WHY I CAME BACK
Most of the back-story is not important, and I hope to never have to talk about it again, but here’s the relevant bits:
In 2007, I was the target of a several-week long escalating harassment campaign that culminated in my being doxxed (a word I didn’t even know then) with a long, detailed, explicit document, posted pretty much everyone on the internet (including multiple times to my own wikipedia entry). It was a sort of open letter with a sordid (but mostly fictional) account that included my past, my career, my family, and wrapped up with my (unfortunately NOT fictional) social security number, former home address and, worst of all — a call to action for people to send things to me. They did. I never returned to my blog, I cut out almost all speaking engagements, and rarely appeared anywhere in the tech world online or real world. Basically, that was it for me. I had no desire then to find out what comes after doxxing, especially not with a family, and I had every reason to believe this would continue to escalate if I didn’t, well, stop “serving the Koolaid.”
A year later, I had one of the worst days of my life. I got a phone call from a journalist, Mattathias Schwartz. He’d been working on a long-form feature magazine story about trolls for the NY Times, and it was about to come out. He wanted to warn me about something in the story, something nobody expected: one of the main subjects of his story had just — out of the blue — announced that he was “Memphis Two” the author of That Document (i.e. my dox) and added that he was part of the harassment of Kathy Sierra.
I sat down. “I’ve never heard of this person. Am I in any danger?” He gave me the only truthful answer, “I don’t know.” But then he added, “I don’t think so, because honestly I don’t think he sees you as important at all.” So, whew. He was right. I was not important. And after all, they’d already put checkmark in the WIN column for me. I was gone. I’d not be serving any more Koolaid. Nothing to see here, etc.
And there I hoped it would end, fading away as all things do as the internet moves on and this troll I’d never heard of would just go back to whatever it was that trolls do.
But you all know what happened next. Something something something horrifically unfair government case against him and just like that, he becomes tech’s “hacktivist hero.” He now had A Platform not just in the hacker/troll world but in the broader tech community I was part of. And we’re not just talking stories and interviews in Tech Crunch and HuffPo (and everywhere else), but his own essays in those publications. A tech industry award. His status was elevated, his reach was broadened. And for reasons I will never understand, he suddenly had gained not just status and Important Friends, but also “credibility”.
Did not see that coming.
But hard as I tried to find a ray of hope that the case against him was, somehow, justified and that he deserved, somehow, to be in prison for this, oh god I could not find it. I could not escape my own realization that the cast against him was wrong. So wrong. And not just wrong, but wrong in a way that puts us all at risk. I wasn’t just angry about the injustice of his case, I had even begun to feel sorry for him. Him. The guy who hates me for lulz. Guy who nearly ruined my life. But somehow, even I had started to buy into his PR. That’s just how good the spin was. Even I mistook the sociopath for a misunderstood outcast. Which, I mean, I actually knew better.
And of course I said nothing until his case was prosecuted and he’d been convicted, and there was no longer anything I could possibly do to hurt his case. A small group of people — including several of his other personal victims (who I cannot name, obviously) asked me to write to the judge before his sentencing, to throw my weight/story into the “more reasons why weev should be sent to prison”. I did not. Last time, for the record, I did NOTHING but support weev’s case, and did not speak out until after he’d been convicted.
But the side-effect of so many good people supporting his case was that more and more people in tech came to also… like him. And they all seemed to think that it was All Good as long as they punctuated each article with the obligatory “sure, he’s an ass” or “and yes, he’s a troll” or “he’s known for offending people” (which are, for most men, compliments). In other words, they took the Worst Possible Person, as one headline read, and still managed to reposition him as merely a prankster, a trickster, a rascal. And who doesn’t like a “lovable scoundrel”?
So I came back because I saw what was happening.
I came back because I connected these dots:
* Weev writes an explicit warning to all women in tech that speaking out (in his words “squealing like a stuck pig”) will be “punished”.
* Weev demonstrates this by punishing a woman that was, for better or worse, a role model for some in the already-way-too-small group of women in tech.
* Weev then becomes celebrated in tech, spun as a straight-talking, no bullshit, asshole who speaks truth to power. Truth. Weev. Is. About. Truth. And Privacy. Ours. He wanted to protect Our Privacy with The Truth.
(If you want an example of gaslighting, imagine how I felt watching this unfold)
* And there it is. I came because if weev is credible, and endorsed as a “friend”, then thedocument he, at the least, ENTHUSIASTICALLY CONTINUES TO ENDORSE, is… well what does this mean?
I came back because I believe this sent a terrible, devastating message about what was acceptable. Because nobody in a position of power and influence in the tech world ever, NOT ONCE, brought up the explicit threats in that document, except for The Verge. (Tim Carmody, Greg Sandoval, you are my heroes).
I came back and watched endless streams of funny, casual, online banter between weev and some of those I respected and trusted most in tech. You know who I mean. I watched him being retweeted into my stream in a positive way. I actually did lol, though, when Twitter’s algorithm kept insisting You Probably Want To Follow Him! That’s how much our Venn diagrams overlapped.
But the one thing I never expected was that after all these years, he’d suddenly deny it. Even more so, that reasonable, logical, intelligent people would actually believe this. He’d suddenly, after 6 years, claim that a world-class, international, Livingston-winner (“Pulitzer of the Young”) journalist would just somehow… come up with that. And that in six years it never occurred to weev, not once, to publicly deny it no matter how many times he was asked about it.
(Schwartz himself came into these conversations more than once over the past year to remind weev about their conversation, to confirm that yes, it happened exactly as he described in the 2008 feature. Not that it made a difference. After all, in weev vs. amazing writer with everything to lose by lying, who are you going with? Weev. They went with weev.)
As I said in a now-deleted Twitter exchange, I couldn’t imagine “what sort of suspension of disbelief” one needs to accept a context in which a journalist who has never heard of me, somehow pulls MY name and that document out of thin air, then somehow mistakenly attributes it to the object of his story. Or that why, in all those years, weev never once publicly tried to refute this? He even wrote a response to the NYTimes story (the story where he outs himself as the doxxer) on his own blog, where he takes issue with several aspects of the article but never disputes the facts, and never even hints that weev-as-my-doxxer was inaccurate.
And he’s been asked about it many times over the next years, including that GQ interview where he explained his reasons for doing it. Never once, until I returned, did he ever publicly deny it. The NYTimes article stands, for 6 years, without correction or challenges. Weev of course now claims he wrote to the NYTimes, but has never produced, you know, “evidence”.
So there I was, now having unbelievable conversations with prominent people in tech that were more willing to believe the most absurd story over, well, one of the most respected journalists still left in the world. That they were willing to believe weev over… common sense. Logic. That they had the fantasy belief that though weev was known to be one of the most skillful and manipulative liars (and that description is from a friend of his), somehow, he wasn’t lying now, to them. I pushed back, but only if it was someone in the tech world who was not a troll, but an intelligent, rational, reasonable, person.
I underestimated the willingness of people to still, no matter what, believe him.
But recently I came to realize that OK let’s say we do suspend disbelief and let’s say hedidn’t do it. Let’s say he simply wanted people to think he’d done it. That doesn’t actually change it.
Because the problem, the reason I came back is this:
Weev unequivocally, enthusiastically, gleefully, repeatedly ENDORSED it. He tweeted, many times, that I “had it coming”. I deserved it. That the “truth” in my dox was why I left the internet the first time.
And so again, I connect these dots:
* A document issues an explicit threat, warning women against speaking out. Lots and lots of women in tech have seen this document.
* Weev endorses this document, enthusiastically, repeatedly.
* Prominent people in tech endorse weev
Which could easily be seen as…
* Prominent people in tech tacitly endorsed that threat against speaking out.
Some of those people are/were feminists. I cannot even comprehend the cognitive dissonance.
THAT’s why I wanted to push back. Every. Single. Time. If someone described me, or the article about me as a lie, (as @erratarob did on my last day) I stepped in to do what Ithought was the most rational approach: to just keep pointing to the facts that were known. To push back on the twist and spin. I believed the fine-grained distinctions mattered. I pushed back because I believed I was pushing back on the implicit message that women would be punished for speaking out. I pushed back because almost nobody else was, and it seemed like so many people in tech were basically OK with that.
But a few days ago, in the middle of one of those “discussions”, this time with @erratarob, I realized it wasn’t worth it. He concluded that I was just trolling so people would troll me back. I asked him what he thought I should have done. And his answer was “don’t feed the trolls.” “Ignore it and move on.” Perhaps Rob didn’t know that I’d already tried that for six years, but that it was weev who kept that damn thing alive no matter how gone I was. He managed to tweet to my social security number not long before he went to prison, and well before I resurfaced. No, I didn’t troll him into that. I didn’t “engage”.
But Rob didn’t do anything wrong. He was saying what he truly believes. What, sadly, a whole lot of people in tech believe. Rob just happened to be the last “you asked for it” message I wanted to hear. So I just stopped.
I didn’t “rage quit”, I just walked away. I shut off a big cognitive resource leak. From the beginning of my time tweeting as Seriouspony, that I tweeted I was not likely to stay and that I was looking forward to where we would end up next. I’m not GONE gone. I’m just not on Twitter. But I have to add I’m not surprised to see my leaving Twitter framed as, once again, an example of someone who “just shouldn’t be on the internet”. Because nothing says “unbalanced” like having the freedom to walk away from a social media network. Because you can. Because you have a choice. Because you have the most beautiful and awesome ponies on the planet.
No idea. But I do think we need more options for online spaces, and I hope one of those spaces allows the kind of public conversations and learning we had on Twitter but where women — or anyone — does not feel an undercurrent of fear watching her follower count increase. Where there’s no such thing as The Koolaid Point. And I also know the worst possible approach would be more aggressive banning, or restricting speech (especially not that), or restricting anonymity. I don’t think Twitter needs to (or even can, at this point) do anything at all. I think we need to do something.
We can do this. I know we can. And many of you — especially you javaranchers — you know why I’m so certain. You’ve seen a million visitors a month in a male-dominated community year after year after year maintain a culture defined by a single TOS: be nice. You’ve seen how learning thrives in an environment where you can be fearless with questions and generous with answers. If millions of programmers can maintain one of thelargest and most vibrant developer communities online, for 15 years, without harassment of any kind, then anyone can. Good luck trying to convince me it can’t be done. Because I have something the trolls do not— evidence.
If you made it this far, I cannot possibly express how grateful I am for the wonderful experiences I had during the time I was on Twitter as Seriouspony. The appreciation for the horses made my heart sing. And those of you who have ever talked with me there, or sent me pony pictures, or ever sent me a message or spoken to me at a conference about what you learned from me, you have done more for me than you will ever know.
And I miss you all right now. I miss hearing the stories about your life and your work and your thoughts and your pets, especially your pets. But again, it’s not like I’m GONE gone.
After all, the ponies have only just begun to learn to code…
When I know where they’ll be, you will be the first to know 🙂 And when you all find a new space, that feels right, I know you will let me know.