Here's a story I'm sick of hearing: A person did a cool thing, and they were rewarded with online abuse from the richest cesspools of Twitter and Reddit so they chose to disengage from social media for their own sanity.
We've heard this story too many times. There are the cases of extreme online abuse we saw leveled at critic Anita Sarkeesian (slammed for having a master's degree and opinions, I guess) and comedian and actor Leslie Jones (yeah, tell me your discomfort with the new Ghostbusters ~*isn't about gender*~). Those are the worst cases, but for most of us, it's a steady stream of annoying little digs from strangers who hate-read our Hillary Clinton articles, or whatever the fuck, and feel the need to neg us on social media. Most women writers I know, no matter what they write about, deal with some trash monster stinking up their mentions at some point in time. It's a classic case of normal but not okay. And this week, it happened to local mystery writer Chelsea Cain on a larger than usual scale, over the cover of her latest Mockingbird comic, because it features Mockingbird wearing a T-shirt that reads "ASK ME ABOUT MY FEMINIST AGENDA."
Today, Cain posted a statement on her website about what happened. I'm posting it in full after the jump (a) because I'd rather not contribute to the People Saying Things About Chelsea Cain Who Are Not Chelsea Cain clusterfuck, and (b) because when people deal with sexist harassment online, WE SHOULD LISTEN TO THEM.
Here you go:
Uh, hi. So some of you may have noticed that I recently deactivated my Twitter account. (Apparently that’s a news story?) I wanted to clarify what happened. I write (wrote) an 8-issue comic series for Marvel, called MOCKINGBIRD. During the life of that series, the tenor on my Twitter feed changed. Comics readers are 99% the best people you’d ever want to meet. The other 1% can be really mean. Perhaps that statistic holds up across humans, in general, but in my experience, this is a different kind of mean. It’s misogynist and dismissive and obsessive and it thrives off taking down other people. I’ve blocked 8 people in my many years on Twitter; 7 were on Wednesday. The first person I blocked, several months ago, had this to say:
“Thanks, @chelseacain for ruining my favorite character with your feminist crap.”
I engage with a lot of people on Twitter, even those with criticism. But that tweet is not looking for a discussion. It’s not brutal or sexually threatening. It’s just a quick elbow to the gut.
I got used to a certain level of take-down tweets after that. Every time an issue came out. I’d get lots of love and support. And a handful of people who seem to thrive off making sure strangers feel hated. I guess it’s a way of being seen. It’s not different than what most comic book writers deal with, especially female ones. The tweets that bothered me were never the ones concerned with content; they were the ones that questioned my right to write comics at all, and were disgusted by the idea of a female hero having her own series.
Wednesday, I had a bubble of these types of tweets. Mockingbird had been cancelled, and they were really celebrating. Understand that this is not me looking for mentions. These are tweets in my feed, people who tag me. It is not trolling. I was not being targeted. It was just a lot of people being jerks, per usual, but in greater numbers.
My husband and our 11-year-old daughter were downstairs watching an episode of Buffy, and I was sitting up here in my home office, blocking some of these people, responding to some of them. Strangers, yelling at me because I wrote a comic book that they didn’t like, and because I was a woman. And I got a text from my 11-year-old daughter. “I love you,” she wrote.
And I just thought, what am I doing? Why am I up here engaging with mean strangers, who couldn’t care less about me, when the two people I love most in the world are downstairs?
I posted a comment about how I was done with Twitter. And I went downstairs.
I exchanged a few more tweets with friends later Wednesday night.
The next morning, yesterday, I woke up to find that my Twitter feed had exploded. This was before a Comics Beat story ran later that morning, which REALLY got people interested. Overnight, I had lost thousands of followers. (I’d gone to bed with about 8500.) I had gained a thousand new followers. I had been tagged thousands of times. Comments were coming in, fast and furious, every second. I’d never seen anything like it. I saw a few of them - a lot of support, a lot of people yelling at one another - a lot of people mad at me for being too quick on the block button or too critical of comic book readers or being too feminist. A lot of them just seemed mad at women in general.
I deactivated my account. I got up. I walked my dogs.
I did not read the thousands of posts on my page, past the one page I could see without scrolling down. So I do not know who sent them. Getting 5 or 6 tweets overnight is a big night for me. Maybe 90% of those thousands of posts were from one person who sat up all night tweeting me over and over again. Maybe it was bots. I do not know why so many of my followers unfollowed me. Maybe their feeds were being cluttered with all the posts. Maybe they blocked me to protest the 8 people I’d blocked?
I did know that it was no longer my Twitter account. It had been hijacked. These were no longer my Twitter friends.
I think the larger cultural story is important. People are trolled. People are ruined. And trolls get away with it, because they can take down anyone, if their ire is raised. There is still a vocal segment of the comic book readership that is dominated by sexist jerks with Twitter accounts. Twitter is still a highly flawed platform that nurtures a culture of bullying.
I loved Twitter. I made friends. I maintained friendships. I was delighted when I got to exchange texts with my favorite podcaster or a TV actor or writer I love. And I had a huge network of other comic book industry professionals who offered me daily support and invaluable advice. I mentored teenagers and exchanged tweets with readers and tried to be funny sometimes.
But know that I did not leave Twitter because of rape threats or because someone had posted my address, or any of the truly vile tactics you hear about. I left Twitter because of the ordinary daily abuse that I decided I didn’t want to live with anymore. The base level of casual crassness and sexism.
Sure, by the time I deactivated my account on Thursday morning, the whole thing had imploded. And I bet that some of the thousands of posts on my feed were really really vicious. But I don’t know. Because you know what? I didn’t read them. That’s the power we have, right? If a stranger yells at you on the street? You walk away.
Let me be clear: I did not leave Twitter because I was trolled; I was trolled because I said I was going to leave Twitter.
I left Twitter because, in the end, all the good stuff about Twitter didn’t make up for all the bad stuff.
Thanks for reading.
Let me emphasize, here, that this vitriol was over a comic THAT HAS BEEN CANCELED. How fragile does your masculinity have to be that you feel threatened by a comic that's already on its way out of existence?
But what's really a shame about this is that Cain's work with Mockingbird was exciting. It was exciting to see a local writer who's written interesting, complex women in her books take the reins on an interesting, complex heroine.
But I guess this is why we can't have nice things.