Abuse online

Men get attacked for their opinions and their actions.

Women get attacked for their opinions and their actions, and also get attacked for being women.

Leo Traynor was attacked by the son of a friend, viciously and horrifyingly threatened over a long time: when he met The Troll face to face, the 17-year-old boy – confronted with the human reality of what he had done – burst into tears and could only say

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was like a game thing.”

Internet TrollLindy West was and is repeatedly attacked by many men who are bitterly affronted that a woman should question whether rape jokes mocking rape victims are either funny or acceptable. One troll decided to set up a Twitter account in the name of Lindy’s father, who had recently died, to tweet his insults and threats: he used a photo of her father as his Twitter icon. Lindy didn’t block-and-report (both Twitter and Facebook are notorious for regarding verbal harassment as not a violation of their “community standards”): she wrote about how that attack made her feel on Jezebel. (Her troll emailed her the next day to let her know that it had only just occurred to him that she was a human being with feelings, that he was sorry, and that he was quitting.)

There is a living, breathing human being who is reading this shit. I am attacking someone who never harmed me in any way. And for no reason whatsoever.

One of the things Lindy West said:

One of the pillars of conventional wisdom about internet trolling is that internet trolling just happens. You hear this all the time, from even the most progressive allies: Oh, well, it’s the internet. There are trolls. Trolls troll the internet. Rape threats are like oxygen. Whatareyagonnadooooo. So, I’m just supposed to accept that psychological abuse is built into my job and I’m some thin-skinned rube if I complain about it? Easy for you to say, Señor Rando. Not only is that framework supremely unsatisfying for me personally, I’d go so far as to say that it’s a dangerous and patently false myth. Internet trolling does not “just happen.” It is not some mysterious, ambient inevitability that affects all internet users indiscriminately.

Internet trolling is a force with a political agenda.

On both Twitter and Facebook there is a blocking tool: Twitter periodically try to make blocking less effective, but Facebook have at least consistently ensured that if you block someone, they can’t see you, you can’t see them, and no warning is sent to the blocked person that they’ve been cut out of your online life.

But Twitter has periodically tried to rework the block tool so that while you don’t see the person you’ve blocked, they can see you. I wish they wouldn’t do that: if someone can see my Tweets, they can RT my tweets (even if they have to do it oldstyle) and if I’ve blocked someone, I don’t want them to be able to see my tweets at all.

Wondermark by David Malki

I have, as of this morning, blocked 6005 Twitter accounts. The reason I have blocked so many is that I found out during Gamergate that the only sure way of getting rid of sea lions is to block not only the particular sea lion who’s telling you “actually it’s about ethics in games journalism” but also to block all of their probably-also-a-sea-lion followers. (There are blockbots that will do it for you automatically, too.)

There are three things I’ve noticed consistently about Scottish politics and Twitter trolling.

One: When I criticise the Labour party, people tend to assume I must be a SNP supporter. When I criticised the case for a Yes vote, people tended to assume I must be planning to vote No.

Two: When I criticise the SNP, people tend to assume I’m a Labour supporter. When I criticised the case for a No vote, people tended to assume I must be planning to vote Yes.

Three: There exist people on both sides who will make their assumption and attack accordingly.

From a 2014 Pew Research Centre report on online harassment:

Some basics to get started: 40 percent of internet users have experienced online harassment and 73 percent have witnessed it. Men and women “have slightly different experiences,” said Duggan. “Men are more likely to experience harassment overall, and they are more likely to experience less severe forms of harassment: name calling and embarrassment. Young women were particularly likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment. Among female internet users 18 to 24 years old, 26 percent have been stalked and 25 percent have been sexually harassed online. That is significant not only compared to their same-age male peers, but women who are older.”

The classic advice is to block and report: “just ignore” the trolls. Dani Garavelli cheerfully advises that we are “twits” if we take trolls seriously.

I could block gamergate supporters with happy ruthlessness because I have no interest in videogaming: I might be blocking many non-trolls and even some non-sea-lions, but even if they were just happy gamers who only wanted to post about video games, I wouldn’t care if I missed all of their contributions to that pool of human knowledge.

I don’t feel that way about Scottish politics. I love politics. I love tweeting about politics and blogging about politics and arguing about politics and going to hustings and tweetups and meeting up with people who disagree with me politically in a civilised way. Nonetheless, I’ve blocked a fair few people, and perhaps some of them didn’t deserve it – just because it looked as if their first idea on discovering our politics differed was to attack, and who needs that kind of botheration?

In Scotland, we have the unusual situation of the majority of the major parties being led by women: Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson, and Maggie Chapman with Patrick Harvie as co-convenor of the Scottish Greens.

Nicola Sturgeon wrote on 25th June:

the level of abuse directed at me online on any given day would make people’s hair stand on end were they to see it. I choose to simply ignore it, but that doesn’t mean that online comments which cross the line of decency are acceptable.

Where political disagreement is passionate and robust, open, honest and conducted with respect it is welcome. Even where views are expressed using language that I wouldn’t use, I accept that – after all, that’s in the nature of free speech.

But where people use twitter to threaten violence, or hurl vile abuse, or seek to silence the voice of others through intimidation, that is not acceptable – and we must all say so loudly and clearly.

It’s a solid, measured blogpost, written by a woman with a lot of experience of what it means to be a woman who’s active online with opinions that a good half her audience find disagreeable. Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson, Maggie Chapman – any woman in politics will know what it’s like to be attacked for her opinions and her actions, and also get attacked for being a woman.

Blair McDougall, the Better Together campaign director, who took a situation where the No vote had a clear majority and managed not to create a Yes victory (he also led David Miliband’s and Jim Murphy’s campaigns, in each case snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory) had evidently been compiling nasty tweets from SNP supporters for some years, and finally saw a use for them: a “dossier” – a PDF file with Blair McDougall’s name as author in the metadata – which cited 131 abusive tweets by 45 Twitter users who identified themselves as SNP members.

One of the 45 is a Deryck Scott, who on 14th October 2014 at 6:58pm tweeted a call to “hang all these traitors, start with the dyke” which was retweeted and favourited by five accounts: @Jcqdnld, @Atheistspinner, @biffrbear, @HigginsKieron, and Alan Simpson, @AlanPurple, who is the Business and Consumer Affairs Editor at Scottish Daily Mail. Deryck Scott’s last tweet was only a few minutes later, at 7:01pm: his first on that account was on 4th August 2013.

I don’t doubt there are other even nastier tweets buried in that list, and Twitter accounts that – unlike Deryck Scott – didn’t quit. Hannah Rodger published an article in the Sunday Herald today which uncovered some of the vile abuse directed at independence or SNP supporters by cybernaws, a rash of troll accounts impersonating Natalie McGarry for being a woman who’s the SNP MP for Glasgow East, including one that “had an advert that said ‘I can go all night for £3′” with McGarry’s head attached to the top of it.

I think the Scottish Labour dossier was a mistake, and not for any of the following reasons.

The dossier is a mistake because Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale, and Ruth Davidson – SNP, Labour, and Tory – have a perspective with regard to online abuse that should trump partisan rivalry. All three of them could set a standard for their party followers and ensure that any party member, anyone using a party logo, may not commit online abuse or harassment.

Compiling evidence that both cybernats and cybernaws troll their political opponents sets this up as partisan rivalry.

Because this is not, fundamentally, about political parties. There is undoubtedly an element of anti-English/anti-Scottish feeling (Lindy West, writing in the US, acknowledges that “race is a deeply salient factor too, and unpacking that deserves its own article”) but the nastiness of trolling – it’s about dehumanisation. Some men dehumanise women with terrifying ease: some game-players (Leo Traynor’s troll) learn to dehumanise anyone who’s the target in the game.

Lindy West:

when I spoke out about my rape threats, I got more of this: “Oh, but that’s just what happens on the internet. Whatareyagonnadooooooooooooooooo.” Well, it’s not ….. typically, what happens to men on the internet. It is gendered. It is the consequence for women if we complain about shit that is shitty for women.

I don’t know who fixed on the hashtag “Clypegate” for this: but I bet it was someone who is enough of an Internet bully that they’d see the main problem with Blair McDougall’s dossier as not the content, but that he was “telling on them”. “Don’t clype” is a principle that supports bullies and authorities who’d rather not have to deal with bullying: it does nothing for the people being bullied. The macho culture that says men mustn’t say if they’re being hurt by a bully is bad for men, too.

Twitter and Facebook are handicapped because they are businesses: a dozen trolls who create clickbait are better for their business model than a hundred well-mannered account holders who post in a civil and non-controversial style.

The police and the courts can only act on harassment that definitely breaks the law – and it can be surprisingly hard to prove that an abusive tweet is breaking the law, or that a tweeter has created a pattern of harassment.

Don't make excuses for nasty peopleBut being a member of a political party is a privilege, not a right: a party member who doesn’t adhere to the party’s declared policies and principles can be removed from membership, and someone who tries to claim party support for their actions by displaying a logo they have no right to, can be instructed to take it down.

This Scottish Labour dossier, used in this way, sets this up not as a situation where the parties can usefully work together, setting joint cross-party standards for online behaviour from their partisans, but as yet another Labour v SNP squabble, encouraging SNP supporters to defend or justify horrible behaviour from thoroughly nasty trolls just because they were trolling Labour.

Don’t make excuses for nasty people just because they’re attacking your opponents. You can’t stick a rose in an asshole and call it a vase.


Filed under In The Media, Scottish Culture, Women

2 responses to “Abuse online

  1. keaton

    Good post. I wonder why it is that the MP for Glasgow East, whether Labour or SNP, seems to attract a disproportionate number of misogynistic attacks.

  2. Pingback: Interesting Links for 29-06-2015 | Made from Truth and Lies

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