I Almost Left Tech Today, Here’s Why
Clémentine Pirlot
3.1K199

I’m sorry to hear about this: your experience sucks and I regret that it happens. Similarly, I am sorry that the below largely fights battles that finished years ago but I don’t regret that.

There was an internet forum which I used to visit frequently where there was a standing question about policing. This is a problematic issue as it always moves the discussion away from the substance, but it is a dilemma. The basic idea we advanced was that the “feminist” posters failed to do anything to (a) set a civilised tone with their “leader”¹ actually believing non-toxic behaviour an impossible standard for anonymous posting² and (b) didn’t attend to posts advancing dubious or even illegal actions towards ideological opponents. There was possibly a (c) where the notion of norm-setting was just not believed in.

Now, you’d probably not get a situation like that today. This was back when GamerGate was kinda new so, pardon the bluntness, the current vogue for women in technology articles which focus on the culture of the firms wasn’t a background context. I refuse to believe that those posters wouldn’t have recognised the analogous circumstances (acknowledge publicly is another matter given how bad it got, though).Just as the dickhead director in your discussion set the tone and established norms of, erm, what was normal, and hence appropriate, what we were doing in those threads³ set up an environment that told new posters that hostility and contempt were the right ways of behaving.

Possibly it is important to note that almost all the posters in those discussions were male (gut instinct, maybe a 3:1 ratio… which would be better than the forum as a whole which was then more 4:1) and most American (more like 3:2 or 2:1 if I had to guess… forum as a whole 1:1 with non-Americans being lumped together), and that the situation resolved itself in the worse way possible. That is, one of the ideological parties left and the remainder has radicalised. I think the parallel here is non-violent resistance. Being the better person and confronting the problem is hard⁴ but going away doesn’t challenge those norms.

Unsurprisingly, I’m glad to read that you’re sticking around. It reminds me of a team I support where, some years ago, we couldn’t do anything but lose. Dozens of times, As you might expect, one would encounter references to Tubthumping, “I get knocked down but I get up again.” I’m not sure if the sentiment is quite the same as “We won’t let them grind us down” but it’s close, right?

¹ Just a way of understanding the situation: dude was popular and an opinion leader of sorts, is what I mean.
² Look, this dude was a bad guy and last I heard is now a persona non grata with his forum buddies.
³ This arms race in toxicity seen in the symbiotic relationship of points scoring egotistical venom and vitriol , and tone policing (which is like telling people to calm down).
⁴ Fighting back with toxicity or violence or fighting toxicity with tone policing is easy, self-gratifying and unhelpful⁵.
⁵ The cliche “be the change you want in the world” springs to mind here. (Obviously meeting violence with violence does carry risk with it, but it is still an easy impulse.)

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