Thursday, January 19, 2017

this is normal

I think every woman who's not famous enough to be constantly trolled has some sort of sixth sense that kicks in when she realizes a tweet/blog post/etc. has ended up somewhere bad. It doesn't happen to me very often, but there's a vague sick feeling I get when some ancient tweet resurfaces or a random makes a comment that sounds a certain way--not even overtly hostile, necessarily, but there's this tone you come to recognize--and I wait for it to either go away or resolve into something fucking weird.

I was thinking about this feeling--which, while infrequent, is quite distinct and very much a part of how I experience the world online--with regard to all the blank liberal surprise surrounding Brian Stelter's observation that tech corporations are shoring up their communications teams in the event they need to mobilize in response to a Trump tweet. Stelter wrote:
On the other hand -- multiple tech leaders say they or their PR folks have adjusted their schedules to make sure someone is up at 3 a.m. local time to catch the the tweets out of fear that a Trump tweet could crash their stock and put their company into a frenzy. 
Many are saying they've learned how to get Trump Twitter alerts directly on their phone. Some are prepared with an action plan in case he tweets! And we aren't talking about just a reply tweet - more of a full blown media campaign reply...
At the time I saw a lot of the usual shrill declarations about how this is "not normal," but I'll tell you what: while white middle-class men worry about "public shaming" and white businessmen worry about Trump ruining their livelihoods with a single tweet, the rest of us have long understood that we might get fucking murdered for tweeting about Vampire Diaries if the wrong Pepe slimes in our direction. My god, if you're a business in *any* industry that hasn't given any thought to what happens if and when you have a nuclear twitter incident, Trump-related or otherwise, give someone some money to figure that out for you. I feel fairly confident in saying that most women writers who have a twitter following that exceeds double digits have a comprehensive tiered plan for what steps to take when that vague feeling in the gut I was talking about earlier turns into a one-, two- or three-alarm fire.

Anyway, funny story, many thousands of nazis recently swarmed my dumb nothing comics blog. I'm not sure if people were drawn by my craven nazi classmate's  hypnotic nipple or if his engagement level is off the charts or what but holy moly, those nazis turned out. I think it was after someone left a comment with the n-word that I became concerned enough to dust off the analytics I installed when I set up this blog a few months ago and hoo boy, haha, that was a mistake! It was sort of like putting on nightvision goggles and realizing that, instead of standing alone in a field shouting your opinions about Nick Spencer to the indifferent stars, you're surrounded by a great many...I don't know, I don't want to say anything too melodramatic. Let's go with horny opossums. 

Last I looked there were 100-some replies on the tweet that brought them here. (#blessed it went out on a Sunday night.) Some were people making fun of the nipple shot (fair), but there was also plenty of unsettling commentary on my appearance, speculation re: how much I want to fuck that nazi, enlargements of my photograph plastered with coded Jewish slurs, etc. Only one guy talked about raping me, and come to think of it I don't remember seeing it when I went back for these screenshots? That's nice, I guess.

I'd rank this whole incident maybe a hair below a one-alarm fire, if you're curious. I'm no student of the right but there is a distinction to be made between Mister Nipple, whose endgame of govt-sponsored bigotry requires some semblance of civility, and M. Yappadappapotamus, a vocal advocate of straight-up harassment. I suppose that if the Eye of Sauron had to fall on my joke about a scary person fucking his mother, I'm very glad it was with regard to the Gentleman Nazi with all his quasi-poetic "children of the sun" ballyhoo, and not the agent of chaos who has somehow professionalized sucking off gamers in the Hot Topic dressing room rallying goons to silence women. Why, that nazi was a pretty good sport, all things considered!

At the same time, it's irritating to realize that Mr. Nipple's veneer of gentility--consider his phrase "peaceful ethnic cleansing"--is why the powers that be let him log back on at twitter dot com, as opposed to Milo's permanent ban. On some level, a herd of Pepes is a herd of Pepes, and that is what they both command. I was thinking about all this in connection with the most recent dumbass conversation about freedom of speech we had in Comics, which was inexplicably centered on Milo himself. (He has literally nothing to do with comics; I'm just assuming someone liked his edgelord attitude.) In what might be the most stunning display of "Gotta hear both sides" that the kingdom of comics has ever known--and man, that is really saying something--the Comic Books League Defense Fund (CBLDF) recently published several statements defending Simon & Schuster's decision to publish Milo's forthcoming memoir. Cause, see, some consumers and critics who were queasy about  S&S giving $250k to someone whose literal job is to spearhead campaigns of harassment against women decided to boycott the rest of its titles, and now the CBLDF is worried about the "chilling effect" of that boycott. "Only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech," one of the two (two!) platitude-laden statements it made reads. "We believe the way to beat ideas is with better ideas."

LOL, sure. Can anyone tell me what that would that even look like in practice? Just for example, however much I might have liked to counter the "ideas" of Spencer's followers with my own arguments--heaven knows I'm a solid fucking 4--I presume that would have gone poorly. And those people were relatively polite.

The romanticization of "debating" trolls is a sentiment you'll often see expressed by Comics types--perhaps Fran├žoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman most recently--and it almost always comes up when people prefer to think of their terrible judgment calls as urgent and heroic matters of free speech. These people seem to think that verbally sparring with any random glorified egg is Lincoln-Douglas level debate, ignoring the obvious fact that questions like "Are women people?" and "Is ethnic cleansing bad?" are beneath contempt, much less discussion. Like, how about we just consider those issues settled--not just because entertaining the notions of anyone who'd suggest otherwise is stupid and sort of insane, but also because making a case for the humanity of a given group of people is in its own way the opposite of free speech. It is an ineffective response to terror. And you know something? Increasingly I think it's for chumps.

So what's left? There's the response the "ideas" deserve, which is get fucked. But saying that, on a practical level, is rarely worth it and often unwise--at least for some of us. When you see a woman standing up to a group of trolls (as opposed to piecemeal abuse), for instance, more often than not what you're looking at is a last resort. Fighting back is a strategy that may work if she's lucky, but even then it's not going to end well. Even the women who "win" will inevitably become lodestones for more attention from trolls. Surely if Twitter has taught us anything, it's that "toxic speech" can't be effectively countered with "better ideas." Toxic speech is countered by giving the toxic speaker the fucking boot or, for the lowly likes of you and me, putting pressure on whoever it is that can. 

Put it this way: if a bunch of violent men break into your place while you're home, you have four options: you can hold a debate in your living room about whether or not they should harm you and/or take your shit (good luck!); you can fight; you can hide; or you can flee. The choices are similar for anyone who feels threatened by trolls online. The "chilling effect" that deserves the attention of the CBLDF and other free speech advocates is not the possibility that nazis will lose their book deals or that publishers will face financial reprecussions for giving glitter nazis hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that regular people--particularly women and people from marginalized communities--will feel compelled to hide or flee the internet altogether to avoid being harassed. Those are the people who are being silenced in this equation. These plain stakes are are very often misinterpreted and misrepresented by vocal Comics Types, including organizations like CBLDF--not necessarily because they're stupid, but because by definition it's hard to hear people who are trying to be quiet. These aren't people who are necessarily making a big stink about quitting Twitter or whatever. These are people who are trying to keep a low profile because they're scared. Telling those people to speak up against aggressors is just really bad advice.

Anyway, what happened here wasn't really a big deal, though I guess it struck a certain chord now that I wake up every morning thinking about nuclear armageddon. The only way in which I was personally "silenced" was in nixing some dumb scheduled "best of 2016" thing that I was too freaked out to post. Together we'll find some way to move forward, I feel sure. In any case, while I was waiting for my nazi infestation to clear up, I had some time to think. So...three points. The first one is a question, really: Why did Twitter reinstate Spencer's account after suspending it indefinitely? It seems to me that was a bad move. (Like, if a bunch of sick rats stuffed themselves into a bad sportscoat and knocked on my door, I probably wouldn't let them in no matter how politely they asked. And that goes double if they were quoting fucking Nietzsche.) Back in November, Spencer himself made a distinction between his use of Twitter and Milo's harassment that's very much like the one I drew above, and I suppose if Twitter were the government (a phrase that makes me shudder, here on Obama's last night in office), I'd find that a compelling argument for letting his voice be heard or whatever. As things stand? Twitter has a responsibility--ethical, social, political, etc--to aggressively cull the nazis from its platform. The rest of us need to have the wherewithal to encourage them.

Second: As many have observed, Twitter feels like it's dying. But that's not just because women are increasingly finding it intolerable; it's also because big business is starting to understand what it's like to have its existence threatened by a tweet. What's interesting is that the very thing that has been killing Twitter might ultimately be its salvation: now that people with money are starting to care about trolling, it seems just possible that someone will actually listen. Jack doesn't care if I'm afraid of nazis, but he probably cares a little more about whatever Skittles thinks. And I have to imagine that Twitter itself feels a little uneasy about our soon-to-be Troll in Chief, who has a volatile relationship with their platform.

Last/not least, when are we going to acknowledge that the "freedom of speech" conversation in comics is badly broken? That the executive director of the CBLDF sexually assaulted a woman at a comics conference says it all, really, and that was more than 10 years ago. Charles Brownstein  probably has a poster of Milo in his hot tub. Amanda Palmer is probably writing a poem about it, and Neil "Trigger Warning" Gaiman will charge you fifty dollars to watch him read it out loud to her bad ukulele version of one of the lesser works of Leonard Cohen. Really I can think of no better symbol for the self-aggrandizing gimmick that freedom of speech in comics has become. So sorry, Leonard. You really deserve better.

The best comic of 2016 was Gulag Casual, for the record. IDK, I just need to say one good thing.

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