As you may have heard, CBR decided to shut down and restart their message boards. The incident that brought this about was the harassment, threats, and attempted breach-of-bank that Janelle Asselin faced after criticizing the cover of Teen Titans #1. Abuse had occured on the CBR forums, and owner Jonah Weiland put his foot down, locked the forums, began a reboot of them in amore moderated format, and took responsiiblity for not doing more earlier.
It was a decisive, serious move, but beyond all his policy changes and plans, Weiland stated his thesis cleary.
He told the harassers, the abusers, and their ilk they were not welcome at CBR. He told those who were there to insult, to troll, and to cause trouble that they should go away.
He told them to get out and then locked the door.
I think he’s on to something the geek community should pay attention to.
No, This Isn’t Healthy Or Normal
We’re all to used to hearing about trolling, insult, harassment, and the like via the internet. Take it from en elder geek, it’s not a new thing, it’s been there for ages. I’m sure there are tales from the hoary dawn of the internet where people learned how to be a-holes efficiently because of slow loading times.
It’s easy to brush it off. But as we geeks have faced over the last few yearss is the face-slapping revelation the geek communities have problems, especially with sexism towards women and bigotry. What seemed to be isolated incidents over time paints a pretty sad picture, such as when a new convention flames out as one of its members engages in stupid, public sexism.
Now i’m not saying that makes our community pathological as a whole. As I noted repeatedly i do think the geek community in the large is more tolerant, less bigoted, and more open minded than the culture at large. It’s just that the depths of our community is as bad as anything else out there – and that’s a bit hard to admit. There may be less rocks concealing slimy things, but it’s still disgusting when you turn one over.
This negative, bigoted, hateful side of the geek culture is not healthy and not normal. If someone threatened to rape you to your face for criticizing a comic cover, that person would be lucky to escape with all their teeth. We don’t have to tolerate it when it happens online.
What’s Important Is The Same
This is where CBR's decisions are powerful. Sure it’s easy to lock down forums and change policies. In some cases its probably easier to just reduce the amount of generla dumbness by doing so. But Weiland called out the fact that the people simply weren’t welcome.
He basically told them off.
Now I’m sure there will be problems, issues, and of course cries of censorship by people that don’t know what the hell the First Amendment is. Also I get the impression that he doesn’t care and is going to go Full Metal Honey Badger.
And we need people like that. We need people to say “no, this is wrong,” take action and state that people who violate common decency do not belong on his site – or anywhere else.
We need more of this. Enough to go critical mass.
So, Who’s Next?
So the big question is “who’s next?” Becase I’d like to see others follow suit.
Let me postulate a theory. If enough people running sites and communities adopted a policy like this and simply stated that troublemakers aren’t welcome, some real momentum could be built here. Sure, there would be the simple “cleaning up” of message boards, but even more powerful are big and small names simply saying “no.”
Maybe we need a “shame wave” of people noting that there’s beahvior that’s simply not acceptible, and certain folk shouldn’t let the door hit them unless they can behave. There’s nothing wrong with requesting – indeed, demanding – basic human decency.
It could spread to conventions, with stricter harassment policies and better policies on public behavior by staff. Authors and artists could begin backing this.
I see this as very possible. One person said “no” – and as other sites have started questioning comment policies, as we are painfully aware of online harassment, change can happen.
And enough shame out there might help some people realize what they’re doing is wrong.
It Didn’t Need To Happen
Another thing Weiland does that was powerful – and sadly, doesn’t seem to get enough attention – is calling out that the harassment that was inflicted over Asselin was over her critique of a comic book cover. Really, harassment over a comic cover criticism (and one that seemed rather legitimate).
Someone will threaten to rape you over a comic cover critique. Multiple people. There’s something damn wrong with that.
This is the other part of his statement that is powerful is his note that this harassment occurred over a comic cover. That, right there puts some extra shame in there, essentially saying-without-saying that the harassers are really extra pathetic.
We brush off pathological obsessivism in geekery. But we shouldn’t.
By the way, I have no doubt that if Asselin had ben male this wouldn’t have happened.
So What’s Next?
So here’s your homework people – how can we see ore of this responsibility for our cultre? What can we do?
Me, I write and blog on stuff, I coach and advise. Let me suggest then, a few tactics (some of which I may do):
- If you work on a geek website, have an anti-harassment policy. if your site’s community is healthy, then you don’t need to make a big deal of it, just note that there’s a new policy.
- If you work at a convention, do the same for the message boards and the convention policies.
- In fact, we need MORE events at conventions and clubs to discuss improving geek culture and community and dealing with the pathologies. It may take guts to host one – but someone has to.
- Know any Big Names? See if they’ve spoken out on these issues and encourage them to. Big voices carry far.
- Don’t be an a-hole. Goes without saying. Of course since you read my stuff I assume you’re never an a-hole.
Weiland decided to own the culture of his site. We need to own ours as well. He just gave us a rallying point.