May 30, 2006

When You Poke Wild Animals with Sticks, the Results Aren't Always Predictable

One reason among many why I've largely left off the political blogging: Outing.

Outing's a game played by mental 12-year-olds. It's a game in which they strike back at whoever they're arguing with by either taking action against them offline, or by posting their opponent's personal information.

You don't have to be anonymous online to be outed. You can just have some douchebag email your grad school advisor alerting him to comments you made somewhere, in the hopes of sabotaging your academic pursuits. As far as I'm concerned, that's a form of outing. It's taking the online world off, anyway. It's childish, petty, and destructive.

You can be anonymous and have someone else send an anonymous fax to your employer, causing you to lose your job. Outed!

You can be anonymous and have someone post your real name and other identifying details, details you clearly didn't want released to the public, online. That's outing in the classic sense.

What I don't consider outing:

If you make a lot of noise about having served in the military, and people do some basic toddler-level research and find out you're lying about that, and then they post that information online, information that proves you're full of shit--that's not "outing." It's what you get for telling fibs in the first place. It's what I'd expect to happen to me if I'd titled this blog "Ilyka Damen, M.D." I'd assume that someone would take the few seconds required to determine that there is no licensed physician by that name anywhere in the world. And I'd assume they'd go to town with it--but that'd be only a small part of why I wouldn't do a dumb thing like that. The big part would be, I don't need to make shit up about myself to feel good about who I am or what I have to say.

If you make stupid, boastful, false claims about yourself on the internet, I got no pity for you when you're turned into a laughingstock in public. Because there's a simple solution to that problem: Don't make stupid, boastful, false claims about yourself on the internet, assface. That's not outing, to rip the mask off a liar like that. That's just not taking someone's stupid, boastful, false claims at face value. Caveat emptor goes double or triple on the internet.

And so does, "Mind the crazy." A New York subway has nothing on the internet when it comes to crazies. No one's ever threatened to commit suicide to me on a subway car, but they sure have over the internet. No one's ever threatened to kidnap me offline, but they sure have online. Not everyone online has his or her shit together.

What I'd advise people who've been outed isn't what I'd have advised them even 6 months or a year ago, because I think it's getting worse, or at last increasing in frequency. When outing was rare, a bunch of site owners could pile on the outer and shame him or her into knocking it off (or at least deleting all posts related to it, though as the Treacher link above demonstrates, apologies are seldom forthcoming.). But that doesn't work anymore, and it barely worked to begin with. You can't tell someone, "Hey, we don't do that around here" because now, the outer has 3 or 4 or 10 or 12 other examples of outing "by the other side" to point to, which they always, always do point to, because really, what could be more mature and adult than falling back on that favorite rationale of children everywhere, "They did it first?"

Yeah, to hell with who did it first. Who cares? It doesn't change the real problem, which is that outers are assholes. But some of them are also crazy assholes. So if it happened to me, here's what I'd do anymore:


Well, almost nothing. I would do a few things, I guess:

  • I'd delete all references to the outer from my blog.
  • I'd email any of my friends who were posting about the affair online, and ask them to do likewise. I'd specifically ask them, just to be extra-super-duper-clear, to remove any posts about the incident.
  • And then I'd never say another word publicly about my experience again.
  • If it were bad enough, I'd delete my own blog. That depends, I guess. I'm not sure I'd want to do that, but maybe I wouldn't have any choice.
  • But I'd leave off poking any wild-eyed creatures of the internet with a stick. I wouldn't try to retaliate. It only escalates things. It drives more traffic to the very information you wanted concealed in the first place, too. If that makes me a big coward, fine, I'm a big coward. I can totally live with that, because to my mind none of this shit is worth losing a job or getting hounded by a stalker over. None of it.

    Unfortunately, you're never going to convince some folks of that. They're just going to get more and more obsessed with what someone else said about them on this site or in that forum or who knows where all on the internet. They're going to get more and more bent on revenge, until eventually it's going to occur to them to out their enemies. Some people can only fight dirty. They don't know from fair. They don't know that when someone calls you, for example, "a fucking cunt" who "shouldn't be allowed to breed," it's better to point and laugh at 'em than it is to get upset about it, so upset that you go all nuts from it.

    (Besides, what kind of dumbass says a thing like that? Anyone can see just by reading this page that I'm far too busy aborting babies to ever breed them.)

    But the mentals, no. They're going to sign high-minded online integrity pledges and then violate them five minutes later. Why not?--They HAVE no integrity. They're only frightened, tortured little freaks and frankly, just having to live in their own skulls, day in, day out, is probably punishment enough for 'em.

    The web needs to come with a default home page for everyone that just reads, "DO NOT FEED THE CRAZIES." I swear, you can't be reminded of it often enough.

    UPDATE: I was discussing this with someone last night and I realized: Instead of online integrity pledges, you know what system I'd implement if I cared enough? A Hall of Shame.

    I mean no disrespect to the fellows who came up with the original pledge idea--no, wait. Maybe I do, a little. Because voluntary online integrity pledges are a little like U.N. resolutions: They don't do a damn thing except make the signatories feel extra-virtuous about themselves. This is especially dumb when you consider how little justification there is for feeling virtuous about merely practicing the bargain-basement minimum of online courtesy.

    But pledges don't fix what I think is the problem, which is that if this nonsense keeps up, the only people who are going to be willing and able to blog are going to be the kind of people who are willing and able to route through multiple proxies and take advantage of anonymous domain registration. The kind of people who have the time, the know-how, and the resources to be vigilant in guarding their anonymity.

    Or, they're going to be the kinds of people who don't have to worry about controversial blogging, because their jobs are cool with it. That's a very small subset of people: Free-lance journalists, tenured professors, and the independently wealthy come to mind, and not much more.

    And that, in my view, is really going to suck.

    Posted by Ilyka at May 30, 2006 06:23 PM in hell is other people

    I've never had to worry about being "outed" since I started blogging, as I use my real name. But I completely agree with you about trolls; calling attention to them just feeds them.

    Posted by: Elayne Riggs at May 30, 2006 07:56 PM

    Hoo boy, you sure said a mouthful.

    As for me, you know my story: it's not so much the Intarweb crazies as it was the Real Life Looneytunes. Knowing that those people were looking at my life was enough for me to close my blog, forever. I do not regret it. Not for one skinny minute. The only thing I wish is that I could have a print-out of all of my archives. Occasionally, I said something funny, you know.


    Posted by: Margi at May 31, 2006 12:17 AM


    Margi!!! You didn't back them up? At all?

    Noooooooo . . . .

    Posted by: ilyka at May 31, 2006 12:20 AM

    The internet us run by crazies, quite sadly.

    Posted by: The Holywriter at May 31, 2006 02:22 AM

    It's unfortunate. I've managed to get about a dozen death threats over a rather local topic I took an unpopular opinion on. Somebody representing the "Hip Hop Thug Life Army" or something, sent me an email containing my old address indicating that he was planning on going to my house to physically harm me.


    Posted by: dan l at May 31, 2006 07:19 AM

    If I have an opinion to express on a blog these days on any hot topic, I am very selective about where I'll do it. I'm not as concerned about the blogger as I am about the commenters and not so much for the personal safety as for the sheer harassment of it all. At my fairly modest skill level, I could probably make myself "excessively annoying" to someone over the internet if I were so inclined. Some people, with varying degrees of skill and a whole lot of free time, ARE so inclined. Not at all worth it to me.

    Posted by: Rob at May 31, 2006 07:46 AM

    Be anonymous with Tor. It won't save you from what you reveal about yourself, but some site owner won't be tracking you to your employer through your IP address.

    Posted by: Kyle Hasselbacher at May 31, 2006 07:58 AM
    some site owner won't be tracking you to your employer through your IP address.

    Chalk up another advantage to working from home: They won't be doing that anyway. :)

    Posted by: ilyka at May 31, 2006 11:00 AM

    It was you who recommended I delete a few things from my blog, which I did. I was glad for the advice-too often something that is litigious gets offered up to the world.

    It's also largely why I stopped blogging about work.

    That, and my pure apathy for work, of course.

    Posted by: Helen at June 1, 2006 12:31 AM