Why I No Longer Do Internet Harassment Talks


A few years ago, I was doxxed by angry people on the internet. (I’m not going to rehash what happened. You’re reading this on a machine that has google.) After that, I started getting asked to do talks. How can we fix online harassment? How can individuals protect themselves? How can newsrooms better prepare themselves, protect their employees, and respond in the moment?

Before each talk I would get sweaty and shaky. Having to tell rooms full of strangers about one of the most stressful things that has ever happened to me isn’t fun. And in the back of my mind there was the constant fear that some of my enemies would be in the audience. Was I safe? Was the conference going to live-stream the talk without telling me? (Yes, that happened.) Was I going to be able to keep it together as I showed the audience exemplary messages describing all the ways people would like for me to die? Afterwards I would try to make small talk but I just wanted to run away and take a cold shower and sleep for four days.

(I should say that my experience is tame compared to what other people have experienced. Sure, people made my home address public and told me they were going to come murder me, and even sent me photos of themselves outside my house, but it’s been worse for others. Read Zoe Quinn’s new book Crash Override if you want to know what it can be like for the hardest hit.)

Doing these sessions and talks is exhausting and traumatic. But I did them because I wanted to help. If I had to go through this, I could at least try and channel my energy (and my privilege as a white lady) for good to try and help other people.

I don’t do those talks anymore. Because I now think that they don’t really make a difference.

Every time I would look out into the audience, and I would be met with faces who already knew about this problem. Women, LGBT folks, POC, and every combination of those identities. They came to the session because they already knew it was an issue. It was largely young people, entry level employees who know they are targets because it’s easy to fire them if the company gets flustered by too many phone calls. There is certainly a value in building a space for marginalized folks to come together and plan and commiserate, but that can’t be the only way we approach online harassment.

But it’s worth noting who didn’t show up to those sessions. Senior white male editors were never there. Publishers, CEOs, managers, they skipped. Male journalists who cover technology don’t show up to those talks, don’t seem to have any real interest in understanding what these kinds of campaigns feel like.

I get it, there are lots of things going on at conferences, you have to make choices about what to go to. And for some people when they see a session on “combating online harassment” they think “oh, that’s not about me.” And they’re kind of right — they’re never going to be targeted the way the people who do come to those sessions are. This doesn’t seem relevant to them, so they skip out.

And when I read and listen to media, that becomes so clear. Men are still constantly oblivious and surprised by how frequent and intense online harassment can get. Several podcasts recently did segments that laughed off 4chan as “just guys trolling for lolz.” These guys are just having a good time online! They’re not really Nazis, they’re not really that bad, they’re just kind of weird!

I can’t help but wonder if those stories would have been done the same way, had the reporters ever attended a single talk about online harassment.

Conference organizers might mean well, but they also see these sessions as a checkbox. Look, we had a talk about harassment, we did good! Nobody ever asked me what I might need to feel safe before and during one of those sessions. Nobody checked in afterwards. And then two months later I would get another request — can you talk about harassment again? For free, of course.

So now my answer is no. Unless you can prove to me that I won’t just be speaking to people who already know everything I’m going to say, no. Unless you have thought about how and why you’re doing this, who you’re doing it for, and how it will move the conversation beyond commiseration with other people who already know full well what this is like, no.

Maybe this is the lazy thing to do. There are women out there fighting this fight better than I am. But if you’re a journalism conference and you want someone to come and share their story, maybe think about how you’re making it more than just lip service.


Image by Aris Express

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10 thoughts on “Why I No Longer Do Internet Harassment Talks

  1. I just completed a MOOC via Coursera and the University of Edinburgh on Philosophy, Science and Religion. I did a little treatise on Nothing at the end of the course. The quote by Victor Hugo is relevant, perhaps you will enjoy this comment that I now elaborate and you might guess that I fancy myself as a Master of Nothing that has included many years in Martial Arts in Karate and Tai Chi.

    I think that we need to be an open minded skeptic and not closed minded. We can weigh the evidence and consider other testimony as valuable to various degrees. All scientific observation and religious knowledge involves consciousness. In Zen Buddhism for an example is a teaching that says; Those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know.” The Philosophical Logician would contemplate some meaning or dismiss it. It is not for the logical contemplative mind to understand. Only by experience perhaps after years of meditation or asking for God’s blessings on your meditation practice could you experience, then know the meaning. There are other vehicles Koans. Mu Zazen means Nothing Meditation. It is logical to think it is about Nihilism or related positions. It has been said that “Thoughts are Things”. Thus Nothing is No-thing or in other words, no words or no thought. The Pure Awareness AKA Consciousness is attained with sufficient practice and sincere practice at that. It is how passage through the “Gateless Gate” is achieved. In the Western Philosophies such as Gnostic practice the term is used Tabula Rasa. A state of mind that is childlike. A non loaded or empty tea cup that might be then filled when humility is in the air. Lao Tzu the Sage gives guidance in the Tao Te Ching. He points out that the wheel is useful when there is nothing in the middle (where an axil may be placed. Doors and Windows are cut into a house that improves usefulness, and so on. It alludes to the valuable physical things of this universe but also something of Consciousness and Spiritual that we do not fully value and thoughts as well as no thought being a Yin and Yang needing each the other.

  2. Way to take initiative and recognize when enough is enough. As mentioned, you did what you did while you could. But if it isn’t helping anymore, and especially if it’s hurting you, then there isn’t a reason to press on with it. I’m glad you got your voice out, and that you can take a bit of a breather now.
    Good luck, and good writing.

  3. You are so smart to direct your energy where it can do good – there’s no point in preaching to the choir (speaking as one of the choir!), especially when it exhausts you. You’re NOT being lazy – you’re being efficient and effective. Plus, when we stop giving energy away for free, people start realizing that they really need it – that it’s actually valuable.
    In other words, I’m impressed. Thanks for this.

  4. Well said, and I agree with your decision to spend yourself wisely.

    Your post dovetails nicely with Ellen Pao’s latest, which you’ve probably already read, but I’m posting the link for other readers’ convenience. She also states that the situation won’t really start to change until the folks at the top of the heap — the ones who skip your lectures — start understanding the problem and taking responsibility for solving it.


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