Quick, before they escape

Another repetition of the hissy finger-pointy meme that (deep breath and then say along with me) FTbloggersareevilbullies.

I should have written this post a few months ago…I am ashamed that I didn’t write about this months ago. It is with more than a little apprehension that I say the following: I think there might be some truth to the seemingly outrageous claim that a few of the bloggers at FtB are acting like bullies.

To be clear, the majority of those writing for FtB have not been doing any detectible bullying. In fact, I am referring to a relatively small group of about 4 or 5 at most. Based on the comments I’ve seen here and on other atheist blogs, as well as the email I’ve received, I am fairly confident you know who they are. So while I am of the opinion that FtB and any other blog conglomerate is generally a bad idea, this is not an indictment of the entire FtB team.

No no, not at all…But then why say FtB at all? Why not just talk about the specific blogs instead? “FtB” doesn’t blog anything; specific blogs do. Talk to them, don’t talk to the umbrella.

Then there’s the lack of specifics. There are three links to posts – one each of PZ’s, mine, and Jason’s – but there are no quoted passages. There’s a lot of very stale, recycled-looking generalization, with no particulars at all. The generalization is so recycled that it’s even labeled as such in places –

From what I have seen for myself and heard from others, they quickly dismiss ideas different from their own…Phrases like “groupthink,” “hive mind,” and “echo chamber” have been used when describing these few FtB bloggers. There was talk of this well before Kirby…I have heard from many people who are questioning whether they can continue to support FtB as long as they promote the few bloggers to which I am referring.

People say, therefore it must be true, so I will say too, without troubling myself to give any particulars at all, even to illustrate what the hell I’m talking about, let alone actually demonstrating it. Buzz buzz buzz, whisper whisper whisper, ooooooh doncha just hate that FTB.

There is also the fact that at least some of that buzzbuzz is coming from a very small but very dedicated and very obsessed group who hate the mythic beast FTB out of all proportion to its actual evil or importance. They are having some success in creating an impression that Everybody Thinks FTB is terrible – so people like this Atheist Revolution feel “ashamed” that they didn’t get out ahead of the curve and talk smack about FTB “months ago” – as if it were some urgent duty left undone as opposed to a stupid spiteful campaign of cyberstalking.

There’s one item I want to dispute directly.

Kirby deserved flak for the “feminzai” slur. Isn’t that one of Rush Limbaugh’s words? She should have known that this would color everything else she wrote, even though some of her points were valid. But I do think it should have been okay for her to raise the issue of bullying without being ripped to shreds over it. Based on the prolonged reaction to her letter, I’m not sure this was the case.

That’s stupid. She didn’t just “raise the issue of bullying” (and it’s debatable whether there really is an issue separate from the campaign to make it an issue); she called people a lot of very rude names including Nazi and Stasi in the process of claiming that they’re bullies. That’s why she got harsh responses. Since there is no rude-names-free version of Kirby’s discussion of “the issue of bullying,” it’s not possible to know how that version would have been received, and it certainly makes no sense to scold us for not addressing a version that doesn’t exist. The sneering epithets are interwoven into the “Oppressed Sisterhood” article, and that’s the article I and others criticized.

I could always just get a T shirt made up…


  1. says

    I’d still love to know what these people think bullying is. Apparently it’s the mere act of disagreeing, in which case, they’re bullying the living daylights out of us.

  2. julian says

    Speaking of getting T-shirts done….

    Would one that read ‘Dudebros Beware’ with ‘Approved Male Chorus’ on the back be to tacky?

  3. anthrosciguy says

    The irony is that they are using the tactics of pseudoscience, which across many forms often uses the same set of tactics. Chief among them are (no, they’re not the Spanish Inquisition) the idea that there is a right to be read/listened to, and that not reading/listening, or reading/listening and then disagreeing, are wrong. This “wrongness” is then usually characterized as either bullying or censorship.

  4. anthrosciguy says

    julian’s post makes me think that “Approved Male Chorus” would be great name for a vocal group.

  5. Will says

    I would like to be the first to wish Ms. Kirby a speedy recovery from being “ripped to shreds”. Is there somewhere I can contribute to defray the cost of a long hospital stay and rehabilitation?

    I recently spent 4 days in the hospital, and the bill was $57,000, and that was just for 6 broken ribs and a broken clavicle (motorcycle accident). I have no idea what the time or cost will be for de-shredding a person.

  6. A Hermit says

    I was a member of the male chorus in High School; and the chamber choir and I took Art Class.

    I did not play football or hockey.

    I know what bullying looks like. If you FtB guys are trying to be bullies I can tell you from long experience you aren’t very good at it.

    Some of your critics on the other hand have a familiar look…

  7. kagekiri says

    @10 A Hermit:
    That sucks!

    I was lucky to go to a high school where singing was considered relatively cool (it had a tradition of having good choirs, as it used to compete internationally). We had quite a few class and school presidents/officers in our top choirs, along with football players, cheerleaders, and so on, so it’d be weird to bully someone for singing in them.

    Er, more on topic, that “some of her points were valid” bit is pretty questionable, and needs some major citations.

    Really, the closest thing to reasonable I’ve seen from the “other side” is that we don’t need anti-harassment guidelines, because actual laws on harassment should be good enough.

    Even that still seems like a stupid thing to argue about: plenty of groups institute more specific guidelines that aren’t strictly about illegality, and just make people more aware and stay much FARTHER from the line of legally defined sexual assault or harassment, which is hardly a massive imposition. It also contradicts the whole “anti-harassment laws will hurt awkward people!” bit others on that side try to pull, because guidelines will help awkward/ignorant people know where the lines are and less likely to be kicked out or be horribly embarrassed.

  8. fastlane says

    They’re so afraid of your bullying that they won’t actually name names and point to specifics.

    Now…why does that sound familiar?

    How do people that write blogs like that manage to be so totally un-selfaware?

  9. A Hermit says


    Actually we had a great choir program, but in a small Canadian prairie town if you didn’t play hockey…well you know what that makes you…

    Things got better after I finally had enough and blackened some puckhead’s eye…standing up to the bullies really is a good thing. And that’s what I see happening around here.

    Back OT; it’s interesting to read the comments at that AR link; some of them sound exactly like the kind of thing all the “concerned about #FtBbullies” types keep complaining about. Guess it’s only bullying when someone they disagree with does it…

  10. says

    Any one else reminded of Phil Plait’s don’t be a dick talk. By not giving any examples etc you pretty much defang your entire argument because if there was anyone in particular acting bad etc no one who’s you’re talking to them and no one knows what particular behavior you find objectionable. You end up with a very weak argument that no one can really act on in any way shape or form.

    The only bit of possible clarification comes from the comments where the poster says.

    “Your request to provide specific examples is perfectly reasonable, and it is one I struggled with in writing the post. I considered inserting a bunch of links and quotes. My concern was that this is exactly what happens so often on FtB and makes people feel unsafe. In the end, I decided that calling out specific bloggers in this manner would be counterproductive and lend credence to accusations that I am the one doing the bullying.”

    Which might be read as what FtB does that is bullying is comment on specific arguments people have made and point them out. Or possibly that people on FtB are made to feel unsafe by having their arguments quoted and pointed out. Neither option do I find particularly compelling.

  11. smhll says

    From what I have seen for myself and heard from others, they quickly dismiss ideas different from their own

    This was the sentence that leaped out at me for seeming reasonable while being kind of wacky.

    People on the internet disagree! News at Eleven! Someone disagreed persistently, when someone else wanted to WIN. Oh, no. How sad.

    This one particular article was fairly calm sounding. Unlike Paula Kirby’s legendary long post, this author stayed away from using “loaded” adjectives. (It was restful!)

    I don’t think I’ve seen bullying in the blog posts here at FtB, and I read most all of the threads about feminist issues. I have seen commenters open up a can of whup-ass in the comments.

    While I often favor a mild tone personally, I think tone-trolling is toxic and stifling, and I think if women are quiet it’s likely that no one will listen to us. Also, being told that we can’t ever call any behavior sexist or any post “trolling” really ties at least one hand behind our backs.

    It’s infuriating to hear “ignore those threats of violence from trolls” AND “behave with decorum” on the same fucking internet on the same fucking day.

  12. callistacat says


    “The irony is that they are using the tactics of pseudoscience, which across many forms often uses the same set of tactics.”

    There’s a blogger named Cosmic Connie who does great take-downs of the New Age movement. She gets this all the time from people who are obviously fans of the Guru/New Age author she is skewing. She gets accused of censorship, is asked why is she blogging about this when there are kids starving in Africa, this guru helps people…what have YOU done lately, etc. I once tried to reason with one person in particular who is a regular troll, saying Connie isn’t the government, how is it that when she disagrees with you on her blog a case of “censorship”, especially when you’re still posting here?

    They have no argument so they twist the conversation into them being martyrs for “free speech” or they play the victim (which is why I find the “bullying” accusation alongside the “stop playing the victim card, ladies!” hilarious).

    Notice how they don’t bring up anything specific that they would count as bullying. It’s all pretty vague.

  13. callistacat says

    “From what I have seen for myself and heard from others, they quickly dismiss ideas different from their own.”

    “Protip: when someone replies after you say something, that’s not ‘censorship.’ That’s speech.” (tweet from @DanaDanger)

  14. Sili says

    I find it harder and harder to read those tweets.

    At first I agree with them, and then I realise that they’re using #FTBullies, not mentioning them. That is, I first think they’re complaining about the meta-discussion by referring by addressing “#FTBullies” the hashtag, but it turns out that they think they’re seriously dealing with people designated FTBullies.

    I hate modern media …

  15. says

    Ohh, I didn’t get that before.

    I considered inserting a bunch of links and quotes. My concern was that this is exactly what happens so often on FtB and makes people feel unsafe.

    I didn’t realize that meant that quoting what someone else says and then explaining why you disagree (or agree) with it was being called something that “makes people feel unsafe.” How incredibly dopy.

    Think of Chris Hedges for instance. How could one possibly do justice to Chris Hedges without quoting him? Or Terry Eagleton. Or Karen Armstrong. Or Madeleine Bunting. Or Brendan O’Neill. Or the pope. Or Sayeeda Warsi. Or Tony Blair. The list is endless.

  16. Tony aka The Psychic Octopus [safe and welcome at FtB] says

    I want a web banner that reads, “I feel safe and welcome at FTB.”


  17. Tony aka The Psychic Octopus [safe and welcome at FtB] says

    Hell, maybe we should get a shirt made:
    I Feel Safe & Welcome @ ButterfliesandWheels

  18. mandrellian says

    AtheistRev slipped off my radar a long time ago – this little bandwagon jump/petulant-yet-vague attention-grab doesn’t make me want to rekindle the relationship.

    I think the fact that I can’t remember why I stopped visiting actually has something to do with why I stopped: nothing to draw my attention one or way or another. Short posts with little detail doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad writer; I guess I just didn’t find ARev’s style engaging or the content relevant after a while. Again, this anti-FTB “groupthink” (:)) sure doesn’t inspire a return visit.

    BTW I’ve noticed Jean Kazez has recently waded into the fray too. Yawn!

  19. says

    Atheist Rev has never been on my radar, and it will continue to not be.

    Yes, Kazez has just been throwing a bunch of shit at me on Twitter, along with dodging all my questions about her bizarro assertions. Total moral high ground but completely shameless about smearing “FTB” when she means a few specific blogs. [eye roll]

  20. mandrellian says

    SOP from JK then. Sigh.

    Hypo: if we (or anyone) had a time machine, is there anything anyone from any could possibly have done to avoid this shitstorm?

    Is there anything in the chain of causality from (or before) DJ’s initial response to you, Ophelia, to this whole, ridiculous “bullies” meme that, if removed or altered, could have made all of this crap simply never happen?

  21. F says

    Jasper of Maine

    I’d still love to know what these people think bullying is.

    Responding to bullies, apparently, is bullying. Not taking shit from assholes=bullying. Making reasonable suggestions=bullying.

  22. Smhlle says

    Women’s voices are often drowned out on the internet. I think most of us have heard the stat that a poster with a female name will receive 25x more flak than one with a male name.

    I think many people on the net find it commonplace to see someone, likely a woman, get shouted down for making a criticism of sexist language. I think at FtB there is enough of a critical mass of feminists that there are enough people to shout back as an alternative to shutting up or running away. I find this a refreshing change, but for people on the “other side” it may feel that the natural order of things has been upset.

  23. says

    mandrellian, I keep asking that – and no one has yet given me an answer. What exactly was I supposed to do after DJ accused me and other women of All That?

    Ignoring it wasn’t tenable, because I didn’t know what to do about TAM; I didn’t know if I was still welcome (it frankly looked very much the other way) and I had no idea what I was supposed to talk about.

    Without that it would have been possible in a practical way to ignore it, but politically and in terms of loyalty to friends, to the conference I’d just attended and the people who organized it – it wouldn’t.

    I could have been super-“nice” about it I suppose, but then I don’t know what I could have said.

    Well that’s just what I could or couldn’t have done; it doesn’t answer the overall question.

  24. 'Tis Himself says

    F #25

    Responding to bullies, apparently, is bullying. Not taking shit from assholes=bullying. Making reasonable suggestions=bullying.

    Another meme I’ve noticed is “you’re disagreeing with me, that’s censorship!” Apparently it’s free speech when they write something but a rebuttal is stifling their free speech.

  25. mandrellian says

    Ophelia, for what it’s worth I think you responded “nicely” enough – perhaps as nice as was warranted at any rate.

    I think it might have been one of those situations where any response, however “nice”, that nonetheless objected to DJ’s attitude or rejected his position would have been construed as harpyish contrarianism. The demonisation of everyone else who then voiced their own objections might well have snowballed just as it has. Some people simply don’t like being “No, that’s not right/acceptable/accurate,” no matter how much it’s sugar-coated. I know lots of creationists like that …

    Overall, yes, who the hell knows what could have prevented this foolishness. I guess what everyone does now is the pertinent question. Usually during a web flamewar I’d say “ignore the bollocks until it goes away” but some things demand responses, plus it’s not really winding down yet (full disclosure: I’m not ignoring it myself anyway, having fun ridiculing “that” hashtag). Kirby’s posting her google-whinge URL every couple of days, Kazez and Stangroom are in full-swing, more are jumping on the wagon, usually late and poorly-informed, smelling blood in the water (smells like groupthink to me!).

    Perhaps Team anti-FTB will all lose interest eventually, once they realise noone’s actually censoring them or bullying them, and that noone wants to take away anyone’s right to hug their friends in public without signing forms in triplicate.

    Schyeah, right.

  26. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Another meme I’ve noticed is “you’re disagreeing with me, that’s censorship!”

    To be fair, it’s more like “You refused to provide a platform for me, that’s censorship!”. Fortunately, a glimpse at widely known “free speech zone” ERV is a convincing argument in favor of quality control.

  27. mandrellian says


    Speaking of memes, I’d like to make one out of “free speech does not mean consequence-free speech”.

  28. julian says

    Speaking of memes, I’d like to make one out of “free speech does not mean consequence-free speech”.

    Of course it does. The free in free speech means free from repercussions, right? Right?

    Yeah, no. However legitimate a fear that may be when discussing politics or the behavior of a CEO, it doesn’t extend very far past those circumstances. People are free (they too have a right to free speech) to criticize and rebuke you for what you say.

  29. Forbidden Snowflake says

    mandrellian: there was a local one – “It’s FreeTHOUGHT blogs, not FreePASS blogs”.

  30. avh1 says

    I simply don’t understand this – you can’t quote people you disagree with? That’s a very silly idea – what would you have to talk about? Surely all you could do would be to make a few ad-hom’s and say how bad and wrooong they were. This also smells a lot like hypocrisy, given that I’m pretty sure if you wrote a blog entry about someone the same folks who thinks it’s a gross imposition to quote someone and disagree with them would be screaming that you hadn’t provided links or quotes and that this would be an outrageous smear job.

    I’d also second the idea of ‘I feel safe at Freethought Blogs’ and free speech not being consequence-free.

  31. Hamilton Jacobi says

    I’m not so keen on the phrase “free speech does not mean consequence-free speech”. It could all too easily be used to justify fatwas against Salman Rushdie, for example. And free speech certainly does mean freedom from consequences imposed by the government (apart from carefully limited exceptions in cases of slander, for example), as well as freedom from having one’s house fire-bombed by the KKK, freedom from being evicted from one’s apartment, etc.

    In fact, there are a great many consequences that freedom of speech should reasonably be interpreted as forbidding. The main consequences not forbidden are counter-speech and shunning. Being fired from one’s job seems to occupy a grey area, because your freedom of speech may conflict with your boss’s right to earn a living.

    I like “free speech does not mean criticism-free speech” better.

  32. Ruth says

    The valid part of Paula’s essay was the section where she quoted an entire piece that she had written herself a year or two ago, when the whole sexism in the atheist/sceptic movement was first raised. It’s an account of her own experience as a conference organiser, trying to increase the proportion of women speakers at those conferences.

    It’s good as far as it goes, the problem is that it doesn’t go far enough. It deserves a response, and I haven’t seen anyone so far respond to it. However, since Paula buries it in an eleven page google-doc, after several pages of calling us all Nazis and Stasis, I don’t think she should be terribly suprised when people either don’t even read that far, or have lost all patience with her by the time they do. (I’m sorry Paula, but going on at great length about how someone totally is JUST like X actually IS calling them X, however much you try to deny that that’s what you’re doing. See the classic ‘I’m not a racist but (racist comment)’.)

    She found that even when approached, women were much more reluctant to speak than men. I think she is still somewhat resentful of this. She feels that she tried her best to improve the situation and her efforts were frustrated by the women themselves.

    The problem is that she draws an essentialist explanation from this. Women are reluctant to give talks because that’s just how women are, their essential nature. It doesn’t occur to her to look for external explanations. It doesn’t occur to her to ask how women who speak at talks, or on blogs, are responded to, and whether that might be different from the way men are responded to. Whether, in fact, the reason behind those women’s reluctance could be the good old-fashioned sexism that she insists doesn’t exist.

    It’s like the research on income disparity, that attributed it to the fact that women don’t ask for more money. Then it occurred to someone to research how people respond to women who ask for more money, and, lo and behold, they don’t ask because not only are they much less likely than men to get what they ask for, but they get negative push-back in other ways.

    It also doesn’t help that we have no way of responding to Paula other than, effectively, talking about her behind her back, as she doesn’t have a blog herself.

  33. mandrellian says

    I like “free speech does not mean criticism-free speech” better.

    I think I agree!

  34. mandrellian says

    It also doesn’t help that we have no way of responding to Paula other than, effectively, talking about her behind her back, as she doesn’t have a blog herself.

    Paula herself doesn’t seem to want an effective way to respond, aside from repeated plugs of her google doc on twitter. This approach seems frankly half-arsed for someone so obviously invested in the argument.

  35. says

    Ruth – the funny thing is, Paula and I talked about that in person when we met at QED. It was interesting, and certainly not antagonistic. (At least not on my side. I now realize she was simply concealing her hostility, but I really did like her. But then she’s a lot more likable and attractive than I am, so no wonder!) I remember that she cited a survey in which people named public speaking as their number one fear – not women, but people. I think we were talking about the fear itself, in general, in relation to her experience of the difficulty of getting women to do it. It was amicable.

  36. monkeymind says

    The post you linked to on Atheist Revolution now has an odious little troll straight-up bullying a female commenter. His inarticulate spittle-flecked insults implying that she’s a slut and therefore can’t comment on sexual harassment have received considerably more “CommentLuv” than her articulate and calm responses. Never heard of this blogger before now, but I’m not getting a good impression.

  37. says

    I considered inserting a bunch of links and quotes. My concern was that this is exactly what happens so often on FtB and makes people feel unsafe.

    I’m not sure I have ever seen such passive-aggression on the internet, and I live in Sweden, the land of the passive-aggressive response to conflict. I am gobsmacked.

  38. rrede says

    Quoting and linking to public posts on the internet=BULLYING!


    That’s hilarious.

    I hang out at Manboobz quite often (post under Ithiliana there), and that’s what the MRAs complain about all the time: that David has the temerity to quote their own words (and link back to the original post)!

    Instead of, you know, summarizing in an incredibly biassed way and failing to provide links or context, and assuming everyone will believe what you claim.

  39. says

    I like Vjack (the Atheist Revolution blogger), and I’ve been really disappointed to see him on the wrong side of this fight–or at least trying to straddle the fence.

    Michaeld @14:

    Any one else reminded of Phil Plait’s don’t be a dick talk.

    Absolutely. The fallout is occurring along exactly the same lines, too. A prominent skeptic speaker (more “skeptic” than “atheist” of course) makes a bunch of vague accusations without naming names or citing quotations. The vagueness and lack of supporting evidence makes it easy to exaggerate the claims (‘making people think TAM is unsafe’ = ‘somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard?’). When called on the exaggerations, the speaker can point to a couple of specifics that don’t actually fit the claims. Meanwhile, the skeptic’s supporters wield the accusations like a cudgel against anyone they think it fits (the “dicks”/the “controversialist bloggers”). When people argue the point, these critics immediately seize the high ground of being “nice,” which doesn’t mean “arguing in good faith and treating the opponent like a real person with a point worth considering” but means “not using curse words and veiling your insults.” They fight with passive-aggression and faux moral indignation, and either do not recognize or are willfully blind to the existence of subtext. They accuse their opponents of being exclusively responsible for dividing the movement, accuse them of muddying the waters of pure skepticism with unrelated topics, and, of course, they don’t find anything wrong with gendered insults.

    Yeah, there are definite parallels.

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