In the midst of the discussion around Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s outing as Requires Hate, I had several conversations about the Internet “community” Fail Fandom Anon (FFA). I had to explain to people why I didn’t trust any of the anonymous commenters in the threads even though my default position is to believe the victim, even if the victim won’t reveal their name or full identity. I’m unfortunately too familiar with the tactics of the anons that hang out in FFA and the people like them. Tactics that include pretending to be a person from a specific identity in order to add more credibility to what they have to say and discredit their mortal enemy, the SJW.
FFA isn’t just about the community/meme, they also have a wiki where they collect receipts on the people they hate most in order to catalog all the reasons why they are The Worst. Requires Hate has an entry there, as do several other writers and fans in our community. I’ve glanced through several of them and even went through the Cat Valente one in detail, clicking on every link. And there are a lot of links.
Why did I do such a soul-crushing thing? I wanted to know whether or not any of their grievances had a basis in fact.
I have a surprise for you: most don’t.
Claims are made about a lot of bad behavior and unnecessary whining and evil appropriation and just plain wrongness. But when I clicked through to the original sources I either didn’t see what the anons saw at all, saw the situation distorted, or saw people desperately trying to fit words or actions into a pre-determined narrative based on an existing hatred. There were some situations represented fairly (by my own view), but they were far outweighed by the other stuff.
That was a couple of years ago. I had a deja vu moment earlier this year when I did the same thing with a call-out post about the blogger behind MedievalPOC. Once again, there were several accusations of lying and appropriation and bullying and terribleness, all allegedly backed up by a list of receipts. I started clicking and, lo, I did not see a lot of evidence to back up these assertions. What I did see was people engaging in grudgewank, uncharitable and distorted readings of situations and words and intentions, and statements of “She did X” when I very clearly saw her doing Y.
The call-out post and the entries on the FFA wiki come across to me as disingenuous in a generous reading and creepy and terrible if I’m not being generous. It’s not the collection of links and context that bothers me, because that’s never all it is. The MPOC post included deep speculation on the woman’s racial and ethnic background based on pictures and amateur analysis of skin tone plus invasion of privacy-style sleuthing into family history. The folks who contributed to Cat Valente’s wiki entry spent time going back through something like 10 years worth of LJ posts in the hunt for evidence of her awfulness. I’m sure some of them just remembered things they found irritating, but there’s a level detail there that smacks of creepiness.
These aren’t the only examples of this. They’re just the ones that have come to mind of late. I’m sure plenty of you have examples of your own. It’s not as if this stuff is uncommon.
As much as I am against the kind of nasty, mean-spirited, stuff that goes on in the FFA Wiki, I can’t outright dismiss the need for comprehensive receipt collection. Two recent occurrences have prompted me to ponder the validity of doing so.
A little over a year ago I became aware that a woman I’ve known for several years (I’ll refer to her as SL) was dating two other people I know (a married couple — this is a poly thing). Based on some things said on social media, I had a gut feeling that this relationship would not last long and when it ended, it would end badly. SL has a pattern that repeats regularly and she was about due. This spring things went boom in a very public way. I and others who’ve known SL as long or longer expressed little surprise. We’d seen it all before.
At the time and in the months since, I’ve had people ask “Why didn’t you/others say anything?” and “People should have warned us about her!” Part of the reason is assumptions — folks in this community tend to assume that the dramas and flareups that consume their corner of things is also known to the wider group. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.
How many people outside of Harry Potter fandom knew about the Cassandra Clare/Claire plagiarism thing before the long expose/explanation showed up on Bad Penny and angry fans valiantly tried to ensure all the pro writers knew about it? How many people reading this still have no clue what I’m talking about? But to the people embroiled in it, and the people who knew the people embroiled in it, that shit was major. It tore whole communities apart. They are genuinely surprised when others don’t know.
Same with SL’s behavior. In certain corners of the community her pattern is well known and even documented. I’m sure there are people who would be surprised that the couple SL hooked up with didn’t know about her long history in various fandom and poly communities.
For my part, I didn’t feel it was my business or my place to say anything. The couple involved are folks I’m friendly with, though not close to. People don’t always react favorably when you point out that someone they like or even love is a problem. And anyway, it wasn’t MY relationship.
Then I wonder: what if there had been an FFA Wiki-style post detailing all of SL’s past public behaviors with links to LJ posts and screencaps and emails and chat logs? What if, whenever I or someone else saw that SL was integrating herself into a pocket of the community or starting a relationship, that link magically appeared in an inbox, or a social media post, or an IM? Is that being creepy or protecting the people you care about? Maybe it’s And.
How about a less personal example:
The other day Karnythia tweeted this Storify pointing out how Gamer Gate harassers are the same people who harassed Fem Frequency years ago. Same names, same tactics popping up over and over.
It’s not so surprising, right? If you’re spending your time saying ridiculous and hurtful things and engaging in harassing behavior and you didn’t just log onto the Internet for the first time yesterday, chances are you’ve been involved in this kind of thing before.
The same names tend to pop up when you poke your head into RaceFail, GropeGate, SFWA Fail, MammothFail, and other related terribleness. But that’s not always evident unless you remember or someone keeps track.
It’s almost to a point where one might want to put together a dossier so that when the same old assholes pop up to spew the same old shit in all new places you can immediately dismiss or call them out or warn other people. Because it’s really easy to forget.
However, it takes a certain kind of stamina to do this work. Crawling back through post after post of triggering, upsetting, harmful, hurtful material and compiling it is rough work. As someone pointed out to me not long ago, there’s a reason why Racefail historians and link gatherers burned out and stepped back for their own mental health.
There are those who would take glee in doing such a thing. You can find a lot of them in Fail Fandom Anon. There are those who would claim that they don’t take glee in it, but in their heart of hearts they know the task energizes them. If I found that to be true, I’d be worried about myself in such a case.
There has to be a balance between ensuring that important information is not forgotten or swept away or allowed to fade. The recent resurgence in interest around the case against Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley illustrates this well. There is a website with all the publicly available information about Breen’s predatory behavior toward young people and Bradley’s complicity in it. Yet it was a super surprise to many when this came up again. Maybe it matters less because both of them are dead. Or maybe it doesn’t–a question Moira Greyland might have an answer to.
Figuring out where to draw the line between creepy and conscientious is not easy. I’m sure there are many who struggle to navigate those waters all the time. I don’t know how to do it, for sure. I just know what side of the line I want to be on.