Tag Archives: bad behavior

Breaking news: the gamer community is broken

[CW: verbal abuse and massive online harassment directed at women]

In case you missed it, there’s a war on against women in games. Trolls and/or misogynists (when the two groups are observationally equivalent, fine distinctions seem beside the point) used the 4chan hate site to organize an attack against game developer Zoe Quinn, opportunistically exploiting a series of revenge posts made by Quinn’s disgruntled ex-boyfriend.

Quinn has now posted detailed excerpts from 4chan members’ IRC logs that make their intentions to carry out a false-flag operation, and manufacture a controversy about “ethics in game journalism” out of thin air, crystal-clear. The people making sockpuppet accounts to post what they think are convincing simulacra of feminist thought aren’t concerned about ethics; they’re not even sympathetic with Quinn’s hapless ex. No, they simply have a vendetta against “social justice warriors” (I guess they think that term is an insult?)

You can follow links to read many more details. I’d like to highlight one thing, though. Normally, we don’t publish rejected comments on this blog — sort of by definition — but most comments this blog receives never see the light of day, whether they’re nonsense spam, indiscriminate proposals for posts on the most faintly on-topic issues, trolling, or outright hate. I’ll make one exception, though. This comment sat in the pending queue for a while before it was deleted:

The full text of a comment from Matthew Rappard that was left on this blog

This is a comment that was deleted before it appeared on the blog. Wow, are we glad.

As far as I can tell (people who are sufficiently dull, sheltered, or both to think that fighting against social justice is the best thing they can do with their clearly-copious free time), 4chan trolls planned to manipulate the Fine Young Capitalists to provide publicity for their hate campaign. I was already suspicious, when I saw the initial comment, of a group purporting to help women in games that has a spokesperson with a traditionally masculine first name; more suspicious by not seeing obvious credit given to any women who were also collaborating with the organization. I thought it might be innocent, though. And now, I see that it was — but that it could well have been preparation for some not-so-innocent manipulation.

(By the way, I didn’t think to whois the IP address until just now. Turns out it’s a public Toronto Public Library terminal. That probably would have raised a red flag for me as well — usually, representatives of nonprofits that are on the up and up don’t need to hide their identities by using a public library computer.)

I think the moral of the story, for people who moderate blog comments, is to be careful and seek second (and third) opinions. It’s natural to want to err on the side of not dismissing somebody as a troll when they actually have a genuine issue that you don’t know much about. But sometimes, when it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it really is a member of Anas platyrhynchos.

It has been zero days since the last sexist incident in tech

[Content warning: sexual objectification.]

Obie Fernandez is the author of The Rails Way, the editor of Addison-Wesley’s Professional Ruby Series, and a co-founder and CTO of Javelin, a startup that builds “tools and services to help you change your world”.

Fernandez also, apparently, can’t talk about technology without reminding everybody that he has, on some occasion or another, had sex. Despite being a CTO, he also apparently doesn’t know that the Internet doesn’t have an erase button — which goes to show you that extremely poor judgment doesn’t stop you from getting copious VC funding for your company, if you’re male.


A screenshot of a tweet from Obie Fernandez, which he later deleted

Fernandez’s Twitter bio declares, “Author, Programmer, Dad”. Usually (certainly not always, I’m aware!) being a dad implies that you have had sex at least once. But it’s so important for Fernandez to remind us that he has had sex — with people of multiple ages — that he also has to inject tortured sexual analogies into what could have been a perfectly benign programming language flame war.

At 8:36 PM tonight (in my time zone, anyway, Fernandez tweeted, “still not sure exactly what I’m supposed to apologize for other than being a bit crass about 20-year old people.”

By 9:11 PM, Fernandez had evidently thought about it deeply and carefully enough to issue a retraction. I guess the “lean startup” approach is so powerful that its adherents can go from sneering at their critics (including a risible attempt to backjustify his sexism with an appeal to pansexuality — folks, we’ve been over that already) to heartfelt apology in less than 40 minutes. (I fear that his apology may not be entirely heartfelt, though, as he quickly moved on to declaring that he’s “not a sexist” and attempting to pay for his blunder by citing all the women he hires.)

Readers of this blog are aware that one asshat in tech would have little effect on his own, if he were indeed an isolated case. They are equally aware that Fernandez is no anomaly of asshaberdashery. I think the hapless Fernandez is providing us with a valuable lesson: the message to “not feed the trolls” is a dangerous one. While any given individual absolutely can and should disengage with trolls when necessary to protect their physical and mental health, engaging with them can have value. Judging from his Twitter avatar, Mr. Fernandez is at least 30 years old. That makes 30 years or more in which not a single person in his life has told him that the world generally does not need to know that he has done a sex. Perhaps his demeanor makes them afraid to challenge him. Perhaps they don’t think it’s worth the time. Who knows? But at one point in his life, one presumes that he was impressionable — one knows that he’s impressionable, since nobody acts like he does unless they get rewarded for it. Rewarded with laughs, with buddy-buddy slaps on the back from fellow bros, with congratulations on how delightfully politically incorrect he is, with 1.5 million dollars of venture capital money from the likes of Mark Suster, Eric Ries, and 500 Startups.

Back when I was first dabbling in Usenet in the mid-1990s, it was conventional wisdom that trolls were usually children sitting at a computer in their mothers’ basements. That, in other words, they had no real power other than the ability to rustle a few jimmies for a moment. It’s 2014 now, and some of those children have grown up and become technology executives — people with hiring and firing power, with a lot of control over a big part of the economy. If the adults in the room had spent a bit more time trying to socialize those children (because clearly, they weren’t getting it from their parents) and less time stating their troll-starving prowess, perhaps we would be able to attend a conference without hearing about some guy’s crotch.

Postscript: On Twitter, Matt Adereth pointed out this 2005 blog post from Fernandez:

I didn’t particularly like Ruby the first time I met her. I thought she was interesting, but a few months later (to my surprise) something changed. I started seeing her appealing qualities. My friends really spoke highly of Ruby, so we started spending time together. The love affair began in February 2005 and about a month later, things started getting pretty bad with my wife, Java. Even when I was doing Java, I couldn’t stop thinking of Ruby and how much better she is for me.

So it looks like Mr. Fernandez has been unnecessarily sexualizing technical discussions for fun and profit for quite some time. As Adereth observed, it also looks like Fernandez’s use of the “who said I was talking about women?” derailing tactic is entirely disingenuous.

Why I’m ending my short experiment with Gittip, or: why we can’t have nice things, part 2,039

This is a guest post by Sky Croeser, which originally appeared on her blog.

I love doing teaching and research, but I also want to be doing more to engage and build communities outside of academia. Recently, I decided to start experimenting with Gittip as a way to support that. Gittip “is a way to give small weekly cash gifts to people you love and are inspired by. Gifts are weekly. The intention is for people to depend on money received through Gittip in order to pay their bills, and bills are recurring.” I like the idea, and I liked that the ‘top receivers’ shown on the front page included several activists working on diversity issues, which suggested that it wasn’t just a tool for programmers to use, and that it’s possible to make a decent (if far from extravagant) income doing public outreach and community-building work.

Then, someone on Hacker News criticised the site for supporting people who ‘yell on Twitter and demonize men’, saying the site had become ‘a joke dominated by professional victims’. Sadly, this is not unexpected. The level of daily vitriol directed at women who actively address sexism in tech culture (and in other spaces) is astounding. What was unfortunately is that Chad Whitacre, founder of Gittip, responded this comment by thanking the poster for his feedback.

When people called Whitacre out on this, he responded by saying that he was talking about the part of the comment that referred to the how ‘leaderboards’ were displayed: he was agreeing that perhaps the front page on Gittip shouldn’t focus so heavily on those who give and receive the most funds. I was hopeful that he’d follow this up with a simple and unequivocal statement along the lines of, “Of course we want diversity activists using Gittip! This is an excellent use for the tool and it’s important that we support them.”

Instead, Whitacre’s responses have both tacitly and explicitly supported the ongoing harassment that many of Gittip’s (previous) top users, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, and Nóirín Plunkett face. Tacitly, by thanking misogynists for their feedback and not speaking up against misogyny, Whitacre supports a culture of harassment that pushes women out of geek communities:

gittippattingHNonthebackExplicitly, Whitacre has contributed to the ongoing harassment that women working on diversity issues in geek communities face by writing a blog post explicitly attacking Shanley, particularly for the tone of her criticisms of him. I am not going to link to the blog post. And just in case anyone wants to say that Whitacre would have responded better if only someone had explained it to him more politely, it’s clear that other people have been approaching these discussions in a gentler way, and haven’t managed to shift Whitacre’s approach. Also see Julie Pagano’s email to Whitacre.

In response to this, many of Gittip’s users have been leaving or are going to leave, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, Steve Klabnik, Skud and probably many others that I’ve missed. For many, this comes at a huge cost: people like Ashe Dryden have spent a long time building up their support base on Gittip, and get a significant proportion of their income from the tool. This isn’t a decision taken lightly.

This is what builds homogenous communities. When privileged people fail to stand up for marginalised groups within their communities, those groups eventually understand that they’re not welcome and won’t be supported and leave. Initial shifts towards diversity are rapidly undone.

I’ve shut down my account, too. I don’t want to work to build support through a platform where key communities members are not only unwilling to support their top users, but are also willing to actively attack them.

There’s now a page up about this on the Geek Feminism Wiki: Gittip crisis. I’m hoping that in coming days there’ll also be resources compiled around alternatives to Gittip, and about how people can support people who’ve stopped using Gittip.

Editor’s note: such pages are welcome on the wiki, for existing ones, see: Gittip transfers for users who have transferred elsewhere, Fundraising mechanisms for activists and a (not yet filled out) Feminist reviews of payment processors. All pages are in early draft, please help out by filling them in and adding related pages.

Everything that linkspams must converge (13 June 2014)

Warning for discussion of sexual assault. Predatory behaviour and sexual assault at International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and in ed-tech:

  • The original post at Medium, entitled “What is this, church camp?”, by Ariel Norling, is now deleted, Norling has since published Setting a Few Things Straight | Medium (June 5): “Both men’s actions were aggressive and symptomatic of larger systemic issues of sexism and rape culture. This topic has been too often avoided (because it is simply too intimidating for women to confess), ignored, and silenced. My sole objective was to bring attention to the fact that educational technology is a sector that still suffers from these issues, despite being comprised primarily of women.”
  • #YesAllWomen and Ed-Tech Conferences, or Why ISTE is Unsafe | Audrey Watters at Hack Education (June 4): “As I’ve explained on this blog before — or actually, in retrospect, maybe I’ve just hinted — I have received an incredible amount of misogynistic and violent feedback to my work in education technology.”

New movies! Reviews of Maleficent and X-Men: Days of Future Past abound! But it seems our spam submissions have a preference…

Spam!

  • Kim Moir of Releng of the Nerds recommends (June 9) Brianna Wu’s talk Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech (video, June 4) [no known transcript or subtitles, you can start subtitling at Amara to help make it accessible]
  • Online Harassment, Defamation, and Hateful Speech: A Primer of the Legal Landscape | Alice E. Marwick and Ross W. Miller at Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy: “This interdisciplinary project focused on online speech directed at women and seeks to provide a primer on (i) what legal remedies, if any, are available for victims of sexist, misogynist, or harassing online speech, and (ii) if such legal remedies and procedures exist, whether practical hurdles stand in the way of victims’ abilities to stop harassing or defamatory behavior… The study concluded that… there are few legal remedies for victims.”
  • How Perks Can Divide Us | Melissa Santos and Rafe Colburn at Model View Culture (June 9): “As managers, our goal should be to build the strongest and most effective teams possible. That starts with being able to draw from the broadest pool of candidates possible. When we exclude people because they don’t drink beer, can’t hang out after work, are remote employees or don’t like video games, we’re driving away people who could make our teams great for irrelevant reasons.”
  • Bigotry, Cognitive Dissonance, and Submission Guidelines | Charles Tan at Bibliophile Stalker (May 28): “On the very same day [N. K.] Jemisin made her [WisCon Guest of Honor] speech, a call for submissions for an anthology titled World Encounters went up… from the same editor who called Jemisin a [racial and gendered insult] and [gendered insult].”
  • Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned | Sumana Harihareswara at WikiConference USA (May 30) [transcript, video and audio are also available]: “When someone is criticized for doing something inhospitable, the first response needs to not be ‘Oh, but remember their edit count. Remember he’s done X or she’s done Y for this community.’ We need to start treating hospitality as a first class virtue, and see that it is the seed of everything else. Alberto Brandolini said ‘The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.’ It has a big cost when someone treats others badly.”
  • Black girls take on tech’s diversity woes | Contessa Gayles at CNN (June 10): “This past weekend, Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit that teaches coding to girls from underserved communities, hosted its first ever hackathon. “
  • The Newest Frontier | Lesli-Ann Lewis at Model View Culture (June 9): “There’s a persistent lie that there is a new industry of equality in the West. There’s a belief that in this industry, there are new playing fields, even ones, where ingenuity, inventiveness and good ole gumption result in success for anyone worthy. That industry is tech.”
  • Some thoughts on handling harassment and toxic behavior privately | Selena Deckelmann (June 9): “I believe in proportionate response. However, when the interactions are online and there is no physical public space, just ‘public media’, there’s a serious problem with the idea that a private response, particularly from the harassed, works at all.”
  • Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate | Maria Konnikova at The New Yorker (June 11): “Hannah Riley Bowles… has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire. “
  • How Not To Review Women’s Writing | Mallory Ortberg at The Toast (June 2): “I have gone back and forth several times over the last few days on whether or not it would be worth addressing Adam Plunkett’s New Yorker.com review of poet Patricia Lockwood’s latest book here… Also, if I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t want to seem mean by criticizing a man twice in public. I have since overcome this reluctance… It is such a perfect illustration of Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing that I think it merits mentioning, if only as a cautionary example for all you future New Yorker (dot com) reviewers out there.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The social lot of women might be treated with scientific linkspam (29 April 2014)

This linkspam is sadly a special edition; it’s all “terrible week in tech” links. We know there’s more to geekdom, look out for less-tech-still-geek linkspam tomorrow.

It seems more than justified to conclude with the opening of Model View Culture‘s Abuse issue (coming out over the next few days):

  • Abuse as DDoS | Julie Pagano: “DDoS attacks are abuse of computer systems until they slow down, stop working, and often eventually fail. Abuse of human beings has a similar impact. People dealing with abuse stop being their best, stop working, and eventually fail.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

A Week In The Life

[Content Warning: Intimate Partner Violence, workplace harassment, verbal abuse, sexism]

Folks who hang out around these parts are probably familiar with our Timeline Of Incidents, which documents sexist behavior in tech and other geek fields. While it’s a great resource, scrolling down through that hall of shame is a poor approximation for what it’s like being a woman having to deal with these incidents in real time.

It can be painful. Stressful. Scary. Difficult. Mostly, for me, it’s exhausting. And I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. I hang out with a lot of women in tech, and “this week is fired” has been a common refrain, these last few days.

We begin on Monday, with GitHub’s wholly inadequate response to Julie Ann Horvath’s harassment allegations. They claimed, in the face of her detailed, documented reports of ongoing harassment–harassment that she’d brought to the company’s attention more than once–that they had “no evidence…of a hostile work environment.”

When a woman says “X thing happened to me” and you say “I have no evidence that X happened,” you are calling her a liar. You’re saying her report of her own lived experience is not ‘evidence.’ Women hear that constantly–we are perpetually having our reports questioned, our behavior audited, our pain dismissed. So while this story is about what GitHub did to Horvath, Ellen Chisa is right to point out that GitHub’s reaction–and that of the tech community at large–is scary for many of us.

A lot of folks are saying Horvath is brave for speaking out. That’s true. What’s also true is that her bravery is being met with hostility, victim-blaming, verbal abuse, and threats of litigation. Speaking up about harassment in this industry is personally and professionally difficult. And when people harass and abuse those who do it, they’re sending a message to all of us. Watch your back. Shut your mouth. We will come for you.

Wednesday brought the news that RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal pled guilty last week to a couple of misdemeanor domestic violence charges. He was originally facing more than 40 felonies for beating his girlfriend–this after prosecutors say he was caught on tape hitting her more than 117 times in half an hour.

He got three years probation and a few hours of community service. Valleywag reports that his company just started a lucrative partnership, anticipates raising $100mil from its IPO, and Chahal is still being promoted as a public speaker.

Geek Feminists are no strangers to the notion that the professional reputations of men in tech are valued more highly than the physical safety of women. We saw it when Michael Schwern was arrested on domestic violence charges. Geek Feminism co-signed an Ada Initiative statement declining to do any work with Schwern in the future, and dudes came out of the woodwork crowing about ‘witch hunts.’

Because in this industry, telling a dude we’re not going to stamp his ‘ally card’ is totally the same as getting together a mob to murder him.

Schwern has since filed a civil suit against his ex wife, Noirin Plunkett, for speaking out about his arrest. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak made an initial finding in the civil case this Tuesday. Plunkett asked folks for support to offset the considerable legal costs of fighting the suit.

Watch your back. Shut your mouth. We will come for you.

Friday. A day after dismissing and tone-policing Shanley Kane’s “What Can Men Do,” Stack Exchange co-founder Jeff Atwood appropriated her work, publishing a post of his own with the same title that parroted many of her points (with a healthy dose of wrongheaded and harmful misinformation sprinkled in). When called on it, he doubled down, refusing to acknowledge Kane and continuing to tone-police her.

Women in tech practically have to work on diversity issues. It’s a matter of survival, for us. An unpaid, under-appreciated second shift we’re all expected to work. This is far from the first time that a man with very little background in this work has swooped in to ‘correct’ those who know far more about it than he does, taking credit for their labor in the process. And the yahoos in Kane’s twitter mentions, abusing her for daring to call Atwood out, are singing a similar refrain:

Watch your back. Shut your mouth. We will come for you.

If that wasn’t enough for one day, word has also been spreading today of CodeBabes project, a website which offers beautiful women in various states of undress as ‘rewards’ to users taking coding tutorials. The website helpfully informs us that there are more important things to be offended about. To paraphrase Melissa McEwan, this is contempt, not offense.

I don’t know about the codebabes team, but I’m personally capable of holding several things in contempt at once.

As this week’s events should indicate, I’ve had a lot of practice.

The Hugo Ballot is Out!

The finalists for the 2014 Hugo Awards were announced over the weekend, and gee golly are there some exciting works on that slate. I’m especially excited to see Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut Of Mars” on the ballot (it was denied a place on last year’s ballot because it originally appeared as an Audiobook). It’s sharing the novelette category with Aliette de Bodard’s “The Waiting Stars,” which I’ve not read yet but am looking forward to checking out.

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which is up for Best Novel, has been making a lot of shortlists this year, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke awards. I’m also glad to see Sofia Samatar’s “Selkie Stories Are For Losers” up for the short story Hugo–it’s definitely worth a read if you haven’t seen it yet (Samatar is also in her second year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer).

And I’m excited that my fellow Writing On The Fast Track alum and all-around good guy Mike Underwood is up for Best Fancast for The Skiffy and Fanty Show. The team behind it includes several other wonderful people, including authors and diversity advocates Julia Rios and Stina Leicht.

If you’re interested in checking out these and the other wonderful & deserving works on this year’s ballot and voting for this year’s Hugo awards, supporting memberships to this year’s WorldCon are available for 40$US. In addition to voting rights, supporting Members get a copy of the Hugo Voter Packet, which contains digital editions of most of the works on the ballot. This works out to a pretty great bargain if you’re excited about even a few of the nominated works–plus you get to vote on this year’s Hugos.

You may notice that there are a few surprising names on this year’s ballot. Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day, a writer whose hate speech got him drummed out of the SFWA last year) and Larry Correia encouraged their fans to nominate a particular ‘slate’ that included several vocal conservatives. Some of their fans have since been heard crowing about how they’ve succeeded in making some kind of political point by getting these folks on the ballot.

It’s unfortunate that they’ve chosen to politicize the Hugo awards in this way. But I would remind folks that are thinking about buying a membership that the Hugo Awards use “Instant Runoff Voting,” a system which allows voters to rank the candidates in each category. The system allows people to rank “No Award” higher than any or all candidates on the ballot. Indeed, in 1987, that very thing happened in the novel category: No Award came in ahead of L. Ron Hubbard’s Black Genesis.


Since invoking Beale’s name tends to cause some of the cesspools of the internet to backflow into the tubes, this is your reminder that we have a strictly-enforced comment policy. So if you’re here from Beale’s fan club: run along. Your comment will go straight to moderation and no one will see it.  There are plenty of places online where you can contribute to a net reduction in the worth and dignity of humanity. This is not one of them.

Take arms against a sea of links, and by spamming, end them (18 April 2014)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.