How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life
February 12, 2015 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I started to wonder about the recipients of our shamings, the real humans who were the virtual targets of these campaigns. So for the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized.
posted by stoneweaver (286 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is why I support things like right to be forgotten laws.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:57 AM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


Just read this, came over to see if it was here. Mefi never lets me down! It was funny how I recognized her name from the headline but couldn't place it. Even infamy is fleeting.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:58 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is one of the many problems i have with the current culture of "Oh you did a dumb thing now we will dig through everything you've ever done to destroy you, try and get you fired, and make sure you are forever branded A Bad Person. No forgiveness ever because we found A Bad Person that did A Bad Thing and you are labelled forever."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:00 AM on February 12, 2015 [63 favorites]


Wasn't the Justine Sacco story posted here when it broke? Can't seem to find the link.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:00 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Right-to-be-forgotten, months or years after an event, doesn't help if you're fired hours or days after some absurd controversy. I would support some kind of right-to-not-be-fired-for-being-controversial, although I'm not sure how the details would work.
posted by Rangi at 11:01 AM on February 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


Friendly advice. https://tweetdeck.twitter.com/ will allow you to queue your tweets. I set them for midnight at the next day.

This allows me to delete "hot button" tweets such as the one that I wrote, and then reconsidered today. I was going to post a link to Type O Negative's "Kill All the White People" (and then we will be friends) for a story about aa.

But speech is munitions ever since Bill Clinton's executive order regarding PGP, under arms control. (They printed the source code as a book to bypass the not-a-law, but 1st amendment and 2nd amendment stand in contradiction these days, every is rigged to blow up at your next press of a "hot button.")

Also tweets are being archived permanently by LOC and others before you can delete them.
posted by thoughtslut at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Years ago, before Facebook, Twitter, etc., I believe, I remember reading a bit of advice to the effect that when you write *anything* online you should assume that one day it will be read on air during the Super Bowl.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


I remember a sci-fi short story where the invention of instantaneous transporters led to overwhelming mobs of rubberneckers at the site of any news story, to the point where people were crushed to death in the crowd.

I guess I try to do my part by consciously disengaging with Twitter and refusing to rubberneck. Why should I care that Justine Sacco is apparently a horrible person and not very funny, unless I know her personally? I think we're in a very interesting period when it comes to etiquette of online communications, as I've talked about before specifically with Twitter. I hope we move towards the social fiction that some online stuff is "private" even when done in public, the way we handle many conversations IRL. But that will take buy-in from media companies that are really loathe to call anything done on their platforms "private."
posted by muddgirl at 11:06 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not a fan of this form of recreational outrage. It definitely often crosses over into bullying and mob justice. That said, if anybody deserves criticism for being offensive it's a PR person. She should have been aware how risky making comments like that was. Doesn't justify things like making threats against her of course.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Where do we draw the line? I don't see anyone sticking up for Jeb Bush's CTO (nor do I intend to, to be clear), for example. If you say something stupid online, what jobs are you still eligible for?
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the Justine Sacco story posted here when it broke? Can't seem to find the link.

I know the dongle one was. MetaFilter was not feeling very merciful that day.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


The article ends with the author talking about how much Justine Sacco does not want any further attention over this situation and then utterly failing to critically analyze whether him publishing a feature about her in the NY Times is in any way fair to her. Sure, he's been working on it for awhile, and it's nominally newsworthy, and she gets a pretty gentle treatment here, but if she was the victim in the first place as the article largely contends how is publishing this not revictimizing her?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:08 AM on February 12, 2015 [38 favorites]


Muddgirl: "The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club," by Larry Niven? I've also seen a reference suggesting that it was also called "Flash Crowd."
posted by Four Ds at 11:08 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I would love to see MetaFilter mods start aggressively deleting outrage twitterstorm posts.
posted by aspo at 11:09 AM on February 12, 2015 [36 favorites]


This is why I never say stupid things. (Except on Metafilter.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:09 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Where do we draw the line?

Well, that's the crux of the problem, isn't it? That, plus we all want justice for others, but mercy for ourselves.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


Good article. I wish Ronson had focused a bit more on the role that Gawker Media specifically has had in building this into a cultural phenomenon, though. He talked to Sam Biddle, but I think the extent to which Gawker built a whole business model around the social media viral shaming loop, and the imitators for fun and profit they've spawned, bears closer investigation. Not that the phenomenon wouldn't likely have emerged anyway; it's probably an emergent property of human social dynamics running through these communications technologies - but Gawker has done more than anybody to shape it in its current form and gleefully profit from it.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [30 favorites]


There's no such thing as bad PR.
posted by ryoshu at 11:12 AM on February 12, 2015


The illustrations on that article were excellent.
posted by resurrexit at 11:14 AM on February 12, 2015 [24 favorites]


“Of all the things I could have been in society’s collective consciousness, it never struck me that I’d end up a brutal nadir.”

This is such a wonderful sentence.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:14 AM on February 12, 2015 [46 favorites]


I agree that this is a shitty overreaction to a dumb joke. I also feel like it's a pretty concise lesson about how "ironic" racism, sexism, or other bigotry is indistinguishable from the real thing, especially online, and especially especially with people who don't know you personally. What's obviously outlandish in a conversation with your friends at the bar becomes much more believable when your audience is the entire world. I don't think she deserves to be pilloried--I just wish that kind of humor would fall out of fashion.
posted by almostmanda at 11:18 AM on February 12, 2015 [35 favorites]


It is amazing how we hold simple little citizens to the highest of moral standards.

Then let the Reagans and Bushes off with out so much as a second thought.
posted by notreally at 11:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [81 favorites]


Context is crucial, and no one seems to know how to parse a tweet's context

I went to a comedy club last Friday and one of the acts was a woman talking at length about the ways she had tried, unsuccessfully, to get social services to take her annoying kid off her. There were lots of short jokes which could easily have been tweets, and any one of them would be /far/ more offensive than the ones mentioned in this article. In a club it doesn't even register as offensive, just funny to some and flat to others.

These people think they're talking to a small(ish) number of friends and acquaintances. When you talk to friends sometimes you make errors of judgement, or show your true self from under the polite veneer. But twitter (etc) is searchable and shareable. And the mob loves a good lynching.

Follow just about anyone around for a week with a microphone, read all their emails, you'll find a reason for the world to hate them. Twitter is more public than that. For "celebs" it is totally public. For normal people it is assumed to be closed circle (but isn't). When I see some tweet or facebook post go viral I almost always feel sorry for the author, no matter how unsupportable the content they posted, because they've always lost the context of their post. And context would have been their defence, or at least mitigation.
posted by samworm at 11:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


Right-to-be-forgotten, months or years after an event, doesn't help if you're fired hours or days after some absurd controversy. I would support some kind of right-to-not-be-fired-for-being-controversial, although I'm not sure how the details would work.

That really was one of the original ideas behind free speech as embodied in our constitution. That was exactly the kind of purpose it was meant for, to protect people from having to be paranoid about what they say all the time and how it might effect them if they got careless and offended someone more powerful. We've lost the original purpose of the right, I think. It helped to foster creativity, because it gave people far more latitude to brainstorm and play around with controversial ideas than most common people had traditionally enjoyed. Now free speech has something to do with money I guess, and it's not so much about giving the commoners a little bit of psychic space to call their own. Our elites and the public at large are becoming too thin-skinned to stand for people saying things on their own time that they don't agree with.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


The article ends with the author talking about how much Justine Sacco does not want any further attention over this situation and then utterly failing to critically analyze whether him publishing a feature about her in the NY Times is in any way fair to her.

I don't know if I'm defending or condemning Ronson by saying I bet he does that bit in the book he's trailing. He's pretty aware that his oeuvre places him at risk of exploiting, rather than empowering, the marginalised, and I think he usually manages to stay the correct side of a very fine line. In the end, though, talking about the weird and difficult moments in the lives of vulnerable people is his job, and it definitely invites this sort of criticism.
posted by howfar at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


On one hand, it would be nice for women at tech conferences to not hear stupid dick jokes uninvited and for under-privileged folk to not have to read clueless jokes. I actually think that's pretty important, and things that get those making the jokes to consider before they speak or type is part of that.

On the other hand, I do wish "crowd shaming" or whatever you want to call it, was reserved for the vicious--people who make blatantly violent (whether racist, sexist or whatever) comments and threats--and not so much for those who make stupid jokes which are problematic but perhaps just not very well thought-through.

There is still a problem with the joke and the unexamined privilege that goes with it, but it shouldn't be something you lose your job over (unless, of course, your job is high profile and the expectation is you're "always on").

A personal example of the right way to approach this, perhaps: On my road trip last summer, I was riffing with the counter person at a motel when I made a stupid joke which, as my buddy later pointed out to me, came across as homophobic, which I'm not. He was right to call me out on it, and it made me realize that sometimes in pursuit of a laugh I can let my (ignorant) inner-13-year-old out with his stash of "dick jokes." I'm just glad I am not active on twitter, and my joke wasn't a tweet.
posted by maxwelton at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


Interesting. Sam Biddle, who largely broke the story in the first place, wrote about it just before last xmas in a uncharacteristically reflective blog post. He met her in person and talked to her a lot about the aftermath, and ends up apologizing for his part in derailing her career and comes away sounding a lot more cautious about his future work online (he also quit editing Valleywag around this time).
posted by mathowie at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


(Also, this is timely for me. I'd been planning to do a sort of ironic Twitter performance thing for a while as part of a larger campaign to promote a project my wife and I are doing. As part of the performance, I was going to pretend to be a terrible, terrible self-promoting idiot on Twitter/Facebook/etc.--like, really over the top stuff--both the kind of stuff actual pop celebrities do and the kind of stuff people at the bottom do for attention. But in less than a couple of weeks, it had already hopelessly confused and turned me and everyone else off. (Not to mention contributing to a couple of uncomfortable conflicts with old acquaintances from my childhood who didn't know me well enough anymore to have the remotest chance of understanding where I was coming from). So I'm dropping that little piece of the project. It's too hard to do anything interesting and spontaneous on the internet anymore, and that was only a small piece of the project as a whole, but it was still a little frustrating realizing just how much messier and more complicated this stuff is now than back in the 90s during our first attempts to hawk our wares on the web.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


While I have sympathy for some people in the article, I'm still fairly indifferent when a *PR* executive thinks it is a great and funny idea to post a public racist tweet and loses their job over it. Of course she's going to lose her job; she's bad at it. There seemed a lot of special pleading going on, especially "oh my god I can't date". I'm pretty sure there are plenty of folks on OKCupid who care not at all, especially if the person is attractive.
posted by tavella at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [19 favorites]


Yes, I think we can all agree that crowd shaming should be reserved for people that we don't like. And also that comments that are sexist are the same as comments that are "violent".
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 11:30 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I hope we move towards the social fiction that some online stuff is "private" even when done in public, the way we handle many conversations IRL.

I would like to believe that social norms will "fix themselves" in some way here too, but is there any good reason for it? What will make them change? The people who are expressing outrage don't usually wind up feeling bad about it afterward. (I mean, some do, like Sam Biddle, I guess, but I don't get the sense that most do.)

I kind of expect that twenty years from now there will still just be the same kind of sensational outrage mobs doing their thing.
posted by value of information at 11:31 AM on February 12, 2015


On the other hand, I do wish "crowd shaming" or whatever you want to call it, was reserved for the vicious--people who make blatantly violent (whether racist, sexist or whatever) comments and threats--and not so much for those who make stupid jokes which are problematic but perhaps just not very well thought-through.

The only consistent strategy is to basically never apply crowd shaming as a weapon to anyone. Nobody will ever agree on who is being "vicious" and who is not, and it only takes a tenth of a percent of people to feel strongly enough to raise a big destructive furor.
posted by value of information at 11:33 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


The only consistent strategy is to basically never apply crowd shaming as a weapon to anyone.

I wonder how you would do this.
posted by maxsparber at 11:37 AM on February 12, 2015


I kind of expect that twenty years from now there will still just be the same kind of sensational outrage mobs doing their thing.

It will never go away. The Times article talks about public shaming happening in centuries past. It's just too fun and satisfying for the people doing it, and too easy. It lets you unleash righteous fury on a "deserving" target with no repercussion for yourself.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


One lesson from this is that comedy is hard. It is often a balance between self-mocking and what seems like mocking others. If you are making comedy or satiric points about sensitive issues, it is easily to fall flat on your face. (Look at some of the reviews of Fight Club - some critics didn't get that it was satiric.)
Everyone likes to think they have a sense of humor, but you should hold back on the impulse to try comedy unless you are good at it.
I started a Twitter account this week. (I'm at that Newsweek stage of my life: five years behind the peak of any meaningful trend and I'm there.) We'll see if I have a job next week.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]




I'm still fairly indifferent when a *PR* executive thinks it is a great and funny idea to post a public racist tweet and loses their job over it. Of course she's going to lose her job; she's bad at it.

(A) Her job is posting to her private Twitter.
(B) Her job is never making an ill-judged remark in public.
(C) Her job is doing whatever it was her employers paid her for which neither of us have any information about.

Tick all that apply.
posted by howfar at 11:38 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


That really was one of the original ideas behind free speech as embodied in our constitution. That was exactly the kind of purpose it was meant for, to protect people from having to be paranoid about what they say all the time and how it might effect them if they got careless and offended someone more powerful. We've lost the original purpose of the right, I think. It helped to foster creativity, because it gave people far more latitude to brainstorm and play around with controversial ideas than most common people had traditionally enjoyed. Now free speech has something to do with money I guess, and it's not so much about giving the commoners a little bit of psychic space to call their own. Our elites and the public at large are becoming too thin-skinned to stand for people saying things on their own time that they don't agree with.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:19 PM on February 12 [+] [!]


What? No. Free speech literally means you cannot be jailed for speaking against the government. You can still be: fired, ostracized, mocked and argued with and told you are wrong by others perfectly legally and there are plenty of limitations on free speech. Also who cares what a bunch of men who could not even have conceived of a computer 300 years ago would have thought about this.
posted by edbles at 11:39 AM on February 12, 2015 [27 favorites]


I don't think it's a function of culture "fixing itself." I don't think it's inherently wrong to consider all speech to be public and fair game. It's not wrong to prioritize social politeness over individual freedom of speech, and to punish people for saying offensive things even unintentionally or in private. It's just not how Americans generally think about their speech.

I think that companies like Twitter can certainly take a long, hard look at what they are doing to promote this sort of behavior. Their platform is built to make popular tweets and hashtags more popular. That's pretty much guaranteed to lead to mob behavior - inside a mob, it looks like a bunch of individuals exercising their right to react to something they read.
posted by muddgirl at 11:41 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


It is amazing how we hold simple little citizens to the highest of moral standards.

Then let the Reagans and Bushes off with out so much as a second thought.


Well, it's not true that the statements of the Reagans, Bushes, Clintons, Obamas, etc. aren't treated with equal scrutiny or don't become the object of outrage. The difference is in the inability of that outrage to defeat a prominent person the same way they can a less empowered member of the public, whose job, relationships, and public image are not generally constructed with the ability to withstand the type of attention that politicians and celebrities get on a daily basis.

There is no shortage of similar reactions to statements by people in positions of power but the cases where that outrage translates to actual repercussions are fewer when they have the ballast of fame, public affection, and large amounts of money.
posted by camcgee at 11:43 AM on February 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


Biddle's apology to Sacco: Justine Sacco Is Good at Her Job, and How I Came To Peace With Her
posted by Going To Maine at 11:46 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only consistent strategy is to basically never apply crowd shaming as a weapon to anyone.

More to the point, I am hard pressed to name an instance where crowd shaming ended up advancing whatever cause the shamers were supporting. Somewhere along the way the goal of ending racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/etc. became equivalent to tearing down people who utter racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/etc. remarks (real or alleged), but they are not. Folks may be less inclined to say potentially offensive things online, but it does nothing to address the institutions in our lives that promote the marginalization of women, minorities, LGBT people, etc.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:47 AM on February 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


I hope we move towards the social fiction that some online stuff is "private" even when done in public, the way we handle many conversations IRL.

I've seen this argument before, and I really don't understand it. Why should that norm develop? If you want to have a conversation in private, have it in private. I can't really think of a time when I've seen or experienced this in real-life conversations either, but at least there's the argument that sometimes it is difficult or impossible for people to find completely private spaces in real life. On the internet, that's just not true at all.
posted by protocoach at 11:48 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree that this is a shitty overreaction to a dumb joke.

But there is a difference between telling stupid jokes to people who know you and you have broken in and complete strangers with whom you have no pre-established goodwill. Some people will take offence to jokes that are symbolic of the thousandth kick in the teeth they experienced and will be angry.

You are not always a hero to everyone. Sometimes you are the villain and you have to be able to stand up to what you said.

That said, I am not a fan of cyber-stoning. People get mad at someone's words but then turn around and do it to others not seeing it as being hurtful. I do not believe in name-calling or personal attacks. If you take issue with someone, call them out for their action and explain why you have issue with it.

It does not have to be cruel, and the world could use a little more sensitivity and sensibility all around...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


In this thread people who have trouble separating the idea of freedom of speech as a legal defence and the importance of a society that promotes freedom of speech as a moral value.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I can't really think of a time when I've seen or experienced this in real-life conversations either

You've never overheard someone making a racist or sexist joke in a restaurant or on public transportation?

There's no natural law that says that Twitter is like television, not like a crowded bus. That is a cultural determination.
posted by muddgirl at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


(By "someone" I meant "a stranger")
posted by muddgirl at 11:52 AM on February 12, 2015


Four Ds: "Muddgirl: "The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club," by Larry Niven? I've also seen a reference suggesting that it was also called "Flash Crowd.""

Those are two different stories, although they both explore the consequences of easy teleportation. Flash Crowd was from 1973, The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club is from 1974.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The trouble is that the situation is such that there is no middle ground between "la la whatever, say racist bullshit and face no consequences" and "you're fired, you will be shamed everywhere you go and anyone who googles you will see a whole internet's worth of ugly invective".

What's more, privilege will modulate all this stuff - someone who is rich, or who is white, or who is male (especially someone rich) will be able, eventually, to work their contacts and get a decent job again. Someone who is working class? Could face years of total unemployability with no resources to sustain them. And of course, a woman in tech who becomes a shame target...well, we all know how that plays out.

I mean, really, I didn't think that dongle-joke dude should have been fired - a stern talking-to from a manager would have been fine, but honestly, it was just a single stupid joke. The problem wasn't "one dude makes a stupid joke"; the problem was an entire tech culture of non-stop stupid jokes, and matters were not helped by the firing.

I mean, I don't think I'd want someone fired - personally - for a single misogynist or homophobic tweet, especially one that was more on the stupid end of the spectrum.

And double-honestly, I don't think I want people getting fired for things that don't have to do with their ability to do their jobs. If someone routinely tweets homophobic garbage, it seems like it would be legit to scrutinize his work behavior carefully for actual homophobic behavior at work. And absolutely, I think the platforms should bounce serial racist/homophobic/etc posters. But I think the world works better when those are separate issues, particularly when we're talking either about low-level dumb shit or one or two tweets, and particularly when we're talking about unpleasant words divorced from action.

Actual libel, stalking, creepshots, harassment, sending photos of racist stuff eg klan outfits, yes, that's starting to get into "plausible climate of fear" stuff and to my mind starts to spill over from the ignorable. But just dumb bullshit where it's a bit random whose tweets blow up - that seems like a bad idea.
posted by Frowner at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2015 [45 favorites]


In fact, they are all her job, howfar. When you are a PR executive, your job is to make your company look good. Which means you are paid a great deal of money to not say or do stupid shit that will embarrass them, including making *public* racist jokes, and unlocked tweets are certainly public; their entire point is for people you don't follow to see them. If you fail at this, you will lose your job.

Some minor schmuck who who loses their unrelated job because meant-to-be-private photos got leaked? Yeah, I've got sympathy for them. People who lose their job because they fuck it up? Not really.
posted by tavella at 11:59 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised at the disapproval in the thread for this sort of thing. MetaFilter has had its fair share of pile-ons.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:02 PM on February 12, 2015 [27 favorites]


You've never overheard someone making a racist or sexist joke in a restaurant or on public transportation?

There's no natural law that says that Twitter is like television, not like a crowded bus. That is a cultural determination.


I've heard that, and I've seen people take issue with them in those settings too. Admittedly, I haven't gone after those people, but that's more because of my own cowardice and existing in a state of comfortable privilege than because there's a cultural determination that those conversations are private and privileged. I can guarantee that if you start throwing around racist jokes on the El or a CTA bus, other passengers will not simply accept the idea that you're having a private conversation and ignore you.
posted by protocoach at 12:03 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm rather boggled, in fact, by the idea that if someone starts spewing racist and sexist stuff on a public bus that the people around them are morally obligated to stay silent.
posted by tavella at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


All machines are hate machines, in the end.
posted by aramaic at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think people would consider their tweets a lot more carefully if, above the tweet input box, it said REMEMBER, THIS IS A CONVERSATION WITH THE ENTIRE WORLD AND THERE IS A PERMANENT RECORD OF IT. There's a disconnect between that reality and the casual conversation that Twitter presents itself to be. As long as Twitter is steadfast in its insistence that it will not segment further than completely-public accounts and completely-private accounts (and nothing like G+ circles that might more accurately mimic real life groups) this disconnect is going to be there.
posted by almostmanda at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had a micro version of this happen recently, when a comment I made in a private facebook group was called out on a popular blog as an example of racism and privilege in my profession. I was really bewildered, and hurt. The worst thing is that addressing it would seem to make it worse. Listing all the things I do to foster diversity in my field would just make me look defensive at this point. If the blogger had just engaged with me personally we might have had a productive discussion, but instead it's out there, out of context. I have serious reservations about contributing to that facebook group in the future. It was a safe space, but it doesn't feel like that anymore.
posted by Biblio at 12:08 PM on February 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm rather boggled, in fact, by the idea that if someone starts spewing racist and sexist stuff on a public bus that the people around them are morally obligated to stay silent.

I didn't say that, so feel free to stop feeling boggled. I certainly don't expect that people around you will stay silent, but is it considered acceptable for bystanders to blog about it? To record it and send a link to all their friends? To start a hashtag campaign (perhaps #IsMuddgirlOnTheBusToday ?) To google your boss and send them a transcript?
posted by muddgirl at 12:10 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I'm surprised at the disapproval in the thread for this sort of thing. MetaFilter has had its fair share of pile-ons."

Very true. It's detestable behavior in the abstract and oh-so-easily justified in the specific.

It's also behavior that feels natural and just at the time and only in retrospect do we see where it leads. ("I didn't want that to happen!") And, to be fair, it's possible that the people reviling it here are not the same people who indulge in that behavior.

I had a micro version of this happen recently, when a comment I made in a private facebook group was called out on a popular blog as an example of racism and privilege in my profession. I was really bewildered, and hurt. The worst thing is that addressing it would seem to make it worse. Listing all the things I do to foster diversity in my field would just make me look defensive at this point. If the blogger had just engaged with me personally we might have had a productive discussion, but instead it's out there, out of context. I have serious reservations about contributing to that facebook group in the future. It was a safe space, but it doesn't feel like that anymore.

The blogger didn't reach out to you because it wasn't about you - it was about making a point. That you were humiliated and made to look terrible out of proportion, well, shit, that's the cost of doing Internet Business, isn't it? Can't fuel the Furnaces of Perpetual Outrage without fresh wood! It's not as though you're a real person, you're just a vague Internet Dickhead.

Remember, kids, THERE ARE NO "SAFE SPACES" ON THE INTERNET. THERE IS NO SPACE THAT CANNOT BE TURNED PUBLIC AND EXPLOITED WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT. Post accordingly.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:13 PM on February 12, 2015 [28 favorites]


Free speech literally means you cannot be jailed for speaking against the government. You can still be: fired, ostracized, mocked and argued with and told you are wrong by others perfectly legally and there are plenty of limitations on free speech.

I would argue that, if freedom of speech is defined as "You cannot be jailed for controversial speech but you won't be able to earn a living," it's not a very valuable freedom. Very few people in the McCarthy era, for example, were jailed for their beliefs, but up to 40% of workers were monitored by their employers for potential Communist sympathies. If we are serious about having a culture that prizes freedom of speech, then the threat of unemployment has to be taken off the table.

Obviously, you can carve out exceptions for positions like PR where freedom of speech is necessarily circumscribed, but it would be best to keep those exceptions as few as possible.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:14 PM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's also behavior that feels natural and just at the time and only in retrospect do we see where it leads. ("I didn't want that to happen!") And, to be fair, it's possible that the people reviling it here are not the same people who indulge in that behavior.

To me, Metafilter pile-ons feel more akin to "people on the bus, who overheard an offensive comment, speaking up" and less "large magazine publicizing an offensive comment that no one else would have seen if it hadn't been widely reported on and hashtagged" but clearly this isn't a distinction everyone makes.
posted by muddgirl at 12:16 PM on February 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


Metafilter pile-ons can also come across as people who heard someone tell a story about how someone on a bus somewhere said something that, if said loudly and aggressively in a public place would be totally out of line, and so now we are going to hunt down everything that person ever did and try to determine if they are just a complete waste of a human being or evidence that everyone who has anything in common with that person is a horrible person.
posted by aspo at 12:22 PM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Simple rule of thumb for this sort of thing:

If it makes you feel powerful, it's almost certainly bad.

If it makes you feel vulnerable, it's almost certainly good.

Speaking truth to power involves recognising when you are the one with the power.
posted by howfar at 12:22 PM on February 12, 2015 [38 favorites]


strangely stunted trees ...the extent to which Gawker built a whole business model around the social media viral shaming loop, and the imitators for fun and profit they've spawned, bears closer investigation.

muddgirl: There's no natural law that says that Twitter is like television, not like a crowded bus. That is a cultural determination.

Perhaps Twitter should be more like a crowded bus, but there is certainly a reason it doesn't function that way. It's called their business model and their business culture. Twitter isn't here to help you build an online society; its purpose is to get people to pay attention to Twitter and use Twitter because their valuation and revenue model depend on it.

Indeed, their model is in some ways as dependent on lots of tweets going viral as is Gawker's. Look, in a very measurable way, Twitter as a company benefitted from what happened to Sacco; they want people to read Twitter and add content to Twitter and they want media outlets to report on tweets and all of it. As long as no one actually blamed Twitter-- and oh, look at how few people in this thread think of it as anything more constructed than the air they breathe! -- they don't really have much reason to prevent a Twitter user from becoming the victim of this sort of pile-on.

What happened to Sacco and the others mentioned in the article strikes me as deeply unfair, but part of "why" it happened in the bigger picture is precisely that Twitter, Facebook, and so on are built as platforms for disseminating information with little regard for bounded space or (in some cases) time. They are not interested in restricting how may degrees away a message can be passed along. If you want to build healthy online social norms, social media companies will make extremely poor partners.
posted by kewb at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


> I'm rather boggled, in fact, by the idea that if someone starts spewing racist and sexist stuff on a public bus that the people around them are morally obligated to stay silent.

A lot of the time the silence is more motivated by fear, as the sort of person who feels free to spew racist and/or sexist crap on a public bus is quite often also the sort of person who looks like they might be face-punchy or stabby.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:25 PM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I didn't say that, so feel free to stop feeling boggled. I certainly don't expect that people around you will stay silent, but is it considered acceptable for bystanders to blog about it? To record it and send a link to all their friends? To start a hashtag campaign (perhaps #IsMuddgirlOnTheBusToday ?) To google your boss and send them a transcript?

Yes (do you propose that people stay silent about the sort of nasty little aggressions they see? Background racism and sexism is one of the things that makes life shittier for women and minorities.) Yes (you want to put on a public performance of being an asshole? Damn well better expect to be recorded) Yes, if they want (again, documentation of this stuff is entirely legit) and no, unless it's a case where it is relevant to their job (ie, they are ranting about how they won't promote black people or whatever.)

It's not that complicated; if you decide to be nasty in public, other people can publicly point out your nastiness.
posted by tavella at 12:26 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's interesting that this article has a lot of overlap with what Jonathan Chait was on about recently, but it's getting a lot better reception.

Possibly Ronson has just done a better job of focusing on the human dimension of the problem and only lightly touching the politics.
posted by weston at 12:30 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


After working in computer forensics and electronic discovery for the better part of a decade, I've basically become a social media recluse. The reality is that my generation may be the last to be able to pull off some semblance of online anonymity.

When my clients ask me to advise them about social media use (especially twitter), I always tell them to ask themselves if the tweet they are about to send contains any information of value. If the answer is no, you're better off sending a private text message or holding on to your little joke.

In this case, the offending tweet was a simple bad/offensive joke. The best case scenario would have been that a few of her 200 or so followers laughed....we obviously know what the worst case scenario was. So please be careful out there, massive potential visibility can have a very high price.
posted by pleem at 12:32 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


It sort-of feels all of a piece with how a felony conviction -- even after you've served your time and paid your debt to society -- is a permanent stain that can never be removed. I mean, we quit branding people because we believed people could apologize, make amends, reform, and move on with their lives. But it just feels so dangerous right now, that people are going to focus on the worst thing you ever did (whether a crime or a stupid tweet) and use it to define the rest of your life and not let you change or grow or reform or move on.

I was talking to some people a while ago and they mentioned "Joe Smith" (only an unusual name) and I was like, "Joe Smith, Joe Smith, why do I know that name?" and then it occurred to me and I was like, "Oh! He used to write stupid articles for my college paper 15 years ago!" And everyone laughed and the conversation moved on, and someone (apparently on my "tip") went and dug up this poor guy's stupid-ass college newspaper opinion pieces (which were not online) and started circulating them as an attempt to damage his professional reputation. I felt AWFUL and I wanted to fall through the floor and I just feel terrible having even mentioned it. I sort-of feel like I should never mention anyone I went to college with ever again! (It does not seem to have harmed him, fortunately his adult professional reputation is well-established enough that college stupidity has not reflected poorly on him, but even so, I feel SO BAD for having unintentionally tipped off a crazy person.)

God save us from being judged based on the stupidest shit we said in college -- but that appears to be the world we live in now.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:32 PM on February 12, 2015 [34 favorites]


That really was one of the original ideas behind free speech as embodied in our constitution. That was exactly the kind of purpose it was meant for, to protect people from having to be paranoid about what they say all the time and how it might effect them if they got careless and offended someone more powerful.

I don't normally do the "source plz" thing, but that's ... not in keeping with my understanding of US history. The people involved in the Revolution and even some of the Framers themselves weren't above some fairly serious social ostracism (or more) of Loyalists, which seems to really undermine the idea that the Constitution was supposed to be a general "freedom to be an unpopular jerk" right, and not a very specific right about official, government censorship.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:33 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


do you propose that people stay silent about the sort of nasty little aggressions they see? Background racism and sexism is one of the things that makes life shittier for women and minorities.

I'm proposing that, in the meatspace, we see a difference between speaking up about microaggressions one encounters in day-to-day life, and publicly shaming a private individual on the national stage for saying something offensive, even if only a few people were party to it. By contrast, on the internet we are still working out the distinction between completely public stages and semi-public ones.

I don't really know why I'm being interpreted as supporting people's rights to say anything they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want. If anything, I am personally supportive of even greater restrictions on what is acceptable to say in any company than the general American public. Personally, I don't really have a problem with getting jerks who say sexist things to their friends fired from their job. But that's not what I see as the general cultural attitude towards "private speech."
posted by muddgirl at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]



It's not that complicated; if you decide to be nasty in public, other people can publicly point out your nastiness.


But our thresholds for nastiness vary quite a lot, and we don't have a mechanism for sorting this out other than "ignore" or "pile on and try to get someone fired". What happens when I think that someone's remark about genderqueer people is just kind of stupid and some other genderqueer person thinks that it merits the full tumblr-scandal treatment? Who gets to decide? Basically, it will come down to who has the more social power, and that's not a good mechanism.

And I've definitely seen quite a lot of stuff called out on the internet where either the initial writer was ignorant and unclear rather than offensive or the caller-out was missing a really crucial piece of information and misunderstood the writer's standpoint. (Ie, thinking someone posting is white when they're not, thinking that someone posting is from the US when they're not, thinking that someone posting is commenting from outside a situation when in fact they are one of the primary activists in the very campaign that the caller-out wants to support.)

And then there's the whole proportionality issue - if someone is a homophobic jackass, I might be happy if they had to withdraw from school for a semester (if they were jackass enough), but I might not be happy that their every future potential employer would turn them down, no matter how much time has passed or how much they have changed.
posted by Frowner at 12:38 PM on February 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


Possibly Ronson has just done a better job of focusing on the human dimension of the problem and only lightly touching the politics.

That was definitely a lot of it. Jon Ronson is also just generally a better and more compassionate writer than Jonathan Chait is, and it wasn't just that Chait was so focused on the politics, it was also that his particular political take was from such a blinkered White Liberal Tears perspective (for "even the liberal New Republic" values of liberal).
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:43 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


*resolves again, to never, ever, ever, get a twitter account*
posted by pyramid termite at 12:51 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seriously. The only way to win is not to play.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


yeah the thought of this kind of thing happening to me keeps me up at night
posted by likeatoaster at 12:53 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sangermaine: “I know the dongle one was. MetaFilter was not feeling very merciful that day.”

This is neither fair nor true.
posted by koeselitz at 12:59 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


What a confusing statement. It's true that the dongle incident was discussed on MetaFilter. I guess you mean you think MetaFilter was merciful in the discussion? The thread is linked above, and people certainly weren't being as understanding about it as, say, Frowner is above.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


pyramid termite: "*resolves again, to never, ever, ever, get a twitter account*"

Just don't make it public, and you've solved 99% of your issues.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:02 PM on February 12, 2015


pyramid termite: “*resolves again, to never, ever, ever, get a twitter account*”

Yeah, you should be much better off if you just never make public comments on the internet, and then oh wait
posted by koeselitz at 1:04 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I see this type of thing as of a piece with our increasingly bite-sized consumption of information, where there is no room in a tweet or facebook status for context, or nuance. And even actual journalism focuses on click-baity headlines, that if not clicked can lead to a shallow, narrow, or even completely wrong understanding of the issue at hand. People ask me "what do you think of X", where all I know of X is a brief glance at a headline on my social media feed. Hard to say what I personally feel, but a lot of folks can get really hair triggery on pretty scant evidence.
posted by jetsetsc at 1:15 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Keeping your online presence clean is really difficult. I'm extremely reluctant to post anything to my Facebook account, because you never know what would set someone off or dissuade a potential employer. Unfortunately, this doesn't stop my friends from posting compromising pictures of me doing things with them, all of the time... so I just gave up and made the whole thing private. But I still almost never post anything on my own, and I'd never start posting on Twitter. All it takes is one ill-thought, ill-worded, angry, or drunk post.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:16 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I didn't say that, so feel free to stop feeling boggled. I certainly don't expect that people around you will stay silent, but is it considered acceptable for bystanders to blog about it? To record it and send a link to all their friends? To start a hashtag campaign (perhaps #IsMuddgirlOnTheBusToday ?) To google your boss and send them a transcript?

I think the brake in these kinds of cases is not so much, We have a social norm against this kind of shaming, but rather, It's not that easy to pull off this kind of shaming. There's a lot of friction involved -- you have to make some kind of recording; you have to figure out the offender's identity; you have to figure out a platform for sharing.

Twitter has eliminated this friction -- the offending tweet is labeled with the offender's identity, and can be shared and re-shared with one click.

I think the physical world is going to become more like Twitter in this regard, as we have faster and easier ways to get information about those around us and then share it with everyone we know. The "human flesh search engine" phenomenon in China is an early example of this.

Some people may agree that it's not right to take a stranger's bad joke overheard on the bus and use it to blow up their life, just as some people don't think it's right to use a bad tweet to blow up someone's life. But I think we will find that the consensus on this point is not strong enough to prevent mass shaming, once technology makes it easy to do.

I think the technology is strong enough that social norms don't stand much of a chance, actually. Mass shaming doesn't require everyone's approval. It works as long as a significant minority of people all attack the same person at the same time. Furthermore, the Manichaean rhetoric used in shaming has the side effect of casting critics as enemies to be shamed themselves.
posted by grobstein at 1:24 PM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


> yeah the thought of this kind of thing happening to me keeps me up at night.

No facebook, no twitter, no tumblr, sleeping pretty soundly.

And I can't help noticing that stuff I know I posted on usenet (where "know" = I preserved local copies of my posts to various newsgroups complete with all the header lines, which I grabbed from my own newsspool--easy to do since I was running home Unix complete with UUCP newsfeed starting in 1989, and I've still got the local copies) and fidonet even before that now seem to be impossible to find online despite my quite respectable google-fu. So there's at least some evidence that, no matter what they claim about online being write-once-read-forever, EVENTUALLY everything does get bit rot and goes away.

(Safety factor increased by the fact that most of my posts were to comp.unix.sysV386, rec.music.makers.guitar, and rec.arts.books, none of which really lend themselves to racist/sexist/LGBTist rants even if you have such simmering in your heart of hearts. Mine of course is as pure as a snowstorm of lambs.)
posted by jfuller at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think one of the difficulties is that we don't want something to go completely unremarked. We feel a responsibility to speak up and say "hey, that's not so cool." Unfortunately, this becomes compounded extremely quickly and spirals out of control. One person becomes thousands and at some point the employer gets involved. Restraint is the better part of valor.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, you should be much better off if you just never make public comments on the internet, and then oh wait

i never thought the 140 character limit was very appealing

also, there seems to be tons of roving mobs roiling with self-righteous indignation or just plain old-fashioned meanness
posted by pyramid termite at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm shocked how many people are sticking up for this "joke". Here is a good way not end up famous for being racist: DON'T SAY RACIST SHIT. I mean, this isn't even like on the line of "oh maybe she didn't realize that was shitty." It was gross and shitty and she should feel bad. And trust me, I have typed up a tweet and thought better of it and deleted it. I get it. But you know, I don't get to not be black so I am not going to come with excuses for it is okay to sometimes be blatantly, grossly racist.
posted by dame at 1:27 PM on February 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


"If you give me six lines 140 characters written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."
h/t @CardinalRichelieu
posted by bashos_frog at 1:29 PM on February 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


And really: being racist and dissenting from the government are desperately different things and while I love me some deep Derrida and fresh Foucault, I am not such a post-modernist to think that moral judgements have no place in the world. Maybe cause it's not such a hypothetical.
posted by dame at 1:30 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Can't fuel the Furnaces of Perpetual Outrage without fresh wood!

This could be the tagline of so many media outlets nowadays...
posted by huguini at 1:31 PM on February 12, 2015


I'm shocked how many people are sticking up for this "joke".

Agreed.
posted by zutalors! at 1:32 PM on February 12, 2015


I'm shocked how many people are sticking up for this "joke".
dame

I don't think anyone here is sticking up for what Sacco said, or downplaying its racism. What people are saying is that what happened to her is out of proportion to what she did. Sure, "[i]t was gross and shitty and she should feel bad." But should she lose her job and be branded forever?
posted by Sangermaine at 1:34 PM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


also, there seems to be tons of roving mobs roiling with self-righteous indignation or just plain old-fashioned meanness

I think some of that perception, though, is incorrect. It's not that there's a roving mob, it's just that there are all kinds of voices that have an outlet now that wouldn't have had an outlet before. It isn't that people didn't get angry about racist shit before the internet, it's just that there wasn't an easy way to rapidly let the world know that you thought, say, George Wallace was a racist asshole.

The norm that's developing (slowly, in fits and starts) is that if you say something racist, even if you're just an average idiot spouting off on Twitter, it might blow up and you might face serious repercussions. I don't actually think that's a terrible norm, in part because, as dame said, there's a really easy way to avoid this: don't say racist shit. (Edited, because really, this applies everywhere, not just on social media.)

Should Sacco have lost her job? Maybe. That's her boss' call to make, and they decided that the public blowback from employing someone who said racist shit on Twitter wasn't worth whatever value she brought to the organization. It clearly didn't ruin her prospects; she's already on her second job since the incident.
posted by protocoach at 1:38 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Um, yes? Unless she actually tries to make it better and seeks forgiveness and knowledge and resitution. Eyebrows compares it to felons, but you know, felons actually *go to jail* and pay their debts.

I just feel like I see this more and more here — "they were young, they made a mistake, they were trying to learn". But victims of this (and casual racism creates an atmosphere that tangibly limits some innocent folks' possibilities), don't get that time back, don't get opportunities back. So I'm glad people "learn" and don't keep causing worse trouble sometimes, but I do think they have an obligation to mend.

One might have an argument that the donglegate dudes deserved a talking to but Sacco definitely deserved to be fired. 100%.
posted by dame at 1:40 PM on February 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


I always feel like the "self righteous" claim assumes that the offended party is a majority/privileged person getting offended on "behalf" of the less privileged. It seems ludicrous to me that I would be "holier than thou" or "self righteous" or "showing off how cool I am" or whatever when someone insults me as a woman or minority.
posted by zutalors! at 1:40 PM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Where do we draw the line? I don't see anyone sticking up for Jeb Bush's CTO (nor do I intend to, to be clear), for example. If you say something stupid online, what jobs are you still eligible for?

With the example of Jeb Bush's CTO, I have no issue drawing a line. If you're going to get involved in electoral politics, you have to be ready to play by the well-established rules that pre-date the internet where it is known that people are going to dig through the mud all fuckin day to find any trace of dirt on you. If you're representing the public in making law etc, it is probably fair game to know what kind of people you chose to have working for you. So electoral politics? That's a big old line for me.
posted by Hoopo at 1:47 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Um, yes? Unless she actually tries to make it better and seeks forgiveness and knowledge and resitution.

Who on Earth would she seek forgiveness from? The entire internet?

I think some of that perception, though, is incorrect. It's not that there's a roving mob, it's just that there are all kinds of voices that have an outlet now that wouldn't have had an outlet before.

While I sort of agree with this, it's hard not to perceive a hoard of people gleefully waiting for Sacco to get off her plane and discover what kind of trouble she was in as anything other than a mob.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:48 PM on February 12, 2015 [19 favorites]


I think it's perfectly legit to say "I am uneasy with a crowd-sourced punishment system which varies wildly from day to day and depends tremendously on who is being punished and for what". It's not as if the issue on the table is only "should people who create varying degrees of racist tweet be accountable in some consistent and proportional way for this in other areas of their lives" - that's a question that we might stand a chance of answering with something approaching fairness. The question that is on the table is "should people who say something that [a critical mass of people find offensive] be subject to kind of random punishment depending on what else is on the internet that day, whether they are physically attractive, whether they have a lot of power and just who on the internet promoted their tweet".

It's worth reading the OP, even though I think leading with Justine Sacco does the argument a disservice - she produced a functionally racist tweet as a PR rep, and there's a pretty strong argument that firing is a reasonable response. The post talks about other people - the dongle joke guy, the woman who reported the joke and was subject to far more harassment than the dongle joke guy plus lost her job, a girl who basically just posted a silly photo of herself next to a military cemetery sign...Those people have very little in common except that they offended a group, drew mass attention and the world went to town on them.

If this were consistently and only "people who attack marginalized groups from a position of privilege get a relatively consistent consequence", it would be a much simpler matter. But seriously, we have a social machine that can punish a young woman for mocking a sign right alongside punishing Justine Sacco for posting a piece of ironic racism. And that same social machine doesn't do anything to lots of people who post racist stuff. Basically, we're saying "it's a lottery, and you could get punished for doing something bad or something not-bad or something actively good, and the people who decide your punishment are whoever is online that morning, plus your publicity-shy employer". That is a scary thing.

I mean, I'm an anarchist and I'm relatively comfortable with the idea that social norms can be uneven and can be enforced in uneven ways, and the way the internet machine works really makes me deeply uneasy.
posted by Frowner at 1:49 PM on February 12, 2015 [52 favorites]


I find these discussions so frustrating because they almost always boil down to "I believe in free speech for myself but not for my critics." Everyone is welcome to their opinion of how employers should handle these issues, how different technologies have changed the nature of public speech, etc. but it always boggles my mind how supposed "free speech" advocates want to tell anyone who criticizes them that the critics are the ones who need to shut up.
posted by dialetheia at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's no such thing as bad PR if you're professionally in the business of having public relations and profiting from attention. Otherwise it can absolutely be a bloody nightmare with no actual reward. You can't imagine how much people assume there must be some reward.
posted by effugas at 1:56 PM on February 12, 2015


I saw a Tweet earlier that made the point that a lot of these cases are about virality, not "call-outs" per se. It doesn't matter if it's good or bad, sudden online notoriety can be troublesome either way. See Dong Nguyen and Alex From Target.
posted by kmz at 1:57 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


More cynically, it's the future at last and everyone gets to be famous for 15 minutes. Just not always by choice.
posted by kewb at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm shocked how many people are sticking up for this "joke".

Where? I haven't seen anyone doing this.
posted by crank at 2:05 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I get really sick when I consider that many people think that single remarks/actions deserve overwhelming, crowd-sourced retribution. Or that it's so simple to avoid being pilloried, "just avoid being racist! Why can't you just not be racist?" Yes, you are perfectly allowed to make moral judgments when people say stupid stuff. People often hide unexamined biases that rarely become obvious, but applied over time by groups can really make other's lives miserable. But the instant someone says something terrible, they're playing with the chaotic roulette that can destroy at random. We haven't adjusted as a society to the ubiquity and range of the internet.

The internet was supposed to free us from the prospect of punishment doled out by the few in positions of power, accessible to those with the fortune of privileged birth and circumstance. All it's done is make it utterly random... and the people in power still have tons of leverage. The voices the internet has given to those ignored is amazing. We are now consumers who have choices in what we consume, and can also respond. But there is now so much out there, that we often just sit there and let our favorite addiction-feeders stream it down our throats. Sometimes a particular feed gives something that makes people act on the target. But these aren't people being stupid right in front of a limited audience, it's a stage that can be spread everywhere.

As for those people crying censorship on other sites, when people start moderating, or removing comments, it's not that. It's because people feel so compelled to consume and bark, instead of think, and have no idea how it feels to be on the receiving end.

It's also messed with our perspective. If someone does some action that 1/(10^6)th of the time results in something 10^3 times worse in impact than the positive result, we say "well it's your own damn fault." A lot of the time, it's because we just have no way (or law) to punish those that are actively attacking someone, but instead of focusing on how to improve, we just have to pass judgment on the victim. So many of the upvoted comments on the NYT article are victim-blaming, too. And on the reverse side... how many times has the victim done something innocuous and had it forgotten? Do you think Sacco is just sitting there tweeting racist things all the time? Are we in a position to judge her life and employment? I'd say "Fuck stone-throwers," but I do it too, and I make myself sick.
posted by halifix at 2:10 PM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's weird that a very similar article was posted here last month, and the Biddle/Sacco piece came just a couple weeks before that. Must be something in the air.
posted by rollick at 2:11 PM on February 12, 2015


Back in the day, Jesse Jackson made an ill-advised off-the-record reference to Hymietown and got an extra special fifteen minutes of fame.

Of course, Jackson wasn't making a joke, which seems to be the crux of this matter. So you have to wonder, does the lack of LOL/Smileyfaces make dodgy comments more or less forgivable? Or prone to this kind of pile on? Certainly Jackson's straight face made it easier to mock him on SNL. How times change!

(Does SNL take on Al Sharpton's foolishness? I haven't watched that thing in years.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:11 PM on February 12, 2015


I'd be really uncomfortable working with Justine Sacco or being around her. I don't relate to or trust someone who would think it was okay to tweet what she did, and I wouldn't trust anyone who thought she was okay.

I mean, I guess I'm supposed to forgive it or think it was just harmless, but to do so would be to admit she was too dumb to be trusted in situations that weren't just white people who thought that kind of thing was funny. And that would mean maybe she's only suited to be PR for the KKK.
posted by discopolo at 2:12 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


The norm that's developing (slowly, in fits and starts) is that if you say something racist, even if you're just an average idiot spouting off on Twitter, it might blow up and you might face serious repercussions.

It doesn't have to be something racist - it can be something anti-racist; it can be something the blue here would consider righteous, i.e. the woman who tweeted the pic of the guys who made the "dongle" joke - look at what happened to her.

It's mob rule, pure and simple. And if you think the mobs are probably going to be righteous - well, good luck to you.
posted by kgasmart at 2:15 PM on February 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


Her post was stupid and offensive and not funny. It was a bad thing. But, a response that is not measured and proportionate is bad in itself. That's the problem with these bursts of public outrage: thousands of individually-trivial reactions accumulate and destroy their subject's life. It's an excessive and immoderate reaction to a relatively small offense.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:15 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


muddgirl: I didn't say that, so feel free to stop feeling boggled. I certainly don't expect that people around you will stay silent, but is it considered acceptable for bystanders to blog about it? To record it and send a link to all their friends? To start a hashtag campaign (perhaps #IsMuddgirlOnTheBusToday ?) To google your boss and send them a transcript?
I just got a janitor fired for urging someone on the other end of his cellphone conversation to punch a woman because she spoke disrespectfully. Granted, he was in the workplace at the time, but in the interests of a safe working environment, I'd at least consider doing the same if I heard him doing so on the street.

So, yes, I'd say it's OK, in some instances at least.

EDIT: originally attributed to the wrong Mefite, sorr.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:19 PM on February 12, 2015


And as a former PR person, I know a lot of not very intelligent or aware people get hired in the profession, but a lot of them have enough manners/intelligence to be cognizant of how their personal tweets are perceived.

Usually, they aren't that dumb.
posted by discopolo at 2:20 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't see anyone sticking up for Jeb Bush's CTO

The title of Dave Weigel's article re Czahor:

Ethan Czahor, Jeb Bush's Fired CTO, is Guilty of Being a Young Conservative

Explains a lot about why so many conservatives run into difficulties when they have to exit the right-wing thought bubble and interact with the real world.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:23 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


D It's an excessive and immoderate reaction to a relatively small offense.


I think IAC gets to decide who to sack, and they made a good decision. this really isn't a big loss to the PR world. These a new person to get into in that kind of position everyday.
It takes not much more than a BA, and the ability to be personable to people you might not relate to.

She was lucky to have that kind of job, frankly. It takes far less skill and knowledge than a lot of professions.
posted by discopolo at 2:24 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I was Sacco I would have responded with one line:

I WAS BEING SARCASTIC, DUMBASSES.

end of story.

Now that said, as I am not a Progressive, I admit I get a certain satisfaction when Progressives gleefully draw their guns* and arrange themselves in the classic Identity Politics Circular Firing Squad over something like this. But sometimes it gets so ridiculous even I get a little queasy.

* Clarification for Sacco's detractors: I am speaking metaphorically here.
posted by Alaska Jack at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


jfuller: (Safety factor increased by the fact that most of my posts were to comp.unix.sysV386, rec.music.makers.guitar, and rec.arts.books, none of which really lend themselves to racist/sexist/LGBTist rants even if you have such simmering in your heart of hearts. Mine of course is as pure as a snowstorm of lambs.)
You used the V386? What are you, some kind of waffle-eating Belgian?
posted by IAmBroom at 2:29 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


/NotAllWaffles
posted by IAmBroom at 2:29 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd be really uncomfortable working with Justine Sacco or being around her.

This sort of moral priggishness tends to disolve on contact with a real human being, which tends to put the offense in perspective--no less offensive in itself, but much more manageable in scope compared the whole person.

As Sam Biddle found out on meeting her, and on being guilty of the same offensiveness.
posted by fatbird at 2:30 PM on February 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


Oh come on. She wasn't being sarcastic. She's a racist dummy who became aware suddenly aware that Twitter isn't just full of white people and she's really not funny.

Honestly, if they didn't fire her, I'd honestly think white people secretly think it's ok to make racist jokes when nonwhites arent around.

Thought with all the support for Sacco here, I'm honestly starting to wonder....
posted by discopolo at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd be really uncomfortable working with Justine Sacco or being around her.

This sort of moral priggishness tends to disolve on contact with a real human being, which tends to put the offense in perspective--no less offensive in itself, but much more manageable in scope compared the whole person.


Nope. Sorry, as a person of color, I'd still think, wow, who knew such an ignorant person could be trusted with anything or being around anybody?

I'd be worried letting her talk to anybody she thought was different than she is. She'd have lost my trust and respect and I wouldn't think she was smart or capable. I'd just think she was incapable of basic Humaniry and I couldn't do much more than humor her/put up with her. I'd get rid of her if I were her supervisor. She's a loose cannon. Can't have people like her around to alienate my team.
posted by discopolo at 2:35 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh come on. She wasn't being sarcastic. She's a racist dummy who became aware suddenly aware that Twitter isn't just full of white people and she's really not funny.

How do you know that? I get the argument that her intentions don't matter because ironic or sarcastic racist comments aren't any better than "real" ones, but how do you, a stranger on the internet, know she wasn't being sarcastic?
posted by Area Man at 2:38 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


She's a racist dummy who became aware suddenly aware that Twitter isn't just full of white people and she's really not funny.

So, you've known her personally for how long now?
posted by aspo at 2:39 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I didn't see the /sarcasm in her tweet. And honestly, not my job to detect sarcasm. She's the PR person. IF she can't tell how she could be misread then she's really bad at her job.
posted by discopolo at 2:41 PM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


So, you've known her personally for how long now?

Damn. So all you guys make racist jokes in all white company when people of color aren't aroubd? And I'm supposed to know you in your heart of hearts don't really mean it?

Guess I didn't know that burden was on me.

(Do I need to apologize? /sarcasm) [Oh! See? that's how it's done.]
posted by discopolo at 2:45 PM on February 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


Online lynchings against common, lowly people are not okay. Period. The mob's glee in ruining her life makes me sick.

Admit it: it isn't justice. It isn't vigilantism. If those are the excuses, then where are all the cases of the mob ruining the lives of actual racists, or rapists, or shithead trolls, or the bigots at FOX News? Why aren't shitty comedians worldwide running for their lives? I've heard much more offensive bullshit from comedians. (I hate comedy and that might be why.) How come those who can afford lawyers or PR teams always manage to avoid taking serious damage?

The mob mentality is pure bloodlust. It's making an example of an easy target, branding them for life when much more harmful words are being thrown around by those in power. And don't we feel good about ourselves, having the sense to voice our own offensive comments more privately?

The mob mentality is deranged. No, you have NO idea what it's like to be targeted by an online hate campaign. Go punch a pillow, or kick a rock, or volunteer in your community, or write letters about media personalities who cause much more harm with their popular bigotry. Destruction is easy. Constructing something of value actually takes effort and the use of the frontal cortex and not just the monkey brain. It's quieter. It's less satisfying. But it will do more good.
posted by quiet earth at 2:49 PM on February 12, 2015 [25 favorites]


(Do I need to apologize? /sarcasm) that's how it's done.

I don't get this. Are you saying that all sarcastic comment on the internet must be delineated with a little "/sarcasm"? top kek. You are overestimating that tag's ubiquity.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Whether or not she was sarcastic or ironic or anything else, it's irrelevent to whether the tweet was a shitty, racist joke. It was. And it's hard to feel sympathy for her, a PR professional in a high level PR job, saying something shitty and racist and getting fired for it, even if our newfound social accountability is a surprise to a lot of people.

That said, as far as Biddle and Ronson can tell after having actually dug into it, she was thoughtless and glib rather than malicious or consciously racist. If the larger context doesn't mitigate the tweet, then it seems weird to me to turn around and fill in that context ourselves by reasoning from that tweet to whether or not she's generally an awful person to be around.
posted by fatbird at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


If she's bad at her job, that's her employer to decide. Could we stop deciding/focusing for/on her in this case?

All this focus on punishment, when she's shown she has reflected and improved. It's good that in this case it happened, but was the original annihilation worth it? Blowing shit out of proportion is a weapon that's disproportionately used against marginalized groups... People acting like this aren't doing it to improve society or a person, they're doing it to satisfy their base urges through the veil of morality.
posted by halifix at 2:53 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


What's more, privilege will modulate all this stuff - someone who is rich, or who is white, or who is male (especially someone rich) will be able, eventually, to work their contacts and get a decent job again

This is one of the things almost annoys me about the article; to this day Adria Richards receives threats, harassment, hacking and DDoS attempts, google-bombing, etc because she posted the original callout. She's a footnote after the dude who made the dick joke talks about how he needs to feed his family and all that.
posted by verb at 2:59 PM on February 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


Blowing shit out of proportion is a weapon that's disproportionately used against marginalized groups... People acting like this aren't doing it to improve society or a person, they're doing it to satisfy their base urges through the veil of morality.

Lots of ppl expressed they didn't like what she said. Her employer fired her. Asking each person who thought she was awful would probably result in them saying they don't like what she said.

How are they wrong?

As George Costanza would say,"We're living in a society here!"

She was held accountable. She brought it upon herself. Notice the many, many people in her profession that never did or would make her mistake.

And can I point out, she's not ruined or homeless. No she isn't an IAC spokeswoman, but she, unlike many ppl she chose to disparage, isn't struggling for basic necessities. She's gotten key ppl to feel sorry for her and, jeez, come to her defense.

I don't want to know her or hire her, but other ppl will, despite her lack of humility and her self-pity.
posted by discopolo at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's funny to me that it's said to be one stupid tweet. It was at least three:

“ ‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’ — Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.”

Then, during her layover at Heathrow:

“Chilly — cucumber sandwiches — bad teeth. Back in London!”

And on Dec. 20, before the final leg of her trip to Cape Town:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”


I think the first tweet may have added a ton of the animus. First class and complaining; she's turned a lot of people against her right there. My immediate take, when the news of this came out, was that she'd overdone it on the free bubbly and possibly taken an Ambien too. But I guess not?
posted by BibiRose at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Director at a multibillion dollar company is "common lowly people" now?

How come those who can afford lawyers or PR teams always manage to avoid taking serious damage?

This is a self-answering question.

And there absolutely have been outrage/callouts of powerful people too. See Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, etc. But powerful people tend to also have much more social and economic capital to withstand social scrutiny.

top kek

Take that shit outta here.
posted by kmz at 3:09 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the first tweet may have added a ton of the animus. First class and complaining; she's turned a lot of people against her right there. My immediate take, when the news of this came out, was that she'd overdone it on the free bubbly and possibly taken an Ambien too. But I guess not?

I just think of all the folks on ambient and bubbly that manage not to say shitty stuff. I mean, she felt uninhibited enough to say that stuff. It was in her. And she wants to pretend shes not that person.


I mean, sack her for someone you can trust not to say stupid shit.
posted by discopolo at 3:12 PM on February 12, 2015


It's funny to me that it's said to be one stupid tweet. It was at least three:

That's a bit of a misread. She certainly tweeted all of those things, but it was the AIDS one that people noticed. Perhaps we should get riled up about tweets stereotyping the English as having bad teeth, but let's face it, folks don't. The other tweets might have added to the animus, but the drive was there.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Also: it appears that the article is an excerpt from Ronson's upcoming book. There's a little bit more at his website.)
posted by Going To Maine at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


They aren't wrong. I never said she shouldn't be fired from her job. You can make judgments to yourself. Stop making everyone else agree with your judgment on someone you aren't personally connected to, when the facts we're going on are encapsulated in one article. (Others are doing it too. It's not just you, discopolo.) It's making me feel uncomfortably close to how I felt in my flameout in the Lena Dunham thread. I'm out.
posted by halifix at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2015


I'm absolutely not claiming drugs or alcohol would have been a valid excuse, nor do I think the previous two tweets were in the same league as the third one at all. What I do disagree with somewhat is the suggestion in the story's headline that she let out this one tweet and it caused her all this damage. Rather, there was a performance consisting of three tweets and stretching over two continents. A single tweet, while it might not have deniability exactly, would not have appeared as bad (in my opinion) if it were not part of this series.

Hell, if it was one tweet she might have been able to claim there was a typo or something.
posted by BibiRose at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Having this whole sympathetic story come out makes it seem like Sacco's capable of doing a pretty good job as a PR person, for someone that fucked up so badly as a PR person. Maybe she should call up Donald Sterling. She could make a mint at this.
posted by Hoopo at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah I remember that A. A. Gill thing. Asshole. I hate that bastard.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:30 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hypocrites. We all are guilty of occasionally making stupid, regretful comments. We are lucky if we don't make them on social media, but I doubt if any but the most conscientious of us can claim never to have made an off-colour comment that we regretted because it didn't represent our general views. If you claim purity, then I call bullshit. Most people sometimes make comments that are ignorant, at best, maybe classist or sexist if not racist. Most people learn from their mistakes WITHOUT the intervention of lynch mobs. Think of a thoughtless remark or a tasteless joke you've made. Should your entire life be forever defined by that one remark?

So you didn't say it online. Good for you. I still don't believe that you have never spoken offensively or told an unfunny joke. Welcome to being human. We deserve mercy and the ability to make things right, do we not? Or does mercy not apply to people who you personally don't like?

Lynch mob punishment only creates a culture of fear that allows disgusting mob behaviour to thrive. The actual racists go underground. Have you made anyone see the error of their ways? No. Do you feel self-righteous? I bet you do. Because you've made sure that somebody knows she is an irredeemable Bad Person who deserves only bad things.

Which is why I like the Trickster archetype. It demonstrates that no one is as high and mighty as they'd like to believe. We are all fools at times.

The guise of morality can cloak an awful lot of genuinely shitty behaviour from those who have the upper hand.
posted by quiet earth at 3:34 PM on February 12, 2015 [31 favorites]


And also that comments that are sexist are the same as comments that are "violent".

I did not read this at all as equating sexism with violence. I read this as "comments that are both violent and sexist [or racist etc.]," as in (e.g.) the flood of GamerGate-ish threats directed at women.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:35 PM on February 12, 2015


Lynch mob punishment

Can we stop verbally equating twitter scoldfests with horrible racially-motivated murders?
posted by dialetheia at 3:41 PM on February 12, 2015 [31 favorites]


I don't know; it's hard for me to feel a lot of sympathy for someone in a quasi-public role (as a public relations executive, no less) who thinks that it's just fine to make quasi-racist/broad brush stereotype jokes in a public forum. Actions have consequences; if she'd said that as a throwaway joke while making a presentation? The audience, probably, would have been appalled and she would have suffered professional consequences. I am not sure why we should think that someone should be entitled to get a pass on being an asshole in one public forum but not in another.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 3:59 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Can we stop verbally equating twitter scoldfests with horrible racially-motivated murders?

Oh noes, you have single-handedly invalidated my entire argument. Rest assured that the colloquial use of "lynching" started with me and it will stop with me.

How on earth can you summarize what happened to this poor woman, who made an impulsive mistake that 99% of us would get away with, as a "Twitter scoldfest"?

This thread tells me much more about the character of the would-be punishers than it does about the supposedly untouchable nature of this awful, awful woman who deserves nothing but hate.
posted by quiet earth at 4:09 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Lynch mob punishment

Can we stop verbally equating twitter scoldfests with horrible racially-motivated murders?


Honestly, no.

In part because of insensitivity and distance from the past -which is unfortunate- and in part because there are some disturbing parallels. People were gleefully waiting around to see Sacco face some very severe consequences, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them would have been happy if she had done herself in. At the outset of Gamergate, the #burgersandfries IRC channel were fantasizing about how their harassment of Zoe Quinn would get her to become an hero. And the whole anti-cyberbullying craze that the country has gone through was at least partly tied to teenagers' committing suicide after receiving online harassment.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:10 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Having the Internet turn on you is brutal enough that I would wish it on very few people. I don't think she's in the category of people I would wish it on. (Though she sure didn't do herself any favors with those awful tweets.)

But even if she were in that category, the girls who made a joke at the expense of a cemetery sign aren't in that category, and Adria Richards isn't in that category, and the same mechanism targeted them all.

Wasn't there a situation where a black woman tweeting in frustration at the gentrification of her neighborhood got a big outrage pile-on, because the tweet was misunderstood as being a white person complaining about their insufficiently gentrified neighborhood?
posted by edheil at 4:10 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh noes, you have single-handedly invalidated my entire argument

I have no intention of touching your argument. I just find it completely revolting to use a term about racial extermination and murder to talk about a PR lady losing her job because she said something terrible in public (saying something on twitter is on par with shouting it in the middle of the town square) and her employers decided they didn't want her to speak for them anymore. All it tells me is that people who use it in this context don't know nearly enough about the history and nature of actual lynching.
posted by dialetheia at 4:16 PM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ghostride The Whip: "This is one of the many problems i have with the current culture of "Oh you did a dumb thing now we will dig through everything you've ever done to destroy you, try and get you fired, and make sure you are forever branded A Bad Person. No forgiveness ever because we found A Bad Person that did A Bad Thing and you are labelled forever.""

The Scarlet Unicode Character
posted by symbioid at 4:16 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Honestly, no.

In part because of insensitivity and distance from the past -which is unfortunate- and in part because there are some disturbing parallels. People were gleefully waiting around to see Sacco face some very severe consequences, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them would have been happy if she had done herself in.


In one situation, the mutilated bodies of black men swung from tree branches as white mobs jeered and celebrated; in another, maybe some people wanted this woman to kill herself when she landed, possibly.

The parallels are obvious.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:16 PM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


While I have quite a bit of sympathy for the idea that one shouldn't equate twitter hate and abusefests with actual honest to god lynchings there were multiple examples of people equating gamergate twitter stuff to lynch mobs and nobody batted an eye. I don't think one can rule out the colloquialism when applied to people we agree with but rule it in when applied to people we don't like.

I think everybody should probably reserve the phrase for groups which partake in actual violence rather than mean words or even harassment.
posted by Justinian at 4:28 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wouldn't feel comfortable working around someone I knew was a gleeful proponent of mob justice. MetaFilter has been well-known for its insta-outrage and pile-ons in the past, so it's no wonder that there are defences of self-righteous indignation. It's interesting that there's sanctimony about expressing less sympathy, for a change, but there you go.

We all draw the lines of who is worthy of scorn and what would be considered an overreaction in different places, but the article reinforced something I've noticed for a while now, which is that as good as social justice purposes are, it also attracts people who are bullies, and cruel, but believe their targets deserve it so anything they do is OK.

Beyond remembering that anything on the internet is potentially both global and forever, I think there needs to be a reminder that sarcasm and satire are easily shorn of context.
posted by gadge emeritus at 4:32 PM on February 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


I'm not sure if this was directed at me, or why I would need to clarify:

And also that comments that are sexist are the same as comments that are "violent"

I was specifically thinking of "i'm gonna rape you" or "i'm gonna kill you [insert racial insult]" comments that just being a woman or a person of color with an opinion guarantees you receive, all day, every day. But all sexist and racist comments are violent--to varying degrees, of course.

Your use of scare quotes around "violent" suggests you don't think there is such a thing, and that threats and intimidation online are all just good fun, I guess. Which is gross.
posted by maxwelton at 4:34 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does SWATting count as actual violence? Does it only matter if the person are literally witnessing others doing it, and not if they called action to cause it? What about laughing at lonely suicided kids? Is that totes ok (see above comment mentioning "an hero" for one example).

Of course they're different in context and reality. But there is an ugliness to both that deal with the collective id slithering underneath, desirous of blood, murder and pain. Combined with some sort of societal notion of "justice" and it leads to sick justifications (how many people at those lynchings honestly believed that a black man had done raped a white woman and by golly we'd best make sure they know we will defend our white women's honor)... Mob psychology and mentality. Aimed at innocent victims. To the point where people are acting in ways that might get someone killed, or have cheered when people have killed themselves.

Sure, laughing at someone being fired isn't the same level, but let's not pretend that if we let this shit go on, that nothing is like the other.

Don't use the word "lynching" sure, but we can certainly draw corollaries.
posted by symbioid at 4:35 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


All it tells me is that people who use it in this context don't know nearly enough about the history and nature of actual lynching.

How cutely presumptuous. Want to talk about history, especially about what African Americans faced? Message me privately and we'll share knowledge.

I have no intention of touching your argument.

No kidding. Your post is irrelevant. If you really want to die on that hill, either message me privately or take it to MeTa.
posted by quiet earth at 4:39 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised people here are siding with mob rule when they presumably side against Gamergate. Sometimes you agree with the mob, sometimes you don't, either way it's ultimately bullying.
posted by stavrogin at 4:46 PM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


Someone tweeted Richards’s home address along with a photograph of a beheaded woman with duct tape over her mouth. Fearing for her life, she left her home, sleeping on friends’ couches for the remainder of the year.

A mob of strangers sending graphic, violent threats to a black woman may not be lynching precisely but it's definitely ugly, racist, abusive, and scary enough that I can see where someone is coming from if they want to make that comparison.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:47 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Lynch mob punishment

Can we stop verbally equating twitter scoldfests with horrible racially-motivated murders?

Honestly, no.


Wow, this is one of the most appalling threads I've ever read here.
posted by zutalors! at 4:48 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


gadge emeritus: "that as good as social justice purposes are, it also attracts people who are bullies, and cruel, but believe their targets deserve it so anything they do is OK. "

Waitaminnit.

The woman who was upset about a poor joke about a "dongle".

She considered it to be emblematic of the gender imbalance that plagues the tech industry and the toxic, male-dominated corporate culture that arises from it. She tweeted the picture to her 9,209 followers with the caption: “Not cool. Jokes about . . . ‘big’ dongles right behind me.” Ten minutes later, he and his friend were taken into a quiet room at the conference and asked to explain themselves. Two days later, his boss called him into his office, and he was fired.

Well, first - she never said a damn thing about getting the guy fired. IIRC, she even had made a post after he got fired expressing regret that he did so. (See more details here)... She wanted them to be talked to by the PyCon organizers about the mission statement, and that was it. They did, the guys admitted they were wrong, and apologized (though apparently the one joke was taken out of context (forking a repo), but the other was admitted to be a sexual joke)... The company decided to do the firing (PR Optics, etc...) AFAICT, there was no MOB attacking him or harrassing him, nobody went and gave death threats or even went to the boss to have him fired. Again - that was the company that made that choice, when it was, as far as she was concerned, dealt with by the appropriate agency.

Now, ok - dude goes to HN and reports what happened, and the nerdgeekmob goes on their rampage to the point that the woman who merely requested a couple attendees to follow the CON'S OWN GUIDELINES, is now viciously attacked, loses her job in the process AND now has to deal with rabid hatemongers over and over.

I'm not saying that there aren't instances of pro-Social Justice people having engaged in mob tactics. I also know some who hate things like doxing people precisely because it can hit innocent victims. On the other hand, this continuous self-righteous privileged crying manchildren will viciously dox, harrass, swat, threaten to kill, spew rape threats (to the individual or their partner), etc.

In terms of comparison, frankly, it's no match.

Again - I'm not trying to justify when SJ people do end up doing things like this. It is never justified and it's absolutely wrong for them to get caught up in the mob mentality as much as it is for the aggressors on the side of the dominant privileged culture are. I just think that in terms of scale, not just numerically but in terms of actual threats, there is a huge difference.

Interestingly I was looking at hate crimes stats from the FBI. I think it was for 2013. What I noticed in particular was that for every group except whites, there were more incidents of "Intimidation" than there were acts of violence (assault, murder, etc...). But when it came to the white victims of hate crimes, there was less intimidation than there was violence perpetrated. As a whole, they were also less to be targets of hate crimes, of course.

But the fact is - because they exist in the privileged paradigm, they literally do not feel intimidation in the same way that those who are not in the dominator culture do. They do not live in the same atmosphere of fear that women attacked by HN readers to, or black people shot by police do, etc... I think this is very telling. It might also, in some ways, show the very aspect of privilege by the abusers and mobs themselves, by the fact that they might not feel the same fear and intimidation if it was perpetrated upon them ("I'm only joking!" "Oh - come on guys, those Abu Ghraib pictures are just frat-hazing!" etc...) The removal of empathy from the people who are victims, socially, not on purpose, but merely by the nature of privilege... This, I think, is why it's important to speak out.

There can be no doubt that some people are using Social Justice or feigned outrage about some social issue to support their harassment. How many of those initial reposts of Sacco's comments were really and truly upset about them, and how many were just jokers acting outraged in order to see it blow up?

And the people upset that she joked about bad British teeth and why wasn't *that* what upset people? There we go about privilege again. And interestingly - we could talk about the issue of White people having a hard time (with dental hygiene) vs a continent that struggles hard against a very deadly disease... and can a comparison be made between the two, in the same way "can a comparison be made between online bullying and lynching?"...
posted by symbioid at 5:01 PM on February 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


For the record, I share Frowner's ambivalence about Twitter mobs and endorse her comment here. Sacco probably should have been at least reprimanded for telling an unfunny racist joke that didn't signal any irony at all, but the mass pile-on of being one of Twitter's top trends was hugely disproportionate and fell on her basically at random, considering that Twitter is home to all kinds of bigotry at all times.

I just think that that particular defense of "lynch mob" is, uh, unconvincing at best. I also think appeals to """actual racists""" downplay the genteel, nonviolent racism which votes for law and order and makes excuses for legal murder, but I don't think massive online vigilantism is the solution to either kind of racism, insofar as they're really different from one another.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:03 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


IAmBroom: "/NotAllWaffles"

Waffles? Don't you mean carrots?
posted by symbioid at 5:07 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


To the comment way upthread I just read disputing my read of US history and the origins of American conceptions of rights: in your day, the enemy is "the government;" in the early days of the revolution, among the populist wing of the movement, it was the nobles, who had for all of history up to that point, owned and controlled all of what loosely passed for government for their own benefit at great expense to everyone else. But it's a derail and a stale comment, and it's not really my problem anyway, so you believe what you want to believe and I'll do the same.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:11 PM on February 12, 2015


Re: "Lynching", I took it to MetaTalk. I will update when and if it gets posted. Enough of that derail.
posted by quiet earth at 5:12 PM on February 12, 2015


I wouldn't feel comfortable working around someone I knew was a gleeful proponent of mob justice.

Casual racists, though, they're okay. Lighten up. Why can't you take a joke?

Person representing public relations firm makes horrible racist joke. People react by saying it's terrible and that she should be fired. Her employer decides that the controversy is damaging and cuts her loose. I don't see this as being fundamentally different to the forced sale of the LA Clippers after Donald Sterling's racism came out, or to Mel Gibson being essentially persona non grata in Hollywood. Certain things are not socially or professionally acceptable, anymore; I don't think that this is a bad thing. Sure, people have the right to say whatever they want at any time, but that doesn't free them of facing consequences from their actions, either.

as good as social justice purposes are, it also attracts people who are bullies, and cruel, but believe their targets deserve it

Cruelty and bullying from people in positions of relative privilege who say racist/misogynistic/homophobic/transphobic/etc things in a public forum? Less of a problem than people who have a problem with people saying those things! This reminds me of the argument espoused by some self-professed "liberals" that it's actually somehow worse to be called a racist than it is to say something racist ("wah wah, I can't say what I think on certain issues because people will call me a racist/sexist/etc and it's stifling opinion and speech!" If a lot of people are telling you that you've said something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/whatever? Possibly they're right, and you need to examine your attitudes and actually listen to what the people you're talking about are saying!)

I think there needs to be a reminder that sarcasm and satire are easily shorn of context.

So, in what context is "going to South Africa! Hope I don't get AIDS! j/k, I'm white!" not just a terrible thing for anyone to say?
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 5:23 PM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think the Metafilter thread about Requires Hate was about all that has to be said about the subject of whether bullying and cruelty are still a problem when they come from a particularly position with regard to privilege.
posted by Justinian at 5:33 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


symbioid: How many of those initial reposts of Sacco's comments were really and truly upset about them, and how many were just jokers acting outraged in order to see it blow up?

How would we know?

I didn't bring up Adria Richards, so much as your defence of her actions has merit, my point was talking about the mob mentality. The mob that went after her was worse than the mob who immediately took her side and harangued the men, sure. But they were both mobs. And notably, the people who get mobbed online aren't just those attacked by GamerGate or other arseholes like them, it's also the restaurant that gets accused of ejecting an injured child when it turns out that the story was made up, or the couple accused of homophobia towards a server which also turned out to be fake, or even the other examples where the person actually wrote or did the thing they were being pilloried for, even if it has further context or wasn't as bad as it appeared.

Saying some mobs are worse than others doesn't invalidate the idea that all mobs are bad.


Pseudonymous Cognomen: Casual racists, though, they're okay. Lighten up. Why can't you take a joke?

Just because it might need saying, the following is sarcasm: Congratulations, that is exactly what I said. How clever of you to divine that I'm secretly hoping to hear more racism wherever I go from my statement that said nothing of the sort.

So, in what context is "going to South Africa! Hope I don't get AIDS! j/k, I'm white!" not just a terrible thing for anyone to say?

If Steven Colbert said it in character. If the tone of it was mocking the privilege of someone who's traveling to South Africa first class (as the writer of the tweet said it was in the interview) rather than actually expressing the idea that white people just can't catch AIDS. If it's self-deprecating satire rather than an honest expression of opinion, in other words.

I'm not sure why I'm actually replying to you, however, since you appear to have a series of argument points prepared rather than actually engaging with the thread, or with my comment, since you used it as a jumping board to bring up an awful lot of things that had not, in fact, been said.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:34 PM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Congratulations, that is exactly what I said.

You said it in response to someone saying they wouldn't be comfortable working with Justine Sacco. So it kind of IS what you said, by inference.

If Steven Colbert said it in character.

Except we're talking about an executive for a PR firm who posted it on a Twitter account linked to her real name with her job title and organisation prominently displayed. If she were a professional comedian with an established public persona that included such comments, that would be something else, but it isn't the case. You can't decontextualise speech from the speaker. "Going to the Bronx. Hope I don't get shot!" reads very differently coming from suburban white guy than it would coming from someone like Chris Rock.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 5:43 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


To the "but Sacco DESERVED to get fired" replies. That might be true. I'm not sure I agree, but it's not actually important. Because she didn't deserve what she got, which was much more than getting fired. She didn't deserve the internet attack mob gleefully tearing into her, demanding she get fired, stalking her, taking pictures of her as she exited the plane, attacking her to the point where she was a Thing, doing followups months later about what she had been doing, etc.
posted by aspo at 6:02 PM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Going to the Bronx. Hope I don't get shot!"

See, if you read it more as 'Going to the Bronx. Hope I don't get shot by the cops! LOL j/k I'm white.' you might get more of the vibe she was apparently going for.

But you also asked how it would be not a terrible thing for anyone to say, so I gave an example, one you seem to agree with.

Also, I'm telling you your inference is incorrect about what I said. Let's see how much benefit of the doubt you extend to people you're talking to on MetaFilter, rather than purely anonymous randoms on the internet.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:04 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


But you also asked how it would be not a terrible thing for anyone to say, so I gave an example, one you seem to agree with.

A specific exception for a comedian with a bumbling conservative moron persona? That doesn't extend to everyone and doesn't make it a less terrible and painfully unfunny thing for *Sacco* to have said. And "come on, I was joking, why so serious?" is the common response from far too many people who get called out for saying generally racist or offensive things; apparently humour and not patriotism is the last refuge of the modern scoundrel.

Also, I'm telling you your inference is incorrect about what I said.

So you weren't, in fact, replying to the person who said they'd be uncomfortable working with Justine Sacco, then? If you were working with someone who made a racist joke in a meeting or presentation and got sacked for it after other coworkers made it an issue, would you quit in solidarity?
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 6:18 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


humour and not patriotism is the last refuge of the modern scoundrel.

I have found it to be the first refuge.
posted by maxsparber at 6:20 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Pseudonymous Cognomen, I answered the question you asked. But I'm not going to answer hyperbolic questions that have very little to do with the article under discussion.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:33 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you were working with someone who made a racist joke in a meeting or presentation and got sacked for it after other coworkers made it an issue, would you quit in solidarity?

That's hyperbolic? I don't think it is. Also it's really disgusting that discopolo mentioned not being comfortable working with someone who's comfortable making racist tweets, and someone immediately accused them of "moral priggishness". I know that wasn't gadge emeritus, but that's exactly the point I was making above - people who make those claims about "oh you're being superior or high horse or so moral aren't usually people who are affected day to day by racism, ignorance and oppression. And when we speak up about no, it really does affect us, it's steamrolled by "oh high and mighty" and "you don't get the joke." There's no listening at all. It's really frustrating. I imagine those posters saying those things are pretty sure they're talking to the fixie riding white hipster stereotypes, but you're not. Just like Justine Sacco wasn't tweeting to just white people when she wrote that, so everyone could have ironic racist fun together. People of color, women, other marginalized groups, we are listening, we have a different perspective than you, we know what we think of as "real" racism and not, and it's usually a wider range of microaggressions than you might think. That doesn't make us wrong or stupid or histrionic or thinking we're more moral. We're talking about things we identify with in the day to day. We're at expert level in these topics just because of forced experience with it, which if you're a white person being like 'oh, everyone says racist things from time to time, so what', you're being pretty basic about the whole thing.
posted by zutalors! at 6:44 PM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I answered the question you asked. But I'm not going to answer hyperbolic questions that have very little to do with the article under discussion.

I wouldn't feel comfortable working around someone I knew was a gleeful proponent of mob justice.

Not hyperbole at all, and it certainly has something to do with your statement above. If the answer is "no", then why is outrage justified in one instance but not the other?
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 6:44 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Justine Sacco (and a number of others in a similar situation) appear to have fallen prey to the fact that the failure mode of "clever" is "asshole," and that it's very very easy on social media to fail at being clever.

If there's one advantage I have in being a person of note (at whatever level being a science fiction author conveys notability), it's the awareness that every tweet/facebook post/blog entry is public performance to a greater or lesser extent. That awareness usually (usually) keeps me from unintentionally showing my ass.

I do think ill-advised comments on social media made when one was young will eventually stop being a huge penalty, roughly about the time that the people who are currently young and saying stupid things online come into positions of influence and power. By that time, everyone will have made an ass of themselves online when they were young. It's the people who are making stupid comments online at 30 and above who will find themselves in a world of shit.
posted by jscalzi at 7:07 PM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


I don't think humans will ever stop being judgmental and dismissive of others they don't empathize with. Unless we teach all kids about it or something.

Rereading the thread, all this focus on Sacco's just fate still seems like a tangent, important in another context. Here it acts as a defense of an uncontrollable, destructive social mechanism. And also making a spectator sport/fan fiction of her life.
posted by halifix at 7:28 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


The level of belief in this thread that it's OK that someone would get fired from their job for non-work-related activity is distressingly high. And here I was, thinking that the MetaFilterate was broadly in favor of labor rights.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:43 PM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


This article does a decent job at examining the history of shaming, but does a lousy job of really looking at the Sacco Tweet particularly and why it struck such a nerve.

From the beginning, quoting the earlier tweets from her trip as if to show how she makes fun of Germans and the English too, to her hyperbolic description of her own plight ("brutal nadir?" really?)... nowhere does the author try and penetrate the bubble of privilege that surrounds Ms. Sacco and this whole story.

Do we really need to explain to the Ms. Sacco (and the NYT apparently) how mocking a German fellow traveller is different than joking about a brutal epidemic in the poorest continent on the planet?

Yes, I get she was being "ironic" -- but that ability to be ironic comes from the vast distance that separates a white American PR rep from an African AIDS patient. With her joke she "punched down." Her Tweet wasn't just "stupid" -- it embodied a whole spectrum of uncomfortable truths about power, race, and money. That is a boatload of a existential angst for the Twittervse to deal with. Of course people turned her into a scapegoat -- all those un-resolveable feelings had to go somewhere. It was easy prey for the Gawker-saur.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:51 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The level of belief in this thread that it's OK that someone would get fired from their job for non-work-related activity is distressingly high.

Define "non-work-related activity". Corporate executive whose Twitter account says "director of blahblah at XYZ Inc" is, like it or not, going to be seen by some number of people as *representative* of XYZ Inc. "Public relations exec makes spectacular PR gaffe and incurs lots of negative publicity"? That's someone whose continued employment has become a liability. Even in countries with substantial employee protections against unfair dismissal, there would be just cause for firing someone in that situation. Labour rights don't really enter into it.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 7:58 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Even in countries with substantial employee protections against unfair dismissal, there would be just cause for firing someone in that situation.

Citation needed. Not everywhere is America.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:59 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, one thing's for sure: empathy isn't Metafilter's greatest strength.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:01 PM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


Citation needed. Not everywhere is America.

I'm quite aware of that fact, thanks, considering that I'm in the UK. Over here, one ground for summary dismissal is bringing one's employer into disrepute. Which may include actions outside the workplace, especially when performed by senior people in the organisation.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 8:09 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Citation needed. Not everywhere is America.

I was recently at a presentation by David Mangan from the University of Leceister which compared the Canadian and UK rulings on social media related firings. The general gist of the presentation was that tribunals in the UK are taking a very hard line on saying bad stuff on social media. They're building a strong set of precedents for 'business reputation' trumping other concerns.

The paper -- which I will confess, I have not actually read, but which I assume does not contradict the things Professor Mangan said in person -- is available on SSRN.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:09 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's the people who are making stupid comments online at 30 and above who will find themselves in a world of shit.

Well, for varying degrees of "stupid".
posted by Going To Maine at 8:12 PM on February 12, 2015


Well, one thing's for sure: empathy isn't Metafilter's greatest strength.

For sure. This thread is full of people dismissing/flat out ignoring the concerns of people of color about this behavior, plus handwaving about calling this "lynching" OK because oh it's the PAST and also this is really the same thing when you think about it so sorry no still using that word. That's what you mean by lack of empathy right?
posted by zutalors! at 8:27 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


If I worked with someone who made a joke like that, I hope I'd explain to them why it was inappropriate. I wouldn't summon a random mob of people to stalk and threaten them.

Mass public criticism by strangers is problematic in itself, but I think it's clear that it is never OK to stalk and threaten people. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, some elements of public-outrage mobs behave in threatening ways. Participating in such a mob means condoning and enabling this behaviour, and it's inherently wrong.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:35 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


That's what you mean by lack of empathy right?

Sure, that and the other.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:39 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone here said they approved of the stalking. I also didn't see any fellow IAC coworkers saying they approved of the stalking. Just the firing. Totally different things.


If I worked with someone who made a joke like that, I hope I'd explain to them why it was inappropriate.


Also, this puts the onus on the victims to "educate." I've had coworkers say pretty vile sexist things and get fired for them. I'm glad no one asked me to go explain why their comment was wrong.
posted by zutalors! at 8:43 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is the height of passive-aggressive class privilege, when you find it more congenial to get people below you fired than to talk to them.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:00 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's a totally bananas way to flip the idea of privilege. And it's not "getting" anyone fired, it's just that "fired" should be the natural consequence of egregiously shitty behavior, not 'hey minority, go explain to the white person why it's wrong. They don't know, poor thing. Please educate." Also who said anything about "below you?" And class privilege? Where would you even get that.
posted by zutalors! at 9:05 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


One element that made Sacco's situation somewhat unique and I think is germane both to why it went viral and how much the pile on was hoping for a fairly heavy handed response was the fact that it was discovered very close to when she took off and that she wasn't online in air. I distinctly recall a lot of the NY media clusterfuck running with it, and IIRC there were trending topics around people gleefully trumpeting the shit storm she was going to land to.

If ginning up a massive amount of focus on someone who literally can't respond isn't the definition of mob justice, I don't know what is. The presumption was always that she made the tweet straight while she was in the air, and that narrative was able to stick because -- and I know this is not what everyone who followed it was responding to, but I guarantee for Biddle, et al, it was the case -- it was an very soft target and funny to them. But if Biddle had just replied 'hey are you a racist fuck or just really tone deaf?' and she was able to respond somewhat expediently with 'no, but probably' this would have never happened. So the intensity of the moment probably won't be recreated, but there are some telling details there about what the need to be always on requires of people who have even a small amount of online profile (Biddle basically went dark for what, a month, after his bully tweet?)
posted by 99_ at 9:17 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have a lot of thoughts about the subject but most of them boil down to "Beware of all those in whom the urge to punish is strong".
posted by seymourScagnetti at 9:39 PM on February 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


... but that ability to be ironic comes from the vast distance that separates a white American PR rep from an African AIDS patient. With her joke she "punched down." Her Tweet wasn't just "stupid" -- it embodied a whole spectrum of uncomfortable truths about power, race, and money. That is a boatload of a existential angst for the Twittervse to deal with. Of course people turned her into a scapegoat -- all those un-resolveable feelings had to go somewhere. It was easy prey for the Gawker-saur.

The point, though, is that people are being pretty seriously punished for stupid behavior that is independently pretty harmless. It may have ultimately been a "punch down", but it had no direct impact on anyone. That isn't true for the people who shamed her - they had a specific and direct target for their own punches.

People read a lot into this woman's statement and then banded together to significantly and anonymously alter her life. That is pure mob justice. I bet most of the people involved in this didn't even understand what they were doing, what was even said, or what the consequences could be. It was stupid of them too.

I don't necessarily support the "right to be forgotten" because I have a love of history, and I would hate to see historical records deliberately altered. On the other hand, I can't even imagine that someone might dig up something I wrote 25 years ago in college, broadcast it out of context to the world under their own agenda, and permanently alter my life. That just seems wrong, and I'm not sure we should so easily dismiss that with a "you should have exercised better judgement 25 years ago". People evolve, both through the years and even instantly as their eyes are opened.

Maybe a step in the right direction would be to make some overreactions to this illegal. Maybe a company should not be able to fire an employee solely because the mobs are demanding it, or even because their business is being threatened by these anonymous vigilantes who have figured out where they work.

Remember, our constitution was written in a time when people weren't as dependent on others for a job. It was a lot easier to hang a shingle in the 1700s without fear of global corporate competition, and it was a lot easier to reinvent your life by simply moving a couple of towns over - no Google search, no credit checks, no Lexis-Nexis. I know it is en vogue to say that freedom of speech was meant to prevent governmental prosecution, but things have changed so that private punishment can be far worse.
posted by RalphSlate at 9:50 PM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


From Ronson's interview with Adam Curtis, which is worth reading for lots of reasons:
one result is that we've become so keen to right political wrongs we do it even when there aren't any wrongs to right. So somebody gets destroyed for telling a joke on Twitter that comes out badly. People are getting destroyed for bad wording. And their fate is so horrendous it's frightening all of us into behaving in a more conformist way.
I think there's some substance to that, though I'm less persuaded by Curtis's take that social media lapses into mutual grooming and approval-seeking in lieu of action. It taps into the shifting boundaries of public-private-secret on those semi-permeable social networks where conversations between friends are taking place in a space that's somewhere between "eavesdroppable" and "out in public".

REMEMBER, THIS IS A CONVERSATION WITH THE ENTIRE WORLD AND THERE IS A PERMANENT RECORD OF IT

Remember that nobody really knows how to have a "conversation with the entire world", and that nobody really knows how to handle conversations with permanent records. Software engineers sorta kinda forced that mode on us. Perhaps today's teenagers are growing into it, and teenagers of the 2020s will consider it their native mode, which is its own kind of scary.
posted by holgate at 10:09 PM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I am dubious of anyone who says that people are wasting their time by not hunting the "real racists", as someone did above.

They did not even appear to be the Grand Arbiter of Real Racism and they did not appear to be leading by example and doing the hard work of dismantling systemic racism from the top down or the bottom up. It seems like they just wanted leniency for white people to tell shitty, bigoted jokes.

And yeah, "lynch mob" is unnecessary and offensive hyperbole when "mob" perfectly suffices.
posted by elr at 11:41 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Donglegate joke's speaker did not post on Hacker News to get a mob going, he posted to apologize and went to lengths throughout the thread to try to reduce the mob:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5398681

It's worth noting that the arguments about Sacco's PR position being meaningful to the debate are probably just as applicable to Adria Richards, whose position was Developer Evangelist, which is a community manager position that's tangential to PR. Her ability to do her job was definitely compromised by the way people felt about her behavior (whether they were right or wrong to feel that way).

Just to be clear, the hate and threats were and are completely unacceptable and ought to be illegal and prosecuted, IMO. I haven't seen anything about Sacco receiving death or rape threats - I assume that's both because she's white and because the racists overlap strongly with those sending threats?

I'm seriously conflicted about the firing aspects of these mobs. Companies are right to believe that recruiting, retention, and customer loyalty depend on brand image, and that having (or worse, standing by) employees with this kind of notoriety is bad for that image. I know customers and potential employees of SendGrid who have an averse reaction to them because of that incident, for both actions (as well as just for having been accidentally involved in the whole thing). But getting unlucky and having your career seriously damaged for something thoughtless or stupid you say... that seems pretty problematic given how thoughtless and stupid we all are fairly often.

This comment...should I contribute it to this conversation or delete it? I ask myself this question regularly, and honestly, mostly these days I delete comments.
posted by freyley at 12:41 AM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


I haven't seen anything about Sacco receiving death or rape threats - I assume that's both because she's white and because the racists overlap strongly with those sending threats?

It's probably because she came off social media. If you think white women don't receive rape and death threats then you are very much mistaken.

Valleywag is a trash publication that publishes this kind of garbage.
posted by Summer at 2:25 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Richards didn't really make the same kind of mistake Sacco did though. She made two mistakes as I see it. She posted about it publicly instead of taking it privately to the organizers first. Going public is always going to look like a call for a potential twitter storm in this day and age. Her second mistake was engaging with the trolls on Twitter later as the counter-storm developed. The urge to want to defend yourself is strong, and I recommend it against the average random bully, but not against a mob. You just can't win and it's too likely you are going to egg them on. Those are innocent mistakes from a woman upset about inappropriate jokes at a work related function.

A racist joke published on Twitter is an unforced error and just a much different thing. Even if the world doesn't see it, what if fellow employees or potential recruits do? It's true that Richard's ability to do her job might have been compromised, but mostly by factors outside of reasonable ability to predict and then control. That's a situation where I would prefer to see the employer stand by the employee.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:26 AM on February 13, 2015


There's a problem with scale involved with all this, I think.

If I saw someone doing something awfully homophobic/sexist/transphobic/etc and I felt it was severe enough not supporting that person, I'd make the choice to stop supporting it. I might also tell my friends about it, as I might feel that making sure other people were aware of the issue and would then make the choice themselves of supporting/not supporting them. To generalize this less: I've done that a few times (in recent memory, I've told people I know about Pogo and talked them off of buying GalCiv) and I don't really think anyone would think I was wrong to tell my friends about it - I care about my friends and I've felt hurt before by finding out I've supported hateful people, so I'd think it would be best for my friends to know in that way.

The problem arises when 'telling your friends' turns into 'telling your friends who tell their friends and so on' making it blow up enough to be 'telling the entire internet' in effect, leading to larger consequences for the person involved than may have been warranted or deserved. The story about the dongle joke in the article is a good example of this. The warning turns into a punishment and a pillorying for the person involved, frequently without thought put to exactly how large in scale and how widespread it's become. I really doubt anyone would think this is 100% always warranted (especially in the cases where it's less unambiguously bigoted and instead may or may not be just momentary idiocy) and I doubt it's the intended result of the vast majority of things that turn into pile-ons and public shaming.

I don't really know what the solution is to this, other than a large scale movement towards making social media and discussion forums across the internet a lot more workable with respect to keeping messages just to a small group (but with screenshots and human beings being human beings this unworkable solution would fail pretty much immediately).

Finally, since I didn't mention it above: there's always the case of things intended to be large, public callouts, whether that's on the scale of metatalk threads dedicated to a single user or the Gawker writer in the article posting the woman's tweet to a place where they were absolutely aware had thousands and thousands of people viewing. To this, all I can say is be well aware of the scale of what you're bringing to a discussion and ask if the discussion is absolutely worth hundreds or thousands of more eyes onto it. I'd but good odds against it.
posted by flatluigi at 2:28 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


This bullshit has a human cost. I very often see people I follow on Twitter disappear for weeks on end behind locked accounts after sustained attacks against them.

Social media has been weaponised against people and every time this comes up I'm amazed at how clueless the savvy people of Metafilter are about what's happening out there, and how many are happy to jump into the victim blaming camp.

Don't be part of the problem. I recently made a bargain with myself:

1. Don't judge people you don't know no matter what they've said on social media
2. Don't think you have the right to mete out justice to anyone just for something they've said
3. Recognise that people live their life online now and 'just not saying awful shit' is a standard that most human beings on all sides don't adhere to
4. Don't join in the mob, even if it's just commenting on how awful someone you don't know is on Metafilter. Tiny actions have big consequences
5. Always be polite, even if you passionately disagree with someone. Don't stoop to name calling
6. Speak out against the mob if you can, even if the person being judged is not on 'your side'
7. Don't think this nonsense can't happen to you, you perfect angel. It absolutely can

As a great man once said: "It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind"
posted by Summer at 2:46 AM on February 13, 2015 [28 favorites]


This bullshit has a human cost. I very often see people I follow on Twitter disappear for weeks on end behind locked accounts after sustained attacks against them.

That's probably because you follow some people who have hateful and ugly opinions that some people quite rightly have strong feelings about. (If people like Julie Burchill and Julie Bindel and Suzanne Moore don't want to get called out on their transphobia then they shouldn't be expressing transphobic sentiments in national newspapers, n'est-ce pas?)

Social media has been weaponised against people and every time this comes up I'm amazed at how clueless the savvy people of Metafilter are about what's happening out there, and how many are happy to jump into the victim blaming camp.

Weaponised against whom exactly? People in positions of relative privilege who are being forced to face the fact that when they make a racist or sexist or homophobic or transphobic comment that they're not actually talking about some icky abstraction but actual people who are understandably somewhat upset by what they've said? Tsk.

Don't be part of the problem. I recently made a bargain with myself:

1. Don't judge people you don't know no matter what they've said on social media


If someone says something vile and racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/etc on social media I'm going to assume they probably in fact are a vile racist/etc, since people who aren't generally manage to NOT say things like that.

2. Don't think you have the right to mete out justice to anyone just for something they've said

If someone says something in a public forum that invites criticism they have no right to not expect a response.

3. Recognise that people live their life online now and 'just not saying awful shit' is a standard that most human beings on all sides don't adhere to

Just the ones who aren't arseholes.

4. Don't join in the mob, even if it's just commenting on how awful someone you don't know is on Metafilter. Tiny actions have big consequences

See nos. 1 and 2. As far as "tiny actions" and their consequences? Having to put up with a neverending stream of hateful racist/misogynist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist shit surprisingly adds up, for people. The concept of "microagressions" didn't just come out of nowhere. And people will, unsurprisingly, push back.

5. Always be polite, even if you passionately disagree with someone. Don't stoop to name calling

I'm not really sure that there is a polite way to engage with someone who's been engaged in being publicly awful. Especially since "what you've said is actually rather offensive" usually gets "sod off, I don't care if you're offended or not" in response.

6. Speak out against the mob if you can, even if the person being judged is not on 'your side'

If someone has said things deserving of criticism then maybe they deserve to be criticised, even if several people ARE doing it; they don't deserve to be threatened or stalked, but in an online forum like Twitter? They can deal with the speech of people responding to *their* speech or they can disconnect from that online forum.

7. Don't think this nonsense can't happen to you, you perfect angel. It absolutely can

I'm not in the habit of saying awful things about marginalised people and tend to not make jokes about AIDS and poverty and how funny black people are, so I expect it probably won't.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 4:17 AM on February 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


who said anything about "below you?" And class privilege? Where would you even get that.

If a word from you can get someone fired, you are more privileged than they are, and are punching down.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:37 AM on February 13, 2015


Weaponised against whom exactly?

Against a frat house accused of participating in a violent ritual gang rape when in fact the accuser had lied to a magazine that failed to do fact checking? Against innocent people who had fake comments photoshopped and submitted on to that "Get racists fired" website? Basically against anybody perceived of using offensive words or behavior when a significant number of people believe the accusation to be true.

But even when somebody is guilty of poor behavior, I'm not going to shrug off the fact that they have received threats like Lynch did because of an offensive costume. Guilty or innocent you still risk this sort of behavior when you whip up the mob. When it gets to the point of actual physical threats, we're past the point of "criticism" and into something much closer to mob based extrajudicial violent justice.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:42 AM on February 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


It may have ultimately been a "punch down", but it had no direct impact on anyone.

Really?

A Tweet making light of the suffering of black Africans by a white person is absolutely symptomatic of how we dehumanize people of color. On it's own, you're right, it's not much. But it is certainly part of the "death by a thousand cuts" of casual racism.

How bizarre it us to be asked to sympathize for her "serious punishment" (when by all accounts she's found a new job, has a roof over her head, and is able to meet NYT writers for lunch in Chelsea) when Africans suffering under epidemics are not given a sentence of consideration.

Bizarre, but not at all unexpected.

"Because, of course, a defenseless white woman who made a racist tweet is the victim here."
posted by pantarei70 at 6:28 AM on February 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


The links in and comments to the Requires Hate thread should be required reading for anyone in this thread who believes that deciding who is "punching up" and who is "punching down" turns on conventional features such as maleness, whiteness or sexual orientation. Requires Hate based her power on being the under-underdog - "Asian-Asian". Thus, by her definition, she was always punching up, even when attacking another WOC. The facts were otherwise, but she got away with it for years.

Someone made the point upthread here that if a word from you can get someone fired, you are in a posifion of privilege. Mr Dongle Joke got fired based on a single tweet from an offended eavesdropper. It took a lot more effort to get his accuser fired. I am not judging who was in the right and who was in the wrong in that mess, just observing that power does not always lie where you may think it does.

The ability to assemble a mob and aim it at someone, clothed in the language of social justice, is the power to destroy. I fear that power and despise those who try to use it trivially, to destroy those they hate.

I was bullied in school, for years. My teeth were broken, my nose was broken, my belongings were torn, stolen and destroyed. If I found a quiet corner of the schoolyard to read in, I would be found and tormented. I was always alone: there were never less than three of them. That bullying only ended when I got big enough to hurt my tormenters despite their numbers. In cases like those detailed in the FPP here, I hear the echo of the hate-filled voices of those schoolyard bullies.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 6:33 AM on February 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


The thing is, when someone gets fired/faces large life consequences for their actions, they're not facing those consequences because their employer/school/etc cares about being anti-racist or feminist, etc - which is why the woman who reported the dongle joke was fired. The employer/etc cares about avoiding DDoS attacks, being shamed on social media and so on. Which is why there are lots of cases like Adria's, or people getting fired for being outed as trans on social media, or people being fired for complaining about bad working conditions or for whistleblowing.

I had someone plausibly threaten to dox me and contact my employer to try to get me fired over a review that I wrote because it was on the left wing side of a particular issue. There was some [mumble mumble internet stuff and assistance from friends who knew people] and it came to nothing, but it could have gone very badly and I was really stressed about it for a long time. That person could have turned a particular right-wing internet mob on me very easily, and I am fortunate that it did not happen. And this wasn't even about feminism!

The more "get enough complaints from people [regardless of the actual issue] and you're fired" becomes an internet norm, the more leeway employers have for firing people for their left political opinions, for their gender identity, for their activism, etc. This isn't exactly something that American employers have shrunk from in the past, or indeed shrink from now when they can get away with it.

I think that some fixes (which we won't get, because people are terrible and the world is terrible) would be: banning accounts which post racist, misogynist, etc material (which would probably not be defined as strictly as we'd like, but it would be a start) even though this would require a pretty steady hand with moderation; encouraging employers to write specific policies about behavior which calls into question your ability to do your job (ie, writing a racist tweet, yes; having a deviantart account full of furry porn, no); and having employers with clearly defined responses when people do this stuff, plus protection for whistleblowers. So dongle guy does something that isn't good, and he gets [written up? mandatory training of some kind? something significant but short of firing]. Here, an employer who actually had some information about the person could readily see whether here was a employee who had a history of being sexist and lacking in professionalism or whether here was someone who basically said a stupid thing once on impulse.

To me the issue of "fair" consequences is both about proportionality and about consistency across cases.

I've spent a lot of time in social circles where issues are dealt with on an ad hoc basis, with no clear policy or structure for implementing consequences. Here's what I notice:

1. Depending on the hot topics of the week, consequences vary wildly. One person can get deep-sixed for not listening well to women because that's an issue that's on everyone's mind, and then two months later another person will have the same sets of behaviors but there will be some other concern in the air.

2. Pre-existing prejudices modify how people get treated. I was once in a meeting - with people who were not all white, and who were by no means all terrible! - when the group came within an inch of Having A Public Call-Out of A Guy for, basically talking too much and taking up too much space. The only problem? He was actually much less of a talker-and-space-taker-up than the wealthy white guy who was also part of the project...and this guy was black. Everyone complained about the white dude regularly, but it was the black dude who had been going to get a talking to*.

(And I am constantly surprised by how if you are white and middle class and good-looking and work in a creative field and make a "fun" product, you get rehabilitated after a year or two. If you're old or poor or funny-looking or work at a big box store, you're in trouble for ever, but if people think you're cool, they'll forgive a lot. I keep a list of artists whose work I can't listen to for [political reasons] and I'm always hugely surprised how two years down the road all the radical left people have totes forgotten and no longer care. This seems wrong to me. )

Because of the way pre-existing prejudices work, I really, really think that policies (which can be updated and revised) need to be in place. It can't just be "oh, we got a lot of complaints from random people".

3. Ad hoc responses sometimes fall apart - if they take any time to implement, the impulse to do something can disappear. This also leads to not thinking stuff through, because there's pressure to respond as fast as possible.

I have noticed, too, that the more a person wants Not To Be An Asshole, the more the consciousness of ad hoc crowd-sourced justice tends to worry them and shut them down, because they tend to be hyperconscious of the many ways that ignorance and socialization can lead you to fuck up; it's the people who think that they are awesome and can do no wrong who keep blathering.

I think that the only way that ad hoc internet justice is going to fade away, though, will be when there are actual mechanisms in place to address concerns. Some people mob because it's fun and feels good and because they already have social power (take a look at the research on workplace bullying if you don't believe me). Some people mob because there's no other way to get anything done, and getting rid of a few bad actors through bad means seems like the best option.

I think that internet mobbing really is multiple problems coming together, and how people feel about it and why they do it depends very much on who they are and how they are situated. Once, years ago, I did write a letter to someone's employer over [a thing that was pretty ugly, but that should absolutely have been handled in-community - just to be clear, it was an issue where people of my identity were the victims, it was not sexual assault and it was not an issue of racism; if those things had been different I would feel differently]. Mercifully, the women who did the thing did not get fired and her career was not ruined, although there's still lots on the internet about it if you know where to look.

In the moment, I was so furious, sickened, hurt and violated, and I wanted to hit back at this woman any way I could - she was definitely attacking people who were marginalized and doing it in a particularly cruel and emotion-producing way. Looking back with more perspective and more life experience, I can see that this was a very damaged, very young woman who was acting out some terrible stuff that she had suffered. She still did a bad thing, but I am really, really glad that the internet was less sophisticated and I was not part of destroying the career of someone who was just out of her teens and herself an abuse victim.

I look back on what I said and did at that time with shame. I did not consider the girl at all; I treated her the same as if she were someone powerful and intentional with lots of resources - I didn't even think "who is this person, what are her responsibilities". I was not dispensing justice or acting with honor or acting as I believe the world should work.

What's more, my thoughts about her were totally different from my actual values - in general, I have always been very much of the community-justice, take-the-person's-history-into-account school of thought. But because this was the internet and she was far away and there was an angry crowd, I went right along. And I think that even when someone has done something wrong and should be accountable, it is far too easy to get into that headspace on the internet.

*When younger and more ignorant, I'd been part of a project where this had happened and it was awful and racist but I basically did not have the intellectual tools to recognize it until afterward; so because I was lucky enough to recognize what was going on, I said it was racist and the whole thing did stop dead in its tracks.
posted by Frowner at 6:34 AM on February 13, 2015 [40 favorites]


Summer: One rule I try to observe, in addition, is to be aware of my own impulse to laugh. Social media absolutely has transformative potential to expose hate and take down the powerful - but when that is happening, I don't usually feel the impulse to snicker about it. Outrage + mocking laughter is a potent combination, but one that's felt increasingly toxic to me lately. It doesn't feel like the stuff out of which lasting social change is built.

Pseudonymous Cognomen: I also believe you can be categorically against racist jokes like Sacco's and also attuned to the problematic nature of Twitter culture. This is a moment when thinking about intersectionality matters: yes, she is white and privileged, but it is also not a coincidence, that she - like most of the high-profile targets of these Twitter rage-fests - is young and female. Twitter is not just a venue for the oppressed to speak up against the powerful (although it is that); it's also a venue for hateful misogynists to spew their rape threats, and lazy gawking onlookers to point and mock, and for disturbed stalkers to gather personal information about individuals so they can show up and meet them at the airport, and for for-profit websites to trawl for the millions of clicks that will line their millionaire-owners' pockets. A Twitter pile-on may begin with an absolutely justified call-out, a "punch up," but it is almost impossible for it to ever remain that way. I don't believe it is a dismissal of racism or sexism or transphobia for activists to question and try to improve the tools they use for change (although I agree, and regret, that many of these conversations are accompanied by racism and sexism and transphobia.)

I think that the use of "lynch mob" is unnecessary, unpleasant and inaccurate; "mob justice" conveys what needs to be said.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:39 AM on February 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


If a word from you can get someone fired, you are more privileged than they are, and are punching down.

You're right in principle, but hanging someone else's comment, which no one signalled approval of, on some other person who also hasn't approved of it, is dirty pool. That's what it looked like to me, but maybe I missed something - has someone else told a story about getting someone fired? Or are you reading zutalors! to mean that she got her co-workers fired?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:39 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing that wigs me out about social media is that it makes it incredibly easy and fast for EVERYONE who's ever heard your name to find everything of yours and ruin your life. Justine Sacco had what, 170 people reading her feed? And her life got ruined anyway because one guy saw it and screamed to the world.

As a few other folks here said, I refuse to tweet and the only way to win is to not play. However, I'm aware that probably pretty soon, not tweeting will no longer be an option for anyone down to your 90-year-old grandma. And then well, every single one of us can and will have our lives ruined in 5 seconds when the mob comes for us. It's very hard to be 100% perfect at all times and never say something that isn't going to offend someone. I've pissed off people this year that I never intended to--we probably all have. It could and will easily be me someday and I've just been lucky that well, someone didn't spot what I said and tweeted it, or they didn't want to do the heavy lifting of highlighting a link and pasting it into Twitter or whatever. If I made it super easy to repost things where everyone else could see them in 5 seconds while on the toilet, I'd be sunk. And you all know damned well you can and will be next, too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:40 AM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, first - she never said a damn thing about getting the guy fired. IIRC, she even had made a post after he got fired expressing regret that he did so.

That that's pretty damn weak. She publicly calls someone out, with their photo, without talking to them and "oh I never said he should be fired" is satisfactory to you? Her intent was to harm; obviously nothing justifies the sexist, threatening attacks she later received, but she absolutely has responsibility for that guy getting fired. And over a "dongle" pun that was not said to her; this just isn't at all like the Sacco incident.
posted by spaltavian at 6:45 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


If a word from you can get someone fired, you are more privileged than they are, and are punching down.

You're right in principle, but hanging someone else's comment, which no one signalled approval of, on some other person who also hasn't approved of it, is dirty pool. That's what it looked like to me, but maybe I missed something - has someone else told a story about getting someone fired? Or are you reading zutalors! to mean that she got her co-workers fired?
posted by Rustic Etruscan 27 minutes ago [+]


Exactly. I think my meaning is clear, but you know, take every advantage to flip the idea of privilege so that it suits not talking about minorities and/or women, other marginalized groups, so a PR executive at IAC is an example of someone who can be "punched down to."

What I mean, very specifically, is if I worked in an organization where someone openly prefessed racist, bigoted, sexist etc beliefs that made the workplace uncomfortable, I should not have to "have a word" with HR or anyone, it should be clear to anyone familiar with a healthy company culture that that person needs to go. The alternative should not be for me or anyone else to have to go say 'well actually, you were being offensive because xxxx" and then we have to go to lunch.

Also: I have had to do that damn lunch a few times, actually, or tell the person what makes me uncomfortable. It sucks and brings the abuse back on you threefold. And then ten more things have to happen, to OTHER people, before any action is taken. So no, it is really not punching down. But I'm guessing you know that and are just saying that to bolster the 'oh holy people' thread running through what seems like half the comments here.
posted by zutalors! at 7:12 AM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's probably because you follow some people who have hateful and ugly opinions that some people quite rightly have strong feelings about.

So you went into my Twitter account and decided to make this about me? Please don't do that.

I'm not in the habit of saying awful things about marginalised people and tend to not make jokes about AIDS and poverty and how funny black people are, so I expect it probably won't.

No, sure. Try talking about those maginalised people in the gaming or tech industries on twitter and see what happens to you. You went and did what everyone else does and made it about sides rather than bad behaviour. Congrats on your victim blaming.
posted by Summer at 7:19 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


spaltavian: Her intent was to harm; obviously nothing justifies the sexist, threatening attacks she later received, but she absolutely has responsibility for that guy getting fired.

If you accept that formulation, it follows that he has responsibility for the year-long parade of death threats, harassment, continual doxxing, and infrastructure attacks that she endured after he made his case on HackerNews. He's got a new job; it's unclear whether Adria Richards' life will ever return to normal.

If she can be held responsible for what other people did with the information she posted, he can be held responsible for what followed his posting, as well.

I think there's broad agreement here that the Internet mob effect can transform perfectly reasonable complaint and critique into something much bigger and darker. What angers me about the new spate of hand-wringing, pearl-clutching articles on the horrors of online "mobs" is simple: They reliably focus on how sad privileged people are when the Internet notices them saying something shitty but gloss over deliberately-stoked campaigns of intentional harassment, treating the two phenomenon as equivalent because they both exist online at scale.
posted by verb at 7:25 AM on February 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


Guys, I really think it's a mistake to lump the Sacco case in with the Dongle story and/or GamerGate, etc.

The contexts and power differentials are very different in each case; just because they are sharing a social-media-based modality (yeah, I'm in grad school) does't mean you can swap them out when making generalizations.

On preview, kind of what verb said.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:52 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


[Folks, let's take "lynch mob references can be problematic when not referring to literal lynch mobs" as read for now and not keep litigating the choice of words in here.]
posted by cortex at 8:18 AM on February 13, 2015


How bizarre it us to be asked to sympathize for her "serious punishment" (when by all accounts she's found a new job, has a roof over her head, and is able to meet NYT writers for lunch in Chelsea) when Africans suffering under epidemics are not given a sentence of consideration.

Yeah it does seem that she has landed on her feet for whatever reason; may be as simple as having a lot of family money. I do think she has gotten a lot of heat for seeming to come from a place of clueless privilege. I don't know that any of that picture is true; she just sort of reads that way.

The public ridicule and infamy are indeed a fairly serious punishment for someone whose job is all about publicity. Can she really not date? I don't believe that, especially now. So many people are apparently prepared to sympathize with her.
posted by BibiRose at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2015


I prefer the Chinese term 'human flesh search engine'. It's just creepy enough.
posted by bq at 9:58 AM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you accept that formulation, it follows that he has responsibility for the year-long parade of death threats, harassment, continual doxxing, and infrastructure attacks that she endured after he made his case on HackerNews.

That doesn't follow, and is frankly ridiculous.
posted by spaltavian at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2015


That doesn't follow, and is frankly ridiculous.

I now hold you responsible for calling another user ridiculous, which was clearly intended to harm, as I am magically able to suss out your motivations in exactly the way you are magically able to know hers.
posted by maxsparber at 10:38 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hurf durf, good one.
posted by spaltavian at 10:39 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Two related thoughts:

There's a model for "conversations with the world" accompanied by permanent records: you find it in broadcasting, and how politicians and networks address the audience. Except that's not actually a conversation, even if it often pretends to be: it's one-to-many, and the language is either inclusive to the point of banality or aimed exclusively towards an in-group.

We've seen on MeFi many times the extended process of how to navigate sensitive issues with problematic language. It takes place within an environment that is, for the most part, thoughtful, tolerant and respectful. We know how much work that takes. A glance at MeTa makes clear that even then there are weaknesses and failings.

I think it's important for there to be spaces in which one can be exposed to things outside one's comfort zone, fuck up, learn something, seek forgiveness and be forgiven. Those spaces are becoming harder to find online.
posted by holgate at 10:41 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]




"Because, of course, a defenseless white woman who made a racist tweet is the victim here."



That article is really good and this:

If it were not for Black Twitter using #HasJustineLandedYet as a way to shame Justine for the disgusting remarks, mainstream media wouldn’t have picked up the story. Let’s be very clear: It’s often blacks on Twitter who rally behind a racial issue before mainstream ever thinks, “Hey, maybe we should look into this.”


Seems to speak much more to the "maybe people are listening outside the demographic you think are listening, and maybe they have reasons to view your remarks as harmful and not innocent fun" and less "oh people think they are perfect angels and so sanctimonious and never make mistakes blah blah blah"

No, most black people wouldn't make that particular "mistake" and especially ones who participate in things like black Twitter activism, and they have reason to be upset.
posted by zutalors! at 10:49 AM on February 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


7. Don't think this nonsense can't happen to you, you perfect angel. It absolutely can

I find the whole "You're not perfect either!" line pretty ridiculous whenever it is pulled out. Someone will say,"So I left my heavily pregnant wife and small children and took all the cash and valuables and the family car and just hit the road for the next 20 years because I wasn't feeling it anymore---So I'm not the perfect dad, no one is" or they chalk up some mind bogglingly egregious act to "not being perfect" or it just being something anybody could just do, like the only person who isn't capable of it is some "perfect angel."

It's ridiculous. Since when does not being racist require any kind of perfection? It just requires being able to see how it's just flimsy chance that kept you from being born into less fortunate or terrible circumstances, and knowing that there's nothing keeping you from not being affected by tremendous pain and misfortune.

It's not hard to not be racist, and even easier to not open your mouth if you are so challenged and ignorant that you somehow can't help but say offensive and racist stuff.
posted by discopolo at 11:03 AM on February 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


One thing I've never understood about the Sacco thing is that a lot of people (including her) seem to think that the offensive part was implying (sarcastically, of course) that white people can't get AIDS, when the offensive part was actually collapsing the entire continent of Africa down to the AIDS problem and implying that she's so much more likely to get AIDS there than anywhere else. Certainly there are different public health struggles there than in the US, but it comes across as extremely ignorant and hurtful to characterize the entire continent in such a way that its struggles with AIDS are all that matters.

Basically her comment reads as "Africa, huh? Lots of AIDS there, amirite?" Since nobody knows her from adam, she doesn't have the built-in context that somebody like Colbert can rely on to clue us in about what kind of joke she's trying to make, and she's speaking in a way that makes it sound like she only expects other white people to hear her. That's the kind of joke you can make in your living room with your close friends who know what kind of person you are, but not on a global medium where actual people from actual Africa are going to overhear you.

It's not that I don't have any empathy for what happened to her, and I agree that the consequences were pretty disproportionate, but I also don't think that any single person who spoke out about her hurtful comments is to blame for what happened to her. I do think we need to talk about the emergent properties of having millions of people angry at you all at once, but every single one of those millions of people still has the right to be angry and speak about that thoughtlessness and prejudice. I have a problem with the way we talk about this stuff, as if every single person saying "not cool!" at once is equally to blame for the consequences she faced for her stupid thoughtless comments, or as if the thoughtless stupid commenter has some right to unfettered speech that those objecting to her comments are not also granted. If we're going to scold anyone, it should probably be the media properties that escalated this and possibly her employer, not the people who were hurt and offended by her comments and spoke out accordingly. They have just as much right say "look at this hurtful crap" as she has to make the stupid joke in the first place.
posted by dialetheia at 11:27 AM on February 13, 2015 [19 favorites]


Outstanding comment, dialethela. Hits all the right points for me. Went ahead and flagged that as fantastic.
posted by zutalors! at 11:34 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


It just requires being able to see how it's just flimsy chance that kept you from being born into less fortunate or terrible circumstances

That 'just' is carrying a lot of weight on its back.

and even easier to not open your mouth if you are so challenged and ignorant

By extension, though, it is easier to get people to shut the fuck up about their offensive beliefs in certain venues than it is to get them to reconsider them. There is a certain value in getting such people to shut the fuck up, because it reduces the amount of shit in those spaces and creates room for others to participate, but that doesn't erase those beliefs: many will find their own homogenous subreddit or private forum or some other space that will not only welcome them but can also provide a bullshit supporting framework for their gut prejudices.

There's no good answer to this other than it's the total perspective vortex / too much fucking perspective.
posted by holgate at 11:41 AM on February 13, 2015


If we're going to scold anyone, it should probably be the media properties that escalated this and possibly her employer, not the people who were hurt and offended by her comments and spoke out accordingly.

I am all for scolding her employer.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:01 PM on February 13, 2015


I'm not. They didn't want someone running their PR who thought it was amusing to make public racist remarks. I think they were entirely right.
posted by tavella at 12:17 PM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


It just requires being able to see how it's just flimsy chance that kept you from being born into less fortunate or terrible circumstances

That 'just' is carrying a lot of weight on its back.


Why do people want to so passionately defend the idea that it's really hard to avoid making racist comments that reduce the majority race of an entire continent to a deadly disease?

People of color and other marginalized groups are carrying a lot of weight on their backs as it is and it's ridiculous to want to add "but privileged people can't help themselves, it's just SO HARD to relate or empathize in any way" to that. Plenty of white people in this thread seem to manage it just fine.
posted by zutalors! at 12:19 PM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


That doesn't follow, and is frankly ridiculous.

I'm not clear on what makes it so ridiculous. You say that Adria Richards should not be taken at her word when she says that she didn't want him fired, that she was just expressing frustration, and that she hoped the conference organizers would say something to him. Specifically, you say, "Her intent was to harm… she absolutely has responsibility for that guy getting fired."

I'm not sure what makes Adria Richards less trustworthy, or more deserving of suspicion, than the man who told a dick joke at a conference, then sicced the Internet on the woman who tattled on him. For my part, I prefer to give both of them the benefit of the doubt: each expressed personal frustration in a public place, and both were sacked by their employers due to the fallout. I don't believe that either of them wanted those things to happen, but there is no doubt whatsoever that Adria Richards was hit harder by the resulting firestorm.

I simply can't figure out what justification there is for ascribing malice to one of them and not the other.
posted by verb at 12:25 PM on February 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm not. They didn't want someone running their PR who thought it was amusing to make public racist remarks. I think they were entirely right.

And racist remarks - like homophobic and misogynist remarks - call into question whether that person can work with people of color, women, GLBTQ people and those white/male/straight people who have friends/lovers/partners/children who are POC, women, GLBTQ etc. If someone makes racist remarks about "Africa", will she be able to treat junior staff who are from African countries - for example - fairly?

I think that depending on the remark, the employer, the person and their history as an employee, you might make the case that a write up, an HR process and some retraining would be sufficient to deal with an employee who makes a racist remark, and I think you might need to have some sit-downs in HR to figure out how to handle remarks that are merely ignorant rather than actually negative or mocking/rude/aggressive/hateful. (Like when someone legitimately believes something incorrect - you encounter the occasional naive person who really doesn't know that tr****e is not an acceptable term for trans people, for instance.)

But I think that once a public racist remark has been drawn to an employer's attention, the employer does need to have a process for responding. This is why I am very much in favor of actual policy, rather than a random "someone complained, it's embarrassing us on social media, quick, let's do something" strategy. Also, having a policy which says "making a racist remark on social media [here is an explanation of what we mean by racist] will result in [consequence consequence]" is a great way of heading things off at the pass and setting the tone.

I think that when we're speaking from our places of privilege, it's so very, very easy to be thoughtless - fatally easy - and giving people a policy heads up when they are hired is a way to get us to think before we say dumb stuff that seems "ironic" or trivial. I imagine that a lot of people actually feel really bad when they accidentally say something hurtful. I also think that when we're speaking from our places of privilege, we often don't put together "stupid joke" with "the feelings of a person I know and care about" or "a real issue".
posted by Frowner at 12:40 PM on February 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


So you went into my Twitter account and decided to make this about me?

No, I'm (still) making it about people who say terrible and hateful things in public and face public consequences for doing so. You're the one who said "people I follow have shut their Twitter accounts down"; having a look at your Twitter account (which is linked to your profile!) was sufficient to determine who at least some of those people are--and the ones I recognised are people who yes, have said hateful and ugly things about a marginalised group and got a justifiably angry response, not blameless martyrs who were attacked by a baying mob for no reason whatever. I don't have a problem with someone who has the platform of a national newspaper or magazine and uses that platform to say extremely hateful things having to deal with the response from it.

Try talking about those maginalised people in the gaming or tech industries on twitter and see what happens to you. You went and did what everyone else does and made it about sides rather than bad behaviour.

Way to turn things around, there. I am talking about people who make racist and sexist and homophobic and transphobic and generally bigoted comments in a public forum. The Gamergate scumbags who are harassing women for being female in public and having an opinion? They're part of the same culture that says "it's okay to say hateful things in public and not face consequences for it".
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 12:52 PM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why do people want to so passionately defend the idea that it's really hard to avoid making racist comments that reduce the majority race of an entire continent to a deadly disease?

I was mainly responding to the "it's just flimsy chance" part of the comment, the part that acknowledges privilege broadly, not the specific instance in racism. And I wasn't so much "passionately defending", more wearily reflecting that "just don't be a prejudiced arsehole! it's so simple!" is not an especially constructive comment.

To answer directly: because if it were actually really easy -- easy as in "it grants you a less difficult life" -- people wouldn't do it. Am I excusing it? Of course not. Read my earlier comments. People are the accumulation of their circumstances, for better or worse, and that carries a lot of momentum. What's being questioned here is whether having millions of random strangers collectively pass judgement on an offensive comment or bad joke or general fuckup in such a narrow and capricious way is productive in addressing prejudice, challenging prejudice and diminishing prejudice.
posted by holgate at 1:08 PM on February 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


having a look at your Twitter account (which is linked to your profile!)

To be super clear from a moderator's perspective, going into other users' profile details or off-site stuff to bring that into Metafilter thread is not cool and needs to not happen, however obliquely. More generally, you have been coming on really strong in this thread and need to cool it at this point.
posted by cortex at 1:34 PM on February 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


Danny O'Brien's stuff about register, as linked above, is good here: these people are posting in public but mostly they're talking in the private register to people who are actually interested in what they had for dinner that day, and are surprised when they "go viral" i.e. into the public.

I'm not sure what harm Succo's tweet did, if her followers were mostly friends who she spoke to in that register and took it as a joke. More people saw it (and so it presumably had more potential for dehumanising black people) after it generated a furore.

In 2003, O'Brien hoped that "we'll learn a kind of tolerance for the private conversation that is not aimed at us, and that overreacting to that tone will be a sign of social naivete." Unfortunately, that hasn't happened on Twitter. For me, Twitter is read only, for that reason and because it's debate by telegram.
posted by pw201 at 1:54 PM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Re: "Lynching", I took it to MetaTalk. I will update when and if it gets posted.

It's looking more and more as if that one got lost behind a potted palm or something. (To tell the absolute truth, if I was the mod on duty and I saw it pop up in the queue that potted palm would look mighty tempting.)
posted by jfuller at 2:21 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


We wrote to the poster about it at the time since it had some framing issues. Would be good to not have to go into meta-meta-detail about it back in this thread.
posted by cortex at 2:23 PM on February 13, 2015


And 2003 is a long time ago: just before Facebook's launch to highly selective groups. Before Twitter, where the deep structure very much implies the private register even if tweets can be yanked into the public zone: 140 characters, passing-comments, offguardedness from prominent people, or at least the impression of it. (We know what 'public' utterances look like on Twitter -- like a Marc Andreessen 14/11 'tweetstorm' thing -- and they fit uncomfortably there.)
posted by holgate at 2:25 PM on February 13, 2015


It's an old one, but this post by TressieMC hits the nail on the head.
There is always collateral damage when individuals become stand-ins for groups and histories. That is what Lauten discovered and what black people always know and what social media memes leverage in the war of cultural narratives. The right lesson may be, “no one should ever go through this” rather than, “how could they do this to me“. There should perhaps be checks for excesses but making the Lautens of the world equivalent to people resisting their marginalization conflates the tyranny of majority rule with minority resistance. Wanting to solve social media “lynching” first for powerful persons is pretty low-hanging fruit on a tree with far more vulnerable bodies on the branches.
posted by verb at 3:00 PM on February 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


>I'm not sure what makes Adria Richards less trustworthy, or more deserving of suspicion, than the man who told a dick joke at a conference, then sicced the Internet on the woman who tattled on him. For my part, I prefer to give both of them the benefit of the doubt: each expressed personal frustration in a public place, and both were sacked by their employers due to the fallout. I don't believe that either of them wanted those things to happen, but there is no doubt whatsoever that Adria Richards was hit harder by the resulting firestorm.

I applaud giving all parties the benefit of the doubt in Donglegate, and one solid kick up the arse each too. There are a lot of lessons in it. It's worth observing that each side chose to operate from their perceived areas of privilege: Adria Richards says she did not confront the guy because she feared being heckled or having her experience denied. Fair enough - it happens all the time. Instead she took it to her 9,000-strong Twitter following, where she was pretty much guaranteed to be taken seriously. The guy's employer freaked at the attention and fired him. Instead of just apologising privately, the guy then went public by apologising on Hacker news, but along with his apology noted somewhat passive-aggressively that he had been fired and had 3 kids, which arguably added fuel to the firestorm that got Adria Richards fired later that day when her employer freaked in turn.

It's worth noting the company's statement on the reason Adria was fired: "[W]hile the company supported her right to report the incident, they did not support the means by which she did it or the extreme responses that came from it." Blaming her for the "extreme responses" is unfair, but someone with 9,000 Twitter followers should have known that might happen. Giving both the benefit of the doubt, just as the guy wasn't thinking that his remarks addressed to the friend sitting next to him might offend someone who overheard, she might not have thought through what she was doing by placing the incident before her Twitter friends on the internet.

This thread is getting a little bogged down in the partisan gender politics and rehashing old grievances from the examples, when the relevance to the FPP is the effect on people of the use of internet mass media to bring down your enemy, instead of directly negotiating with them. What is abundantly clear is that in each example the people targeted were injured, and in some cases the tactic also rebounded on the targeters and injured them too. Some of the injured parties have since largely recovered, some have not.

What hasn't been discussed here (even though it was mentioned in the article linked in the FPP) is the effect on those participating in the attacks. Not the instigators, not the targets but the thousands of people who piled on. The person who tweeted "@JustineSacco HAS in fact landed at Cape Town international. She's decided to wear sunnies as a disguise" is black. So we have a black male piling on a white female. Whose privilege trumps whose there? Or if it is less about the privilege than the dumbass thing she tweeted, what if some other dumbass had used Zac's dumbass mugshot tweet to literally mug her? Nothing seems to have happened to Zac, however. I wonder how he feels about what he did.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 8:10 PM on February 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


This thread is getting a little bogged down in the partisan gender politics and rehashing old grievances from the examples
Discussing the choice of examples in the actual article, and the lessons learned from them, is not "getting bogged down" if you care about anything other than self-righteous scolding. The last year has seen a wonderful crop of pearl-clutching thinkpieces written by people who've suddenly become very concerned about the terrible power of "internet mob justice" and "political correctness." I would take them a lot more seriously if they paid attention when anyone other than "traditionally respectable people" were caught in Sauron's gaze.
Blaming her for the "extreme responses" is unfair, but someone with 9,000 Twitter followers should have known that might happen.
At current count, I have 8525 followers on Twitter. I'm reasonably careful about what I say, and I try not to be needlessly incendiary. But I've called out members of my own community for bullshit, and I've been called out by people for bullshit, too. No one's ever been fired for it (although GamerGate tried to convince my boss that screencapping one of their planning threads made me a racist).

When the PyCon Dick Joke incident (aka 'donglegate') happened in 2013, I was an active member of an open source community not unlike the one that organized PyCon. I can say with a high degree of confidence that, no, Adria Richards probably did not expect there to be any consequences for the dude.

Complaints I heard from women colleagues around that time included things like having their asses grabbed at conference events by respected members of the community and being expected to treat it as a lark. In a software community where a number of the most accomplished contributors and developers are mothers, we saw a conference keynote in which the project lead implored everyone to "make software easy enough for moms." He followed it up with a slide that implied sex in a ball pit and bragged about community growth by saying that we'd "probably eventually have a sex scandal." When several people called him on it, many members of the community attacked the women for being troublemakers.

It has taken a lot of work, and a lot of very ugly public fights in lots of tech subcommunities to begin moving the needle on that kind of jackassery. Inevitably, every single time, people start squalling about "mobs" and "mob justice" and "witch hunts." That doesn't happen when a bad actor faces consequences — it happens when someone steps up and complains about bad behavior. Consequences of any kind are black swans, not the norm, and generally only occur when Gawker and its clones decide there's enough blood in the water to affect ad revenues. So, no, I don't think that Adria Richards could have reasonably expected that dude to lose his job, any more than he could have reasonably expected that posting about it to Hacker News would result in her being a target for harassment, doxxing, and threats to this day.

Which brings us back to the original article, and the point that was so frustrating to me. As the "dick joke guy," the article spends its time and energy humanizing him and conveying how troubling it is for him to simply recall the incident. He is a father of three! A husband! He doesn't even remember the joke! Adria Richards is a footnote to the story, and the fact that the attacks on her for that one tweet still continue to this day are little more than a speedbump. The author quickly moves on to another story of a respectable person who got internet-mobbed and had to find a new job. That is a real and serious problem with the article, an apparent blind spot at the heart of the author's analysis. Perhaps the book will address it with more nuance, but the article that was actually published certainly does not.

I, too, am deeply concerned about the gasoline-and-matches intersection of zero-friction communication, attention-driven profit models, and complex social issues. They are critically important issues for us to grapple with, and as someone who helps build social/web/internet tools and infrastructure, I feel a great deal of responsibility to engage with the questions honestly and agressively. But unless the conversation also addresses the fact that these zero-friction tools have also given marginalized groups a way to turn spotlights on bad actors who've been ignored? Unless it addresses the fact that viral "death by a thousand cuts" mob action is also being channeled into much longer campaigns to deliberately destroy lives? Unless it addresses the disproportionate long-term consequences suffered by victims in marginalized groups? All the huffing and puffing is just another way of preserving a shitty status quo.
So we have a black male piling on a white female. Whose privilege trumps whose there?
That's what was noteworthy about TressieMC's post, linked above. It engages with the complexity of those issues in a way that the NYT article does not, and explores the danger and utility of treating individuals as proxies for groups. The fact that context is a part of privilege, and that someone can embody both the oppressor and the oppressed in different ways at different times, is not a trump card to end a complex conversation: it's the start of one.
posted by verb at 9:41 PM on February 13, 2015 [36 favorites]


That's a great comment, verb. Thanks.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:23 AM on February 14, 2015


Maybe I'm old-fashioned, and I'm certainly not a fan of enraged mobs, but I have to wonder about the amount of power some people give random assholes on the internet by placing their real name and employment information where it's easily accessible to everybody. I have a fairly unique given name, and as such, have fought hard to keep it off the internet since I've been online. I don't list the employer I work for on my social media accounts. There is no reason for my employer to know what I do after hours, and there is no reason for the internet to know where I work.

In my opinion, at least part of the problem we face as society is this breakdown of social groupings - your persona and voiced opinions are different between your friends after work (and after a few drinks), your mother, and your boss. It's also different between these people you know daily and random folks on the street. Never before in human history, to my knowledge, has there been this complete upheaval of social compartmentalization as you see with social media, and I feel like we're struggling with it and handling it poorly, especially because social ostracization is such a strong weapon. It makes me a bit concerned that teenagers today can't express themselves in all their awkward, opinionated glory because that embarrassing information is branded with their real name and they will have to carry it for the rest of their lives in front of a global audience.

I'm not attempting to victim-blame here, nor would this have come in handy for somebody in PR where social media is part of their job. The best cure would seem to me to be a combination of pseudonyms/compartmentalization and only speaking things that one is willing to stand behind.
posted by Feyala at 1:34 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Facebook killed internet anonymity for me. It was just so popular with everybody, I had to join up. And so my Facebook history was sprinkled with links to the same internet pseudonym I'd used anonymously since high school because I wanted to use Facebook to connect to online friends as much as offline friends and family.

Luckily, the closest I've come to harassment from that is an All-Pro NFL player from my favorite team searching out my personal Facebook to find a picture of me to insult because I made fun of something he said on Twitter. That's not threatening, just a fun story for the rest of my life. But even so, the vulnerability it exposed led me to shut down my Facebook to the public.

I had to learn to do that, and I practically grew up with computers and was online as soon as online was a thing. Kids, older folks, everybody not educated about what the net really is just aren't prepared for this level of exposure. I hope we can both teach them about what being online means and also cut them a little bit of slack if they make singular mistakes.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:15 AM on February 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


That doesn't follow, and is frankly ridiculous.

I'm not clear on what makes it so ridiculous. You say that Adria Richards should not be taken at her word when she says that she didn't want him fired,


That's not what I said; but it's par for the course with your bad faith posts in this thread. She posted his picture; her intent was to publicly shame the individual. She presumably didn't know him or know his workplace, so she had no way of knowing if he would or could get fired. That's obvious.

But if your intent is to whip up outrage at someone- who did not harass you, as you try to imply in your supposedly "great" comment- with a modern day wanted poster, it's pretty hollow to go "whoops" when the a little more harm then you intended occurs.

Dongle guy at that point defended himself- which, you of course dishonestly characterize as "siccing" people on her. She's the one who made it public, it's not like her online presence wasn't already tied to it. He responded to her in the public space, because she already brought it into the public space. And on top of that, he apologized. But then you all but make fun of him for mentioned that he had a family that this impacted too, which is just awesome.

This is the problem with internet mobs, people like you are willing to play fast and loose with the truth in order to turn any situation, whether it exactly fits or not, in the the ideal situation to further their point. You do, of course, have a good point: women are harassed, intimidated and treated like garbage by men in the tech industry, and it's disgusting. But that doesn't make it any less dickish to say that this guy making an off color joke to someone he knows that was accidentally overheard, is part of that problem.
posted by spaltavian at 1:36 PM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


women are harassed, intimidated and treated like garbage by men in the tech industry, and it's disgusting. But that doesn't make it any less dickish to say that this guy making an off color joke to someone he knows that was accidentally overheard, is part of that problem.

What? No. Of course it's part of the problem. Women are made to feel uncomfortable in tech spaces in a huge variety of ways, some big, others small in isolation, but all contributing to the same massive problem. One of the days on my internal list of "very bad days in tech that make me glad to have moved on" happened when I overheard a joke with the punchline "beer tits" while sitting in my cube trying (unsuccessfully, for the rest of that afternoon) to get some work done. A brick is not a wall. It's a big problem and jokes like that are absolutely part of it.
posted by heisenberg at 3:42 PM on February 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


spaltavian, I think it's clear from my previous comments as well as yours that we have very, very different perspectives on that particular story as well as its bearing on the NYT article that sparked this post. I am not in any way trying to misrepresent your words or positions on the matter. I hope that you didn't misunderstand my replies to Autumn Leaf as being directed to you: although they were somewhat similar, the two of you made different points and asserted different things.


You do, of course, have a good point: women are harassed, intimidated and treated like garbage by men in the tech industry, and it's disgusting. But that doesn't make it any less dickish to say that this guy making an off color joke to someone he knows that was accidentally overheard, is part of that problem.

I think we have two major misunderstandings here. First, my point was not that "telling a dick joke at a conference" is an act of the same scale or magnitude as sexual assault. Rather, it was to illustrate the magnitude of acts that commonly occurred and went without consequences in the tech industry for many years. Given that context, I continue to doubt that Adria Richards believed anything would happen based on her tweet, beyond a series of agreements and "amens!" amongst her followers and (at best) a word from the conference organizers.

I reiterate this because my objection to your post was about judging Adria Richards' intentions, based on the reasonable expectation of outcome. As I said, I don't believe that either he or she had any intent of calling down mobs. Regardless of their intent, though, that's what happened—and without question, she has suffered much more because of it.

As an aside, I don't think tweeting a picture of the two guys was the right thing to do. In the code of conduct that I helped draft for a similar open source conference, both his dick joke and her tweet would've been violations. Even ignoring the issue of public callouts, posting photos without the permission of the subjects can be genuinely dangerous for people with stalker. What we're talking about here, though, isn't the photo-ness of her callout, but the specificity of it. If she'd called him out by name or twitter handle or email address, rather than photo, attention would've focused on him just as quickly, and his employers' reaction would've been no less disproportionate.


Dongle guy at that point defended himself- which, you of course dishonestly characterize as "siccing" people on her. She's the one who made it public, it's not like her online presence wasn't already tied to it.

You're right, and I apologize. The word "sicced" implies he possessed the same sort of intent-to-harm that you say Adria Richards possessed. All evidence suggests he was simply trying to show that he was not some sort of horrible misogynistic bogeyman, unintentionally giving Adria Richards' harassers more ammunition in the process. He did not "Sic the Internet on her" by presenting himself as a sympathetic victim of circumstance to a friendly audience, any more than she "got him fired" by telling her own friendly audience that he'd told a dick joke in the session she was attending.

Both of them took actions that resulted in consequences they neither expected nor desired. But — and this is where we return to the NYT article and its particular blindness to the context of these "mob actions" — there is no doubt that Adria Richards suffered far worse and far more enduring consequences. And that, in turn, is a good point to segue into the second problem with this statement:



Women are harassed, intimidated and treated like garbage by men in the tech industry, and it's disgusting. But that doesn't make it any less dickish to say that this guy making an off color joke to someone he knows that was accidentally overheard, is part of that problem.

"Guys telling off-color jokes in a public space and being overheard" is no less a part of that industry's continuum of gender problem than anything else. Like pinup calendars on the wall of the auto shop or jokes about the new receptionist's tits, they're the thousand straws that break the camel's back. They're the ceaseless background noise that reaches a crescendo with porn in a slide deck or sexual assault at a conference afterparty. I believe that she could've handled it better, but I also believe that he could've chosen not to tell a dick joke in public at a professional event.

Framing his part in it as fundamentally passive, her part in it as active, and the respective mob actions as some sort of Internet weather effect, falls into the same problematic framing as the NYT's article.

"Internet Mob Action" covers a huge range of behaviors. It covers coordinated, distributed campaigns of harassment like GamerGate, ones explicitly created and maintained in order to destroy the lives of specific people. It covers "viral shaming events" like the aftermath of PyCon Guy's dick joke. It covers public figures writing shitty things to a large audience, then facing public backlash. It covers people uploading pictures of the people who stole their iPhones. It covers the fuel-to-the-fire reporting that publications like Gawker add to the mix. Depending on who you ask, it covers Twitter users' collective demands for Darren Wilson's indictment, too. And (most importantly), it covers both behaviors we would call criminal if done in any other context, and behaviors we would consider utterly mundane if done by one or two people rather than thousands of people at once.

Of all the aspects, Ronson's NYT article focused on just one: A person does something shitty and ultimately faces consequences many people consider disproportionate or unjustified. When exploring how these things happen, he tells two stories. The first is about Gawker's initial publication of the Sacco's tweet. The second is a personal anecdote in which Ronson himself tries to get the Internet to pile on one of his critics. Profit-driven rabble-rousing and personal spite, it seems, are the only reasons he can imagine someone would ever call out someone else's actions.

In a newer interview in Vulture, Ronson is more explicit about where he thinks the real problem lies:
The worst sin these days is privilege… The combination of being in a place of privilege and workplace transgressions; in this age, those are unforgivable offenses… We’re turning Marxism into Stalinism…

If somebody happens to do something that the social-media echo chamber does care about, like Brian Williams did, there’s nothing that person can do… we still see ourselves on social media as the hitherto-silenced underdog, yet we have huge power."
It's worth remembering that Ronson is a published author with more than a hundred thousand of his own Twitter followers. It's easy for him to wax philosophical about how "we" underestimate the power of our words on Twitter while glossing over the way that genuinely marginalized groups have used Twitter for social critique and been branded as "hate-mobs." It's hard not to come to the conclusion that the only thing they're allowed to do is shut up, sit down, and stop causing trouble.

I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that Ronson is working on a balanced assessment of an complex and important phenomenon. Sadly, nothing I'm reading so far indicates that he is.
posted by verb at 10:05 PM on February 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


After reading this over in the morning, I apologize for dominating the late-thread discussion so much. I've got a lot of thoughts and feelings about the issue, but I should probably take it to my blog. The article and thread caught me on the right topic when I had free time on my hands — spaltavian, Autumn Leaf, I wasn't trying to steamroll either of you, and I hope it doesn't come across that way.
posted by verb at 7:44 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not hard to not be racist

It really is hard. It's really hard. I notice myself being racist all the time. It sucks. I am pretty confident that I'm less racist than most white people, but I'm definitely much more racist than would be acceptable in any civilised society.
posted by howfar at 4:47 PM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Adria Richards responds, pointing out how her life has been turned upside down, while the anonymous "joke" teller has suffered no real consequences, remaining anonymous and having gotten a new job almost immediately, while the harassment campaign against her still continues. She also noted that Ronson is incorrect on the timeline of events and that he misrepresented the nature of his story when interviewing her.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:58 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


That Adria Richards article over at Shakesville is very, very worth reading - for one thing, Richards points out some factual errors in how the story was reported.

It really illustrates how who you are depends on how the internet rage machine treats you, and that the more privilege you have going in - I would argue especially racial privilege - the more recoverable things are for you.
posted by Frowner at 9:12 AM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Adria Richards also points out that although she does not identify as a feminist and has pointed this out online, her actions were framed as feminist by her attackers (and implicitly, her alleged feminism was used to help whip up the mob into a frenzy). That sheds some interesting light on certain internet discourses around "feminism".
posted by Frowner at 9:15 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


To me it also points out how useless it is to reject feminism. So many women do it as a way to try and deflect criticism or stay under the radar. I've done it. (I'm not saying that Adria Richards did it for that reason - there are plenty of totally valid reasons for not IDing as a feminist. Especially as a black woman.) But it doesn't matter. It's not really "feminism" that men react aggressively to - it's women standing up for themselves and inhabiting spaces men feel entitled to. It doesn't matter if we position ourselves as WITH men, there are still hoards of men that are waiting to ruin your life if you step out of line. Richard's account of how Ronson behaved towards her is very worth reading. Especially in how it informs the rest of the article.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:03 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Richard's account of how Ronson behaved towards her is very worth reading.

The article is a pretty great read. I'm not sure how far from normal Ronson's behavior was for a journalist; to my mind, there's a definite trope of journalists taking stories in very different directions than their subjects expect. Either way, I do hope Ronson responds. I'd love to see him explain why he chose the particular, problematic angle for the article that he did.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:49 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that excellent link, hydropsyche. It also undercuts the one hedging comment I'd made—that tweeting photos of the dick-joke-guys would have been a violation of the Code of Conduct at conference I worked with. In fact, she'd followed the advice in PyCon's code of conduct.
posted by verb at 3:59 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hum. A minor derail, from Jon Ronson's tumblr: An Email from a Shamee
posted by Going To Maine at 4:42 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's fascinating--there really is a tendency toward frothing-at-the-mouth mob vendettas on the internet. Sometimes its targets are worthy of vilification; sometimes they're not. Either way, it's gross as a shit smoothie.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:24 PM on February 20, 2015


I'd love to see him explain why he chose the particular, problematic angle for the article that he did.

Doesn't it need to be problematic in order to have much significance? "Don't mob people I agree with" is a message you hear all the time. "Don't mob people who have done wrong" is a more general and, I think, significant point. Another article about how badly good people are treated by bad people would be more palatable, but I doubt it would raise much discussion.
posted by howfar at 10:23 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Again, the anonymous guy who "did wrong" and told dick jokes at a conference and got fired for it has suffered no lasting repercussions, while the person who followed meeting protocols and reported the dick jokes lost her job and had to leave her home continues to be unemployed and mobbed to this day.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:09 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes. That is clearly a terrible thing. Which is why I don't really understand your point, given that Ronson's piece is about why mobbing that is not clearly terrible is, in fact, bad.

I also think I'll reserve my judgement on how Ronson uses Richard's material for when I've read the book he interviewed her for. It seems a little premature to claim he has been manipulative of his sources based on a single short excerpt. It's possible he has, but I don't see how we're in a position to know.
posted by howfar at 12:21 PM on February 22, 2015


I think "problematic" in that, in this other telling, the only mob consequences the man felt were due to blowback of his callout of Richards, not her initial tweet.

Ronson a good writer, though, and I'm looking forward to the book. He might well tie it all together in there.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:38 PM on February 22, 2015


I think "problematic" in that, in this other telling, the only mob consequences the man felt were due to blowback of his callout of Richards, not her initial tweet.
Indeed. After going back through the history, and the actual timeline of events in the PyCon incident, she tweeted his picture, he was talked to by conference organizers, he was fired, she blogged about it, he posted about it to Hacker News, and then all hell broke loose.

This directly contradicts the narrative that Ronson conveys in his article: that the dude told a joke, that it went viral and turned him into a target for Internet rage, and that the mob's rage ultimately culminated in his firing.
posted by verb at 9:06 PM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also worth noting: a new article by Ronson in The Guardian came out yesterday, in which he spends more time talking about the PyCon incident. Among other things, he discusses the "lessons" that the dude who told the dick jokes took away from it:
I asked Hank if he found himself behaving differently since the incident. Had it altered how he lived his life? “I distance myself from female developers a little bit now,” he replied. “I’m not as friendly. There’s humour, but it’s very mundane. You just don’t know. I can’t afford another Donglegate.”

“Give me an example,” I said. “So you’re in your new workplace [Hank was offered another job right away] and you’re talking to a female developer. In what way do you act differently towards her?’

“Well,” Hank said, “we don’t have any female developers at the place I’m working at now. So.”
Sad trombone.
posted by verb at 9:26 PM on February 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'd say that that Guardian article is the kind of rounding out that I'd wanted. Dissatisfaction over.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2015


A Social-Media Mistake Is No Reason to Be Fired, Conor Friedersdorf
An insensitive Halloween costume may justify a dirty look or scolding or even shaming. It should not deprive someone of their livelihood! It's strange when you think about it, this notion of getting sacked as a general purpose punishment that an angry faction of the public demands of an at-first-reluctant employer. The target, the mob demands, should have to find a new job, or go on welfare, or move back in with their mom, or perhaps starve. It's not even clear what's meant to happen. Let's rethink this.
Bigotry Is Not An Accident
There’s an assumption baked into this “solution” that I find troubling and naïve—namely, that someone’s insensitive Halloween costume or sexist remark has “nothing to do with their jobs.” How can racism ever be unrelated to one’s job? If you work with, serve, employ, are employed by, or in any way interact with people of color at your place of work, your views on race are job-related. It is profoundly reasonable for an employer to see one of their employees demonstrating a disturbing callousness towards people of color and conclude that said employee is not fit to perform their duties in an integrated workplace and marketplace.

I want to ask Friedersdorf and all those who share these assumptions of job-unrelatedness: how do you think hiring bias happens?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:01 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Prichard's logic is pretty terrible, although I think his opinion is a valid one (even as I can't get myself to agree with it). Is it not possible for someone to set his or her personal beliefs aside at work? Most people do--I've hated almost every boss I've ever had, but that hasn't made me less fit to work for them. Maybe a better example: I went to a fancy boarding school (for free), and I worked on the maintenance crew; virtually every maintenance guy actively hated the students for being spoiled and rich, but that didn't make them shitty or unfit employees of the school. They said that shit under their breath, or on their own time. And there was no Twitter yet for them to naively misuse.

The problem with internet mobs is that they won't stick to just attacking the people who deserve it. Because people don't agree who deserves it. And because people are fallible. More simply: Mob justice isn't.

(that said, I think the Friedersdorf "solution" is untenable in every meaningful way--I can't help but support things like racists getting fired, for example.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:50 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure where Prichard's logic falls apart, though it is pretty early and the coffee is still brewing. I think the problem is one that Ronson completely ignores: "shaming" is pretty much the only game in town for enforcing societal norms. One aspect of the discussion centers on the perception of disproportionate consequences (i.e., losing a job) but an often undressed aspect is the question of what norm is being enforced.

In the case of PyCon Dick Joke Guy, the norm being enforced was "don't tell sexual jokes in a public place." (It's also a norm he agreed to abide by when he attended the conference.) In the case of Adria Richards, the norm being enforced was "don't object when people tell sexual jokes in public."

The reason the question of norms is critically important is simple: whether someone feels the norm is a good or legitimate one has a pretty significant impact on their opinion about the proportionality of the consequences. A lot of conflict going on right now in the tech industry (and the gaming industry, most visibly) have little to do with proportionality and everything to do with the issue of the actual norms changing. While Ronson's new Guardian piece gives more attention to what Adria Richards has faced, it's obvious that bigger question is still unaddressed.
posted by verb at 6:53 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


These articles are really challenging to me. Super challenging. Because I do feel that righteous anger. I feel it in the deep parts of me along with a desire to set things right in the world. Being confronted with the moral grayness of my feelings is really uncomfortable, which makes me feel like it's really important.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:08 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure where Prichard's logic falls apart, though it is pretty early and the coffee is still brewing. I think the problem is one that Ronson completely ignores: "shaming" is pretty much the only game in town for enforcing societal norms. One aspect of the discussion centers on the perception of disproportionate consequences (i.e., losing a job) but an often undressed aspect is the question of what norm is being enforced.

I would actually say that that kind of "shaming" isn't so much about enforcing societal norms but rather about exposing a smaller norm to the broader public consensus. Or rather, about revealing what some broader norms actually are (as in the case of Richards's harassment; abuse is the norm).

From the Guardian excerpt I don't think that Ronson ignores this point at all. Rather, I think he gives full credit to Richards's views on why she did what she did, and why she would feel threatened as a lone female developer. I don't know that he agrees, but he doesn't make a strong argument about it, and his last word on the topic is about how Richards is still unemployed & how PyCon was a sea of white, male faces.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:33 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe a better example: I went to a fancy boarding school (for free), and I worked on the maintenance crew; virtually every maintenance guy actively hated the students for being spoiled and rich, but that didn't make them shitty or unfit employees of the school. They said that shit under their breath, or on their own time. And there was no Twitter yet for them to naively misuse.

There's a big difference between thinking something privately and saying it publicly, though. It's one thing for me to privately think "I hate my boss" and an entirely different thing for me to post that to twitter or say it to his face. It's not that posting it changes the way I think about things, it's that it changes the way others will think about me. If I post "I hate my boss" and my boss sees it, my feelings might stay the same but my boss will never be able to see me the same way again. The same holds for your student body example; if I'm a student and I know that there is a specific maintenance guy who hates me and everyone at the school, I'm going to be much more uncomfortable around them than if they don't say it publicly and I only suspect they resent me. To extend the metaphor all the way, if I say something racist or sexist on social media, it doesn't make me more racist or sexist than I already was, but it does mean that there are a lot of people who are going to be unable to un-see that and are therefore less able to interact with me professionally. Would you want to go to a doctor who publicly stated that they hated people like you? Would you want to do business with a company whose spokesperson said they hated you? Most people wouldn't.

It also has to do with signaling a person's propensity to ignore social norms. There's a social norm that says "don't tell your boss you hate him", for example, and somebody who tweets in defiance of that social norm has not only conveyed that face-value information, they've also signaled that they either don't care about or don't understand the related social norms and are likely to flout other norms as well. I'd expect somebody who cared that little about social expectations to have trouble with other related social expectations as well, like coming to work on time or doing the work they've been assigned without trouble. You can hate your boss and still be a perfect worker, but you can't be the kind of person who tells your boss you hate him (even indirectly on twitter) and still be a perfect worker. Does that make more sense?
posted by dialetheia at 1:25 PM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think that makes a lot of sense, Dialetheia. But taking Joseph Gurl's example, suppose someone made a secret recording of the maintenance crew talking about how much they hated the students? Should those workers be fired?

I can imagine a couple of workers talking among themselves and saying something like "Oh my goodness, look what they did to the floor. These guys are animals!" I wouldn't find that exceptionable in the context of a maintenance worker referring to relatively-privileged students. But what if it's a white worker talking about black students? Should it be treated differently? What if they were kids from poor backgrounds? It would be easy to reduce that griping to John was called an animal because he spilled paint on the floor.

I think that griping at this level is an acceptable part of worker interaction whether the kids are rich, poor, black, or white. But I can easily imagine a Twitter storm if something like that were recorded and distributed. My hypothetical advice for a maintenance worker would be to never say anything in any situation that could be taken as a slur against the students or your employer. But I think that demand is potentially oppressive, and not really fair: the students (and their parents) have vastly more power than maintenance workers, and nobody's going to discipline a student for saying something disrespectful about one of the maintenance workers.

This is the problem I have with the Twitter-storm model of justice: it reduces things to simple verdicts of shame or virtue with none of the social nuances or coping mechanisms that we have face to face. The potential consequences for the subjects are huge, but there's really no cost for the people who join in on the criticism.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:08 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the social norm that someone who tweets shit about their boss doesn't get isn't the one about not saying shit about your boss, but rather, the still developing social norm around what is private on the internet. It's easy to say 'if you posted it on twitter, it's public, duh', but for most people who aren't deliberately seeking twitter famousness, that's not actually how people approach social networks. They see them as an extension of their private friend groups, so even though they might know that anyone can read the tweet, they feel relatively secure in the knowledge that no one other than a few friends is reading their tweets. That they'r wrong about that is how people get fired for shit they say on twitter.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:09 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


While these hypotheticals can be useful, the current brouhaha about "online shaming" is rooted a number of very specific, high-profile incidents. In many cases, the actual facts surrounding those incidents have been misrepresented — or at the very least, retold selectively. The problem with hypotheticals is that we can layer new details endlessly, ignore troublesome complications, and easily lose sight of the actual reason for constructing hypotheticals: figuring out broad principles and the shape of their exceptions.

Like, what if the secret recording wasn't of maintenance workers, but of a presidential candidate chatting in what he thought was a private space? What if the maintenance workers weren't recorded in private, rather in the crowded halls of the school? What if they were recorded not griping about students, but discussing their sexual desirability? What if they were recorded doing something that they had explicitly signed contracts promising not to say? What if there was no public outrage about what they said, but the school used it as an excuse to fire them after previous disciplinary actions?

I'm not trying to say that we should ignore theoretical scenarios, or that we must anchor ourselves to the particulars of recent "group actions" on the Internet when thinking about these questions. But many of the issues hinge on very subtle distinctions, and we have to be careful that our hypotheticals don't hide meaningful details—especially if we apply the principles derived from the hypotheticals to the messier real-world cases.

The case that's being described, for example—basically, a worker getting fired for saying something disparaging about a customer—is not what Jon Ronson has been writing about. It isn't "group shaming," it's just getting fired for saying something your employer disapproves. That's a tangentially related debate, but "Schoolteacher fired for drunk party photo" tends to generate more outrage in support of the fired party than against them.
The potential consequences for the subjects are huge, but there's really no cost for the people who join in on the criticism.
One of the reasons I find the PyCon Dick Joke incident important to these discussions is that Ronson's retelling of the story, with Adria Richards as the (possibly unintentional) leader of a shame-mob, doesn't mesh with that formulation at all. She is literally still paying the price for publicly reporting a conference policy violation, two years after it happened. The person she reported faced short-term consequences but has since moved on. In Ronson's discussion of the issue, either the roles are being muddled or something much more complex is being glossed over. Maybe both.
posted by verb at 5:20 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


The PyCon thing is a difficult example because what happened to Adria Richards is so grossly and excessively outrageous that you can't discuss the two unjust (IMO) events as if they were commensurate.

As for Ronson, he's either clueless or has a very dry sense of humour:
Ronson: "So, what's life like for you now?"
[brogrammer clears throat, stares into distance. Teary eyes reflect a sea of male heads]
– "Well, I have tried to move on. I guess I find it hard to trust female developers as much."
"Does that cause problems at work?"
– "What? Oh no. There aren't any women where I work."
(rephrased)
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:32 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's a pretty crass rephrasing - let's just put the passage in here:

I asked Hank if he found himself behaving differently since the incident. Had it altered how he lived his life? “I distance myself from female developers a little bit now,” he replied. “I’m not as friendly. There’s humour, but it’s very mundane. You just don’t know. I can’t afford another Donglegate.”

“Give me an example,” I said. “So you’re in your new workplace [Hank was offered another job right away] and you’re talking to a female developer. In what way do you act differently towards her?’

“Well,” Hank said, “we don’t have any female developers at the place I’m working at now. So.”

“You’ve got a new job now, right?” I said to Adria.

“No,” she said.

Later, I saw another photograph Adria happened to take that day at the conference. It was an audience shot. A sea of men – practically only men – stretching to the horizon.


... and this is all after he included, largely verbatim, Adria Richards's description of how she felt. That said, Ronson's style is quite dry. It always weirdly reminds of Murakami - not because it's crazy and surreal, but because it's oddly matter of fact and drained of color despite covering what might otherwise evoke strong emotion.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:41 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


The PyCon thing is a difficult example because what happened to Adria Richards is so grossly and excessively outrageous that you can't discuss the two unjust (IMO) events as if they were commensurate.

As for Ronson, he's either clueless or has a very dry sense of humour:


It's clearly the latter.

But, if Ronson has a consistent subject, it is the way that observers and benevolent participants find themselves morally implicated in difficult and surprising ways by the problems they engage with. This is a man who wrote a book about psychopaths and spent a considerable portion of it worrying whether he was exploiting the murderers and corporate raiders he interviewed. And, he left one feeling, not without good cause. There is a dryness to Ronson, not born out of detachment or cluelessness, but rather out of an intense concern for unexpected moral problems and possibilities.

Ronson is not going to emerge as a crusader at this point of his career, he has consistent personal empathy for those who hate, even those, like the antisemitic bigots of radical Islam and the KKK, who hate him. And he is not, I think, just another writer shrugging off the significance of prejudice from a position of white male privilege. I'm not saying he's always right, but he's definitely worth taking seriously, and reading in full.
posted by howfar at 2:15 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Couldn't agree more, howfar. Ronson is a pretty good example of something I'd like to be better at: consistent across-the-board empathy, even for those I'm sure are wrong. Learning about people who are sure of stuff leaves me increasingly doubtful of the things I think I'm sure of. And I suspect that doubt is a useful feeling for me to have.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's also worth noting that the follow up puts an end to the claims that Adria Richards didn't know or want mob justice to come down on the dongle-joker, and makes pretty clear that she isn't empathizing with him. I think her lack of empathy in this case is more than understandable, and she's unequivocally the one who's suffered the most (and the most unjustly) in the exchange, sadly, but one of my takeaways from Ronson's pieces (and our discussion of them) is that this imprecision is precisely the problem with internet-circa-2015 mob justice: it's not always on the side of good, it can't be controlled, and it may not work out the way one might hope or intend. In a way, it brings to mind a well-worn Metafilterism on Anonymous:
Anonymous is like the T-rex at the end of Jurassic Park: it's not heroic, and I wouldn't want it to ever notice me, but I cheered when it took down those fucking velociraptors.
Mob justice on the internet is like Anonymous, and thus like the T-Rex at the end of Jurassic Park. We cheer when it accomplishes things we agree with, but it doesn't always do so and often does things we specifically disagree with. This formulation works for literally any definition of "we," "agree," and "disagree," imo, leading me to believe that mob justice on the internet is a net negative and a pernicious influence on the broader discourse of social justice.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:50 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Adria Richards didn't know or want mob justice to come down on the dongle-joker

It's still worth noting, though, that he was fired before the story blew up he still remains anonymous when speaking about the subject. Even in his retelling, there was no giant cry of outrage from the Internet:
…A conference organiser came down the aisle and said to Hank and Alex, “Can you come with me?” They were taken into an office and told there’d been a complaint about sexual comments.

“I immediately apologised,” Hank said. “I knew exactly what they were talking about. I told them what we’d said, and that we didn’t mean for it to come across as a sexual comment, and that we were sorry if someone overheard and was offended. They were like, ‘OK. I see what happened.’”

…They found a tweet from a woman, called Adria Richards, with a photo of them: “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big’ dongles. Right behind me #pycon”. Anxious, Hank quickly scanned her replies, but there was nothing much – just the odd congratulation from a few of her 9,209 followers for the way she’d “educated” the men behind her…

A day later, Hank was called into his boss’s office and fired… That night, Hank made his only public statement. He posted a short message on the discussion board Hacker News.
It may sound as if I'm splitting hairs, here, but Jon Ronson is not writing a book about "Employers who fire employees for making dick jokes." He's writing a book about Internet Shaming and (to a larger extent) mob action, and even from the account that is relayed in Ronson's story, that isn't what happened to Dick Joke Guy. That's what happened to Adria Richards after the Guy posted on Hacker News saying that she'd gotten him fired.
posted by verb at 6:15 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


It may sound as if I'm splitting hairs

That's cool. These hairs ain't gonna up and split themselves :)

Jon Ronson is not writing a book about "Employers who fire employees for making dick jokes." He's writing a book about Internet Shaming and (to a larger extent) mob action, and even from the account that is relayed in Ronson's story, that isn't what happened to Dick Joke Guy. That's what happened to Adria Richards after the Guy posted on Hacker News saying that she'd gotten him fired.

Totally. I was just surprised to read--after all the statements to the contrary in this thread, statements I took as truth b/c their authors know more about "donglegate" than I do--that Richards did indeed know what she was doing ("I’ve seen things where people are like, ‘Adria didn’t know what she was doing by tweeting it.’ Yes, I did.”).

This is not to minimize or equate or anything else (like I wrote above: "her lack of empathy in this case is more than understandable, and she's unequivocally the one who's suffered the most (and the most unjustly) in the exchange"). It's just a little hair splitting among friends.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:01 PM on February 25, 2015


(I'll also add that I really hope Adria Richards finds satisfying, gainful employment soon. The fact that the mob seems to have "won" galls me to no end. Fuck mobs. All of them.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:28 PM on February 25, 2015


I'm still confused about the sequence of events and who knew what at which time, but I feel that obsessing about the details would give them unwarranted significance. I mean at the point where someone is getting death threats, arguing about whether she wanted someone to be sacked is like arguing whether a rape victim should have had that last drink before walking home.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:10 PM on February 25, 2015


Sure, and agreed. Just some medium-boat hair splitting, inconsequential to the larger and more important issues, of course, of course, of course.

...and...scene.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:20 PM on February 25, 2015


A Note on Call-Out Culture
In the context of call-out culture, it is easy to forget that the individual we are calling out is a human being, and that different human beings in different social locations will be receptive to different strategies for learning and growing. For instance, most call-outs I have witnessed immediately render anyone who has committed a perceived wrong as an outsider to the community. One action becomes a reason to pass judgment on someone’s entire being, as if there is no difference between a community member or friend and a random stranger walking down the street (who is of course also someone’s friend). Call-out culture can end up mirroring what the prison industrial complex teaches us about crime and punishment: to banish and dispose of individuals rather than to engage with them as people with complicated stories and histories.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:17 PM on March 6, 2015


Two responses to that piece:

We Need To Talk: Responding to “A Note on Call-Out Culture”
So I read your piece on call-outs yesterday, and on this particular issue I have to say I think you’ve got it more than a little backwards, and that the continued spread of youressay is actually doing more harm than good.

Which, yes, amounts to me calling you out. Publicly.

And, if you want to respond, please do, though my call-outis not meant as a demand for aresponse, because you have as much right to your own silence as you do to yourown voice. But your piece comes across as a demand for silence from people who are trying to use their voices to combat real harm. And I just can’t let that go without talking back.
Who’s Afraid of Call Out Culture? Jerks, Mostly.
I do agree that when considering utilizing a call out, it’s pretty important to consider a) what sort of result you want, what kind of accountability are you seeking, what is the end goal, b) how invested you, as the person doing the call out, are in engaging with the person being called out, and in their education, c) is this person a part of your community, as in, do you feel you have a responsibility of mutual care, or no? Call outs are, in my opinion, fundamentally an example of caring about people, as to call someone out is to trust that they will hear your feedback and want to change. To be called out is, in my mind, indicative of people’s belief in you, that you’re worth improving. It’s the opposite of banishment.

That’s why I feel a lot of these protests of call out culture are not, actually, about call out culture. I think call out culture is about using exile as an absolute last resort, it’s a way for people who have been hurt to try to talk to someone one last time. It’s also about mildly nudging someone when they say something cruel so they can learn, and it’s about better communication in community spaces. I think these protests are about people who are abusing the language of social justice and accountability to get people to do what they want rather than to implement actual change.
posted by Lexica at 11:18 AM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it might be worth turning these links into their own FPP, especially if the issue gets more traction.

I sort-of agree with all of them, particularly the points made in the addenda to the lexarcher one. Calling-out isn't bad in itself, and as that response made clear, it's an associative act as much as it is exclusionary. I don't use the twitters and tumblrs myself and I wouldn't say I'm scared of call-outs, but I've seen some pretty toxic ones and I don't like them.

I think the underlying cause of toxicity in call-out culture is cost-free power. Some people are adept at surfing the waves of outrage and get rewarded for their courage in "speaking truth to power" without ever actually addressing anyone in power. Others participate in cost-free ways, like Twitter, which allows them to feel virtuous without exposing themselves. This disconnect between power and responsibility is always bad, and I think it explains why some callouts turn into gleeful hate-fests.

That doesn't mean that callouts are intrinsically bad, though. I wish we had more of them, that we all felt able to address bad behavior in others and acknowledge it in ourselves without making it into a big deal. Part of that means recognising the difference between supportive and bullying behavior, and treating the subjects of criticism as people rather than abstractions. When we fail to make those distinctions - when we're primarily motivated by a desire to join in, and when we have no concern for the subject of the callout - our involvement is almost certainly not going to be helpful.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:08 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Others participate in cost-free ways, like Twitter, which allows them to feel virtuous without exposing themselves.

This is the part I'm not clear on. How many of these stories are about people whose lives were supposedly destroyed because of a racist tweet, or something like that? Richards is still unemployed specifically because she called out someone on Twitter.

I think you're right about the delicate balance of "associative and exclusionary" acts, the truth-to-power nature of some callouts, and the "bear-baiting" quality of others. But the two ideas — that social media is simultaneously so powerful that lives can be destroyed in a heartbeat and so ineffectual and trivial that the act of calling someone out is "cost-free" and "unexposed"… Well, don't those views contradict each other?

Donating money can be "cost-free", a way for someone to feel virtuous without exposing themselves. Writing a NYT op-ed, or telling a friend at a bar not to tell that rape joke again, or any other step. I get the idea of "easy, performative virtue" but it seems like there's some kind of internal contradiction going on.
posted by verb at 8:34 PM on March 7, 2015


Also, Noah Berlatsky wrote a short but interesting piece on "callout culture":
it's important to understand that a great deal of the ugliness on social media is not intracommunal leftist ugliness. Social media cultivates many great left communities, but it's not just a left community. Leftists on social media, and particularly leftists from marginalized populations, have serious, reasonable concerns about their emotional and physical well-being when they interact on those platforms.

If we want to call out call-outs compassionately, I think we have to remember that context. Otherwise we risk blaming people for trying to protect themselves. Social media can be a wonderful place for left community and discussion. But it's important to recognize that it's also in many cases a hostile environment, where calling out can be one defense, and one way of asking for help, against people who are determined to hurt you.
The perception of "callout culture" being a left issue (and, at least in many of the earliest articles about, a Black Feminist issue in particular) is really widespread. But it's interesting to remember how many recent kerfuffles have started from the right—the "callout" of Lena Dunham, for example, came from the National Review Online.
posted by verb at 8:40 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Further Thoughts on Call-Out Culture
Call-out culture has become the embodiment of fighting the cosmetic battles in lieu of the honest-to-God ones. And when the target seems squarely on the backs of oppressed communities in a more public way than ever before, it is unthinkable that we would be wrapped up in keeping appearances.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:03 PM on March 7, 2015


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