January 24, 2012 | 11
My SciAm colleague and friend Kate Clancy of Context and Variation has been the target of disturbing trollish behavior recently. She is experiencing what many female bloggers do at some point while writing for an online audience and she’s rallying her community by speaking candidly about her experiences:
Even when the threats aren’t physical, the antagonism towards women has been nasty. I have been called a sexist, someone who plays victim, told I should be fired, and worse, personal things that I will not relay here. I have had my writing challenged by brash claims regarding my character or intent without any attempt to build a case with evidence.
And even though I can look at the evidence and my writing, at what I do and what I stand for, and know these claims are ridiculous, each one of these attacks shatters me.
Back at my old blog, these attacks would have had little effect on me. At my old blog my posse would have crowded them out, shrugged their way past them until the attackers were shouting uselessly at the periphery. My old blog was a warm, inviting space where I could take risks because people were willing to take them with me.
I could blame the loss of my posse on the commenting system or the more heavily-male readership here at Scientific American and throw up my hands. But I also know I have not been modeling the appropriate behavior to encourage you to get comfortable in my new place. I have left almost all attack comments up rather than delete them because I worried that getting rid of them would open me up to more attacks, or make it look as though I was silencing my opposition. And so I left them, and waited, hoping someone would come and back me up. Sometimes someone would.
Supporting a female blogger under attack in a comment thread is a very risky endeavor. If you are a male ally, you may be afraid of making things worse. If you are a woman, you may be afraid of drawing some of the attack on to you. The attack may also just feel like it’s not your business. It takes a very brave person who doesn’t mind sticking their nose in to put together a reasoned response and handle the blowback.
By letting the oppressive and rude behavior in my comment threads get out of control, I have put my posse in an impossible position. I have silenced potential commenters, and lost the most valuable part of my blogging.
AiP has also received its share of trollish comments and emails that also left me feeling raw and exposed. It is amazing what people will ask you—especially if you’re female. My response was to delete comments and emails and not respond. But sometimes it feels as though that’s the only response out there, and that can be disheartening. Kate is right: It will only stop when we—that’s you and me—take a hand in making it stop.
It has not been an entirely easy transition from the independent home of Anthropology in Practice to the Scientific American network. There, like Kate, I knew I had a steady group of readers who knew the tone and style of the space and could and would step in to help monitor and maintain the community. A few of you have followed me here, and I thank you for that. It delights me to see your names in the comment box. I also understand why the community has overall been slow to grow here—having to register can be prohibitive to commenting—but I am confident we will get there again, Readers. (We are working on changing the registration requirements, but that will take time. In truth, registration is a bit of a joke. You can register as a pseud or under your name and only I see your email address—whatever email address you choose to enter. Edit: I will always honor the displayed registration name in public communications.)
Kate has issued a new commenting policy for Context and Variation which goes a long way toward re/creating a constructive, supportive community where debate and discussion can occur intelligently and respectfully. I support her stand for her space, and in that spirit want to ask you, Readers, to rally with us: register, and let us know you’re there.
AiP’s commenting policy has always been an open one. In short, it read: “Readers are invited to leave a comment and join the discussion about breaking news, research ventures, and most importantly, everyday events. However, spam and abusive commentary will be deleted promptly.” But in this venue, in this space, it’s clear that this will not suffice. Here is AiP’s commenting policy—with summary by Dr. Seuss:
I’ve tried to approach this with some lightness, but it is serious. AiP is my home on the web, but I’d like to share it with you. There’s an entire world out there to explore and examine through the ethnographic lens. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a posse I have to go join.