Sunday, October 6, 2013

5. Social Mob Justice, or The Outing of Zathlazip

For the current version of this post, see a guide for Social Justice Warriors: Do Not Engage.


  1. The making fun of fat people didn't bug me as much as the making fun of disabled people and transfolks. And I'm not sure how you can have read the captions and question the sexual harassment question. Doesn't she call someone's child a "little pussy?" Doesn't she make it clear that a transman is insufficiently male for her apparently high standards for what makes an acceptable person?

    Anyway, in case the point isn't clear to anyone, when you call someone a "little pussy" or mock their gender, you're harassing them by almost any reasonable definition of the term. Don't, like, go to work and tell your boss he's not male enough and needs to "draw on a beard" or call your secretary a "pussy" to test me on this one, I promise I'm right. (Don't decide that one of you colleagues isn't native American because you don't like her outfit, either.)

    Having reacquainted myself with the sheer level of nastiness she exhibited toward all kinds of random people, I don't for a second doubt that those people and their friends responded with anger. A rude person who feels as comfortable dismissing other people's basic humanity as Moss apparently did is going to get that reaction. It would be nice if these folks and their friends had seen her as a person with feelings, and they certainly would have been outclassing her significantly if they had done so, but this story still reads to me like someone who threw rocks at a beehive and was surprised when she got stung.

    She wasn't the first person that the internet went crazy on and she won't be the last, but I've seen some far less deserving recipients of that kind of attention. She worked hard to earn their hatred, all they ever did to earn hers was dare to be seen in public.


    1. Oh, of course they responded with anger. That's just what mobs do.

      And to make this very clear, I don't approve of anyone making fun of anyone. But I have to note the SJ crowd loves to give insults. They just don't like getting them.

      I'm old school on insults, I guess. To me, men insulting women is sexist, women insulting women and transfolk is not. Whether women insulting men is sexist depends on whether you buy the identitarian notion of power, which would hold that women can't be sexist because they don't have power. As for "pussy", I don't hear it as a gendered insult because there's that hint of "pussycat" to it.

      Wikipedia has a decent little piece on it:

      I will be writing a bit about social justice and Whorfianism, I think.

    2. Making fun of people on the internet, without giving names and with their faces blacked out, and doing so nowhere near where those people post/exist electronically, is now harassment? Worthy of destroying someone else's life over?

      Also, it's OK to destroy people because {fill in the blank} and somehow the destroyers are still good people after they do that, because their anger is righteous anger?

      Because no one in history has ever justified their bullshit that way before.

      It's OK to justify that behavior as long as you have claims to having Right on your side? As long as they DESERVE it? (Unhinged right-wing hate groups ahoy!)

      I'm pretty sure, based on your argument, if I go tell my friends what I think about some unnamed person who commented on some thread somewhere, it's harassment and you'll consider it worthy of destroying my life.

      Because "harassment" = "someone somewhere said something negative about me" somehow.

      Also, when you're done destroying my life, please tell me how you justify your position, when Will briefly wondered about filing a harassment suit following the public lie-fest about him, he was mocked for it by the same people whose who defended destroying a person's life/peace-of-mind for less?

      (Also, Anon, because I know how these people like to mob critics.)

  2. Hahaha. Yeah, I don't have a mob. And you're not much of a critic, so you're fine.

    I failed to make an important distinction, because I was talking to Will who knows it and he'd already written about it. My fault, I guess, though I sort of thought people would read Will's post too. Moss (when you use your real name on your LJ yourself, even if you take it down later, you don't get to claim you were 'outed') was a student at a large university in the same town where the Con was. She was a grad student and part of her employment agreement was not to harass people.

    Nobody was trying to get her brought up on criminal charges or civilly sued, they were going (and, one assumes, did, though I don't know since I saw a lot of people threatening to do it and no one actually saying they did) complain to her employer that she was violating the employment agreement.

    I don't know the full details of what happened to Will, but harassment that is only over cyberspace is indeed a rough sell with the courts. Whoever advised him that civilly or criminally going after these folks would be difficult and would only induce the Streisand effect was probably correct, but if Will knew that one of his harassers had signed an employment agreement not to harass, Will could indeed have picked up the phone and made the case to the employer.

    Will, "pussy" may mean "pussycat" to you, but to most of us, it means "Vagina" or when used as an insult against a man, "wimpy person, so wimpy in fact that he is practically a woman, hence the vaginal terminology." Also, you don't get to decide that only the way you use a word matters or that your definition of sexism carries the day.

    Anyway, I generally don't like it when the internet goes crazy on people, I just felt Will was way downplaying the level of hate she exhibited in the first place and thought that was an important element of the full story. Yes, she insulted fat people, which is fairly culturally acceptable, but she also made it clear that she was the judge of who was male enough, native American enough, and whose disability was a real illness. She went so out of her way to get the reaction that she got that I actually feel worse for the lady who got the internet mad at her by throwing a cat in a garbage can.


    1. CC, I won't delete your comment, but my understanding is she didn't use her name on her Zathlazap account--Liz Henry had to do a little googling.

      And did you really miss the fact that a physical threat was left in her office?

      No, I don't get to decide that my definition of sexism wins, but neither do you. I was only explaining why that didn't register with me as sexist. Maybe it's a regional thing.

    2. I pointed out the situation with Will to point out the parallels and the hypocrisy -- the full-on self-righteous justification for calling it harassment in the case of Z...and the utter contempt displayed towards Will when he called it harassment when they did worse to him than what Z did to them.

      The double-standard is deeply disturbing.

      Arguing it was awful harassment -- posting nameless, faceless pictures of people that couldn't be identified by outside agency -- and the response was justified (google-bombing, workplace harassment, death threats). Then arguing reacting to cyberspace harassment -- publicly posting lies, unfounded claims, and google-bombing Will as a racist wife-beater who should die -- is a severe over-reaction to the situation.

      So blowing up over anonymized pictures is justified, but blowing up over *an actual directed harassment campaign* is over-reacting?

      Do you seriously not get this?

      I'm questioning the justifications for your position if you DID have a mob, and therefore the very basis of, the logic of, the justification itself.

    3. CC, or anyone from the affected crowd, have you never seen "People of Walmart" or various other sites that similarly poke mean fun at photographed people?

      I know the usual answer is: well, those sites are just as bad!

      Except, if that were true, why weren't the owners, operators, or hosts of those sites rage-bombed like this, long ago, by concerned citizen groups equally outraged by a far worse incidence and far larger operation that doesn't even bother anonymizing its photos?

      Why? Because the reaction to Zathlazip wasn't ever about morality or justice or unfair attacks on people's images.

  3. Right on, Chalicechick! Was Zathlazip dressed slutty, too? I bet she was. That makes it ok, right? Or less bad? One of those, right.

    1. So when she griefs people and they grief her back, you feel rape victim comparisons are appropriate?

    2. The only possible replies are of a degree of snottiness that I don't feel comfortable with on Will's blog. I am therefore done with this line of, uh, debate.

    3. Point of fact, or at least, terminology: "griefing" is an online activity. Z's mockery was at a site with a name that told you what to expect. If the SJ folks had gone as far as outing her in their google-bombing and stopped, you might have a point, but I'd want to debate it before agreeing. Death threats and trying to get her fired? "Griefing" seems wildly inadequate to cover that.

    4. Oh, and as for metaphors, they're often greater than their subject--there's no obligation to keep them in scale, and sometimes you make a metaphor smaller or larger to see if a general principle applies. I don't buy any claim that someone "deserved" a bad thing because they did something less extreme that the attacker disapproved of. Justice requires proportional responses.

  4. I figured out why this sort of thing is so repugnant to me.

    Anonymous attacks, or punishment doles out anonymously, these are things our society considers fundamentally wrong. There is literally no crime, no transgression, for which this is appropriate. No, not even the transgression of anonymous attack.

    The right of the accused to confront his or her accuser is deeply ingrained. Even in our legal system it is very very rarely denied (and only recently at that).

    1. Agreed. Moreover, f they believed in proportionality, the SJ crowd would've written their own post about Zathlazip on WisCon's site, leaving out her last name and obscuring her face in the photos.

  5. Zathlazip's "crime" was not so much making fun of Wiscon attendees, but of being an insider who essentially attacked group norms. As a member of the academic community and fandom who had transgressed these norms, the social justice/academic/fandom community felt justified in assembling a do-it-yourself kangaroo court to punish Zathlazip's "betrayal" and to send a clear message to other group members: Conformity will be maintained.

    P.S. Submitted anonymously because I have been a victim of the academic mob. Twice. My "crime" was being employed as an internal auditor and exposing financial and operational failures (people stole money, broke employment laws, and violated individuals' "rights" to due process and privacy) of educational institutions.

    P.P.S. Apologies to any offended kangaroos.

  6. RE: Anonymity.

    I post (most places) as "Fairportfan" because it's a handle i've been using since sometime in the 90s. On some places where i post as Fairportfan, you can glance at my profile and find my real name.

    And, on other sites where i feel it's appropriate, i post as "mike weber".

    I'm aware that any post i make, whether as mw or as Fpf can easily be traced back to me - but i like to think that it doesn't make any difference in my beahviour on-line. (I like to think that, but i'm afraid it wouldn't - not totally, at any rate.)

    Having had a run-in with SomethingAwful of my own - when they descended upon the GoComics comment boards for Brooke McEldowney's comics "Pibgorn" and "9 Chickweed Lane", i would not (emotionally) be averse to a little mobbing of SA regulars ... but it's wrong.

    Nor do i think that "outing" an anonymous poster in a way calculated to result in calumny and/or attack (whether verbal or actually physical) is ever justified - unless, perhaps, i believed that the AP in question was an actual threat to someone.

    And, finally, i truly despise the "pull the triggers niggers" class of "We're-better-than-you-but-we-really-really-respect-you-and-identify-with-your-struggle (from a safe distance)" class of liberal intellectual theorists, who have mostly never actually seen the reality of oppression or of the oppressed.

    I was sitting in a high-school classroom in South Carolina when the principal came on the PA to announce Kennedy had been shot. One of my classmates cheered. I was born in a working-class Chicago suburb (Berwyn) and the majority of my relatives on my dad's side were Mid Western rednecks.

    I've seen real racism as a practical matter, north and south.

    I remember my dad, an Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster, withdrawing from Scouting in SC, with a letter to the segregated regional Council, saying "I can not be associated with this council until it accepts that 'a Scout is a brother to every other Scout'."

    Ghod, i hate ivory-tower intellectual revolutionaries.

    Sorry. I'm pre-empting your blog for my soapbox.

    1. No apology necessary! It's why the comments are on.

      I'm a little younger than you. I was in an elementary school classroom in northern Florida when the announcement came over the PA. Several kids cheered. My teacher cried. I think that got through to some of the little bigots who only understood Kennedy as an icon that their parents hated--but I could be wrong.

  7. There's really no need to argue over what is or is not sexist language, because sexist language doesn't matter.

    1. While some sexist language pisses me off because it's just plain rude, I agree. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis appears to be bullshit, based on follow-up studies. Language follows reality; it does not shape it.

  8. "Language follows reality; it does not shape it." Has little to do with the S-W Hypothesis { it's also debatable in a quantum-relativistic sense, but that's a tangential discussion :) }.

    The S-W Hypothesis says that the structure of a language determines a native speaker's perception and categorization of experience. It is the structure of language, not necessarily the words available, that cause this difference. For instance, Yucatec, a Mayan language, tends to classify nouns in terms of substance and English tends to classify in terms of shape. These structural differences per the S-W Hypothesis predict a difference in the speakers’ attention to substance or space. A series of experiments supported the prediction about a different bias in the two groups of speakers. “Yucatec speakers showed a strong tendency to group objects on the basis of common material composition and English-speakers showed a strong tendency to group objects on the basis of common shape.” (John Lucy, Grammatical Categories and Cognition: A Case Study of the
    Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis
    ). Numerous other studies have found similar results. Several of these studies rely on non-verbal tests - so words themselves are not even used. I wouldn't dismiss the S-W Hypothesis, but I don't see its particular relevance to the discussion.

    Orwell, of course, posits a related hypothesis; that words shape our culture. I think of terms like 'collateral damage' and the ease at which we accept civilian deaths. I think there is a much stronger case to be made that Orwellian use of language is pervasive throughout American culture.

    1. My bad; I'm conflating. Warriors believe that we can eliminate sexism and racism by eliminating sexist and racist language. The most extreme of them adopt new pronouns. Yet the evidence is slight. Even an article that argues that heavily gendered languages produce more sexism--, "Surprisingly, though, languages with no gender at all — where even "he" and "she" are represented by the same word — are associated with the most gender inequality, perhaps because people automatically categorize gender-neutral references as male."

      I think Orwell went too far. "Collatoral damage" is an effective alternative to civilian deaths not because it's a new term, but because people aren't sure what's included--it obscures rather than redefines. It's more like rebranding.

      As for Whorfianism in particular, I'm more comfortable with arguments for the weaker version--and stay skeptical even there.

      Apologies for hasty response. As always, I reserve the right to come back and say I hadn't a clue what I was talking about.

  9. "As always, I reserve the right to come back and say I hadn't a clue what I was talking about."

    Yep. And so do I. After reading the actual paper by Prewitt-Freilino et al, The Gendering of Language: A Comparison of Gender Equality in Countries with Gendered, Natural Gender, and Genderless Languages it does seem to be exactly what the S-W hypothesis is talking about. The structure of language affecting experience.

    As you point out, the research found higher equality in 'natural' gender languages than in either gendered or genderless languages. So, while there are differences, which supports S-W, the effects of these differences are not necessarily intuitive. It's also possible that there was a factor the researchers were not able to control for - though I have no idea what that would be.

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