[T]here is a real sense of threat felt by readers and writers which wasn’t there before. Stalking, harassment, and abuse are more prevalent than they used to be, and while most of us haven’t faced threats that rise to the level found in other communities, ours are bad enough. It completely undercuts the idea of [the Romance community] as a refuge from the rest of the world, or a place where we can pursue and share our common interests apart from the fraught issues we deal with in the rest of our lives. And the big problem is that these don’t feel like isolated events. The [Kathleen] Hale episode would be easier to dismiss if we didn’t have other, less violent examples of romland people going after each other prior to and subsequent to it. There is little sense that we can speak freely in Romland space. Everything is public and every potential breach is screenshotted by someone. It’s worse than always speaking in public, really; it’s more like speaking in public with an endless, never-erased video running while you do it. No wonder blog posting and commenting are down and Romance Twitter is more anodyne. Who wants the grief that follows even a minor fuckup?

–Sunita on surveillance fandom.

Sunita is talking about one specific community/fandom, but this is applicable pretty much everywhere.

I’ve witnessed multiple different fandom communities, for example, where individuals brag about monitoring the blogs and Tumblrs and Twitters of people they don’t like, with the sole express purpose of submitting anything potentially “wanky” to services like the Wayback Machine1 and FreezePage. I’m always really unsure how I feel about behaviour like this. There certainly is a technique wherein trolls post and then almost immediately delete harassing material in order to “cover their tracks” and avoid suspension under ToS clauses; this is a notable tactic of GamerGate on Twitter, for example. In those situations, yeah. Screenshotting is useful. But this is often explicitly not what’s going on in fannish spaces. Targets of obsessive screenshotting in fandom are often not harassing individuals so much as being kind of… generally obnoxious according to the standards of some other individual or community. But their words are monitored and recorded and reported on all the same. Moreover, this behaviour seems to be targeted more often than not at women of colour, particularly women of colour who speak out about social justice.

This is a really toxic space for a community to get into, I think. We all say inadvisable or ill-thought-out things sometimes. We phrase things wrong and regret them later, or just change our opinions based on new inputs. And yet, how can people have the room to grow and move on–emotionally and intellectually–when they’re under constant threat and lockdown over people repeating and re-repeating things they’ve said in the past?

If you think you have any kind of pat simple answer to this (“They should just apologise!” “They should just stop saying wanky things!”) then I would bet you have not actually been on the receiving end of this behaviour, and thus should probably shut the fuck up.

This is car-crash fandom, and it’s addictive. And it’s hardly something that’s limited to fandom or online communities, either; the entire tabloid industry is based on it, for example. The only thing the internet brings to the table is the ability for anyone, anywhere, at any time to become the victim of the online paparazzi.

  1. Incidentally, this is an abuse of the Wayback Machine according to the archive’s own policy. []