Saturday, October 18, 2014

Swimming Angry

Several years ago, before I had any strokes, I was discussing life online with a friend, who is a prominent author and has a considerable online presence. She told me as a matter of course, that whenever a woman gets a sufficient online following, then she has to deal with a flood of misogynistic abuse that includes death threats. I was aghast, and incredulous.

I had worked for Google; I had been online for about 20 years: how did I not even know this happened? She cited the example of a woman who ran a knitting forum. Once it got about a hundred users, the abuse began, and continued until the site was closed, and the owner had been driven offline. A knitting forum.

I was astounded. I told friends and colleagues, but did nothing, and in that I failed. Subsequently I was a bit preoccupied with recovering from brain damage, and that's mostly what I have written about, until recently my inaction years ago bore its inevitable toxic fruit, and this time I must try to do more.

You may have heard about 'GamerGate' and maybe thought it was just a few gamers being bad people in their odd little corner of the Internet, or considered it someone else's problem, or felt powerless to do anything about it. I disagree. It is symptomatic of an endemic ill in our society that we have a responsibility to eradicate. The abuse of women online is an expression of misogyny in our civilization and it must end.

There may have been useful or interesting points in GamerGate, but the moment a rape or death threat was made, the argument was lost, and those points became irrelevant. Threats of violence and harm are not acceptable, ever. They are not acceptable face-to-face, they're not acceptable in an online discussion, they are simply not acceptable in this society. The threats have been, and continue to be, made. The argument is over, superseded by a more pressing problem: someone thinks that making those threats is acceptable. It is not.

That is where we have the power and responsibility to act. Parents, tell your children that this is unacceptable behavior. It is never OK to threaten violence. It is never required to tolerate threats of violence. They have no place in our society. Those of us who play online games likewise have a responsibility to reject misogynistic behavior or speech whenever it occurs. Preferably leave after kiting a huge train of mobs onto the fools, but leave anyway, and if you have the facility, say why. The short-term cost to you is worth it to fix civil society. We all share that responsibility, everywhere. Don't be silent, don't wait for someone else to fix this, act.

I don't know anyone in my circle that I think is capable of treating people that badly. If I do, they are not welcome. Anonymity is an essential feature of the online world, but to abuse the privilege of anonymity to perpetrate acts online that would be unacceptable offline (and quite probably illegal everywhere) is cowardly and shameful. If you do that, I have no interest in knowing you, go stand in the corner and wear a dunce hat, because I think you're a fool.

Women hold no special appeal nor place for me: I'm about as gay as you can get. I hope I have never treated any woman as anything but a person in her own right. This is unacceptable behavior to anyone, and by anyone. If I have in the past, I was wrong, and I am sorry. If I do in the future, call me on it: I want to know. 

I believe in a civil society. That comes with benefits and responsibilities: benefits like being able to walk down a street without being killed, roads, and garbage collection. Responsibilities like taxes, not killing people, and reinforcing social norms. Those norms change, society today is not the society I grew up in; that's often a good thing, and I fought for some of those changes. The corollary is an onus on us, the beneficiaries of that society to reinforce the behavior that is acceptable and to call out the behavior that is not.

It is not OK to threaten harm.

It is not OK to do harm.

It is not OK to treat anyone as less than human.