The Victim Brag: It May Be Time to Devalue Internet Death Threats

Frequently people will use the existence of threats, including death threats, over the Internet as proof that their cause is more just because their opponents are violent and _________ (fill in the blank with racist, misogynist, etc.).  Most folks firmly believe that only their side is getting these death threats, since they only really talk to and read people on their side.  But as a libertarian that makes common cause with all kinds of groups, what I see is that EVERYONE that says something even mildly controversial gets Internet threats.  The gamergaters get threats and the anti-gamergaters get threats.  BLM gets threats and police defenders get threats.  Heck, I get threats, mostly on climate and immigration issues, and I am a nobody.  And here is the latest source of death threats:  Katherine Timpf dissing Star Wars

More than a month ago, I made some jokes about Star Wars on Red Eye, a satirical political comedy show that airs at 3 a.m., and it has resulted in me being verbally abused and told to die by a mob of enraged fans for the past four days now. ...Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.  The YouTube comments on his manifesto were even better. You know, stuff like:

justin 12 hours ago Maybe a SW nerd needs to sneak into her dark room, dressed like her bf, rape her, but she doesn’t know it’s rape because she thinks it’s her BF.

needmypunk 16 hours ago I hope she gets acid thrown in her pretty little face.

sdgaara2 1 day ago Wouldn’t it be great if she was beaten to death with “space nerd sticks”

etc. etc.   Now, I understand there are a few folks out there who have had to deal with scary and legitimate stalking episodes online.  But in the vast majority of cases, does anyone really treat these as serious threats?  Like actually get scared?  I know I don't.  I would suggest that most folks respond just like Ms. Timpf did -- they treat them as a badge of honor and of proof of the rightness of their cause and the bankruptcy of their intellectual opposition.  I have done the exact same thing.   We have a term called humble brag, e.g. "I was so stupid last night -- Johnny Depp came by my table to say hi and I didn't recognize him."  We need a term for this -- "victim brag", maybe?

I have come to the conclusion that there are a core of people on the Internet that are simply morons, and will react stupidly to about anything.  We should stop ascribing any significance to their showing up in an online discussion.  The fact they show up making their stupid threats has no more meaning than the fact that ants inevitably show up when you drop food on the ground.  You wouldn't write an article that "ants hate me because they swarmed all over the potato chip I dropped."  Let's treat Internet trolls just like we do these insects.



  • EconoMichael

    Love the ant analogy; exemplifies both the mindlessness and insignificance of such people online.

  • xtmar

    Sadly, I suspect that it's more than a core of internet denizens, but rather a majority of them who are so uncouth. Just as bad money derives out good, so too do trolls five or reasonable discourse.

  • mx

    You're not wrong in that not all threats are serious and the vast majority never amount to anything. However, I think you don't have a full appreciation of the personal nature of some of these online threats. In some cases (especially with GamerGate, many have involved women on the internet), people have been harassed, doxed (including targeting family members and employers for harassment), had their online accounts hacked and taken over, and even swatted (calling police falsely claiming there is an active shooter incident at a person's home, seeking to provoke a SWAT team response, something that's frankly damn close to attempted murder). These actions are coordinated by an angry mob. When someone receives death threats in connection with these kinds of activities, after having their address splashed across the internet and heavily armed police storm their home, they are seriously scared and very much not "victim bragging." When it impacts their families and employers, it's even worse (read, for instance "That Time the Internet Sent a SWAT Team to My Mom's House": And this has happened recently to far more than "a few folks."

    So yes, threats vary, but for some people, the problem goes well beyond a few idiotic comments online, and minimizing the damage caused and viewing these threats as bragging by the victims is not a way to move forward.

  • Rob McMillin

    And, it's always women who are the recipients, or at least, the ones who complain loudest about these. In certain cases (coff Anita Sarkeesian coff), there is a direct and commercial relationship between harassment and supposed victim. But even if we were to assume some of it is real — for instance, the story of Kathy Sierra — the evidence points to this as a gendered problem. Women may wish to be perceived as the equals of men, but they lack very specific tools for dealing with a much more rough and tumble environment. Linus Torvalds has assembled a great bunch of male coders, but girls have a hard time with his combative style, apparently.

  • mx

    Isn't it possible, even inevitable to the point of being tautological, that women are simply disproportionately the recipients of misogynistic internet hate? You blame women for lacking certain "tools" and "girls" (really?) for having a "hard time," but why not focus even a little on, say, the people doing the harassment as the source of the problem?

    We've spent decades trying the idea that if women grow thicker skins, dress a certain way, act a certain way, they won't be harassed. It hasn't worked.

  • Rob McMillin

    Really? Someone actually claimed Solla Sollew exists?

    I do not recall making the claim that women would not be harassed in this or any other universe. What I do suggest, however, is that thicker skins are a necessity for navigating this world. The demand often heard from feminists and other utopian idiots is that somehow male intransigence should be suppressed somehow; usually, this involves the interference of other ... men. My position is that resilience is a virtue, and those who refuse it will frequently be picked on by idle idiots with poor impulse control.

    The damsel-in-distress trope is a real thing, however much Ms. Sarkeesian may publicly hate it (and despite how much she actually, ironically plays it out in real life).

  • Mike Powers

    See, these are ACTUAL ACTS. Nobody is trying to argue that actual things that actually happened to people are not problems and shouldn't be dealt with.

    But should these get the same degree of response as "I got a DM on Twitter saying that I should kill myself"? How about "I put up a YouTube video and someone posted a comment saying that they'd like to rape me"? Or "I found this Tumblr account full of posts about how I was a typical feminazi"?

    And when someone says "everything women say on the internet is responded to by misogynistic harassment and death threats", is that more like the former or more like the latter?