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Falsely Claiming "Cyberstalking" as a Silencing Technique

I have been repeatedly accused by a GM commenter of stalking because I stood up to him multiple times. I've seen two other people make a similar claim in the past few days, for the crime of repeated commenting on GM sites, often with a demand to stop. Let's unpack this shit.

One of the things that is most interesting to me about cognitive biases is that they exist for a reason. The way that we store and retrieve memories involves shortcuts that allow us to make safer decisions in times of panic. Evolutionarily speaking, this is extremely beneficial, allowing us to quickly decide upon a course of action by limiting the amount of information that we have to process. They become cognitive biases when we don't realize that we are employing those shortcuts in non-panic situations, leading us to a conclusion based on misinformation from our own brains.


Being aware of cognitive biases and how you may be committing them helps you detect when you are being affected by them, which is important because it's really tempting to accept the shortcut at face value. In times of panic, we need to make fast decisions; in other times, we need to made accurate decisions. Cognitive biases are often cases where we use the fast-decision-making ability of our brains when we need to be using the accurate-decision-making ability of our brains; being aware of our biases helps us detect when we have done that and adjust our reaction accordingly.

Anchoring, Negativity Bias, and Availability Heuristic

Have you ever noticed that when you get in a fight with someone that you love, you remember it in great detail, but you can't remember what the two of you ate for dinner last Tuesday? The difference is anchoring and negativity bias. Anchoring is our natural tendency to remember information that we deem "important" and negativity bias is the method by which we deem emotional charged negative information to be "important." In evopsych terms, you can think about anchoring and negativity bias this way:

I am looking at a cat. I previously watched my friend get eaten by a tiger; I love my house cat. I identify the cat in question as easily 5 times the size of my house cat. I know that the big cat in question isn't a tiger, so I can spend the next few minutes trying to identify which variety of big cat it is and assess the threat based on that OR I can shortcut all the way to "I remember my friend getting eaten" and decide that the big cat is a threat that I need to manage somehow. Evolutionarily speaking, the shortcut decision is more likely to save my life if the cat is a threat and if the cat isn't a threat, I haven't really lost much by reacting.

(Unless it's Hobbes and I ripped his stuffing out.)

Because you had an emotional response to the fight/tiger— especially a negative emotional response— your brain takes that short-term memory and burns it into longer-term memory that is quickly accessed. If you didn't have an emotional response to the data, your brain decides that it must not be important; instead of being burned to fast-access long-term memory, it goes into the queue to get flushed. You may be able to reconstruct the memory from related data, especially related anchored data:

Let's see. Last Tuesday was the day that that customer who blamed me for doing what he said instead of what he meant tried to get me fired. To make me feel better, we went out for sushi. It had been a while since I had sushi, so I splurged and got the uni, but I was disappointed in the freshness, so I spent more time enjoying my yummy dragon roll. That's not enough for a meal though, so I probably ate some of the nigiri that I usually order. Search result: Last Tuesday, we had sushi that included uni and a dragon roll and probably the nigiri that I usually order.


This ability to retrieve memories quickly based on what we anchored to is a difference in availability; the memories that we retrieve quickly are more available. The word heuristics is often interchangeable with the term "search algorithm," so when we talk about availability heuristic, one of the things that we mean is that when searching for memories in the brain, we look for things that we anchored to and then search for related anchored items and continue that process until we find what we want or declare it lost.

This sounds awesome! Wait, didn't you say this was wrong?

The problem comes in when we search memories and pay more credence to negative emotional responses than anything else because they are retrieved faster, causing us to over-estimate the frequency by which the negative thing happens in relation to the frequency that the not-negative things happen. What I mean here is that if you had 2 fights with your partner in the last month and went out to dinner with your partner 8 times in the last month, the next time that you get in a fight, you're in a restaurant and you might say to your partner "I don't know what's gone wrong with us! We fight even more than we go out to eat!"


This is a factually untrue statement but we believe it to be true at the time. Availability heuristic gave us faster access to the memories of the 3 (inclusive) fights than to the memories of the 9 (inclusive) dinners out, so the shortcut caused us to underestimate the number of dinners out. The most effective way to fight this response is to stop yourself from saying that long enough to complete the "dinners out" search and compare the actual counts. One of the purposes of cognitive therapy is to help people identify how these shortcuts appear in their thought process and stopping the emotional reaction long enough to evaluate if the current emotional response is caused by a cognitive bias that leads us to a bad conclusion.

Circling Back to Internet Comments

When reading comments in websites like the Gawker Media sites, we are most likely to remember three types of commenters in the following order: commenters who piss us off, commenters who make us feel happy, commenters that we see frequently but about whom we feel neutrally. I'm going to focus on commenters who piss us off, because:

Argh! That commenter just "what about teh menzed" in a thread about gendered Happy Meal toys, and after I've just participated in 3 threads about how gendered learning toys were denied to girls as children, hampering our access to science toys, pushing us away from STEM, and causing us gender identity issues. So someone commented that this was a problem for them, but not in a gender identity way like some other people have discussed on this article and at least two other articles on this set of sites in the last week, and the what about teh menz dude was all "yeah, totally, because I always wanted to dye my hair and felt discouraged from doing so because only girls do that." Yeah, that's totally the same thing! Wait... I recognize that username. Isn't that the guy who was mansplaining feminism last weekend, because he thought he found a flaw in the Bechdel test that wasn't actually there? Rechecking that thread. Yup, same asshole.


Now, I grant that I probably would have let that comment of his slide with a silent eyeroll if it had been an isolated case, but it wasn't so I justifiably snarked. He responded by accusing me of stalking him. Both of us have just anchored and gone down the negativity effect road, but one of us went off the negativity effect deep-end. I used the negativity effect to decide that he was an asshole based on several posts that I thought were dismissive of the legitimate concerns of an oppressed group because he has a lot of unexamined privilege. He used the negativity effect and selection bias to decide that I am "following" him around the site to "harass him," demanding that I "stop responding" to him, based on having responded to his comments on multiple occasions.


The reality is that I tend to respond to comments that contain sexist microaggressions; he exhibits sexist microaggressions in a forum that we both frequent. He doesn't remember me commenting to other people because my comments didn't piss him off; he didn't anchor so my username was discarded from memory. He didn't check other comment threads and if he had, he would have noticed that I had commented in several threads on that article before I saw his comment and responded to him; because he didn't see that, he assumed that that didn't exist. He decided that me standing up to him on multiple occasions was because I had "decided to hate him" as opposed to the "finding his behavior problematic on multiple occasions."


Wait a Minute. I Think I Remember Something Similar from...

Guys? We don't owe you a forum. If all you're going to use our bandwidth for is to shit on the staff, then, maybe find some other bandwidth.


Because literally, the only thing ever discussed on Groupthink is the ways in which Jezebel/Gawker Media staff are problematic, amirite? Someone feels bad and suddenly everything that someone else does is all about them, no matter how many other things that person does. No, Specialest of Snowflakes, not everything is about you and disagreeing with you consistently is not necessarily an indicator of bias in others, but you just keep on refusing to examine your privilege, person who is literally the most important person evar; you just keep on.


This stalking accusation also showed up in the Groupthink has it out for MoGlo thread on the mainpage. Someone there accused us of "stalking" MoGlo by repeatedly commenting negatively on her articles when we found them problematic and discussing the problematic nature in GT. But let's just unpack that for a shits and giggles:

We were accused of stalking because we repeatedly commented on a site that we frequently use, where the target of our "stalking" is a frequent author, one who often removes comments criticizing her. Then we went to another, related site that is frequented by the same people to discuss the issue without risking the thread being removed by the target.


Look, if you guise want to feel persecuted because a commenter on the internet said that your behavior is [insert ism here] so that you don't have to actually think about whether that's true, whatever. When you use that to make an ad hominem attack that includes standard-issue misogynist gaslighting, accompanied by "shut up?"


Oh Sugar Britches, do you honestly think I'm going to let that slide?

What Is Cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is an actual thing and it's a criminal offense in many places; it should be a criminal offense everywhere. There is some disagreement on what constitutes cyberstalking, but pretty much no one agrees that cyberstalking is "a frequent user of a website refusing to leave that website because another user doesn't like a couple of that user's comments."


Some actual examples of cyberstalking? Rape victims getting anonymous threats to their personal email account, Twitter account, Facebook account, Tumblr, and other social media. Women who receive a barrage of anonymous threats for daring to try to get a woman on one of several new bills to avoid all bills celebrating men. Fake twitter accounts being set up to frame a woman for daring to ask for money to produce a series of videos on sexist tropes in video games. A DDOS against a woman's employer because having a conference's harassment policy enforced caused two men to get kicked out of the conference, causing one of the two to be fired by his employer (denoting that his employer was already considering firing him), causing her to get fired as "fairness," after which the harassment continued anyway.


Do you see some patterns in what I just listed? I'll give you a hint: it's not even similar to what these posters are claiming is stalking and the actual crime is typically aimed at women as a silencing technique. Yup, not only is cyberstalking and harassment a common method of silencing women on the internet, it's also falsely claimed about women to discredit women on the internet for repeatedly voicing an opinion (based on the misogynist idea that women are crazy) and used as an excuse to demand that the women be silenced. Any continued uppitiness is "proof" that the woman is "crazy" and thus, all of her opinions should be disregarded as invalid.

Now let's Circle Back to the Initial Claim


In the case where I am supposedly stalking someone, I remembered a poster because that poster pissed me off. I responded to him, which pissed him off, so he remembered me. Later, I saw another irritating comment from him and recognized his name, so I responded to him. Because he recognized my name and my comment pissed him off, I am "stalking" him. Double standards much, dude? Oh also, pointing out a false equivalency means I can't take a joke (where joke is defined as something he meant but thought he said in a funny way), cause you know, humorless feminist blah blah whatever something something.

In addition to demanding that I no longer call out his problematic behavior, he is specifically doing so in posts to me. He is sending me messages to call me names and insist that I don't defend myself. He is commenting that he can say whatever he likes about me and I am disallowed to respond because he doesn't like me.


Sorry, Special Snowflake, but that's your privilege talking and you are not entitled to my silence, especially when you attack me.

I sound totally crazy, don't I?

Please use this as a reference post when someone uses this attack on you or the women around you in the way described here.


ETA: I informed the guy from the first example of this post so that he could respond to it, with the intention of leaving his response intact and responding to it. At first, I did but I've changed my mind. In his response, he lied repeatedly. But he also claimed that the reason that he said that I was stalking him is that within 15 minutes, I responded to a new post from him to me and a post to on another article, which proved that I'd gone through his comment history, which is stalking. And you know what? That is not stalking. It's not true but more importantly, even if it were true, it would not be stalking. Stalking is a crime. It is threatening and scary and often involves violence. It's also a crime primarily aimed at women and an accusation that is used to falsely condemn women for misbehaving. Stalking is a serious issue and anyone who believes that stalking shouldn't be taken seriously isn't a person whose opinion has any value other than to demonstrate reprehensibility. The best part is that his response wasn't just to lie here, but to go back to his favorite forum and say that I'd written a hatchet job about him so that his friends would come here to insult me on his behalf.

That's a lot more harassing than responding to two posts in 15 minutes.

He has lost the privilege of being allowed a defense; he is indefensible. I am dismissing all posts referencing him.

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