fault of their own!) and, to a much lesser extent, to those of us who are being deprived of the contributions these women could be making if it were safe. Tolerance of these assaults, and worse yet encouragement, is destructive and antisocial. The perpetrators of online “virtual rape” are dangerous perverts, and we need to treat them as such, and restore justice to their victims. The legislature needs to pass laws against it, and online services need to pro-actively work with law enforcement to identify and apprehend the perpetrators. And then they need to go to jail and put on no-Internet-allowed probation for a very long time.
This has been going on for far too long, and it needs to stop. Now.