Death Threats in Geek Culture

amanda-abbington__130328102433A sad state of affairs currently plaguing geek culture is the wave of death threats that are being made with increasing regularity.

Seriously, we seem to have lost our ability to just disagree about things. Now, if something happens that people are not happy about, you can bet there will be a death threat. And the examples, of this, can be really mind blowing.

Anita Sarkeesian: received death threats as well, as rape threats and constant harassment, due to her web series Tropes vs Women.

Adam Glass: Writer of the New 52 relaunch of Suicide Squad. The reason for the death threats was the Suicide-Girl-like redesign of Harley Quinn. As a side note, the redesign was done by DC co-publisher Jim Lee, but the threats were made to Glass as he was the writer assigned to carry out the story.

James Gunn: The Writer/Director of the upcoming Marvel Studios film Guardians of the Galaxy. The reason for the death threats is that actress Karen Gillian (best known as Amy Pond on Doctor Who) shaved her head to play the villain Nebula, angering some fans.

Amanda Abbington: Actress and longtime partner to Martin Freeman (with whom she has two children), is getting death threats because she has been cast as John Watson’s fiancé Mary in the upcoming season of Sherlock. The reason behind this is that having her character in the show interferes with some fans speculation that Holmes and Watson are lovers.

I’m sure Zack Snyder and Gal Gadot are receiving threats over the casting of Gadot as Wonder Woman in the Superman/Batman movie.

We also see this problem in varied places around the video game industry. Dragon Age II senior writer Jennifer Hepler received death threats to both herself and her children, because some fans did not like the game.

And it isn’t just big names. My friend Mickey Schulz (who writes for the web site Geek Girls Rule) regularly receives both death threats and rape threats, simply for being a female who writes about feminist issues in geek culture.

I know that this is not limited to geek culture, but it sure seems pervasive here.

So why is this happening? How did we end up in a place that making death threats for minor inconveniences and disappointments appears acceptable to some people?

Well I wonder if Louis CK didn’t hit on a truth in this video. Start at 1:30 in the video.

But, basically, I think online interaction has reduced people’s ability to feel empathy, and embolded them to say whatever they want. Add to this their desire to vent their frustrations, no matter how irrational they may be. And finally, they want to influence the behavior of the person they are targeting. Add a shot of immaturity, and you get people who go straight to the death threat.

This leaves us with the question of how to deal with it. The answer is basically the same as dealing with misogyny and convention harassment; we have to speak up as a community, and make it loud and clear that this behavior is not acceptable. We have to make it a mark of shame to do so, and make it so bad that the people who would engage in this behavior are too scared of being branded over it to do it in the first place.

Do I expect this to work right out of the gate? Of course not, but we have to start making the effort if we have any hope of changing this at all.

I’ll admit this may sound harsh, but honestly it will be more effective than trying to encourage empathy.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a friend of mine, game designer JD Wiker:

“There’s a line. All you have to do is NOT cross it.”