Is Cyberstalking Abuse?

Hemant has a post from Todd Stiefel up today. It’s about Todd’s concerns with the way anti-harassment policies are shaking out. Mostly he’s concerned that they are focusing on the negative. He makes what I think are some reasonable suggestions and one I am pretty sure we as a movement simply aren’t grown up enough to handle.

First, some policies turn offensive words into harassment. Yes, words can amount to harassment, but we need to be careful here because “offensive” is often used as a weapon to silence dissent. There is an example anti-harassment policy on Geek Feminism Wiki that has been used as a template for several of our conferences. This includes the phrase, “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion.” This line begs the question, what constitutes offensive?

Even here, Todd is being quite reasonable. He makes a suggestion for language that he does like.

My point is that “offensive” is not equivalent to harassment and should be avoided in our policies. I much prefer the way CFI’s draft policy (PDF) addresses this point. It says, “Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, harassment based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected group status, as provided by local, state, or federal law. By way of example, abusive conduct directed at someone because of their race is prohibited,” and “Critical examination of beliefs does not, by itself, constitute harassment.”

There is nothing wrong per se with Todd’s position. My only problem is that I’m not sure we’re grown up enough to understand what abuse is. Let me explain why.

Yes, “offensive” is highly subjective. Sometimes that’s the point. Sometimes privileging the subjective is the only way to get people to listen to a person’s viewpoint.

How many times have people already been told in this big debate that what happened to them wasn’t abusive or wasn’t harassment? How many times have they been told something was “just” friendly or “just” a request for sex or “just” their imagination that anything was happening at all? How many times have they been told something was “just” the way things are?

“Abusive” is an emotionally charged word. It implies a judgment that people in these movements have shown themselves perpetually unwilling to make. Instead, a fair number of people who are not otherwise problematic people keep talking about “both sides” in ongoing arguments.

The facts of the matter here are that Rebecca Watson and the outspoken feminists of FtB and a few of the people we talk with and about have a bunch of cyberstalkers. These are people who get together to talk about what we write, our speeches, our tweets, our postings on Facebook, pictures of us available on the web. They glean the personal information we use to make ourselves and our topics more relatable and go back years to try to dig up dirt. They lie when they can’t find anything ugly enough for them. They built a wiki dedicated to us. Not only that, but every bit of them talking about this stuff is meant to damage us. We have cyberstalkers.

What is the reaction to this? Very little frankly. The media company that wanted to go more family-friendly is still hosting the stalking activity, now under their very own logo. (Thanks, National Geographic!) Despite the fact that we’ve been talking about this for months, and dealt publicly with two threats to conference speakers that have come from our stalkers, people still claim we have no reason to ever feel threatened.

People argue with us in public places–which is fine–with no plan for dealing with our stalkers–which isn’t, because it means we can’t interact with our critics without interacting with our stalkers. Then people get on our cases for being insular if we protect ourselves by staying away. They, with the best of intentions, aid the people who are trying to shut us out of the public conversation because they can’t or won’t believe the situation is real.

More than that, though, people are still jumping on our backs about how we treat these stalkers and how we treat the people who give our cyberstalkers new fora for harassing us and repeating their lies about us. Ask an Atheist tells us we’re being dogmatic when we shut them down in our own spaces based on the lies and harassment elsewhere. If we take matters into our own hands, we become the villains, despite the fact that no one else is willing to lift a finger to fix this.

And woe be it upon us if we get angry at the people who will not help. If we get angry at the people who refuse to look at the problem long enough to see it for what it is, oh, we are the criminals. We are attacking our “friends”, friends who do nothing to help us when we are in trouble and who legitimize our stalkers by talking to them as they were reasonable people, not obsessives with blood–literal or figurative–on their minds.

If we get angry at the lack of help, just once in months of scrutiny and lies, then we can be held up as the example of the bad people, because the good people refuse to look, refuse to act, refuse to deal with the uncomfortable reality that there are people out there who have dedicated themselves to doing something bad. If we slip even a little bit, we have done the work of our stalkers and destroyed ourselves. Because my word about what has been going on is no good, and no one else will do the work to figure it out.

So, no, I don’t have much faith that our movements can make sound judgments about the difference between “offensive” and “abusive”. As much respect as I have more most of the conference organizers I’ve met or talked to recently, I don’t think the judgments we make collectively favor anyone but the abusers. And I don’t think that other people who get targeted for this kind of abuse will trust otherwise either.

Is Cyberstalking Abuse?

78 thoughts on “Is Cyberstalking Abuse?

  1. 1

    I don’t actually like the CFI policy as much as it might well leave trans gender identity issues out in a lurch as they are not mentioned directly and then have to be under state laws.

  2. 2

    What a weird position to take (Todd’s I mean). Because the policy is clearly NOT “if someone complains about you offending them you’ll be evicted automatically”.

    I’d happily have this:
    “offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion”
    replaced with this:
    “offensive verbal comments directed at or referring to any feature of any individual, as determined by the individual to which the comments were directed or referring”

    …with the (apparently necessary, sigh) caveat that “Critical examination of beliefs does not, by itself, constitute harassment”.

    Again, such policies are clearly NOT “if someone complains about you offending them you’ll be evicted automatically”. They’re rather more like “if someone complains about you offending them, the complaint will be logged, you’ll be notified of your offending action or comment, and expected to not repeat it.” Somehow I just don’t see any disastrous consequences there.

  3. 3

    On a positive note, it’s nice to see the conversation moving from “should we have anti-harassment policies” to ” what should the details of our anti-harassment policies look like…”

  4. 4

    Ha ha … he said “begging the question” …

    This is an excellent essay and hits the nail on the head with a precise yet powerfully wielded hammer. I almost feel like you are writing about some of the things going in in my head and my life right now 🙂

    Language and linguistic interaction is multi-spectral. The hypothetical (pragmatic) dividing line between speech that is profane (which we define as offensive) vs. not, cff offense that is harassment vs. not are not even on the same scales. When people complain that stopping harassing speech will suppress voices of dissent that happen to be profane they are either not understanding this or playing a game. Yes, there is a risk of that but there is also a risk of driving off the edge of the road every time you go somewhere in your car, which is why you don’t drive with a blindfold on or while sleeping. Anyway, you make the groundwork for understanding this point very clear in this post.

    The National Geographic situation perplexes me. A while back Abbie Smith and some of her commenters made some very specific and terribly offensive remarks related directly to me (as usual) but that also brought in a completely innocent bystander, someone potentially vulnerable to this sort of cyberstalking, and the only reason that person was brought into their comments was because of a vague and ephemeral on-line association with me (we wrote similar posts and linked to each other). Previously I never thought complaining to management about the “slimepit” was worthwhile or appropriate, but this time I did make a complaint because of the potential damage to a third party. They got back to me with a request for information on which “threads” on ERV seemed to be offensive in general (not just in relation to me and colleagues) so I gave them a list of four threads that I thought fit the bill and then didn’t really hear back from them. More recently, someone up in the administration of asked me for that information again, as they had misplaced it. I suppose if it took 30 years to discover the source off the Nile something like dealing with this might take months.

    By the way, I also made a complaint about that specific issue, at the same time (along with a couple of other points of interest) to the chair of Abbie Smith’s academic department. Like it or not, this is how blatant professional misconduct is often managed in academia. The expected outcome of such an email might be a follow up phone conversation and a sit down talk between the student and adviser or chair. Oddly, within about 24 hours of sending an informative email to that Professor, I heard on the internet that I had done this! There are no ways to explain that without reference to some sort of unethical behavior, or worse.

    The reason I mention these two things is this: One of the problems we have in dealing with offensive behavior like this is that not everyone else who is structurally connected to it, and thus passively supportive of it, is on board with dealing with it or even recognizing it. Abbie Smith is running the “slimepit” from her academic department in Oklahoma, and her department chair is either in on it (is he one off her commenters?) or unaware of it, or knows about it but thinks it’s cute, or something. NGS/ is running a “family friendly” operation in which the word “c*nt” is used something like a thousand times, physical threats have been made, and direct and repeated attacks on numerous people, many slanderous, have been made.

    “What does this word mean, mommy” …. (Just when the parents thought they had the Internet Filter settings to Safe)

    It would be interesting to try to figure out what the real intent of these cyberstalkers is. Hearing their own voices and getting attention? Control…knowing, and sadly, this is true, that tens of thousands of words are written on the Internet because of their attacks? Or do they really simply enjoy what they clearly and most obviously are doing…inflicting emotional pain on others?

    Anyway, nice essay, thanks for writing it. Perfect send off for me, as I go on vacation

  5. 5

    While I’m not sure about Todd’s second point, I don’t think we really need to worry about point three. Naturally if you’re friends or acquaintances there generally won’t be an issue and if there is it usually won’t go to the point of needing to be reported. If it does, it’s covered under other language.

    Maybe I’m falling victim to a “No True Scotsman” or “If you didn’t do anything wrong you have nothing to hide” in there?

  6. 6

    I’ve said this elsewhere, I think, but what does Todd Stiefel and other people who make this argument think is going to happen under this policy to someone who receives a complaint for being offensive? Seriously, what’s the worst that would happen? Do they really think it would be worse than “Maybe you should stop talking to this person who made the complaint”?

  7. 7

    Although, come to think of it, maybe that is what these people are really afraid of. I mean, how are they going to win the argument that way? Because that seems to be all that matters to many of them.

  8. 8

    It must be really frustrating and tiring to have to watch your every word knowing that everything you say will be used against you. And on top of that to defend your decisions to protect your spaces when supposed allies will see that as doing something “as bad as the other side”.
    “The other side” has sustained a vicious hate campaign agaist certain bloggers, especially RW, for a year now. This community, if there is one, should begin to take it seriously.
    I can’t be be only lurker who sees the abuse for what it is. We should start to speak up about it.

  9. 9


    Obviously their atheist community membership card will be torn up and they will be summarily executed! MWHAHAHAHHA

    Ok no seriously, I think they’re worried about people being blacklisted or something but honestly that kind of thing would be bad for the organisation (giving out severe punishments for minor infractions). I don’t think a moments talking too and mediation is terrible for the person that gave out an unwanted hug and its mostly making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Maybe if we spelt out for everyone that for minor offenses warnings and words would be the primary means of correcting the situation unless there was a pattern of such behavior they would all relax a bit.

    I personally don’t find it unreasonable to assume that the good people running the conventions are going to be fair and even handed using the policies.

  10. 11

    @michaeld: I believe they’re still finalizing so email rlindsay (at) centerforinquiry {dot} net and this can probably be added to the mix.

  11. 12

    Kind of following up on what Deen said, but what, in general, do the people who are Policy-averse think is going to happen to people who violate the policies. There’s a whole lot of hand-waving, what-ifs, and highly-improbable what-ifs. Is their image of the “opposition” so twisted that they think we’re going to draw and quarter them or something?

    In the end the worst that policies lead to for non-criminal behaviour is that you’re no longer welcome. BFW, mate.

  12. 13

    @ simonsays

    Yes good point I should get off ma lazy ass…. few minutes later… Email’s away hopefully they amend it. If I get a reply back on the issue I’ll try to mention it here.

    @dean et al

    I think part of the problem might be that they are reading sections like this…

    “CFI and its affiliates have a zero-tolerance policy for hostile and harassing conduct. If a person engages in hostile or harassing conduct, appropriate remedial action will be taken, which may include, but is not limited to, expulsion from the conference. Threats of hostile conduct that are made prior to a conference may result in exclusion from the conference.”

    Zero tolerance? May include expulsion? and then leap to some worried vision of a potential application where people expelling people for minor infractions under the guise of zero tolerance. Which I still find rather silly but I think explains where they are coming from.

  13. 14

    It is a good question: What happens to you.

    To take the devil’s advocate position for a moment, the first concern has to be about false accusations, misunderstandings, abuse of the rules, and simply getting it right. Due process and all that. It is reasonable to ask whether we can trust conference organizers to not reinvent a mini police state or unreasonable process simply because they don’t know any better. (Or to do what DJ may have done; to use excellent passive aggressive tactics to maintain institutional denial.)

    This, of course, is why reference back to HR policy that has already been in place for years is helpful.

    The policy at the upcoming CONvergnece (not the Skepchick policy but the CON’s policy) seems to indicate that what happens is someone calls the police. This would tend to squeeze all actionable actions into the 911 mode, causing people to be likely to disregard things that may be relatively minor from that perspective yet still very real and still the kind of thing that makes going to events unpleasant for the usual victims of the usual suspects.

    As a moment of fantasy, here’s what should happen to harassers at conferences, probably not including most felonious cases (for which you simply dial 911):

    1) You pay for travel and hotel costs for the person who’s conference experience you just ruined;

    2) You go away.

    3) You are required to spend two years on the planning committee for the conference as a non-voting member who has to be the gofer for everything.

  14. 15

    I think its more a problem on their part. Sexual harassment is a range of behaviors varying in severity that can call for an appropriate range of possible responses. This could be anything from a warning if you were awkwardly coming on to them and making them uncomfortable etc. Some other situtaions like getting caught going around taking up skirt photography or worse however really should involve calling the police.

    Also minor note sorry for addressing you as Dean instead of the proper Deen it was an oversight on my part.

  15. 16

    There’s also the example of the sex-card incident at Skepticamp Ohio. Elyse reported it to the event organizer, he contacted this couple and told them this behavior was not acceptable, they apologized to Elyse, end of story. Nobody was banned or formally cited, and interestingly, there has not been a huge firestorm about Elyse lying or being vindictive or defending this couple as harmless, socially clueless individuals just engaging in normal flirting. (That happened in the immediate comment thread but not all over the discussion, as seen to this day with Rebecca and Elevator Guy.)

    That sort of warning would be the norm, for anything short of stalking, assault (i.e. groping), or other possibly criminal activity.

  16. 18

    Have you seen the…”passion” that some of these people put into TAM? Holy crap. I don’t think that’s a BFW situation to them. That’s like…end of the world my life is over stuff.

    That said, I do to think that more or less this has devolved into an Us vs. Them situation for the various slimepits in the world. And I would agree that this has way crossed the line into stalking behavior. Rationality, for them, has left the building. The unfortunate reality is that at this point, we could all give up and not say another word, and they’d just go and find something else to go on about.

    One of my favorite quotes, actually comes from The Simpsons. Marge in particular. “This is why we can’t have nice things”. Yes, it would be nice if policies could be more open, but there are very good reasons why they can’t be.

  17. 19

    Interesting. Let me just check I have the right idea about cyberstalking being abuse by putting a hypothetical example here.

    A is quarrelling with B. As part of this quarrel, B puts it about to everybody that A has recently referred to B as a C. This being untrue, B is quickly called on it; in response to this, B then goes through the archives to dig up a post from around a year ago in which A referred to B as a D, and puts that about instead.

    Would this sort of behaviour be considered cyberstalking? Certainly A must watch their every word for fear that it will be used against them. Is B abusing A?

  18. 20

    I wouldn’t see something as part of a one-off debate like that as cyberstalking. We’re talking a dedicated obsessive campaign over a substantial amount of time.

  19. 21

    Anyone who needs an explanation of why kitl is now banned for suggesting this:

    These are people who get together to talk about what we write, our speeches, our tweets, our postings on Facebook, pictures of us available on the web. They glean the personal information we use to make ourselves and our topics more relatable and go back years to try to dig up dirt. They lie when they can’t find anything ugly enough for them. They built a fucking wiki dedicated to us. Not only that, but every bit of them talking about this stuff is meant to damage us. We have cyberstalkers.

    …means this:

    As part of this quarrel, B puts it about to everybody that A has recently referred to B as a C. This being untrue, B is quickly called on it; in response to this, B then goes through the archives to dig up a post from around a year ago in which A referred to B as a D, and puts that about instead.

    …may feel free to ask. I suggest they do so with a great deal of politeness, of the real sort.

  20. 26

    Yeah, I actually don’t as I don’t think it needs to be discussed at all. Was just my initial impression of that user.

    Which, to bring it back around to the topic at hand, is abusive if this person has repeatedly ground this axe when asked not to and probably offensive if they did it once.

  21. 27

    Comment at 9:45. Documented at 11:36. But how many people are actually going to look at and see the stalking? Any takers?

    These people are dangerous. Not that every single one of them is personally dangerous: most of them are just ineffectual, weakly blithering assholes. But they give cover to the two or three Mabi in the crowd, so, en masse: dangerous.

    This crowd has been building for some time. I saw some of them in the fringes of a few supposedly progressive blogs as far back as 2004 or so, fighting every attempt to bring feminist or anti-racist issues to the fore. One friend had a blog around 2004-2007 on which the only commenter was a regular slimepit habitue: he’d chased everyone else away with making every thread about how the feminists had ruined everything including his life.

    They do need to be taken seriously — law enforcement seriously — and you’re right to point this out.

  22. EEB

    God, I am just shaking with anger, here. I don’t quite know what to say. Hearing you lay out exactly what you’ve been dealing with hurts. I am so, so sorry. In my experience, dealing with people minimize, excuse, deny, or disbelieve your experience is worse than the abuse itself. And it’s terrible that you and so many others are going through this in what should be a supportive community.

    I don’t understand it. It makes no sense to me. I thought one of the benefits of joining the atheist/skeptic/freethough/insertwordhere community was that I would be with people who finally put rationality and evidence above personal beliefs and biases, that weren’t burdened with the sexist religious bullshit I grew up with. And here you (and others) are, laying down in black and white, with provided evidence, exactly what’s going on, and you’re still being insulted and accused of hysteria or lying…I’m out of words to describe how sad this makes me.

    Anyway, I’m sorry. I really appriciate that you keep talking about this. This is really important, especially for the future of the movement. Thank you.

  23. 29

    Thanks, Chris and EEB. By the way, I should correct the time stamp on that second comment. It was posted at 11:34, not 11:36. This is apparently confusing some of my stalkers to no end. I suppose they should be helped to identify which comment I was talking about so they can defame me properly.

  24. 30

    Stephanie, I’m so sorry you’re still dealing with this. I know it’s been constant for you, and I know that there are those of you who really don’t have that many options for dealing with it. Just witnessing their behavior sickens me quite literally, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to have it aimed at you. *hugs if you want them* It is horribly frustrating to see people pull the “both sides” shit in this situation.

  25. 33

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this. ERV and her friends have dedicated themselves to making the lives of people asking for entirely sensible things as wretched as possible.

    Totally off topic, if nothing else, we’ve put to rest the “we wan the same things” bs. Obviously we don’t as a certain group’s response to AA’s policy shows.

  26. 35

    This sort of thing is why I venture out onto the ‘net very, very gingerly. I suppose that’s a way of saying that they’ve won, at least in my case. Stephanie, I’m glad they haven’t won in your case.

  27. 36

    geocatherder, they don’t have what it takes to get to me. Sadly, however, people who are supposed to be my friends and colleagues do when they don’t take it seriously.

  28. 37

    I kinda see Todd’s point and kinda don’t. If someone thinks some offensive thing is abusive, let it get logged. You can always argue the difference to the orginizers.

    Like Greg Laden, I think the dissenters seem extroadinarily fearful of potential false positives without any evidence they will be any more a problem in skeptical conferences than in the conferences that have adopted these policies.

    So okay, cards on the table, there may be some. That’s not a good reason to not try a policy. Here’s an idea – why not evaluate how big this problem is AFTER you adopt the policy, rather than before? You know, assess the success of a policy based on actual experimental data rather than initial gut feeling. Be skeptics – do the experiment, see what the results are, then come to an opinion.

  29. 38

    I’m so sorry you are being put through all this. I decided to move away from the atheist movement last year after all this hatred had gone on for weeks and showed no sign of ending. I started reading again recently, only to find it was still going.

    Why don’t these people want women in atheism? Do they just want to keep it as a men-only club, like gaming? I wonder how many women have been put off the atheist movement by the attitudes demonstrated.

  30. 39

    Like Hertta, I mostly lurk.

    We see it, Stephanie. It’s sickening and vile. I can’t imagine how painful it must be to know that these loathsome, cruel obsessives are waiting to pounce on every imagined slight.

    I have started commenting recently because you and the other decent folks deserve more support.

    I wish I could show you how much it means that you are fighting the good fight on behalf of the silent masses who need people with your bravery to make the world better.

    Thank you. Sorry these scumbags are out there.

  31. 40

    Qiuick comment on Greg’s point about why some dislike policies.

    Yes, I think some fear false positives (and I think they are mostly wrong).

    However, I think some* actually fear true positives. They want to harrass. They want to sexually intimidate. They want to do stuff they think is fun, but are perfectly aware is offensive to others. They want to make women and other marginalised groups uncomfortable. They want to get their jollies this way. Those of us supporting anti-harrassment policies are literally taking away their fun, because they like to harrass, even if they don’t have they guts to admit out loud that what they do is harrassment.

    Why fight so hard against simple decency unless you want to behave in ways that breach human decency?

    *not all. To be very, very clear, I am not saying all opponents are harassers. However, if you oppose, consider what you want protected and if you are giving aid and comfort to the harrassers.

  32. 41

    I’m with Brisvegan: some people just really want to brutalize others. Any effort to curtail that must be stopped with as much force as can be brought to bear. Thus harassment policies are streng verboten.

  33. 43

    It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. If I don’t like a blog, or a network of blogs, I, you know, don’t read it.

    It continues to amaze me that the slimepitters are so obsessed, and lack the basic self-awareness to realize what their obsession says about them.

    They don’t seem to realize what it says about their enemies, either. They would have it that FtB is an outlier in its commitment to feminism and social justice, and nobody reads it and it’s about to fall apart any minute. At the same time it’s obviously terribly terribly important that they spend an inordinate amount of time on FtB and blogging about FtB and commenting about FtB on other blogs.I suppose it’s a back-handed compliment to FtB and to those of you fighting the good fight. One I realize you’d much rather do without.

  34. 45

    Brisvegan has the absolute right of it: if people didn’t think they might likely fall on the wrong side of the new rules, they wouldn’t be so passionately opposed to them.

    I know I personally find the entire issue to be ridiculous and trivial and stupid, because most of the basic things seem like they should be obvious. The places where it hasn’t been entirely obvious to me have been due to my privilege and stupidity, and even though things have been fairly on the fringe and haven’t argued against anti-harassment rules in general. But I’m old and married and have had enough right stuff kicked into me by my mom and my wife and my friends and experience in general, so I have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by there being safe spaces with good rules in place.

  35. 46

    I don’t think they’re fearful of false positives. I think they’re fearful of true positives.

    I’ve said this before somewhere, but it looks to me like there’s an elephant in the room. X% of men will admit that they are actually rapists, given sufficient weasel words. Y% of male skeptics howl in horror at the thought of there being a harassment policy, or at a woman giving them some mild advice on sensible boundaries on when it’s not a good idea to hit on someone.

    Now go forth, do your research, and fill in X and Y. Here’s a clue on the value of X.

  36. 47

    Fuck. That sucks. I’ll put my hand up as one of the clueless dolts who had no idea what you are experiencing is as bad as all that. I never go to ERV, and I thought those people were just a bunch a loudmouths who disagreed with you. I was unaware of this creepy obsessive hate-filled vendetta. It’s like they’re constantly watching, waiting for you (or Myers or Watson or Benson or Laden) to do something they can take back to their lair and trash. That you were able to document this behaviour, in “real time”, in this very thread is chilling. No wonder you react angrily when someone metaphorically invites them to move in next door.

    What’s wrong with them? I guess I’m naive, but it’s astonishing to me that people could react with such naked rage to women (and men) speaking up on behalf of women.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this. I understand the Catch-22 that when you “complain”, you often get portrayed as the aggressive, unreasonable one. But light needs to be shone on this.

  37. 48

    I’d only visited ERV once before, and it was a short visit, as I found nothing worthwhile to read. This time, I had to at least skim through some of the comments to find the response you mentioned, Stephanie. I’m appalled that this is allowed under the National Geographic umbrella and agree with you that this goes beyond obnoxious. I’d say stalking is a fair description. It’s clearly hateful, and even reading part of one thread hints strongly at obsessiveness.

    I’m very sorry you have to deal with this. That said, the way you deal with it is nothing short of magnificent.

  38. 49


    They would have it that FtB is an outlier in its commitment to feminism and social justice, and nobody reads it and it’s about to fall apart any minute.

    While that may not be as funny as The Imminent Demise Of Evolution, it’s definitely in the same whiny genre of comedy.

    Stephanie, you are right, of course, with the whole cyberstalking point. I hope that your putting a name on it will drive the discussion forward.

  39. 51

    It’s strange. I keep trying to classify this kind of behavior in my head as far as why a group of people would act so pathologically offended at something like this.

    I mean, I’m a guy who is obsessed with a cartoon created by a women who openly says she did everything she could to put feminist principles in the show. They are in that community too! I have seen them get what their brains twisted into the most grandiose knots in an effort to explain that away. We can argue about everything else in the world on that discussion forum. Heck, there is literally no sexual subject that we have not discussed.

    But discuss the fact that society might have a bias towards one sex more than another? In terms of real suffering? You would think I took a nail file to their eyes the way a few of them react. Screw stereotypes. These are the emotionally out of control ones in need of a hysteria treatment.

    There are not a lot of common threads to them that I have seen so far, but there is one thing that I think I would put some more thought into. Quite a few have also been libertarian. I am not saying that libertarianism makes one a pathological misogynist. But there might be something less women friendly that finds them, convenient.

  40. 53

    @Stephanie Zvan: I’ve looked at the thread you linked at #17. Looks like classic bullying tactics to me – the name-calling, mocking nick-names, turning everything you do or say around against you, it’s all awfully familiar. I only get small whiffs of it – I’m not on Twitter or FB, I have no idea what you receive from them in direct messages, but I’ve definitely seen enough to have no trouble believing you when you say you’re being cyberstalked.

    I’m glad to see you’re getting a lot of support too, and I just wanted to add mine too.

  41. 54

    @Brony in #51:

    There are not a lot of common threads to them that I have seen so far, but there is one thing that I think I would put some more thought into. Quite a few have also been libertarian. I am not saying that libertarianism makes one a pathological misogynist. But there might be something less women friendly that finds them, convenient.

    I’ve noticed the same thing, and others have too. My guess is that their hostility to feminism comes from the tendency among libertarians to want to believe that the world is just, where everyone gets what they deserve. (If only us pesky liberals would stop interfering with it, of course.) So the people who are on top are there due to their personal excellence, not due to the various privileges they happened to have been born with. If I’m right, it’s no wonder that any challenge to this worldview is met with the same intensity that you could expect from challenging a creationist.

  42. 55

    You’re absolutely right, Deen. Some of these people cling to a sense of self and of their own importance based on the rather quant notion that each one of them rose to his – gendered pronoun appropriate here – current eminence entirely through natural forces at play in a society which is now and has always been totally fair.

    Whether this daft idea came from Ayn Rand, is a hangover from religion or is down to parents who failed to house-train them before they started going off to conferences on their own matters not. Whatever! None of these are ideas which any rationalist or sceptic could defend.

    Quite honestly, I don’t give a toss whether Bigfoot exists. I do mind that, though I don’t give presentations any more, these phoney arguments by the naysayers regularly remind me that if I don’t know the layout of the room and plan in advance then if the stage is more than 3 inches high there’ll be a couple of blokes in the front row trying to look up my skirt.

    Yes, that really is the first thing I learned, by experience, about public speaking. I want to live long enough to meet the generation where that would not cross anyone’s mind. Unreasonable demands, eh!

    Keep up the good work, Stephanie.

  43. 56

    I’m with EEB. I’ve gone from a religion where my sex, sexuality,gender identity, disability, and social class were all wrongwrongbadwrong. All failings, all reasons to feel bad. Where the years of physical and mental abuse, and sexual harassment and assaults, were evidence that I was a bad person. They were lessons to be learned. If I was a better daughter then my parents would stop abusing me. If I was more sociable then I wouldn’t be a deserving target for bullies. Oh and the disabilities/illness? Trials from god, a way to teach me a valuable lesson, or to get a message through to me.

    Then at thirty, the brainwashing wears off overnight, the chains snap. I venture headlong into atheism, excited about talking with likeminded people. Only to find the same shit, just in a different package.

    To see people who’d awakened my mind, authors and bloggers alike, mocking and harassing women who dared to speak out? Not gonna lie, it sent me reeling, it was exactly like my religious past.

    To see people who I admired , whose writing I sought out, turn aroudd and start accusing a female blogger of antisemitism for daring to mention the holocaust? I threw up. Really and truly vomited. Not least because all my life I’ve had (the not Jewish) part of my family accused of appropriation, for daring to mention they had parents, siblings and children in the other 4 -5 million who were murdered in the camps.

    My grandfather was labelled an anti-semite at a discussion of the holocaust. All he did was point out that more than the six million were killed. He spent the rest of his life convinced that his loss didn’t matter, while the Jewish side of my family (who didn’t lose a soul, they fled abroad) are asked about it, told how brave they are etc.

    So Orac has fucked up in two ways. One by tearing into a woman, accusing her of something truly vile for daring to speak, and two, by minimising the pain of those related to the other millions, who daren’t mention what happened to their families.

  44. 57

    They’re accusing me of anti-semitism? For real?

    I didn’t know that. I never go there. I followed Stephanie’s link yesterday, but apart from that I hadn’t looked at it in months.

    (Not that that spares me – they send it directly to me. They post it on my blog, and on other blogs, and they set up Twitter accounts just to tweet it at me.) (Yes, cyber-stalking is exactly what it is.)

  45. 60

    @Esteleth #5: While Orac’s angle for suddenly showing up is questionable, the thing I’m aware of is here. So far as I’m aware he did not call her anti-semitic, but did take issue with her use of comparison to the holocaust.

  46. Kes

    I mostly lurk too, but I’ve seen traces of the abject hostility these people wish they could unleash upon you, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson and the rest of the gals in the band.


    One of the reasons they rail against your “censorship” and “hypocritical banning” is that they can’t *stand* they fact that they can’t say this kind of shit to your face. They really think that the 4chan method of internetting is optimal, and anyone who “censors” their “free speech” is inherently morally bankrupt on all counts. To ping a few of our favorite chords, this is a function of privilege. The idea of being *not listened to* is intolerable to these posters, whether their “ideas” have merit or not.

    You’ve offended them, and you wouldn’t sit there and take it when they wanted to tell you how offensive and wrong you were. And you wouldn’t just shut up with all your wrongness already! You even told them their debating “tactics” were not warranted and a higher level of discourse was expected. Again, classic Anon bullshit methods of “debate”: there is no “agree to disagree”, there is only pwnage annihilation and epic fail. And further, the tribalism and us-vs-them thinking with no room for middle ground or accommodation is also very telling.

    Also, the inside-baseball, rhetorical “clever” nicknames and constant references to old scandals and shitstorms that may or may not have happened on the blog currently being commented on means most posts by the anti-you-guys cabal go completely over the heads of people who haven’t been following all these blogs for more than six months. Hell, I’ve been reading this site since it began, and I *still* don’t get half of the things the ERV-ites et. al. are constantly whining about. I only recognize the bullshit later when I recognize it is one of *those* posters from the screen name.

    Long comment short, I agree this is cyber-stalking, but I think part of the problem is those doing it don’t think they are doing anything wrong. You are the ones doing the wrongness, with all your taking-threats-seriously and IRL-reporting! When will you just regress to their level already?!

    PS: Much as the NatGeo logo at the top of ERV is a little jarring, isn’t it nice to have them all in one place, for the most part?

  47. 63

    Stephanie, I completely want to reiterate everything Hertta said in @8. What y’all have to deal with is beyond ridiculous and horrific and it is absolutely unacceptable.

    No one should be treated like this! I mean, I don’t even know what to say!

    In a way, it reminds me of someone in an abusive, controlling relationship – having to watch every word you say, constant abuse and invective, controlling and manipulative behaviour… It’s a really, really atrocious way of silencing someone – by wearing them down, crack by crack by crack.

    Wishing you, Ophelia, Jen and Rebecca (Horsewomen ;p) much strength and support.

  48. 66

    Kes, my father was abusively controlling well before 4chan or Anonymous existed. The development of nonsense language happens in all sorts of conspiracy groups and has since well before the internet existed. People have been attacked for being “uppity” anywhere and anytime strong power differentials have existed. The only difference that the internet makes here is that is makes it easier for them to reinforce each other and goad each on, and no, I don’t find that comforting in the least.

  49. 67

    @ 59-61 – And it was particularly inappropriate (in my view) because he’s a speaker at TAM. He never comments on my blog or interacts with me in any other way; he chooses that moment (and subject) to shout at me; he does the shout all over again on Chris Hallq’s blog post titled “I Support DJ Grothe”; he comes back later to shout at me all over again; he shouts at me via email. Repeatedly.

    He’s a thug.

  50. 68

    Uhh, I seem to remember that Orac has libertarian sympathies (nothing beyond that)…

    @Pteryxx 52
    Yes I’ve sensed a slight Broniness around here.
    But there is a difference between a Brony and a fan. Or at least a spectrum. A fan loves the show for its artistic, entertainment, and cultural value and is honestly entertained by it.

    A Brony is a person who thought of himself as a “regular guy” in stereotypical American terms. They liked Gi-Joe and Transformers as a kid (if you were from my generation). Some of them can sometimes describe their childhood environment as something like YEC creationist. Their parents like what’s happening in Arizona.

    Yet just being exposed to this show made them obsessed on a level where they buy toys, follow episode minutiae on fan pages, spend their free time just interacting with other folks who for all intents and purposes represent themselves as hyper-moral Lisa Frank equines.

    Then they have really serious philosophical discussions with other people who say similar things and they do span the 15-40 year old range. “I don’t know why I like this show!”, “What if my parents find out?”, “What do you think about ‘cloppers?'”, and the battles with the most ethical furries you will ever meet.

    The next thing they know they are including ponies in the things they do for fun just because they want to. It’s like a piece of elementary school was still there but wrestling sucks now (actually it always sucked).

    They also spend time wondering how something like this could possibly attract not just one, but multiple MRA’s, and other creationists, and communists, and libertarians, and Catholics, and…

    I see a Brony on occasion unless I’m just missing a code of conduct. There are some Pegasisters here though.

    @ Deen 54

    My guess is that their hostility to feminism comes from the tendency among libertarians to want to believe that the world is just, where everyone gets what they deserve. (If only us pesky liberals would stop interfering with it, of course.) So the people who are on top are there due to their personal excellence, not due to the various privileges they happened to have been born with. If I’m right, it’s no wonder that any challenge to this worldview is met with the same intensity that you could expect from challenging a creationist.

    Or it’s some kind of defense mechanism to deal with a more “traditional upbringing”. These are honestly some of the most decent people I have ever met. Even the MRA’s made me decide on my own to use the word “anti-feminist” because I had genuine respect for them in discussions.
    Their family can’t be bad so we don’t need feminism anymore. Or the feminists have the definition wrong (as if they could tell a feminist what feminism is). Or all feminists are like ones in videos from suspicious places like “Europe” where they want to kill men while acting like dogs in heat (and actually asking feminists what they think of such videos never occurs to them). Or feminism is not needed because it leads to more money being spent on breast cancer research.
    It’s an interesting environment from the point of view of a substitute teacher. It’s like I get a complete spectrum of existing logical fallacies from every walk of like. I also get people willing to discuss almost any topic imaginable and there are people from foreign countries there on a regular basis.
    It’s an “anti-fight club”. So naturally sometimes it makes me think in terms of genes and testosterone and developmental biases.

    Uhh, I seem to remember that Orac has libertarian sympathies.

  51. 70

    Did someone mention cyberstalking?

    I commented on Ron Lindsay’s post about the new hostile behavior/harassment policy.

    Then Greg commented.

    Then John C Welch commented. Yes really. ERV’s own John C Welch. (Unless of course it’s some completely different John C Welch, who just happened to – yeah right.)

    One of the best I’ve read so far, if not the best, and I appreciate y’all posting the thoughts behind it.

    I assume the answer would be yes, but would it be okay to use this policy as model for other conferences?

    Ho yus, John C Welch, dedicated opponent of hostile behavior and intimidation!!

  52. 71

    One of the best I’ve read so far, if not the best, and I appreciate y’all posting the thoughts behind it.

    I assume the answer would be yes, but would it be okay to use this policy as model for other conferences?


    Not sure what to say to that.

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