I think this is a good argument, and a good thing for both sides of any large internet dispute to keep in mind. (And something that I have sometimes failed to keep in mind.) The writer is Chris, who is (if I’m following this correctly) an expert on statistics.
I’m fortunate, however, because I’ve been blessed with a pretty good grasp of numbers. I know, for instance, that while a hundred or so threatening messages are a lot, they came from a dozen or so different persons at most. I know that a dozen is, really, an insignificant fraction of people in the context of this debate. There were almost 150,000 distinct tweeters discussing #Gamergate, and almost as many discussing opposition thereto. I am not going to go out and tar such a huge group of people with the brush that would at best fit a handful.
When you get 150,000 people together, it’s impossible to do so without having a handful of people who are very enthusiastic, very passionate and very much lacking the ability to express themselves without being offensive. Equally, there will be some who join in just so they can let their primal desires out. Proportions matter. They matter even where a single instance of something is unforgivable, such as in the case of harassment.
Of course, while Chris received “a hundred or so” threats, there are other people who receive thousands. There are people for whom the harassment drags on for years. And presumably Chris’ “hundred or so” doesn’t count messages that aren’t actual threats but are still abusive, which I suspect are much more numerous than threats. I’m glad those who make literal threats are only a tiny portion of the whole, but I want to be able to keep that in mind without forgetting that abusive harassment, including but not limited to threats, is a real problem. (I don’t mean to imply that Chris would disagree with me about any of this.)
Unfortunately, Chris’ clear head is lost when his post moves on to an over-the-top rant about a program some Twitter users made to block pro-gamergate people from their twitter feeds (so if I used this bot, I would not see any tweets from anyone on the blocked list), which according to Chris is “a McCarthyesque blacklist.” (McCarthyesque? Seriously? If police gave out tickets for historically ignorant hyperbole, Chris would owe a fine.)
In the comments of Ozy’s blog, Veronica writes a good response:
Do I need an open channel to literally every person on Earth? I follow hundreds on Twitter. Hundreds follow me. I see good variety of interesting stuff from interesting people. I do not need to see *everything* from *everyone*.
I lock my door. I wear headphones on the train. I don’t display my phone number emblazoned on my shirt. I get to have some control of who I interact with.
And honestly, unless someone offers some better way to avoid the Twitter mobs, I don’t really care if they like the bot. They aren’t going to maintain my Twitter account for me.
You use the term “guilt by association,” but that is a loaded phrase. To block someone on Twitter says nothing more than you don’t want to see their tweets nor have them see yours, nor do you want to receive notifications from them. This does not prevent them from tweeting to others. It is nothing more than a boundary. I can build any boundary I want on social networks and no one else gets to say boo.
Well, they can, but I will not hear them. Which is a lovely thing.
Indeed, both philosophically and legally, Veronica has a free speech right to choose not to listen.
I have no idea what Chris’ politics are, but I’ve seen similar frenzied overreactions to the blockbot coming from anti-feminists and MRAs.
Some anti-feminists and MRAs act as if their job is to police how women respond to abuse and harassment.1 Thus we are told that if a man is harassing a woman at a bar, she is a terrible person if she calls him creepy;2 and we are told that twitter users like Veronica are wrong to use whatever tools they want to block users they don’t want to read; and Lena Dunham is called a liar when she wrote about having been raped, even though she made it clear the event was a little ambiguous and changed the name and identifying details of the man.
Obviously, the very minor abuse of an annoying tweet is in no way equivalent to a rape. But these very disparate things form a pattern of anti-feminists (mostly men) thinking it’s their business to police how women respond to harassment and abuse.
If someone is being harassed, she doesn’t have to put her harasser’s feelings above her own safety and comfort. And if someone doesn’t want to read tweets, they don’t have to. It’s that simple.
- I don’t know the demographics of the blockbot user base, but I suspect that blockbot users are disproportionately female, and those blocked, disproportionately male. [↩]
- Calling someone a creep who has in fact not done anything offensive, or gotten in someone else’s space, could be a different matter. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. [↩]