At Least Four Internet Jerks Are Not Nice People Offline

Many thanks go out to those who helped me with editing and revising this: Stephanie, OpheliaDanny, and especially Alex, who generously copy-edited this for free and could really use some help right now.

There are some who claim that if only we were all away from this Internet thing, everything would be alright. According to this theory, perfectly nice, decent people suddenly morph into complete monsters lacking any and all humanity online. Trolls, their defenders, and people who hate technology all chant this “He means well” and “I’m sure she’s nice if you get to know her not-on-the-Internet” bullshit.

And it is bullshit.

What’s after the jump might count as drama-blogging and discusses some very unpleasant things using appropriately unpleasant language. It is an account of the in-person time I have spent with John Rael, Emery Emery, Heather Henderson, and Ryan Grant Long.

Over the weekend, as planned, I attended the opening of Amy’s art exhibit, A Woman’s Room Online. I found it powerfully evocative of the feelings that accompany being surrounded and trapped by online abuse and harassment. The exhibit created a lot of good conversations and attracted, for the most part, an awesome crowd with whom I enjoyed conversation both serious and silly.

Two members of the self-identified less-awesome contingent that showed up stirred up old, very unpleasant memories, while another facilitated an experience that probably ranks among the weirdest I’ve ever had.

Early in the evening, Emery Emery and Heather Henderson made an appearance. (If you don’t know who they are, Emery’s quotes in the recent Oppenheimer piece about Michael Shermer will give you an idea.) As soon as I realized they were there, I decided to stay in my little corner by the bar, far away from them. Amy had plenty of other support — from supporters who weren’t recoiling from the memory of a certain party room at a certain conference a few years ago.

In 2012, when I had been a Skepchick for less than a year and was not terribly recognizable, I attended my first (and my only, despite the proximity) TAM. Late in the game, one of the Surly Amy TAM grant recipients had dropped out. Amy asked around to see if there were any takers, and I said yes. I thought it could be fun; why let free admission to one of the most expensive conferences go to waste? I ran afoul of DJ Grothe before I even got there because he thought I was getting the grant due to Skepchick nepotism rather than circumstance.

In the hopes that  When I first entered the conference area, I immediately noticed the anti-feminist, elevator-joke-rehashing, Rebecca-Watson-hating crap written on the free space whiteboards. In the hallways on Saturday, I encountered John Rael, who wore fake Surlyramics jewelry intended to mock Amy (Amy was right there with her vendor table). Between his statements of support for “parody” accounts intended to mock feminists, I introduced myself as one of the Skepchicks. He made a show of being polite to me and later even tweeted that it was nice to have met me at TAM. I never replied to that tweet.

Strike one against the theory that internet assholes are just misunderstood, secretly nice people. His behavior was manipulative and disingenuous.

By the time I saw David Silverman, I was happy to find someone I knew wasn’t an out-and-out anti-feminist troll. David was already acquainted with my partner and me; he invited us to come by the American Atheists party room later. As we had spent far too much money doing the “cheap” Vegas stuff on Friday night, we gladly accepted. We got to the room around the time David had indicated, which turned out to be a bit early. In it were but a handful of people, including Emery and Heather. After greetings were exchanged and drinks poured, conversation turned to those fun-ruining, awful Rebecca Watsonites — and stayed there.

At some point, PZ Myers came up, and my partner started to defend him. I grabbed his hand and gave him a look that was a warning about attacking people on their turf. I realized they didn’t know who I was — at that point, they had no reason to — so I stood up with my partner and tried to leave with some dignity intact before I burst into tears or lashed out. I said something along the lines of, “I need to tell you who I am. My name is Heina Dadabhoy, and I blog at Skepchick. I feel it’s only fair that you know. I don’t feel I could presume to tell you what you can and can’t talk about, so I’m going to leave you to your conversation. I hope you have a good night.”

They wouldn’t have it. After boldly declaring that I could blog or livetweet anything they said for all they cared, they then softened and claimed that they were so sorry they had made me uncomfortable. They were, they said, happy to refrain from talk about hating feminism, loving harassment, and all the other things that led me to want to leave. I still really, really wanted to leave, but felt it would look hysterical and paranoid after they’d offered to change their conversation just so I’d stay. So stay we did, but the conversation did not change to exclude references to everything they so loathed. Instead, they’d bring things up, begin discussing them, then extravagantly “apologize” to me and abruptly stop.

This went on for no more than an hour, but it felt like an eternity. I felt that I couldn’t leave without looking unreasonable, but they were clearly very invested to talking about what made me uncomfortable regardless of their posturing. Perhaps they were actually consciously interested in making me uncomfortable. I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is that I was saved when the rest of the partygoers arrived. Later, they started recording a podcast that started with a joke about rape, and we finally left.

Strike two against the theory that internet assholes are just misunderstood, secretly nice people. Their behavior was manipulative and disingenuous.

The American Atheists party room experience left me feeling hopeless about the future of skepto-atheism. I didn’t write about it at the time because I felt there were many much-worse stories out there — and there are.  If it weren’t for getting to witness Pamela Gay’s awesome talk and recording an awesome video with Ashley Paramore (who had an even worse time at that TAM), I’d call my first and last TAM my only regret in life. Not long after, I launched my Kickstarter for A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam explicitly with my TAM experience in mind: I wanted to be sure that disingenuous pro-harassment types weren’t the only people kicking ass in the movement I’d come to love.

At the art opening, another anti-feminist reminded me of the resolve I’d felt back in late 2012.

Around 10 PM, after three hours of awesome conversation, I was ready to leave. Instead, I was pulled back into conversation by someone I like with whom I hadn’t gotten to speak that evening. The first person she introduced to me was a “Ryan”. I said hi as I shook his hand. Upon hearing my name, he asked me if my last name was Dadabhoy. Delighted at being recognized (I’ve come a long way since TAM 2012 but I still get a kick out of being recognized), I asked him how he knew me. I was told that I knew him and I asked how. Everyone pussyfooted around the answer. I asked him if he blogged or tweeted; he said no and remarked that some people have jobs.

It finally came out that the man before me was none other than Ryan Grant Long: Eshto. Until he recants his abominable actions, I will never call him “Ryan”; Eshto is the name and identity and persona he has built and actively chosen, the name by which he has threatened and antagonized and harassed people I know and love dearly. He has since deleted (update: and reactivated. and deleted.) his Twitter, but has a professional site for his artwork.

I didn’t bother to hide my disgust. As I recoiled, Eshto tried to shake my hand again. I refused and passive-aggressively joked that I would be soaking my hand in bleach as soon as I got home. I pointed out that if he were really there to be nice to even awful Skepchick/FtBully types like me, he’d rather shot himself in the foot by making his snide little joke about bloggers. He admitted it was a “cunty” thing to say but blamed the two bottles of wine he had drunk already.

As I’m of the in vino veritas school of thought, I asked him if the wine had planted the thought in his head or if it had revealed what he actually thinks. In my experience, I said, wine hardly created thoughts, it revealed thoughts usually kept to oneself. He condescendingly informed me that alcohol didn’t work that way and asked if I’d been around drunk people before. At my affirmative, he asked me how old I was. I called him on talking down to me and was told that not only is Eshto my age but that he is unemployed.

I somehow manage to be employed full-time, have a rich social life, be polyamorous, volunteer, engage in activism, blog, speak, and tweet. It galled me that the unemployed Eshto, who used to be known for tweeting, had the nerve to make a joke like that.

Eshto then claimed that he and Amy hugged and that she whispered into his ear “I’m going to kill you and everyone you love”; according to Amy and the person who pulled me into the conversation with Eshto, this never happened.

I was kept in the conversation as only a sober person trying to keep her cool can be. Eshto asked if he could say that I was pretty since he is gay and therefore cannot be attracted to me; I expressed indifference. At some point, the conversation took a turn for the very queer: methods by which to freak out straight people. I told them about how I freak out straight men who fetishize my queer side by telling them about the weirdest things I’ve done with butch lesbians. I got caught up in telling the story, as I am wont to do, and Eshto offered me a high-five at the end of it. I unthinkingly gave him one out of reflexive habit. Two seconds later, I mentally doubled the amount of bleach I planned to use on my hand.

CFi-LA's broken window
That’s a hole, alright.

At some point, Eshto accompanied someone else who was going out for a smoke. There was some commotion. It turned out Eshto had leaned on one of the windows in such a way that led to more than cracks. I took a picture of it. Eshto started railing on and on about how I’m going to blog about how he is a misogynist for breaking a window at CFI-LA on Skepchick and Pharyngula. I said that he must have mistaken me for someone who would blog about such a thing and informed him that I don’t blog at Skepchick anymore and I never have at Pharyngula.

At that point, I think he was trying to win me over since, despite all his efforts at being drunk buddies, I was very obviously not warming up to him at all. After we got back inside, he declared anyone with whom he drinks and has a good time a friend for life. I reminded him that I hadn’t been drinking. He persisted, asking about the “having fun” part. I insisted that no, he was still not my friend. He made for the door. When asked where he was going, he said “to go get hit by a car”. He was followed and talked to out on the sidewalk by the street. From the top of the stairs outside the door, I called out to both people but Eshto didn’t respond and left in a huff.

Strike three against the theory that internet assholes are just misunderstood, secretly nice people. Eshto’s behavior was manipulative and disingenuous.

Oh, and in case Eshto or his friends are reading: For the record, I kept my word. I would never call someone a misogynist for drunkenly breaking a window at CFI-LA. That would be rather silly.

Update 10:15 PDT: Eshto is back on Twitter and wanted to clarify that he doesn’t smoke. I’ve edited the part about him going outside to reflect this.

Update 3/25/15: John Rael wanted me to reword this to clarify that he didn’t make explicit statements in favor of harassment and rape jokes. While I do think his participation in the conversation in question fell in line with the general atmosphere of hostility and specifically anti-feminism at TAM that year, he feels that I should state only what I specifically remember him saying rather than my impressions based on his words in the context we were in. That’s fair, so I am honoring his wishes.

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At Least Four Internet Jerks Are Not Nice People Offline
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97 thoughts on “At Least Four Internet Jerks Are Not Nice People Offline

    1. 1.2

      If my tweets were featured in an art installation and described as “harassment and cyber-bullying,” I’d be motivated to show up, too. Nothing remotely obsessive about wanting to see if you’re actively being defamed with the help of CFI.

        1. I doubt he’d be able to press a legal case, if that’s what you mean, but the word also has a colloquial meaning that requires only reputational harm. Of course it is harmful to characterise someone as cyberbullying if they are merely engaging in public disagreements, which seems to be a fairly popular pastime on Twitter.

          1. If one is worried about reputational harm one might want to avoid joining in the “jokes” about kicking women in the cunt and slapping the bitches. Just saying…

            If Eshto or anyone else is worried about how their words make them look they should consider carefully the kinds of words they use. Of course telling them that gets’ one accuse do being an enemy of free speech, but maybe someday the point will sink in.

      1. I don’t see how having your actual comments exhibited amounts to ‘actively being defamed…”

        If people feel those comments make them look bad maybe they should be thinking about why they make such comments in the first place of blaming someone else for making them look bad.

        1. Probably it is for the best to avoid jokes about kicking anyone in the groin, and jokes about shoving porcupines up people’s bums, and other such “jokes” which seemingly reveal a certain level of violent sexual fantasy, yes.

          I’ve no idea if such “jokes” made it into the exhibit, alas.

          1. Agreed, and when people get called on their sick jokes they would do well to step back, consider the effect of their words, apologize to those they’ve hurt with their thoughtlessness and agree to try and do better, which is what the people making the porcupine “joke” did. Unlike Eshto who continues to insist there was nothing wrong with his violent sexual comments.

            See that’s the big difference I keep seeing; on one hand we have people who are willing to listen, learn and modify their behaviour when called on it and on the other we have little children who start screaming that their free speech rights are under attack or that they are being “defamed” when their own horrible words are read back to them.

        1. It wouldn’t be, if the actual words being quoted were indeed “harassment” or “cyber-bullying” as the exhibit purports to have on display.

          If, however, the actual words being quoted were neither harassment nor bullying, then it is highly questionable to use them in such a public display as this.

          The only words that I saw from Ryan were from a tweet that was only roughly as insulting as calling someone an “internet asshole” or implying that they are so filthy they you feel the need to bleach oneself.

          1. Would you trust the average person to be able to evaluate whether or not those kinds of words were harassment or cyber-bullying? If the words are so tame, why would you think people would not see that they were clearly not harassment or cyber bullying (as you seem to think)?

  1. 2

    Thanks for sharing this, Heina. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience at TAM, and glad that there were a couple of bright spots. It sucks that the very people who excuse, encourage, and even participate in the harassment that Amy’s exhibit highlights felt the need to show up and make a scene. At least no one can claim that they were “banned” from attending.

  2. 3

    Thank you for a distressing and interesting look into the underbelly of TAM. I went to TAM in ’08 and was disappointed by the clicquishness and some of the creeping that was going on – it’s sad to hear it’s gotten worse.

    I always liked the saying:
    “drunk says what sober thinks”
    which would probably sound much better in Latin.

  3. 4

    Trolling is inherently passive aggressive. Here is a person who, for whatever reason, is not capable of a normal response to stimuli or conflict. A troll might act polite to some people in public, but the truth will out.

  4. 5

    TAM sounds kind of dreadful. The fact that messages on the free space boards were allowed to stay when they contributed to making a hostile environment to some conference goers is unacceptable.

    Eshto sounds dreadful as well. I’m sorry you had what started off as a nice evening to end rather uncomfortably because of him and his behavior.

  5. 7

    In my experience, one’s basic personality set doesn’t change whether or not they’re online.

    Rather the online persona is often a concentrated form of what you see in real life — because people aren’t usually deliberately nasty in real life (absent alcohol). Unless someone is deliberately being disingenuous as an act, the opinions they express online are usually coherent with their “meat space” opinions. But online opinions tend to be expressed more bluntly with less regard for the feelings of others.

    In other words, if you’re a mansplaining weasel in real life, you’re going to be a mansplaining weasel online — only worse.

  6. 8

    Nothing remotely obsessive about wanting to see if you’re actively being defamed with the help of CFI.

    How on earth is printing a tweet made by a person (public, fyi) defaming them?

  7. 9

    yazikus says:

    How on earth is printing a tweet made by a person (public, fyi) defaming them?

    Besides quote mining (i.e. isolating Tweets that mean something completely different in context) I don’t know. Therefore, I’m going to dismiss your comment as “drama blogging”.

        1. In an art show that purports to put bullying and harassment on display, I expect the words displayed to be examples of actual bullying and harassment, rather than impolite disagreement on the order of calling someone an internet asshole. As we’ve seen in the OP, that level of abuse is acceptable.

          1. And the thing about harassment is that it is a cumulative thing. One single such comment may not amount to much, but when faced with a wall of it the effect is demoralizing (as it is intended to be.) So including one or two examples from someone who has also engaged in, and continues to argue in favour of, the kind of violent sexist “humour” that we were just discussing is certainly not defamatory in any usual sense of that word.

            Give it up Damion, you’re defending the indefensible here.

  8. 11

    Hi,

    I’m sorry if I somehow offended you, but I would just like to say that while I have defended any and all types of jokes [people joking about rape is not the problem: rape is the problem… remember?] , I’ve never discussed how “horrible feminists are”. You can do all the snapbird searches you want, but I’m quite clear and outspoken on this subject. I’m probably much more anti-MRA than I am an active member of the feminist community, but I don’t participate in any political or social activism; I just make fun of bullshit.
    For example, when I see a self-proclaimed skeptical feminist like Surly Amy publicly naming and shaming other female skeptics, I find a way to point out the ironic hypocrisy by mimicking her jewelry, which is made in order to promote skeptical feminism, with her own hateful words. I choose not to throw around any sexist slurs or dramatic rage; instead, I get creative and comedic.
    So, no I do not speak ill or have any negative opinions about feminism [women are people too], and I will defend any humor or speech or art of any kind. Oh, and I also don’t throw around words like ‘harassment’ since, not only knowing what it means, but having some close friends who have actually experienced it, it’s kind of insulting when you compare those experiences to a cheeky piece of mock jewelry.

    I’ll probably see you later this week at Amy’s exhibit. Perhaps we can ‘squash this beef’ or whatever you think is going on.

    -John

      1. thought maybe you’d be helping out or just hanging out during some of the run… That’s why. Not the craziest assumption that’s been made about the exhibit, I’m sure.

    1. 11.3

      —Oh, and I also don’t throw around words like ‘harassment’ since, not only knowing what it means, but having some close friends who have actually experienced it, it’s kind of insulting when you compare those experiences to a cheeky piece of mock jewelry. —

      A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away aka Chicago, a friend of mine came home to find her roommate’s boyfriend in her apartment while her roommate was elsewhere. After he sexually assaulted my friend, he took her purse and a few other things from the apartment.

      Later on, due mainly to dumb luck, her purse and other items were recovered from the backseat of his car, minus the cash she’d had in her purse.

      My friend pressed charges. Her former roommate was furious at her for that, railing about how unfair my friend was being and on and on and how she couldn’t believe my friend was that upset about ’20 bucks’.

      ’20 bucks’
      ‘cheeky piece of mock jewelry’.

      You both put rather a lot of effort into missing the point entirely.

    2. 11.4

      Though you have every method and way of contacting me (including commenting on this very blog post, the one with which you have so much in the way of an issue), you chose to take over during the time allotted for my closing statement at my talk last night to take me to task. Regardless, you did have some very good things to say when they were germane contributions to the discussion, so thank you for attending. I trust that when you attend future events, you will “squash any beefs” (as you put it) via email or comment rather than interrupt a closing statement at a talk I’m giving to take me to task for a months-old issue. I do not have you blocked or filtered anywhere online, for the record.

  9. 12

    ps. I would like to thank you for naming me, and not trying to name and shame my friend (a woman) who made the jewelry for me. I designed it, and paid for it, but it seems as though a lot of female skeptics prefer to give public hatred towards a woman these days… So thank you for your integrity in regards to blaming me for the jewelry, and keeping my friend out of it. I’m actually putting together a video to explain this, I’m sure, honest mistake that many others have made.

    1. 12.1

      Sounds like you went to an awful lot of effort to make that “honest mistake…” At what point does the “honest mistake” start to look like “deliberately malicious?”

        1. Just curious though; what was the point of the parody jewelry exactly? I have to say it looked like a petty thing to do…especially given all the other crap that was going on.

  10. 13

    I’m actually kind of confused, this post describes two situations where it seems like you’re saying “Because you can’t read my mind and are failing at avoiding to make me uncomfortable you’re a troll despite your attempts otherwise”. That’s a really tough standard for anyone to meet. I don’t understand why you would continue to have a conversation with someone (or a group of people) who you didn’t want to talk to, instead watching them flail about trying to please you. Why wouldn’t you just walk away? Isn’t that act, in and of itself, disingenuous?

    1. 13.1

      For the record: I’m always up for a dialogue, but I agree, sometimes it’s very hard to meet certain people’s standards. However, this does not mean that certain people are not worth meeting half way… btw, welcome to the community! How did you get involved?

      1. Come on, now. I’ve obviously been a part of things since at least 2012, when I met you at TAM. It’s a little late to welcome me, especially as I joined my first skeptic/atheist groups back in 2007.

        1. Hi, Heina. I’ve read some of your posts and found them very agreeable. Thanks for your writing. I’ve only been in the community since 2011, and still consider myself a ‘new guy/girl.’ Mostly because I don’t usually go to events, and I prefer to stay outside of the internecine drama stuff.

          I did want to pipe in here and say that as far as John Rael is concerned, the polite and easygoing person that you met face-to-face is pretty much what you get. Though he mocks everyone (on both sides of any issue) he’s not deceitful. (Full disclosure: we’ve been going out for the better part of a year, so my judgement may be impaired by favorable bias, lol.) While I don’t have much experience with the dealings in the skeptic community, he’s always taken the side of women and women’s issues in our conversations, and I’ve always felt free to be the archery-coaching, kung-fu-practicing, snarky feminist I am around him. I don’t want to derail the conversation, but in my experience he hasn’t mocked feminism, and in fact has described his being raised as a feminist to me often. He mocks individuals pretty openly, but saves the mocking of overarching philosophical stances for MRA and anti-feminist types, and not feminism.

          Regarding the ceramic jewelry, it was a way of satirizing one instance of internecine skeptic drama between two prominent skeptics. And if there’s one thing he does, it’s satirize community drama regardless of the players involved. He’s stated that he feels truly sorry when people feel hurt by the satire he does, and I believe him. I do wish that some sort of dialogue could take place somehow between both parties, perhaps over coffee or some other tasty beverage, because I do think that a discussion away from all this, away from TAM, away from the art exhibit (which I very much look forward to seeing this week), and away from the internet could help folks understand where the other is coming from much better. That’s all. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had bad experiences, and at places which are supposed to be enjoyable. I’ve been there, too. Meeting John, thankfully, was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the skeptic community.

          Thanks for all the hard work you do in skepticism and feminism. I look forward to reading more of your work.

          Sincerely,

          Anna Maltese

          1. Thank you for your comment. I see where you are coming from and definitely don’t wish to bash your partner.

            Personally, I don’t think that if someone “mocks everyone (on both sides of any issue)”, it is any excuse since not all groups are positioned equally in any debate or conflict. Nor is them feeling bad about it later. A sincere apology and better behavior, not privately telling a romantic partner about feelings of remorse, is the way to go, in my view.

            I unfortunately did not find him to be the way you describe in person when I met him at TAM. He bashed everyone and everything I cared about and defended many who were (and still are) on the anti-feminist / anti-harassment-policy side of things. I’m glad you like him and feel comfortable around him, but my experience was not one of a polite and easygoing person. He seemed almost gleeful when I revealed that I wrote for Skepchick. As was the point of my piece, this isn’t about the Internet, it’s about the experiences I’ve had away from it. Why should I agree to hang out with someone in-person when the one time I met him in person was as described on my end? It doesn’t seem like it would be much fun for me. It’s not just me, either — I did see when he and his friends had a lot of (in my view, distasteful and disrespectful) “fun” with the photo he took with Ophelia when she came to speak in Southern California.

          2. “…not all groups are positioned equally in any debate or conflict.” I agree, and history bears you out on that sentiment. And thank you for responding. While I wish we could get together and talk as I respect your journey to where you are now and your writing very much, and I do think that being away from the skeptic arena and its inherent drama is best for coming to know someone, your reluctance is understandable. I’m sorry the experience at TAM was unpleasant for you. I’ll still hold out a little hope that things can maybe, in the future, be smoothed over but I’ll keep that hope to myself. 🙂

            Thanks again,

            Anna Maltese

          3. He’s stated that he feels truly sorry when people feel hurt by the satire he does, and I believe him

            how can that be true, when he doesn’t even acknowledge when he’s hurt someone? Right in this very conversation, he claims that someone who was hurt shouldn’t have been because “it’s kind of insulting when you compare those experiences [of “actual” harrassment] to a cheeky piece of mock jewelry”.

            He doesn’t feel sorry when he hurts people; he might feel sorry when he hurts people in ways he feels like they should have felt hurt, but that’s not the same thing.

          4. Hi, Jadehawk. Well, again, I’m going by private conversations we’ve had, since I tend to avoid the drama/discussion in the community. The reason I came here was because he was named and as a S/O, one tends to feel compelled to speak up when one’s loved one is discussed in a forum, especially where the forum was created by someone so interesting. I can’t speak for him well on this topic, but from talks we’ve had together he didn’t know the amount of piling-on that Amy had been experiencing from other people throughout that weekend and he felt badly that his mock jewelry added to her hurt. (John, please correct me here if I’m wrong.) I wasn’t at TAM that year, and still don’t know what all happened, though, so again, I’m mostly going off private conversations we’ve had and am here mostly in the role of a character witness.

            As a feminist who works and plays in arenas mostly filled with men, I get where you’re coming from, and have also been frustrated at trying to explain to people who don’t “get” the various forms harassment takes why one thing they don’t see as harassment actually is awful to have to deal with. As a former animator on a television show which skewers a lot of social issues with humor, I also understand John’s POV about his humor not meaning to hurt anyone, but meant to point out an absurdity in community drama as he saw it. That’s why I sort of wished the two parties could get together for a talk away from online venues/community events where drama is happening. I am not trying to force anything, though, and understand the reluctance to do so.

          5. Again, I experienced this “drama” in person at TAM, not online. Why would I deliberately put myself in a situation like that again? I can’t hit block, delete, dismiss, or ignore offline. Other than your feelings about him, I don’t think you’ve given me any reason to agree to such a meeting.

    2. 13.2

      Um, no? In the TAM situation, I told them what was up, and they continued to talk about what they wanted to talk about regardless. I described why I didn’t leave: I was inexperienced in the skeptical community and since they’d made such a false show of accommodating me, I didn’t want to give them fuel for their petty hatred. At the art opening, Eshto led with an insult to me and I was very open and honest about how I felt about the situation. I could have left but I wanted to see what happened and wanted to spend time with others who were also lingering. I didn’t pretend to be his friend; what’s disingenuous on my end?

      1. I guess I came to that conclusion based on your assertion that the TAM folks attempts at accommodation were false, you didn’t give any inclination as to how you determined them to be so. I generally don’t find people to be that calculating, rather genuinely trying and failing most of the time. With the art show, it was actively engaging in conversation with him about what you refer to as “methods by which to freak out straight people”, which would seem to be his attempt to be nice and bond with you (albeit possibly failing as well). This makes me feel like if I were to attend an event in this arena I should be extremely careful because I would never know if I was being perceived as being deceptive and maligning people. I can’t recall ever purposefully making other people feel uncomfortable, but I do know that things that I have said have caused people to be hurt, but it was always unintentional. What if this happens at a skeptic/skepchick/freethought event? Will I be accused of the same thing without knowing?

        1. Because they said they’d accommodate me but then didn’t? Because he led with an insult to me even though I started off very polite to him?

          If you can’t tell the difference between people trying to be nice and people trying to have you on, you really should avoid events like this.

          1. I guess that’s the point, if someone isn’t my cup of tea, I leave, I don’t keep my mouth shut and stick around to load up on indignation in order to spew it back out later. That seems like baiting a trap and allowing people to walk into it so you have ammunition, i.e. disingenuous.

          2. I stated my reasons for staying. As someone who doesn’t go to events, perhaps you cannot understand them. I’ve tried explaining it in a few ways but I’m sorry if I failed to communicate.

  11. 15

    The more I read about this movement the sadder I get. I was initially really excited to have stumbled upon a group of people who thought the same way I did, I have spent most of my life alone in my ethics, opinion formulation and worldview, when I found this movement I was just delighted. But the more I read, the more drama unfolds, regardless of who is right or wrong (I certainly don’t know), it seems like there is no attempt to resolve conflict, just more mudslinging. It’s friggin depressing to get so excited about a thing and then have it be something you are terrified to get involved with. This probably isn’t the blog that is appropriate for my musing, but I’ve never commented on anything before so, sorry for the vent. Le sigh…

  12. 16

    I can’t say I understand this post. Surely, someone can dislike Rebecca Watson and still be a nice person. Ryan Grant Long can be a good person and make a joke about bloggers. You can be a good person and say you need to wash your hands with bleach.

  13. 17

    Mowen says: “I guess I came to that conclusion based on your assertion that the TAM folks attempts at accommodation were false, you didn’t give any inclination as to how you determined them to be so.”

    Which part of this didn’t you understand?:
    “but the conversation did not change to exclude references to everything they so loathed. Instead, they’d bring things up, begin discussing them, then extravagantly “apologize” to me and abruptly stop. This went on for no more than an hour.”

    This behavior (repeatedly doing or saying something you know you shouldn’t and then making a point of, as Heina said, extravagantly apologizing), is nasty and aggressive and clearly designed to make one feel like an outsider and as though one is being unreasonable in requesting that the offensive behavior stop.

  14. 19

    but from talks we’ve had together he didn’t know the amount of piling-on that Amy had been experiencing from other people throughout that weekend and he felt badly that his mock jewelry added to her hurt

    this sentence is in the past tense; I’m going to assume this means that he NOW knows about Amy’s experience. So again, why is he once again denying that experience, in this very conversation?

    What good does it do anyone if he secretly feels bad about hurting people, but publicly tells them it’s insulting to victims of harrassment that they feel harassed?

    That’s why I sort of wished the two parties could get together for a talk away from online venues/community events where drama is happening.

    I fail to see how it would improve anything to spend private time with someone who’s been publicly hurtful. By what logic would someone who’s willing to be publicly cruel be less so in private?

  15. 20

    late to this, but I don’t think too many people would say that people online are completely different than off. Rather, that the anonymity (I know, I know, it isn’t perfect anonymity) encourages people to do tings they would not otherwise. That is, as Kevin Kehres says, online behavior can concentrate things that are already there.

    That said, I don’t think we should discount that. There are lots of things I think a lot of us would do if we thought there were no consequences. The Internet is a bit of the giant cookie jar for children. And make no mistake, every single one of us has shit we will do is we think we can get away with it. (If you say “I always behave morally” you are a liar and the one you want to fool is yourself).

    A good chunk of moral reasoning is the simple bit of wanting to be liked by other people. That’s powerful, (given that we are a social species) and it is one reason why people can be decent in one area and jerks in another — for example, a person who seems kind and generous in every way until they drop a racial slur. The people that person likes and is liked by don’t notice the slur.

    That means that bad online behavior isn’t always as obvious as all that, which is why people can say “s/he’s a decent person in real life” and not see when someone is a nasty troll. The social pressures and rewards on the internet are qualitatively different from “real life” and that means the incentives are different.

    If I am a real jerk to people online I get a certain kind of recognition for it. Loads of people now know about Eshto who are strangers, it’s the social reward you get by being a celebrity, from people who you don’t know and are unlikely to meet. As you noted Heina, (or at least as I read your post) the whole interaction is different in real life and the social rewards / punishments are different. Or to put it another way, I don’t think it hurts all that much to be un- friended by someone on FB, but it hurts more when someone who knows you ends things. In a similar vein, there’s a certain reward form seeing you get 2000 Twitter followers, and it’s great, but I for one feel very differently when a single person says “hey let’s go out and get a drink.”

    People who are trolls online seem to dig the celebrity social reward more, and since the bad part likely doesn’t affect their local social networks negatively then you incentivize really awful behavior that might not manifest as intensely otherwise.

    Sorry, a bit meta I guess.

  16. 21

    This makes me sad. Just know, Heina, there are many people around the world (myself obviously included) who are disgusted by the childishness of the purported skeptic movement when it comes to their own biases. Golden cow and all that. I really don’t think the skeptic movement as a whole understands just how many people it is turning off because of its self-deception about what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t (I think it’s almost hilarious, if such harm weren’t being done, to see the skeptics rail against things like the dunning kreuger effect, when it -blatantly- applies to their own actions regarding sexism)…

  17. 22

    There are lots of things I think a lot of us would do if we thought there were no consequences. The Internet is a bit of the giant cookie jar for children. And make no mistake, every single one of us has shit we will do is we think we can get away with it.

    harassment and abuse are not among them. I am an asshole and still I feel no desire to genuinely harm and harass anyone, even if I could get away with it. weird, that.
    So yeah; let’s not pretend everyone would be abusive and harassing if thou could get away with it; it’s no more true than that everyone turns into a violent abuser when drunk.

  18. 23

    @jadehawk — I never said that everyone had the same things that we’d do with no consequences. Everyone has a different threshold, and a different moral calculus. I have known people to be principled in ways that I find heroic, and others who under similar pressure buckle and do pretty awful things. I know people who would, if they thought they could get away with it, abuse people (and in fact we see his every day, as often abusive people will keep doing it until the consequences are simply too great to ignore, like jail). I have also known many who would refrain. I don’t feel like abusing people but a big chunk of that is how I was raised and crucially, what the social rewards were (and not). So for me (and you I expect) certain things eventually get “hard wired” in.

    For other people, like abusive men, there’s an actual social reward in some spaces (you are “manly”) and that outweighs the consequences, assuming there are any.

    But I bet if you ask yourself you’ll find there are a lot of things you don’t do because you want people to respect you — people whose opinions matter to you. We all have that. And, again, we all have different people around us, which will alter that calculus. My point was that the Internet is a social space but the whole risk/reward system is out of whack in a lot of ways, rewarding things that would ordinarily be punished when dealing with other people. Humans are like that, you know? Again I ask, what hurts you more: “I want to unfriend you on FB” (Assuming you even noticed) or a person you see regularly who you have shared a lot with telling you they don’t respect you anymore? I bet the latter. And that means if there is something that your peer group finds reprehensible then you’re less likely to do it. Online that is less of an issue — you’ll never actually meet 99.99% of the people you interact with.

  19. 24

    Again I ask, what hurts you more: “I want to unfriend you on FB” (Assuming you even noticed) or a person you see regularly who you have shared a lot with telling you they don’t respect you anymore?

    interesting assumptions about my social relationships, this.

    I get what you’re trying to say, but I’m pointing out that the effects of anonymity don’t cause personality changes; people with boundary issues are people with boundary issues, and they will use any opportunity to push that, regardless of whether that’s internet anonymity, or the cover of alcohol, or simply the lack of witnesses. Whereas people who don’t have boundary issues aren’t going to be harassers regardless of whether they’d be punished/caught. And sure that has to do with socialization/enculturation, but that doesn’t refute the point any.

    The only ppl who really show a thoroughly different face in different social situations are highly skilled social manipulators; which most internet trolls are not.

      1. “so I stood up with my partner and tried to leave with some dignity intact before I burst into tears ”

        Mocking jewellery, two people joking – initially unaware of your “status”, someone whom at your first meeting you recoiled from? All over ideological differences.

        Where exactly did your experience escalate from mocking to something more serious? At what point were you silenced and unable to discuss or debate? What stopped you from simply walking away from or ignoring a POV that offended you?

        1. I was clearly outnumbered and on their turf. I was a newbie to the community. Fighting them alone, or perhaps with just my partner, would have likely caused a scene. I wasn’t willing to make one.

          I did leave the Rael conversation as soon as it was feasible without my looking like I was flouncing. In the party room, I was tricked into staying with their alleged concessions to me that ended up being them having me on. At CFI, I was looking out for a friend.

          I never said anything more serious happened. The point of this was to say that they acted like jerks, just like they did online, not make SUPER SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS against them. I wasn’t “offended”, I was disgusted by the TAM folks’ obsession with hating on someone who wasn’t even there and with Eshto’s faux buddy-buddy behavior even while his awful words adorned the walls of Amy’s exhibit.

  20. 27

    John Rael,

    Surly Amy publicly naming and shaming other female skeptics

    What? Who? She did mention Harriet Halls t-shirt *after* the incident with the fake jewellery and the concerted attempt at TAM to make her feel unwelcome. Which I thought was due to her and the skepchicks support for harassment policies, which the TAM lot and Thunderf00t said were unnecessary. Now all conferences have them. Who did she “name and shame” before that… Talking of Harriet, she apologised to Amy as she didn’t realise there was a campaign of hate and harassment, that you joined in with (at least) against her. So she didn’t realise the effect the t-shirt would have.

    All I see checking her posting history is a lot about her raising money to get 22 women to TAM. Then Justin Vacula doxxing her and picking on her comments about fake jewellery to further harass and intimidate her over his hate for harassment policies. Which all conferences have now. What Skeptic women did she “name and shame” John? How does that justify the bullying and intimidation at TAM you were a part of, assuming it happened?

    BTW Amy and the other Skepchicks got women’s attendance up to 50%, since then there has been a precipitous decline. Last figure mentioned was 18% … Maybe it will get better now DJ is out, maybe not, but one thing is certain – it wouldn’t have got to parity without lots of work from Amy and others raising money for grants.

  21. 28

    @Anna Maltese, please read the following from your boyfriend carefully:

    ps. I would like to thank you for naming me, and not trying to name and shame my friend (a woman) who made the jewelry for me. I designed it, and paid for it, but it seems as though a lot of female skeptics prefer to give public hatred towards a woman these days… So thank you for your integrity in regards to blaming me for the jewelry, and keeping my friend out of it. I’m actually putting together a video to explain this, I’m sure, honest mistake that many others have made.

    Do you see what John is doing there? He’s pretending to compliment Heina while he’s lying about and insulting her friends. Not exactly typical behavior of a “not deceitful,” feminist-friendly guy.

  22. 29

    Have to second Oolon above – what has Amy done that’s so awful? It seems like there’s just an accepted narrative now from the anti-feminist side that people like her and Watson have in some way harassed other women. It’s just not true.

  23. xyz
    30

    It’s pretty unsurprising that a bunch of commenters have showed up here to minimize your experiences, Heina. Unsurprising but still disturbing. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve encountered this type of hostility in person as well as online. <3

  24. 31

    Got a reply on Twitter, a quite surreal reply…
    https://twitter.com/oolon/status/511893090530246656

    Apparently Surly Amy calling Sharon Hill out on following a nasty parody account, set up to encourage harassment of the skepchicks and being nastily sexist and abusive itself… Was… Wait for it… Hateful

    So she deserved some IRL shunning and harassment from him and friends at TAM. I’m rarely speechless, but, W.T.A.F?

    I have to concur with Heina, I definitely would not want to spend any time with John Rael when he needs such a small provocation to target someone for harassment at a conference.

    1. 31.1

      Even if we accepted that there was something “hateful” about pointing out that Hill was following an account set up to harass and mock Amy (and I’m not sure I can get there even if squint real hard and hold my head at just the right angle…) how does making cheap knock-offs of her artwork address that?

      In order to be parody or satire there has to be some kind of connection to the thing being parodied/satirized. The jewelry thing just looks like a gratuitous cheap shot.

        1. So, fake jewelry made to mock Amy for calling out people for following an account intended to mock and degrade her is the same as her creating an art exhibit of the abuse (not “perceived “abuse — being told that you should be raped to death is definitely abuse) she and other women have received in order to bring awareness to it? You do know that there was nothing mocking or funny about A Woman’s Room Online, right?

          But I don’t know if you’d care.

          1. It is not exactly the same, but it is like enough as to make no moral difference. If it is okay for Roth to make art out of the tweets which she hopes to confront and criticize, it is surely okay for Rael to do the same. What exactly is the double standard here? Is it because wearable ceramics are relatively rare? Something else?

            You bring up the really nasty abuse, but many of the tweets in that exhibit were quite mild, as I’m sure you are aware. One of them was literally nothing but “[tagged person] is annoying.” Others merely expressed disagreement with means and methods rather than goals.

        2. What exactly is the problem with that tweet? People should be embarrassed if they’re entertained by following a fake twitter account designed to mock and humiliate someone. how is pointing that pout “abusive?”

          And isn’t going to all the trouble of making the fake jewelry just to mock the person objecting to being abused on twitter kind of obsessive and creepy?

          1. The @AngrySkepchick account is not aimed at one person any more than the @AtheismPlus account is aimed at one person. Or, from the other side, the @PissySkepticMan and @DanCardamon accounts.

            Satire is a thing. It is not the same thing as harassment.

  25. 32

    Assuming that is true, then it’s just another case of making art out of tweets in order to respond to perceived abuse on Twitter. Not an entire art show, mind you, but you get the idea.

    yeah, creating knockoffs to make fun of and harass a single person because she criticized someone is totes the same as an art exhibit highlighting death and rape threats received by women.

    Such false equivalence. So fail. Wow.

  26. 33

    I wanted to see if John Rael’s “hateful words” accusation against Amy, a woman who, over the years raised thousands of dollars for the JREF, had any merit. What horrible thing could Amy have said to deserve being harassed out of TAM? Following oolon’s link, the most vicious, hateful thing I found Amy to have tweeted to Sharon Hill is: “Why do you think that Angry Skepchick account is funny? Will you be including that in your working as a community workshop?” That was the very worst “hatred” I could find coming from Amy. For this, John Rael, Damion Reinhardt, the JREF, and other harassers decided that Amy was Fair Game, and brought her harassment on herself. Literally, any mild criticism from a feminist means it’s ok to harass her out of a conference that she worked hard to promote.and make successful. If an organization, such as the JREF, wants to make clear that the only women who are safe and welcome are those women who love rape jokes and tolerate or engage in harassment (that the targets brought upon themselves, obviously), then good luck to them. How is that pro-harassment policy working out for the JREF, anyway?

  27. 34

    Yup, the entire room was nothing but death and rape threats.

    I’m sure this will surprise you, but the ENTIRE room doesn’t need to be for my point to be accurate, and for a comparison between knockoffs meant to mock a single person for one critical comment and an art installation highlighting a flood of aggressive messages (many of which are rape and death threats) to be a false equivalence.

    But that’s fine. I don’t actually expect you to understand the difference between people ganging up on one person, and a few people highlighting the mass of abuse they get. I’m just making fun of you for not understanding the difference.

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