Because of the message board. Wow.
It’s a good post. Like I told the WSJ reporter, Ciolli losing his job offer doesn’t make me feel any better, and it doesn’t make me feel vindicated in any way. That said, I can understand why a firm would have serious concerns about hiring him. The fact that he and his partner, Jarret Cohen, allowed all kinds of disgusting commentary to remain up on the board doesn’t speak particularly well to character and fitness issues. I think that Ciolli made a series of very, very poor choices when he was running AutoAdmit. I do feel genuinely bad for him, though, to have lost his job right before graduation. Any way you slice it, that sucks.
But what’s disappointing is that Anthony seems to be shifting the blame to Jarret — claiming he had no authority over what was posted, etc etc. Frankly, that smells like bullshit to me. They co-ran the site. Even if Jarret had ultimate control, I’m sure Anthony’s opinion meant something. He wasn’t helpless. But because Jarret is self-employed and not a law student, he can take the blame without actually shouldering any of the consequences.
When it comes to internet-land, we all make choices. I’ve made a choice similar to Anthony’s — to co-run a website, and to do so under my full, real name. I’ve done that knowing that there will most certainly be consequences to that decision. There already have been. There have also been wonderful benefits, and so I’ve made the conscious choice to keep doing what I’m doing. But I’ve tried to do it as responsibly as I can, and the Feministe bloggers have collectively instituted a moderation policy that takes out any threatening comments — as well as comments that are racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, etc. I would not hesitate to delete a comment that released someone’s personal information, or that defamed them, or that harassed or threatened them. That isn’t exactly an unheard-of position when it comes to blogs and message boards — most blogs that I read, liberal or conservative, won’t stand for threats.
Anthony and Jarret decided that letting AutoAdmit turn into a free-for-all of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism was something that should be protected over individual rights to privacy or to simply be free of threats. I can’t imagine that Anthony had no idea that someone would eventually fight back — after all, they’re going after tons of law school women, many of whom aren’t exactly passive delicate flowers.
There are many things I’ve written that I no longer agree with, and many issues that I’ve changed my mind on. There are many things I’ve posted here that I wish I hadn’t. But they’re mine, and if I’m called out on them, I’ll take responsibility for writing them — I won’t blame Lauren or Zuzu or Piny for owning the site with me, or for not taking them down. It sucks to lose a job, and I really do sympathize with Anthony. But I think he’ll be a lot better off if he sucks it up, takes responsibility, apologizes and moves on. I don’t think this will ruin either his life or his legal career — and I hope it doesn’t. We’ve all done dumb things and made bad decisions. This certainly won’t be easy for him — character and fitness are, at least in theory, part of what makes a good lawyer, and if I were a hiring partner at a law firm I probably would not want to hire someone who makes the kinds of poor moral and ethical choices that Anthony has made. But then, I’m pretty sure that there are hiring partners who wouldn’t want to hire someone who makes the arguably poor decision to put all of her controversial political opinions online, in a well-read and very public forum. So I can’t exactly throw stones here, even if I do think I’ve done my best to run a responsible space. I think Anthony will recover from this, even though it’s not easy. I hope he does. And while I’m not his biggest fan in the world — nor he mine — I do wish him the best.
I’ve written about AutoAdmit a grand total of, I think, three times over the past two years (and one of those posts is about two sentences long). I avoid posting about them because any time I do, they start in on me and it’s obnoxious. Not to mention uncreative — I’ve been “out” as a feminist for more than a few years now, and, as all “out” feminists know, getting called ugly and fat is part of the game. So posting under the name “Jill Filipovic’s cottage cheese thighs,” remarking on my huge jaw and acting shocked that I am a HUGE UGLY COW is not all that hurtful at this point. It’s just kind of boring, and it’s nothing I haven’t heard 500 times before. And, in my last parsing of AutoAdmit, it looks like they post something about me almost every day anyway, whether I write about them or not.
One thing that stood out to me about the Kathy Sierra online harassment issue is how many women contacted her afterwards to tell her that they had experienced similar things, but had just never talked about it — so they ignored it, or they quit blogging, or they switched to a gender-neutral or male name, or they left whatever chat rooms or message boards they had frequented before. As this WaPo article points out, writing under a female name garners all kinds of harassment online that male names don’t get. There are complex reasons for that, but a big one is the fact that women’s public participation has long been associated with sexual availability — something I wrote about here, for the Blogging and Feminism issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online (edited by Feministing’s Jessica Valenti, and a site you should most definitely check out). Harassment, online or in “real life,” is something that women are told we just have to deal with. We should have thicker skin. We should realize that if we talk or move through public space, we’ll be put in our place through sexual and sometimes threatening comments. And so a lot of us do just shut up, and do grow thicker skin — I know I no longer feel a damn thing other than irritation when I read the shit that the AutoAdmit guys write about me. A year and a half ago I was so stunned and hurt by it that it made me cry; now it just makes me roll my eyes. And while that makes online life much easier for me to stomach, there’s something that strikes me as really sad about that kind of hardening, even if it is a necessity.
So I’m writing about this now not because I want “poor Jill” comments (reserve the pity for all the private female law students who aren’t public bloggers, who did nothing more than go to class with these assholes, and who had their information posted and who had disgusting and threatening comments made about them on AutoAdmit — I do), but because, as I said in the (Web)sites of Resistance post, it’s time we started naming this and pointing out how silencing it is. Even big progressive bloggers like Kos can write this off as no big deal, and something that happens to everyone — but that isn’t exactly the truth. It happens to women far more, and in a very particular way. And for the most part, we have a choice between either sucking it up or totally giving up. That isn’t good enough. If we point to it and call it out, at the very least we can establish that this is a very real problem, and that it is purposeful and systematic intimidation of public women. At the very least, we can stand in some sort of solidarity with other women who experience this, in “real life” or online.
I’m sure someone is reading this and thinking I’m a whiner, or I’m thin-skinned. I know lots of people don’t read the AutoAdmit board, so you don’t know the kind of shit that goes on there — threads with titles like (trigger warning: sexual assault, violence, racism, the Holocaust, pretty much anything you can be triggered by) “PSA: The Holocaust was the Jewish Equivalent of Woodstock,” “How many dozen jews didn’t deserve to die in the holocaust?,” “last night I dreamt about fucking Holocaust victims,” “POST HERE IF YOU HATE SPICKS MORE THAN YOU HATE NIGGERS!!!!!!!!!,” “Asians have upended blacks as America’s worst niggers,” “ITT we think up innovative ways to rape without consequences,” “Hey blacks, enough with the murder and rape of whites,” and “Next time, we rape the white girls before we kill them.” And that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
Am I a thin-skinned whiner for thinking those posts are beyond the pale? How about if several people wrote the following things about you, or your sister, wife, daughter or friend:
“I want to brutally rape that Jill slut”
“I’m 98% sure that she should be raped (if only in Internet Land)”
“Official Jill Filipovic RAPE Thread”
“I have it on good authority that Jill F has rape fantasies”
“what a useless guttertrash whore. i hope someone uses my pink, fleshy-textured cylindrical body to violate her” (from someone posting under the name “fleshlight”)
“for minimising this tragedy, she deserves a brutal raping”
“She’s a normal-sized girl that I’d bang violently,” “maybe you’d have to kill her afterwards” (in a thread titled “Be honest, everyone here would FUCK THE SHIT out of Jill Feministe”)
“that nose ring is fucking money, rape her immediately”
“Legal liability from posting pic showing Jill fucking?” (talking about photoshopping my head onto a pornstar’s body)
“she would be a good hate fuck”
“[Duke rape accuser] or ‘Jill’: who has more semen drip of their abortion scarred, fat asses?”
Fuck that. I’m tired of reading this shit about myself and pretending that it isn’t happening, because if I say something it might set these guys off even more. They’re posting these things regardless of whether or not I write about them.
I know there are women everywhere who are doing exactly what I’m doing — ignoring it and hoping it will go away. It’s not going to go away. These guys are assholes, and they don’t deserve to be enabled by silence.
I’m sorry that Anthony lost his job. I don’t blame him for the comments that so many other people made. And if AutoAdmit posters are outraged that Ciolli’s firm rescinded his offer, they have no one to blame but themselves — although I’m sure they’ll try to push the blame on the people they attacked, the uppity bitches who complained, and the reporters who had the audacity to write about it.
I think all of us who run online spaces need to do so in a responsible way, and we need to own our choices when it comes to these issues. Want to run a total free-for-all message board? Have at it, but don’t expect other people to think that you’re an ethical or decent person who they would want to work with. And I’d like to see more of us standing up against harassment and threats — even against the sexualized harassment and the threats of sexual violence that are usually leveled at women. The threats that are systematically silencing and rarely taken seriously by the Big Boys in the real world or in the blogosphere are exactly the ones we need to come out about. And I’d like to see us strategize ways to deal with threats and harassment — ways that are more effective than just getting someone fired.
[Background on AutoAdmit for the newbies: The first time I wrote about AutoAdmit is here. I ignored them for another year, and then wrote about them again here after a WaPo article detailed the harassment they were leveling at female law students. The story, basically, is that there’s this law school message board where tons of anonymous commenters leave messages. Some are about law school. Many are about seeing just how racist, sexist, etc commenters can be. About a year and a half ago they somehow got started on me, and have been writing about me every since — along with lots of other female law students. They’re assholes, and they recently got the FBI called on them when someone on the board made a threat to shoot up Hastings right after the Virginia Tech shooting. Pretty brilliant. Anthony Ciolli was one of the owners of the site, along with a man named Jarret Cohen. Ciolli resigned a couple of months ago after the WaPo article, but is still a presence on the board. He’s the one who just got his firm offer rescinded.]