Solitude in Solidarity

Preface - Added November 27, 2015

Over the past week or so, a plethora of new evidence has surfaced that all but confirms that Samantha Bielefeld is actually a man named Victor Johnson. Victor is a documented con artist who appears to have created this female persona, fabricated threats and harassment against “her,” and deliberately courted controversy over the last few months in an effort to elicit sympathy and support, as well as ultimately monetize a budding tech blog. The bizarre clusterfuck has mainly unfolded in the tangles of various Twitter conversations, making it obscenely difficult to follow for anyone who hasn’t paid close attention from the onset. Few events have highlighted the inherent limitations of Twitter quite like this one. Luckily, there have been a couple people who have taken up the cause of providing more in-depth summaries. If you’re interested in what is known as of this moment, I would kindly direct your attention to the following:

The following piece was written in response to a despicable act, before any of the above information was known (at least by more than a few). While it was written about a specific event that I am now aware did not occur, women do face daily threats and harassment from men on the Internet. This type of behavior is intolerable, and should always be met with vehement resistance, because fuck those guys. I am regretful that my words of support were wasted on a fraud, but the sentiment is one that stands regardless to all those who constantly face the ugliest side of the Internet.

What I do not regret is what I wrote about Victor Johnson. When I originally described him as “a man I hope is so witless that he chose to use his real name in an email encouraging someone to kill themselves,“ I didn’t realize how prescient I was. Now, having interacted with Victor directly for months, I can stand by my assessment of his character with confidence. I wouldn’t change a single thing.

The piece that follows remains unedited since its initial publication.

I started #NoOctothorpe last year in April. In its infancy, friends provided me with enough traffic and comments that I felt like I was doing something relatively constructive with my time. I made a valiant effort to continue writing as much as possible, only finding myself in existential crises on rare occasions. Maintaining motivation was major progress. Nevertheless, toward the end of that first year–after pretty consistent spans of time where I wouldn't post anything–I started to consider shutting the site down. This is something I documented pretty thoroughly in a piece I wrote months back. As I said then, things changed for me, and I've been more active with my writing now than ever before.

A few things happened as a result of John Gruber giving me a tiny bit of attention. A huge boost in traffic to the site. A few new followers for my two different Twitter accounts. The teensiest taste of that sweet, sweet virality people on the web crave nowadays. I saw my work being shared by complete strangers on Twitter, on their own sites, on comments sections of popular tech sites as they were trying to bolster their own arguments (in very constructive and thought-provoking ways, obviously). It was surreal then. It continues to be surreal when it happens now, organically, on a far smaller scale.

The best thing to come of it, though? Community. Having my name and my work posted on a popular site is thoroughly exciting, but also completely overwhelming. When #NoOctothorpe was merely a personal channel for my thoughts, with my friends chiming in periodically, this whole endeavour felt safe. With thousands of people flooding the site, that barrier was suddenly torn down. The thin veil of safety stripped away. The manic energy that pulsed through my body was tempered only by a horrifying thought: "Holy shit, what happens when people start being dicks to me?" This is the Internet, after all, so I felt that worry was completely warranted. I expected the worst.

Instead, I got the best. The outpouring of positivity was astounding, unanticipated, and universal. Out of the dozens, if not hundreds, of people who talked to me (and continue to talk to me) on Twitter and elsewhere after my posts found some traction, not a single comment was negative in any way. Initially, I chalked it up to Gruber's audience being comprised of thoughtful, kind people who appreciate nuanced opinions on technology... But I've seen the types of comments he gets (also, I don't really think my commentary is all that nuanced). Maybe it was more that my site was so completely insignificant that the trolls decided it wasn't even worth their time to shit all over. But I feel like that cheapens the efforts people have made to read my work and get in touch.

Regardless, in a year and a half of maintaining the site, I've received no significant backlash from the greater Internet community. Unless you count the brief exchange that was the impetus for my recent piece, Leaving Apple, but I don't. It was mean, but it was rooted misunderstanding, not blatant malice.

(Oh, also there was that moment where Joshua Topolsky insinuated I was a fuckface, but in his defense, I was totally asking for it.)

Simply put, my audience's track record for not being insufferable dickshits is astoundingly good. Pat yourselves on the back. How's about we get a massage train going? I don't quite understand what I did to deserve your attention, but even someone as verbose as I am lacks the vocabulary to accurately convey how much this all means to me. How much you all mean to me, and how it's impacting my drive to keep moving forward.

Keenan, I can hear you say, This is super nice and all. We definitely appreciate the positive sentiments. Your beard is super majestic, and your voice is literally warm butter dripping in our ears... But what's up with all the sappy, masturbatory nonsense?

Yes, the point! I have one.

Yesterday, due to the microcosm of serendipity that is social media, I stumbled upon a new site by someone named Samantha Bielefeld. I was reeled in by the tantalizing title of her most recent piece, Hey Nilay, You're Being a Jerk.

Surely, I can relate to this! I thought as I clicked through. Lo and behold, my perfunctory assessment of the title turned out to be correct, and I found a shrewd piece of commentary nestled under a poignant clickbait headline. (Go read it. I'll be here when you get back.)

Internal monologue: bookmark this site. Follow on Twitter. Send unsolicited compliment. I know how much the kindness of strangers means when you're dipping your toes in the water. To be vulnerable for an audience is no feat for the weak. The brave should be rewarded.

With how thoughtfully the whole piece was written, I was shocked (yes, shocked!) to find that this was but one post of a handful of others she's published since launching her site a week ago. She's just getting going, and she's coming out swinging. Damn, and she's built up a Twitter audience in a month that rivals the one I've cultivated over seven years. Oh fuck, I've been on Twitter for over seven years. What am I doing with my life?

Snap back to reality.

Mad props, Samantha. Get 'em. It's delightful to see a new voice emerge with such vigor and poise. And it's no secret that the tech community is in dire need of some diversity in its myriad voices. (Says the painfully self-aware twenty-something, hyphen-loving white guy tapping away at his MacBook Pro. So meta.)

It's rare you get to experience the work of an author just getting off the ground, so I seized the opportunity to read through her other pieces. Tight, astute writing. A unique voice. Each article brimming with obvious passion and care for the subject. Some biting commentary, eschewing the belligerent cynicism common in tech writing today. That alone should be commended.

In reading her debut post, published a mere six days ago, a paragraph resonated:

I shared my thoughts, and mainly my concerns, for creating this website with the small following I have already gained and the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. It not only reaffirmed my belief that there's a lack of balance between men and women in the spotlight, but it taught me that people are eager to learn as much as possible about a topic of interest. If I focus on explaining my unique perspective, and steer clear of only regurgitating the words of others, many people would be happy to read what I write. Not only did Twitter play an integral role in placing me back in the 'let's do this' camp, I can tell that this engaging community will only continue to further educate me, and help me hone in on what I care to write about most.

A deep warmth filled my heart from reading something so unexpected. Her apprehension was repudiated by an enthusiastic and welcoming community. The same validation I was lucky enough to feel wasn't unique to me. I wasn't special. Someone else out there found their desire to create encouraged by their peers. That made me feel even happier than if I was the anomaly. That someone else could share in the love of the community that I felt was a greater joy, because I knew it meant that I wasn't alone. It was in this particular moment where I sort of fell in love with the Internet. It wasn't just a bastion of assholes. There was a place for us all in this little niche after all.

Then my heart sank.

A third piece, published not even twenty-four hours after her first two. Just looking at the title alone, my instincts told me that I was about to find myself very, very disappointed.

Always trust your instincts.

After a heartfelt thank you to this newfound community in her introductory paragraph, she followed it up with a second:

I had provided my email address as a form of communication for people who either don't interact with me on Twitter, or simply prefer to use email. Over the course of the day I ended up receiving a lot of messages from people. There was some praise for adding my female voice to the mix, lots of suggestions for styling the site, and some arguments for/against what I had written. All of that was great, but not everyone reached out to me in a positive manner, though.

I encourage you to click the above link. Everyone should stare into the eyes of hatred. Especially if you are a straight white dude. You know nothing of the impotent rage of the Frail Anonymous Internet Misogynist.

(Let's pause and ruminate quickly on the title of her piece: Well, That Didn't Take Long. How horrid. She was expecting this. She knew merely because of her gender that creating something would make her a target. She was prepared for it, but you get a sense from the wording that she wasn't expecting the inevitable hatred to be upon her with such swiftness.)

I got to write #NoOctothorpe for over a year and half without one inkling of enmity from the people who read my work. When I did have a fleeting brush with criticism, I considered giving up altogether before overcoming my anxiety and channeling it into my writing. The perceived slight against me wasn't even that bad.

Samantha didn't get to experience the bliss of unimpeded acceptance for even a full day before some coward suggested she end her life. Her response?

I am not going to make my email address private, nor am I going to disable direct messages on Twitter from people I don't follow. This will not end with me closing off a method of communication that I personally find very beneficial. If anything, I now feel even more driven to share my insights with others.

It's beyond me how anyone could face that kind of hostility and stay composed, not to mention motivated to push forward. That's a certain level of strength I will never know.

If you haven't taken the time to explore her work yet, you might be curious as to her crime. I'll tell you: the abhorrent, unforgivable act of assuming for a second that her ideas had merit. The notion that her voice had a place amongst the others. That her commentary was just as valid as anyone else's, despite her gender.

Where's the controversy in that?

Spoiler alert: there fucking isn't one.

And yet there's some childish dickwad, Victor Johnson–such a plain and unassuming name that I can't even find respite by picking it apart in a juvenile attempt to sully someone based solely on the idiotic choices their parents made when faced with the daunting task of finalizing their child's birth certificate–who is so fragile and weak and terrified of anything that challenges his pitiful status of World's Most Capable Troglodyte Named Victor Johson, that he feels compelled to assault a person he has never met, will most likely never meet, and whose actual impact on his own existence is so insignificant, this pale blue dot upon which we reside looks like one gigantic fucking blueberry of relevance in comparison.

There is a man out there, a man I hope is so witless that he chose to use his real name in an email encouraging someone to kill themselves because that person dared to write about technology of all things. He is a man who was subjected to who knows what sort of horrors as he grew up. Abuse? Neglect? The calculated, ruthless banishment of his peers throughout his childhood?

Or perhaps just the warm insulation that so many men feel as they are lauded simply for their innate ability to grow even the tiniest of penises. I can only speculate as to that, and, empathetically, I want to feel bad for him.

But this horrid beast that trolls the web, looking to threaten and intimidate any woman he finds, deserves no sympathy. This oozing pustule whose miasmic contents inexplicably congealed into something halfway resembling a person and gained sentience even without the luxury of a fully-developed frontal lobe. This human manifestation of the backwash swirling around the bottom of a bottle of Schlitz, soon to be mixed with the warm, amber piss of a dehydrated shitkicking chucklefuck whose sole ambition in life is to bury his diseased seed into a sullied hankerchief.

This blight on humanity has no place in our society, and yet, he'll go on to do this over and over again, encouraged by the vocal minority of invertebrates that somehow all find one another in the darkest recesses of the Internet. Idiot moths tirelessly flapping their way around a bright blue light dangling from the porch of some shanty in the bayou. At some point one ventures too close and experiences the spontaneous expulsion of its innards from its delicate thorax.

(In this metaphor, the bug zapper is reality.)

Maybe I'm overreacting, I'll grant you that, but it's hard to contain my indignation when faced with an injustice such as this. I wouldn't feel right sitting idly by and saying nothing.

There is something very wrong in this world where a white dick alone warrants a free pass from indiscriminate abuse towards a creator; whereas a creation of equal value from someone with a vagina–or different skin pigmentation, or (good lord) a vagina attached to someone with different skin pigmentation(!)–is fair game for unbridled derision by a cluster of grundle barnacles masquerading as human beings.

As someone who has experienced the very best of this community, I know that we, as a whole, are better than this. We don't have to allow this behavior. I imagine most of us would feel immense shame knowing that one of our own is being attacked and we did nothing. It will take some work, but we must put ourselves out there and fight against it. It's not fair to put the burden on those who are the unwitting subject of ridicule. It's something we can share and push back against together. That might mean willingly putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations.

There are some of us who don't have the benefit of choosing.