trolls and cool kids and the culture of fear and silence

Laura J. Mixon has provided a safe place at her blog for people who have been bullied or abused online by the persona of an individual who goes by several online names. This person has been known as Winterfox, pyrofennec, acrackedmoon, Requires Hate, and now has been tied to the pseudonym of the author Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Laura is listing links at her site and more links are available in the comments. Go down and read them if you have time. I've listed a few at the end of this post.

I wanted to write a post articulating my feelings about the affair, then Elizabeth Bear wrote a very lovely post that said everything I wanted to say about the RH/BS charade, so I won't bore you with a redux, just go read hers. Nor do I really care if you enjoy Benjanun Sriduangkaew's literature or not. Whether you like reading stories by Orson Scott Card, Theodore Beale, or Benjanun Sriduangkaew, that is your business. You don't have to justify what you read to me or anyone else.

The focus in this case should be on the victims, many of whom were gaslighted by the cooler kids on the block early in this affair. No one wanted to believe the newest cool kid was an abuser. That is what makes abuse so insidious. Social chameleons are hard to detect. Their behavior is dependent on the individual with whom they are communicating. This, of course, means that some of the cool kids are victims too. Their reputations have been tarnished by association through no fault of their own.

You won't hear me justify RH/BS's behavior. The fact that infamous white, male authors, who have said offensive things in the past, have gotten away with similar behavior means nothing to me. I'm insulted by the very implication that because others tolerated that kind of behavior in the past, then we should tolerate it now. That is how abuse cycles through generations--through justification.

Whenever I've said something about RH's behavior, I was told that what she said was on the side of social justice. Let me be very, very clear about something: whenever someone inspires silence through fear of reprisal, that is NOT social justice. Social justice comes about through changing how we communicate and through our behavior. Social justice comes through love, tolerance, and the ability to accept others for who and what they are. And let me pause here to say that you can accept someone for who and what they are without giving tacit approval for their abusive behavior.

One cannot shout and bully people into compliance. That is what is happening with Gamergate. Simply because you happened to agree with what RH/BS said does not make her methods anymore just or right than the methodology of the trolls involved in Gamergate.

Once upon a time, I tried to justify my abusive behavior with what I now call the "But Clause." I would have done X, but ...

A good friend of mine called me down on it and said that everything after "but" was bullshit. With every "But Clause" justification, people are implying that RH/BS's behavior should be excused. Don't do that. If you truly want online bullying and trolling to stop, don't justify it in any form.

Elizabeth Bear asked that we start looking for ways to make the community better, safer. I think she is right. She talked about making amends. There is a great difference between an apology and an amends. An apology is simply words, an expression of intent. An amends takes positive action to rectify the harm done.

I've read blog posts written by young men, who apologize for being white, Westernized, males: three things utterly beyond their control. Never, never, NEVER apologize for your ethnicity, your gender, or your place of birth--I don't care what your ethnicity, gender, or place of birth is, you should not be ashamed of aspects of yourself that are beyond your control.

You control your behavior. If your behavior has in some way reflected the privilege of your background, and you would like to apologize for that, then do so. Be proud of who you are and continue to use your words to help others less fortunate than yourself. That is how social justice is achieved.

I've noticed time and again, especially on Twitter as well as other online forums, how people are beaten into silence by people with large followings. Some folks wanted to speak out about RH/BS but were afraid of saying what they believed, because they feared being judged and vilified as either racist, or sexist, or both. We need to quit screaming and applying instant labels to one another online. Change will only come when we begin to listen to one another.

I don't care how popular you are, or how self-righteous you may feel, no one who truly advocates any type of social justice can participate in an enforced culture of silence through fear. Nor can we justify that kind of behavior in others. We change through communication and the sharing of ideas and ideals. Sending your ten thousand followers after someone you disagree with is the online equivalent of a lynch mob, and it needs to stop.

We need to be very aware that no one can see our faces or hear our voices online. We don't know how someone will take what we write. More often than not, I err on the side of caution, and even then, I have said stupid things online. It's easy to do. Let's all (myself included) try to be more aware of how we discuss topics, especially on Twitter.

I know a lot of people feel betrayed right now, and, in many ways, these folks are going through their own grieving process. They are also victims. Give them their space to grieve without being judgmental. They made a mistake. They were suckered, and that is hard thing to admit.

Let's accept that a bad thing happened and let's work toward healing. Let us also work toward being vigilant so that no one takes advantage of our goodwill again.

I am currently under a deadline with one project and far, far behind on another. Comments are off. Feel free to disagree on your own blog.

A few links you might be interested in:

A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names

An Open Letter by Elizabeth Bear

Requires Only That You're Fake

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Wrecker

Standing Up and Speaking Truth