[personal profile] mjg59
A few years ago I got up on stage and briefly talked about how the Linux community contained far too many people who were willing to engage in entirely inappropriate behaviour, how this discouraged people from getting involved and how we weren't very good at standing up against that sort of behaviour. Despite doing this in front of several hundred people, and despite the video of me doing so then being uploaded to the internet, this got me a sum total of:
  • No death threats
  • No discussion about any of my physical attributes or lack thereof
  • No stalkers
  • No accusations that I was selling out the Linux community
  • No accusations that I was a traitor to my gender
  • No real negative feedback at all[1]

Which is, really, what you'd expect, right? The internet seems intent on telling me otherwise:

Well, she didn't do herself any favors by talking at conferences about women in tech, or setting up a feminist movement. If you wanted to attract abuse, that's a good way to go about it. It should be expected.
(Source)

MikeeUSA is a troll. He has no means to actually harm anyone, and he does it purely for the lulz.

Thus, MikeeUSA trolled a woman, and she took the bait. I just don't get why this is news, I've been trolled before, I don't get a news story.

(Source)

I was going to start a rant about how this behavior is encouraged by the macho men online, but this was just one guy harassing her. "Due to harassment" reads as due to harassment from the community, but she gave in to one idiot. She let him win.
(Source)

The full comment thread has rather more examples. If you stand up and say anything controversial, you should expect abuse. And if you let that abuse change your behaviour in any way, you've let the trolls win.

These attitudes are problematic.

The immediate assumption underlying such advice is that the degree of abuse is related to what you've said, not who you are. I'm reasonably visible in the geek world. I've said a few controversial things. The worst thing that's happened to me has been Ryan Farmer deciding to subscribe me to several thousand mailing lists. Inconvenient, but not really threatening. I haven't, for instance, been sent death threats. Nobody has threatened to rape me. And even if they had done, I wouldn't need to worry too much - there's a rather stronger track record of violent antifeminism being targeted at women than men.

I don't have to worry about this kind of thing. That means I don't get to tell other people that they should have expected it. Nor do I get to tell them that they should ignore it, or that if they don't call the police then they have no grounds to complain. And nor does anyone else.

The trolls don't win because someone decides that getting out of the tech business is more appealing than continuing to face abuse. The trolls win because we consider their behaviour acceptable and then blame the victim for inviting them in the first place. That needs to change.

[1] It was justifiably pointed out that saying all this while standing on stage next to a mostly naked guy wearing a loincloth with a raccoon tail covering his penis may have weakened my message somewhat.

Date: 2011-10-28 09:46 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I wonder how many tongue-in-cheek versions of all of the above types of negative feedback you'll get as a result of *this* post?

Date: 2011-10-28 12:26 pm (UTC)
floatboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] floatboth
Also, Skud quit a tech job which involved going to conferences. Not the geek feminism community!

Community

Date: 2011-10-28 01:13 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hello Matthew. The behaviour of the person that's harrassing this woman is unacceptable, probably criminal. I can't see how it's possible to excuse it.

To be honest, I can't see how the comments you quote can be seen as an excuse for this behaviour.

I wouldn't have made these comments myself. But you fail to address what the comments are really saying: that you can't blame the community for the behaviour of an individual, specially if the individual in question is clearly a scumbag that should be in jail or an asylum.

Should "the community" be more supportive of the victims of such behaviour? I would say yes, of course. But putting blame and shame on people you want support from is not as good an idea as you might believe.

Re: Community

Date: 2011-10-28 02:31 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
First of all, you are - and IMO the whole geekfeminism culture is - doing a black-and-white drawing of everyone that dares to argue on one of these points. And this is one of the reasons why I usually try to ignore everyone from there. And that makes me definitely not part of the solution to your problem, even though I would like to be. Keep in mind that with the black-and-white stuff, I'm now automatically part of the problem.

Second, he is right in that these arguments should not make you part of the problem. As I see them, they're badly worded attempts to say the equivalent of "If you walk around alone at night in a crime area, it's no wonder you get robbed". And saying that does not usually make you a proponent of violent crime.

I would argue that whether or not people saying these things are good or bad people is roughly similar to the answer about who's at fault when women run around scantily dressed or wearing a burka and what to do about the reactions to that. Of course everybody should be free to wear or say whatever they want without death threats or even snide remarks. But I think you don't get there by labeling everyone not immediately 100% supportive of this and commenting about the ways in which you approach the problem as part of the problem.

And last but not least I do think that public shaming of people by name (or at least by pseudonym) as you do in this blog post is something that should be done as a last resort for really bad people. And I still think the really bad people are the ones sending death threats.

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Date: 2011-10-28 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It's not surprising that pointing out the obvious and well-known gets perceived as supporting it - that happens in many other fields of life, too. If you want a feel for it, try going to your local LUG and telling them that they shouldn't be surprised that so much effort gets put into making Windows work well, and very little into Linux by comparison, because over 90% of the people who buy non-Apple hardware use Windows.

You will almost certainly get perceived as suggesting that this is a Good Thing, despite the fact that you are making an objective statement about the world, rather than a statement about whether it's a good thing or not.

In the same way, repeating the obvious "you knew it was dangerous" is unhelpful; of course she knew it was dangerous, but she did it anyway in the hope of making the world a better place for all of us. At the same time, it reinforces the bad actors' view that "this is acceptable behaviour"; it is by no means in the same league of bad as directly telling a woman to shut up, let alone the rape death threats brigade, but it helps them feel that their behaviour is accepted and/or tolerated, rather than despised and unwanted.

The worst bit? It's easy to rephrase the statement with the same content, but a different bias; how about "this is a bit shitty - why do we live in a world where trying to take a feminist stance gets you death threats in lieu of reasoned discussion?" to give you one rephrasing that continues to say "you should have expected this", but indicates that you don't accept it as how things should be.

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Date: 2011-10-31 03:52 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
(Another different anonymous here.)

This comment struck home for me a bit. I highly support the efforts of geek feminism groups and individuals; I think that as a community we have a serious problem that needs solutions, and I applaud the people working to change that. However, at the same time, I also frequently feel like I can't participate in discussions about any of these topics, for fear of retaliation as part of "them" for not wholeheartedly agreeing with 100% of the party line. ("You're either with us or you're against us.")

In my case, I hold the opinion that we should treat gender as an entirely superficial factor, just like hair color or height. Thus, I take offense at comments like the ones quoted in this blog post (blaming the victims is *never* OK), and even more offense at the original trolling that led to the comments. However, I also take offense at attempts to treat people non-equally in any direction, rather than simply fixing the problems in the first place. It bothers me that I feel afraid to express the latter opinion.

I'm not saying that the name-and-shame approach should never get used, and I actually agree with its use in this case (the comments quoted here don't seem to be legitimate attempts at contributing to discussion, but rather intentionally offensive statements). However, I wish that the "with us or against us" view would allow some room for the possibility of people who agree with the goals of the movement while still wishing to have a discussion about the methods used to reach those goals.

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Date: 2011-10-29 08:13 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Well said.

Date: 2011-10-29 10:09 am (UTC)
denise: Image: Me, facing away from camera, on top of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome (Default)
From: [staff profile] denise
Man, all the people who keep talking about "letting the trolls win" can have ... *counts on fingers* seven years of my inbox, and see if that makes them just a wee bit disinclined to keep doing this shit.

And Skud's been in tech longer than I have. I honestly don't know how she managed it for as long as she did.
(screened comment)

Date: 2011-10-29 12:05 pm (UTC)
denise: Image: Me, facing away from camera, on top of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome (Default)
From: [staff profile] denise
Goodness, aren't you charming.

Thanks for proving my point, I guess?

Date: 2011-10-29 11:58 pm (UTC)
denise: Image: Me, facing away from camera, on top of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome (Default)
From: [staff profile] denise
As usual, people will note that I am getting the gender-essentialist crap in anonymous comments, not [personal profile] mjg59.

And people think there's not a problem! (I'm almost tempted to ask you to unscreen those comments so people can see, [personal profile] mjg59.)

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Date: 2011-10-29 06:43 pm (UTC)
reddragdiva: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reddragdiva
Hacker News comments are YouTube quality with bigger words and better spelling. These morons are our brightest startup flowers? We're doomed.

Date: 2011-10-30 12:37 am (UTC)
hub: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hub
startup flowers are busy do stuff, not trolling the internet. :-) (at least I hope)

Date: 2011-10-31 03:13 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
In general, Hacker News seems to me to have one of the highest quality communities around. These are some of the worst comments I've seen there, and they seem to have gotten modded down to oblivion, which ought to tell you what the Hacker News community thinks of them.

Date: 2011-10-31 08:11 am (UTC)
reddragdiva: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reddragdiva
No, I've often thought HN comments fall into the "never read below the fold" rule of Internet discourse. That these are egregiously bad doesn't mean the usual standard is in any way good.

Date: 2011-10-30 05:14 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Every time I read these types of articles I get so confused :/

Date: 2011-11-05 04:16 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
hi, confused me here: There's a big difference between these types of articles and @PennyRed's http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/laurie-penny-a-womans-opinion-is-the-miniskirt-of-the-internet-6256946.html
"If we want to build a truly fair and vibrant community of political debate and social exchange, online and offline, it's not enough to ignore harassment of women, LGBT people or people of colour who dare to have opinions."
Notice how gender isn't the only issue on the bill. Harassment isn't just for girls.

Date: 2011-11-05 04:40 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
More confusion: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Flashbelt_slide_show & http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Porny_presentation vs [1]
Even more confusion: MikeUSA vs http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Flashbelt_slide_show#Threats_of_violence_against_Hoss_Gifford

Date: 2011-10-31 03:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
For the record, because I don't think it gets said nearly enough: I'm male, and I find the comments quoted in this post offensive too.

Personally, I find these comments offensive because of the premise they started from: that blaming the victim is OK for trolling in general, because they "took the bait". I don't find that acceptable behavior for any kind of troll.

I can understand where the logic came from (treating everyone the same), but that logic started from a faulty premise.

Date: 2011-10-31 01:02 pm (UTC)
floatboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] floatboth
There is no bait. Sending threats is not trolling. It's just that. Sending threats. Illegal.

Date: 2011-10-31 12:29 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lnr
Can I just say "thanks" here, for the fact you're still fighting this stuff, when it's so much easier to give up.

Date: 2011-11-17 07:02 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Sir, get your bleeding mangina in check. It's embarrassing you.

It's frankly amazing that Red Hat tolerates you.

Date: 2011-11-29 03:37 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Always the first to jump to Microsoft's defense when they bribe motherboard vendors to sabotage Linux.

I'm not surprised to see you jump up and start attacking people who claim Secure Boot is what it is, a ploy to lock people into using Windows and OS X.

Maybe this is because your employer doesn't care if Joe Everyone can go out and buy a PC to boot Linux on. Red Hat can probably get a signing key for whatever they decide to ship or certify RHEL on, but a guy that gets a PC with an expensive placeholder like Windows will be screwed.

-Ryan Farmer

Profile

Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Nebula. Member of the Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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