Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters

Stephanie discusses the “advice” Justin Vacula gives on how to deal with being harassed. I put “advice” in scare quotes because it’s not really advice in the ordinary understanding of the word; it’s more of a bullies’ formula than advice. “I’ll stop harassing you if you stop doing all the things that motivate me to harass you” is about the size of it.

Then Justin Vacula showed up, still trying to peddle the idea that the harassment is just the little price that some of us have to pay in order to have an opinion. Novella pointed out that he was both minimizing and mischaracterizing the situation. So Vacula (in a comment that included a couple of quotes for which he both seems to be the source and is demanding citations) tried again.

Here are some tips, anyway, for Rebecca and anyone who faces criticism/hate to reduce the criticism/hate:

Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.

Avoid commenting on websites of your ideological opponents.

Refrain from attacking individuals; stick to criticism of ideas rather than persons.

Consider how people might respond to what you write. Can something be reframed so as to not lead to undesirable criticism?

Avoid sharing content when experiencing heightened emotions (great anger, disgust, stress, etc)

Consider sharing something with friends before it becomes public. A second (or third) set of eyes might suggest helpful edits which would avoid negative feedback.

You see what sweeping advice that is. Don’t indirectly engage with dissenters – so, don’t say anything that might get “dissenters” (by which he means harassers) riled up…

But wait a minute. Wait a minute. Everything gets the “dissenters” i.e. harassers riled up. Literally everything. There are a few core harassers – I hope it’s a few but in truth I don’t know how many it is, and it’s probably more than a few – who monitor every single thing I say in public online, in order to post it at the mildew pit and tweet about it and discuss it on blogs and Facebook. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s just that I say it. It’s typed by Pruney (as they call me) so it has to be reposted for jeering and smearing and lying.

So the only way to follow that first item of advice is to stop writing. Period.

And all the rest is just more of the same. Stop writing, stop talking.

And then what? The “dissenters” and “ideological opponents” will stop slandering us? No. No, nothing is said about that, naturally. No, it’s all a matter of “you shut up and then see what happens.”

Stephanie does a brilliant job of asking “how was I/Ophelia/Melody/EEB/Amy/Jen supposed to expect that” saying or doing this one small thing would lead to such ridiculously excessive reactions.

  • How was Melody to know that choosing when and where to deal with “critics” on Twitter would lead to Vacula making a YouTube video calling her a “professional victim”? Is there a way to reframe limiting your exposure to constant negativity that can’t have the nonsense label du jour slapped on it?
  • How were the Skepchicks to know that offering a workshop at CSICon would lead to Vacula saying they produce “everyday nonsense” on the conference hashtag? Is there a way to reframe teaching skepticism that keeps people from using hashtags for their own purposes, whatever they may be?
  • How was EEB to know that leaving a comment on Ophelia’s blog would lead to Vacula doing a “dramatic reading” of that comment on YouTube then posting it at the slime pit? Is there a way to reframe being tired and upset that would keep him from giggling through her distress?

How indeed. We don’t know, we can’t know. We know there will be bullshit of some kind, usually several variants of it by several different people in several media, but we can’t know exactly what kind of bullshit it will be, and we are often surprised. I was surprised by Vacula’s malicious sniggering delight at EEB’s comment. I’m often surprised at the ways people are willing to expose themselves.


  1. screechymonkey says

    On a somewhat related note: I came across this comment on The Stranger’s blog complaining that “my @PontifexFalsum Twitter was SUSPENDED for impersonating the (real) pope.”

    If that’s the case, it’s quite the double standard for Twitter, isn’t it? The fake Ophelias aren’t all “obvious” fakes or parodies, at least not at first glance: a week or two ago, I saw one of them interacting with Amanda Marcotte, and it wasn’t until I looked closely that I saw it was an imposter.

  2. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Reading Vacula’s “suggestions” it’s almost like there’s a well- adjusted person buried within that is trying to tell him something but the lines keep getting crossed.

  3. says

    @screechymonkey, Twitter are useless – I complained about a d0x’er who has put peoples home addresses up on their timeline with not-so-veiled threats. Got a reply back saying the information is accessible from a Google search so they won’t close it down! Well duh, but it was not easy to link anonymous identities with home addresses until this git started posting the details –> which is also more than a little bit of a threat.

    All the imposter accounts are blocked as the nastiest level on the block bot… So anyone signing up gets them removed from their timeline. Little easier to spot as well when they are blocked.

  4. eric says

    Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.

    As you say, that one has heckler’s veto written all over it. Certainly going to and speaking at conferences is a type of engagement. I doubt Vacula meant to imply that A+ers should stop going to skeptial conferences altogether, but that’s what his suggestion sounds like.

    And why shouldn’t folks engage in the first place? Very few people say “do not engage with” racism – they say you absolutely do engage it when you see it. You call it out. That’s one of the more effective ways of reducing it – you shine light on it. Why should we treat sexism any different? And note this has nothing to do with free speech. One can absolutely support the free speech of racists to make racist comments while still thinking that the best response is to call them out on their BS. Same goes here. Engaging with folks who defend a free speech right to sexist talk does not mean you are attacking their legal right to make it. It means you are calling it for what it is – shining a light on it.

  5. UnknownEric is just a spudboy, looking for a quantum tomato. says

    If you look up “not getting it” in the latest Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, I think you’ll find no words, just a gigantic picture of Justin Vacula.

    And then you can find Reap Paden under “what is this I don’t even…”

  6. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Ok, so if you don’t want Vacula to engage with you, either directly or indirectly, the trick is to dissent. Hey, that’s easy! 😀

  7. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    IOW, shut up and sit down, bitches, or you’re FORCING Vacula to harrass you. Good gawd he’s one useless turd.

  8. doubtthat says

    How can one avoid indirectly engaging with harassers?

    “Hey, I read your blog post, and there were some good ideas there, but I don’t think a rational analysis of economics leads to Austrianism. Here’s why.”
    “Hey, are a you a woman?”
    ***Four years of e-mails, tweets, and photoshops calling her a whore.***

    Though still problematic, if he had said, “Don’t intentionally engage with harassers either directly or through third parties,” it would be very poor advice, but at least possible.

  9. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    “I’m going to swing my fist, but if your face happens to be in its way, that’s your fault.”

  10. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    Don’t hang around in dark alleys in miniskirts. That’s what it all sounds like.

  11. Sercee says

    F, It sounds to me kinda like “Don’t hang around anywhere. Ever. Especially if you have an opinion.”

  12. athyco says

    WiS2 attendee, approached by Justin Vacula: “I’m sorry, but I do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.”

    But, Justin Vacula supports Lee Moore’s peace process, and Lee Moore says you can identify “the crazy people in our movement” because they are the ones “who want to try to make us some kind of fringe movement, who do not want to have rational and civil discourse with the rest of us*….”

    Catch-22 wasn’t an instruction manual, Justin & Lee.

    *from ReapSowRadio, Episode 47

  13. Stacy says

    Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.

    But how dare you monitor your blog and block certain people! You anti-freeze peach Hitler you!

  14. says

    it’s always “don’t talk about how the status quo might be a problem, supporters might not like it”, isn’t it. whether it’s Vacula going on about this, or Steve Novella accusing PZ of wanting to “purge” the skeptical movement.

    don’t say that the status quo is a problem. don’t say that it’s a problem to tolerate people who support a problematic status quo. they might not like it. they might get mad. they might throw a tantrum and leave and then WE WILL BE DOOMED AND THE SKEPTICAL MOVEMENT WILL DIE

    oh but it’s ok to do that to the people against the status quo. they don’t matter. they’re just irresponsible radicals kicking up a fuss. no great loss, not as long as we can keep talking about how religion is evil and anti-vaxers are stupid. just don’t dent the precious ivory tower, it is the pinnacle of our achievements.

  15. says

    …also, I don’t really care about what Novella is doing here. he lost my respect when he accused PZ of wanting to purge the skeptical movement of political dissent, ignoring the horrible real consequences of the ideology being “purged” and the red-baiting implications of the term “purge” when applied in this context. he needs to learn that, and then apologize for being a kyriarchy-supporting “centrist” asshole =/

  16. Stacy says

    WiS2 attendee, approached by Justin Vacula: “I’m sorry, but I do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.


    Ooh! We need cards with Vacula quotes that one can hand to him if approached by him at WiS2.

    There you go. Or, everybody who’s approached by him, just whip out your smartphone and tape JV’s expression as you say:

    I’m sorry, but I do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.

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