A community that tolerates and enables bullies, stalkers, and miscellaneous similar people, is no community at all. Do that and eventually many of the people who are or fear being targeted, will just fade away and hide. And only those of us stubborn enough to remain despite the harassment, defamation, and death threats will be left. Taking part in a community shouldn’t require the level of stubbornness I have learned, or disregard of one’s own safety. I go online every day knowing that my address has been posted on the web along with solicitations of murderers, rape jokes, and just about every possible level of nastiness and invasion of privacy — and my friends, family, and coworkers have been subjected to the same things. I’ve even seen other people first victimized by the same bullies and then told “The bullying will stop as soon as you denounce Amanda/join in the bullying.” I have learned to live with that. But people shouldn’t have to live with that.
There is no excuse for actively enabling bullies. These things are not some kind of “it takes two” situations (flashbacks to being beaten up in elementary school and being told “it takes two”). You don’t see me, Kowalski, SBWG, or most other targets running around harassing, threatening, or stalking anyone (although you can bet that bullies try to make themselves look as if that is happening to them to justify what they do to us). Sure I’ve seen bullies and their enablers bullying each other from time to time, I’ve seen two stalkers stalk each other. But it’s not normally what’s happening. These aren’t personality conflicts. This isn’t about someone just “not liking” someone else. And it’s not like being autistic or otherwise disabled means someone’s innocent — back in my IRC days we had at least two autistic stalkers and at least two autistic child molesters banned from our channel as well as miscellaneous other autistic bullies. (I’ve also heard “But she hasn’t killed you yet so the death threats are harmless.”. Seriously?!??)
This has to stop being acceptable. People have to stop being complacent. Any community that tolerates and enables bullies is practicing de facto exclusion of everyone who is in so much fear of being a target that they leave. That’s why my blog doesn’t allow such crap to go on here. If bullies want a forum they can have it somewhere other than here. (And when autistics.org begins to allow other blogs again that will continue to be our policy.) You shouldn’t have to have the kind of emotional shielding I have learned in order to participate in online discussions. (And yes this is an accessibility issue.) People need to take a stand on this stuff and quit sweeping it under the rug. Otherwise the bullies win every time someone fails to write because they’re afraid. (Although what the bullies are winning always confuses me. I mean they don’t actually gain anything legitimate or useful from what they do. They just get to be incredibly nasty to people. Which is a pointless goal.)
Also, bullying does more than silence people. It also kills. People commit suicide because of bullies all the time. (So all of you well-meaning people who enable bullies? Look at what you’re enabling because it ain’t harmless. And it wouldn’t be harmless even if it “just” caused pain, fear, and suffering either.)
I’ll end by linking to meloukhia’s post: Internet: It’s time to talk. And a warning: neither bullying nor apologist/enabling bullying will be tolerated in comments. So don’t even bother trying.
Edited to add:
Riel of Amorpha came up with a list of good and bad ways to deal with this kind of bullying and put it in comments. I am adding it to the end of this post because it’s important enough I don’t want people to miss it:
Finally came up with some thoughts (after we said in reply to Kowalski’s post we were still thinking about it) about things that we think are helpful and not helpful when a community is trying to deal with online bullies. Much of it gained through bad experience when we tried to deal with them in the wrong way or other people around us did or tried to encourage us to deal with them in the wrong kinds of ways.
What is useful:
- Supporting the victim of the bullying and affirming that they have the right to be free from bullying.
- Taking their fear seriously (as opposed to blowing it off with “oh, you shouldn’t care what those people think,” etc).
- Block known bullies, and people who have agreed to defame others in order to escape bullying themselves, from commenting in any space you can control. Even when their comments are not actually harassing or targeting anyone. Because just seeing their presence can have a chilling effect on others– “okay, maybe they didn’t attack me that time, but what about next time?”
- Keep others in a community informed about the activities of known stalkers, bullies, etc, if you see them going after new victims, starting new harassment campaigns, etc. Also if you know they’ve been creating new aliases, sockpuppets, posing as others, etc.
- Find some way to warn newcomers to a community about stalkers and bullies. Especially if you see them gravitating towards bullies because they (new people) haven’t seen their bad side yet, or are confused about who to trust, or are falling for the pseudo-authoritative veneer a lot of bullies have, or think they should “give them a chance,” etc.
- If harassing/bullying/intimidating comments do get through in any community you have power in (in large communities, for instance, sometimes this can be hard to prevent), make clear, for both the victim(s) and for bystanders, that you will not tolerate this kind of treatment of others.
What is NOT useful:
- Telling the victim of the bullying to “not care about what other people think.” To a certain extent it’s true that you need to not care what other people think, if you want to express opinions that are currently not accepted by most of society. But when harassment goes past a certain point, and especially when it gets to the point of threats of physical or legal harm, it can’t be reasonably ignored.
- Telling the victim of the bullying to ignore it because the bully is too “unimportant” to be taken seriously. “Unimportant” people can still become extremely persistent harassers and stalkers. And it doesn’t matter how “unimportant” someone is if they’re genuinely able to convince others of their lies, or incite them to attack or threaten people.
- Trying to argue/letting other people try to argue with them in comments. This both has a chilling effect on others and floods out any attempts at actually productive discussions. (Several people have already talked about why doing this in the name of “free speech” is a bad idea so I won’t go into it.)
- Trying to drive them off by being “just as mean as them” or trying to incite “war” between your supporters and theirs. Just… no, this always goes horribly wrong.
- Trying to find a “middle ground” between yourself and a bully, or between your ideas and theirs. A bully will never accept a middle ground. They will only accept terrorizing and manipulating you into shutting up or repeating their ideas as if you agree with them.
We’ve also seen the thing that AnneC mentioned about bullies (some of whom appeared to be totally the opposite of bullies at first meeting) acting like they are “in the know” about everyone and everything and like they can inform you about all of it, and putting scandalized interpretations on everyone and everything and getting people emotionally riled up for their own purposes.