Horrors of online harassment


James LeVan, Staff

On Friday, Feb. 5, the Washington Post’s “Made by History” section published a piece by Dr. Jamie Goodall (a historian at the U.S Army Center of Military History and expert on the history of piracy) about the Super Bowl and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The main topic of her piece was the problem of romanticization of outlaw figures who, in their heyday, were not revered and heroic as we portray. She did not write about how Tampa should change its name; she did not condemn the city (though given what I saw of the stadium crowding, I might). She merely wished to point out that sometimes the figures we romanticized were not regarded as romantic heroes in their time and that we should remember that. The topic of this article is the threats of violence directed at Dr. Goodall since her op-ed was published and the issue of threats and violence directed at professional women who share their opinion, even an expert opinion.

Dr. Goodall’s piece went viral in the days since its publication. The headline has been tweeted about and retweeted on social media, most notably by former President Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and a vlogger named Matt Walsh who in his bio calls himself a “theocratic fascist, tyrant and beekeeper” (why anyone would admit that about themselves, I do not know). Even the Daily Mail wrote a piece on her and took the time to go through her Instagram and find photos of her wearing a facemask with Jolly Rogers and one professional pic of her where you can see her tattoo of a female pirate, using these as examples that she is a hypocrite. The reactions have ranged from calling her a hypocrite, to attacks towards her former colleagues at Stevenson University, to threats of rape and other forms of violence against her. She has not left social media but she has blocked many of these online trolls and has locked down her account, showing a tremendous amount of strength and courage while being mobbed by a group of people who get upset by a piece saying that not everyone in the past was a romantic swashbuckling hero.

Dr. Goodall’s case is not a one-time phenomenon. Sadly, it is part of a pattern of women who in various industries become the target of online harassment and threats of sexual violence simply because they wrote or said something in their field.. This whole situation brings up memories of both gamergate and comicsgate and how internet figures make it their mission to attack women.

Gamergate was an online harassment campaign directed at women involved in the video game industry. Zoe Quinn, an independent video game developer who created a video about dealing with depression, was targeted with threats of violence and exposing of personal information. In 2014, she did an interview for The Guardian where she said she was afraid to go home and was living on her friends’ couches because of threats against her person. She and several other women connected to video games were bombarded with attacks from anonymous online individuals. These threats included attacks on their professional careers to gruesome images of dead animals sent to their inbox. Comicsgate was a similar harassment campaign but was targeted at professionals in the comics industry, arguing that diversity in writing rooms and the creation of characters who were either female or people of color were ruining the industry. Members of comics forums even created a blacklist of comics creators they argued were destroying the industry (many on the list were women, people of color and LGBT creators). Much like with gamergate, they used online harassment to target women in the industry. An example of this would be the case of Heather Antos and the milkshake photo.

In 2017, Heather Antos was an editor at Marvel Comics and had posted a photo of herself and some of her female colleagues going out for milkshakes after the work week. The spectacularly apolitical photo was quickly bombarded with online trolls connected to comicsgate attacking Antos and her colleagues and arguing that they were the reason the comic book industry was seeing a decline in sales.

These online harassment mobs are a byproduct of a culture war that has been brewing in the United States for decades. The people attacking these women do not really care about history, comics or video games. Rather, they desire to silence individuals and control these industries that they have no real connection to. It is more about making women and people of color in these industries more submissive to their wills and thus unable to speak or voice an opinion. We can see this in all these cases. The desire is not about the financial health of these fields or the quality of content being created. It is about dominating and making the victims of these harassment campaigns submissive. If this all sounds incredibly rapey, that is because it is. Let us speak plainly on this.

In my professional, academic and personal life I have had the opportunity to work with and know numerous women who are quite brilliant and frankly I have no qualms admitting that I am mediocre compared to a lot of them. They all have brilliant knowledge on subjects and opinions but are often silenced or forced to hide their views.. If they don’t, the troll army will come after them and spend weeks threatening their wellbeing. I could honestly write 20 pages on the issues women face in the workplace and online. However, I am not sure I am the right person to write that piece. Instead, all I will say is that in society we must be more alert to these kinds of hate campaigns and realize that they are a threat to the rights and safety of our colleagues, friends, family and fellow human beings. The absence of those voices at the table because of a bunch of angry bloggers would be nothing short of a tragedy for these industries but also for society as a whole and will result in a stifled unenlightened mess.


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