Hi, I’m Jef Rouner. I used to be called Jef With One F, and at some point I became a very hated person on the Internet. This was not all surprising. If you are a person who writes about feminism and social justice on the Internet, especially in geek interest circles, you will eventually end up a hated person on the internet as well. If you’re not a straight white cis male, like me, you will end up one much faster and much harder. Even with the straight flush of privilege, though, it’s very rare for a week to go by without someone telling me to kill myself or offering to do the job for me. Often these responses originate from organized groups convinced that the best way to silence people they don’t like is to make them miserable enough to leave.
That’s been my life for about three years or so now. Over that time, I’ve come to know some things.
10. There’s Very Little That You Can Do Legally
Is threatening someone online illegal? Yes. Will the person who threatens you, even if your harassment becomes a nationally known case, likely face even the slightest legal repercussion? Probably not unless you’re an astronaut. Feel lucky if when you report to the local cops that you might be a victim of a possible future SWATing, they even know what Twitter is. Online harassment is difficult to prove, and most of the time the sentence just isn’t worth the man hours as far as the police are concerned. File those reports, create the record, but do not expect them to find Weed4Life513 and scare him off the Internet. It’s not happening.
9. You Join an Online Community of Harassment Victims Fighting Back
It’s a weird fact that prominent targets of dedicated hate campaigns kind of all know each other. Despite the size of the Internet, the number of people who make ending its ability to make people’s lives miserable is actually pretty small, and we’re all on a first-name basis. I have Crash Override saved in my bookmarks for the next time a truly monstrous campaign happens against me (and how to pre-emptively protect myself for that eventuality), and Randi Lee Harper’s various block lists keeping me from the flood on Twitter. Whether it's commentary, like I do, or tech, like Harper, ascending to the position of Internet-Hated Person puts you in a small club.
8. You Gain a Very Strong Sense of Justice
When people leave a community like, say, the FLDS or Scientology, they often become the victims of harassment by former colleagues. This is equally true of people who step out of line in the online reactionary movement. That’s what happened to Christina Hoff Sommers when she stepped out of line with GamerGate, and what continues to happen to Milo Yiannopoulos.
And that leaves an impression on you. That people who might enthusiastically and cheerfully have joined in trying to set your online life on fire will go through what you’ve been through. I personally know Harper has offered aid and advice to former Gaters, and Crash Override will do the same. You learn to recognize that the problem is the people being enabled by the online world to harass without repercussion.
7. You Also Learn to Forgive
It’s probably not surprising that people who spend their main time trolling others on the Internet are not that nice. Thankfully, there are those who escape that world and become better people. Most people acting the fool online are using it as a sort of free-play social interaction experiment to work through their own problems. Some get past it, and they often quietly fade into the realm of actual human beings. On the other hand…
6. There is an Entire Internet Hate Cottage Industry
Every time Thunderf00t makes a video about how awful he thinks Anita Sarkeesian is, he makes $3,377. Sargon of Akkad makes $1,221 every time he drops another video talking about why various feminists he doesn’t like are ruining the world. What’s even weirder is that there’s a counter-hate cottage industry. H. Bomberguy (big fan, BTW) makes $813 per video making fun of these sorts of dudes. The harassment of various people, and even the response to that harassment, is some people’s livelihood.
5. You Learn to Hide It
My wife never really understood exactly how bad my being Internet-hated was until last year when I ended up right in the crosshairs of a hate mob. Until then, she thought that I was simply getting a few mean tweets here and there, not that there were people organized to try to make me forever stop talking. Since then, I’ve hidden as much of the backlash as I can from her because she’s an NICU nurse with far better to do than argue with hatemongers online over freakin’ video games. So you retreat and you deal with it alone.
4. It Shuts You Out of Various Basic Everyday Parts of Life
Did you know that the legal address of everyone who has registered to vote is available through Internet searching? I do, and because of that, I’m worried that a carny-handed mango man might get elected president simply because I might choose not to re-register to vote when I move next week simply so some angry bigot can’t send me porn and pictures of dead dogs. That’s a strange type of disenfranchisement, but it’s common when you’re Internet-hated.
3. You Have to Think About It Constantly for the Sake of Others
So here's a depressing thing that happened a few weeks back.
Part of my to-do list was to head to the arboretum for a picture I need for an article, and yes, I used that as an excuse to walk with the dog on a nice spring day. Walking a trail, two women approached me and asked me if I would help them with something.
Turns out they were on some sort of scavenger hunt, and they needed to propose to a stranger and film it. Two years ago I would have gone with the joke, hammed it up for them, had a good time.
Instead I told them, "No, because it's possible if you put a video of me online, terrible people will stalk you, harass you and make you miserable."
And suddenly the day was less nice, and even in this one quiet place I use to unplug, shit lords find me.
2. It Becomes Normal
Sarkeesian said it better than I ever will, so here’s that link. She gets infinity-times what I get (see privilege), but we both understand that part of the day is waking up and seeing who stayed up last night telling you they hope you die in a fire. It’s just what you look at between the morning pee and a bacon sandwich (or whatever Anita has for breakfast).
As long as I continue to write things that annoy fragile white dudes on the Internet, their rage will be my baseline. Becoming internet-hated is finding out that there is a class of people whose greatest grievance is having to let someone say something without trying to tear them down. It’s the worst fate they can imagine, which is sad and frustrating. However…
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1. You Can Become What You Hate
Writing what I write has given me a pretty solid fan base, and I do love every one of you. However, their appreciation of me has a dark side effect. The response to being Internet-hated is that those who Internet-love you might just unleash the beast in the opposite direction.
Which is bad, Bad, BAD. It took me a long time to understand, but screencapping various attacks on me without redacting names just painted a target on someone else. Often, that person ended up in his own microcosm of my life, and, while satisfying in a petty way, it didn’t solve a damn thing that was wrong with the Internet. I can’t deny the pleasure in watching people go after those who attack me, which is exactly the reason I have to constantly make sure I don’t condone it. Either the whole thing is rotten or none of it is.
Being Internet-hated taught me that change begins with us, and that we have to stop pretending that the Internet isn’t us. It is. We are the ghost in in the machine. Until we police ourselves, it will always be awful.
Normally I plug my own work here at the end, but really, Crash Override is a great group that you should give money to.