Tag Archives: mikeeusa

Re-post: On being harassed: a little GF history and some current events

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on October 13, 2011.

Trigger warning for discussion of and graphic examples of threatening online harassment.

The other day Mary posted Online harassment as a daily hazard, linking to s.e. smith’s On blogging, threats, and silence. I thought I might take the opportunity to talk about my experiences since starting the Geek Feminism blog in 2009, if only as another example to add to the long list we already have.

In early 2009 I wrote a series of blog posts on my personal blog, celebrating the achievements of Dreamwidth and the Organization for Transformative Works’ Archive Of Our Own (AO3), two open source projects that launched into beta around that time, and that had large, majority-female developer communities. Someone at O’Reilly saw them, and in May ’09 I got an email from the organisers of the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) asking if I’d like to give a keynote presentation about the subject.

At first I declined, asking whether, instead, they could find me a regular slot in the schedule. I wanted to talk about the projects and about what we could learn from them with regard to building inclusive, supportive developer communities, but I was uncomfortable with the degree of exposure I was likely to get by doing so in one of the morning keynote slots.

(I remember talking to my boss about it at work the next day, telling him I was flattered but didn’t much relish the negative attention it would get me. He was surprised, and didn’t get it. Later, he would admit that he’d read the ensuing comment threads around the web and was stunned not only by the content of them, but that such responses were expected.)

Anyway, at the end of May I went off to WisCon and talked to a bunch of supportive, inspiring feminists, and when I came back I agreed to give the OSCON keynote. I spent the next two months trying to figure out how to talk about the experiences of women in open source while keeping the message positive — something O’Reilly’s conference organisers had specifically requested.

Here’s the talk I gave. Don’t read the comments. Well, not unless you really need to raise your blood pressure. There were another 250 comments on the O’Reilly Radar post about my talk, and yet more on other tech blogs that linked to it. When I got back to work the week after OSCON, my boss had read them all and said, “Wow, I had no idea.”

What you’ll see there, if you brave the comment threads, are lots of attempts at derailing and 101 style conversations. For the most part, I deleted the particularly vile stuff, but you can bet there was some. After dealing with those comment threads, and those on subsequent related blog posts, I decided to create the GF blog. I wanted a group blog where, when I was exhausted by it all, I could get help from my co-bloggers.

Over the following six months, as my OSCON talk was linked all over the place, and as GF took off, I started to get more nasty email. In September of that year, GF became the target of a guy who goes by the name of MikeeUSA, who had previously targetted the Debian Women and LinuxChix communities. He started commenting here on GF, and sending email to GF bloggers, commenters, and people who linked to GF from their own blogs.

The women of the “geek feminism” movement will be just as effective at excising men from the movement as Nina was at systematically destroying Hans Reiser’s life untill he saw no reason, nothing left in his life, that could hold him back from striking back.

(Nina Reiser was murdered by her husband in 2006; see yatima’s post in memory of her.)

We deleted his comments here, of course. At first we did so quietly, not wanting to “feed the troll” But I was dubious of that traditional wisdom, and worried about other people getting messages from him and perhaps being less able to deal with it. I decided to write publicly about MikeeUSA so that everyone would know what was happening. In October ’09 I posted PSA: MikeeUSA’s hate speech and harassment.

As I was drafting that post — literally, I had the WordPress UI open in another tab — I got an email from a young woman in the open source community saying, “I just got a comment on my blog from this death-to-women’s-rights guy, and I’m not sure what to do about it.” I forwarded her a copy of my draft post, which included the following tips (summarised, but I do suggest you read the full post):

  • Moderate comments on your blog. Your blog is your space, and like your own living room or workplace, you have the right and the responsibility to make it a safe environment for those who gather there.
  • Save copies of all correspondence. Keep a copy of any blog comments, emails, or other correspondence you get from [anyone] who threatens or harasses you. Even if it starts out mild, it never hurts to have a paper trail.
  • Report threats to law enforcement. Threats of violence are illegal, and should be reported to law enforcement. Your first step is to contact your local police, wherever you are. You can call 911 (or local equivalent), or visit your local police station in person.

I would probably write that final point differently these days. Less prescriptively, for starters. Law enforcement is seldom willing or able to do anything about online harassment, and the process of dealing with them can, in itself, be pretty traumatic. That said, if you’re willing and able to do so, it might help, if only by contributing to aggregate data.

In any case, once we had the MikeeUSA thing out in the open, it changed the whole tone of things. The PSA got passed around various women-in-tech communities, and the GF wiki and blog became the top Google hits for his name. Soon, I started seeing him show up in people’s comments and get responses like, “Woohoo, I must have made it to the big time now Mikee’s come to visit!” Rather than each individual woman feeling singled out and alone, privately deleting blog comments or email messages, we started to work on it together. We encouraged people to send copies of their emails to a central repository, and forwarded them all to the feds (who, of course, did nothing with them — *sigh*). Eventually, the whole thing came to a head with Eric S. Raymond supporting MikeeUSA and his “right” to have his hate speech hosted on Sourceforge.net, and, after a weekend’s hacking, this lulzy, pony-filled denouement.

What you don’t see from the blog posts are the effect this had on people’s mental and physical health. I can’t speak for the other women targetted by Mikee, but I know that it affected my ability to concentrate, sleep, work, and socialise. Apologies for the TMI, but my gastro-intestinal system is also fairly sensitive to stress, so I was physically ill as well. I took several days of sick leave and went to the beach for an extended weekend, completely offline, to try and regain some equilibrium.

So far so bad, but I was at least managing to muddle through my day to day work as a technical community manager at a dotcom startup. That is, until I got a second particularly nasty stalker. This one, a Wikipedia troll, had found his way to my employer’s online database and tried to fill it with rubbish. As part of my job, I’d removed it and blocked his account, then mentioned on our public mailing list that I’d done so. The troll was annoyed, and presumably Googled my name, whereupon he found my OSCON talk.

The first I knew about this was when I got an email from a well known technologist asking whether I had any idea why a post on his blog, linking to my OSCON talk, had suddenly attracted a dozen commenters all posting abuse directed at me. I checked it out, and found comments on my professionalism, appearance, fuckability, and so forth. “Fat dyke slut” was pretty typical of the sort of language used, along with criticisms of my work and calls for me to be fired from my job. The IPs matched the guy I’d blocked at work.

The comments also linked to other blogs where similar abuse had been posted. I followed the links and found that it was spread all around the web, and all of it was on third-party sites where I had no control over the comment moderation. I had to contact each of these websites individually and ask them to remove the comments. Luckily most of them did so.

Because this was work-related, I also had to tell my boss. I was, after all, being harassed in relation to something I had done in the course of my professional duties, and my company had a responsibility to prevent that. I also informed the rest of my team, as they were likely to catch some of the side-splatter. Have you ever had to show your male colleagues a webpage that calls you a fat dyke slut? I don’t recommend it. However, my boss — the same one who’d been surprised by the comments straight after the OSCON talk — was extremely supportive, and the company did everything it should have. I spoke to lawyers and we determined a plan of action if the abuse continued. Fortunately, it didn’t. However, the negative side-effects of my “hobby” — feminist blogging — had now followed me to the office, and I could no longer keep the two separate. My chances of being able to relax and do my work without worrying about that stuff had gone out the window.

Not long after, another harasser was causing trouble for the Dreamwidth developer community (which, as I mentioned above, is predominantly female). Among other creepy behaviour, he phoned various people’s workplaces and accused them of distributing child pornography. I had to go to our office manager and tell him that if anyone called claiming to be a minister of religion and accusing me of that sort of thing, to ignore it. Awkward.

That was about nine months after my OSCON talk, and I’d had three separate cases where abuse related to it had negatively affected my professional life. Other women have talked about cutting back on their blogging out of concern for their personal safety, or to protect their children, but I wonder how many other female bloggers have had work-related problems like I did, and cut back on their blogging to avoid having abuse and harassment leak over into their professional lives?

The most recent outcome of this whole process occurred in March of this year. The startup I was working for in 2009 had been acquired by Google, and I’d submitted a talk to Google I/O (their big annual conference) to showcase our APIs. A couple of months before the event, I attended a kick-off meeting in Mountain View, where I sat in a lecture-theatre style room along with all the other presenters.

The senior exec in charge of the whole thing came to give us a pep talk. He told us how big and important the conference was, and what an honour it was to be speaking there. He told us that it was a great opportunity, because we would be speaking not only to a huge crowd in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, but our talks would also be filmed and put on Youtube, where they could potentially get hundreds of thousands of views (and, presumably, a commensurate number of comments).

I had a panic attack. My ears were ringing, my heart was beating fast, and I was shaking. I couldn’t hear what was being said from the front of the lecture theatre, and I just wanted to escape. I managed to get up and leave the room, and once I had found myself a safe corner outside, I got online and talked it through with a friend, then contacted a colleague and asked them to speak at Google I/O in my place.

I presume that most of the people in that room, including the exec who was speaking from the podium, had never had the experience of 6-12 months of very personal abuse after giving a conference talk. If they had, they might realise that the opportunity to have a video of oneself on Youtube, with hundreds of thousands of views and unmoderated comments, is not something everyone would want. (See also: Mary’s excellent series on conference recordings and harassment, accounts of people’s experiences, thoughts on ethics and policy.)

By the time this happened, I’d already decided — like many women before me — to drop out of the tech industry, so it was no big deal for me to turn down a high profile speaking opportunity. In fact, I hadn’t spoken at any major conferences in a year or so, preferring small events and unconferences where I could focus on teaching people about our technology, rather than on any potential harassment.

I’m fairly conflicted about my choice to quit the tech industry. I don’t want to be part of some statistic about retention rates, but on the other hand, I need to do something that feels rewarding and fun, and the work I was doing — which involved lots of speaking at conferences — wasn’t giving me that any more.

I didn’t quit because I couldn’t handle the technology, or because I had a baby, but because I had become fundamentally disenchanted with a “community” (please imagine me doing sarcastic air quotes) that supports the kind of abuse I’ve experienced and treats most human-related problems — from harassment to accessibility to the infinite variety of names people use (ahem ahem Google Plus) — as “too hard”.

That said, I’m still a techie at heart, and I plan to keep working with and on technology in whatever career I have ahead of me. I’m particularly interested in using open tech to preserve and promote independent music, so you’ll continue to see me around in many of my usual tech haunts.

Which brings me to a couple of weeks ago, when I got an email that read:

Hey slut, take your left wing socialist idealogy and go fuck off from ubuntu.

It came from someone calling himself “Markus G”, with email address grandrhino at hotmail, and IP address 110.174.202.115 — a static IP address with the ISP TPG, and a traceroute indicating that he’s probably in Brisbane, Australia.

Luckily, I know I’m not alone. I contacted the GF bloggers through one of our backchannels and asked if anyone else had heard of this guy. Turns out Mary had heard that “Markus” had previously sent similar filth to another woman in the Australian Linux community (she alluded to this in comments on her previous post). In that case, it was related to the Mark Pesce keynote at LCA 2010 and the subsequent discussion on the Linux Australia mailing list.

So, here’s our situation. We have a man (presumably; at any rate he appears to want to be identified as such) in the Australian Linux community, who targets women by sending them private abusive emails from a throwaway address and with a name that can’t readily be connected to any publicly known member of the community. His ISP won’t hand out information about him without a court order, his abuse doesn’t present the kind of imminent threat to physical safety that might interest law enforcement, and despite Linux Australia’s diversity statement and Linux.conf.au’s anti-harassment policies, it’s not clear that there’s any practical thing that either of those groups can do about him.

I have a talk about a tech/music/community project I founded scheduled at Linux.conf.au in January. If I attend — and I’ll freely admit that I’ve been reconsidering it — I’m going to be attending with this on my mind. That is, of course, what “Markus G” wants: for me, and the other women he’s targetted (and I don’t doubt there are more than just the two I know about) to attend LCA in a state of fear and discomfort, knowing that there are people there who hate us and want us to fuck off out of “their” community. And this is one of the better conferences, with an anti-harassment policy and at least one known case where they’ve enforced it.

What are we going to do about it?

On being harassed: a little GF history and some current events

Trigger warning for discussion of and graphic examples of threatening online harassment.

The other day Mary posted Online harassment as a daily hazard, linking to s.e. smith’s On blogging, threats, and silence. I thought I might take the opportunity to talk about my experiences since starting the Geek Feminism blog in 2009, if only as another example to add to the long list we already have.

In early 2009 I wrote a series of blog posts on my personal blog, celebrating the achievements of Dreamwidth and the Organization for Transformative Works’ Archive Of Our Own (AO3), two open source projects that launched into beta around that time, and that had large, majority-female developer communities. Someone at O’Reilly saw them, and in May ’09 I got an email from the organisers of the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) asking if I’d like to give a keynote presentation about the subject.

At first I declined, asking whether, instead, they could find me a regular slot in the schedule. I wanted to talk about the projects and about what we could learn from them with regard to building inclusive, supportive developer communities, but I was uncomfortable with the degree of exposure I was likely to get by doing so in one of the morning keynote slots.

(I remember talking to my boss about it at work the next day, telling him I was flattered but didn’t much relish the negative attention it would get me. He was surprised, and didn’t get it. Later, he would admit that he’d read the ensuing comment threads around the web and was stunned not only by the content of them, but that such responses were expected.)

Anyway, at the end of May I went off to WisCon and talked to a bunch of supportive, inspiring feminists, and when I came back I agreed to give the OSCON keynote. I spent the next two months trying to figure out how to talk about the experiences of women in open source while keeping the message positive — something O’Reilly’s conference organisers had specifically requested.

Here’s the talk I gave. Don’t read the comments. Well, not unless you really need to raise your blood pressure. There were another 250 comments on the O’Reilly Radar post about my talk, and yet more on other tech blogs that linked to it. When I got back to work the week after OSCON, my boss had read them all and said, “Wow, I had no idea.”

What you’ll see there, if you brave the comment threads, are lots of attempts at derailing and 101 style conversations. For the most part, I deleted the particularly vile stuff, but you can bet there was some. After dealing with those comment threads, and those on subsequent related blog posts, I decided to create the GF blog. I wanted a group blog where, when I was exhausted by it all, I could get help from my co-bloggers.

Over the following six months, as my OSCON talk was linked all over the place, and as GF took off, I started to get more nasty email. In September of that year, GF became the target of a guy who goes by the name of MikeeUSA, who had previously targetted the Debian Women and LinuxChix communities. He started commenting here on GF, and sending email to GF bloggers, commenters, and people who linked to GF from their own blogs.

The women of the “geek feminism” movement will be just as effective at excising men from the movement as Nina was at systematically destroying Hans Reiser’s life untill he saw no reason, nothing left in his life, that could hold him back from striking back.

(Nina Reiser was murdered by her husband in 2006; see yatima’s post in memory of her.)

We deleted his comments here, of course. At first we did so quietly, not wanting to “feed the troll” But I was dubious of that traditional wisdom, and worried about other people getting messages from him and perhaps being less able to deal with it. I decided to write publicly about MikeeUSA so that everyone would know what was happening. In October ’09 I posted PSA: MikeeUSA’s hate speech and harassment.

As I was drafting that post — literally, I had the WordPress UI open in another tab — I got an email from a young woman in the open source community saying, “I just got a comment on my blog from this death-to-women’s-rights guy, and I’m not sure what to do about it.” I forwarded her a copy of my draft post, which included the following tips (summarised, but I do suggest you read the full post):

  • Moderate comments on your blog. Your blog is your space, and like your own living room or workplace, you have the right and the responsibility to make it a safe environment for those who gather there.
  • Save copies of all correspondence. Keep a copy of any blog comments, emails, or other correspondence you get from [anyone] who threatens or harasses you. Even if it starts out mild, it never hurts to have a paper trail.
  • Report threats to law enforcement. Threats of violence are illegal, and should be reported to law enforcement. Your first step is to contact your local police, wherever you are. You can call 911 (or local equivalent), or visit your local police station in person.

I would probably write that final point differently these days. Less prescriptively, for starters. Law enforcement is seldom willing or able to do anything about online harassment, and the process of dealing with them can, in itself, be pretty traumatic. That said, if you’re willing and able to do so, it might help, if only by contributing to aggregate data.

In any case, once we had the MikeeUSA thing out in the open, it changed the whole tone of things. The PSA got passed around various women-in-tech communities, and the GF wiki and blog became the top Google hits for his name. Soon, I started seeing him show up in people’s comments and get responses like, “Woohoo, I must have made it to the big time now Mikee’s come to visit!” Rather than each individual woman feeling singled out and alone, privately deleting blog comments or email messages, we started to work on it together. We encouraged people to send copies of their emails to a central repository, and forwarded them all to the feds (who, of course, did nothing with them — *sigh*). Eventually, the whole thing came to a head with Eric S. Raymond supporting MikeeUSA and his “right” to have his hate speech hosted on Sourceforge.net, and, after a weekend’s hacking, this lulzy, pony-filled denouement.

What you don’t see from the blog posts are the effect this had on people’s mental and physical health. I can’t speak for the other women targetted by Mikee, but I know that it affected my ability to concentrate, sleep, work, and socialise. Apologies for the TMI, but my gastro-intestinal system is also fairly sensitive to stress, so I was physically ill as well. I took several days of sick leave and went to the beach for an extended weekend, completely offline, to try and regain some equilibrium.

So far so bad, but I was at least managing to muddle through my day to day work as a technical community manager at a dotcom startup. That is, until I got a second particularly nasty stalker. This one, a Wikipedia troll, had found his way to my employer’s online database and tried to fill it with rubbish. As part of my job, I’d removed it and blocked his account, then mentioned on our public mailing list that I’d done so. The troll was annoyed, and presumably Googled my name, whereupon he found my OSCON talk.

The first I knew about this was when I got an email from a well known technologist asking whether I had any idea why a post on his blog, linking to my OSCON talk, had suddenly attracted a dozen commenters all posting abuse directed at me. I checked it out, and found comments on my professionalism, appearance, fuckability, and so forth. “Fat dyke slut” was pretty typical of the sort of language used, along with criticisms of my work and calls for me to be fired from my job. The IPs matched the guy I’d blocked at work.

The comments also linked to other blogs where similar abuse had been posted. I followed the links and found that it was spread all around the web, and all of it was on third-party sites where I had no control over the comment moderation. I had to contact each of these websites individually and ask them to remove the comments. Luckily most of them did so.

Because this was work-related, I also had to tell my boss. I was, after all, being harassed in relation to something I had done in the course of my professional duties, and my company had a responsibility to prevent that. I also informed the rest of my team, as they were likely to catch some of the side-splatter. Have you ever had to show your male colleagues a webpage that calls you a fat dyke slut? I don’t recommend it. However, my boss — the same one who’d been surprised by the comments straight after the OSCON talk — was extremely supportive, and the company did everything it should have. I spoke to lawyers and we determined a plan of action if the abuse continued. Fortunately, it didn’t. However, the negative side-effects of my “hobby” — feminist blogging — had now followed me to the office, and I could no longer keep the two separate. My chances of being able to relax and do my work without worrying about that stuff had gone out the window.

Not long after, another harasser was causing trouble for the Dreamwidth developer community (which, as I mentioned above, is predominantly female). Among other creepy behaviour, he phoned various people’s workplaces and accused them of distributing child pornography. I had to go to our office manager and tell him that if anyone called claiming to be a minister of religion and accusing me of that sort of thing, to ignore it. Awkward.

That was about nine months after my OSCON talk, and I’d had three separate cases where abuse related to it had negatively affected my professional life. Other women have talked about cutting back on their blogging out of concern for their personal safety, or to protect their children, but I wonder how many other female bloggers have had work-related problems like I did, and cut back on their blogging to avoid having abuse and harassment leak over into their professional lives?

The most recent outcome of this whole process occurred in March of this year. The startup I was working for in 2009 had been acquired by Google, and I’d submitted a talk to Google I/O (their big annual conference) to showcase our APIs. A couple of months before the event, I attended a kick-off meeting in Mountain View, where I sat in a lecture-theatre style room along with all the other presenters.

The senior exec in charge of the whole thing came to give us a pep talk. He told us how big and important the conference was, and what an honour it was to be speaking there. He told us that it was a great opportunity, because we would be speaking not only to a huge crowd in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, but our talks would also be filmed and put on Youtube, where they could potentially get hundreds of thousands of views (and, presumably, a commensurate number of comments).

I had a panic attack. My ears were ringing, my heart was beating fast, and I was shaking. I couldn’t hear what was being said from the front of the lecture theatre, and I just wanted to escape. I managed to get up and leave the room, and once I had found myself a safe corner outside, I got online and talked it through with a friend, then contacted a colleague and asked them to speak at Google I/O in my place.

I presume that most of the people in that room, including the exec who was speaking from the podium, had never had the experience of 6-12 months of very personal abuse after giving a conference talk. If they had, they might realise that the opportunity to have a video of oneself on Youtube, with hundreds of thousands of views and unmoderated comments, is not something everyone would want. (See also: Mary’s excellent series on conference recordings and harassment, accounts of people’s experiences, thoughts on ethics and policy.)

By the time this happened, I’d already decided — like many women before me — to drop out of the tech industry, so it was no big deal for me to turn down a high profile speaking opportunity. In fact, I hadn’t spoken at any major conferences in a year or so, preferring small events and unconferences where I could focus on teaching people about our technology, rather than on any potential harassment.

I’m fairly conflicted about my choice to quit the tech industry. I don’t want to be part of some statistic about retention rates, but on the other hand, I need to do something that feels rewarding and fun, and the work I was doing — which involved lots of speaking at conferences — wasn’t giving me that any more.

I didn’t quit because I couldn’t handle the technology, or because I had a baby, but because I had become fundamentally disenchanted with a “community” (please imagine me doing sarcastic air quotes) that supports the kind of abuse I’ve experienced and treats most human-related problems — from harassment to accessibility to the infinite variety of names people use (ahem ahem Google Plus) — as “too hard”.

That said, I’m still a techie at heart, and I plan to keep working with and on technology in whatever career I have ahead of me. I’m particularly interested in using open tech to preserve and promote independent music, so you’ll continue to see me around in many of my usual tech haunts.

Which brings me to a couple of weeks ago, when I got an email that read:

Hey slut, take your left wing socialist idealogy and go fuck off from ubuntu.

It came from someone calling himself “Markus G”, with email address grandrhino at hotmail, and IP address 110.174.202.115 — a static IP address with the ISP TPG, and a traceroute indicating that he’s probably in Brisbane, Australia.

Luckily, I know I’m not alone. I contacted the GF bloggers through one of our backchannels and asked if anyone else had heard of this guy. Turns out Mary had heard that “Markus” had previously sent similar filth to another woman in the Australian Linux community (she alluded to this in comments on her previous post). In that case, it was related to the Mark Pesce keynote at LCA 2010 and the subsequent discussion on the Linux Australia mailing list.

So, here’s our situation. We have a man (presumably; at any rate he appears to want to be identified as such) in the Australian Linux community, who targets women by sending them private abusive emails from a throwaway address and with a name that can’t readily be connected to any publicly known member of the community. His ISP won’t hand out information about him without a court order, his abuse doesn’t present the kind of imminent threat to physical safety that might interest law enforcement, and despite Linux Australia’s diversity statement and Linux.conf.au’s anti-harassment policies, it’s not clear that there’s any practical thing that either of those groups can do about him.

I have a talk about a tech/music/community project I founded scheduled at Linux.conf.au in January. If I attend — and I’ll freely admit that I’ve been reconsidering it — I’m going to be attending with this on my mind. That is, of course, what “Markus G” wants: for me, and the other women he’s targetted (and I don’t doubt there are more than just the two I know about) to attend LCA in a state of fear and discomfort, knowing that there are people there who hate us and want us to fuck off out of “their” community. And this is one of the better conferences, with an anti-harassment policy and at least one known case where they’ve enforced it.

What are we going to do about it?

MikeeUSA’s code, now available on geekfeminism.org

Trigger warning: some linked pages contain hate speech and threats of violence against women.

While I completely support SourceForge’s decision to remove MikeeUSA‘s code for violation of their Terms of Service, I can’t help kinda feeling sorry for the guy, because apparently he didn’t have any other copies.

Let’s face it, he’s not a very experienced developer, and he can’t be expected to understand advanced topics like, oh, keeping backups, especially since he spends so much time on his activism, which no doubt distracts him from real coding.

Good thing us feminists are here to help him out. It just so happens that we had a copy of some of the code that was deleted, so we’ve forked it under the terms of the GPL, and made it available at:

http://code.geekfeminism.org/mikeeusa/

[2014 edit: Leigh got tired of running that server so she stopped hosting it. You can see an old snapshot on archive.org, in the unlikely event that you give a shit.]

It’s a Mercurial repository, and you can either browse it over the web, or clone it using your favourite Mercurial client. I know distributed version control can be a bit daunting for newbie developers, but perhaps Mikee can find a friend to help him out with it.

But we didn’t just post his code as-is. We’ve improved it! As a Perl developer and veteran CPAN contributor, I was able to make a start at cleaning up the worst bits of his slots game, though I must admit that my work was slowed down by the urge to send almost every line of it to TheDailyWTF.

$htmlsave =~ s/./__________THISISAPERIOD__________/g;
$htmlsave =~ s/W//g;
$htmlsave =~ s/__________THISISAPERIOD__________/./g;

And we also improved his Crossfire maps, especially one set in Russia which we switched to Ponyland, where you help the Pony Liberation Army free Ponyland from the trolls. Everyone loves ponies, right?

We think you’ll especially enjoy the new textures we’ve added:

Ponies - a vast improvement!

They might not improve playability, but from what we’ve heard, there wasn’t much playability to start with.

As Free Software developers, we honour the Four Software Freedoms, and gladly recognise Mikee’s right to run these programs, study and learn from them, redistribute copies, and even modify them — provided, of course, that attribution is given to the geekfeminism.org developers.

ETA: Comments on this post are now closed — yes, early — as we seem to have reached the point of nothing new being added to the discussion.

“We’ve got your back.”

That’s what we like to hear. And since our PSA last week about MikeeUSA, we’ve been really pleased to see people coming out of the woodwork to say, in effect, “OMGWTF!” and “NOT COOL.”

It’s funny… when I wrote that post, I was cringing in anticipation. After the last couple of contentious things I’d written, I was sure that I was going to get a flood of posts telling me how I was over-reacting, how raising these issues was harming the open source community, or that I should focus on the positive. I hit “post” with some trepidation, then left the office almost shaking.

I kept checking the comments throughout the evening, and even woke up in the middle of the night expecting a storm of invective. And there wasn’t one. Around twelve hours after the post, I cautiously said on IRC, “maybe there won’t be a backlash this time,” and then wanted to retract the words in case it was some kind of jinx.

Instead, what we got was support. Twitter and Identi.ca were buzzing with retweets/redents of people spreading the PSA, and the comments here on GF — even from people who said they usually disagreed with feminist goals — were 100% supportive. You know how we have a comment policy here that says we will delete stuff that’s blatantly anti-feminist? Well, this was the first contentious post we’ve ever had where we didn’t delete a single comment.

So, thanks. It’s good to know that there are some things just so vile that nobody in our community will tolerate them. It’s good to know that we can visit almost any open source blog this week without having to be confronted by Mikee’s hateful comments, because they’ve been sent to the bit bucket. And it’s good to know that at least some of the women (and men) who were targetted by Mikee’s hate speech over the last week or so knew how to handle it, and knew they weren’t alone, because we got the word out.

Thanks for having our backs.

But let’s stop for a moment and think about why that’s such a big deal. It’s a big deal because it’s unusual. Most of the time, backlash, not support, is the strongest response.

Next time round, I’d like to ask everyone to remember that every little incident in our community occurs in a context of institutionalised sexism that ranges from the odd thoughtless joke to… well, to Mikee and beyond. And it’s the little things, repeated over and over and excused just as often, that serve to reinforce the feeling that we don’t quite belong, and that the majority of the community might not back us up, might even attack us, if the shit hits the fan.

Please don’t let this happen.

We need to know you’ve got our backs. Even for the little stuff. Even when it’s a community leader. Even when you aren’t quite sure why it’s a big deal. Especially those times. Because it’s the security of knowing that someone’s got our backs that lets us speak about the big stuff without shame or fear. And it’s only that security that lets us feel safe to give all our energy and focus to what we came here for in the first place: free and open source software.

PSA: MikeeUSA’s hate speech and harassment

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses sexual assault, threats of violence, and actual violence against women. If you link to this post, please include a similar warning. See below for more information on how/why to do this.

I think we need to address this.

There is a guy out there who goes by the name of MikeeUSA and who, since around 2005, has been posting threatening and harrassing comments and emails to and about women in the free and open source software community.

Most recently, in response to the Mark Shuttleworth incident, he’s been commenting on related blogs comparing us (me, Mackenzie, Carla Schroder by name, and other geek feminists in general) to Nina Reiser, who was killed by her husband, Linux file systems hacker Hans Reiser, in 2006.

The women of the “geek feminism” movement will be just as effective at excising men from the movement as Nina was at systematically destroying Hans Reiser’s life untill he saw no reason, nothing left in his life, that could hold him back from striking back.

The same comment was copy-pasted to numerous other blogs, including this one (twice), but has been deleted by most blog owners.

This is the same guy who was responsible for the Debian death threats I mentioned in my post about George Sodini and parallels in the tech community. In 2007, he sent the following to the debian-women mailing list:

Yea you’ve become a developer… and have done nearly nothing except shill your feminist shit and try to turn debian into a woman’s project (you are succeeding, men are leaving debian because of you and your ilk, worthless bitch).

[…]

I pray you find your way into a feminist unfriendly country one day. God willing, you will die.

Happily the feminist-unfriendly countries are immigrating to you. Remeber the netherlands? Feminists die there.

He has a hate blog at mikeeusa.pressword.com where he posts the same sort of stuff.

Men going to jail for hitting their wives is bad for men.

Men going to jail for raping their wives is bad for men.

Men losing their jobs because they said or did a “sexist†thing is bad for men.

Men being pushed out of opensource projects at the behest of WORTHLESS feminist women is bad for men and that which men create.

[…]

As for Nina Reiser: she deserved to die for what she put Hans through. She did die. Justice, men’s retributitive justice, was done. She will never live again, she is finished; she is dead.

This is what he tells men:

Go to the local women’s group office and liquidate it (kill the feminist women there). Wear a dark suit and drive an expensive car (these are more likely not to be suspect). Continue destroying the people who have helped to destroy countless of your fellow Men untill you are killed. Go from women’s rights organisation’s office to women’s rights organisation’s office, maybe throw in a few domestic violence shelters and abortion clinics if you wish.

And as for his views on statutory rape — sex with girls as young as 12, who he believes “belong to men” — well, read his comments here, here, or here.

He’s previously been banned from Blogspot, DeviantArt, and AdBrite, DynDNS, and even the Napster forums (search within page for “Drew Armon”) for his hate speech. He is also the only person ever to have been banned from Debian’s bug tracking system.

Along with his blog posts and comments, he has also sent similar threats by email to individual women, specifically free and open source software developers. While some of the women who received his emails shared them with others and banded together to deal with the problem, others thought they were his only target, and deleted his emails and did not initally let anyone know about them.

This is completely understandable — our first reaction, and the traditional wisdom of how to deal with trolls, is to ignore them and hope they go away. But the effect on each of us, when we try to deal with this stuff alone, is to make us feel isolated, afraid, and impotent. And it becomes one of the many tiny cuts that weaken us and, eventually, drive us away.

Let’s not do that. Let’s stand together and support each other.

Here’s what you can do.

Moderate comments on your blog.

Your blog is your space, and like your own living room or workplace, you have the right and the responsibility to make it a safe environment for those who gather there.

This was a core issue at the time of Kathy Sierra’s online harrassment and withdrawal from blogging. It led Tim O’Reilly and others to propose a bloggers’ code of conduct and others to respond with Moderation isn’t rocket science and John Scalzi’s eye-rolling which said, in part:

Indeed, the reason that we’re now at a point where some self-appointed guardians of the discourse have decided it’s necessary to tell the rest of us slobs how to talk to each other is that people apparently forgot they have the right on their own sites to tell obnoxious dickheads to shut the hell up. […]

What the blog world needs is not a universal “Code of Conduct”; what it needs is for people to remind themselves that deleting comments from obnoxious dickheads is a good thing.

Whether you decide to institute a comment policy as we have on GF, or to moderate on an ad-hoc basis as required, is up to you. But remember that deleting abusive comments is not censorship. Only the government can censor, and even governments draw the line at threats of violence, which are illegal pretty much everywhere.

Save copies of all correspondence.

Keep a copy of any blog comments, emails, or other correspondence you get from Mikee or anyone else who threatens or harasses you. Even if it starts out mild, it never hurts to have a paper trail.

Where appropriate, let other people know you’ve received threats or harassment. It might be relevant to mention it on a women’s mailing list (eg. one of the LinuxChix lists, or project-specific “Foo-women” lists) and ask whether anyone else has received anything similar. Point them at this post so they know what to do, too.

Report threats to law enforcement.

Threats of violence are illegal, and should be reported to law enforcement. Law enforcement must take them seriously, regardless of whether they occur online or off; if you think they won’t care, remember that the spectre of George Sodini will cause them to take online misogyny more seriously than they would have before this year.

Your first step is to contact your local police, wherever you are. You can call 911 (or local equivalent), or visit your local police station in person. Make sure you have saved your correspondence (see above).

Some countries have specific law enforcement divisions to deal with Internet-related crime. For instance, in Australia, the Australian Federal Police have a division that deals with technology enabled crime. Generally, you would not contact these divisions directly. Just contact your local police and they will escalate as required.

Other useful information

  • MikeeUSA also goes by the nicknames Mikee, Mike, Mitch O’Brian, and Drew Armon.
  • According to this profile posted in 2004 (screencap), his real name seems to be Mike McAllister and he is around 19 years old. On the other hand, his Sourceforge profile suggests that his surname starts with B, and this IRC log in which he says he was 18 in 2005 suggests he is currently 22-23 years old.
  • He has recently been using the email address programmer@yahoo.com though he changes regularly; other addresses include a number of variations on mikeeusa@yahoo.com, and notodw@yahoo.com. As you can see, he most commonly uses Yahoo’s free email service. He previously (ca. 2002) used Drew Armon@aol.com and Martainhij@aol.com. New as of today, we’ve found he’s using mikeeusa@sogetthis.com, a Mailinator domain which provides anonymous, throwaway addresses.
  • He uses a dynamic DNS service for the server that hosts some of his websites; his server is connected to Optimum Online, an ISP which serves New York and surrounding areas, and his IP has been traced to Bay Shore NY, which matches the profile linked above where he says he’s from Islip NY.
  • When posting comments on blogs, he may use Tor to obfuscate his location; in this case blocking him based on IP address won’t work, though you may be able to block him based on email, username, or keywords in his comments.

Thanks to Leigh Honeywell for gathering most of the above information. Some further information came from “directhex” in this comment thread on Mackenzie’s blog. We (myself and Leigh) have additional information if you, or law enforcement authorities, need it. Please feel free to get in touch.

A note on trigger warnings

Please remember that many women in our community have been the targets of violence and sexual assault, or have a justifiable fear of becoming a target. Reading about these threats may cause extreme and immediate emotional and psychological distress, which is referred to as being “triggered”. If you are not familiar with triggers, you might like to read this post (Warning: Very explicit discussion of sexual assault and the nature, anatomy, cause & effect of triggers. Is itself triggery.)

Please, if you are going to link to this post, or to any other discussion of or writing by MikeeUSA or his ilk, or to post anything about this on your own blog, add a trigger warning to your post. This will allow readers to manage their reading and protect themselves. You can use the trigger warning at the top of this post as an example.

Comment policy reminder

A reminder that we have a comment policy here which means we will delete comments which are anti-feminist, abusive, or otherwise inappropriate at our sole discretion. Since we expect there to be a lot of people commenting, I’d also like to pre-empt any kneejerk reactions along the lines of “you should just ignore trolls” or “this is censorship” with an invitation for you to post those views on your own blog, not here.