SXSW and Reddit’s Introspection Problem

SXSW and Reddit’s Introspection Problem

This weekend, I attended my first SXSW, as I was asked to be on a panel with Farhad Manjoo and Adrien Chen about the highs and lows of Reddit. All of us use Reddit on a daily basis, though Adrien and I have been vocally critical of some aspects of the site, while Farhad is mostly positive about it. To balance things out, Farhad invited Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, but he dropped out, so it was just the three of us.

The session was recorded (audio only, I believe), but there’s no word on when it’ll be released as part of a SXSW podcast. Until then, you’ll have to make do with recaps like this one on Buzzfeed (which has 2 minutes of Q&A video), or the one I’m about to give.

We began by asking the audience about their familiarity with Reddit. It was a large crowd (I’m terrible at guessing numbers, but maybe 300? The auditorium was packed to standing room only, with people sitting in the aisles and along the walls), and easily 90-95% said they had used Reddit or were familiar with the site. A small handful of 5-10 people raised their hands to claim no familiarity with Reddit.

Each panelist discussed a noteworthy moment in Reddit’s recent history. Farhad discussed the good that Reddit did in helping stop SOPA; Adrien discussed his exposure of Violentacrez and the shutdown of Reddit’s incredibly popular r/jailbait forum, where (mostly) adult men shared and masturbated over sexualized images of teen and pre-teen girls that were ripped from Facebook accounts and sometimes hacked online photo albums.

I discussed two events, both of which I see as two sides of the same coin. First, I talked about Redditors’ rightful skepticism of the Kony2012 campaign, showing how they were able to take an overly simplified video and add much needed context. After the video’s launch, Reddit was pretty quickly filled with links to detailed breakdowns of Invisible Children and upvoted comments from people who were actually on the ground in Uganda working on the problem of child soldiers.

Then I discussed how the Reddit “hivemind’s” skepticism can easily turn to hyperskepticism with poor results, particularly when it comes to women. As an example, I pointed to the case of “theoculus,” a user who posted a photo of a bruise on her face along with the title, “I was sexually assaulted in the early evening while wearing jeans and a t-shirt in a “safe” residential neighbourhood in Toronto. This is what he did to my face. Only rapists cause rape.”

Theocolus was inundated with accusations that she was lying. Skeptical commenters pointed out that she once posted photos of some zombie makeup, and she had also previously posted a comic about someone blaming sexual assaults on provocative clothing. She received death threats and rape threats, and her posts and comments were downvoted en masse. To try to placate the Redditors, she posted a video of herself scrubbing at the bruise with a washcloth, but that just encouraged a new round of people calling her a liar.

Eventually, she deleted her account.

The panel then moved on to discussing where Reddit came from, how it differed from other forums and communities, and how its features have impacted both the internal community and the outside world.

On that last point, I talked a bit about how I think that Reddit’s shared values of “freedom of speech” and anonymity combine with the “karma” voting system to create an ideal environment for the proliferation and normalization of bigotry and hate. I showed screenshots that I grabbed from just the previous few days of posts on r/ShitRedditSays, with credit given and a brief detour for us to talk about whether the existence of a self-critical subreddit like SRS is cause for hope (my answer being “no,” because SRS is popularly seen by other Redditors not as a helpful part of Reddit but as a hateful, misguided, humorless, and occasionally dangerous outside threat, an idea that supports my forthcoming point that Redditors hate and resist criticism). I pointed out that the karma system resulted in bigoted ideas being not just tolerated but rewarded, sometimes by people thinking they were being edgy and ironic and sometimes by actual hate groups like Stormfront, a racist forum that encourages users to game Reddit so that their ideology is represented prominently.

We had a lot we wanted to talk about, but we only had one hour, total, and we all agreed that we really wanted time for Q&A. With about 15 minutes left to go, Farhad invited audience members to a microphone to ask a question. A long line formed rather quickly, and the first man at the mic began by introducing himself as Alan Schaaf, the owner of Imgur, the image sharing website that has become gargantuan thanks entirely to Reddit, and which, like Reddit, has had child pornography problems of its own. He pulled out his phone and started reading a list of good things Redditors had done in the past.

I love audience Q&A, because it gives the audience a chance to interact with the panelists and ask a question that leads the discussion into a direction that particularly interests them. What I don’t like is when audience members fail to ask a question, and instead take up valuable time to discuss their personal philosophies or to filibuster.

After listening to Alan’s list for a bit, I interrupted in order to acknowledge that we all agree that Reddit does great things, and I said I had a question for him (because again, Q&A is great because of interaction). Before I could ask it, he went back to reading his list, speaking over me to do it (with an audible gasp from the audience). After a few moments, I interrupted him again to point out that yes, we could list good deeds and bad deeds all night, but for what cause? Does the good, no matter if it’s a fundraiser for a kid with cancer or a Secret Santa gift exchange, negate the bigotry? Alan seemed to agree with me that it does not, but he explained that he felt the panel would have benefited from some Reddit users.

His complaint got applause, which seemed very odd to me as the applause drowned out my attempt to remind them that as we said at the start, all the panelists are daily Reddit users. And as Farhad pointed out at the start, he had invited Ohanian to be on the panel. But ultimately, Alan was never able to make clear how his list added to the discussion other than to serve as some kind of public relations balance to the negative aspects we had discussed. It was ultimately pointless, since we had covered several of Reddit’s benefits and the vast, vast majority of the audience was already well-familiar with the site, so there was little chance that we were going to unfairly poison them against it.

There were a few other Redditors in line who clearly took issue with our criticisms, and yet they weren’t able to come up with a single provocative question among them. One man’s attempt was to literally ask us if we preferred the censorship of China to the free speech of the US, and all I could do was thank him for illustrating the Reddit hivemind’s embarrassing ignorance of what constitutes free speech. Farhad pointed out to him the simple fact that website moderation is better compared to the rules and customs of polite society than governmental censorship. For instance, the man hadn’t shouted his question out in the middle of our panel or he probably would have been removed. Instead, he politely waited his turn at the microphone during Q&A. That’s not “censorship.”

It was either that man or another who suggested the old “the only way to combat speech you don’t like is with more speech,” and as an example he said that there could be a SXSW panel devoted to sharing jailbait pictures while at the same time another panel could be a sexual assault victims’ support group. Yes, that was said. With a straight face.

The poor reasoning abilities of the Redditors was my only disappointment in the panel. I would have loved an intelligent discussion with people who disagreed with our criticisms, but they proved incapable of having it. I don’t think it’s because of lack of knowledge – I suspect the SXSW crowd is well-educated and rather accomplished, in general. Instead, I assume it’s because of a blindness that results when people identify so strongly with a community that they cannot abide fair criticism, even from those who would also consider themselves a part of that community.

What would an ideal question have been, in my mind? How about this: “Reddit has done a lot of good in terms of fundraising and awareness-raising. Is it possible to have a site that can accomplish that without also having the rampant bigotry?”

“Is there any kind of rule that could be instituted on Reddit that would prevent morally repugnant ideas like r/beatingwomen, r/jailbait, r/nazi, and r/creepshots without also preventing “blasphemous” ideas that may have value?”

“Is there a way to provide a forum to discuss bigoted ideas without reinforcing and normalizing those ideas?”

“Is it even possible to institute effective and thoughtful moderation site-wide on a site as large and diverse as Reddit? Who would train those mods? Who would pay them? Who would oversee them?”

“Do efforts like r/ShitRedditSays help by pointing out bigotry, or is it ultimately pointless because they have a rule against upvoting or downvoting posts? If everyone on SRS downvoted the bigotry they saw, would it make Reddit a better place?”

“What should Reddit’s – or any forum’s – responsibility be for policing what users do with private messages (considering that users of r/Jailbait were using the PM system to exchange actual child porn)?”

One woman during Q&A did ask a question I found genuinely interesting and would have loved to discuss more, which was basically about the bigotry that exists in our culture as a whole and how that impacts what appears on Reddit, and that could lead into an interesting discussion on whether or not Reddit is, in a way, inevitable.

But we couldn’t dig into her question, because by the time she asked it, 3/4 of the Q&A had been spent on lists of Reddit’s wins and insipid free speech metaphors.

So that was that, and the time was up before we even knew it.

Word got out immediately, apparently, that we had been critical of Reddit and specifically that some girl had had the audacity to interrupt the great and powerful Imgur guy. Now, the harassment I get daily has continued more or less unabated ever since I had the audacity to give guys advice on propositioning women at conferences two years ago. But it did seem to me there has been a bit of an uptick in the number of people I’ve blocked ever since the panel.* Here are a few examples:

https://twitter.com/VidkunQuisling1/status/311122009222434816

Note that the last one isn’t even properly addressed to me. It’s another woman who goes by “Beccie,” which is apparently close enough to the “Becky” many of my harassers call me in some bizarre attempt to be belittling. Apparently this isn’t the first time Beccie has had to deal with my angry fans.

As a side note, there was also this hilariously strange non sequiter on Austinist:

Rebecca Watson is a false rape accuser.

At one point, my friend (and new School of Doubt contributor!) Paul Robinson told me “Just reverted some vandalism on your WIkipedia page. Wasn’t the first and won’t be the last.” I made the horrible mistake of mentioning it in a Tweet. A taste of the response:

Now that I’m home, I just had a chance to look at my Wiki page history and sure enough, someone first made a minor edit to minimize Skepchick, and then a few hours later someone added in the fact that I’m “an insufferable cunt.” As Paul suggested and as the Wiki page history makes clear, this isn’t exactly new or clever. It is, though, worth mentioning when discussing how Redditors deal with criticism. Apparently, they deal with it in the same way that misogynist atheists and skeptics do (possibly in part because of the overlap between those groups): by shouting down, derailing, and bullying the critics.

When chatting with Adrien Chen after the panel, we hit on a point that I really wish we’d explored more thoroughly on stage: namely, how Reddit’s elevation of “free speech” over thoughtful moderation does lead to a silencing (and therefore a kind of censorship) of minority opinions. We went into it a little bit on the panel – I mentioned that if Skepchick comments were unmoderated, they would be invaded and a few angry anti-feminists would dominate every conversation. We’ve seen this happen on Reddit: r/feminism is moderated by anti-feminist Men’s Rights Activists, and r/TwoXChromosomes is regularly stormed by MRAs crying “But what about the men?” while feminists who tell them off get banned. Thanks to good moderation, commenters on Skepchick and in stricter subreddits like r/SRSWomen or r/AskScience are able to have interesting, wide ranging, and occasionally heated discussions without rape jokes and racist memes derailing the conversation.

But, it would have been great to draw the parallels between censorship and forums where the loudest voice wins.

Ultimately, though, the panel was worthwhile, and I very much enjoyed talking both on and off-stage with Farhad and Adrien, and with many of the people who came out. If anyone is considering a similar panel in the future, I’d recommend – drumroll please – more moderation of the Q&A. I noticed that during the SXSW keynote with Elon Musk, questions were written down so the more interesting ones could be chosen and asked as appropriate. That seemed to work well, but I suppose to some Redditors, they may as well have hosted that talk in a Beijing bureaucrat’s office.

*Interesting (perhaps just to me) side note: This weekend on Twitter a comment appeared in my replies: “@saramayhew Why dont you just ask @rebeccawatson directly about this and about the redditor statment before going too far?” While I’ve had Sara blocked for some time now, I must admit, my interest was piqued. I found that she had retweeted several libelous comments suggesting I was making anti-Semitic remarks at SXSW, and further that she had been Tweeting about me almost constantly, even including my username in her Tweets despite the fact that she knew I had blocked her. When I logged out of Twitter in order to compile the list of Tweets above, I realized this was also true of others I blocked long ago, like @AmbrosiaX, who had continued to Tweet obsessively about me despite being blocked and receiving no feedback. I’m still often told that if I don’t want to be harassed, I just have to ignore the bullies, so I mention this to once again drive home the fact that ignoring them does not make them go away. It just means that unless I click a few additional buttons, I don’t see people like Sara Mayhew spreading libelous information about me. Now that the above list is compiled, I’m going to log back in and once again enjoy the peace and quiet of a Twitter feed full of smart and intelligent people, but the hatred and the bile does not cease to exist simply because I’m blocking 99% of it from my view. I still believe the best way to combat it is to call it out and embarrass the people who are doing it.

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

90 Comments

  1. Q&A panels should be able to invoke cloture on questioners who take up too much time or have no real/substantive question. Especially in situations like this where assholes will invariably try to derail Q&A =/

    A semi-random question: is anyone planning on attending TAM this year? I’ve heard the speakers’ list, um…I guess I could say ‘leaves much to be desired’?

    • I feel as if TAM got a bit too big for its britches, as it were, and people are moving on to other venues. It’s just not the same. And I’ve never been! But from what I can tell, it just doesn’t seem the same.

  2. “Reddit has done a lot of good in terms of fundraising and awareness-raising. Is it possible to have a site that can accomplish that without also having the rampant bigotry?”

    Yes, it’s called Something Awful. A lot of the SRS mods are SA Goons.

    I stay far away from reddit because of the lack of true moderation.

    • I’d second this. As a long-time veteran of forums, SA is the only one where a real discussion between opposing viewpoints can happen. Yes there are still Trolls, but the paywall and relatively heavy moderation make for a readable, active, and enjoyable discussion board. Putting up real money to get through the door ($10.00 USD) discourages frequent and repetitive trolling that happens on Reddit.

    • agreed, and also agreed with kilted_canuck about the :10bux: entry fee being part of the reason. The Debate & Discussion forum on SA manages to balance an open discussion with community-led support of things like intersectionality.

  3. Thanks for the write up, interesting and somewhat depressing as nothing is going to change… Especially with the fools on Twitter!

    WTF is up with Sara Mayhew? I blogged about her attempted smear of Elyse, got to win worst attempted smear evar!

  4. I didn’t know r/feminism was moderated by MRAs. I’ve never read it (SRSWomen instead). It’s like how r/lesbians is just lesbian porn so the place lesbians go to talk is r/actuallesbians. I think it would be awesome if the two were switched for a day and all the straight men looking for porn then got a board full of lesbians discussing dating and relationship issues :p.

    • I didn’t know that either, r/SRSWomen is only for women, which doesn’t make it a good substitute for r/feminism. I did discover there is a metareddit r/OCCUPYFEMINISM which gives this helpful list:

      Notable feminist subs under MRA control:
      /r/feminism
      /r/meta_feminism
      /r/askfeminists
      Notable feminist subs run by actual feminists:
      /r/feminisms
      /r/metafeminism
      /r/meta_meta_feminism
      /r/wherearethefeminists
      /r/SRSFeminism
      /r/SRSWomen (reddit’s only women-only sub)

      Another reform, as a redditor, I think would make the site much better. Some sort of mechanism to boot off mods who don’t represent the community or potential community, the same thing has happened to several reddit channels, for instance /r/Catholic is run by anti-Catholic trolls. This really is a big problem, as someone who comes to reddit for the first time will have no idea that they have to look up Catholicism instead of Catholic, and as such will be driven off reddit. Looking forward to listening when they release the mp3.

  5. I visit reddit every so often to see some interesting links, in fact I contemplated joining, that is until I got a glimpse of the racism that seems embedded in that community. Thanks to r/shitredditsays I was able to see the horrible side that website had to offer, I mean you can’t even show a picture of black man without someone commenting with a link to r/blackfathers (not to mention the fact that the subreddit exist solely to tell a shitty racist joke) and then seeing that comment getting hundreds of upvotes. I feel like that website is solely for straight white dudebros, and with me being a minority, that under current of racism just makes me feel uncomfortable having any kind of discussion there.

    Also I’d like to add that I prefer the Skepchick community and its “Chinese” style censorship over reddit any day, it allows me to have a place where I don’t see shitty racist, misogynist, or homophobic comments being celebrated.

  6. I assume it’s because of a blindness that results when people identify so strongly with a community that they cannot abide fair criticism, even from those who would also consider themselves a part of that community.

    QFT. If I didn’t know this was from a post about Reddit, I’d say this was written about many segments of the skeptic community!

    • Second.

    • Or gamers, or Magic the Gathering players, or any forum peopled by straight, white geeks with persecution complexes.

  7. I still believe the best way to combat it is to call it out and embarrass the people who are doing it.

    Yup. That’s why I do it…even though it doesn’t always do wonders for my mood.

  8. I’m on Reddit a lot, but it’s mostly for the memes, cats, and news links. It does live up to its potential from time to time, with different perspectives learning from each other, but since it’s the Internet, the good stuff gets shouted down by trolls a lot. However, the A Song of Ice and Fire subreddit has some lively discussion that’s given me much new insight about the series and it should be noted gave a pretty good reception to the defense of Sansa Stark article http://feministfiction.com/2012/05/10/in-defense-of-sansa-stark/. Plus, the Borderlands 2 forum has good info (Shift Codes, etc) for anyone who plays the game. As for TAM, I didn’t need Skepchick to tell me that Michael Shermer is a callous, pretentious ass and that the JREF has been overrun by objectivists, it’s one of the reasons I stopped being involved in skepticism in the mid-aughts. They both do a lot of good work, but it may be time to move on.

    • Hey did you need me to tell you that?

      • No, he’s done a great job by himself. Actually the incident that led me away from skepticism was listening to James Randi’s Podcast when Shermer was a guest. He was talking about a faith healer he was investigating and a conversation he overheard between two women, one of which was worried about the fact that her illness wasn’t getting better. The upshot was that the other woman told her it was because she hadn’t given enough money to this guy’s “church” despite giving about a quarter of her income. Both of them started laughing and Shermer made a “Sometimes I don’t know why I even try to help these people” type comment. I felt bad for the poor woman, but they both just seemed to have contempt for her. They just moved on to the next topic, which I think was dowsing. I didn’t really want to be associated with skepticism if they were they people leading it. Obviously, I’ve made my way back into the fold and found more like-minded people rather than put up with jerks.

        • Ouch. Likewise.

          (Also, I resist the whole idea that anyone is “leading” skepticism. In his enraged response to me Shermer mentioned a “witch hunt against our most prominent leaders” – as if anyone had voted for any “leaders” and as if prominence should confer immunity to criticism. Blarf.)

  9. danimal_j here. Thanks for the shout out.

    I will concede a few things here:

    1. I have no idea who you are or what you do prior to the SXSW panel, the YouTube video I saw and some links to things you and Adrian said that, to me, seemed like justification for people taking issue with y’all leading a panel. However, I can recognize those things would likely need more context for me to come to any sort of conclusion.

    2. The feedback I saw was all skewed against the panel and it seemed, based on internet buzz, that things went badly.

    3. I have been a Reddit user for 6 months. My time there has been mostly spent in forums about Batman, Breaking Bad, Movie discussion, Relationship advice and Ask Me Anything posts. Every now and then I see a funny photo or a meme posted for the 4,582nd time. I don’t delve into the “dark spaces” of Reddit, so my interaction there is probably also a little skewed and in need of greater context.

    4. I have a sister with a terminal disease. Adrian Chen is deplorable for ever pretending to have one in an effort to trick people into giving him the quotes he needed for his next irrelevant Gawker article. If anything, you just happened to be sitting next to the bad guy and drew some peripheral shrapnel fire from me.

    That said, I made an off-the-cuff, tongue-in-cheek remark about the negative buzz surrounding the panel itself. Does this constitute harassment? Does blocking me in the off chance I ever acknowledge a complete stranger on Twitter again accomplish anything other than lending hyperbole to your article and giving the audience a sense of you vs. the internet world?

    I will make an effort to read your blog, see your viewpoints, gain some understanding about where you are coming from in terms of social interaction both in an online and offline medium. At the end of the day, we are all people with opinions and the best thing we can do is lend an ear and open mind to what the other person has to say. I know how brave it is to put yourself out there, and I just got off the phone with someone who said you elicit a lot of comments from people threatening to kill and rape you. I would gladly visit the homes of those individuals and risk jail time to punch them squarely in the nose for you. Don’t lump me in with the miscreants. I hope that one joke meant to get a chuckle on Twitter doesn’t close you off from getting some context yourself and realising I and possibly others are not really out to get you. As a former student (as in I paid for and clocked the college credit hours) of Women’s History and Feminist studies, we may actually have a lot in common.

    Lastly, for what it’s worth, I apologise if my comments lent any derision to or undermined the work, time, and effort you put into making a relevant panel where people could civilly discuss something popular in the tech world. It’s not small accomplishment that you achieved something and garnered a lot of interest, and I hope you are proud of the work you did and got something good out of your time in our beautiful city.

    Sincerely,
    @Danimal_j

    • Maybe you should understand a situation fully before making “off the cuff comments” based off of clear ?bias and, well, I was going to say “shoddy information” but it appears you really had NO information…??

      Maybe instead of lecturing Rebecca, you need to focus on yourself and why you felt the need to form and ?then publicly state an opinion before you had any knowledge of the events.?

      You mean you formed an opinion about a woman and then brushed her off before knowing what she was ?about or what she stood for? You mean you formed an opinion about a woman and then brushed her off ?publicly before knowing the full situation??

      WHY I NEVER!?

      I don’t know you from Adam, but if you want to prvent yourself from looking like a fool, I suggest doing ?some research before making comments about situations that 1)have nothing to do with you and 2)you ?already admit to knowing nothing about.?

      This is part of the larger point, Daniel. You do realize that, don’t you?

      • I came here to admit that I had a skewed viewpoint lacking in context, so I’m a little unsure why you feel to need to “come to the rescue” and repeat my own admissions in an effort to, essentially, beat a dead horse, or kick someone in a moment of humility. There was an apology on my part, in case you missed that at the end.

        I also stated I would cease any future behaviour and give Rebecca the time and respect she deserves to get to know her and her viewpoints better.

        So, maybe you could put down your internet beating stick and realise I’ve already made the concessions you seem to be further demanding from me.

        Thanks,
        @Danimal_J

        • That apology was burried around a tl;dr condesending lecture, and best yet, an offer to beat people up becuase clearly, we need your protection!

          My tone is matching yours pretty much exactly. That was part of my point. I’m giving you what you’re giving us. Don’t like it? Yeah, well, that’s not my problem.

          I hope that one joke meant to get a chuckle on Twitter doesn’t close you off from getting some context yourself and realising I and possibly others are not really out to get you.

          Oh, honey, Rebecca, sweetie, it was only a joke! Just a joke. Why can’t you take a joke?! Gosh, I’m not like all the others! I was just trying to be funny! I know I called you a fool and suggested that you were an alcoholic (who is also a fool!), but it was only a joke! Ha ha ha!

          Seriously, dude? I don’t fucking think so.

          You know, if you would have come in and said, “Obviously I did not have the full story, and the joke I attempted was really pathetic. I apologize, Rebecca! I will take some time to read up on the back story.”

          Or something equally as simple and direct… Then you’d be getting a different response from me.

          But you didn’t.

          Instead of just owning up to your mistake, you give us some condsending lecture, with tons of excuses (I didn’t know the full story! I was just trying to be funny! I am really a nice guy! I am totally a feminist! Trust me! I know all you have to go on is my awful and sexist joke because of the completely skewed, one-sided and sexist information I had available! But I’m totally a feminist! Trust me!

          Yeah, don’t be surprised if I we don’t trust you when you call yourself a feminist.

          • I know this really isn’t adding anything to the discussion, but I really want to buy you a beer for your responses to this guy.

          • If you’re going to be at the American Atheist Convention in Austin, then you totally can! Or if you live in the Phoenix area! (Free beer! :D)

            Thanks, Chris.

            I just really dislike half-assed apologies, especially when they are burried beneath a bunch of mansplaining. Why couldn’t he have just apologized for his stupid comment and be done with it? Why all the escuses?

            But it didn’t take him long to call Rebecca “defensive”. Does he think we’re not privy to these dog whistles or something? LOL

      • Additionally, there was no opinion formed on my end about the person that Rebecca is. Again, I pointed out that my comment was solely in response to hearing that the panel went badly. How that translates into a character assassination to you, I am unsure of.

        • But you do sure think she’s always being defensive, dontcha?

    • ?

      I would gladly visit the homes of those individuals and risk jail time to punch them squarely ?in the nose for you.

      ?

      And way to miss the point. We are not in need of your protection, Daniel. You say you were a member of ??”Women’s History and Feminist studies” but that doesn’t mean you get to play the condescending white ?knight and offer to beat up the bad men for us. Seriously?!
      ?
      Oh, and yeah, before you get to it: I don’t care how polite you think you are being, thanks.

      • I am not sure how my comment comes across as condescending, I also don’t see how speaking out on someone’s behalf automatically places them in the “condescending white knight” category. If there an individuals consistently making disparaging remarks threatening the well-being of another individual, then there should be some sort of response from the community. You are overplaying the fact that my comments and disgust are being made about Rebecca, a female, while I am a male. Am I only allowed to aid and stand up for other men? Am I only allowed to stand up for and advocate for Rebecca if I am a woman, or do I do so as a man anyway and risk the petty comments you hurtle at me while doing what I feel is right?

        • You are overplaying the fact that my comments and disgust are being made about Rebecca, a female, while I am a male.

          Oh, I am? I see.

          Man, this conversation always comes to that, doesn’t it? What’s next? Am I being hysterical? You’re coming awful close to that, you know.

          Look, I was matching your tone. That’s it.

          And I REALLY dislike half-assed apologies wrapped up in poor excuses. But I’m a rather blunt and straight-forward person.

    • “That said, I made an off-the-cuff, tongue-in-cheek remark about the negative buzz surrounding the panel itself. Does this constitute harassment? Does blocking me in the off chance I ever acknowledge a complete stranger on Twitter again accomplish anything other than lending hyperbole to your article and giving the audience a sense of you vs. the internet world?”

      Blocking you in no way adds to any hyperbole.In fact, I don’t announce 99% of the people I block. Your comment and the others I’ve listed speak for themselves, regardless of whether or not I block you. I blocked you (and others) because I enjoy conversations with followers on Twitter and I highly value funny and interesting contributions. It sounds like you can see how calling me a fool when you obviously hadn’t even seen the panel (you posted it late Sunday/early Monday and said the panel had been that day when it was actually on Friday) would be a comment I’d find worthless. It costs me nothing to block the people who send me worthless comments. I have nothing to gain from waiting to see if the Tweeters who send them will have a change of heart and contribute something meaningful. I have everything to gain from thoughtfully curating the media I consume every day.

      Thanks for taking the time to write a thorough comment. I do appreciate it.

      • So what if one does have a change of heart? Do you acknowledge that, or is it always about going on the defensive with you?

        • Hi Daniel,
          What’s that got to do with anything? Life is short and there are an almost unending number of possible human interactions anyone could be enjoying, so please explain why someone like Rebecca should be prepared to give you (or anyone else) the time of day in allowing a second chance, when you behaved like a rude asshat in your first interaction with her? The social rule here is simple: you burnt that bridge, so you’re the one who needs to mend things. Given your only partially successful attempt at a response upthread it’s not obvious why Rebecca should be obliged hypothetically to acknowledge that you may have reformed and had ‘a change of heart’. Sheesh, get over your sense of entitlement.

        • or is it always about going on the defensive with you

          Hahahahaha. Your bias is showing, dude.

          Seriously? A “change of heart”? How could you have a change of heart when YOU ADMITTED that you didn’t even have the full story when you made your first comment?

          You’re spewing bullshit and I ain’t buying it.

          • *”first comment” really should be “when you made the tweet that Rebecca quoted.”

            I mean, dude. What did you have to change your heart FROM? Because from where I sit, you really had no reason to have an opinion to begin with. But you did. And it wasn’t particularly favorable to Rebecca, even though you lacked information.

            And now with the whole “gooosh, why are you always so defensiiiive”? whiny crap from you?

            Yeah.

            Somehow I question that change of heart.

        • No-one is obliged to give you a second chance after you were an asshat the first time. Apologising for being an asshat is the correct, polite thing to do but it does not entitle you to assume you deserve a second chance.

    • People have already been trying to engage with you, so I guess I shouldn’t belabor the point. But this apology:
      was it the kind of apology that exists because you want to make the other person feel better? Or the type that exists because you want to make further demands on the target of the apology?

      By your own admission, you insulted a stranger on the Internet for basically no reason. By all means apologize; but an apology is only real and meaningful if it comes with no strings attached, i.e. if you’re doing it sincerely and without expectation of any response. To expect a response-to feel you’re entitled to any specific response-means you think your offense should give you the power to place further obligations on the person you’ve offended, and that you think your apology gives you the right to be subsequently offended if it isn’t accepted gracefully enough.

      Offending people really shouldn’t give you further rights over them. That’s just not how this is supposed to work. It’s the height of unearned privilege to think that offending someone gives you further call over their behavior or that with the appropriate apology one’s offenses demand forgiveness. If you’ll pardon the metaphor, forgiveness comes from grace, not from works.

      Finally, I think you had a subsequent argument here: that your aggression was misinformed, and therefore shouldn’t be taken as evidence that people attack Rebecca for no reason. Now obviously not everybody is out to get her–but what lesson, exactly, is someone supposed to draw from the fact that she gets attacked by people who don’t know, or bother to learn, the facts? The record of what you did doesn’t really provide proof for that argument. If you don’t want to be lumped in with those miscreants, prove it with your actions. Don’t act in ways that are parallel to theirs.

      • So many likes and pluses and thumbs up . Fantastic.

        Not that he’s going to see this. Something tells me he is gone. We didn’t kiss his feet after his half-assed apology, after all.

  10. Random question marks brought to you by the very insecure Word.

    • Dude you have to stop pasting from Word! I don’t think I can fix that without having the comment system remove all formatting or something (though I will look into it eventually).

      • I keep forgetting! Hahaha. At home I have another program I can use, but I’m limited at work. Boo.

        • Maybe paste into NotePad first, to strip the formatting? That might do the trick. Web/Word formatting is such a pain…

          • Or WordPad; that also strips formatting.

          • I was trying to get spell checker. :P

  11. You continue to inspire me, keep on keepin on.

  12. Erm … what the frack is Sara Mayhew’s deal? I’m sure there’s a term for obsessively complaining about everything a particular person says, or constantly addressing them directly, even after it’s plain that the target is ignoring everything you say. What does Mayhew hope to accomplish with these near-daily incoherent tirades?

    • If I had to guess, she’s trying to impress skeptics who don’t like Rebecca because she thinks they’re the “cool clique.” She covers it up in the language of skepticism, but I think that’s the base motivation.

      I used to respect her, but now I think she’s just very childish.

      • So you think Mayhew’s daily hate-tweets are more or less her jumping a bandwagon – dogpiling onto an already beleaguered and reviled woman who was identified and targeted as an Offical Enemy years ago – to impress the cool kids? Sounds plausible – highly probable, in fact.

        Tell me again how this isn’t bullying? It would be if all involved were freakin’ fourteen years old and – oh, that’s right. It’s the internet, which is simply an abstract cloud of tubes and which is not at all comprised of real humans.

    • Been wondering this to me’self for awhile now.

  13. I have one correction for the article. You say that r/feminism is moderated by a team of MRAs but that’s only almost true.

    It’s moderated by a single MRA and his army of sock puppets.

  14. Rebecca, you are remarkably attractive, lovely to listen to, calm, rational and wise. Also, I lurv you. That is all.

  15. to answer your rhetorical question

    “Is there a way to provide a forum to discuss bigoted ideas without reinforcing and normalizing those ideas?”

    It depends on who is doing the discussing. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you”.

    When you observe ideas, your neuroanatomy self-modifies so as to be able to perceive and instantiate those ideas. If you look into the abyss, your pattern recognition neuroanatomy self-modifies so as to be able to perceive the abyss. You end up with a piece of the abyss inside you.

    As long as you can keep that abyss-pattern-recognition neuroanatomy under control, you are ok. But if it starts to run “native”, then you start to become the monster you have been looking at.

    Most (all?) bigots can’t do the self-examination necessary to understand why they are bigots. Their bigotry isn’t about the objects of their bigotry, it is about themselves, and their inability to understand the object of their bigotry, so they default to xenophobia and project their worst fears, so as to justify their hatred.

    The only people who perceive bigoted ideas to be “normal” or “funny”, or “acceptable”, are bigots. Non-bigots can discuss bigoted ideas for forever and will never become bigoted. Bigotry comes from the absence of knowledge and the willingness to wallow in and act on that ignorance. If you allow ignorance to run your mind and feelings, then you can end up a bigot. If you don’t let ignorance run your mind and feelings, then you can’t end up a bigot.

    Everyone starts out ignorant. Bigots stay that way. Skeptics acknowledge their ignorance by saying “I don’t know”, and then find out. Bigots can’t acknowledge their ignorance because they are afraid of narcissistic injury, so they make something up, project their own fears onto their world view, and remain narrow, constricted, myopic, puny and ineffectual. Being recognized as ineffectual is what they are most afraid of. That is why they make all the threats, they are trying to frighten the effectual people away.

    • Holy shit. You are so one-note. WTF dude.

      • (the “neuroanatomy self-modifes” stuff. WTH?!)

        • I like ‘abyss-pattern-recognition neuroanatomy’. We’re just creating our own lingo now.
          Daedalus, you might want to think in terms of plasticity and real-time adaptation and reinforcement instead of hard structures.
          Experience shapes us at least as much as our biology. I know it can be comforting to believe that This Is The Way Things Are, Were, and Will Be. Predictable, knowable, understandable. Problem is, it’s just not true.

          • perience shapes us at least as much as our biology.

            YES.

  16. When I’m feeling down, I just blame all my problems on Rebecca Watson. –the world

  17. Just wanted to say I support you, think you rock and I really appreciate all the hard work you do. Thanks!

  18. It’s depressing that the interesting questions you mentioned above weren’t asked. Seems like it never gets to that point because the discussion is still about establishing that there’s even a problem.

    I think the question of “how to make the trolls stop” is a red herring. It would be really nice if there could be a *pragmatic* discussion about the most effective ways to raise and resolve issues like this within a community. Does denouncing work? Shaming? Are there ways to make someone who’s done or said something sexist/racist feel able to admit the wrong and become part of the solution, or is that a hopeless cause? Is there such a thing as a person who is better ignored than engaged? Are there ways to make people aware of the problems in their community without being perceived as “attacking”? How can “battles” evolve into something more constructive? Or is it really just a battle? Etc., etc.

    One particularly difficult thing is that the responsibility for coming up with and effecting pragmatic solutions is often placed on the people who are calling attention to the problem. Maybe that’s why denial of the problem is so popular — once a problem is admitted, it’s *everyone’s* responsibility to find solutions.

  19. Rebecca, you are a seriously amazing person! The amount of BS you have to put up with is insane, and yet you continue to respond rationally and stand up for what you believe in. I don’t know where you find the energy to do this. Even when it comes to arguments with vaguely polite and reasonable people, I’ll often just stay quiet because of how much energy it takes to methodically argue with someone who is never going to listen. Seriously, you are inspiring and I wish I had half your patience!

  20. Just a clarification for those not familiar with the problem of Wikipedia vandalism. I’ve had Rebecca’s bio on my “watch list” for several years now, along with hundreds of other skeptic (and non-skeptic) articles. This is a standard feature of Wikipedia that editors use to watch for vandalism, verify new information added, etc. I’ve removed vandalism from Rebecca’s page and many others on many occasions.

    Vandalism to Rebecca’s page is unfortunately not unusual, it is usually vandalized about once or twice per month. (Anyone can see this in the article history, search for the words “Reverted” and “Undid” in the comments).

    IMHO attributing this vandalism to retaliation for this talk is perhaps a bit of a post-hoc fallacy. For one thing, the two edits mentioned were done from home internet connections in Vancouver and Plattsburgh, New York – not from Austin. They were done the day after the talk – but it is worth noting that day was a Saturday. The edits themselves mentioned neither Reddit nor SXSW. Since the panel was not live streamed, attributing this to Redditors presumes a chain of several events. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t have made that connection myself, given the vandalism history of the article. When you are talking about something as random as vandalism, it’s dangerous to attribute any level of logic or reason to it.

    • Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough in the article that the flood of hate I’ve received since the panel has not, primarily, come from people who were actually at the panel in Austin. See above in the comments for one example.

      • Your Wikipedia bio has now been marked “protected”, so anonymous edits and those by newly registered users will have to be approved by another editor before they become visible. Thanks to @tommorris, I don’t have the power necessary to invoke that spell but he jumped in and made it happen.

    • It’s interesting you bring up location because I found out about the panel and the imgur guy’s non-question during Q&A way before Rebecca told anyone about it. I’m in California and I knew that there was anger about the panel on Friday night when this article came out: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/reddits-victim-complex . It was on buzzfeed and spread like wildfire and was mainly about the one man’s comment. I’m not sure how location of the changes have anything to do with credibility of the message Rebecca conveyed or the fact that there were indeed changes made. Was the Reddit panel directly responsible for the particular changes on Rebecca’s Wiki? With all the harassholes and jerks out there, I guess we will never know for sure. But it is more than likely and it’s not as if the harassholes and angry redditers are hiding out in Russell’s Teapot, they are, like reddit, online.

      • The Wikipedia edits certainly could have been retaliation, I don’t reject that hypothesis. I am just pointing out that it is only a hypothesis based on a time correlation. (I was not aware of the Buzzfeed article). The rest of your comments to me seem to address things I didn’t actually say, so I have no further comment.

        • I feel like this is a distraction and not really important. Like, at all. Who cares when her page was vandalised? Only the assholes actually give a shit. It’s 100% not relevant and not important. Perhaps we could focus on what’s *actually* important rather than trying to nit-pick stupid shit that really doesn’t matter?

        • Yeah actually, it is NOT important at all. Rebecca is bringing up a big fucking internet society sexism problem and you’re all like

          “Hey Rebecca, It’s anti skeptical to claim with 100% certainty that the wikipedia vandalism had anything to do with this”

          Don’t you see how that’s basically gaslighting?

  21. /////I suspect the SXSW crowd is well-educated and rather accomplished/////

    Which means these attitudes towards women are carrying into a whole range of professional fields. The patriarchy of the workplace has been inadvertently revealed here.

  22. So, am I able to get into the skepchick subreddit?

  23. As a Libertarian from Russia, I don’t see how moderation of private websites is a free speech issue. It’s only a free speech issue when a government does it via laws that everyone has to follow.

    • Haha, yeah, it’s something akin to complaining that referees violate free football players’ free speech or something.

  24. Rebecca, the article you linked to at Buzzfeed reports that Alexis Ohanian said that he never agreed to be on the panel. Reporting that he “dropped out” is at odds with that statement. But that’s not why I’m replying.

    Your list of questions you should have been asked was an excellent one. How would you have answered those questions, had they been asked of you? I’m especially interested in the answers to “Is there a way to provide a forum to discuss bigoted ideas without reinforcing and normalizing those ideas?” and “Is it even possible to institute effective and thoughtful moderation site-wide on a site as large and diverse as Reddit? Who would train those mods? Who would pay them? Who would oversee them?”

    In short, Rebecca, if you had total control over Reddit, what would you do to fix it?

    • Let’s start with actual moderation and get rid of this whole “FREE SPEEEECH!” bullshit. As if “free speech” means no moderation (false).

      • That’s a great start, marilove. What would the next steps be? Like Rebecca asked, who would train those mods? Who would pay them? Who would oversee them?

        I’d also ask: Who would oversee the overseers? Who would set the ground rules and policies for the mods to follow? What goals should the ground rules and policies be designed to promote?

        From Reddit’s About page, Reddit “is a place friendly to thought, relationships, arguments, and to those that wish to challenge those genres.” What do policies that allow for both challenging thought and safety look like?

        • I don’t know enough about running these things to answer that, but I do know that I frequent enough VERY popular blogs that seem to do just fine. BoingBoing, for instance.

          “friendly to thought”

          See that right there? That’s a lie. Or at least, a lie when you take into account the silencing they just love to take part in. A lot of the more vocal users are far from “friendly to thought”.

          Your last question is rather vauge. You seem to be somewhat implying that implementing moderation policies would make it difficult or impossible to “challenge thought” which is bullshit. (You may not personally believe that, but most of the more vocal assholes there do.) It just seems to be another variation of “BUT FREE SPEECH!” to me.

          • It sounds like BoingBoing is doing something right that Reddit isn’t. I’d love to know what it is, and what barriers there are against Reddit adopting it so that they can be addressed.

            The safe/challenging balancing act is not bullshit. “Safe” means a low risk of harm or failure. “Challenging” means a high risk of harm or failure. They are definitional opposites. I wrestled with that dichotomy as it applies to moderating a message board for four years. It’s not “BUT FREE SPEECH!”; it’s that the dividing line between safe and challenging is incredibly personal. Tony Hawk can safely do things on a skateboard that would be fatally challenging to me, for instance. Certain topics you might feel fine talking about I might find triggering, and vice versa. The examples are endless.
            And the larger an audience a message board draws, the further apart the individual safe/challenging tipping points are going to be. It’s been my experience that pleasing everyone in regards to moderation isn’t merely difficult; it is, indeed, impossible. The best a moderator can do is to decide what kind of audience they wish to keep given the kind of audience they are likely to attract, and maximize that audience.
            So it comes back down to Reddit’s goals, and how well their current policies promote those goals.

          • Thank you for the clarification, Beleth, that makes a bit more sense to me now!

            What about LiveJournal? That didn’t go the way of Reddit and the moderation was/is in control of each community owner. Of cousre, LJ isn’t relevant anymore and things have arguably changed since then, but I think they are really similar.

            Reddit’s goals, eh? Right now, it’s “FREE SPEECH!” Well, some mangled, half-truth of free speech. I don’t really see them as having a goal or a purpose. They just are. And that’s part of the problem, imo.

          • Also, BoingBoing relies on some adds. They also aren’t NEARLY as large as Reddit, of course, and are more of a blog than a forum. So there are many differences. And I think they pay their moderation staff, although I’m not positive on that? (I think moderators also contribute.)

            So I think LiveJournal might be a better comparison.

        • I nominate the staff of Metafilter to train any and all future Reddit mods. The MeFi mods do a nearly-flawless job and the site is a damn fine place for discussion as a result. Heated discussion on controversial topics flourishes regularly. Bigotry can be kept in check while still allowing opinions to be expressed. A better Reddit is only difficult because it would ask individuals to put some effort into developing empathy and self-awareness. Those two concepts are like kryptonite to most of the dudes and teens on Reddit.

  25. punchdrunk, modifying our neuroanatomy is how experience does shape us. There isn’t a non-material mind that somehow is independent of our neuroanatomy, that somehow holds “experiences” independent of “biology”. There is only biology, which is only chemistry, which is only physics. Very complicated biology, chemistry and physics to be sure. If the brain changes through experience, that change can only occur through physical modification of that brain. The only way that memories can be formed is through changes to the physical structure of the brain. The only way something can be learned is by changing the neuroanatomy of the brain so that the changed brain can instantiate the new ideas that have been learned.

    What is the alternative? An immaterial soul? For which there is not a single datum of evidence?

    • If you think I’m arguing for the existence of a soul, I’m terrible at words. :D

      • It’s hard to reply to such cold, unemotional word salad that doesn’t take into account any actual real-world experience, yes.

        • //cold, unemotional word salad//

          That made my day.

          • Perhaps unemotional word salad is best served cold.

      • punchdrunk, What are you arguing for? That there is some way for “experience” to have effects other than by modifying our physical body?

        That is what memories are, modifications to our physical body. That is why you warn people about things they can’t un-see.

        Rebecca asked the question, how do you have a discussion about monstrous things without becoming monstrous. You have do do it by being cold and unemotional. If you can’t be cold and unemotional (i.e. dissociate from the feelings that monstrous things produce), then you need to avoid monstrous things or you will become monstrous. At least that is my experience and how I avoided becoming abusive to my younger siblings the way my older siblings were abusive to me. Yes, there are costs to being able to dissociate from feelings. I know them well. Others may have other experiences, but for me, being able to dissociate and be cold and unemotional was better than being monstrous and abusing my younger siblings the way that I was abused. Even nominally “good” people can become monstrous.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment

        Word salad? If you don’t understand, just ask and I will explain it in more detail. If you want to understand how ignorance relates to xenophobia, I have blogged about it.

        http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

        If you don’t want to understand, there is not much I can do.

        • I’m saying that removing yourself from your own humanity is not a good thing. It may be the least-bad coping strategy you’ve found, but that doesn’t make it desirable, functional, or useful for a social species.

          You’re in Straw Vulcan territory.
          http://measureofdoubt.com/2011/11/26/the-straw-vulcan-hollywoods-illogical-approach-to-logical-decisionmaking/

          • My Kingdom for an Edit Function!

            …useful to humans as a social species. Only talking about humans.

          • I am not the slightest bit confused about straw Vulcans, I don’t agree with any of those points. If you think that is what I was meaning, then you are confused. I never said the strategy I proposed was other than a least bad one. I think it is less bad than becoming a monster. Obviously some people don’t agree and instead allow themselves to become monsters. That is what happened to all the monsters the OP was about. They didn’t start out that way, any more than the people in the Stanford Prison Experiment started out that way. That is what happens to people when they are put in desperate situations they can’t handle. That is the point of making people desperate.

            They start to do desperate things because they feel like they don’t have any other options. There are other options, shut down feelings and default to intellectualization. That is an extremely common and protective response to trauma, to all kinds of trauma. Telling a victim of trauma that they made a bad choice to dissociate during their trauma is blaming the victim. .

            Dissociation is one that can work. Are there any others that can work? Even dissociation can fail. Under enough stress everyone will break. UNDER ENOUGH STRESS EVERYONE WILL BREAK. The only way to prevent people from breaking is to not put them under so much stress. That means intervening to stop the trolls and bullies before they break someone, because that is the only thing that will make them stop, intervention from someone else, or when their victim breaks.

          • The modification of neuroanatomy to make some monstrous ideas more acceptable has another term. It is also called the Overton window.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

            I think that is the goal (although it may be unconscious) of all the misogyny focused on Rebecca and other women. The goal is to make misogyny more acceptable. If that is your goal, then talking about misogyny is going to make misogyny more acceptable.

            The reason there is such a thing as the Overton window, and the reason that simply talking about monstrous stuff can move it, is because lots of human attitudes are not based on facts and logic, but on feelings, and when something is more familiar, it feels more acceptable even though there is no rational basis to believe that it is more acceptable.

  26. First comment. I use Reddit but I am a technocrat so I just troll those type of subreddits. I am really bored when I talk about politics or philosophy on Reddit and then users don’t get my sarcasm and then say something insanely sarcastic. And thats how it is. Explaining yourself in the same medium, reduces to absurdity. Everybody is biased and differently cultured, Earth *got to get it so one day we can be our obviously biased selves without the bigotry.
    Embarrassing people has worked for me. I always try to make a friend instead of an enemy.

  27. Rebecca,

    I imagine that you don’t read the posts on your Facebook page, and reading them myself, I can see why you wouldn’t. I posted there a while back, but after catching up on old articles on Skepchick, I figured that I would repeat my message here. I just want to thank you for speaking out and doing what you do. I appreciate your work on behalf of my children in the hopes that they will be less likely to put up with the abuse that you do for speaking up about perfectly reasonable issues. People like you and Anita Sarkeesian take so much heat for making people aware of the inequalities in our society, but I hope that you realize that for every angry, foul-mouthed lout, there are many more people like me who love and appreciate you for your tireless bravery in the face of overwhelming ignorance. Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you so very, very much.

    -Bear Philippe

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