"All this report does for me is show how little the FBI cared"
January 2, 2018 7:02 AM   Subscribe

FBI's 'Gamergate' file says prosecutors didn't charge men who sent death threats to female video game fans — even when suspects confessed [CW: death and rape threats, bigoted slurs; SLBusiness Insider]

In response to FOIA requests, the FBI has released a collection of (heavily-redacted) reports, emails, and other documents from their investigations during the wave of online attacks against supporters of diversity in the video and computer gaming industry known as Gamergate (previously), one of the major precursors to the current "alt-right" movement. What these documents show is that, despite photo and video evidence, connections to the distribution of child pornography, and (in several cases) suspects admitting their guilt directly to FBI agents, they chose not to pursue and prosecute cases. Even with explicit references to the École Polytechnique massacre and the then-recent Isla Vista murder spree committed by a misogynist radicalized by the online "manosphere," the response from law enforcement was essentially non-existent, with the FBI classifying the attacks as nothing more than jokes and closing the cases.
posted by zombieflanders (66 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Boys will be boys" institutionalized
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:05 AM on January 2 [38 favorites]


"Boys will be boys" institutionalized

"Boys won't be institutionalized"

FTFY
posted by chavenet at 7:15 AM on January 2 [16 favorites]


Maybe now that the cops killed an innocent bystander because of a "swatting" prank a week ago they'll start taking threats sent via the internet a little more seriously. But who am I kidding, of course they won't. What I still can't wrap my brain around is how 4chan and 8chan still exist? I mean, I know legally, how they continue to be a thing but for every piece of child porn exchanged or nudes used to intimidate there's a crime being committed right?
posted by photoslob at 7:15 AM on January 2 [13 favorites]


When I went to the cops, what I ended up doing was training the entire police dept on what swatting was, and how if they got a call for my house, the odds were against it being a real call, and gave them three mobile numbers to attach to my address if a call came in for that address. But other than that, I couldn't get them to take any action, if when I had full forensic data on who was contacting me, and showed that they were sending pictures of my son's school. It's one of the reasons I went dark and deleted my existing online persona, and stopped writing for the games and entertainment industry.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:19 AM on January 2 [204 favorites]


4chan et al will always exist in some form because the internet is made by people and unfortunately some people are assholes.
posted by adept256 at 7:21 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


this is more than being an asshole - this is being a outright threat to people around you, being someone dangerous to society (y'know the kind of people we're supposed to have prisons for)
posted by kokaku at 7:34 AM on January 2 [23 favorites]


4chan et al will always exist in some form because the internet is made by people and unfortunately some people are assholes.

See, this attitude annoys me.

Well people are assholes so we should tolerate it. No we shouldn't. But because reasonable people do, unreasonable lunatics like Trump and the like want to shut off your access to the internet and heavily police what people post, pointing to incidents like this and swatting pranks.

When reasonable, good people do nothing then the unreasonable, crazy extremists make policy.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 7:36 AM on January 2 [93 favorites]


It's one of the reasons I went dark and deleted my existing online persona, and stopped writing for the games and entertainment industry.

A sad coda to this story, is that you can give this much detail and feel confident that it's not specific enough to identify you beyond your pseudonym here, because there have been so many stories just like it.
posted by biogeo at 7:39 AM on January 2 [64 favorites]


Lawyers among us — can these women sue? Is this not a civil rights violation?
posted by schadenfrau at 7:39 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]


Yet despite all that — an email trail, a confession, and an admission from the suspect that he knew he was breaking the law — the FBI let him go after the suspect said it was a "joke"

This here (among other, more personal trauma) is why I went (quietly and appropriately) bonkers when my son discovered the use of "just kidding!" as a potential get-out-of-consequences-free card. He was only 4 and the stuff he was saying that preceded "just kidding!" was very very mild in the grand scale of naughty things preschoolers say, but I shut that down so fast. And I will continue to do so as I attempt to raise a son who can take responsibility for his own words and actions and not coast on a belief that men and boys are just inevitable assholes.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:40 AM on January 2 [119 favorites]


I was in no way advocating not doing anything about it. I want to go in there like the world's most angry gorilla and break their stuff so that it never works again. But if 4chan disappeared today it would be back in another form. The problem isn't 4chan, it's the people in it.
posted by adept256 at 7:41 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]


But if 4chan disappeared today it would be back in another form. The problem isn't 4chan, it's the people in it.

If you took down 4chan, sure you'd get a new version, but it probably wouldn't come back as strong, because it would bleed users. And each time you smack down those successors, that bleed happens.

No, I'd say the problem is that Chris Poole got a cushy job at Google instead of being made into a pariah for creating Internet Mos Eisley. Poole made 4chan what it is, and got rewarded for it. That sends a bigger message.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:50 AM on January 2 [86 favorites]


4chan et al will always exist in some form

This kind of normalization and defeatist attitude is the fucking problem. 4chan (and reddit, and voat, and twitter, and...) created a whole home for violent misogynists to hang out and egg each other on. To plan and escalate their violence against women. It made a home for a whole community of men to share violent rape and murder fantasies about women. Shutting stuff like that down absolutely does work to limit exposure and contagion. It's also a basic moral responsibility.

Could you imagine if Metafilter just casually accepted this sort of misogyny and didn't bother moderating threads? We kind of did, back in the early years. It was an uglier place.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 AM on January 2 [101 favorites]


I think that very often we forget just how complicated the legal and economic infrastructure supporting our day to day lives really is, and we tend to say "it's just capitalism" or "it's just people" or whatever. (These systems are naturalized for many middle class/upper working class people because we are very rarely at the sharp end of things.) People are terrible. Capitalism is terrible. But people and capitalism are able to act in the world by dint of very, very complicated regulatory and economic regimes. It's like the difference between an asshole with just his fists and an asshole with a semiautomatic, right? Take away the semiautomatic, and the average person has a chance.

Because those regimes are not visible in their totality to most people, we tend to forget how extensive they are. I surmise that there are many, many points at which existing regulatory and economic regimes could be altered to weaken the channer system - perhaps it could never be eliminated per se, and certainly those changes would be tricky to make and require a lot of thoughtfulness and then enforcement, but they're not impossible.
posted by Frowner at 8:04 AM on January 2 [32 favorites]


The problem isn't 4chan, it's the people in it.

It's both. People both create and are created by their social environments. Yes, it's true that there were assholes before 4chan and there will be assholes long after 4chan is gone. But it's also true that the assholes on 4chan are assholes in part because they found an environment that encourages, rewards, and nurtures that behavior, and it shaped them into what they are. Sick social systems like the *chans are a problem not only because of how they victimize people, but also because of how they warp people who may otherwise never have gone down that path.

Note that this doesn't excuse or exonerate the individuals. All of us are responsible for the choices we make, no matter what caused us to become the people we are.
posted by biogeo at 8:08 AM on January 2 [35 favorites]


The FBI failed miserably in not charging the guys who admitted to sending death threats. The excuse of it being "a joke" is horrifying in terms of it having actual weight re: law enforcement decisions.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:31 AM on January 2 [27 favorites]


But if 4chan disappeared today it would be back in another form. The problem isn't 4chan, it's the people in it.

No, the problem is 4 chan. The problem is that much of the web was built by libertarian techbros with shallow, privileged understanding of freedom of speech who created systems that allowed anonymous packs of hostile young men to develop into an activist community of radicalized misogynists.

That would not have happened without the platform, and the platform was not an inevitability.
posted by maxsparber at 8:38 AM on January 2 [38 favorites]


I was in no way advocating not doing anything about it. I want to go in there like the world's most angry gorilla and break their stuff so that it never works again. But if 4chan disappeared today it would be back in another form. The problem isn't 4chan, it's the people in it.

This is such an irritating perspective - lets say 4chan is taken down for a week and even a single person avoids being swatted because they can't organize the way they're used to. Isn't that a win, especially when the only cost is getting rid of 4chan?

There's also a property of communities that also applies here - there's a lot of social capital built up in them, even the bad ones. People have a vested interest in their involvement in a particular one that doesn't necessarily port over to another. Imagine if Metafilter left tomorrow - there's no reason that another website couldn't exist with the same technology, goal, and content, and yet despite many similar models that have come and gone, Metafilter's 20-year existence is an anomaly. So is 4chan - there have been many imitators. There is a reason for this - that people get to know one another, get used to norms and feedback loops, and thus get really invested in them.

4chan is a community and destroying the social capital that exists within it is progress towards stopping this criminal behavior - maybe another cesspool opens up tomorrow, but at a minimum some % of the userbase won't know about it and another % won't follow both of which are wins.

So I ask that you stop taking away from imperfect solutions to hard problems in the hope that some magical, perfect solution comes along where you get to go all angry gorilla because that's exactly how we end up doing nothing about hard problems. Getting rid of 4chan is a realistic thing that has a pretty likely possibility that it reduces harassment by a not-zero amount and the only cost is...not having 4chan.
posted by notorious medium at 8:56 AM on January 2 [40 favorites]


We can’t legislate shitting in the streets, it’s a natural bodily function. So why even try to get people to stop?
posted by bigbigdog at 9:05 AM on January 2 [18 favorites]


The problem is that much of the web was built by libertarian techbros...

I agree with the overarching sentiment, but as a woman who was part of the early web, and who knows a lot of women who were (and still are) also founding parties, it behooves all of us to recognize that the web was built by both men and women.

Because then it becomes all the clearer how patriarchy behaves as patriarchy when people shrug and say "boys will be boys": women's work was appropriated by men, male views were lauded and publicized while women were hounded and derided, male voices were amplified as women were sneered at and objectified, the CONSISTENT and I do mean goddamned fucking CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member of the earlier internet forums and the accompanying shrug on the part of people who could have done something to stop it (god fucking dammit slashdot and k5, yes you k5, why the hell was there not the conscience that MeFi has shown), and that's not even getting into how much worse it was with racism and for LGBTQA+. Hell it's still that way many places on the web.

The web was most emphatically NOT built by libertarian techbros but by a diverse group of people, many (most? will we ever know?) of whom had their work appropriated and their voices silenced by, yes, libertarian techbros. And while we can indeed point out systemic issues, we do also need to realize that any time we roll our eyes at a woman's voice, or "feminism" (in quotes to denote when it's used as a lulz-scare tactic, we know when that's being done), or we give male privilege bullshit a pass, that is participating and supporting it. It's much smaller, yes, but it is still helping to prop up toxic systems. The hopeful side of it being smaller is that it's also something we can thus change on that level, making the overall system harder to continue.

Treat people as people (we're all different in more ways than just gender after all), argue based on an argument's merits, recognize that jesus h christ on a stick a death threat is a death threat – this is already a good start.
posted by fraula at 9:05 AM on January 2 [161 favorites]


4chan et al will always exist in some form

echoing the sentiments above personally but also there was a study that GA Tech did that that shows that shutting down platforms where antisocial behavior is normalized, at least on reddit, does have an effect of reducing effect and membership

You Can’t Stay Here: The Efficacy of Reddit’s 2015 Ban Examined Through Hate Speech [PDF]
In this paper, we studied the 2015 ban of two hate communities on Reddit, r/fatpeoplehate and r/CoonTown. Looking at the causal effects of the ban on both participating users and affected communities, we found that the ban served a number of useful purposes for Reddit. Users participating in the banned subreddits either left the site or (for those who remained) dramatically reduced their hate speech usage. Communities that inherited the displaced activity of these users did not suffer from an increase in hate speech.
posted by runt at 9:17 AM on January 2 [62 favorites]


In other words, hate speech is self-reinforcing - rooting it out is a public good.
posted by pharm at 9:20 AM on January 2 [31 favorites]


History has proven that keeping hateful ideologies at bay is an endless game of whack-a-mole, but if you don't at least try to whack the mole you are essentially pro-mole.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:21 AM on January 2 [66 favorites]


Last June, my Rep Katherine Clark (D-MA) (herself a victim of swatting) introduced the "Online Safety Modernization Act”, which
aims to curb the forms of online harassment which have become colloquially known as “sextortion,” “swatting,” and “doxxing.” It updates federal criminal statutes to clearly and unambiguously prohibit these forms of online harassment and provides civil remedies for victims of these offenses.

So one small thing people could do, in the US anyway, is to call their reps/senators and try to get some movement, any movement, on this legislation.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:22 AM on January 2 [32 favorites]


hate speech is self-reinforcing

you build a community with structure and you can have entire hobbies dedicated to the seriousness of Scrabble or growing mustaches in really crazy ways. or how 'clean eating' is now a thing or CrossFit - all new subcultures that have had a large impact on the way many of us act in and see the world

not sure why people are keen to give hate speech type folks an exception - as if bigotry and nationalism weren't intrinsically cultural phenomena reinforced and institutionalized by communities of likeminded thinkers
posted by runt at 9:34 AM on January 2 [19 favorites]


In the 1980s in Toronto a man was breaking into women's apartments via open balcony doors and raping them. Police did not investigate seriously and did not put out a warning to women living in the area to close and lock their balcony doors. One woman, known at the time as Jane Doe*, who was raped after police should have put out a warning sued them for a violation of her constitutional rights. She argued that the police did not take this inherently gendered crime against women seriously because it was a crime against women, and that they did not put out a warning because of their belief that "women will get hysterical" (if I recall correctly, an officer was quoted saying that). She won. The courts found that the police violated her constitutional right to equal treatment before and under the law without regard to gender (i.e. the police discriminated on the basis of gender).

This seems very analogous. I realize the US constitution does not ban gender discrimination, but civil rights laws, do, don't they? Hopefully the reason Sarkeesiant is not commenting is that her lawyers have advised her to save it for court.

* I could have sworn that after the verdict there was an interview with her where she agreed to be identified and told her story, but I can't seem to find it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:22 AM on January 2 [21 favorites]


I realize the US constitution does not ban gender discrimination, but civil rights laws, do, don't they?

Unfortunately, in the US, the Supreme Court has ruled that the police have no obligation to protect you from any given crime, so such a lawsuit would fail.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:25 AM on January 2 [8 favorites]


Unfortunately, in the US, the Supreme Court has ruled that the police have no obligation to protect you from any given crime, so such a lawsuit would fail.

Right, but do they (or the justice department, I guess) have an obligation to pursue and prosecute cases in which there is ample evidence of a crime? Like a fucking confession?
posted by schadenfrau at 10:31 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


If law enforcement would actually enforce the laws against internet death threats, there would be a lot fewer of those death threats on the internet. There is a problem with sub-communities that encourage sending these kind of messages, but a much bigger problem is a society that allows the death threats to be sent with impunity.
posted by demiurge at 10:33 AM on January 2 [8 favorites]


Law enforcement's record on any kind of stalking is terrible, isn't it? People have basically been told "we won't do anything until after he kills you".
posted by thelonius at 10:34 AM on January 2 [10 favorites]


do they (or the justice department, I guess) have an obligation to pursue and prosecute cases in which there is ample evidence of a crime?

No. They're overbooked; there are always more crimes-with-evidence than they have the resources to pursue. A trial costs taxpayer money; they're always allowed to decide, "well, we have plenty of evidence for this, but we have higher-priority cases to go after." They can drop a shoplifting case with ironclad evidence in order to prosecute a murder case, and if pressured, they'd claim that's what they're doing here: just deciding which uses of taxpayer funds are more important.

If it could be reasonably proven that they're ignoring cases specifically because the victims are women, that's a potential civil rights lawsuit; gov't services are required not to discriminate on the basis of gender. But there's absolutely no requirement to follow even a very solid investigation with trials.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:38 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Law enforcement's record on any kind of stalking is terrible, isn't it? People have basically been told "we won't do anything until after he kills you".

Yup. Because it happens to women.

If it could be reasonably proven that they're ignoring cases specifically because the victims are women, that's a potential civil rights lawsuit

This is what I’m getting at. You wouldn’t have to show intent, only bias, right? So statistics and comparisons are helpful? The phrase “Brandeis brief” is rattling around inside my head. But IANAL, etc.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:45 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Right, but do they (or the justice department, I guess) have an obligation to pursue and prosecute cases in which there is ample evidence of a crime? Like a fucking confession?

No - prosecutorial discretion is the cover.

Nothing stopping you from using the Grand Jury - if your State allows citizens to go directly to the Grand Jury. Almost every State has a way for a citizen to bypass the DA and the Cops written into the statutes - but good luck on getting a Judge to follow that statute.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:54 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


This is what I’m getting at. You wouldn’t have to show intent, only bias, right? So statistics and comparisons are helpful?

Helpful but not decisive. When it comes to criminal law you generally have to show intent, not just bias or disparate impact, no matter how compelling the statistical evidence*. See, e.g., McCleskey v. Kemp. That was a racial discrimination case, but racial discrimination is judged even more strictly than sex discrimination (i.e. it is generally 'easier', at least in theory, to overturn a racially discriminatory law or practice than one that discriminates on the basis of sex).

Indeed, even gross prosecutorial misconduct can be all but impossible to overcome. See Connick v. Thompson for a recent and abhorrent example.

* Disparate impact is primarily the test in employment law, not criminal law or constitutional law more generally.
posted by jedicus at 11:29 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


as a woman who was part of the early web, and who knows a lot of women who were (and still are) also founding parties, it behooves all of us to recognize that the web was built by both men and women. ...
the CONSISTENT and I do mean goddamned fucking CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member of the earlier internet forums


Unless my memory is seriously deficient, the WELL forum (which went back into the 1980s) was not misogynist. I didn't show up until 1991, but there was certainly a strong and well-supported female presence, and Gail Williams was the Community Manager starting that year -- the one who wielded the banhammer. (She became the Director in 1998).
posted by msalt at 11:32 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I think a pretty strong argument can be made that the whole reason humanity began organizing itself on a societal scale was to stop people from acting on their baser instincts, so that excuse "you can't stop people from being assholes! they'll just go somewhere else and be an asshole!" is kind of dumb.
posted by youthenrage at 11:41 AM on January 2 [11 favorites]


Unless my memory is seriously deficient, the WELL forum (which went back into the 1980s) was not misogynist. I didn't show up until 1991, but there was certainly a strong and well-supported female presence, and Gail Williams was the Community Manager starting that year -- the one who wielded the banhammer. (She became the Director in 1998).

I'm afraid I'm going to have to take issue with that, msalt. And I know that many, if not most, of the women on the Well would agree with me. Sure, there's generally no 4chan-level stuff going on there, but discussions of sex and gender issues can be... well, let's just say problematic.

As for Gail using the banhammer, she pretty famously refused to use it against one user who was openly and virulently misogynist despite repeated pleas from the entire community. Despite the gender of the community managers then and now, the Well is no haven from misogyny, especially because it's more or less completely unmoderated.
posted by holborne at 11:50 AM on January 2 [9 favorites]


Maybe now that the cops killed an innocent bystander because of a "swatting" prank a week ago they'll start taking threats sent via the internet a little more seriously.

On top of everything else said in this thread, there is synergy between swatters and law enforcement departments looking to use their military gear and justify their budgets.

If law enforcement were concerned with public safety, the earliest swatting incidents would have induced a institutional crisis within law enforcement departments around the country from local to federal.

As it is law enforcement is being punked and used by these man babies and they simply do not care because their goals have so much overlap.
posted by MillMan at 11:56 AM on January 2 [24 favorites]


I really hope Brianna Wu wins her election. Katherine Clark has been doing a good job speaking out about this stuff from a neighboring district, but I'd love to see Wu in office as well.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:38 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


We can’t legislate shitting in the streets, it’s a natural bodily function. So why even try to get people to stop?

India did. This was the result. [CW: profanity, depiction of excrement]
posted by theorique at 1:05 PM on January 2


I still can't find a reason to prosecute and criminalize the threatening behavior. Blaming the location is futile, getting the people seems like the only recourse.
posted by Sphinx at 1:33 PM on January 2


Crap, that's supposed to be *not* prosecute.
posted by Sphinx at 1:46 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


the WELL forum (which went back into the 1980s) was not misogynist

BELIEVE WHAT WOMEN SAY ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH MISOGYNY FULL STOP
posted by jesourie at 2:52 PM on January 2 [16 favorites]


jesourie, I'm the one who brought up the WELL when no one had said anything about their experience with it. So what exactly is your all-caps point?
posted by msalt at 4:42 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I mean, was WELL an early internet forum? Because the initial statement was 'CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member of the earlier internet forums."
posted by avalonian at 6:03 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


My point is that you should believe what women say about their experience with misogyny.

fraula reported "the CONSISTENT and I do mean goddamned fucking CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member of the earlier internet forums."

"Earlier internet forums" includes the WELL, of course, which holborne was kind enough to point out. Your lack of insight into its occurrence there, at the time or in retrospect, doesn't change the fact that it happened.

Default to believing what women say about their experience with misogyny instead of responding with contradictions.
posted by jesourie at 6:07 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I mean, was WELL an early internet forum? Because the initial statement was 'CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member of the earlier Internet forums

The Well is about as early as Internet forums get. It went online in 1985.

I just remembered this, btw: one infamous incident on the Well was when one of the Well's alpha males started a topic about his ex-girlfriend, which he entitled “An expedition into [ex-girlfriend's] vagina.” Only, you know, he didn’t say “vagina.” The topic was allowed to continue, again despite pleas from users, because, you know, free speech. Not only was the guy not shown the door, but he was openly admired (fawned on, actually) by most of the user base and held up as a shining example of how intelligent the discourse was on the system. You can read about it here; it’s a long article, so if you just want to cut to the chase, search for “expedition.”

Incidentally, the reason he started the topic, apparently, was that his ex refused to accede to his request that she not date anyone else. So, you know. You’ll forgive me if I shake my head a little at the notion that the Well wasn’t misogynist back in the day.
posted by holborne at 6:44 PM on January 2 [18 favorites]


So I have a question, as I know very little about Reddit. Where do Reddit's operating costs find their funding? Is it ad-supported?
posted by tzikeh at 8:52 PM on January 2


Reddit has a "reddit gold" premium membership program. And there are ads. (Which I've never seen, because apparently Reddit came into existence long after I made adblock a standard part of my web experience.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:06 PM on January 2


Reddit's revenue is tiny. They have a weird history including a trip through Conde Nast. They now have a lot of venture financing and are taking steps to monetize.
posted by Nelson at 9:42 PM on January 2


My point is that you should believe what women say about their experience with misogyny.
fraula reported "the CONSISTENT and I do mean goddamned fucking CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member of the earlier internet forums." "Earlier internet forums" includes the WELL, of course, which holborne was kind enough to point out. Your lack of insight into its occurrence there, at the time or in retrospect, doesn't change the fact that it happened.


So your point is that, if any woman makes a blanket statement such as "All early internet forums were misogynist," no one should offer a perspective that differs, even if it is based on their personal experience? That seems a bit extreme. Holborne's statement, interestingly, was in the present tense, describing a forum that is in its fourth decade. Obviously YMMV a great deal over such a long time period.

Holborne: >Sure, there's generally no 4chan-level stuff going on there, but discussions of sex and gender issues can be... well, let's just say problematic.

I have no idea what's going on now, haven't been very active there in this this century. I did spend many years there though, including as a moderator, so I can definitively say that the statement "it's more or less completely unmoderated" was certainly not true in the early to mid-90s, when I was most active.

There is a lot of space between saying that misogyny cropped up too often on a generally progressive platform and that Gail failed to take on one notorious asshole -- which is absolutely true -- and the "goddamned fucking CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member." That absolutely did not happen on the WELL back then. There were many female-identified members, and they were not consistently derided whenever they appeared. I think many, if not most, female members of the WELL at the time will also agree on this point. But I would love to hear any and all experiences that women had on the site back then.
posted by msalt at 1:00 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I just remembered this, btw: one infamous incident on the Well was when one of the Well's alpha males started a topic about his ex-girlfriend, which he entitled “An expedition into [ex-girlfriend's] vagina.” Only, you know, he didn’t say “vagina.”

Just read that very long article. <mandel> was not one of the "alpha males" of the WELL (if such a person even existed; <jef> or <axon> maybe?), he was a right-wing contrarian outlier, and your summary leaves out a couple of key facts. Such as, <mandel> was suspended by the WELL for his actions toward <nana>; WELL staff asked her if she wanted them to kill that specific topic and she said no; and the couple later reconciled and were married.
posted by msalt at 1:47 AM on January 3


I'm not a lawyer. Are death threats the only instance in US criminal code where intent determines if, or to what degree, a crime occurred?
posted by Homer42 at 4:23 AM on January 3


An interesting thing about the WELL: It was probably the first internet thing I ever heard of, and it was described to me as woman-friendly, even woman-led. (Also you had to talk to someone on the phone to verify your identity?) This sounds like a pretty big overstatement, but it does testify that some people who were women and feminist and not stupid thought it was true in the mid-nineties.

One thing I definitely remember from my own early days on the internet: That horrible, horrible threads like the one described here seemed simply unstoppable, not something that it was fair to complain about, just a fact of life. "This is free speech and you have to win the argument that women aren't horrible and gross if you want to fight back" was a very strong norm, and I was in explicitly feminist lists/spaces where stuff was permitted that would be deleted from non-feminist spaces today. I think the rhetoric of free speech and the narrative that "internet people" were special and had special bonds were very strong (and also had some fragments of truth, since there were fewer internet people). I look back at the incredible garbage in some of my old fanzines and nineties stuff and it just blows my mind - this was the stuff that wasn't being called out by riot grrrl, it was just background noise, and it was pretty horrible.

As garbage as the internet is, and as dangerous as the gamergater types seem to be, the basic assumptions of the internet are, IMO, way more feminist than they were when I was younger.
posted by Frowner at 4:53 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


Takes a lot of fucking balls to make a statement that starts with "unless my memory is deficient" and then defend it to the fucking death when people point out that your memory is, in fact, deficient.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:28 AM on January 3 [20 favorites]


Katherine Cross: In 2018, let’s stop pretending abusive fans are ‘passionate’
The age of thinking “words on the internet” were unreal passed us by long ago — if it ever existed at all. People have already been hurt, their lives ruined or forever altered, by cavalcades of online harassment. They have beenforced from their homes, only for law enforcement to not take it seriously; others saw their livelihoods impacted by trolls and even colleagues who fed stories to Breitbart. More saw their families and loved ones targeted because they spoke out about the abuse. Many more still, those whose names weren’t “important” enough to make it into a news article, suffered in silence.

President Trump has demonstrated with painful clarity how even manifestly untrue tweets can move financial markets and embolden harassment of the worst kind. And now, for the gaming community, there’s a bodycount for its “passion.” Now more than ever, we need to acknowledge what the tech industry and its associated fandoms have been egregiously remiss in addressing: that what we say and do in our fan spaces, in games, or on social media, has consequences and we are responsible for it.

As we reflect on this rising wave of internet-facilitated abuse, we should conclude by reflecting on why swatting happens in the first place. Part of its appeal is theatrical: you swat a streamer and then reap “lulz” from seeing a SWAT team burst into their living room or bedroom live on their webcam. But especially for the more vicious harassers that stew in fan communities, it’s a SWAT team’s capacity for violence that really appeals. The police are an extension of their will, a physical manifestation of all the power they think they’re owed. They can hurt people they dislike, or at the very least damage their property — not to mention their sense of safety — with a publicly funded battering ram. With one phone call, they can wield the lethal weaponry of law enforcement like a cudgel in their personal, petty disputes. And as is so often the case with American police, those guns might just go off.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:36 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


Having to talk to someone on the phone to verify you were a real person, aka "voice validation" was a thing during the BBS era. If I identified as female when making an account, I could count on getting a validation call (one was generally using the same line for voice and modem/data). It varied how much it was that fake female troll accounts were a thing, and how much it was the BBS admins seeing a chance to talk to an actual girl.

My early BBS experiences were what taught me to use androgynous handles and wait until other users reacted to me as a person before I talked about being a woman.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:53 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


So your point is that, if any woman makes a blanket statement

The point is that you, as a man, are not competent to judge how misogynist or woman-friendly a space is. Women are. So stop telling them they’re wrong, because you’re doing the thing, right now.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:58 AM on January 3 [24 favorites]


Are death threats the only instance in US criminal code where intent determines if, or to what degree, a crime occurred?

No. Lots of crimes require intent, and most require some level of culpable mental state (aka mens rea, which can be something less than conscious intent, such as negligence). Relatively few crimes depend only upon action and not upon the defendant's mental state, and very broadly speaking they tend to have less severe punishments than crimes that require a particular mental state.
posted by jedicus at 7:12 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


no one should offer a perspective that differs,

Ill-informed perspectives that are the product of blinkered privilege are rarely that helpful.
posted by maxsparber at 7:12 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


So your point is that, if any woman makes a blanket statement such as "All early internet forums were misogynist," no one should offer a perspective that differs, even if it is based on their personal experience? That seems a bit extreme.

So...you're actually, apparently with a straight face, mansplaining misogyny to us. Well played, sir.

your summary leaves out a couple of key facts. Such as, was suspended by the WELL for his actions toward ; WELL staff asked her if she wanted them to kill that specific topic and she said no; and the couple later reconciled and were married.

I'm genuinely puzzled as to how any of that makes a topic called "An Expedition into nana's Cunt" any less misogynist. First of all, mandel was suspended briefly, not shown the door, and the topic itself was allowed to remain active. If you think those things help to ameliorate the raw misogyny of the actual content, I'm not sure what to say to you. And do you take the position that if an abuser marries the person he's abusing, then his treatment of her retroactively becomes non-abusive or non-misogynist? Likewise, do you take the position that because nana didn't insist the topic be killed, the topic itself didn't actually create a misogynist environment for every other woman on the system? Really, help me out here.

I might add that you left out a fact yourself: in addition to starting a topic as named above, mandel also used Well email and sends -- sends being the Well equivalent of IMs-- to harrass nana every single time she logged into the system. He still wasn't forced to leave, thus giving the message to any woman on the Well that if a man harassed her on the system, she was basically without recourse, except to turn off sends. That you yourself didn't experience that as misogynist means precisely jackshit.
posted by holborne at 7:39 AM on January 3 [28 favorites]


Such as, was suspended by the WELL for his actions toward ;

He shouldn't have been suspended for such a direct attack on another member of the community that had a chilling effect on others, but banned.

WELL staff asked her if she wanted them to kill that specific topic and she said no;

The staff should not have asked her at all, but instead removed the topic based on guidelines for behavior.

and the couple later reconciled and were married.

And this has no relevance to how the administrators should have acted.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:42 AM on January 3 [20 favorites]


In a bit of good news, the man behind the swatting death late last year has been charged with manslaughter.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:00 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


The whole mandel stalking of nana was ghastly, and of course he should have been banned and the topic deleted; he should have been charged in a criminal court with cyber-stalking, though those laws hadn't been created yet at the time. It all happened years before I got to the WELL in 1991, the same year that Gail took over running the place. Two guys ran it before her, and the fiasco was probably one reason they chose a woman to replace them.

The original statement that I pushed back against was that there was "'CONSISTENT derision of ANY female-identifying member of the earlier Internet forums." Perhaps I mis-read it, but I take that to say that anyone with a female sounding user name was put down in misogynist ways whenever they spoke up online.

The WELL was not like that in the mid-1990s, at least not in public discussion spaces. (I can't speak to private messages, obviously.) It was an outlier for its gender balance at the time; in fact that was one of its main selling points. You don't have to take my word for it, obviously, but if you're worried about "ill-informed perspectives," it might be useful to listen to people such as frowner who were actually there.
posted by msalt at 11:53 AM on January 16


Canada seems to be taking online harassment a bit more seriously, bringing criminal charges against a man who spammed hateful messages over a number of Twitch chat channels.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:00 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


So, I was reminded of this thread today by an email from a friend who left an online community not unlike The Well, because its impeccable progressive wall-manning regarding racism, homophobia, anti-semitism etc were nowhere to be seen when it came to casual misogyny, slut-shaming etc, which were pretty much invisible to the owner, admins and many of the users. So women had to flag them, explain what they were, climb a wall of denial and then do the whole thing over again the next time, until eventually they burned out.

I know from experience that many of the men who look back on that community as a glorious city on the hill would also become very defensive if it was suggested that the experience of women might not have matched their own experience, and might have been adversely affected by factors they never had to notice or worry about.

I don't know from The Well, but I do know masculine nostalgia for the Web of Old, and it feels like something that needs to be factored in when these histories are written.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:25 AM on January 27 [10 favorites]


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