Sunday, July 15, 2012

Don't Feed the Trolls - SkepchickCON/CONvergence panel

This is a very important issue dealt with at the Skepchick conference, the phenomenon of targeting women bloggers with threats of rape and violence.

It happened to me - not in comments but through search string text. Which is so inconvenient - trying to explain what search string text is and how you can read it to most people is like trying to explain what an obscene phone call is (which is very much what it is like)  to someone from the 17th century.

For more information about what happened to me, check out: Off-Off Broadway: Adventures with Creeps and Time to End Harassment.

One of the points made by the panel is that you should not remain silent about Internet harassment, even though people will tell you "don't let it bother you."

The goal of the troll is to shut you up. The search string harasser did not stop the harassment for over half a year until I mentioned him by name on my blog - and the name of one of his friends who also participated in the harassment.

Obviously I blog on a daily basis, and I talk about lots of things. Usually politics and theatre, but occasionally I talk about personal stuff. Normally I don't name names because who really cares? But I certainly have a right to talk about something that happened to me, and I even have the right to name names, if I so desire.

The reason I ended up being harassed by the text string messages is actually a long saga -  a few years ago I had a bad experience with a couple of actors who I was paying to perform in a show of mine. I felt horribly betrayed - they seemed to target me, in spite of my manifest good will towards them, for no other reason than it amused them to upset me, even in spite of the possible harm it would have done to the show that they themselves were performing in. I got a complaint from the stage manager that they were being abusive to the stage crew, but that was just one of the ways they chose to express their contempt for me.

After the show ended, I told each of them in individual emails why I was upset with them, and their response was to ignore me.  I concluded that they were awful people and I said so on my blog - I called them "assholes" - but I never mentioned them by name. Because other than me wanting them to know how I felt about them - I knew at least one of them was monitoring my blog - who really cares?

I concluded they were awful people - but even I didn't realize how awful. I wanted them to read what I thought about them because I wanted to shame them for their nasty and unprofessional behavior - but the problem is that you simply cannot shame people who possess no sense of shame.

 I only discovered in the last year or so that they used my online references to them (and I never mentioned their names) as a justification to defame me at a theatre organization and to many individuals. Including, apparently, the people responsible for the text string harassment.

Now this is basically my business, and not of a general interest, especially since I decided not to pursue legal recourse against them. Although if I ever get irrefutable evidence of their defamatory activities I will revisit that decision.

But what is most interesting on a social level in the context of this Skepchick panel discussion is how viciously misogynistic many of the text string messages were. These messages weren't from MRA (men's rights activists) types. These were men who claimed to be liberals and who partnered with women on creative projects. So it doesn't surprise me at all that Rebecca Watson and other women writing about controversial subjects (atheism, feminism) online receive threats of rape and murder. If even alleged liberal men can send text string messages like the ones I received, we certainly can't expect better from professional misogynists.