Monday, November 21, 2016

How To Detox Your Community

If you've paid any attention to recent indie-RPG Kickstarters, you'll notice a lot of acrimony and accusations surrounding them. You'll also notice none of them are associated with the DIY D&D community we got here--even though our scene is producing more projects than ever before from a more diverse and controversial group of creators than ever before. LOTFP put out a promo image featuring the decapitated heads of both the president-elect and his opponent and nobody has screamed for his blood or launched a boycott--Stacy and her all-girl crew have run a successful Swords & Wizardry kickstarter and the antifeminist peanut gallery has managed to accomplish exactly fuck-all in the way of stopping them or causing meaningful problems. (ps Support the Get ConTessa To GenCon fund.)

Basically, in the last few years we've managed to run a pretty clean ship--people like and help each other, and when they don't, the conflict doesn't burn down the things we've already built or prevent people from coming and building more good things. For the benefit of anybody else in RPGs, in games, or anywhere else, I want to talk about how we got there.


The word is much abused, but it means something. Toxic waste isn't just bad, it's bad in a way that spreads. "Toxic" implies infectious, dangerous to more than just itself and its immediate victim. If your community is big and attractive enough, nothing in the world can stop someone bad from showing up sooner or later, but there are lots of ways to stop their badness from becoming toxic and affecting other people.

Defining Harassment

One painfully obvious step to avoiding toxicity that nobody ever takes is clearly defining harassment and then applying that definition to everyone equally. No moderators, no arbiters, no excuses, just: make your policy clear. And amend it if you have to.

The most important parts are not that every community defines harassment the same way as every other community (not even all the US states manage to do that) but that:

A) There is a definition
B) Its terms are not ambiguous
C) It applies across the board to everyone in the community--every behavior which matches it is called harassment and no behavior which doesn't is.

I put my suggestions for a definition of harassment in the comments below the blog entry, because they're an aside from the main point.

Kinds of Communities

There are basically four kinds of communities, defined by how they deal with bad actors. One is good, two are bad, one is ok sometimes for some things. We'll start with the ok sometimes one:

1. See No Evil Hear No Evil: No Accusations, No Investigations, No Accountability

This is the kind of community that most businesses aspire to be and that many mainstream game spaces effectively are. The D&D forum Enworld runs like this for the most part, as does (to the chagrin of many), the mainstream comic book industry. Their watchwords are things like leave the war outside, no drama, no politics, "just play games" etc.

The idea here is basically: never talk about anything important--or outside the (strictly-defined) business of the community. The advantage of these communities is they can get a lot of collaboration and work done--they build wikis and make How To vids, they spread technical and reference information, they offer places to discuss the best approaches to practical problems, they allow people to hone their craft regardless of ideology. They work fine so long as everyone involved is a good person though they tend to be kind of dull.

The real disadvantage is that they are completely vulnerable to abusers and can do nothing about them. If a company, for instance, is accused of failing to pay a freelancer or publishing something racist and then the company itself claims they did pay them or they aren't racist then the community basically has no tools to deal with that besides deciding the whole thing is "drama" and ignoring it.

The freelancer who didn't get paid or the community that suffered through a bunch of racism or the company that got unfairly accused of a thing it didn't do is still stuck with a real problem the community didn't address. They get to sit there and watch money go into the pockets of people who are dickheads at best and possibly criminals and there's no way to stop it. Nobody of a remotely activist bent is going to be happy with that and the neutrality of the people who run these spaces in the face of even the most blatant injustice can be repulsively smug. Tone-policing is normal here: suspicion doesn't fall on the side at fault but on the side that talks most about the problem.

Now on to the good kind of community:

2. Good Community: Accusations Lead To Investigation And Accountability 

This is not a drama-free zone--both activism and practical work can happen here. People are free to address injustices that go well beyond "They forgot to include a Con stat for the pig-man on page 16".

You can say someone didn't pay you, you can say someone sexually harassed you, you can say that a game is racist, you can say someone eats other gamers and hides their corpses in bespoke Dukes of Hazzard lunchboxes. But you or (if you claim to be too traumatized to discuss it) your friends and allies have to actually answer questions, provide details and give evidence of the abuse--and address counterarguments, apparent incongruities, suspicious circumstances, even questions you think might be asked just to waste your time. You don't have to argue with trolls, but if you're dismissing someone as a troll, you have to clearly state why--and apply that definition of "troll" across the board. You don't have to answer every person, but you do have to answer every question. And the people who asked have to acknowledge they heard your answers, not just run away.

If you're not involved you have to either go "I don't know and I don't have enough information to make a decision"(and then say or do nothing and admit you don't care enough about whatever principle is involved to find out) or, if you want to claim to care, find out everything both sides have to say about any point or detail that helps you make your decision--every piece of evidence or reasoning both the accuser and accused have to offer has to be on the table and anyone who is making a decision must be able and willing to speak to all of it when asked and must be, basically relentlessly, hopelessly overinformed. Everyone needs to be able to talk to at least one person who has access to all the arguments and counterarguments on both sides.

Sometimes the truth may be literally unknowable--but if you're going to pretend you care, if it's technically knowable (especially if it's all googlable), you need to know it. If you're taking someone's word, it has to be because you have no choice--and if you're basing your decision on trusting them, you have to say that "I didn't look into because I trust Dave. Why do I trust Dave? Well...".

And once everyone looks at the evidence they make--collectively or individually--decisions about how to enforce accountability on either the accused (if they did it) or the accuser (if it was a false accusation). If somebody is a dick or a liar then people decide they won't talk to them or buy their stuff. If it's something the person can reasonably apologize for, they ask for that apology and for a change in behavior and people do something about it if they don't get it.

Even without explicit rules, this works. One reason we've been so productive in recent years is people who do bad things get called out, the reasons they got called out get discussed, the people doing the calling are available, and once someone is called out they know it will matter and all of this is considered normal. It's a golden age of games right now for a reason.

There are two downsides:

-It's a fucking exhausting pain in the ass. Especially as a community grows, paying attention to accusations and who made them and what they were about isn't easy or fun and a lot of people vote to keep a See No Evil Hear No Evil model or, more commonly, no matter how much they get out of having a community and the resources it provides they will deny being part of a community or having any responsibility for keeping it going. There isn't much you can do about a person who takes a penny but won't leave a penny, but that's life.

-The bad people don't go away, they just form an anti-community. Places like the Gaming Den are full of people who lie so much nobody else could tolerate them. The good news is these places never really get anything done other than harassment--their toxic members prey on each other and cause too much noise for any productive signal to get through. Which is a good transition to talking about the two bad kinds of communities:

3. Troll Playgrounds: Accusations Good, Investigation Meh, Accountability Never

This is the classic troll forum. 4chan, Gaming Den, theRPGsite at its worst, abusive Twitter communities work like this. Everyone is free to accuse anyone of anything, investigating the accusation is considered kind of gauche because even assuming the person did something there will be no consequences. Complaining about someone being a dick is cool but doing anything about it is strictly squaresville.

Because they don't have lives offline, active participants in such communities consider the conversation, including accusations, basically recreational rather than functional. Jean-Paul Sartre described them long ago:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.

Obviously this sucks and everyone involved is thinking pretty short-term if they're thinking at all. Moreover, unlike See No Evil Hear No Evil, just basic functional conversations can't get very far because members are free to attack each other constantly and anyone wanting a real resource has to wade through mountains of that to get to anything useful.

4. Green Hell: Accusations Good, Investigation Bad, Accountability Never

This is the disaster you get when a community tries to combine the heady brew of activist morality with the thin white gruel of middle-class pop mental-health discourse. Public accusations are encouraged (all activism, by definition, requires at least implying someone somewhere did something wrong) but then are treated as a cry for help from a victim, never as something which might possibly impact the target unfairly (and rarely imagined to hit anything so concrete as their wallet, feelings are all that matter here). Above all, discussing the accusation in any way other than total approval is discouraged, especially if the accusation can be framed as forwarding an activist goal. The accuser is comforted and the accused is dismissed while everyone talks a lot about how responsible and empathetic they're being by doing that. Diya lays it out:

This kind of thing is so dysfunctional when both accuser and accused are in the community that these communities tend to rip themselves apart quickly ("circular firing squad"--this is why Gaming As Women disintegrated and The Forge turned into Story Games and then Story Games turned into a diaspora of connected angry cells on Google+) or else settle into a norm where only those outside the community can be safely attacked (omnidirectional firing squad, like RPGnet).

In sharp contrast to the Troll Playground, the Green Hell is characterized by an obsession with moral problems--but only in inverse proportion to their ability to do anything about them. If a member of a Green Hell baldly and publicly announced an intention to shoot a stewardess with a .45 and feed her corpse to a three-legged mule, they'd immediately have a long and fruitful discussion of global warming.

A lot of schrodinger's seriousness obtains here--on the one hand accusations are theoretically important and serious enough to result in boycotts or the accused or accusers losing work, on the other hand attempts to focus the community's attention on the details of what happened to establish guilt and innocence are met with:

"I'm tired of talking about this"
"I'm closing the thread since I can't monitor it"
"There's a variety of opinions here and they're all valid so..."
"I can't untangle this and we'll never agree so..."
"This is not the place to go down the rabbit hole of who did what..."
"This isn't a trial" (despite the fact someone is effectively going to be fined for what people think happened) well as enthusiastic support for abstract platitudes about civility that dance around the issue of whether a human being did a bad thing to another human being and what will be done about that problem that we have here today with these people.

A hallmark of these communities is pinning responsibility for good behavior on vaguely defined terms (Imzy, a well-intentioned new community that I hope won't turn into a Green Hell defines harassment as "behavior directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose" while not defining what purposes are legitimate or including, for example, behavior that tries to inflict emotional distress but doesn't succeed because the target is used to harassment) that do the work of announcing principledness without clearly saying what the principles are.

A lot of people would argue that this analysis excludes power dynamics: an unfair accusation from a powerless person is not the same as an unfair accusation from a powerful one. But this ignores the fact that the point of an accusation is always to be heard and spread and if it's true it always should be spread.  Claiming false accusations from theoretically less-powerful actors somehow don't count is saying there is no point in making them and your community is already broken and doing things wrong because it always ignores them.

Green Hell spaces can be the most toxic (in terms of causing damage that spills out) not because the people involved have the worst intentions (they're not a Troll Playground, for instance) but because they combine constant insistence that conflicts over things like abuse are important with an ethic that demands no-one do the work to figure out exactly what abuses happened and who is responsible. This is a formula for constant chaos--everything is serious and nothing is resolvable.


Obviously few communities have formal constitutions or charters--and some don't even recognize themselves as communities. But groups of people who regularly talk start to get norms and cultures, and the better the culture, the better the work and the lives of everyone participating in that work are. There's lots of proof of this, but it's negative, it's stuff that doesn't happen. Although the problems in communities tend to come up most when bad things do happen and people go "What went wrong?" If you have any responsibility, a better way to think about fixing toxicity is: next time you see somebody put out something and it's smooth sailing and nothing goes wrong, ask them how that happened.

We have given you a republic--if you can keep it.


Zak Sabbath said...

Defining harassment. So we'll start with Imzy's "behavior directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose". Now let's modify it to cover some obvious holes--you can't harass three people? You can't harass someone who isn't caused distress by your jackassery because they get harassed every day? "behavior directed at a specific person or group that is intended to cause emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose".

Knowing about legitimate purposes, let's take a look at some common situations (these are based on Crash Override's questionnaire for harassment survivors):

-A general rule of thumb that separates harassment from legitimate forms of dialogue that might be upsetting is harassment requires trying to damage the target in a way you couldn't undo and providing no way to check if you made a mistake. You can go "Fuck you!!!--Oh wait I misunderstood I didn't mean that" you can't un-send a SWAT team or unspread the damage of an article full of misinformation. The communication or act has gone beyond anything that, even in the most generous frame, could be construed as productive exchange. Words are being used as a weapon (quite literally, to inflict harm). Denying the target a chance to get themselves out from under whatever you just did to them is a key component that separates harassment from a dialogue that could be useful or meaningful.

-Criticism is not harassment. Criticism is commentary (including negative commentary) which seeks an improvement.

So are ferocious take-downs or hate-reads harassment or criticism? Is typing "You're the worst" harassment or criticism? It depends on a specific thing. If you type "You suck" (or "fuck you, the way you set up that 3rd-act reverse was laughable") and then stick around when the target goes "What did I do exactly?" and answer and explain what they did to upset you, then you are possibly opening a dialogue that might be productive (legitimate purpose). So criticism, no matter how aggressive, isn't harassment if the critic is actually doing it in order to improve something (legitimate purpose). If the person makes their criticism ("You suck!") and then runs away and is not available to amplify or answer questions (no legitimate purpose, only intended to upset the target), that's harassment.

Zak Sabbath said...

(cont'd) To quote Patton Oswalt--a heckler is not a critic.

So if I go "Donald Trump is a worthless Nazi piece of shit" that's not harassment because if he were to contact me, I would tell him what he did wrong. Well but what if he contacted me and wasn't asking in good faith and just wanted to waste my time? If I can prove he wants only to waste my time, then he's harassing me. If I can't prove it, I need to go ahead and answer the damn questions. That is the price of making my criticism in the first place--I need to be able to back up what I say.

A common form of harassment is dogpiling, which often consists of dozens of people making basically the same criticism (You suck! You Killed Jesus! You're should be burned alive!) but none of them being available for a genuine conversation about the cause of their distress. Hurling invective or criticism at a person you then refuse to talk to is harassment as is refusing to clarify the criticism when asked. The accused has a right to face their accuser in court and ask questions because the stakes are high--if an online community can inflict significant damage on someone's career or reputation the stakes are similarly high, the same principle applies.

There's an exception: when the accuser claims their mental health is threatened by talking to or about the target of their attack, in which case, in order for the situation to be in any way resolvable, your friends need to be able to answer questions about the attack for them. For example: when Stoya claimed James Deen raped her and then withdrew for mental health reasons, lots of other folks in porn came forward who could attest to Deen's violent behavior and provide context for the accusation and answer questions. This wasn't harassment. This is one of the big problems with dealing with mentally ill members of a community and it isn't easy and online communities suck at it. 

Zak Sabbath said...

-As obviously follows: one person's Personal Attack is another person's vital piece of information. Like our president is a liar. That's not a personal attack, it's journalism. Personal attacks are not their own category of behavior, but someone who makes a personal attack before making their grievance clear is sending up a red flag. See the discussion of criticism above.

-Trolling is harassment, straight up. The definition of trolling is saying something just to upset someone or make them mad, it cleanly fits the definition of harassment.

-Talking only in order to "waste someone's time" is harassment.

-Threats of physical harm, credible or otherwise, are harassment.

-Contacting someone against their express will (in the clearest form they have available, online this is usually a block) is harassment. Obviously contacting them when that permission is ambiguous can't be harassment or no strangers would ever meet online, even over legitimate criticism. "Do not contact me" is unambiguous. "Do not contact me unless..." can also be unambiguous. They are letting you know that  they are so mentally distressed that any communication, regardless of message, will be received as harm.

-Protests per se are not harassment. Protests, however are acts which send a message about your position to a third party who can take action about the target's career or status.  Acts like sending a bunch of unwanted pizzas to someone's house are harassment and not protest because the only person who is notified of your position is the person (and the pizza boy or pizza girl). Protests still can only include acts which have a legitimate purpose--once things are done solely in order to hurt the target, not spread information, you have moved into harassment.

-Letting people know someone has done a bad thing is a legitimate purpose (otherwise we wouldn't need a free press and it wouldn't be in the constitution) even satire (or else the Daily Show wouldn't be suffered to exist).

-Misinformation (fiction presented as fact) never serves a legitimate purpose in the context of communities we have here. So: spreading negative misinformation on purpose is always harassment, and spreading misinformation you could have easily checked but didn't bother is also harassment. 

-Lots of people, especially the mentally ill, have emotional outbursts where they cross one of these lines. When it is not harassment? Easy: When they apologize.

Pandatheist said...

I don't closely follow things on the story gaming side of the fence. Other than Monsterhearts 2, what indie kickstarter controversies have there been? I only found out about that one via Bluebeards Bride, which has been interesting in their focus on art, design and production qualities(reads like your how to suceed in rpgs post)

Zak Sabbath said...

Bluebeard's Bride is an example of a Kickstarter surrounded by toxicity--the same toxicity around Monsterhearts.

One of the authors, Whitney Beltran--is a harasser and abuser who has repeatedly endorsed unjustified libel and attacks on people outside the post-storygames scene.

Some of the other folks on Bluebeard, Marissa Kelley and Mark Diaz Truman, spoke out _against_ the harassment Whitney & co dished out to people outside the scene--causing a rift.

However, for business reasons they were already stuck putting out a game together. It has been weird.

Monsterhearts 2 features the same problem and much the same personnel:

Mark and Marissa (anti-harassment) were attached to do a stretch goal on MH2.

Then several harassers who were associated with Avery (MH2;s author) starting attacking Mark and Marissa. Avery waffled for a bit, but then settled on a See No Evil HEar No Evil approach, basically.

All of these conflicts come out of the basic Green Hell nature of the post-Forge post-Story games community. Everything is serious, nothing is resolvable.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I think your taxonomy of communities here is a bang up job, Zak. Especially annoying to me are Green Hells. I've encountered a Green Hell or two, but I struggled to put my finger on what it was that made those communities the way they were. The weird duality of every complaint being automatically taken as true and every effort to dig in automatically being taken as "too much effort/why are you *investigating*" really REALLY bothers me. It's like a festival of grievances and woe to you if you try to actually LEARN anything.

Invincible Overlord said...

Thanks, Zac. This is a great reference doc for communities.

Horst Wurst said...

By your definition: What does it say about your own blog if no one asked you to show proof of your accusation that Whitney Beltran is harassing people?

Zak Sabbath said...

A) they've been following along and reading threads so they know Whitney Beltran is a harasser
b) They've decided to take no action having to do with her projects so there's no need to ask
c) They haven't read the comments


Horst Wurst said...

That is something someone living in the greenest of hells would say.
B) seems particularly weak: Unfounded accusations are legit if they (the people in the community) are not interested in the work of the supposed harasser.
What about D) They are themselves ok with not holding you accountable?

Zak Sabbath said...

Incorrect. You must not have read the post carefully

re: B)

"If you're not involved you have to either go "I don't know and I don't have enough information to make a decision"(and then say or do nothing and admit you don't care enough about whatever principle is involved to find out) or..."

Not caring is an option so long as you don't help or hurt anyone involved.

Not every human being in a community is obligated to deal with every single action in that community.

If I made a false accusation that's TERRIBLE and I should suffer consequences and if Whitney is a harasser that is likewise terrible and she should, but not every person who reads the blog (or is in the community) needs to concern themself with every sad thing in the community or, indeed the human race. It's not practical--people are allowed to care about their own stuff and set their own priorities.

Responsibility begins at a specific moment:

- when someone decides to help or harm the people in question. If they have nothing to do with either person involved then paying attention to the controversy is no different than taking an interest in a random murder or other crime you saw on 60 Minutes. Laudable, sure, but not a requirement for being a good person. People have limited time and energy.


D) They are themselves ok with not holding me accountable (while believing I made a false accusation) then they are scum and need to change.

Of course the possibility exists that since I posted this a day or two ago, the whole DIY D&D community has changed and the people who regularly interact with me have become terrible and if so we should expect discord soon.

Horst Wurst said...

Alright, so I bite (and show that your blog is not a green hell): I am both interested in Bluebeard's Bride and a regular reader of your blog. Care to show proof that Whitney Beltran is indeed a harasser?

Zak Sabbath said...

Of course--and asking makes you a good person.

So, context:

Mark Diaz Truman wrote his anti-harassment Two Minutes Hate post. He specifically calls out Robert Bohl (among other Indie scenesters) for repeatedly harassing me with obscenity-laced irrational self-contradictory comments over a course of several years (you may recognize them, I use them as ads for my stuff on this blog)

Then the Indie community dogpiled Mark, howling that I was an abuser and a harasser and he was ignoring the pain of my supposed "victims" (I have no victims, of course, if you don't know the story here feel free to ask, it's a thrilling tale of a Green Hell being a dick to those outside of it).

Anyway, after Mark's post, Whitney Beltran consistently plussed and supported people harassing me and dogpiled on the fake claims against me. She did this at least three times just in that one thread.

Here is Marks' thread:

Here is a post she plussed form one "Ezio Melega" presumably not a native english speaker:

Ezio Melega11:31 AM+2

I stand with Rob, here, for what my word matter.

We can't build a safe place if we keep justifying dangerous people like Zak and throwing under the bus better people for the sake of a "both parties" argument and "mediation" and "peace".
I've seen that happen already, and will not justify it again.

There is an old Italian songs that goes: "You good people who want peace, peace to do whatever you want. If this is the price we want war, if this is the price we payed it".
I stand for it.

I'm not interested in discussing it, either.
This is just a statement: if anyone feels uncomfortable with my stance, feel also free to block me already.
Show less

Claims that I am dangerous and my harassers are "better" than me are of course libel, and Whitney endorsed it. That is dogpiling and therefore harassment.

If you read down the same thread, she also endorsed Jessica Hammer's attack on me and Renee Knipe's attack as well.

(Jessica Hammer is a longtime game academic and Indie-scene harasser who admitted the whole scene was fucked--particularly Anna "I experience more homophobia than lgbt people" Kreider and Ben "fake rape threats" Lehman but she publicly supports them because she wanted to write a paper about the indie scene:

..and Renee Knipe is notable for arguing in her attack that many of the accusations her fellow harassers are making aren't true (and the failure to resolve this discrepancy and call to account whichever side is lying is evidence that community doesn't really care about harassment--that situation is explained here:


Whitney Beltran herself can also be seen supporting Anna Kreider / Wundergeek and her harassment here --

Anna is largely the hub of these complaints--her virulently anti-sex rhetoric got her in trouble early but many of the people here were associated with Anna via the now-defunct (circular firing squad) Gaming As Women site.

Rather than call Anna out or be honest about her rhetoric ( Jessica Hammer on Anna: "I've seen her destroy many potentially interesting conversations" (quoted from memory, see link for precise quote)) they chose to stand behind her because in a Green Hell membership trumps principle.

So that's Whitney. I welcome any other questions you may have.

Horst Wurst said...

I need to read it first but I appreciate the time you took to compile this. Thanks.

Zak Sabbath said...

Thank you--though, Horst,I have no choice. If I am going to make accusations I have to give evidence when asked.

Horst Wurst said...

After reading the whole thing I think your claim is largely unfounded. The only two instances that are not "guilty by association" is a +1 for that Ezio Melega person (which could be seen as supporting someone who falsely accuses you of being a dangerous person) and a vaguely supportive comment on Anna Kreidler's blog post about quitting her blog because of stress due to harassment which could be either interpreted as acknowledging that she has been harassed or assuming that you are her supposed "primary harasser" or that she thinks her (Kreidler's) contributions in the blog were otherwise "vital". I don't think one can call this abusive behaviour or harassment.

Verad Bellveil said...

Long-time reader, first-time poster. Thank you for these guidelines; I've failed at managing communities effectively in the past because of too much ambiguity in harassment guidelines, and these provide a very good model.

I do have some questions brought up through your ability to provide proof through links above. How would you address the problem of inconstant evidence (pretty sure that's not the right phrase but going with it anyway) of harassment in online communities? Threads get deleted, and blogs get closed, removing posts that would constitute evidence.

I think your statement regarding the need to give evidence when accused is fair, but how would you handle that when the evidence is removed, and that removal can't be immediately attributed to bad-faith motives; for example, somebody deleting their blog with important posts for the sake of their mental health?

Would you put the burden on the accuser to document harassment separately from its source whenever possible? If so, how would you draw the line between good-faith-but-failed efforts at documentation and bad faith efforts?

Verad Bellveil said...

Clarification: I think your statement regarding the need to give evidence -when making an accusation- is fair. Apologies.

Adamantyr said...

Great post, Zac! It's even applicable outside of the gaming community and to the Internet as a whole.

I'm glad Anna's blog is shut down. I see her final post is full of whining about being harassed by "professional artists siccing their fans on me". Like so many in the Green Hell, she's lumped her critics into a single demon. Her writing infers that everyone is a misogynist who attacks her.

Anonymous said...

Very articulate. A lot of the issues you raise are very pertinent to much broader contexts. I'll add that good faith attempts to investigate bad behavior can be hijacked by trolls. (Frequently combined with the desire to turn every dispute into a front for the culture wars.)

Anonymous said...

Humans tend to be very invested in being right and knowing the truth, especially when they view themselves as part of a tribe. The fact is that I will never know exactly what went down in a lot of these controversies.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this is too tangential to be appropriate, but it does involve boycotts. You are privy to the workings of the Escapist more than most, and made the decision not to work with them. Would you choose not to buy Macris' products for the reasons you stopped doing the show with them? How removed organizationally is Macris from the tweet in question, and how much does it matter?

Anonymous said...

ie: Good faith actor criticizes someone on hot button issue, trolls have a new target.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest you read Foster Wallaces' piece on irony if you haven't, for a lot of reasons. Pertinent here because "I'm just being ironic on the internet." is a convenient escape hatch for people engaged in all kinds of s-.

"This will only get worse when the internet comes along." - Fantasy Sartre who can see the future.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Horst Wurst--
You are wrong.

"Guilt by association" is when someone is accused of wrongdoing for knowing or being friendly with someone who has done wrong.

A +1 lends credibility to a statment (and if approving the comment is not what's meant by a plus, then the person could just leave a comment saying what they do mean).

Lending credibility to misinformation is an act of harassment.

You need to respond to this point, Horst, or you will be banned from the blog. You do not have to agree, you can try to argue otherwise, but half-conversations are not allowed here.

Zak Sabbath said...

To @Soyweiser
your comment has been deleted because conservative propaganda is not allowed on this site

Zak Sabbath said...

The appearance of credibility, anyway.

If Whitney meant something other (with her 3 different instances of plussing attack posts) than approving of spreading misinformation then what could that possibly be?

Not a rhetorical question: again you must answer this point in order to be having a conversation.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Sabbath said...

I would not give money to Macris because he hired or allowed the transphobe in question to be hired.

To me, that guys attitude in 2016--he might as well be a Nazi.

Zak Sabbath said...

I did. Even more relevant is his essay on english usage--he describes how people often judge statements not by what is said but by how and by whom, etc

Anonymous said...

I expected as much.

Zak Sabbath said...

Do you still have a question?

Anonymous said...

People are used to certain communicative norms that they take out to the internet where strangers don't share those norms. On the occasions when I read some of your exchanges in which people got riled up, I've said to myself, "Zak's a New Yorker!". I don't know if that's in play at all or how much, but it's an example of what I'm getting at. Plus the tribalism thing is so strong in ways that people affected by it don't even realize.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Verad Bellveil said...

Yes, I was just clarifying a pretty critical typo. I think the most important one is how much burden you would put on the accuser in these guidelines to preserve evidence through means like screenshotting given the possibility of evidence to disappear from the internet.

Horst Wurst said...

I certainly not agree. I said: The two examples _not_ guilty of association are..
The two examples are the plussing of a comment and a comment about closing Kreidler's blog. The other links give an interesting insight in a group of people that harass you but have nothing to do with Whitney other than that she knows these people.
"Whitney Beltran herself can also be seen supporting Anna Kreider / Wundergeek and her harassment here --"
Whitney does not indicate in any way that she aknowledge the claims Kreidler is making. "Thank you for all you've contributed, Anna. It's been vital." is about the blog itself and not necessarily about any or all claims in the last blog post itself.
Which leaves plussing a comment in which someone says he stands with Robert Bohl's side and calls you a dangerous person. While the comment itself is harassment the plussing is not. Enabling or supportive of? Maybe, but calling her an harasser is going too far.

Zak Sabbath said...

@ Horst Wurst

First--She endorsed THREE harassing comments, I only printed one but linked to the others. You need to address all of that.

In what way is passive aggressively allowing someone else to articulate the form of your harassment while still putting the weight of your name behind it BETTER or less of a bad thing to do than harassment?

She is still _making a false claim seem more credible_ --which is an evil act.

Answer that.

(The real difference is: a cowardly person _feels_ like they've done less by supporting harassment than by committing it. In reality they have both done the wrong thing: increased the amountof harassment an innocent person receives)

As for your Kreider comments. Saying "I support you, Trump" means you're a Trump supporter and are culpable for supporting his public actions. It's no different with Anna--she is a harasseer and announcing you support her is making the world worse for her victims.

Zak Sabbath said...

Whitney knowingly takes an action---> the only predictable consequence is her victim suffers more harassment and the harasser is encouraged.

What other moral factors are involved here?

Soyweiser said...

Sorry? What did I say that was propaganda?

Didn't I just agree and congratulate you on defining a concept which was not properly defined before?

Zak Sabbath said...

Burden of proof is on the accuser _assuming the incident is provable_ .
In the case of a mentally incapacitated accuser, friends should step in to handle questions about evidence.

If the incident is not provable or disprovable (or if the authenticity of the evidence is in doubt) people who feel the incident is important enough to make a decision about anyway should state why they've chosen to believe x or y and honestly state that when asked.

Zak Sabbath said...

antifeminists and gamergaters are not welcome here, nor are any misconceptions about themselves they wish to promote

Soyweiser said...

I don't consider myself either tbh. But yeah, now I get what made you delete the post.

Unrelated to that. I'm assuming that the default 'state' of a community is the first one. And when a community grows (in both members, and experience) they can evolve or devolve into the various types?

Zak Sabbath said...

Nah I think many communities begin with explicit activist goals (meaning they are 2 or 4) or, less often, with explicit troll goals (3)--though I think it does take a while for a community to realize how complex maintaining its identity is and the number of pressures that will be brought to bear on it.

Soyweiser said...

Aha, I assumed most would be (1) as they start up as places to document (such as the wiki's) stuff or just a place to talk ('Who would win in a fistfight an orc or a warforged') or 'I wish to cosplay as X, but I don't know where to start'. And the identity building of the community would come later.

So, I was looking at 'community' from more of an internet forum way. While you clearly meant it a lot broader. (see the examples of people not getting paid).

I think the word 'activist' just confused me, and caused me to read it more with a political slant than needed. As usually when I encounter activists people mean 'political activism'.

Zak Sabbath said...

"Political" is a vague word.
Activism in this context basically means that a community doesn't just want to create something that does not exist but that it, on some level, wants to alter what already exists.

When someone goes "I hate WOTC's official D&D stuff I am making something else" that isn't activist.

When they go "I hate WOTC's official D&D stuff, and they should do this instead" that is activist. It is a petition that something out there change.

Calling out racism, sexism, homophobia or abuse is in this sense activist. You wish something out there to change.

(Obviously in the narrower sense of "getting things done" it isn't necessarily activist, depending on context)

Soyweiser said...

That makes it clear. Thanks.

Verad Bellveil said...

That makes sense, thank you for responding.

Verad Bellveil said...

Macris as in ACKS Macris?

Horst Wurst said...

One: Can you point me to the comments in question? I'll happily click every 172 comments in that thread but if you have the names of the commenters available I'd appreciate it.
Two: The difference is proportionality of accusation. To accuse someone of being a harasser is pretty serious. People get death- and rapethreats, swat teams are sent to their houses etc. People conspire to spread false information about someone. Someone calls another names. Someone calls someone else a dangerous person. Someone plusses that comment. Lumping all these things together as harassment devalues the term. Again enabling or supporting harassment is bad but different from the act itself. "Harasser" is someone who harasses, it is implied that you actively do the thing.
Three: "Your contributions have been valuable" is aimed at what she wrote on her blog mainly about feminism in games. To compare this to an overall toxic person like Trump is disproportionate. Sartre's contributions to philosophy are valuable while his treatment of women is despicable. The first statement about his contribution to philosophy is still true.

Zak Sabbath said...

@ Horst Wurst
Two first:
No, Horst, "harassment" is not a relative term like "big" or "quiet" it is a binary like "murderer" or "pregnant". You either did it or you didn't, you're either pregnant or not, you either harassed a person or didn't.

Whitney Beltran supported a false and negative public statement against another human being. That is harassment. She is, therefore, a harasser. The fact she did it multiple times proves it was not a mistake but does not make her more or less of a harasser. Once is enough--like any crime.

And harassers should not be supported in any way until they apologize and undo the damage the did.

I (and Mandy) have received death and rape threats precisely because people believe the false information Whitney Beltran and her friends put out and tried to grant validity.

If I said "Whitney sent me a death threat" that would be a lie. If I say "Whitney harassed me" that would be true.

Clicking "plus one" to give validity to a false statement is 100% an active thing Whitney did. Just because it is a relatively _lazy_ form of harassment (like yelling out your window at someone) doesn't make it cease to be harassment or meant I don't get attacked _literally daily_ because of the libel she is supporting.

As for One:

I already told you the names of the peopel who made the libel comments-- Jessica Hammer and Renee Knipe. You can scroll down and find those comments easily without reading all hundred-whatever.


Anna Kreider's contributions were wholly negative, though, she made no positive contributions, unlike Sartre. Being a terrible scientist doesn't make you good just because science is good. Being a terrible progressive who does harm to your cause by lying doesn't make you good just because progressivism is good. Supporting her is only bad. But this is a side issue: the other stuff is enough to prove Whitney a harasser alone.

If you want to call her a "minor harasser" be my guest but the bottom line is:

Supporting her means you are _giving money (and possibly status and power) to someone who undeniably makes the world worse_ .

Ultimately you either care about Whitney Beltran's victims and want them to not suffer unfairly or you do not care and do not care if they suffer unfairly and you spend your money accordingly.

She has made the decision a harasser makes:
"I do not care if I hurt my victim"

She has inflicted the damage a harasser inflicts:
"I will make my victim's life unfairly"

She has taken the action a harasser takes:
"I will do something I could easily have _not_ done in order to make another person's life worse"

Her action fits all definitions of harassment:

"subject to aggressive pressure or intimidation"

"make repeated small-scale attacks"

and of online harassment:

"use of communication technologies for the intention of harming another person"

But even if they don't: she is obviously a bad person doing a bad thing to an innocent person. Why would you want to support that unless you are indifferent to the suffering of the innocent person?

Horst Wurst said...

So the other two comments (finding them was a pain in the neck because they commented more than once and only two of them has a +1 from Whitney)
The first one from Jessica Hammer makes no direct reference to you. She says several valid things that I would totally get behind (give a +1) myself if the context (Mark´s acknowledgement of abuse in the "story game" scene which I applaud) would have been different. Here is the post:
Harassment? Unacceptable. Building bridges to people who aren't actively working to destroy lives and careers? Awesome. Doing better with inclusion in the "indie" community? Yes, for sure. But there's got to be ways to deal with toxic behavior, too - especially when that toxic behavior is disproportionately directed at people who are also being marginalized by the indie community.

Basically, I wish this post did not come off to me as Mark nobly sacrificing the well-being and safety of others so he can look like a hero.

(Hell, I'm scared to write even this mildly critical post, as I've had credible death threats this year. But fuck it.)
The second one by Renee Knipe does reference you by name. Here is the supposedly incriminating bit:
Because I'm too fucking terrified of some of the people, Zak being one of them (having been on the receiving end of his crap more than once), to actively develop in that space...

She says that she is scared of you which may or may not be true but is not for me to decide (and is different to: "He harassed me and therefore I´m scared" which she would have to proof.) She does say "receiving end of his crap" which can be anything from tenacity to aggressiveness (two qualities you probably have.)
Three: I am not saying Anna Kreider´s contribution to the hobby is valuable because she writes about feminism. If she drew maps for dungeon crawls and Whitney thought that her contribution was valuable I would have the same position: Her comment is about the blog and its contribution to the hobby and not about that one part of her last blog post where she mentions her "primary harasser" with whom she probably meant you.
Two: I respect your point and I disagree: Of course you can call all the things I mentioned (death threats, name calling, spreading lies etc) harassment but at a price: Now people who systematically stalk and threaten others and people who merely support a false claim are in the same group of harassers regardless of the severity of their wrongdoing. From a purely semantic or logical position you may be right but from a pragmatic one you are not.
My last statement will probably earn me a well deserved ban but it´s my honest opinion: I can not tell you how hurt you should be because of Whitney´s plussing but I am pretty sure that the severity of your accusation would hurt Whitney as well so concerning the overall suffering (which I am not indifferent towards): your action actually increases it and could ultimately lead to a green hell of circular firing squads.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Horst Wurst

Let's deal with the biggest problem in your post first:

"I am pretty sure that the severity of your accusation would hurt Whitney as well so concerning the overall suffering..."


Is equivalent to saying "Well I am sure the person who mugged you did wrong, but punishing them or acknowledging it would hurt them too, so…"

No, Horst, that is just a justification--letting people do bad things without accountability is exactly what causes a Green Hell. Accountability is good.

As for your dithering around the definition of "harass"--if you need to redefine it to claim to be making sense then you need to define it yourself now.

Zak Sabbath said...

Treating Whitney's harassment _not as a problem to be fixed_ is exactly the Green Hell mentality I described in my post:
This is the disaster you get when a community tries to combine the heady brew of activist morality with the thin white gruel of middle-class pop mental-health discourse

What's important is the damage she did to her victim is undone.

The fact that it might embarrass her to admit she was wrong is the price she pays for having harassed a person in the first place.

Zak Sabbath said...

And another point you seem to be missing:

The point of accountability is not just some abstract "justice" -- it's functional.

The main problem with an abuser is they have proven to have the capability to abuse again.

The problem with lying or promoting false information is it proves the source is not reliable.

So the fact Whitney Beltran harassed me and promoted false information needs to be known so that she can either acknowledge that and decide to make a concerted effort to be better (best case scenario) or people can be warned that information from Whitney Beltran is not reliable (more likely, less perfect, but still better than the current scenario).

Removing accountability out of a desire not to make anyone sad just means the abusive people commit their abusive acts over and over and over (b/c no consequences) and that's what creates a Green Hell

Zak Sabbath said...

@Anon K Adderlan


Saying you can't follow just means you should ask.


You, assuming you are the "Anon Adderlan" that appears elsewhere you endorsed Fred Hicks' share of the smear article which said Zak Smith--the guy who plays D&D every week with a group that's basically only bi trans and gay women and WOC is trying to keep everyone who isn't a cishet white man out of gaming.

The article and the reasons it's an obvious smear are described here:

You endorsing it is here:

..which seems out of character for you (assuming it's the same anon adderlan) so I'm all ears if you have some excuse and are going to remove your endorsement.

As for you
You need to address these points _and not lie in the comments_ (I erased your comment as it contained false assertions-you are not watching an attempt to distort the truth) in order to be able to be having a conversation here.

And again: if you would like to redefine "harassment" to include only the kinds of harassment you consider serious then you need to state clearly what you think that definition is.

Calling both two different things both "harassment" is no more an attempt to make them equivalent than calling both murder and vandalism "crime".

As for your question: which specific statements regarding my "character" are you referring to---quote them?

Anonymous said...

Yes. If you don't know the background:

Verad Bellveil said...

Ugh. Between that and FATE that's another game I need to remove from my collection.

Brandon said...

While I agree with much of what you typed here, I have to expressly disagree with the following statement: "So criticism, no matter how aggressive, isn't harassment if the critic is actually doing it in order to improve something (legitimate purpose)."

The specter of so-called legitimate purpose has been used time and time again to mask otherwise bad behavior. "Yeah I was a dick/troll/asshole but I did it for this good reason." What must instead be considered is if the tone is commensurate with the situation being critiqued. Many an internet troll has used ostensibly legitimate grievances as an excuse to harass others, and since getting at the truth of intent is so hard, we must instead insist that people respond appropriately, both in content and in tone.

The dictionary definition of harassment (they are all similar) is that they are attacks that are repeated and aggressive, and make no mention of purpose or intent. Many laws on harassment, like sexual harassment, require no intent, only effect disproportionate to the situation. To declare that, effectively, right makes might right (to twist an aphorism), ignores the potential for abuse your particular definition implicitly endorses.

Some of your later addenda attempt to address this, but so long as that first quoted clause stands, they are far less powerful. Criticism is not a blank check for abuse. Criticism must be correct AND appropriate, not merely correct.

Zak Sabbath said...

You are wholly incorrect. Tone-policing is wrong and stupid and what someone CLAIMS their motive is is not relevant--what's relevant is what they PROVE their purpose is.
You are criticizing me now. How do I know if you are harassing me or not?

Easy: I ask you questions or make points and you respond.

If you respond, you have proved by your ACTIONS that you may want to make a . genuine improvement (you are clarifiing, proving you are sane, etc--what a person who sought improvement would do).

If you do not answer questions or address points, you are proving by your ACTIONS that you do not seek improvement but merely criticizing for some illegitimate end.

Tone is never important (only in the public relations sense, which has no moral meaning). Either someone is telling the truth or lying, either someone is communicating in order to do something to fix a problem or not.

Tone-policing is just a way of using differences in ways of communicating to shut down legitimate grievance. It is wholly evil.

No matter how a point is _phrased_ so long as it contains no false assertion it must be addressed regardless of you educated or uneducated guess of what tone it is supposed to have.
So: please address all those points.

If you do, you will start to prove your intent is not to harass, but criticize legitimately.

If you do not, it suggests you are a harasser, raising frivolous and undefendable points for some nonconstructive purpose.

Zak Sabbath said...

The Constitution announces black people are 3/5th s of a person very _politely_ but it would be wholly inappropriate to respond in the same tone.

The only thing with moral meaning is the offense , not the highly subjective judgment of how commensurate the tone its addressed in is.

Brandon said...

I had to go look up tone policing because I've heard it used a lot but didn't fully understand the nuances. On the one hand, I agree that one's tone shouldn't detract from the legitimacy of the message. On the other hand, I see the way information is presented being used all the time as a kind of attack. Just as how you say something shouldn't take away from its truth, the truth of a statement shouldn't be a defense against using the way it is stated as a deliberate attack. I'm not sure how to disentangle these two ideas, but I'm not OK with an otherwise legitimate criticism being used as a kind of back-door harassment.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think the best way for you to proceed is to provide an example.

Brandon said...

I will have to think on this and do some searching. I don't have any easy examples off the top of my head, in part because the forum where I spend most of my forum time (a video game forum, not an RPG forum) is also someplace I haven't been as much lately, due to the pressures of being a new parent. I shall return within a few days with something more concrete (feel free to reply and remind me if need be, I have notifications turned on for this thread).

Brandon said...

I cannot find any clear examples of what I fear. There are what I suspect to be edge cases, or obscured intentions, but as with all things, they are potentially open to interpretation, and I don't want to get bogged down with that. So I will have to concede that tone policing is indeed a threat, and that the message is indeed more important. But that doesn't mean tone is irrelevant. If the goal is to improve a community or on-line space you must change minds. Some cannot be changed, and those individuals must be cast out, but many can become better people, and the only way to do that is to win them over. Tone can be critical to winning support. So, as with all communications, know your audience, keep your ultimate goal in mind, and make sure that both what you say and how you say it support that goal.

Zak Sabbath said...

Tone is a tactical rather than a moral imperative.

Those who can be persuaded or dissuaded by tone despite substance are not intelligent but could one day become intelligent

Whether to try to change such a person or just kick them out is anindividual decision someone must make based on the amount of time they have for altruistic exercises and the nature of the direction from which the unintelligent tone-affectable person comes to them.

We may decide to rehabilitate our stupid neighbor but not our stupid Uber driver. This is a reasonable and individual choice.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Structural Analysis

The last time you left a comment, it was inaccurate, it was answered and you failed to reply.

So you're banned.
Half-conversations and drive-by comments are not allowed. You engage or you go to a dumber person's blog where there's a dumber conversation.

If you want to talk here, you have to go back to the last comment you made and address the issue.

Rick Marshall said...

I've been away from blog reading for the past year. Upon my return, yours was my first stop. I'm delighted as usual by your thinking and writing, and this post is a real beauty.

I run a nonprofit, and on my agenda is to put in place an anti-harassment policy. Our attorney warned us both that it's important to have one - and we don't need him to tell us that - and that it is extremely difficult to write them correctly, for the reasons you've beautifully articulated in your characterization of the various ways online communities fail to deal with harassment.

I've waited until now to produce that policy because I've not been clear about how to get it right, but you've inspired me. I'm going to base it heavily on what you've put together here, which is the most cogent and coherent analysis I've read on the subject.

Thanks again.

Zak Sabbath said...

Glad to see I could help

Zak Sabbath said...


Erased. Misinformation isn't allowed on the page.

If you believe your misinformation isn't actually misinformation, post proof in your next comment.