The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

In Which @AmandaHess Locates the Problem of Online Harassment

Posted on | January 7, 2014 | 37 Comments

She wants to believe that it is about sexism or misogyny, but as a guy who has experienced online harassment myself, I know this is false. Yes, women are in many ways particularly vulnerable to this — ask Michelle Malkin, Dana Loesch, Ann Coulter or Katie Pavlich — but the fundamental problem isn’t really about that:

On the one hand, it seemed unlikely that I’d soon be defiled and decapitated at the hands of a serial rapist-murderer. On the other hand, headlessfemalepig was clearly a deranged individual with a bizarre fixation on me. I picked up my phone and dialed 911.
Two hours later, a Palm Springs police officer lumbered up the steps to my hotel room, paused on the outdoor threshold, and began questioning me in a steady clip. I wheeled through the relevant background information: I am a journalist; I live in Los Angeles; sometimes, people don’t like what I write about women, relationships, or sexuality; this was not the first time that someone had responded to my work by threatening to rape and kill me. The cop anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, “What is Twitter?” . . .
Andy Trotter, a communications adviser for the British police, announced that it was Twitter’s responsibility to crack down on the messages. . . . Police “don’t want to be in this arena.” It diverts their attention from “dealing with something else.” . . .
Abusers tend to operate anonymously, or under pseudonyms. But the women they target often write on professional platforms, under their given names, and in the context of their real lives. Victims don’t have the luxury of separating themselves from the crime. When it comes to online threats, “one person is feeling the reality of the Internet very viscerally: the person who is being threatened,” says Jurgenson. “It’s a lot easier for the person who made the threat — and the person who is investigating the threat — to believe that what’s happening on the Internet isn’t real.”

You can and should read the whole thing, because Amanda Hess has located the basic problem: Police are either ignorant of social media — “What is Twitter?” — or can’t comprehend the reality of a type of threat that has never been aimed at them.

Unless and until you have been targeted by obsessed hate-trolls, you really can’t understand what it’s like. And the inherent imbalance between anonymous harassers and their targets — “who write on professional platforms, under their given names, and in the context of their real lives” — is not a problem that is limited to women. When your livelihood is in large measure dependent on using Twitter to obtain information and promote your work, whereas the anonymous hate-troll uses the Twitter platform only to engage in harassment, you quickly discover that your ability to counteract the harassment is quite limited.

Amanda Hess should ask Patrick “Patterico” Frey how difficult it is to get law enforcement to take online harassment seriously. The dangerous tactic of “SWATting” is dismissed by some journalists as a “prank” and, despite the fact that some people have been sentenced to prison for SWATting hoaxes, so few perpetrators are prosecuted that SWATters believe (quite correctly) that they are unlikely to face serious consequences for their actions.

Part of the problem — and perhaps Hess hasn’t thought about this — is that many journalists actually celebrate online harassment.

What else were the crimes of “Anonymous,” except orchestrated online harassment of designated enemies? The fact that this criminality was done in the name of a political cause, and that the targets were corporations like Sony and Amazon rather than individuals, does not change the fact: Crime was committed, and many journalists have treated Anonymous hackers as heroes.

“The time for talk is over, it’s time for collective refusal, civil disobedience, and direct action.”
Jeremy Hammond, Anonymous hacker

Why is it acceptable to target PayPal with DDOS attacks, but not to target journalists with personal threats? Why have some people tried to make a hero of former Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown, who threatened to “destroy” an FBI agent’s family?

Why didn’t Amanda Hess take notice of Mandy Nagy’s harassment by Anonymous supporter “Occupy Rebellion”? Here you have a gang of vicious cyberterrorists whose very name, Anonymous, is intrinsic to the problem of online harassment, and whose claim of “civil disobedience” in defense of their crimes is a direct challenge to the rule of law. And, in case Amanda Hess has forgotten, it was the defense of Julian Assange’s Wikileaks that was the rallying cry of Anonymous in 2010.

Julian Assange is an accused rapist. Kinda relevant.

Law enforcement must take online harassment more seriously. Amanda Hess has that exactly right. But we cannot expect law enforcement to prosecute harassment if we ignore (or endorse) the lawless anarchist impulse of digital terrorists. Nor can we expect online harassment of women to be taken seriously when liberals like Amanda Hess tolerate the constant obscene harassment of conservative women:

The C-word and the F-word, and various combinations thereof, are somehow acceptable political discourse when liberals do it. Eventually, Amanda Hess managed to overcome the problems of anonymity and of law enforcement not taking online harassment seriously:

My harasser finally acquiesced to the protection order when my lawyer showed him that we knew the blog comments were coming from his computer—he had made a valiant attempt to obscure his comments, but he’d slipped up in a couple of instances, and we could prove the rape threats were his. When the judge approved the order, she instructed my harasser that he was not allowed to contact me in any way—not by email, Twitter, phone, blog comment, or by hiring a hot air balloon to float over my house with a message, she said. And he had to stay at least 100 feet away from me at all times. The restraining order would last one year.
Soon after the order expired, he sent an email to my new workplace. Every once in a while, he re-establishes contact. . . .
A few days before I received the threats in Palm Springs, he sent me a link via Twitter to a story he wrote about another woman who had been abused online. Occasionally, he sends his tweets directly my way—a little reminder that his “game” is back on.

This raises a question: Why doesn’t Amanda Hess publicly name the monster who is perpetrating this harassment? Crime is a people problem. Identifying the perpetrators is essential to preventing and discouraging crime, but perhaps Amanda Hess is afraid of being sued by her harasser. That can be a problem, too.

UPDATE: Credit where credit is due:

As I say, I mostly agree with Hess’s analysis of the online harassment problem, but I don’t think turning it into a Women’s Studies candlelight-vigil take-back-the-night rally is the solution. That kind of “consciousness raising” solidarity protest may feel good, but is no substitute for law enforcement locking up criminals.



37 Responses to “In Which @AmandaHess Locates the Problem of Online Harassment”

  1. Political Rift » In Which @AmandaHess Locates the Problem of Online Harassment
    January 7th, 2014 @ 6:25 pm

    […] Robert Stacy McCain She wants to believe that it is about sexism or misogyny, but as a guy who has experienced online […]

  2. Rain
    January 7th, 2014 @ 6:51 pm

    until libs realize that by giving a pass to or ignoring harassment because it’s from someone (loosely in some instances) on their side against “the enemy” it’ll continue to be dealt with in a piecemeal manner meaning at times will come back on them and they will be the victim of something they cheered in the past. It’s disgusting whoever it targets but like they say Karma is a bitch.

  3. DaveO
    January 7th, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

    Cops, in general and in specific, probably get more hate-communications than journalists and opinion writers. With the tens of thousands of laws and hundreds of thousands of regulations, that have the weight of laws, and the almost-as-numerous decisions by judges that carry the weight of law, cops may, just may, not have time to learn about Twitter.

  4. robertstacymccain
    January 7th, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

    I understand this, and I’m very much pro-cop. But trying to make police, prosecutors and judges understand this can become frustrating.

  5. robertstacymccain
    January 7th, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

    I understand this, and I’m very much pro-cop. But trying to make police, prosecutors and judges understand this can become frustrating.

  6. Amanda Hess gets targeted by social media thugs | Batshit Crazy News
    January 7th, 2014 @ 7:22 pm

    […] TOM is right.  This is probably less misogyny (although there is obviously some of that going on too) than thuggish “Shut Upppery” behavior that many on the right get all the time. That does not make it any less real, on line harassment is a real problem that is pretty low on law enforcement radars. […]

  7. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    January 7th, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

    You would think women would have a better shot of convincing cops of it then men would.

  8. Anon Y. Mous
    January 7th, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

    I agree with almost all of what you said, with the exception of comparing a DDOS attack on PayPal with the other more personalized attacks you write about. Not that I support in anyway DDOS attacks on PayPal or anyone else – I just think they are in a different category. If I was writing about how terrified I was that some nutball had targeted me with threats that he was going to kill me or my family or whatever, if someone else pipes up, “Yes, I know what you are feeling, it’s just like that DDOS attack against PayPal”, I would be skeptical that you really understood where I was coming from.

    Of course, I am aware that you have your own set of nutballs after you and yours, so I am not suggesting that you don’t understand the threat. But I have to admit that I don’t understand why you would group a DDOS attack against a big player like PayPal in the same category.

    It’s like if you were to talk about the victims of the Knockout Game, and then threw in there something all the money that Walmart loses to shoplifting. Yes, shoplifting is wrong, and the perpetrators should be punished when they are caught, but it just doesn’t come up when people are talking about the victims of the Knockout Game.

  9. Mike G.
    January 7th, 2014 @ 8:04 pm

    Good Lord. She could have gotten her point across in a much shorter essay. Most people will just say TL;DR

    Not saying I don’t sympathize, but it could turn a lot of people off.

  10. Zohydro
    January 7th, 2014 @ 9:45 pm

    I’d hate to see “anonymity” on the web entirely done away with as some have proposed…

    We’ve all seen (women’s) real names, phone numbers and addresses, and vulgar, hurtful commentary and threats anonymously scrawled on restroom walls before, so this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon unique to the internet. How have we dealt with that? And is the web any different than grafitti on the restroom wall?

    I’m afraid the Left will conflate what they call “hate speech” with individual, personal threats on individuals, and there goes the free public discourse…

  11. storibund
    January 7th, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

    Spewing filth is one thing. Targeting and stalking is another.

    Her stalker needs to be publicly named and doxed.

  12. robertstacymccain
    January 7th, 2014 @ 10:36 pm

    People who don’t respect private property usually have no respect for human dignity.

  13. Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
    January 7th, 2014 @ 10:38 pm

    I’ve posted under my given name for over ten years and have a little bit of fame. But I rarely get threats. Trolling sure, but few of the things listed. Bald-headed black chicks might be a little intimidating. 🙂

    But after the few times I have received some over-the-line stuff, I invited them over for a “party” with my neighbors here in South Central LA. That usually shuts them up. Bullies feed on fear, anger, and shame. (That’s what the degrading sexual language is about.)

    When you refuse to feel any of these and go on the offensive, they slink away.

    Plus I pray a lot for His protection.

  14. Adjoran
    January 8th, 2014 @ 12:33 am

    There is a distinct similarity, in fact. Both sets of people believe the rules do not apply to them, especially if they can hide their tracks.

  15. K-Bob
    January 8th, 2014 @ 1:19 am

    It’s a long-form article. City Journal does those all the time. If it’s well-written, then it’s usually worth your time.

    We used to read these things called books when I was your age…

  16. K-Bob
    January 8th, 2014 @ 1:36 am

    It was a well-written article. And I agree with Stacy here. In the days of bulletin boards and newsgroups, we had no “abuse” button nor any place to go where users could be blocked. All you could do was block your own view of their crap.

    Which of course means every one else but you can see what they write.

    Twitter isn’t moderated, but if you write something conservative, you get put in the gulag. Rape threats, not so much.(Which says all you need to know about the folks running it.)

  17. Alessandra
    January 8th, 2014 @ 2:44 am

    Liberals conflate already any other viewpoint with “hate speech” so it would only escalate completely!

  18. Alessandra
    January 8th, 2014 @ 2:56 am

    It wouldn’t be that hard to teach them. In fact, it would be pretty easy. It’s the higher-ups that need to understand that this needs to be done and that it’s overdue, and the longer they neglect doing it, the more they neglect their responsibility in running the police force. The result of not educating them on new media is damaging to society, as McCain and other harassed individuals have experienced.

  19. Alessandra
    January 8th, 2014 @ 4:38 am

    The C-word and the F-word, and various combinations thereof, are somehow acceptable political discourse when liberals do it.
    And don’t you just hate when these stupid liberals go, ” well, it’s not that bad anymore to use these words, everybody does it.”
    Wrong! It is just as bad as it was before. The problem is that number of liberals thinking and speaking like pigs has increased multifold. They just don’t want to be held accountable for how vulgar and vile they are, and how they are pushing culture further into the gutter, their gutter.

  20. Quartermaster
    January 8th, 2014 @ 9:03 am

    I used to post under my real name, but had to put a stop to it. At the time I was a public official and much too easy to find. When some guy showed up on my door step when only my wife was at home I stopped the practice immediately.
    There’s a lot I will put up with, but when any of my family is threatened, I don’t get queasy, I get violent. The Sheriff offered to commission me, but it didn’t have to go that far as the guy who showed up ended up in a West Virginia prison before we could do anything about it.

  21. Quartermaster
    January 8th, 2014 @ 9:05 am

    There you go dating yourself. You must be all of, what, 26?

  22. Quartermaster
    January 8th, 2014 @ 9:06 am

    Hear! Hear! Nor anything else they hate.

  23. Mike G.
    January 8th, 2014 @ 10:21 am

    Well, back when I was your age, we had these things called scrolls you had to unroll to read.

    I like to read long-form articles if they’re well written as you say, but…

  24. SFBruce
    January 8th, 2014 @ 11:45 am

    If you want to be an effective advocate for more restrained rhetoric, you should probably stay away from ad hominem attacks.

  25. Alessandra
    January 8th, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

    I would say that if we want to diminish the level of crudeness and vulgarity, calling out people for having a trashy way of thinking and speaking works marvelously. If used collectively, it is very effective.

  26. SFBruce
    January 8th, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

    The math is simple: if a group collectively uses crudeness and vulgarity to comdemn crudeness and vulgarity, the net result is an INCREASE in crudeness and vulgarity, not a reduction.

  27. Finrod Felagund
    January 8th, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    You’re tilting at windmills. Where did Alessandra use any crudeness or vulgarity?

  28. Alessandra
    January 8th, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

    Not only that, did you notice that SFBruce did not criticize any of the gross vulgarity in the OP examples out of his own initiative? But he jumped at the chance to raise an issue with my comment.

    Tha’ts why we have so much vulgarity in society.
    Liberals are talking like pigs and fewer and fewer people call it out.

  29. SFBruce
    January 8th, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    You’re right; I didn’t explicitly condemn the ad homenim attacks which are the subject of the this article, but you shouldn’t mistake that silence for approval. I’m completely consistent on this matter: name calling simply doesn’t advance an argument or refute another’s successfully advanced argument, whether you’re a conservative or a liberal. It works both ways.

    My initial comment was prompted by the fact that I thought it ironic that, in arguing against vulgarity and vileness, Alessandra offered up her own.

  30. SFBruce
    January 8th, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

    In my view, calling people “pigs” and “stupid” is both crude and vulgar.

  31. pabarge
    January 8th, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    o.m.g. Look at Amanda (and how her spelling sux):

  32. Alessandra
    January 8th, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    “Stupid” is crude and vulgar? You have no idea what the words crude and vulgar mean!

  33. Alessandra
    January 8th, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

    I’m completely consistent on this matter:
    You’re so consistent that you read things like “MM is a sleazy cunt that fucks cock to get ahead. Whoring prostitute.”
    and you stay SILENT. That’s your consistency all right. You couldn’t bring yourself to complain about that language at all! That’s the group you belong to.

    Let’s do the math – with people like you in the world, we have more and more of this ugly crude and vulgar language, that’s your great contribution to society – because all you do is stay silent when it happens. And you also take it upon yourself to attack people who are complaining about the fact that liberals are talking like pigs and insisting it’s OK! That’s your group.

    Now, if there were more people like me, liberals would be consistently criticized for talking like pigs, and not allowed to do so, and you would be criticized for making ridiculous claims that saying “talking like pigs” is wrong to depict someone saying “MM is a sleazy cunt that fucks cock to get ahead. Whoring prostitute.”

    How ironic that I didn’t use crude and vulgar language, and you criticized me for it – and the people who used profoundly crude and vulgar language, you had nothing to criticize them for.

  34. TMLutas
    January 8th, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

    If you want to fix the problem of police, you have to count up the police departments and target each one for education. For instance, it would be really good to know that officer X in a particular department is the go to guy for technology crimes like twitter threats because he was the one officer who was trained on that 18 months ago. The officer who is taking the report might not know that but if you can do a quick lookup and say that officer X got training on that crime and he probably should consult with him on how serious this complaint actually is, you are probably less likely to drop to the bottom of the pile. The idea of a complainant knowing the point guy on your force by name and cluing you in to save you time will be novel enough to break you out of the usual pattern in a good way.

    This is the sort of thing that I’m interested in so if anybody wants to actually do some positive work to solve the problem, drop me a line.

  35. K-Bob
    January 8th, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

    Skimming is your friend.

  36. K-Bob
    January 8th, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

    A couple of times, at least.

  37. DeRP’s Views You Can Use 01.10.2014 | Dead Republican Party (DeRP)
    January 10th, 2014 @ 11:51 am

    […] In Which @AmandaHess Locates the Problem of Online Harassment […]