Online versus Offline behaviour

I am no longer interested in hearing how lovely a particular person is in real life when they are a bully and a bigot and a troll online. I’ll go further than that it no longer matters to me if I have met said nasty online person in real life and have found them perfectly charming. Behaving well in only one or two spheres of your life does not make you a good person. Treating people with contempt speaks volumes. Always.

The internet is real life. What you say and how you behave in the land of livejournal or facebook or myspace or wordpress blogs or elsewhere is real behaviour. Those words are real and have real affects even if you turn around and delete them.

Why are there people who do not understand this?

I have a very strict policy on this blog. People who come looking for a fight are deleted. I don’t tolerate people who are rude to me or my friends in my home. This blog is my online home and I expect visitors to behave the way they would in my real life home. Or I will throw them out by banning them.1

In the last few weeks I have seen three people in particular behave extraordinarily badly online in an effort to distract from an extremely interesting and important debate about race and representation in science fiction and fantasy. I have met these people in real life. But frankly nothing I know of them in the “real” world excuses how they’ve been behaving in this land of bits and bytes. They’re all pre-emptively banned from this blog.

I agree a hundred per cent with the new Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, who said:

    Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

His words are just as true about Australia as they are about the USA. Talking about race is hard and scary and painful. Many people, especially white people, would rather the topic never came up at all. Which is why when Holder’s speech was discussed there was outrage that he had dared to say such a thing and precious little discussion of what he actually said. And so it goes over and over again.

So much so that the latest attempt to talk about racial representation and stereotyping in genre fiction wound up being derailed by white people screaming about other things: Pseudonyms! Sockpuppets! Class! Anything that could turn the conversation away from race. It escalated into vicious attacks on those who were simply engaging in debate about race in the genre.

I will not engage with those people in future. Not online and not in real life.

  1. I also don’t tolerate people smoking in my home. But I spose there’s nothing I can do about you naughty people who smoke while commenting here. Alas. []


  1. Amber on #

    People got upset that he said that? Wow. Sometimes things that are “controversial” continue to amaze me. I didn’t know so many people would be offended.

    Anyways, I definitely agree. I would think it would be embarrassing to those folks to were nasty online to meet someone they were nasty to (or who saw them being nasty).

    At least you don’t smell the smoke online! Your comment made me chuckle, though. (I can’t be around smoke even if I wanted to, which I don’t.)

  2. Kitty on #

    I know what you mean, having been following (but not participating in) that situation with mouth somewhat agape.

    I think it would be reasonable to expect people to behave as though they were all in the same room, having a conversation. If someone sitting in, say, a coffee place with you said something you didn’t agree with or that offended you, would you really start screaming curses at them and acting like an insane person? No? Then why do it online?

    I have seen these flamewars before and they’re the main reason I don’t get into much online discourse anymore. Sooner or later, it always seems to go there.

  3. Julie on #

    Thank you, Justine, for speaking out so firmly on this. As a life-long SFF fan, I’ve been appalled not only at the behavior of these so-called professionals, but by the resounding silence of their peers.

  4. Lizabelle on #

    Thank you for speaking out.

  5. PixelFish on #

    I’m pleased to see you speak out on this. Thanks.

    (I’ve been following via Rydra Wong’s collection of links, and there’s a lot of good perspectives in there from PoC. I particularly encourage reading DeepaD’s essays, as well as the links from YHLee, Nojojojo, Tempest, and many others.)

  6. smaur on #

    Just wanted to chime in and say thank you for writing this. It’s important and encouraging to see that at least some professionals in SF/F do not condone this. This helps. A lot.

  7. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    Great quote and great post altogether, Justine.

    It is easy to think of the internet as playing, to go a little further than you would in real life – or in some cases a lot further.

    It’s so important to realise that it isn’t playing at all.

  8. beachlass on #

    Well said.

  9. Danii on #

    Thank you for speaking up.

    Thank you for doing it eloquently.

    and thank you for being plain and honest and blunt. I didn’t know about you before, but I’m a lot more likely to pick up one of your books now.

  10. FollowingTheRaceFail on #

    Very nice. It’s always disheartening to see people I’m supposed to respect and want to work with acting like children. These are professionals at the top of their field but they seem to refuse to act like it.

  11. Molly on #

    Thank you for posting this.

  12. Oyce on #

    Thank you for this; it really means a lot to me to see various people in the industry speaking up about this.

  13. lilacsigil on #

    Thank you for speaking up – the silence from the rest of the professional SF/F community has been nearly as deafening as the flailing of the distractors in question.

  14. SenNim on #

    After mere weeks of following this online, I didn’t think it could get any worse. And it did.

    And despite the uproar in various pockets of fandom at what was being said and flung around, it seemed that no matter what we said about how awful this all was, there was a divide: fans vs. “writers.”

    And as with Airbender, no matter how outraged fans would be, the “creators” or “producers” of mainstream would look away, ignore, and feed crumbs on the side.

    So thanks for posting, and for that last line. And for your part in breaking the silence and the divide.

  15. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    Just a quick note for those bewildered by the silence of professionals in the field — I hadn’t heard about any of this until Justine’s post. Many of us don’t hang out on Livejournal or in the relevant communities.

    Please don’t assume that there are tons of professional writers supporting the outing of pseudonyms or whatever other nonsense has been going on. I’ve barely had time to read the initial posts so far, and probably won’t get through most of the comments anytime soon, if at all.

  16. Shveta on #

    Thank you, Justine. One of the things I want to do with my writing is open up the idea of other cultures and peoples as, well, not Other.

    Unfortunately, this discussion, it’s difficult sometimes, both in fiction and real life, because often people aren’t ready to listen. (The people you’ve mentioned a perfect case in point.) I think some of that must come from the idea that any mention of the notion of privilege and the concept of race relations is an attack on the person being addressed. “But I’m not like that, I’m not a racist, so this is irrelevant to me! So stop talking about it, or I’ll leave.” I have had this happen with a friend already, and it is saddening and alienating. Or, “It can’t really be like you say; I don’t see it.” (Because if you don’t see it, it can’t be real? What kind of logic is that?)

    All we can do is try to keep talking. Thank you for this post in helping to continue the discussion.

  17. skywardprodigal on #

    Thank you for this. I’ll be returning.

  18. Colleen on #

    In that craziness a few years ago concerning Connie Willis and poor behavior at a Con dinner and all the posting that followed I was attacked by a very well respected member of the SFF community in the comments at another site – it got so bad that the site’s owner intervened (more than once) but he just kept going. It was horrible – it made me think about never reading SFF again if someone who so many authors respected could write to me that way – could be so arrogant and cruel. Several people sent me private emails trying to explain that “he was just upset by the whole thing – wanted to protect his friends – a guy who just gets fired up sometimes” and on and on and on.

    Part of me wanted to stop ever reviewing books from the pub house he worked at – although that would be punishing poor authors who knew nothing of all this so obviously I dropped the idea.

    Anyway, at the end of the day I felt just like you are right now. It is impossible for me to believe that this person could be so kind and wonderful in person and so downright mean online. I couldn’t forgive one set of behavior because people who personally knew him were testifying to the other. I decided just to pull out of the online community altogether. I only read a couple of personal blogs now and thus have missed all of this recent madness (until Gwenda linked).

    I can only imagine what has been said and am only thankful that I have missed it.

  19. Lisa on #

    Justine, THANK YOU.

    Colleen, a lot of the racefail/derailing behavior I’ve been witnessing has really brought to mind that exact same Connie Willis related craziness and the aftermath. I’m sorry to hear that happened to you.

  20. Justine on #

    Thanks so much everyone for such a warm response to my pretty obvious common sense post. I really appreciate it.

    Throughout all of this I’ve been really heartened by the astonishingly smart and thought-provoking posts that have been produced. Such as the one I linked to above by Deepad. She also has an excellent post on white allies. There have also been many great posts by Rydra Wong, Tempest, Coffeeandink, Nojojojo and many other people. It’s been amazing.

    Mary Anne: Sure, lots of people have no idea what’s been going on. In trying to explain this post to one writer friend it emerged that she did not know what livejournal is.

    Colleen: Yeah, that was a similarly horrible suckfest. But at least way more prominent sf folks spoke out about it. That person’s rudeness to you was insane and is exactly the kind of behaviour I’m talking about. People who are rude online but nice off remind me of people who are lovely to their peers and superiors but insufferable to waitstaff and taxi drivers and other people they consider not to be their peers. Or the kind of bloke who’s great to everyone except his wife and children. They are not good people.

  21. cherie priest on #

    What Mary Anne said. As you know, Bob (Justine!) I’m very interested in the conversation; but I’ve been eyeballs deep in work for the last couple of weeks, and have scarcely been online. I believe my recent and obnoxious preponderance of kitty videos and links posts will attest to this.

    I didn’t even know that things had re-erupted until this afternoon. But I’m glad you’re talking about it. I’m glad you’re not afraid of it.

  22. Cat Sparks on #

    ‘The internet is real life’

    I want this on a t-shirt

  23. Chris on #

    I had to delurk to say thank you for speaking up. It’s really saddening how few people in the industry have, but this is an excellent post, and it helps.

  24. Pope Lizbet on #

    Wow. Now I feel even better about my enthusiastic recommendations of How to Ditch your Fairy. Thank you for this.

  25. ginny! on #

    I have nothing to say more than wholehearted agreement.

  26. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    What Mary Anne Mohanraj and Cherie Priest said, basically–in that I only became aware of this a couple of days ago because of deadlines and because of having a strict policy while working of only going to major news sites. Trying to kind of untangle all of what seem like hundreds of posts. Trying to understand why people I thought were sane seem to have (at the very least) massively overreacted to various stimuli.

    Justine–I appreciate the post, which although common sense in one way is a necessary anchor in another.

    Back to deadlines–gotta put food on the table.


  27. Belongum on #

    You’ve just become my new ‘hero’ for the week Justine… I had no idea that such a thing had been said by a US Attorney General. Wow… and then you echoed my own thoughts shortly after – we aren’t ‘that far behind’ the States on this one.

    I’ve delivered no end of ‘cultural awareness training (I’m a Bardi fella – my mob are found well north of Broome) here in Perth – and there’s very little that divides us quite so well as the ‘race debate’.

    I won’t go into any further details – I squawk way to much about it at times over in my own little bit of blogosphere – but currently, where I work right now, in the arts… well – lets just say that this issue insinuates itself across all facets of our own society – and the more we have people diverting the issue, or simply not acknowledging it – the more we watch it live on.
    Sheesh – good luck Justine – real life is bad enough, fancy having to do this in another plane as well…


  28. Justine on #

    Belongum: Thanks, though you make me blush. It’s a great quote, isn’t it?

    (Slightly irrelevantly—given that you say your mob is from way north of Broome—I’ve always wanted to visit Broome—even before I first heard the soundtrack of Jimmy Chi’s Bran Nue Dae.)

  29. Shaun on #

    How people act when nobody can see them, or when they know there’s no repercussions to what they do — THAT’S when you see what a person is really like. Ah trolls and flamers, pathetic scourge of the internet. Cowards, the lot of them. And seriously irritating.

  30. Lollipop on #

    I have not read any of your books yet. I will now be making an effort to do so. Thank you for this, and I look forward to your novels!

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