Some of us book bloggers have occasionally joked about “author stalking” at book festivals or on Twitter, but I doubt many of us have ever thought about it going in reverse. Enough people have linked to Kathleen Hale’s Guardian essay that I’m not going to bother–I’ll just save you a few seconds of Googling–but let’s just say that we know differently now.
“A new study from Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life confirms the worst news about online harassment. It is pervasive, endemic, and disproportionately levied against women. What we have done so far to deal with it isn’t helping. As horrible as these findings are, do they offer ways to help safeguard ourselves, to be better Internet citizens, or to change the onslaught of harassment and danger?
“…Women were more likely than men to find their most recent experience with online harassment extremely or very upsetting—38% of harassed women said so of their most recent experience, compared with 17% of harassed men. The harassment levied against women is frightening and creates real stress and impact. This is huge confirmation that what happens online is real, and it is really unsettling to victims. We are so guilty of creating arbitrary lines between on- and offline that don’t exist, and this old way of thinking allows us to diminish the injury caused by online harassment.
“…Up until recently, advocates have been most worried about online harassment that is either an extension of real-life stalking or violence, or is the precursor to offline stalking or death threats. Those threats are dangerous and need our full systemic response. But we also can no longer be expected to shrug off what these Pew findings are telling us about harassment that is born and stays online. It is damaging, it is silencing people from full participation, and it is pernicious.”
— “New Pew Research Confirms the Worst About Online Harassment” by Deb Rox at BlogHer.com
Harassment–on- and off-line–is a key component of the Hale story. Hale’s response to perceived online harassment was to turn the situation upside-down and backwards, but this was emphatically not a case where the victim became the victor.
Unless it was. I’ve been fascinated to see authors reacting to this story very differently than bloggers have. Does the identification of a troll depend on which side of the bridge you’re on?
“Responses to this story fell into three general camps. One merely found it a freakishly fascinating yarn about two people with a dysfunctional relationship to the Internet; Hale makes largely unsubstantiated claims that the blogger had triggered a ‘ripple effect’ of ‘vitriol’ throughout Goodreads in opposition to her book and that the blogger had mocked Hale in a series of posts on Twitter. Bloggers, reviewers and Goodreads members were appalled by the Guardian essay, and accused Hale of stalking a reader who had done nothing more than give her a bad review. They also condemned the Guardian for publishing the blogger’s (maybe) real name. With authors this nutty running around, the reviewers maintained, it’s little wonder that many of them prefer to blog or review anonymously or behind the screen of a false identity. Lastly, there were also plenty of authors who cheered Hale on for ‘exposing a troll,’ and for confronting, in the words of one supporter, ‘a typical online bully hiding behind anonymity.’
“…If the horrified response of book bloggers and Goodreads reviewers to Hale’s confession is well-founded, what about the authors and other commentators who felt that Hale was holding a troll accountable for her misdeeds? Most of these did not approve of the author’s visit to the blogger’s home, but they still sympathized with her frustration at being unable to effectively challenge someone she believed had treated her work unfairly. Still other writers — those unfamiliar with the well-networked world of YA authors, reviewers and bloggers — expressed bafflement that anyone would bother to look at their Goodreads reviews in the first place, let alone become so fixated on one of the people who writes them.
“…It’s worth pointing out that both sides in this conflict feel disadvantaged. The reviewers tend to see successful authors as culturally powerful. (So much of the Internet’s nastiest manifestations come from those who view themselves as underdogs striking back in the only way they can.) Authors, having been told that only word-of-mouth can sell a book, see the worst-case scenario playing out online and believe the reviewers capable of ‘ruining’ their careers.”
The Hale story may be a consciousness-raiser for book bloggers, but online harassment is an entrenched problem in other spheres of the Internet, and is all too familiar to women in the tech and gaming sectors. Not being in either, I’m really not qualified to discuss #GamerGate–although I’m happy to save you some Googling on that too–but this leads me to think our problems aren’t all that different:
“Does this mean occasionally there will be a review you don’t agree with somewhere? You better believe it. First off, a review, BY DEFINITION, is subjective. It’s one person’s take on a moment in time from their own perspective. If you don’t like it, look at some other reviews. There’s plenty out there!”
—from “Why #Gamergaters Piss Me The F*** Off” by Chris Kluwe on Medium (if you don’t read any other links from this post, read this one)
My own feeling is that becoming a citizen of the Internet is accompanied by loss–or surrender–of some degree of privacy, and we need to accept that as part of the online condition. However, we shouldn’t expect that loss to threaten our personal safety.
“You get to decide how you interact online. Set up boundaries and feel free to stick with them or change them as you want to. If you want to use your real name on one site and not another, go for it. If you want to share details of your employer, feel free. But also know those choices come with consequences — I know more than one person who had their employment information easily findable and have had people from the internet contact their bosses about something. I’ve had situations where someone has been looking for someone with the same name as me, has found my place of employment, and tried running a collection agency through that work place’s HR to get my address. HR warned me they weren’t looking for me, but told me to be safe and run credit reports anyway (yes, this has happened multiple times).
“You don’t owe anything to anyone on the internet.
“You don’t have to use a real picture. You don’t have to use a real name. You can be inconsistent with your handles. You are the only one who has to have a handle on it, and you can choose those levels of privacy for yourself.“
–“7 Steps to Protect Your Privacy As A Blogger (Or As A Person On The Internet, Period)” by Kelly Jensen at Stacked
One of the steps mentioned in Kelly’s post is having a dedicated email account for your blog. I have one, and maybe before too long, I’ll be accessing it on mobile with Google’s new Inbox app. It’s currently in invite-only rollout, but I’ve asked for one. I don’t love the Gmail app for iOS, and I really don’t like the standard iOS Mail app, so I’ve been skipping around among different third-party email apps for the last couple of years. If Inbox lives up to its press, I may finally have a mobile mail app I can commit to.
See you next week, and have a great weekend!