All of these are things I’ve seen happen within the last week. There are common threads here. Lots of them. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to tie them altogether.
Note that, in the below summaries, I’ve intentionally removed most racial and gendered markers for the individuals involved. However I will say right now that race and gender are not unrelated to any of the stuff described below. Not even
There’s also a general content warning, particularly at the links, for sexual assault, stalking, harassment, violent imagery, slurs, and just about everything else. These include both journalistic retellings, survivor stories, and, in at least one instance, a first-hand account of committing what has been construed as stalking by many, including yours truly.
Scenario #1: Video games
A handful of individuals begin to create content pushing back against normative tropes in the video game industry. This content, ranging from critical essays to alternate games, results in an organised “counter-push”, ostensibly cloaked under the mantle of fostering “ethics and transparency” in the area of video game journalism, specifically with regards to product reviews. In actual fact, very few actual game reviewers are targeted, and instead producers of progressive and critical content become the focus of a long-term campaign of harassment, doxxing, and death and rape threats, up-to-and-including the threat of a mass school shooting at a public talk given by one of said targets.
Reactions to the occurrences have been noted to split down political lines, with cultural conservatives supporting the “ethics in games journalism” position, while progressives decry it as a harassment campaign. Industry reactions have been more muted and/or slow in coming, mostly focusing on general statements regarding the unacceptability of harassment. Some critics have noted that the sort of harassment now getting attention has routinely occurred within the industry for years, largely unacknowledged, and wonder whether it will take an actual death for the industry to truly take it seriously.
Scenario #2: The SFF author
A talented up-and-coming SFF author is well-regarded in the community for her friendly, approachable personality and innovative stories that push back against conservative genre tropes. One of the author’s editors “outs” her on social media as being the same individual as a book reviewer known not just for her cutting anti-racist commentary but controversial violent statements directed at other authors. Others note the link between this reviewer and a pseudonymous LiveJournal user known in fandom communities for over a decade, and implicated in a long history of violent threats and harassment against other community members. Alleged former victims begin to come forward with stories. Many professional supporters of the author at the centre of these accusations realise they and/or their friends have been the targets of threats, criticism, or harassment originating from the book reviewer and/or LiveJournal personas.
Reaction to the allegations is mixed. Defenders of the author point out harassing and obnoxious behaviour occurs regularly in the SFF community, with much more prominent names receiving far less criticism for far worse actions. Critics reject this, pointing out similar past incidents as well as decrying the implied stance of “it’s okay because everyone does it”. Criticism of the editor’s actions is largely universal, though muted in the face of discussion around other allegations against the author.
Scenario #3: The book reviewer
A debut YA author’s novel receives a negative review on a social book reviewing site. This review is critical of content such as the ridiculing/minimisation of PTSD, domestic violence, and rape, as well as certain dialogue perceived as racist. The author becomes obsessed with the reviewer, compulsively following said reviewer’s social media presences. Eventually, the author begins to suspect the reviewer may be using a pseudonym to write reviews, and undertakes a campaign of attempting to identify the reviewer’s real-life identity. The author employs a number of techniques including combing social media accounts of friends and family of the suspected reviewer; buying the suspected reviewer’s personal details from an information broker; and exploiting contacts at publishing houses for information about the suspected reviewer. The episode results in the author phoning an individual suspected of being the reviewer with interrogative questions about the review, and finally turning up on the suspected individual’s doorstep. The author then chronicles the entire episode in a piece published by a major international news outlet.
Reaction to the piece from book reviewers is uniformly negative, condemning the author’s actions as stalking. From authors, however, it is mixed, with some authors agreeing with the stalking assessment, while others commending the author for attempting to track down the source of what is described as “anonymous libel”.
So… yeah. All that happened (is happening, will continue to happen).
Like I said, I don’t have a coherent narrative about any of it other than a general sense of each of these three incidents being linked by some combustible combination of race, gender, politics, culture wars, the internet, doxxing, stalking, harassment, anger, and privilege.
Things happen, lives crumble, the beat goes on.
Same as it ever was.