Threats and Bullying

You may have noticed that I haven’t been quite as active online lately. (Some of you may be grateful for this, and to you I say Pbbt!!!) My mother commented that it looked like I had won a Hugo and then said, “Well, that was fun. Time to move on to something new.”

The recent sparsity has actually been due to several issues.

  1. My wife suffered a bulging and torn disk in her spine a few weeks back, and we’re still dealing with that.
  2. I was promoted to manager of my team at work, which is a good thing, but eats up more mental energy, so there’s less left over at the end of the day.
  3. I’m trying to get through as much of Codex Born as I can this month, meaning what time and energy I do have in the evenings and weekends tends to go to the book first.

While I have no intention of stopping the blog, I don’t know exactly when I’ll get back to a more regular schedule.

With that said, I wanted to follow up on some things from a week or so back, when I blogged about Ann Crispin’s situation with Ridan Publishing and threatened to “drop the entire fucking internet” on Robin Sullivan’s head if they didn’t fix this. While a lot of people were supportive, others were uncomfortable with what they saw as me crossing the line into threats and bullying.

It was most definitely a threat, and threats are unpleasant, yes. But sometimes they’re a clear and necessary statement of consequences:

  • “If your dog gets loose and snaps at my kid again, I’m calling the pound.”
  • “Grab my ass one more time, and I’ll have you thrown out of this convention on yours.”
  • “Keep running up obscene texting charges, and I’ll take your phone away.”

I think what crosses the line is when the threat is unnecessary, or the consequence is disproportionate to what’s going on.

  • “Throw my newspaper in the bushes again, and I’ll bulldoze your freaking house, then set your armpit hair on fire with a propane torch!”

Was my threat to drop the internet on Sullivan’s head disproportionate to what she had done, or hadn’t done, in this case? I think that depends on how you understood the threat. Because while my plan was simply to use every connection I had to shine the light of shame and bad publicity on her inaction, that’s not the only interpretation for “dropping the internet” on someone. I’ve seen internet criticism get out of hand, turning into an all-out mob of harassment and insults and threats of bodily harm, even when the intent or underlying cause might seem just.

If you thought that was what I was threatening to do, then I agree it’s completely unacceptable. And while that wasn’t my intention, it’s my responsibility for not communicating more clearly.

Then there’s the accusation that I was bullying Sullivan. This came from someone I respect and consider a friend, so I spent a lot of time thinking about it and talking it over with a few people I trust.

I do see what my friend was saying, that I reminded them of a schoolyard bully threatening to round up my gang and pound the snot out of you after school. And I did threaten to bring “my gang” into it.1

I’m not seeing it as bullying, though. Some of that may be defensiveness on my part. I don’t think of myself as a bully, and certainly don’t want to see myself that way. But having spent a lot of time on the receiving end of the bully equation, it doesn’t feel like the same thing. Bullying is all about the pleasure and the power and the torment. To me, the situation with Ridan feels more like a gang getting together to threaten the bully if he (or she) doesn’t stop tormenting and hurting someone else.

Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize my actions. And it would be easy to point to the results as justification. Robin Sullivan apologized and even thanked me for “rightfully reading [her] the riot act.” Crispin got a phone call less than 24 hours after my blog post, and had her money within 48. I feel good about that. But I don’t automatically buy the ends-justify-the-means excuse, and I wonder if I could have accomplished the same thing with a less pointed post. Being overtired and angry, did I jump straight to the nuclear option when I didn’t need to?

In this case, when Ridan had not responded to so many of Ann Crispin’s calm and professional attempts to resolve the situation, maybe the threat was necessary. Maybe a calmer post wouldn’t have worked. Or maybe it would have. There’s no way to know.

What I do know is that I don’t like being that guy. I don’t like being that angry, and I’m not all that fond of intense confrontation.

I also know it’s something I’d be willing to do again, if necessary. But I think I need to take a little more time to think about whether or not it’s necessary, and if so, to be more clear in my writing.

I am pleased with and proud of the outcome, but I also appreciate those of you who told me you were uncomfortable with my tactics. Thank you.

  1. I now have an image of a bunch of middle-aged SF/F writers in leather jackets doing the snapping routine from West Side Story.