In Support of Brianna Wu (and Others)

Some thoughts on (bad) internet behavior.

Brianna Wu is a friend of mine and I’ve made no bones about my support for her as she endures rape and death threats sent to her by anonymous assholes using the cover of #gamergate to spew misogynistic, white male privilege bullshit in her direction. Frank, her husband, also a friend of mine, is taking collateral damage as well, as flung internet poo is universally non-directional.

It’s splattering all over, it looks ugly, it smells bad and it sucks to have been drawn in to this stupid ‘debate’, however peripheral my involvement may be.

Plenty of others have chronicled the history of this thing…of how a non-issue was ginned up to a great cause in favor of ending game-journalism bias; of how the movement has been co-opted by a small handful of very active, misguided, anonymous assholes); of how social networking has empowered these people through fear; of how that fear has led to great (deliberate) confusion over what exactly #gamergate is about (bias in game journalism: misogyny in the industry: women making up stories to advance feminist/social justice agendas: the ability of a small handful of tech-savvy individuals to fuck up the internet: journalism’s improper dedication to ‘balance’ beyond all reasonableness).

And I’ve been having a very difficult time writing this piece because of external concerns:  I don’t want to be negatively affected by blow back, I don’t want my family negatively affected, I don’t want Amazing Stories negatively affected.

I don’t want to have to spend hours defending my position, blocking emails and tweets, worried about the integrity of the site, of maybe having to stamp out a flaming paper bag of dog crap after answering the door.  I’m already paranoid enough and have no great need to further that indulgence.  I don’t want to have to deal with the emotional swings that come from getting involved in something like this – deep, grating anger when the bad guys score a point, high elation when the good guys score.  In short, neither I nor anyone else needs the tsuris that accompanies these kinds of things.

But then that’s the point, isn’t it?

I don’t have time.  I can’t be bothered.  They shouldn’t have gotten involved. It’s just an internet thing, it will blow over.  I have more important things to do.  I don’t want to be a target.  I’ll just put my head down until it blows over.

THIS is, in large measure, one of the reasons that the attacks on Brianna, and Anita and Zoe – and ALL of the others – have gained traction, gained recruits and continues to be a thing.  Not because troglodytes have skillz and apparently little else to do with their time.  Nope.

It’s because not enough people around them are telling them that it isn’t right.  Instead of being met with incredulous “You did what!?!”, they’re met with approval, or simply ignored.

At least part of the problem is that the internet seems to encourage anonymous misbehavior.  Anonymity is an important tool, but it shouldn’t be allowed to be used for things like this.  Problem is, there’s no way to curtail its down side without endangering important freedoms.

Which means that it is up to society – us – to create the rules that determine what acceptable behavior is.

Halloween and its preceding Mischief Night is a pretty good analogy for what I’m talking about.  (Pretty good for something we are all at least passingly familiar with – but in no way an analogy for the discomfort, disruption and pain that the targets of these attacks are going through.).  This night (I’m from Jersey;.  elsewhere you may call it Devil’s Night) is basically a night when “kids” stay out well past their bed times and run around their neighborhoods engaging in mayhem:  TP’ing trees, soaping windows, injecting crazy glue into car locks, dropping fire crackers into rain gutters, setting off stink bombs, throwing rotten eggs (and worse – people have died from Mischief Night excesses).

This is behavior that we do not tolerate at any other time of the year.  Not that we want to tolerate it on Halloween morning – but we do shrug it off.  It became such an accepted practice that we gave it a name, share stories of what we did when we were kids.  By not protesting, by accepting it as a relatively minor annoyance, we end up condoning it and encouraging it into the future.

We place limits on it though through social pressure.  If adults went out egging and then shared their stories at work, very few would respond positively. They’d be looked at askance, asked about their apparent second childhood; many would wonder about their maturity or perhaps even their sanity. Soaping car windows is one thing – setting a car on fire in the driveway another.

The acceptance of Mischief Night as a thing has been waning since the days when I hoarded toilet paper and rotten eggs.  Towns have enacted curfews; kids get detained; parents act to discourage and, when necessary, punish.

We need to start institutionalizing the same kind of reaction when it comes to internet discourse.  Mischief Night on the web should no longer be tolerated or shrugged off as one of those things.  It really doesn’t matter what your cause is, whether you are on the right side of the debate or the wrong side.

It is plain and simply wrong to make credible threats of physical violence on the web for any reason whatsoever, and we all need to start saying so whenever and wherever we run across it. (It’s also plain and simply wrong to use hurtful words just to score points…but that probably won’t change in any of our life times.)

This is not a short term solution.  It will take decades of constancy (just has it has taken decades of continual social pressure to greatly diminish Mischief Night).  Those who do these things should be shunned, marginalized, punished.  When boasting of their exploits, the majority response needs to be one of opprobrium, not approval.

They need to be taught that it is not their right to free expression that is the issue, it is the way they have chosen to express themselves that is unacceptable.

Those who have threatened Brianna, Zoe, Anita and others – your actions are unacceptable.  You should be censured, shunned and punished until you learn how to communicate in a civilized manner.

The rest of you: keep saying your say and doing your thing, but don’t let the bastards drag you down by turning a blind eye.  Speak up, speak out.

Brianna, Anita, Zoe, Others:  Thanks!

Brianna’s game – Revolution 60 – can be found here.  In further support of Brianna, it has been named Amazing Stories’ Official Game.

Want some background? Slate tries to sum things up here.

(As an aside: I’m getting tired of seeing the mainstream press characterizing intelligent and prudent security considerations as “fleeing their homes”. These women are not fleeing in some kind of stereotypical slasher-film panic. They’ve chosen an intelligent response to the statements “I’m going to rape/murder you” and “here is where you live and work”. When the threat is credible, there are only three (maybe) reasonable responses: call the appropriate authorities. Then, clean the shotgun, load the pistol, put a baseball bat by the bedside and lay in a supply of amphetamines because you’ll be staying awake for weeks on end.  Or decamp to a location that is not known by those threatening you. I’ve had to deal with similar anonymous ‘we know where you live and we’re going to fuck you up’ situations twice before in my life. I chose the former option but only because my financial situation did not make the alternative a viable option. In one of those cases I slept with a gun under my pillow for several months; in the other, I was actually confronted by a car load of “righteously indignant” good ol’ boys who were non-plussed by my willingness to “take them on”. But confrontation is not always possible or desirable, and I am fortunate that the outcomes ended up being what they were. This is not about me, however. I mention it only to demonstrate that I have some very small idea of what these women are going through.  This is about treating these women, who have chosen to take a stand in defense of themselves and others who are unable to do so, in a supportive, respectful way.)

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you. I will make a post in Spanish about it. It is sad that there is a kind of “mainstream”in the genre that has all the defect of mainstream: stupidly traditional.

  2. Thank you, Steve.

    And yes, precisely. Speaking up and speaking out. Everyone should get into the habit, and no one should be punished for doing so.

  3. Well said, Steve.
    All of us who publish anything have a moral duty to defend, to the hilt, freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to be stupid and prejudiced. But bullying and threats like this are something else entirely and we all have a responsibility not to let them go unchallenged.
    There have been several high-profile cases along these lines here in the UK, and one man recently went to prison for sending some vile, menacing tweets to a Labour MP: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-29411031

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