Classmates were reveling in her humiliation

Al Jazeera America reports on online harassment and revenge porn. It’s a revolting read.

Lena Chen, as a freshman at Harvard, started a blog called Sex and the Ivy, where she wrote about her hookups, self-medication with alcohol, recovery from an eating disorder and crushing desire to be liked. All standard stuff for a college student. But then an ex-boyfriend posted naked pictures of her on the Internet.

For some, this was righteous comeuppance for the campus harlot. For others it was just great gossip. Classmates and other titillated parties reposted the images around the Web, and comment threads exploded with colorful debate.

You know the kind of thing. Ugly, whore, disgusting, blah.

Chen wasn’t so shaken by the original sin; the ex-boyfriend was a troubled person, she said. But she was horrified that classmates were reveling in her humiliation. “It was much more dismaying to me that people behaved in the way he wanted,” she said.

Quite. It is dismaying to discover how many people there are who revel in watching and participating in the energetic harassment of total strangers. One starts to think the percentage of psychopaths in the population is upwards of twenty percent or so.

A few months after the photos were posted, the now-defunct online forum JuicyCampus “outed” Chen’s new boyfriend, a Harvard Ph.D. student and her former teaching assistant, Patrick Hamm. For weeks, there were multiple posts a day about how Hamm had supposedly taken advantage of Chen while she was still his student. In some versions, he outright raped her. This blew up into entire blogs dedicated to “exposing” the scandal, which the anonymous harasser, or harassers, then emailed to Harvard deans and professors in Hamm’s department.

The spelling mistakes and gross language were giveaways that this person likely wasn’t an upstanding, whistle-blowing citizen. But if the goal was to make Hamm desperately uncomfortable around everyone he worked with, it was a thumping success.

All for the lolz.

When it comes to being a target of anonymous Internet hate, Chen has some eminent company. Kathy Sierra, a successful Web developer and author, once ran a tech website about software designed to make people happy, called Creating Passionate Users. In 2007, her comment section was overwhelmed with abuse, such as, “fuck off you boring slut … i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” Someone posted her photo with a noose around her neck and a muzzle over her mouth. Her Social Security number was leaked.

“I have cancelled all my speaking engagements,” Sierra wrote on her blog. “I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.”

Another popular blogger, Anita Sarkeesian, started a Kickstarter campaign last year to make a video about the representation of women in video games. On top of the torrent of rape and death threats, someone went to the trouble of making an online game, “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian,” in which players could bloody her face.

Earlier this year, Emily May, the co-founder of HollaBack!, a nonprofit dedicated to ending street harassment, told Ms. magazine about all the rape threats and comments she’d received, like how no one would bother raping her because she’s fat and ugly.

“Once, after reading all these posts, I just sat in my living room and bawled like a 12-year-old,” she said.

Jennifer Pozner, director of Women in Media & News, a group that advocates for women’s presence in the media, says a man even once placed a letter at her real-life door saying he’d “find you and your mom and rape you both.” In female blogging circles, rape threats are now considered something of a “rite of passage.”

And on and on it goes. All for the lolz.

There’s a lot more. It’s a lengthy detailed report. None of it is happy reading.


  1. Artor says

    For those who find themselves the subject of this kind of abuse: Please remember that these assholes don’t know you. You have zero reason to respect their opinion, and plenty of reasons to reject it out of hand. Yes, it’s ugly and hateful, but it’s about as relevant to you as if your couch started talking in curses and expletives. Weird and fucked up, but you can point and laugh and show your friends the bizarre foul-mouthed furniture, or kick it to the curb and be rid of it. Or, if you have the ability, track down it’s IP address and make it public. Couches have IP addresses, don’t they? Maybe my metaphor is breaking down.

  2. says

    Artor, your sentiment is noble, but as with all things, it’s not that simple.

    The internet is indeed part of real life. Don’t forget that some online threats include the target’s house, address, and/or other personal information. Look at what happened to Chen’s current boyfriend, and Chen herself.

    Threats are not less scary when they’re online. They are not “less real”. In some cases, they can be more terrifying than meatspace threats, depending on what’s involved.

    I get where you’re coming from, but it isn’t that simple and it will never be that simple.

  3. says

    Thank you Roland.

    Artor, they don’t know me, but they do know my writing. I of course don’t respect their opinion (because they can’t or won’t deliver it purged of bullying and abuse), but that doesn’t mean they can’t damage me. That’s explained in the linked article.

  4. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    I recommended on Tauriq’s page: if anyone visits the al-Jazeera site to view the article, please also flag David Davidson’s comment as inappropriate (you will need to hover your mouse over the comment.) It doesn’t require a sign-in and takes about 3 seconds.

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    Sorry to pipe in with the same note again
    Note that the victim’s drinking is “self-medication” while her food problems are NOT described as a “fitness regimen” or “dietary experimentation” or whatever.

    Is there a style manual for alcohol denial? And if so, who publishes it?

  6. says

    But alcohol often is used as self-medication, in a way that food is not. Food can’t directly help you relax or fall asleep or reduce your inhibitions the way alcohol can. Alcohol is straightforwardly a kind of drug, and most food isn’t.

  7. Robert B. says

    No one ever says “oh, she’s self-medicating, well that’s okay then.” “Self-medication” means something is seriously messed up and the person is not getting the help they need.


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