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Stuff You Absolutely Have to Read: Kathy Sierra and Adria Richards on Harassment and "Trolls"

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Sometimes when I post links, they’re simply interesting things I’ve run across. These, though, are essential reads:

Why the Trolls Will Always Win, by Kathy Sierra, Wired

A detailed post by Java expert and game developer Sierra describing the harassment and vilification she’s faced for the crime of, well, basically for being a woman in the tech world. While long and a bit rambling in spots, this is an important piece that, among other things, describes how harassers can sometimes transform slanderous assertions about their targets into “conventional wisdom,” details the damage that “trolls” can have on a person’s reputation (and their life generally), and offers some sobering reflections on the culture of harassment and how difficult it can be to fight.

She offers these thoughts on the ways in which Twitter can serve as an enabler of this kind of harassment:

Twitter, for all its good, is a hate amplifier. Twitter boosts signal power with head-snapping speed and strength. Today, Twitter (and this isn’t a complaint about Twitter, it’s about what Twitter enables) is the troll’s best weapon for attacking you. …

It begins with simple threats. You know, rape, dismemberment, the usual. It’s a good place to start, those threats, because you might simply vanish once those threats include your family. Mission accomplished. But today, many women online — you women who are far braver than I am — you stick around. And now, since you stuck around through the first wave of threats, you are now a much BIGGER problem.

And she takes on the “troll logic” of those who insist that unless there’s legal action no “real” harassment has happened:

You’re probably more likely to win the lottery than to get any law enforcement agency in the United States to take action when you are harassed online, no matter how viciously and explicitly. Local agencies lack the resources, federal agencies won’t bother. (Unless you’re a huge important celebrity. But the rules are always different for them. But trolls are quite happy to attack people who lack the resources to do anything about it. Troll code totally supports punching DOWN.)

There IS no “the authorities” that will help us.

We are on our own.

And if we don’t take care of one another, nobody else will.

We are all we’ve got.

Much of Sierra’s piece focuses on one of her biggest enemy in all of this, “hacktivist” Andrew Auernheimer, better known as weev. He’s posted a response to Sierra’s piece. It’s pretty appalling; weev is a hateful misogynist and white supremacist. Here’s a sampling:

Kathy Sierra is the epitome of what is wrong with my community. She had something coming to her and by the standards set by her own peers in the social justice community, there was nothing wrong with what she got.

I do not hate women. My colleagues include quite a few (cis and trans) women. I support women making tech. However, it is high time for the “women in tech” to get the fuck out.

The other essential bit of reading?

Telling My Story, by Adria Richards, Storify.

Developer and tech evangelist Richards, you may recall, ignited the fury of the Great Internet Lady Harassment Machine by tweeting about sexist jokes she overheard at a tech conference. At the time, she largely kept silent about the harassment she was getting. But now she’s speaking up and sharing the details.

In a series of Tweets yesterday, Richards posted screenshots documenting some of the worst harassment she’s gotten; this Storify collection pulls these together in one place.

Make the effort to enlarge and read the screenshots; they’re horrifying. And Richards promises to post more.

While I’m posting links, here’s one that’s hardly essential but that’s pretty funny:

Local Chicago Man Would Like Women to Smile, Accept His Advances, by Kara Brown.

No, this last one isn’t from The Onion. It’s REALLLL.

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Daeran Zemaitis
Daeran Zemaitis
7 years ago

I think just saying “Sorry, I gotta take a really really bad shit” is good enough. Sounds reasonable, yet takes the focus away from them trying to “spit game” , but sounds plausible, everyone has to shit.

“PUAs take advantage of the fact that women are socialized to be nice, to take care of other people’s feelings, and to want to please.”

Buttercup, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was socialized that way to an extent?

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
7 years ago

Women do not poop! Mind = blown! Nooooooo! *head asplode*

@Daeran – Excellent point, we should be equally focused on socializing boys to please others too. The world would be a more peaceful place. Skyscrapers would still get built, football would still get played, love would still get fallen into, but nobody would have to worry about fending off “compliments” from sidewalk weasels.

@PolicyofMadness Well, if I were HIV positive I’m not sure how I’d feel about healthy people using it as a sort of social-pariah-guarantee card, but if it shuts down a potentially dangerous situation…

cassandrakitty
cassandrakitty
7 years ago

I used to tell pushy evangelists that I was a Satanist, on the assumption that the guy down below would be the thing that would make them recoil most instinctively. So for PUAs, either “I’m a feminist” or start talking about the assertiveness and public speaking or leadership training program you just attended?

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
7 years ago

@Buttercup

Guys who aren’t making me feel threatened get the “I don’t take orders” response. I’m looking for something to deter the ones who do make me feel threatened. I respect that perpetuating the meme that HIV+ folks are untouchable is, to understate the situation, not ideal, but if it gets me out of a threatening situation the pro/con balance might be acceptable.

It may be going too far, though.

@cassandrakitty

It seems like that might invite further interaction. Does it? I’d love for the answer to be something that simple.

Puddleglum
7 years ago

If I were to approach a strange woman in public, it would be because I needed information and thought she might have it. These jerks make women so creep-sensitive that it’s harder for someone like me who has a legitimate need to initiate a conversation to do so successfully.

But, unlike these asshats, I imagine that you probably see all the people on the street, not just the ones that pass the ‘boner test’, so you have a broader range of people to ask information from.

contrapangloss
7 years ago

PoM, AIDS generally wouldn’t be transmitted by feces, so throwing HIV+ folks under the bus is a little more non-sequiterish, Hep A and C-diff though…

Yeah. after learning about those two you get paranoid about other people not washing hands and POOP, even though the most people’s poop isn’t actually that nasty.

strivingally
7 years ago

Yeah, I find it odd how the “social awkwardness” excuse is ALWAYS a free pass for a guy to be creepy/intimidating/ignore a woman’s social cues, but is NEVER an acceptable excuse for a woman refusing to play by the social conventions that would force her to engage with a guy who approaches her unsolicited. Why doesn’t *she* get the benefit of the doubt?

Catalpa
Catalpa
7 years ago

^ Ah, it’s because women are never socially awkward ever and are constantly and inherently more emotionally and socially aware than men are, in exchange for being unable to comprehend math and logic with their feeble ladybrains. /sarcasm

It would sure be nice to be able to pterodactyl screech at any man who approached you unsolicited, and then in response to the WHAT THE FUCK, you could go “Oh, that WASN’T appropriate? Not my fault! I’m just soooo socially awkward! =D” and then continue to do that every time.

strivingally
7 years ago

Catalpa, you’ve just made my day. I’m going to go around picturing scenarios in nightclubs, on buses, in public libraries, etc. where dudes try to randomly hit on women and just get “AARRRAAAAWWWWWWKK!!” in response, followed by an insincere “Sorry for my social awkwardness! *cheesy grin* What were you saying?”

That sounds like an awesome YouTube skit waiting to happen. 😀

cassandrakitty
cassandrakitty
7 years ago

@ Policy of Madness

I’ve found quite openly laughing at them right to their faces to be the most effective way to get rid of PUAs, but obviously that involves a certain level of risk calculation in terms of how likely it seems that they might physically harm you.

Amanda
Amanda
7 years ago

@cassandrakitty: Yes, fear of harm coming my way is definitely a concern. (Although some people will take advantage of those who are too meek, so you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.)

When I was in my early 20s, I had a boss who just rubbed me the wrong way. I could never put my finger on why, but my instincts told me not to be alone with him. One day, after I had left the company, a former coworker told me he had found him on the Megan’s Law website – he had done time in prison for rape and attempted murder. Out of curiosity, I just looked him up and he was arrested for ANOTHER rape just a few years after I left. Very scary, but this tells me my instincts were spot-on and not to second-guess myself.

cassandrakitty
cassandrakitty
7 years ago

Never second guess yourself when it comes to potential danger. If someone gives you a bad vibe, what’s the worst thing that can happen if your feeling is right versus if it’s wrong? Your safety is more important than someone else’s potential hurt feelings.

weirwoodtreehugger
7 years ago

I had a coworker who creeped me out. I always joked with people that he gave me the feeling he had bodies buried in his basement. Later, he started harassing another coworker and got fired. The next day he tried to follow into work and piggyback past the point where you need a swipe card to get in. Who knows what he would have done if he had gotten in.
My creepdar never fails. I always tell guys that I know Woody Allen is guilty of molesting his daughter. I just feel it in my bones. Men never understand that we develop these instincts because they, themselves don’t need to have them.

cassandrakitty
cassandrakitty
7 years ago

Or they know very well that we have these instincts, and why, but have reasons for trying to get us to ignore what those instincts are telling us.

(Says the pessisimist)

Bina
Bina
7 years ago

Yeah, I find it odd how the “social awkwardness” excuse is ALWAYS a free pass for a guy to be creepy/intimidating/ignore a woman’s social cues, but is NEVER an acceptable excuse for a woman refusing to play by the social conventions that would force her to engage with a guy who approaches her unsolicited. Why doesn’t *she* get the benefit of the doubt?

Because all women are Just Asking For It, don’tcha know?

Seriously, though: I’ve had to field some ooky come-ons in my time, and ALL of them were from guys who were NOT socially awkward, but who cooked up some kind of plausible deniability to that effect so they’d never be held accountable for their actions. And they all used MY social awkwardness to THEIR advantage. One of them actually waited until I was seatbelted into his moving car before he made his move, and it scared the shit out of me. He knew exactly what he was doing. His come-on was blatant and clumsy in its execution, but his timing was impeccable. A truly socially clueless guy would not have waited until his target was unable to escape.

Girls are trained to be nice and polite all the time, instead of heeding their creepdar and fleeing if they feel the slightest bit of anything “off” about a person. And if you’re shy to begin with, as I was, and have trouble reading other people’s cues, as I did, you’re a sitting duck for that kind of creeper. I was in my twenties before the insistent bleeping of my creepdar finally started drowning out all my Nice Girl Training. But once it did, it’s amazing how little I was harassed. It’s almost like they sensed that I was no longer an obliging Nice Girl, even though I am still generally polite to everyone until they give me a reason not to be.

kittehserf
7 years ago

Ah yes, the mirthless smile, accompanied by a dead-eyed look at them. Helps when you have fairly prominent canines, as I do.

weirwoodtreehugger
7 years ago

Cassandra
I was thinking of an argument I got into with a couple of male coworkers about Woody Allen. They’re generally good guys. They’re not themselves creepers. They just didn’t think his obsession with young women on display in his movies in addition to my feelings was enough to go on. It’s frustrating. Even progressive well intentioned men get male privilege blind spots sometimes. Not trusting women’s creepdar is one of them.

cassandrakitty
cassandrakitty
7 years ago

Also wanting your heroes to be decent people, and finding it easier to ignore than to deal with evidence to the contrary. Did you ever see the doc about the filming of the movie Allen made with Helen Hunt? There was a scene where he leaned in towards her face and she visibly recoiled. One daughter is accusing him of abuse, and he married another almost as soon as it was legal to do so. How much evidence do people need? A lot, if they have a vested interest in maintaining their illusions.

Skye
Skye
7 years ago

Also wanting your heroes to be decent people, 

I have this problem a lot. I always want people who seem cool to be so. I was heartbroken at Whoopi’s defense of Polanski. I’ve never met her, but she always seemed like an awesome person.

I did meet Adam Baldwin at a con and he was nice to me then (just a fan meet, not an in-depth conversation or anything); it’s been painful to see here how awful he acts towards people online and realize he probably isn’t a very nice person.

pallygirl
pallygirl
7 years ago

My partner and I had a photo taken with Lance Henriksen at a Comic Con type thing. My partner was wearing the Dr Who scarf I knitted for him. Lance saw the scarf and complimented it, and it seemed that he didn’t realise it was homemade. I hope to dine out on that tale until I die, so please no one tell me that Lance Henriksen is horrible.

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