AlterConf Chicago 2015 – The Harassment Game: Cyberbullying for Adults by Mikki Kendall


– Tanya changed my PowerPoint
at the last minute, because she said it was ugly and boring. I just want to put out, I had put together the PowerPoint with the intention of making it pretty, and then like life happened, and so… Listen, don’t judge me. (laughs) Alright, so, harassment game, cyberbullying for adults. I’m going to add to the trigger warnings by pointing out that I’m both profane and some of these things
might be disturbing, I know there are some tiny
people in the audience, so if your kids don’t want to hear about the things that can happen or you don’t want your kid to hear about the things that can happen, you are a person of color on the internet, now would be a great time
for them to go over there, because a lot of the things
that are going to be referenced are pretty violent and graphic. Just so we’re clear. Okay. First up we’re going to
have a history lesson. So I know how many of you
have been on the internet for the last 20 plus years, I realize, I’m going to hit 25 years next year, it’s a little bizarre. I’m old. No actually he’s old, I’m young. So a lot of us may remember that the individual bad behaviors that were happening have always happened. You’ve always had people who
would say nasty things to you, you could enter the old
computer and Awol chat rooms and the first thing they’d ask you was your age, sex, and race. And then invariably especially
when I was like 15, 16, there would be these people, as soon as you said that
you were a 15 year old girl, there’s always somebody coming to say something sexually
explicit and disgusting to you, like that was just a given, right? So, to a certain degree,
this was all normalized along with the development
of the internet. The mob mentality thing was less common back in the yesteryear, but listen, the integrity of the internet, it’s going to be a thing, just wait. It’s gotten easier with
each successive platform. We move into Reddit, into Chan culture, whether 8Chan or 4Chan or some other Chan, I don’t remember, because
I didn’t like Chan. And suddenly it becomes a group thing where people feel comfortable pilling on in support of someone
whether they know what that person is mad about, whether they know if that
person is right or not. It becomes what I call
the harassment game. So this takes us towards RaceFail, 2009. Now for those of you who weren’t
online during my journals, and weren’t into sci-fi circles, you’re going, “RaceFail?” For those of you who were there, you’re going “Dear God, Mikki, why?” (laughs) Turns out, that when fans of color start talking to authors about (mumbles) and tropes, you know, magical negro,
that kind of thing, sometimes, authors don’t like it, and they get very offended
and they say things. And the things they say are terrible, and some of them, as it turns out, Nazis. Yes, I’m talking about box day. I’ve already blocked box day, so whatever. But, you then move into this space where sci-fi intersects very
rapidly with the real world. Back at that point, the
targets were primarily people of color and other marginalized people but it was heavily slighted
towards people of color. And we kind of said then, like this is going to get much worse, because that’s when you first hit doxing as a consistent thing, that’s when you first start to hit these major attacks on people’s blogs and comments and whatever, and back then, of the yesteryear of the internet, a kismit on WordPress was amazing, it still it, so you didn’t have to see it. And I know people are going to laugh, but Live Journal had
one of the best innate blocking features of any
platform I’ve ever seen. Not because Live Journal was great at it, but Live Journal assumed
that what you wanted to block someone that maybe
you didn’t want to see them. Thank you! So you couldn’t talk to me, you couldn’t see my stuff
if you were logged in, you were just invisible to me. And then we move on to Tumblr, Twitter, all of these other platforms, and blocking suddenly goes away the dodo. Along with it goes the community structure that Live Journal used to have, where you could create closed communities and curate who talked to you. Suddenly now, your
content, you can’t choose. Either you’re all the way open or all the way closed, right? And so we get to a point where black feminists on
twitter were targeted, when black people on twitter
were targeted, period, called your slip is showing. And we called it that because
they made fake accounts and pretended to be black. And they had a whole
plan and a couple boards and this was a really dumb ass thing. A bunch of 15 year olds, or
so it seemed like at the time. Except, it was the precursor
to what you know as gamer gate. Back then, during your slip is showing, a whole lot of folks, who are now learning the
horrors of gamer gate were like, “Oh it’s just some kids. “It’s not a big deal,
they’ll stop, it’ll go away”. Well… I hate to put my I told you so pants on, but my I told you so pants are on. Way back on Live Journal, Live Journal support had figured out that approximately 75 to 85 percent of the trolling and harassment and foolishness that
happened on their platform came from 300 dedicated users. There were people who would
literally make accounts every day, just to troll, right? And so, knowing that
they had this (mumbles), they instituted IP blocking
which is a magical thing. IP blocking, (mumbles). It kept Live Journal, and Dream With, and some of the other
platforms from getting as bad as what we’re seeing on twitter. Twitter is the face of
the online harassment. Twitter is actually about where it began, Twitter is sort of where
it’s the most public because on Twitter, since
everybody can see everything, unless you completely lock your account, for the first time,
you’re seeing the messages that were showing up in inboxes. You’re seeing the things that were showing up pretty much everywhere. And… Oops, did I go the wrong way? I did, it happens. Don’t judge me. And so, then the
conversation kinda became, how were these things being triggered? So A, being marginalized on the internet, I’ma be honest. I did an experiment
where I changed my avatar to that of a white man. As a follow on, (mumbles) my friend Jamie, doing it as joke, she mentioned that, she was getting much less harassment. So we (mumbles) okay, we’ll do race swap, we’ll figure it out. Man being a while millionaire is amazing. Like this shit is amazing. Nobody argues with you
people and call you names, they don’t threaten you, they have actual conversations with you. Magic. All of the white guys
who borrowed my picture or the pictures of other black
women lasted about an hour. Some didn’t last that long. Because they realized
that the triggers could be completely unknown, first of all, but also petty conflicts. They could disagree with someone and five seconds later,
everything was going astray. Which takes us here. So… That would be one of the
most interesting messages, I don’t know why it came through this way. But, it says everything about having medically necessary,
second try master abortion. It was medically necessary
because it had a… (mumbles) abruption. I was himerging, this
was not a viable fetus. There was no question, we’d
had that conversation 15 times. The conversation had moved on to, “So I don’t do abortions,
but you kinda need one, “so we have to find someone, “we have to get you
help, but I can’t do it”, because I wasn’t going to stop bleeding. I’ve had two transfusions,
I was still bleeding. We had a problem. So I worried about that. And a women named Jill Stanic, who you can look her up, she thinks the Chinese people eat babies. I’m just going to say that
she’s the fringe of pro life, that even pro life people disavow. She has followers now. She has a lot of followers who do things like threaten the clinics, bring guns to shoot people
at clinics in medicine, as a matter of fact, he shot himself in the foot. I want to point that out. I became her favorite target for awhile. And I have two children. This was not a decision made in the, I just don’t wanna have a baby. This was a decision made in
the, I don’t wanna die, sense. Jill didn’t care. So she harped and she
harped and she harped, and I got, “You the lying nigger bitch “that wanted the free abortion. “What I can’t figure out is
how your ugly ass got pregnant. “You’re old man blind. “Fuck you, lying cunt. “How many babies have you
left on the floor so far?” He continued in that vein. I will leave out the threats (mumbles) and the ones about sexually assaulting me and cutting off my head
in front of my children. Yeah, my children were also
threatened with violence. I don’t really understand how
this pro life thing works. One of you will have to
figure it out for me later. (laughs) Like come on, I don’t know. But, what was interesting, was that, he was not anonymous. That’s his real name. If you were to go click on his account, good old Cameron, he made sure
to attach a picture of a gun. He changed his avatar to a
picture of a gun just for me. You’d find that he’s a
grandfather of three, married, kids. He’s about 60 something,
kinda looks like Santa Claus. This wasn’t a kid. This wasn’t harmless, right? This wasn’t an anonymous
account by some troll. This was a guy, with a gun,
apparently a lot of them, who was so angry at me
that he threatened me. About three hours worth of messages. And… You go to the police. The harassment game is no
longer fun, let me tell you, and the cops look at
you and they kinda go, “We don’t know what to do, ’cause it’s not here, and
it’s just the internet. Except, oh shit, maybe it’s
not just the internet”. And at the time I was lucky. I worked for the federal
government off and on for years. And part of my job, because
I had security clearance, was that I had to disclose
anything that could be a threat, that could be blackmail, blah blah blah. So I went in, did my disclosure meeting, and the agent looked at me and said, “These mother fuckers. “I got this, don’t worry about it”. And I’m looking at him like, “But, what are you gonna…” “Don’t worry about it”. I did not know, and this is really luck, I happened to catch an
agent who was fed-ly fuck up with the internet harassment. He has already had it. So he went to Cameron’s house. He took all of the messages
to Cameron’s house. He wore the badge, he wore
the gun, he took friends. And he knocked on the door, and he started reading his messages. And Cameron burst into tears. Because Cameron didn’t want his wife to know what he was doing. He didn’t want his kids or
grandkids or neighbours to know. “Why are you doing this to me? “Stop, stop, stop”. “You sent these messages. “This is your account. “You told this woman you were going “to do these things to her. “I’d like to talk to you about that”. I haven’t heard from Cameron since. I’m going to assume Cameron
doesn’t want to message me. And so, you get those messages and then the picture that
did not come through, well okay. We’re just going not worry about it, was a Twitter account someone
made called kill all cunts. Threatens to rape people. He just sits there for several hours. There’s a guy named
asshole store on Twitter, well, not anymore, who, I don’t know what he does. But he has time to make 472 accounts and I mean that literally,
one night we started to count. And in one day, he burned 472 emails. Just to message people. And so that’s the part of
the game that’s super fringe. But then you get to Gamer
Gate, all of it’s friends, and there are a lot of
15 year old kids there that think this is harmless, that have no idea what
bandwagon they’ve jumped on. They aren’t necessarily
going to singe you, these kind of messages, but they’ll tell you you’re ugly, they’ll throw out fags, they for some reason like to tell me that I look like Whoopi Goldberg, I’m not really sure why that’s
suppose to be offensive, but it’s a favorite thing. Things like that, and… Its the tenor of that, that
can joint, run you off, like these are scary, don’t get me wrong, but I live in a state where
you can get (mumbles). I can work that out. I don’t quite know what
to make of the fact that they are (mumbles) these kids up to participate in the tenor
and the ongoing doxing and the harassment and it will
drive you off the internet if you can’t take it, and I’m not saying you
should have to take it, I’m just saying that that’s the goal, is to make it you get off the internet. I get… I have a security concern at
this particular conference. It’s the shared security concern with more than one person
I think in this room, who keeps trying to register
for things I’m attending, and I’ve never met this man, I’ve never had an actual
conversation with him, but he likes to say that
someone should cut off my head. Someone should tear me apart. Someone should rape me, and
kill me, in front of my family, and then kill them. Then he says he didn’t say that. He got really upset when I started talking about finding the pig farm to put him in, but he’ll be alright. (mumbles into the mic) But this is the game, right? They’re getting something from doing this. Well, in the case of the guy
who’s our security concern, he had a Patreon account. He called it, what was it… Performance art? And he encouraged the women he was turning to talk about the fear he inspired as part of his performance art. He was literally making money
to threaten and harass us. Yes, yes. He was getting paid. There’s a guy named Will Shaloway, he has a book, Social Justice Warriors. I’m in the book. A lot of us are in the book. He wrote the book and then he tried to get Gamer Gate to buy it. Like there’s a financial profit in this, and he goes back to (mumbles) and he’s (mumbles) So the harassment gained
for some of the leaders is financially profitable. The kids who are following him, they get the ego, they get
the kudos from each other, it’s a competition? It literally is the
gamification of stalking. And you will see them come back. I’ve begun to hit that point now. Where they’ll send me a message. They create a new account or whatever. They send me a message
and they say “I’m sorry. “I was the one who sent
you, insert thing here. “I’m apologizing to the
people I did that to.” Many of them were 15 years
old when they did it. 14 years old, and now they’re 21, 22. I’ve been at this a long time. Some of them have reached a place where there have been targets. Which is a really interesting
conversation to have, particularly for the women
who were trying to be cool. Teenage girls in Chan culture
and (mumbles) circles. So that takes us to the platform changes. Because platform tools
make a real difference one that you can stay on
the internet through this. WordPress is amazing. A kizmit will block everything. You just tell it what words, like I have a kizmit set so I can’t see the word nigger anymore. Man, that took out like, 200 messages. It took out all the people who
want to send me threats about lynching me and whatever. Oh, I need to add lynching to that list. There’s a guy who has
an account on Tumblr, who keeps making them, to fill my ask box with lynching pictures. That’s what he does, he sends
me pictures of lynchings. That’s all he does. I mean, I’m not really sure
what kind of hobby that is, but alright. It’s a thing for someone, somewhere. He just keeps making
new accounts to do it. But, Live Journal? Man, they really try on Live
Journal to send me things. Live Journal (mumbles) them so thoroughly. Which has then taken them to the Facebook, and the other box. Don’t open your other box if you were marginalized on the internet. The other box is not your friend, even if the other box is your friend, have somebody else look
at it occasionally, I promise other’s is… Because Facebook will at
least do that courtesy of putting it somewhere else. Facebook is how (mumbles)
about everything else. Because when I sit
Facebook, Cameron Bards, lovely message, they tell me to block him. That was it. Tumblr told me to close my ask box. That was pretty much
it, you can block them. Okay, but he makes new accounts. “Close your ask box”. And Twitter. (sighs) So I’ve actually talked to
people at Twitter headquarters. I’ve talked to their heads of
security and blah blah blah. I’ve had conversations with
people who work at (mumbles), various platforms, and they all kinda look at
me when Twitter comes up, and they sigh, and they go, “I know”. But I’m talking to them. I know more people in dev, who have been trying to
get Twitter to do it, and meanwhile, and this
is why I love you people. I love geeks! Third party source had to come
into existence for Twitter. Like you didn’t really need them, for most of the other platforms, but for Twitter, block together, blockbot, all of these things suddenly
became absolutely necessary in order for you to be online at all. ‘Cause if you’re not using Twitter, You’re someone who writes things. You might as well not be someone who writes things at this point. I can still be on the internet
through the tenor of all this because I use block together and blockbot. I share this with some
folks, but right now, I think I’m blocking 152 thousand people. Except they’re not really people. Most of them are bots, because that’s the other downside of this. There are harassment bots, as
part of the harassment game. You don’t even have to be good at it, you don’t have to sent messages. You just have to go and
learn how to do the code, and make an account. And the account will do it for you. It will scrape harassment
threads and tweets and stuff and just send them to random people or send them to your specific target. Minor technology, it’s amazing. So you use those, but then you still have to worry about being doxed. I’ve already been doxed. At this point, I sorta have a theory that you might as well expect to be doxed if you’re marginalized on this internet. Just get ready for it. Good spoke yo, whitepages.com,
all those sites, make sure you’re actual
home address isn’t in there. Use the whosits for your
website so that your real name and address isn’t listed
in your website data. But also be aware, something could still happen. When the stuff was going
on with the pro lifers, I got doxed by accident. Friend who always talked about the name of the complex we were living in. Didn’t think about the
fact that someone else who they knew, and who was
adjacent to pro lifers. What also talk about the
name of that complex. We were living in Memphis at the time. There was one apartment
complex with that name. So I got the picture of me and my kids walking across the parking lot. Yeah, we moved. My mother in law was like, yeah you gotta come back here to Chicago. And we moved to the hood for awhile. If you are a far right wing stalker, (mumbles) I mean if you can get there, listen I’ll be waiting for you, I might even have some
cookies and a drink, ’cause you don’t wanna fight with me by the time you get there. But so, things like the
crash override exist. And they exist because at this point, as part of a harassment game, it’s phone calls that
have pizza sent to you and calling your job and
all of these other things. My old job, I don’t
actually work there anymore so it’s really funny, people keep calling. They find my LinkedIn, which hasn’t been updated
in a million years, because I don’t remember
my LinkedIn password. (laughs) (mumbles) And so, they call my old job
to tell them I’m doing things, I’m saying things, I
exist on the internet. And then, I work the
department of (mumbles) So this isn’t smart because
if I don’t work there, VA has no problem being like well, we’re getting harassing
calls from this place and these people and sending
people with badges and guns. It’s not actual smart not
profitable to do this, but, you’re 15, you’re 16,
you don’t know better. And the people who do know better, while they’re not paying you, they’re making money
off what you’re doing. That’s the goal. So the ego stroke of
playing the harassment game is how the kids get in. The profit… Off taking a bigger
whole of the market place off fundraising, evening
calling it a performance art to harass, or anyone of
a dozen other things, ’cause we could talk about
the puppies and the hegos, but half of you will look at me blankly and the other half will be like, “I’m not talking about the
fucking puppies anymore”, so it’s okay. There is a profit margin, there is a social capital in doing this, and the danger of the harassment game, and I love the fact that
there are tools to help, but the danger of the harassment game is that you wind up with
a mono culture in public. And there’s a whole lot of
people frightened in private. So we have to work with
each other, but also, you can no longer passively
ignore it when it is happening. When the women of color, ’cause they always start
in marginalized spaces. I know that we’ve seen white
women as the face of this, but they always start with women of color, trans women of color. Like they start over here. We say, “Hey, this is a problem. “This person, this thing is a problem”. Gamer Gate wouldn’t exist if someone had listened
during your slip is showing. (mumbles) No really, if you go
back to RaceFail 2009, you can find all the big names
in Gamer Gate way back then. Alright, so, lightning round. Questions, comments, concerns! – [Voiceover] My question is, the cyber harassment stopped when an armed officer showed up at his house and read his messages to
him in front of his family. Very effective stopping method, you never heard from him again. But how do we scale that? – [Mikki] So, I want you
to write your congressmen. I really, really want you
to write your congressmen. I want you to get in on
the books in each state. I’m not even saying the
people have to go to jail. I’m not a huge fan of jail as a solution, but it’s not illegal to do
this in a lot of states. It’s not illegal to do revenge
porn in a lot of states. If they say someone should, it’s no longer a threat in some states. “I will”, is a threat. “Someone should”, is
technically not a threat. Don’t ask me how you draw that line. I’m just saying that’s what
the law in substate says. Your congressman has to make
it so that the cops have to respond, that the
cops know how to respond. That the cops understand that
yes, yes, it’s the internet, but cars, planes, and trains exist, so If a guy in Kentucky threatens me, sure he can’t be at my
house two minutes after he threatens me, but he could
be at my house the next day. He could be someplace I’m speaking, he could be at my readings or whatever, because the guy that’s our problem tried to register for this conference. He tried to register for a conference I was doing in New York last month. They tried to sign up for
your reading for whatever, or they can just show up. So it has to be legal, they
have to take it seriously. Sure, 99 percent of these
threats are credible, the problem is, it only takes one bullet. Other questions? – [Voiceover] So I know
about Crash Override, but what about in the case of your work and they may not be able
to change your information ’cause if you google me, the first place that comes up is where I work. – [Mikki] So that’s when
your boss has to get involved and HR and they have
to have a conversation about changing their internal policy, because on of the things, yes, your name and information
needs to be public, for the students to be able to come in. Maybe there should be a security
guard at the front though make sure the person
coming in is a student. I mean, If your collage
and campuses are gonna have all these armed police forces, maybe they could serve and protect. Crazy talk, I know, but maybe they could something
besides write tickets. Just a thought. – [Voiceover] Our campus
security is armed, but Mikki’s visited my office, I work in a glass cube. Should someone get it in
their head to come visit me, there’s not a lot I can do. _ [Mikki] Which is why
we need to have a guard. Okay, anything else? (mumbles) I’ve been sitting a long time. (mumbles) – [Voiceover] So you think if um… Someone were building a new social network and they really took this into
account right from the start, I mean you think this is
something that could be mitigated if it was a priority from the beginning? – [Mikki] If platforms made
it hard to play the game from the beginning, that critical mass of mob mentality is difficult to build. If you know, tweeting
these kind of things, cause a lot of platforms have rules, where then they’ll say things
like, “nigger” isn’t… That’s free speech, free speech. Wouldn’t want to explain
in many platforms. You’re not the government. You’re not… That first amendment
applies to the government. You don’t have to have to
tolerate threats to the last… Racially charged language
and insults and yada yada. You don’t have to. And you would find, I suspect, like there’s a big thing
about black twitter. Well, we kinda move up together
when there’s a problem. One of the reasons you see
this big, cultural push. Most of us know each other
from other platforms. We’ve already been through this before. And Twitter doesn’t allow the individual user to control much, so we have to come together. If you start really going at someone, you’ll see me or some of the others pay so and so, (mumbles) We developed these tools. It would be so much easier, if a (mumbles), the platform took care of it. And that person couldn’t
keep talking to you, couldn’t keep sending
people to talk to you. So, I think building it in from the start and then advertising it. You’ll get a lot of users. You’ll get a lot of users
happy to pay for the privilege of not dealing with the crap. Anybody else? – [Voiceover] Didn’t it use
to be originally on Twitter, where if you blocked somebody, they couldn’t even mention you, and then like some years
later they changed that? – [Mikki] Yeah, Twitter
(mumbles) up their block feature repeatedly over the years,
I’m not really clear on… At one point blocking
meant you couldn’t see the person talking to you, now you have to block and mute them. So, Twitter is at a really strange series of code pushes behind the scenes, and I think the answer I got
once was about engagement. But, engagement numbers are… Engagement doesn’t mean that you’re talking to someone you want to talk to. Engagement might mean
that Adam Baldwin has sent all three million of his
followers to troll someone. Anybody else? – [Voiceover] This is great. What do you think about the reverse dox? I know a lot of people on black Tumblr, but I’m not as familiar with Twitter, but I know a lot of the
things coming from Twitter. Someone will shot their
ass, and then people will get together and be like,
this is where they work. You can call them and tell
them that they’re being racist or whatever, what do you think about that? – [Mikki] I’m divided. I think that in the case where the person showing their
ass is doing (mumbles) is related to their work. If you tell me that
someone works with kids, and they’re currently posting
pictures of child porn or threatening to dox a kid or whatever, then their boss should probably know that, people should probably step in, because there are rules about that. If you work in a pizza
place, maybe not so much. In part because I’m not
entirely certain about how effective that is. If you’re calling someone’s
job, to get them fired, and they work at Joe Bob’s pizza place, Okay, they don’t work
at Joe Bob’s anymore, they work at Jim Bob’s now. Like I’m not certain that the lesson is penetrating the “I should
not have said the thing”, instead it becomes, the
internet bullied me. So I am split. I think sometimes it is necessary, I think sometimes it is too much. Anybody else? Thank you! He says my shoes are awesome. (mumbles) If that’s it, then that’s my time. Thanks for coming!