The New Left Counter-Inaugural at which women speakers were heckled and drowned out, for example, took place in 1969. Shortly after the Glasgow debate, Meredith received a text alerting her that “’Lad’ websites and male chat forums had posted pictures of me from news sites and discussed how best to violently rape or sexually assault me.” Comment after comment, she writes, discussed “whether it would be preferable to rape me using a knife, or to keep me as a sex slave.”What’s changed in the last 40 years, then, is that now some men can heckle and drown out women not just in person but remotely, from the comfort of their own homes.Rebecca Meredith’s experience with an attempted heckler’s veto (she and her partner went on to finish their debate) was in 2013. The Heckler’s Veto hasn’t gone away, it’s gone online. Encyclopedia Dramatica, a deliberately offensive wiki outlining the worldview and language of some of the people congregating in the forums and chat rooms of 4chan.org, defines “trolling” as “Internet Eugenics.” Trolling is designed to enrage and traumatize targets – especially women and minorities – so that they’ll go ahead and “leave the internet.”Online campaigns designed to punish particular people are called “lulz,” the phonetic version of the acronym “LOL,” meaning laugh out loud, which describes both the systematic process for chasing people off the Internet as well as the result (maximum amusement! Lulz has “standard operating procedures” and the first of those procedures is trolling, or leaving a large volume of offensive comments on a person’s blog and tweeting hateful messages to them. Shut up and get off the Internet, is the message, or there will be further consequences – such as the publication of your personal details (called “doxing”) so you can be harassed not just online but by phone and at your home, followed by denial of service (dos) attacks on your website or, if you’ve really infuriated them, distributed denial of service attacks (Ddos) against your host provider (which will crash not just your site but thousands of other sites also hosted by those servers). Set up only nine years ago, in 2004, Encyclopedia Dramatica contains hundreds of entries documenting past and future victims of a “lollercoaster.” Writer Melissa Mc Ewan, owner of Shakesville, a multi-author blog about feminism and intersectionality, is one of the targets.When Rebecca Meredith took the stage in March at the Glasgow Ancients, an annual university debate tournament, she and her debate partner, Marlena Valles, were prepared for a little heckling.After all, Meredith is ranked the third top university debater in Europe in 2012 and Valles won best speaker in Scotland’s 2013 national championship, so between the two of them they’ve “beaten men in debates hundreds of times” and “can deal with heckles,” writes Meredith in the Huffington Post.
To recap: 1) trolling, 2) doxing, 3) dos or Ddos attacks. Her address and phone number are published and so are suggestions about how to troll her, ranging from emailing her penis pictures, to “revenge-raping her,” to targeting a Shakesville audience member who also owns a blog by extracting “their info from whois database, Facebook, or a phone book then proceed to raep.” (Rape, deliberately misspelled as “raep,” can mean a dos or Ddos attack.) In 2007, the Shakesville website, along with several other feminist blogs, was the subject of Ddos attacks – but the primary tool used to harass Mc Ewan, year after year, is threats of sexual violence and death.
At one point, Mc Ewan says, Encyclopedia Dramatica “used to feature a campaign offering a financial reward to anyone who could offer proof of raping and/or murdering me.”So the first and most easily sustained method in the lulz process is the online hate storm – like the one directed at Mc Ewan for the last several years, or the most recent one directed at Caroline Criado-Perez for her successful petition to have Jane Austen’s face put on the back of the UK’s £10 note.
After the Bank of England announced that, yes, Jane Austen’s visage would grace the new bank note, Criado-Perez began receiving rape threats and death threats via Twitter – sometimes as many as 50 an hour.
Criado-Perez told the BBC UK that she had “stumbled into a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women.”“This is a systemic issue, the people doing this, this is their hobby, they just move from target to target, they’re like a roaming gang of some kind,” explains developer and consultant Adria Richards.
When she took the stage to speak at the New Left’s Counter-Inaugural, she tells Susan Faludi in the April edition of the New Yorker, men in the audience immediately started shouting things like “Take her off the stage and fuck her!” and “Fuck her down the alley.” Author and activist Shulamith Firestone tried to speak after Webb, writes Faludi, “but was drowned out by a howl of sexual epithets.”Legally speaking, “you can heckle a speaker but you can’t drown them out,” explains Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer, author and free speech advocate.