Of lynch mobs

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Title: Of lynch mobs
Creator: shezan
Date(s): August 16, 2006
Medium: online post
Fandom: Harry Potter/general
Topic: The Cassandra Claire Plagiarism Debacle and fandom's reaction
External Links: Of lynch mobs, Archived version
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Of lynch mobs is a 2006 post by shezan.

It was written in response to The Cassandra Claire Plagiarism Debacle and is an example of some of the angry discussion and comments that ensued after the expose was published.

Friends were lost, and gained. Some French was utilized. Sockpuppets were suspected. Tempers flared.

The Post

I take no pleasure in having been the first to call the wankers a lynch mob. Nobody sane would want to operate in a social environment that can produce one. Yet what else will you call something that has now come up with death theats against one of the people they've been so happy to abuse? Some of these cretins are now creeping up in the targets' LJs, bleating apologies. They did not mean it! Sure, they criticised, and joined the wank, and named the guilty, and sputtered insults, and called them criminals, but they never intended things to go that far! And they were right in the first place, surely?

You ineffable imbeciles, that is what lynch mobs do. Do you think the first three, or five, or ten people in the village square bawling their "grievances" and "principles" meant it, or indeed had enough brain cells to see what all the uncontrolled, savage, vituperative yelling would lead to? How many people does it take to fling a rope over a tree branch, throw a rock into a shop window, send a stalking email, or indeed, who knows, show up at the next con with a knife? Did you think that the torrents of vile insults would have no consequences? What sense of entitlement can possibly justify the Grand Inquisitor rants we've been subjected to, on mistakes that a single line of comment would have taken care of, harmed none of the wankers personally, had been rehashed years ago, and which mean pretty little in the grand scheme of things? It took half a dozen embittered, envious individuals to stir up this pot; but there were hundreds of commenters to add their venom. They are ALL equally responsible.

I am not locking this post. I have myself been flamed, and abused, on the margins of this controversy. I have been advised by email, by wank participants, to lock previous posts to avoid hate comments. I fucking despise the people who can take the time to discreetly let one know about the mob's excesses, and then happily go wade back in that sewer, having no doubt assuaged what passes for their conscience. If anything, by colluding in the general climate of fear, they're even more guilty than the rest of those idiots. Yes, I have noticed that most of my flist's posts of late were locked when they dared to take a slightly divergent tack from the screaming, brainless horde. Fuck this. Don't let the bastards become the majority.

Excerpts from Comments at the Post

[ iibnf ]:

If you weren't on my friends list already, I'd friend you 18 times over. I wish I could friend you for every fandom wank fan I've unfriended over the years.

Sadly, I went friends only after becoming a target of the lynch mob wankers (including getting a threatening early morning phone call). Sure, that might be defeatist, but I just don't have the patience or the interest in dealing with that kind of imbecilic, cowardly behaviour.
[shezan]:
You know, I think I'm even angrier at the more "reasonable" people who kept telling me that I was the one who was bringing stridency and sarcasm (perish the thought that there should be sarcasm!) in their polite postings basically repeating all the wank arguments, except with better spelling. I tried to explain that yes, they were just joining the lynch mob, and got the 231st lecture on the EVIL of plagiarism for my pains. And NO WAY could I make them understand that they were just giving the wank horde a wider spectrum and broader legitimacy.
[lexin]:

I came to the conclusion they don't want to hear it. I tried to explain why I thought what they were doing was a bad thing (OK, so I used hyperbole, so sue me) and one of the mods of the comm called 'bullshit', and not long after the threads I was posting on were frozen. I get the impression from what's been said - I may be wrong - that I came this close to being banned - for disagreeing.

You and I have had our disagreements in the past, but I take my hat off to you: you were right all along about them and I was wrong.
[shezan]:
I don't know why my gut feeling was aroused early on that one, but it was. I knew in my bones this was pretty bad, and I'll say that in the early postings where I commented, and was ridiculed for telling one of those cretins that they belonged to those countries with a secret police and doors being banged at dawn, I paused for a minute, wondering if perhaps I'd flown off the handle too eagerly, but no, it still knotted my insides. I hate herds, and I hate bullies, and yup, they fit the bill. The priggish sanctimonious self-righteousness was horribly familiar.
[shezan]:
[Harry Potter is] a big, big, big fandom, and some of its authors have won real book contracts after they moved on to original writing, and a great deal of base envy is involved.
[vaznetti]:

I know I'm taking my life into my hands here, but I was kind of hoping that you'd stopped foaming at the mouth quite so much about this. But you are, in a backhanded way, being insulting about people I consider close online friends; I'm not sure whether this is better or worse than the last post, when you insulted them to their (virtual) faces.

I'm not sure whether we're going to part ways over this or not, but I don't always feel like sitting on my hands when I my friends insulted.
[legionseagle]:

Your "close on-line friends" happen to have a hobby which consists of making public and malicious statements about people - including quite a lot of my close on-line friends - on-line, and stirring up hatred against them.

If "being insulting" is such a big deal to you and (by extension) to them, hasn't it occurred to you to suggest that them might consider taking up golf instead?

It's called "the golden rule" btw. Don't do things to others you'd find intolerable if done to you.
[shezan]:

You're in no way "taking your life into your hands" by commenting here, but someone has actually threatened Heidi's. I leave you to decide who has the more accurate reading of the whole disgraceful saga. Or indeed who was the most insulting.

We are most definitely parting ways over this and I am defriending you.
[cluegirl]:

[Zombie wank is] a wank that had died a natural death in its own time, but has now had its rotting corpse dug up and reanimated for the morbid delight of those who didn't get enough of the abuse the first time.

In general, they're messier, smellier, and more damaging than natural wanks, and they tend to be a LOT more infectious.

Get the metaphor now?
[pseudonihillist]:
Oh god, the lectures on the evils of plagiarism! I love that deliverers of these kinds of lectures assume we just haven't thought about the issue enough, which is how we could possibly be defending certain people or indicting others (and i do see so many parallels between the way people have approached this issue and the way they approach politics, both on & off lj/fandom - as you point out above). that thinking has anything to do with becoming essentialist, maniacal thugs has yet to become evident to me.
[faithfulreader]:

IMHO, you are doing the right thing :) Those imbeciles are out for whoever's blood 'cause apparently they have no life to speak of. Just imagine that a person can hold a grudge for five years! How pathetic that is?

But really, I am tired of the topic :) And after reading Aja's account of her fall-out with Cass I came to conclusion that fandom is really sick. Deathly sick.
[cesario]:

I have no idea if you're referring to me or the comment I left in Heidi's journal, but I'm going to reply anyway.

The difference between a lynch mob and the people who are pissed off at CC and Heidi is that lynch mobs kill people. Whereas most of the people pissed off at the fact that CC and Heidi got away with their plagiarism for years are simply expressing their disgust at this fact, and at the tactics they used to save their reputations five years ago. They may be carried away into saying cruel and unkind things, but that's a far cry from rousing the villagers with torches to drag you out to the spreading chestnut tree.

Now, Heidi says she's received death threats. If that's true, then I'm very sorry for her and the people who issued them should be turned over to the police. But if you honestly think that everyone who read and commented on the Bad_Penny posts is responsible for some people having taken a fandom dispute way over the line, then...our viewpoints are so divergent that I have no idea what to say to you.

Another difference between B_P and a lynch mob is that mobs rarely know all the facts of the deed they think they're punishing. Some guy sees a crowd of people running past his door, and he decides to join in for the fun of the thing, cause the guy they're lynching has to be guilty, right? Otherwise all those people wouldn't be cheering. Whereas in this case, everyone has the opportunity to read the articles and form their own independent judgment about the reliability of the authors, and the validity of the evidence they presented. Only afterwards do they comment and share their opinion. That sounds a bit more like a jury than a mob to me.

What sense of entitlement can possibly justify the Grand Inquisitor rants we've been subjected to...?

It isn't a sense of entitlement, in every case. In many cases, it's a sense of grievance. The Bad_Penny articles would never have been necessary if the "targets" had done the reasonable thing back five years ago when the wank first came about (i.e. admitted their plagiarism in the fact of the evidence, altered or deleted their stories or simply cited them properply). But instead of doing these things, Heidi began throwing her legal weight around and threatening the people who made the discovery of their plagiarism with lawsuits for libel.

And I have to say, if I had been one of the people intimidated and bullied by Heidi's legalese, I would be well and truly pissed off. Not enough to even think of hurting her in real life, but enough to want to see her behavior exposed to fandom at large. However, I have no person tie to the case except for being friends with a few of the people who were so intimidated, and so I have refrained from commenting very much at all. But I think the people who were affected have a right to comment, and say what they feel.

Did you think that the torrents of vile insults would have no consequences?

If you could link me to said torrent, I would be very appreciative. I haven't been reading the comments very carefully, and most of the ones I've seen were on the lines of "wow, what arrogance" which I don't consider to be an insult so much as...fair.

I did leave a comment in Heidi's LJ last night which maybe I shouldn't have done. I've already been flamed for it once, so I assume at least one person agrees with that. But I tried to put myself in Heidi's shoes, and decided that, if it were me, I would want to know the information I shared with her. And my expression of sympathy for her loss was perfectly genuine.

At least one person thinks this makes me a howling hypocrite. But I don't hate Heidi and I really do feel bad that the situation was ever allowed to fester into what it's become. Heidi and CC both are probably suffering disproportionately to their original misdeeds. But they bear some responsibility for the situation having escalated to this point by behaving as they did when the scandal first broke five years ago. And they are certainly more responsible than at least 70% of the people who come to Bad_Penny, read the comments, and leave a note expressing their incredulty/disgust/amusement/whatever.
[lexin]:

Can I point you to the discussion here[1]? It's about responsiblity, and to a degree, about entitlement.

My point there is that while the mods of bad_penny do not have direct responslibity for those who go off and make threats against others, by knowing such people exist they do need to accept a degree of responsiblity for attempting to mitigate such a response and by somewhat more than hand-wringing when it happens.
[shezan]:

Have you not read B_P? Or F_W? What you deem acceptable and what's even remotely civilised seems decidedly at odds.

Sense of entitlement, sense of grievance, what's the difference? In what universe is one owed eny kind of justification by an amateur writer one can perfectly chose not to read? What's all this talk of "exposing" Heidi or anyone else? Do you want stocks and a pillory while you're at it? What makes you think you have any right to call for this?

You are being, once again, purposely dense instead of considering the issue. Yes, I believe everyone who wanked shares responsibility. The death threats didn't flourish out of the blue; they grew on that soil. Deal.
[cesario]:

If I am being dense, I assure you it isn't on purpose.

I'm not refusing to consider the issue. I just think differently from you about what issues are at the core of this matter.

No one is owed justification. But there's a difference between posting information about a person and demanding an apology or restitution from them. And just as one can choose not to read CC or Heidi (I've been choosing not to read them ever since I came to fandom) one can choose not to read the wank over at B_P. Trouble is, people do read, and then people have reactions. It's all of a piece.

If everyone who wanked shares responsibility, then CC and Heidi are as responsible, and probably more so, for their own predicament as anyone who posted a comment at B_P. Those posts were a reaction to *their* actions. You want to talk about responsibility, that's where it starts.

Anyone who would make a death threat over a fandom dispute is so entirely lacking in a sense of proportion and reality that anything could set them off. It may be the soil in which they originated, but soil can't help what settles in it.
[legionseagle]:

Ah, the benefit of the doubt. A bit like the giant panda, don't you think? A very endangered species.

Try a thought experiment. Just one.

I dare you.

Post on that forum - anonymously, I'm not inviting you to risk death threats as well as any of us - and, yes, I've had them too, not over the current wank, but over something else, which is one of the reasons I chose to abandon my primary journal.

Just post the following, as an anonymouse (and I strongly advise you to use an IP anonymising service, also - shezan will explain why doing otherwise is likely to get you called a "liar"):

"I know Heidi ---not well, but well enough to give her the benefit of the doubt. I don't believe she meant that quite the way it sounded."

See what happens to you then.

And then - after that experiment - come back here and talk to us about what those "communities" are really like.

But, if you aren't prepared to make that experiment, then you might want to realise that you don't have much of a clue what being on the wrong end of that sort of hate feels like. That you can clamour for justice all you like - until you realise why it's better to ask for mercy when it's you on the wrong end of matters.
[thewhiteowl]:

I'm sick of this fandom actually. Who cares if Cassie, Heidi and Ebony can only write by swiping other people's stuff? They could cut and paste the whole of War and Peace into their fics for all I care. They could just ignore them—it worked for me for five years, after all.

I mean, death threats? Come on....

Yeah, the only people who are owed an apology are the plagiarees *regards horrible nonce-word* No-one else shelled out money or effort on the fics (let's not go into the laptop thing.) If they'd actually bought a book that would have been different.

Ebony has apologised, apparently. I call that classy.
[kerryblaze]:
Well, isn't this a case of trying to stir up a lynch mob to lynch the lynch mob. You think what bad_penny did was wrong, so you're ranting, pointing fingers, and calling people "ineffable imbeciles." Isn't that pretty much stirring up shit too? So when someone on your side of this argument goes too far and makes death threats against members of bad_penny, is it your fault? Or not, because you think that they deserve it?
[shezan]:
And at whom exactly would I be pointing fingers? Unlike some, I have not named anyone, or given real identities, or called for anyone to be expelled from fandom, or threatened to call their publishers or their bosses, or demanded that they be pulled from conferences, or said that they deserve the consequences of the "buildup of hate", in "communities" set up for the precise and only purpose to abuse people day in, day out, in literally thousands of daily screeching comments. When hundreds of people are listed as having "posting access" to such a dubious institution, I call it a mob. When death threats against anyone follow an especially hysterical round of insults there, I call it a lynch mob. How would expressing MY opinion in MY LJ, which does not have you friended, and where I don't recall having seen you posting before, be of any concern to you whatsoever? You very obviously belong to the "can dish it out, can't take it" crowd. In which case I would advise not to subject yourself any longer to the hardship of reading my stuff. Don't let the door hit you on your way out.
[fanpoodlex]:

You posted this proudly, said you weren't locking it, and made it available for the world to see.

I am not locking this post. I have myself been flamed, and abused, on the margins of this controversy. I have been advised by email, by wank participants, to lock previous posts to avoid hate comments. I fucking despise the people who can take the time to discreetly let one know about the mob's excesses, and then happily go wade back in that sewer, having no doubt assuaged what passes for their conscience. If anything, by colluding in the general climate of fear, they're even more guilty than the rest of those idiots. Yes, I have noticed that most of my flist's posts of late were locked when they dared to take a slightly divergent tack from the screaming, brainless horde. Fuck this. Don't let the bastards become the majority.

So, having done this, when someone comes to your place to make a perfectly reasonable point, don't pull the faux moral 'what are you doing here' garbage on them. It does nothing for your argument.

I don't give a shit either way - not a member of your fandom, don't give a shit about your problems. For the record, I think that the record shows that Hiedi and CC plagiarised other writers, and that their fen-at-arms displayed exactly the same kind of mob mentality, groupthink, and savage bastardry that you are accusing the b_p mob of now.

Defend your friends, by all means, but you should dump the rank hypocrisy.
[shezan]:

And here's another sockpuppet (look, Ma! No friends! No posts!) who thinks because I don't lock my drawing-room door she's somewhat entitled to come and empty her ashtrays on the carpet. (And to lie: so you don't care about fandom, do you? You've taken a quick break from studying 15th-century Sufi hermeneutics just to weigh in on a dispute you have absolutely no interest in whatsoever, have you? How precious.)

Do they ever teach you logic in what passes for an education system chez vous? If one of my friends, etc., she asks. IF you could do a double fouetté, you'd get hired by the Royal Ballet, my girl, but somehow I don't see this happening any time soon. Whatever made you confuse MY personal journal with a free-for-all trouble-stirring rant-o-rama of the type run by the five hundred or so pre-menepausal would-be virtual prom-queens [*] elsewhere? Unlocked doesn't mean the riffraff are invited. Now kindly fuck off.
[intheyear2004]:

Heidi's got death threats? How very convenient! Has anyone seen and verified those or do we have to rely on her word?

Because, you know, she also assured us she didn't plagiarize.
[legionseagle]:
Does [link to journal that has since been purged and deleted] answer your question?
[intheyear2004]:
Not really, no. What I want to see is the death threat itself with a verified IP that is beyond doubt not a sockpuppet of Heidi and her clique. Then I'll believe her. Without proof? Not so much.
[shezan]:
Oh, look! Another one! No entries! No friends! Really, when you think you've exhausted the entertainment possibilities of the latest crop, here comes an even stupider growth - and with demands! This sockpuppet has exigencies! It will not be satisfied until it gets proof! Real proof! (Perhaps wisely, it doesn't even believe the pre-menopausal would-be virtual prom-queen-in-chief[**] of its own coven. No doubt familiarity breeds contempt.[***]) You wonder what it would do with a complete police record, since it's doubtful it's even grown opposable thumbs. The three and a half brain cells rattling about its empty skull are all devoted to sheer malice (and one idée fixe. Which, to give credit where credit is due, it miraculously can spell.) Listen carefully, you pathetic amoeba: whatever gave you the strange and terrible[****] idea that you were owed anything? legionseagle, in the sheer goodness of her soul, deigned to give you a reasonable answer. I could have told her that it's absolutely no use addressing creatures Of Your Ilk [*****] as if they were, in fact sentient beings, capable of taking in an argument. Now kindly crawl back under your favourite boulder. Accessoiriste? Un fumigateur. Tout de suite.

References

  1. Original link to live post at <http://www.journalfen.net/users/darkrose/52203.html>, now offline. Post at Journalfen by darkrose, 15 August 2006.