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Online Bullying

ETA: Additional thoughts and hopefully clarification at Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes.


The website “Stop the Goodreads Bullies” is a good example of terminology abuse. See these posts by Smart Bitches,  Trashy Books, Stacia Kane, and Foz Meadows for more in-depth commentary, but the short version is that a bad review isn’t bullying. Hating a book isn’t bullying. The fact that someone doesn’t like your work doesn’t make you a victim. (On the other hand, outing, harassing, and slandering various reviewers, as StGB has done in the past…)

But this isn’t a post about Stop the Goodreads Bullies. This is me trying to sort out when nasty reviews actually do cross the line into bullying and harassment.

It started with a post by author Laura Mixon about the individual best known by the online moniker Requires Hate, recently revealed to be writing under the name Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Mixon describes RH as “a controversial rage-blogger,” which seems pretty accurate.

A lot of what RH blogged about were reviews. For example, her review of Throne of the Crescent Moon (an award-winning novel I quite enjoyed), notes, “This is incompetent writing” and “We are neck-deep in shitty romance tropes.” Harsh, definitely. As the author, I’d cringe a lot to read a review like that. But it doesn’t strike me as bullying. This was a review, and reviews aren’t about the author. They’re for readers. It isn’t like she was standing outside his window screaming that he was a lousy writer.

Likewise, when she reviewed Paolo Bacigalupi’s work by saying things like, “For a shit-crust topping on the shit-cake, have a gander at what Bacigagaga wrote in 1999,” it comes across as nasty. I find mocking Bacigalupi’s name particularly mean-spirited and childish. But is it bullying? I don’t think so. Not quite … it’s a review, not a directed attack at Bacigalupi personally.

But what happens when RH ends her review with a call to action, saying, “Spread the word that Paolo Bacigalupi is a raging racist fuck. Let him be hurt, let him bleed, pound him into the fucking ground.” I assume the threat is metaphorical, not literal, but it’s still a rallying cry to directly attack and harm the author.

Or when she attacks a transgender gamer with lines like, “Dear SMA, our trannies generally look much better and classier than you. Even the pre-op ones don’t look half as mannish and buttfuck-ugly.”

Or Tweeting an author that he should be flayed alive, dismembered, and burned with acid.

Or attacking a reader for liking a book she disapproved of.

There’s a fair amount in Mixon’s report that I hadn’t been aware of. Some of it is documented with links and screenshots. Other pieces are anonymous, or not yet sourced. I’ve seen RH becoming a topic of conversation in SF/F circles since she and Benjanun Sriduangkaew were revealed to be the same person, and RH posted a public apology. I expect that conversation to get much more intense as Mixon’s evidence and allegations come out.

I think it’s worth checking out Mixon’s report. I also think it’s worth recognizing the difference between a harsh review and outright bullying. Between the tone argument and active, malicious harassment. As a community, we kind of suck at this stuff. People overreact to negative reviews, then ignore harassment that goes on for years. (I’m thinking of Jim Frenkel here, among others.)

I think we all — myself included — need to do a better job of distinguishing between an angry or negative review and outright bullying/harassment. The former is inevitable, even healthy. People are allowed to be angry, to hate things we’ve written, to criticize us for our words or our actions they disagree with. But the latter needs to be recognized, called out, and challenged.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 79 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 6th, 2014 01:32 pm (UTC)
I am so damned tired of mean people.
Nov. 6th, 2014 09:30 pm (UTC)
But being nasty for a cause that people agree with is...yeah just nasty.
Nov. 6th, 2014 02:04 pm (UTC)
I've been aware of winterfox for years, primarily because she's cut a destructive swath through several communities on my radar. Just reading her apology under Requires Hate, I might have been willing to believe that she was truly sorry. But when you look at it next to the apology published under her professional name? It's full of deflection (she had a stalker! She's nowhere near as bad as Kathleen Hale or Gamergate! She didn't know she was hurting people!) all my willingness to believe her goes up in a puff of smoke. She's always been a manipulator; now she's just adding seeming niceness to her stable of tools.
Nov. 6th, 2014 02:57 pm (UTC)
Same here. It's been immensely frustrating over the years to try and explain to people I know and respect that winterfox has always been a manipulative bully who is very, very good at latching on to whatever trend in communication is most popular at the moment and exploiting it. She's used the same sort of bullying behavior that has earned many people permanent black marks on their internet record, but caught on early that social justice circles were ripe for her brand of hate. I remember many years ago when she was at the forefront of disseminating the tone argument as a shield for herself and other abusers (like Riley/GiseiNashiNi/smallblackangel/crackerhell/spoodypoo). It was deeply upsetting then, and more so when her Requires Hate persona became popular, in large part because she was using very valid tools of social justice work to poison the waters. And because of the tools she was using, very few people were willing to question her intentions.
(no subject) - swan_tower - Nov. 6th, 2014 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tooth_and_claw - Nov. 6th, 2014 05:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 6th, 2014 03:28 pm (UTC)
I think bad reviews could be bullying if one person was essentially following another one around telling them they sucked* and the person being harassed in such a manner felt realistically unable to escape and somehow overpowered.**

I also think that writers and artists need to either be emotionally impervious to the not always pleasant comments of strangers or need to know how to walk away.

*As a writer/artist or in a more personal way because the truth is most creators view their creations as an extension of themselves and most people know that.

**If the person doing it was a popular editor say... or a close personal "friend". A lot of emotional abuse is of the small, water-drop variety that doesn't look like much from the outside, but has a corrosive effect over time.
Nov. 6th, 2014 03:30 pm (UTC)
Well, it's not like this is news. I'm glad someone has made such a comprehensive report, with as many links as can be found after all the deletion.

On the other hand, the vitriol and glee with which people have been tearing her down in the last few weeks hasn't been especially pretty to watch. I know that people are frustrated that they haven't been believed about abuse, for years, and there's a certain inevitable opening of the floodgates, but it's gotten pretty vicious in some spaces. It's kind of at the point where I'm watching a lot of people attack a woman of colour because she shouldn't have attacked women of colour. Again, not about the report you linked to.

I'm also 100% not on board with people willy nilly outing pseuds, no matter who they are. That, to me, seems to violate some pretty basic parts of online community ethics.
Nov. 6th, 2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
I was aware of bits and pieces, but not the full extent, only some of which has been documented and posted in that report, as I understand it.

I think some of the same things I talked about in the post apply from both sides. What's the line between calling someone out as a harasser, or stating that certain things are over the line and unacceptable behavior in my community, and actively attacking/harassing in return. Most of what I've seen has felt like the former, but I'm aware I'm not seeing all of the conversations.
(no subject) - muccamukk - Nov. 6th, 2014 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marlowe1 - Nov. 6th, 2014 09:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - evewithanapple - Nov. 7th, 2014 12:12 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 7th, 2014 12:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - muccamukk - Nov. 7th, 2014 04:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 7th, 2014 02:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 6th, 2014 03:47 pm (UTC)
Anything that's not unconditional praise is bullying? When did authors become such fragile flowers?

If that's true, then "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" is the ULTIMATE in bullying. It also happens to be one of the funniest things Mark Twain wrote

Nov. 6th, 2014 03:49 pm (UTC)
Can't tell if you're trolling or just didn't read the blog post, but nobody here is saying anything remotely close to that.
(no subject) - nihilistic_kid - Nov. 6th, 2014 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 6th, 2014 04:00 pm (UTC)
Sorry meant as response to first comment rather than post -apologies
There is a lot to be said for not saying anything on the internet or twitter about another person or their work that you wouldn't be prepared to say if the person concerned was standing in front of you.

It's perfectly possible to be critical without being rude.

Yes, we all have a right to get angry but perhaps there are worthier targets than genre writers, most of whom earn less than minimum wage from their writing?

Perhaps the right to get angry also needs to be balanced with the responsibility of considering the impact of that anger on other people ?

If someone considers that their right to vent is more important than their target's feelings, then perhaps they need to work a bit harder on seeing other people as people.

If we can't police ourselves, we really will end up with stupid laws like the current UK proposal to jail internet trolls for up to two years.

Edited at 2014-11-06 04:01 pm (UTC)
Nov. 6th, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
Perhaps the right to get angry also needs to be balanced with the responsibility of considering the impact of that anger on other people ?

This. We are all responsible for our own actions. Being angry at someone or something is not a valid excuse for behaving badly and harming others ourselves.

Edited to fix typo

Edited at 2014-11-06 10:47 pm (UTC)
UK Law - ms_cataclysm - Nov. 6th, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: UK Law - starcat_jewel - Nov. 6th, 2014 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: UK Law - ms_cataclysm - Nov. 6th, 2014 10:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2014 04:20 pm (UTC)
I think that negative reviews can rise to the level of bullying all by themselves, but only if the reviewer makes an effort in that direction. Posting an honest review of a book you don't like or that makes you angry in a few places where you commonly post reviews, both good and bad, isn't bullying. Posting it 50 times might be, particularly if you don't regularly review books in those places. Following the author around on the internet and posting your bad review everywhere the author appears is stalking and might be bullying as well.
Nov. 6th, 2014 04:34 pm (UTC)
Well, damn. I've read a few things by Benjanun Sriduangkaew that absolutely blew me away. Now I'll never be able to read them again without thinking about this. What a shame that someone who's such a good writer is also such a nasty human being.
Nov. 6th, 2014 04:43 pm (UTC)
I read the 'report' and it leaves me deeply uneasy. Not because of RH - I'm aware of the situation, I've read a lot of the posts/tweets in question (and have my own thoughts on them); most of it isn't new.

What concerns me is the framing as an independent, scientific examination of a situation, and a public service of reporting the truth (with tables and diagrams); posted as individual opinion while namedropping SF credentials (including marriage to SFWA-president) left, right, and center.

Everything is presented as 'facts', collaborated by several sources, ignoring that the list of victims includes multiple vicious reviews, outright attacks, and relatively mild snark ('throw acid in his face' - whether one reads it as hyperbole or not - is not the same as 'care to look up White Woman's Tears?' [both paraphrased as I don't want to read the whole thing again right now]).

We should not be talking about RH, much less speculating about her mental health or identity. We should be talking about issues like outing pseudonyms, posting confidential information, a network of whispers asking editors and conventions not to work with this person or that; we should talk as much about why a single person takes it upon them to create a 'report' on an individual in the first place and why they invite [the community] to 'decide what (if anything) should be done about her' as we should talk about why some of our communities are so fragile that a single person (with or without a number of supporters) can singlehandedly ruin them. (I'm not trying to minimise harm to individuals; but why weren't more people speaking up? Why aren't they? And by 'speaking up' I don't mean attacking the attackers; I mean saying 'that is not ok' and building safer spaces.)

There's a lot more wrong with the SF community than one single person, whatever she may (or may not) have done. Focusing all ire upon her, and pretending that everything will be wonderful if we shun her/throw her out/make sure she never publishes again/whatever is, in my opinion, more toxic than telling people they're shitstains that deserve [hyperbole retracted].

Nov. 6th, 2014 04:50 pm (UTC)
There's a lot more wrong with the SF community than one single person, whatever she may (or may not) have done. Focusing all ire upon her, and pretending that everything will be wonderful if we shun her/throw her out/make sure she never publishes again/whatever is, in my opinion, more toxic than telling people they're shitstains that deserve [hyperbole retracted].

Can you show me where Mixon claimed that would be the case? I did not read her report in that light at all, and I doubt anybody imagines that discussing and dealing with this single situation will lead us to a magical utopia of harmony and kittens. I also think that talking only about "issues like outing pseudonyms, posting confidential information, a network of whispers asking editors and conventions not to work with this person or that," while divorcing it from the context of a specific long-running and serious problem that has inflicted documented harm upon our community, sweeps that harm under the rug and robs us of the chance to address it.
(no subject) - green_knight - Nov. 6th, 2014 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - David Wilford - Nov. 6th, 2014 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bigherman - Nov. 7th, 2014 06:21 am (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 6th, 2014 04:49 pm (UTC)
I think Mixon's report would be greatly helped if she separated out the bad reviews from the Requires Hate blog and instances on stalking/trolling/harassment on twitter, in comments, forums, etc. Bad reviews, even over the top viciously worded and personally insulting bad reviews, have a long history.

I actually followed that blog and RH on twitter for a while, because the reviews had a perspective so very different from my own that I found it valuable to read them, even if I at times disagreed with them.

But it's the trolling, stalking, sock-puppet accounts that all makes it a bit harder to take, especially the 10-year history Winterfox allegations.

I've been very much on the fence about this, but RHs recent conflicts with Rochita Loenen-Ruiz http://rcloenenruiz.com/2014/11/06/standing-up-and-speaking-truth/ and the possible 10-year history of trolling in the Mixon report make it a lot harder to take. However, I know Nick Mamatas disputes the thoroughness of the Mixon report ( https://twitter.com/NMamatas/status/530373742938296320 ).

It's wearying trying to make sense of it.

Nov. 6th, 2014 06:04 pm (UTC)
Considering that Mamatas outed her in the first place, and then more or less pointed and laughed at the resulting wank, I'm not holding his word on this situation in too high esteem.
(no subject) - scottakennedy - Nov. 6th, 2014 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - muccamukk - Nov. 6th, 2014 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
As a survivor of abuse as a child, psychological and verbal and emotional, I can say there's one thing in this that makes my perspective a little different.

As a kid I could NOT convince people of the experience of living in my home. I didn't have the language and even when I finally got it, it took a long time to realize the distinction I had to make for other people.

For myself it wasn't an Event. It was a Trend. It was little things over and over and over and over and over.

Reviews. I get that a negative review is sometimes just a cigar. But sometimes using a negative review as a "but I'm just reviewing the work" can, in fact be bullying. I think almost any situation can be turned this way.

Not saying in this case it was so, but as for what you wrote, Jim, that's one point I think needs a bit of finessing on a regular basis because it's possible to subvert any social interaction to bully another person.

Which brings up an issue I also bang my head against desks over. Possibility is not "this is a bad thing, we must burn it, salt the ashes and never let anything grow in its place again..." Possibility is something we can safeguard against. Baby, bathwater. Etc.
Nov. 6th, 2014 08:09 pm (UTC)
I always go back to the concept of "how many people do you have to demean, brutalize, abuse and keep down to feel good about yourself every day?"

Nov. 6th, 2014 08:09 pm (UTC)
Secondary thought
After reading thru several posts, it occurred to me that given the online history of the person being identified as RH/BS, and the sheer number of sockpuppets which have been traced back to that source... how can I even be sure that the person whose work I read and liked, the person I voted #1 for the Campbell Award on the basis of that work, is the same person we're discussing here? Honestly, it almost sounds like a persona being run by a committee!

Has anyone actually met RH/BS in person? I'd be tempted to think "persona management software", except that apparently some of the sockpuppets predate the availability of that.
Nov. 6th, 2014 09:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Secondary thought
Re: Secondary thought - bigherman - Nov. 7th, 2014 06:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2014 08:53 pm (UTC)
Personally, I'm comfortable saying rape and death threats are far over the line (and how sad is it that this has to be stated), but also that it seems like a problem to me in any instance where the hate and hurt being flung reaches beyond the intended target. What constitutes bullying is a difficult line to draw, and I'm aware that I'm taking the easy way out by not trying... but what constitutes bigotry and hatred of the sort that a disprivileged minority should know better than to hand out is a little more straightforward. If she wouldn't like having insults on her race and appearance aimed at her, perhaps it should not be that difficult to figure out that she's also way over the line in dishing those up about other groups.

And that's my mealymouthed way of saying that I'm going to have to trigger-warning this discussion for my wife, who is trans and has previously considered herself friends with the BS persona. That crap is flat-out transphobia, and even the self-defense/punching up justification won't excuse it.
Nov. 6th, 2014 09:17 pm (UTC)
I got bullied in my fanffic writing days, about 12-14 years ago. I could take the criticism, but then it turned into stalking, harassing, and trolling. I didn't write again for about three or four years.
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