inevitable cliches about heat and kitchens... thick skin, etc.
February 23, 2015 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire, an opinion piece by Michelle Goldberg at The Washington Post. Geek Feminism Wiki has a page on mitigating internet trollstorms, snippet: "This document intends to provide actionable guidance for people who are being attacked or who are concerned about being attacked in the future, and includes both information security, physical security, and self-care advice drawn from the experiences of the Geek Feminism community."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (43 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
This sort of thing gets me positively apoplectic with rage on the behalf of the women getting hammered by this (particularly women of color and trans women, who are getting hit even harder, I think, than cis and white women). And it also terrifies me because I feel like I'm one viral blog post or one angry comment or one vindictive blog post by someone else away from being in the spotlight of suck.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


One of my (female) blogger friends has gotten "only" one death threat but a fairly constant stream of sexually abusive and threatening stuff in response to her writing. Her friends are careful on places like facebook about how we mention her or tag her, because it wouldn't be that hard for people to figure out stuff about her by reading our comments to her or about her.

It's so infuriating, especially when some male writer inevitably complains about feeling silenced because he can't make boob jokes or whatever.
posted by rtha at 9:39 AM on February 23, 2015 [26 favorites]


I used to use pseudonyms online because, "what if someone I know googles and me and there are consequences because of something I've said about my political beliefs, my hobbies, etc..."

Now I use pseudonyms online because, "what if I say something about my political beliefs, my hobbies, etc and the internet harassment machine decides to destroy my life."

My perception of the risks has definitely changed, and it angers me that this is allowed to go on. These hate campaigns are difficult problems to tackle for technological reasons--but at the same time, we know that we're not doing nearly as much as we could. This is a serious threat to the ability of a whole class to participate in the public forum of ideas. But we can only arrest people who make violent threats online if they're against cops, or whatever.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


This line bothers me:

Perhaps, Pollitt says, it’s “a sign of our success” that the anti-feminist backlash is mostly digital.

Mainly because it seems to be arguing that somehow, the backlash being digital makes it somehow less real because digital is less real. And that is a conclusion with a rather false premise.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:44 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's arguing that, especially when the rest of that paragraph is about the unique amount of harm digital aggression can do. I read that as it's happening more in a digital form because there's less accountability online. I think there's a lot of misogynists and bigots that say stuff online that they wouldn't say in person.
posted by spaltavian at 9:49 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


mitigating internet trollstorms

Watch out for the +9 claw melee, but fire and acid should do the trick.
posted by resurrexit at 9:50 AM on February 23, 2015


Mainly because it seems to be arguing that somehow, the backlash being digital makes it somehow less real because digital is less real. And that is a conclusion with a rather false premise.

I think the crux of the argument is actually that the bulk of the backlash is anonymous that at a large portion of these men at least recognize that its socially unacceptable to behave like this under their real names.

On Preview: What spaltavian said.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:50 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Have any feminists proposed any methods for going on the offensive against misogynist trolls, not just playing defense? Is there any "white hat" feminist hacking aimed at neutralizing the "black hat" Internet misogynists?
posted by jonp72 at 9:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have conflicting feels about Michelle Goldberg, but this was a pretty good column. I follow a lot of feminists on Twitter and some of the horrible things that gets tweeted at them and then RT'd is just un-fucking-real.
posted by Kitteh at 9:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now I use pseudonyms online because, "what if I say something about my political beliefs, my hobbies, etc and the internet harassment machine decides to destroy my life."

My perception of the risks has definitely changed, and it angers me that this is allowed to go on.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:43 PM on February 23


Quoted for truth. I find myself getting more and more timid online when it comes to expressing my opinions about something. You just don't know when an innocuous online statement by you will trigger someone to point the Internet Hate Machine in your direction.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


I brushed past the spotlight once, maybe a year or two ago. It was over in a day or so for me, but it felt awful for and made me paranoid for weeks. There's nothing like checking your personal email at work and suddenly finding it filled with messages calling you a cunt and rape threats - and having no idea what brought this on. I'd written the offending piece maybe a week or two before someone a lot more important than me took note of it.

But, it ended - and it ended pretty quickly. I don't know what I would have done if they'd kept it up, dug deeper, connected a few more psuedonyms. It's terrifying to think about.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Given what I've read about the harrassment the early feminists received in person & in public (from within the progressive movements, never mind outside of it) it probably is a sign of progress - these men know that they can't say these things in most public venues, so they're resorting to semi-anonymous online harassment instead.

That doesn't make online harassment any less awful.
posted by pharm at 9:53 AM on February 23, 2015


"Only" one credible threat, and I both moved and changed employers shortly thereafter (and got out of blogging in a way that annoyed that very strange woman who was harassing me). I'm still findable, she and her husband who does her digital dirty work for her could still find me but I think they've got other people to harass by now, I hope.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 9:54 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, just to be clear, Pollitt doesn't argue digit harassment is less awful at all:

Perhaps, Pollitt says, it’s “a sign of our success” that the anti-feminist backlash is mostly digital. But when online misogynists decide to target a particular woman, they often have access to an unprecedented amount of personal information about her. “Back when everything was just in print, you wrote your piece, but you didn’t have photographs of yourself up everywhere,” Pollitt says. “People didn’t know where you lived, they didn’t know anything about your private life. It’s very qualitatively different now.”
posted by spaltavian at 9:54 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


it wouldn't be that hard for people to figure out stuff about her by reading our comments to her or about her.

many years ago, there was a user here who could assemble scarily accurate dossiers on members just from their Mefi comments and posts
posted by thelonius at 9:55 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Above and beyond the wholesale silencing of women's voices all these hysterical, overemotional men are attempting to enact, the thing that breaks my heart the most about these concerted harassment campaigns is the fact that they prevent women from connecting with each other and discovering that we aren't alone: It's not just us, we're not just crazy, we're not just imagining things.

If they manage to drive us back underground once and for all, how will we be able to find each other again?
posted by divined by radio at 9:55 AM on February 23, 2015 [19 favorites]


Have any feminists proposed any methods for going on the offensive against misogynist trolls, not just playing defense? Is there any "white hat" feminist hacking aimed at neutralizing the "black hat" Internet misogynists?

Well, PressFartToContinue has ostensibly finally been "permabanned" by Twitter. It only took five months, though, and I can't say he's felt any consequences besides now being silenced all his life.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:56 AM on February 23, 2015


Don't want to give Goldberg any pageviews, but Mikki Kendall wrote a good article along similar lines: The Harassment Game
posted by kmz at 9:57 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


"begun"

Like what, 10 years ago?
posted by jeather at 10:02 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not just retiring, a lot of women in my circles are moving to private mailing lists or otherwise concealing their presence. At this point they harassers have the upper hand, and it's going to to be a long war before things get better. If they ever do.
posted by happyroach at 10:17 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of my (female) blogger friends has gotten "only" one death threat but a fairly constant stream of sexually abusive and threatening stuff in response to her writing. Her friends are careful on places like facebook about how we mention her or tag her, because it wouldn't be that hard for people to figure out stuff about her by reading our comments to her or about her.

It's so infuriating, especially when some male writer inevitably complains about feeling silenced because he can't make boob jokes or whatever.


It is absolutely rage-inducing to watch these fucking scumbags whine about "political correctness" and "SJW censorship" and then do everything within their power to silence people who disagree with them. Often the same people complaining about being silenced are doing it as a cover for their campaign of censorship and fear.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:17 AM on February 23, 2015 [33 favorites]


In addition to the Geek Feminism Wiki, there's also a project from Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz for people who end up targetted by the Internet Hate Machine, Crash Override Network.

I fear that this will result in some targetted woman getting hurt or killed, and my even bigger fear is that this sort of thing will be treated like the weather - it just happens and nobody can do anything to stop it, and here are things you can do to try and mitigate it. (Sort of the "victims need to protect themselves" narrative about rape as opposed to the "hey, guys? don't do that" narrative)
posted by rmd1023 at 10:18 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


this sort of thing will be treated like the weather - it just happens and nobody can do anything to stop it, and here are things you can do to try and mitigate it. (Sort of the "victims need to protect themselves" narrative about rape as opposed to the "hey, guys? don't do that" narrative)

What's really "fun" is watching people freak out at the "hey, guys? don't do that" narrative.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:20 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Every time I read another article about this, I'm so glad I gave up blogging about politics ten years ago. I had a couple of extremely mild cases of harassment and/or generally weird things (the guy who wanted photos of my teeth stands out in my memory) but that was nothing like what women get today. It was still enough to make me uncomfortable; I'd be completely freaked out by a tenth of the harassment women bloggers get now.
posted by immlass at 10:23 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


The unwillingness and inability of law enforcement to take this seriously is just terrible.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


This entire thread is just heartbreaking.
posted by blurker at 10:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


This will sadly continue until FB and the like are forced by law to take it seriously.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:30 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: "
What's really "fun" is watching people freak out at the "hey, guys? don't do that" narrative.
"

How did totalbiscuit wind up being such a bannerman for garbage opinions? Makes me feel weird that I enjoyed his earlier reviews and like I need to carefully think about what I took from them, and him in turn.
posted by boo_radley at 10:31 AM on February 23, 2015


I have always been terrified of the internet. As a small kid, I had a friend whose mom had a job that enabled her to have a modem in the house.

That friend and I would join science groups and ask questions. The world seemed an endless stream of information at our fingertips. But when you're nine, it's impossible to hide the fact that you're a kid. It seems it's also impossible to hide that you're a girl.

We got some lewd messages that have colored my use of computers for the past 25 years. We hid what was happening from the adults in our lives because we knew it would get us in trouble.

The problems with online harassment of women are so deep seated and so deeply engrained (ladies, don't make waves. ladies, don't insult men. ladies, smooth every ruffled feather. ladies, don't appear smarter than they are. ladies, when it's clear that you're smarter than they are, just shut up. ladies, throw the parties and arrange the doilies. ladies, surely you misunderstood, he is just trying to flatter you with attention.) that escaping internet harassment really does mean hiding from the internet.

The internet is a huge place. I know that. And I like to think that I have done some small thing to make some small part of the internet better, with my activity here on metafilter. I wish I were brave enough to be a Jessica Valenti, but I just don't have the emotional stamina, or the social safety net for it. If I faced that level of harassment, many of the people in my life would tell me that I was "asking for it."
posted by bilabial at 10:41 AM on February 23, 2015 [22 favorites]


[A few comments deleted; let's not do calls for vigilante justice against the bad guys, please. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:43 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of my friends has been heavily targeted, doxxed and harrassed by Gamergate. Among other things she's constantly worried that someone will SWAT her. She jumps when she hears a noise or the doorbell rings. For those that don't know, that's a tactic where someone uses anonymizing or spoofing tools to call 9-1-1 and say, for example, "I have hostages tied up in my basement, I'm going to kill them. If you send police I'll kill them too. My address is..." Understandably they send in SWAT teams to break down your door and generally fuck you up. In one instance the pet dog was shot by police.

This is just one of the many reasons why the online harrassment is a form of terrorism, and should be seen as such. It's a terror campaign - to frighten, disturb, and silence. This shit keeps ramping up. And it's effective.
posted by naju at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


What's really "fun" is watching people freak out at the "hey, guys? don't do that" narrative."

I actually really, really, really hate people who use that facile argument. They don't seem to realize that instead of making them seem like free-thinkers, it makes them look like complete shitbags. In the particular case linked there, about how perhaps we shouldn't kill trans people? What that particular moron seems to miss, in his oh-so-wise "people should stop killing people" line is that to transphobes, to bystanders, trans people often don't count as people.

It's the same thing with Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter. Yes, you can argue that all lives matter, but the reason why Black Lives Matter is such an important statement is because as a people, we seem to think that they don't matter as much. Case in point, the recent flare up in Alabama. Note how different the reaction was once the police realized they beat the shit out of an Indian guy, rather than a black person as they originally thought.
posted by qcubed at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


This weekend, some women quietly left. Some women left, but not quietly. But a few said to me privately that the reason they weren’t weighing in publicly is because that they were afraid. So for the guys who posted “but I don’t see it,” all I can tell you is that it’s there and women are afraid to bring it up. Because who wants to get in another “twitter fight”?

While there were three or four of us talking about it on Twitter, there were ten more emailing and direct messaging privately. It is an unpopular stand, and I am now an unpopular person. I was pretty much sure that I was going to be painted Humorless Feminist #1, Histronic Harpy, Order of the Phoenix Santa Monica branch.

And here we are.
On the Friends of Tom/Best Show community.
posted by rewil at 11:04 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Quoted for truth. I find myself getting more and more timid online when it comes to expressing my opinions about something. You just don't know when an innocuous online statement by you will trigger someone to point the Internet Hate Machine in your direction.


I am a female with strong ideas who is using her own name. I do not argue online. I tell you what I see. You can take it or leave it. If you are weak and need a little virtual posse to cyber-stone me, then all you will manage to do is drive away sensible people and the only ones who will be left will be other know-it-all trolls who will be forced to tear each other while the rest of the world goes on with their lives.

However, if you are going to call yourself a feminist, it comes with responsibilities: you are not going to get applause for everything you say and do. You will be called names. People will question your sanity, intelligence and desirability because that is a stratagem to demonize and deface a person.

I soldier on because I know it is a ruse. Women faced death and were abused in the fight for morality, kindness and civility and I will not go away or retreat, either.

If you want to throw a public temper tantrum because you are resisting a different idea, show the world your class. If you get a posse to parrot your beliefs, you all still be wrong -- and I will go on writing.

Misogyny is deeply-rooted in the world: every race, nationality, culture, religion, and political system have it deeply ingrained, some out in the open, some very carefully hidden. You will never reach true equality until you deal with the sexism first.

And I have had my fill of it. So yes, I will continue to write and express truths and if you attack a very gentle and sensitive woman who looks after her family and pets and who has never tried to hurt or hold back anyone in her life, show the world who you truly are, but don't be surprised when she keeps forging ahead in spite of it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:08 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


This will sadly continue until FB and the like are forced by law to take it seriously.

Well, FB and Twitter, and every other US corporation 'cooperates' with law enforcement (ie: responds to every request for information within the bounds of the law).

So I think the problem is twofold (as far as law enforcement/private corporations goes, obviously the asshats are the problem, but as a society the question is how do we deal with this problematic behavior): law enforcement doesn't take online threats seriously in the vast majority of cases (if you tweet something against a law enforcement officer or politician or maybe celebrity law enforcement may care a lot), and the corporations are only haphazard in enforcing their own terms of service.

I think public shaming of the corporations is a good thing. Twitter has publicly acknowledged this is one of the greatest challenges facing them as an organization - this public acknowledgement is a response to the torrent of (rightful) criticism levied against them. Acknowledging the problem doesn't solve it, but it's a first step to any solution. I imagine a solid part of the reason they are hesitant to enforce their own terms of service is that it's costly - it requires human beings to actually figure out whats going on, and to make the right call. If they do so haphazardly they'll cause PR headaches for themselves (eg: banning activists or other folks that aren't actually abusing their TOS in response to trolls that report the activists as a harassment tactic). So it'll probably take a lot of human beings with good judgments to help solve this problem; and tech companies don't like solutions that require a bunch of employees to fix it (they cost more than small perl scripts, it's hard to scale up/down as needed).

Law enforcement is... Well law enforcement. When swarms of harassers attack a person it's hard to identify a single person to arrest - it's often hundreds of folks harassing a single person. The victim and harasser are often far apart, leading to a couple of problems; the police don't see an imminent threat , and if the police do care about the victim , they must convince another police department to take action on this. Add to this that most police departments don't have the expertise to track down online bad guys (large cities do, but those resources are often tied up dealing with online fraud, drug dealing, computer forensics for violent cases already on their plates).

So what to do? I like the solution of the internet determining who these people are and contacting appropriate people in their lives to deal with the situation; often times their parents (a significant number of these harassers are minors, I would imagine), but perhaps their spouses, or even their parents if they are adults. It's a fraught solution though, because a single person doing this could help exert social pressure on them to stop, but a swarm of people contacting these folks would look a lot like harassment.

Personally I'm against trying to get these people fired from their jobs (unless they are a PR person, spokesperson, or obviously using their companies resources to launch these attacks). The last thing you want a potentially violent person who has a history of cyber-stalking/harassing is to make their own life go to hell (via unemployment misery) and at the same time give them a ton more free time - they very well might use this free time to continue their own hate campaigns (with an added level of personal persecution complex).

I pretty much abstain from online social media and participation online in order to reduce my chances of pissing off an angry mob (metafilter is my one exception to this rule), but that's a shitty solution, and not a good one for society as a whole.
posted by el io at 11:15 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There remains a persistent belief in our society that if something happens on the internet it is automatically kind of silly, or unimportant. Arguing that, jokes to the side, the internet really is serious business is seen as a marker of being an un-serious person.

So the vile trolls get away with it because, basically, our society has decided that the internet simply doesn't matter. Even when it spills into the real world, with death threats containing home addresses sent or swatting or what have you, there's still this general cultural sense that it doesn't really matter. It's just the internet, no biggie.

Once that changes the rest will. But as long as the mainstream culture continues to teach that what happens on the internet is inherently harmless, or non-serious, then it won't.

And, of course, a great deal that happens online is non-serious. But not all of it.

And that's about all I can say without exploding into rage. The way the toxic masculinity and gamergate bullshit has shown how pervasive misogyny is among my fellow men makes me continuously enraged and depressed.
posted by sotonohito at 11:44 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


Michelle Goldberg's capacity for doublethink never ceases to amaze. Last year when she wasn't busy going to bat for TERFs she wanted feminists on the internet to shut up, and I notice she manages to sneak in a link to that Chait piece which says more or less the same.


Re: "hey guys don't do that" and the TB storify, this came across my social media today: The Last Week of February is Worldwide Don't Kill a Trans Woman Week (FB link).
posted by Corinth at 12:43 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


So the vile trolls get away with it because, basically, our society...
...is a Rape Culture.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:54 PM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Speaking of someone being abused and threatened into silence, there's MeFi's Own Eyebrows McGee.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:56 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]




Michelle Goldberg's capacity for doublethink never ceases to amaze. Last year when she wasn't busy going to bat for TERFs she wanted feminists on the internet to shut up, and I notice she manages to sneak in a link to that Chait piece which says more or less the same.

Yeah, which is why I found myself surprised by more or less liking this article. She's not been a great ally to trans folk and more than once she has done the "black Twitter feminists are mean to me" thing.
posted by Kitteh at 1:25 PM on February 23, 2015


I had such mixed feelings about the answers in this AskMe post from not too long ago.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:05 PM on February 23, 2015


oneswellfoop You are absolutely correct. I made by comment that then I realized I left out that major point.

Women's problems don't matter.

Anything that adversely affects women but doesn't adversely affect men doesn't matter.

Not only do women's problems not matter, they don't exist. I've never seen street harassment, therefore street harassment doesn't exist and women who claim it does must be delusional, or making it up, or something. I'm a smart guy, if it was a real problem I'd have noticed it. Internet trolling? Pfft, I get trolled all the time, I know what it's like, it isn't a problem stop being an attention whore just cuz you got trolled a little. Grow up.

So when you've got a problem faced by women it automatically doesn't matter, it's invisible and drawing attention to it is an annoyance, an affront, an indication of the deranged female mind, and a desperate call for attention from a loser who doesn't deserve attention. Add that it's a problem faced by women involving the internet and it doubly doesn't matter because the internet is for lulz and nothing on the internet matters at all (except men's problems of course, because men's problems always matter).

Reddit has an absolutely platonic example of this. There are huge numbers of people on the site who are (four years after the fact) still outraged and utterly incensed that a redditor who posted kiddie porn and revenge porn and creepshots and videos of women being beaten and the personal information of hundreds of women had his real name published by Gawker. To this day there are hundreds of subreddits which automatically reject any Gawker link as a sort of revenge for the outing of violentacrez. Because violentacrez was a man, so his privacy mattered. The privacy of the women he posted creepshots of? The privacy of the women he posted personal information about? Who cares? They weren't men, if they wanted privacy they should have had a penis.

Yet at the same time the majority of reddit celebrates and loves gamergate. The doxxing of Brianna Wu and Felicia Day and Zoe Quinn, including their physical addresses, happened with nary a peep from the hordes of reddit who were so filled with righteous indignation when violentacrez had nothing but his real name published.

Why? Because women's problems don't matter. Because bitches ain't shit. Because they had it coming, didn't you see how they were dressed?

And anyway, it's just the internet, trollz gonna troll, you mad bro?

So it's a double whammy. Women don't matter, the internet doesn't matter, therefore things that happen to women on the internet are so insignificant that caring makes you some sort of freak, a white knight, an omega orbiter, an SJW. And everyone knows those are the worst things anyone can possibly be, even worse than just being a woman is.
posted by sotonohito at 8:15 PM on February 23, 2015 [23 favorites]


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