Lindsay Ellis, Video Essayist – XOXO Festival (2019)

[Applause]>>LINDSAY ELLIS: Hello! How is everyone? [Cheers] I’m going to have a fun talk. [Laughter] This is going to be the light jaunty
one of the day. Like he said, a content warning. There’s going to be some Nazis. But y’know, that’s just the internet now. It’s great. What a time to be alive, I love it. My name is Lindsay Ellis, I primarily work
on YouTube primarily, I do media criticism, which is a fancy way of saying I spend an
hour talking about how much I hated the Beauty and the Beast remake. I do have a show where I talk about film theory
concepts, because that’s my area of study, using only Michael Bay’s Transformers. I’m also the host of PBS Digital Studios’
It’s Lit, which is going to be relevant in this talk. So, I thought about having this talk when
a friend of mine became the nth or so person sliding into my DMs like, hey, there’s an
alt-right mob after me—you know what this is like, what do I do? And I kinda had a moment where I’m like,
wow, this keeps happening, where people ask me advice on how to deal with bad faith hate
mobs from, you know, let’s be nice and call them Diet Nazis. And that kind of made me realize that there
just aren’t any resources for that sort of thing. And I had the sad realization that I kind
of had become an expert in surviving that sort of thing, because it has happened to
me many, many times over the years, and I just never talk about it because I don’t want
to draw attention to it. There’s sort of two internets, because if
you know who I am here, you probably don’t know me in the same way people in the other
internet know me, which is like SJW punching bag. And a lot of times, people are surprised to
learn that, oh yeah, I’ve been through it. So I’m going to talk about this today, and
this is the first time I’ve really talked about this, so this is exciting. This is a story about a thing that happened
to me last year, a jaunty little thing I like to call The White Genocide Incident. [Laughs] That was supposed to be funny. [Laughter] You better laugh, because this
was hard. [Laughs] This was a really dumb thing that
happened last year. It all started with a Twitter joke about a
YA novel that was published in 2011-ish called Save the Pearls. Is anyone familiar with that? It’s a self-published YA novel where white
people are the oppressed class… [Laughs] and black people are the ruling class. See, it’s sunnier now and they got that
melanin, see? So that’s something I like to come back
to every now and then, because I think it’s funny. [Laughter] The original tweet that precipitated
it is gone because I have a Twitter deleter that deletes everything that is more than
a year old. Highly recommend that, just to cover yourself. Then, as I’m joking about this, one of these
people slides into my mentions like, well, you know, white genocide is real. And I respond with this tweet. Like, heck yeah, it’s real! I love it! [Applause] [Laughter] I got a Pinterest board
ready to go! [Laughter]
So… yeah. Five retweets, 31 likes. And I think it’s incredibly telling that
the name of the account that I’m responding to, and that tweet is also gone so I don’t
have a screen cap of it, is RussianH4x0r. Always a good sign. So this was in April 2017. Flash forward a year later, Summer of 2018,
it’s the weekend of Comic-Con International and guess who is canceled, it’s James Gunn. Oh no, this surely isn’t going to start a
troubling trend that we’re dealing with to this day. So for those of you who don’t know who James
Gunn is, he is the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and he was fired from
his job of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 because he made some bad tweets—and let’s
be clear, they were bad tweets. He should not have said what he said, and
he should not have done that. But the people who motivated this campaign
to get him fired were — I’m not going to name them, but the basket of alt-right dipshits,
you can guess who they were. Basically, because James Gunn was a vocal
critic of El Presidente. So it was an interesting qualm for a lot of
people on the left because the things he said were bad, but A. they were a long time ago
and B. he had kind of addressed them in the meantime and demonstrated he had changed. But Disney immediately panic and let him go. So I, like so many, could see where this was
going, was a vocal defender of James Gunn. And I definitely caught some flack for that,
because it’s bad optics to throw your advocacy behind a wealthy white man who works for Disney. [Laughter] But, I still stand by what I said,
because the reason I supported him was because this action was going to empower people to
scour the online histories of their political enemies, especially alt-right circles like
the people who went after Gunn, to use bad faith criticisms to ruin people’s lives
and careers. And it did not end with James Gunn. I think everyone in this room can think of
a lot of instances of people using bad faith criticisms to go after people, usually journalists,
that they don’t like. There were a lot of campaigns coordinated
by these very same people. And I also knew that, given this tactic succeeded,
it would only be a matter of time before they came for me—and they did, about six weeks
later. [Sighs] There’s that tweet again. Oh, boy. So, I do a show for PBS. They really don’t like PBS. [Laughter] It’s publicly-funded, they hate
that. But they also really hate the idea that certain
people get money for publicly-funded things. So, this Twitter account called Blue Check
Watch found my PBS headshot, my PBS bio, and my [laughs] tweet. And I think it’s really funny that they
go with WGBH, the Boston affiliate. I work for Digital Studios, and it was only
really last night that I realized — because we were puzzling for the why, why did they
go after WGBH? I’ve never even been to Boston. And I realized it’s because this guy must
be a Boston local and he logged on to the PBS website, and it defaults to your local
PBS affiliate. [Laughter] So the Boston affiliate paid the
price for that. And you also can’t see because this tweet
is obviously gone because his account is gone, this was all stuff that we mined and kept
for years. You can’t see how many retweets it had but
it was over 7,000 or 8,000 retweets. It was bad. But you also can’t really see my Twitter
avatar, this is it. [Laughter] [Cheering] Very serious enemy am
I for the righteous folks of meme America to destroy their anti-white racists. I highlight this because, when we talk about
bad faith, these people do not care about humor or irony. Everything is taken as yes, it’s literal! White genocide Pinterest board? It’s a thing that exists. [Laughter] So here are some more samples. Personally, the fact they go after PBS Nature
and PBS American Masters. [Laughs] My favorite over here is @GodWouldCare. “If this is true, you might need a mental
health intervention. I’d feel unsafe being her co-worker knowing
she was for genocide.” [Laughter] So… this was awful. These brain geniuses don’t know and don’t
care that I don’t work for ANY PBS affiliate. I’m not even an employee. I do contract labor, sometimes. And PBSDS is mostly completely unaffiliated
with individual affiliates, but they don’t care, that’s not the point. But, oh boy, let’s call the L.A. affiliate,
here’s their number! And they did. They were calling the L.A. affiliate, they
called a lot of local affiliates, and it was just flooded with this. There were emails, and then it made it to
blue checkmark conservative Twitter. Oh, boy. PBS host is really excited about that white
genocide! And I want you guys to appreciate this ad. [Laughter] I
feel like that really tells you something about the demo of Yep, killing them dead. Chuck Woolery got involved, the game show
host. [Laughs] I’m sorry, former game show host
and current extremely poor man’s James Woods on Twitter. [Laughter] Yeah, so that sucked. I was lucky in that PBS, all of the affiliates…
[laughs] Like, it was humiliating, because you had to have all of these people going
back and forth being like, hmm, this seems an awful lot like the thing that happened
to Sarah Jeong at the New York Times last month. But at the same time, they still had to address
it and deal with it. We had to collate all of these tweets, mine
everything and be absolutely clear on who said what and when, and what the threat was,
and it was very awful. And I have to joke about it now, because we
have these coping mechanisms, see. But another thing was, this happened right
before XOXO last year. [Deep Sigh] And I have not said anything about
this, because I didn’t want anyone to know that I was a Nazi magnet. So wow, last year was not great because I
spent the whole weekend, if I met someone, I would fall into the whole, oh god, what
have you heard, or oh god, what do you know. That was the catalyst to a big mental health
crisis. I was going to have a section here called
“Celebrities who have seen me weep openly in public.” [Laughter] I’m not going to do that because
I don’t want to name names, but people saw me cry in hotel lobbies last year. It was really embarrassing. The way John Scalzi described it was about
half of a JoCo Cruise. [Laughter] Apologies to anyone I embarrassed. And in addition to that, it harmed my relationships,
it harmed my marriage, it cost me a lot of productivity and several friendships, and
eventually, I actually ended up at an institution, because everything was just crumbling and
I did not know how to deal with this. Because I don’t know if anyone has gone through
something like this, but there is nothing, nothing more isolating than being targeted,
because the whole purpose is to isolate you and make you toxic to your colleagues, and
they don’t want to touch you. Because if they touch you publicly, then they
get it too. And there’s another thing, this is not the
first time it has happened to me and it probably won’t not be the last, because this is just
the world now. And it wasn’t even the meanest, honestly. Because there’s something kind of, like,
well, at least they have… beliefs? Because a lot of times people will do it,
and it’s just because it’s fun to be mean to people. I’m at a place now where I can talk and joke
about it, because I spent the last year doing the therapy rigamarole, I’m on a much better,
more stable set of medication. To reiterate what Tracy [Clayton] said yesterday,
go to therapy, even if you don’t know you need it, go to therapy. But this is still kind of difficult to talk
about, because I do still have some trauma associated with this. And the thing about being afraid all the time,
even if you’re not in sort of a literal, physical, war zone is being afraid messes
with your brain chemistry. And then you start having the same responses
that you would have if you had been in physical danger. You became jumpy, you become more irritable,
you become more depressed. And a lot of that is because the goal here
is to hurt you. It’s not just scary on a personal level. These people are feeling empowered enough
in their own racism that they thought “white genocide Pinterest board” was a compelling
argument to a national broadcasting company. Thousands of people thought that they would
be like, oh, yeah, anti-white racism is a thing, we should fire this person. Because the thing is, when well-intentioned
people fall for bad-faith tactics, bad-faith people continue to employ them. But we are lucky in that people are seeing
through this in a way that they weren’t a year ago. But when these people come for you, they cannot
be reasoned with. That’s a mistake that a lot of people make. They do not want to be reasoned with. They are bad-faith attacks because they do
not see you are a human. And when I say bad faith—because a lot of
people say, well, sometimes there’s good faith criticism, and that’s true. Obviously, this is not an example of that,
but that is true. But to me, it turns into bad faith when people
stop denying your humanity and use you as a proxy in whatever culture war thing is going
on. But this talk is not just about the overriding
problem of harassment culture and bad faith arguments and the fact that the racists are
feeling really empowered these days. Because there’s a lot of talk about the external
process—automation, moderation, how to curb harassment, cancel culture, is it good? But not a lot about the internal one, which
was kind of what catalyzed this. So how do you deal with it? I’ve become an expert! I don’t know if I’ve become an expert
on dealing with it WELL, but you have to cope, or you die. The two options. So let’s say Nazis are trying to get you deplatformed
from your public broadcasting corporation. Oh no, my brand! What’ll I do? I’m going to XOXO and they might know! What will they think? It feels like you have a disease now, and
you kind of do, especially if you’re on Twitter, because nothing on the internet dies. What happens is, these people… there’s
always going to be a subset of people who will see you existing, maybe they’ll see
you interacting with another Twitter person and they just take it upon themselves to slide
into the mentions of whoever is interacting with you and being, like, she’s an anti-white
racist! [Laughter] I’m sorry, it’s funny. And then other people, by proxy, are punished
for daring to interact with you on a public forum. That has happened to me a lot, and it still
happens sometimes, where I’ll interact with someone that maybe I don’t know that well,
and some rando comes in, like White Power Bill, like, “She’s an anti-white racist!” And that’s not the only thing they come
after me for. They have a list, there’s literally a website
that has a list of ways to harass me. [Laughs] Although it does remind me of that
Arrested Development sketch where G.O.B. is stabbed by White Power Bill, and he’s like,
“White power!” And G.O.B.’s like, “I’m… white…” [Laughter] So when you are, as in my case,
a minor public figure and it happens to you, you have two options, especially if the mainstream
media doesn’t notice and nobody notices and nobody really cares. You can either be open about what’s happening
to you, or you don’t. I chose… don’t. Because if the mainstream media doesn’t notice—thank
god they didn’t—and it doesn’t become a story and it doesn’t become discourse,
and you don’t stand up for yourself, no one outside of that bubble is going to know. And that’s why it often surprises people
when I’m like, there was this whole thing and it’s far from the first time this has
happened to me. And it’s like, well, wow, I didn’t hear
about it. And I’m like, yeah, because I didn’t say
anything. And I had a chat with another person who is
a friend of mine when I was dealing with this, I was like, what do I do? Should I stand up for myself? And he’s like, well, you can… but if you
decide to do that, that becomes part of your brand. And if you come out about people abusing you,
and you speak your truth, that means you could become more well-known for being the harassed
one than for anything you’ve ever actually done. So let’s say you want to make that go away. Here is some shit that does not work. [Laughter] Ignoring it does not work. That means, oh, I guess we have to try harder. Trying to reason with them does not work. They are not here to be reasoned with. You cannot reason someone out of something
they did not reason themselves into. Being self-deprecating and jokey-jokey does
not work. Remember the Venom avatar, they don’t care. Disappearing does not work, that’s evidence
of guilt. Continuing to exist in a public space? That’s exactly what they don’t want you to
do. They want you to stop existing. Apologizing? Wow, does not work! Because they don’t care, they do not care
about your humanity. And again, these are bad faith attacks. You are not a person, you are a proxy in a
culture war. Your silence is not just the goal, the silence
whatever you represent to them, and the silence of the people that associate with you. Because you are not a human anymore. Sorry. So what happens now? You’re just existing in this secret hell
that nobody knows about and just continuing to have, like, pile on in YouTube comments,
oh god, they still do it. I have an assistant that handles my YouTube
comments, it’s awful, feel bad for her. And you basically feel like a disease, because
interacting with someone is going to invite your harassment into their space. So you apologize just for existing, and in
turn, people kind of treat you like a disease. It’s a human nature thing, where even in
this case where it’s pretty cut and dry, I’m not in the wrong, I should have guessed
that racists were feeling empowered these days and not joke about certain things. People are still kind of like, eh, you kind
of deserve it, maybe? You know, like maybe there was something you
could have done to prevent it… You know? And it’s just, people can’t really help
but to do the victim-blaming thing, even well-intentioned people. And it also harms your relationship with your
audience. You don’t want to make content anymore. You don’t trust people. And it’s hard to make content for people
when you think that half of them want you to die, and the other half don’t even know
about the first half. Then you become obsessed with prevention,
and therefore you are required to know how these people think. You’re required to know what might be possibly
taken in bad faith. And if you don’t think like these people,
how do you even start to? How do you prevent this sort of thing? It becomes this crazy-making circular mind
game. You can’t. So this is a conversation between Hank Green,
Carlos Maza, and me. Now let’s unpack this. Do you know who Carlos Maza? [Cheers] Yes, support Carlos Maza. So Carlos Maza is another YouTuber. He and I were like Twitter buds, we hadn’t
really met before the Crowdering happened. Basically, he had been abused and bullied
by another, much bigger YouTuber, Steven Crowder, for years. A lot of homophobic and racist slurs, and
one day, Carlos decided to chronicle this and stand up for myself. Yep, sure did. You can guess what happened after this. Crowder mobilized his army, and is continuing
to. This is still happening. And then you have the same exact thing happen
with Carlos. If he responds to, in this case, Hank, who
was being supportive, sorry for the people that are harassing me, now they are invited
to your space. “Everybody scatter before they see us.” This is the punishment for daring to interact
with your colleagues in a public forum. And people become afraid of drawing the ire
of the people harassing you, and that’s not unreasonable. If you respond to someone knowing that mentions
are flooded by those, isn’t it fair to assume that they would resent you for inviting that
into their space? But that is the point! The point is to silence and isolate you. You can’t read the minds of bad faith actors. So what do you do? Do you just not have a public face anymore,
do you just not interact with people? A lot of the reason why Hank is sympathetic
to Carlos is because he’s been through it too. This is another thing that I found, is the
people who tend to be the most sympathetic have either gone through it, or know people
who have gone through it. [Sigh] And then, so what do? Because as we’ve seen, you basically have
to figure it out for yourself. You’re completely isolated, and it’s kind
of a weird, unique situation where there’s not really any resources for it. There’s not a hate mob support group because
nobody wants to talk about it. And it’s telling that when this happens
to other people, they don’t really have any resources they pull from, they come to me. And so, the thing is, I am obviously not unique
in this at all. We’re entering this era where there’s this
whole new kind of mental health crisis of this becoming more and more common, of people
getting dogpiled and isolated from their own communities. No one knows what to do with it, so we’re
forced to give anecdotal evidence at a conference, because obviously, my anecdotes are not specific. What else did I do? Well, drugs. Drugs are good, both prescription and otherwise. And then, of course, cloistering yourself. And I do mean this. I see people, like Carlos was an example,
where he would collate and seek out the abuse and highlight it, and I was like, no, you
have to stop doing that! Because you’re re-traumatizing yourself. And I see, not just him, but I see that happening
all the time with people highlighting their abusers and being, like, haha, look at how
wrong they are. You can’t hurt me! I say way worse things about myself! And it’s like, yes, they are very good at
speaking the language of self-loathing, and they’re very good at getting under your
skin, and very good at making the trauma you already have worse, because they speak the
language of abuse. And another thing I do is I have my Twitter
completely cloistered down, get into all those advanced options and mute everything. And honestly, that’s been a lot healthier
ever since I’ve done that, even since the nonsense of last year died down. There’s such a huge volume of people at
you, positive and negative. And I get a lot of threats. So we would have, basically, like an inbox
for it. I have someone that handles my YouTube comments
for me. I don’t look at them anymore. And I don’t really look at my Twitter mentions
anymore. But obviously, like, I am lucky in that I
functionally have a staff. A lot of people don’t have that. So what can you do? Well, there’s also the option of a barter
system, especially if you should be so unlucky to be in a position similar to mine. If you have someone that doesn’t have any
trauma attached to this sort of thing, they can keep an eye out for threats for you. But if it’s not a threat and you’re not
in any danger, you should not subject yourself to people abusing you. It becomes a form of digital self-harm. And that only makes things worse. But, while we’re here, this is all very isolationist,
as you can see. I’m talking basically about cordoning yourself
off in your Twitter ivory tower and being like the Onceler, looking out. It can’t just be about you, as an individual,
alone, hunkering down and waiting for the storm of badness to pass. So there’s Hank again. So this is the same day as the Meme America
tweet. This is right after he was trying to reason
with Chuck Woolery. Bestselling author, YouTuber, and science
educator Hank Green trying to reason with former game show host Chuck Woolery on my
behalf. What a time to be alive. [Laughter] So this was something that I didn’t
even really think about until months later. He did this with the intention of basically
flushing out my mentions and putting positivity in there without drawing attention to what
was actually happening, and it didn’t really occur to me until months later what a brilliant
tactic that is. But another thing that I realized… Again, this has happened to me a lot over
the years, and every time, especially when I used to work for this website, that I won’t
name. When I worked for this website, and there
would be a flood of this sort of thing, the people who ran the website would either be
laugh about it, blame you for it, or ignore it altogether. And when Hank did this, I realized this was
the first time in all of these harassment campaigns that anyone in any position of power
greater than mine had ever stood up for me. It was the first and possibly the only, to
this day. And I point this out because it highlights
how hard it is for people to stand up for their colleagues. But, at the same time, it was in a brilliant
way, because he was building support but he wasn’t drawing attention to the racists. But instead was urging people to build a platform
of support, and in a way, it’s a brilliant means of combating the primary weapon they
have, which is to isolate you. So then a few months later, my friend Natalie
Wynn was being — well, she did this Vice interview and they posted it, the alt-right
found it, her mentions were flooded with transphobic dog shit. So do the same thing again, this is a Contrapoints
appreciation post. It is. [Laughter] 1,600 responses. So that is a much more effective means of
actually supporting people’s mental health rather than drawing their harassment into
the spotlight, which of course is only going to invite more. So with this idea of you, the harassed one,
as a disease, you’re not, hopefully. But I think the thing is, we have to start
finding ways to support people who are going through this, while not actually aggravating
their trauma and inviting more harassment. So if you see someone going through something
like this, and you think it’s the right thing to do, stand up for your friends and
colleagues. There are ways to do that without bringing
attention to the harassment. They are trying to drown you out, so the best
way to do that is to reply in kind. In my case, what Hank did made me realize
I had a lot of support. This was the first time that I’d ever gone
through one of these harassment campaigns that someone drew attention to support, and
that is an incredibly valid tactic. Another thing is, people, on an individual
level, they don’t really know what to say whenever someone is going through something
like this. It’s like anxiety, I don’t want to bother
them. And it’s like, do it anyway. Find ways to support your friends and colleagues,
because public support goes a long way but, at the same time, there is risk associated
with it. You might invite harm by supporting someone
that is being harassed, and I cannot say there is no risk. You might end up on someone’s Pepe Silvia
wall. I had another colleague that is also going
through a very bad harassment storm right now, and has been for months, who ended up
on a totally non-ironic “feminazi” conspiracy wall that looked just like this, just last
week, but the guy was dead serious. Because, yet again, they want you to live
in fear of standing up for yourself and others. So there’s a lot of energy right now about
holding bad people to account. But I wonder also if there’s a way we can
harness some of that energy to protect people who are being abused by bad faith actors. When Harry [Brewis] was doing his presentation
yesterday, he talked about how it started out of spite but ended up being really supportive
and community-building. There are ways to engage with people who are
being dog-piled by bad faith actors, and that is a very charitable way to inspire them,
but also invite more harassment. Right now, we’re at a place where we need
to figure out strategies to protect ourselves, but also strategies to elevate and bolster
others that are not aggravating people’s trauma. It’s so incredibly isolating, and it’s
only recently that I started to see people standing up for people being targeted. And another thing is, everyone responds to
this sort of thing differently. Some people, if they were in my situation,
would highlight it and publicly stand up for themselves. But others like me hide away from it, and
hide away from the world, in their Onceler tower and live in fear and then periodically
delete your Twitter until you die. But the ultimate thing is, and I think this
is true of everybody, is no one wants the worst thing that has ever happened to you
to be the thing you become known for. But the reality is, we’re also living at
a time when bad faith actors are feeling very empowered. So I hope that in the months and years to
come, there is more focus on mental health resources for people who make their livings
online and people who should happen to go through something like this. There should also be better strategy for being
able to support people like Carlos. His crime was standing up for himself and
he’s still being punished for it. At the end of the day, it can’t only be a
thing that people think about when it happens to you. So my hope is that there will be more research
done, that there will be better resources for mental health professionals. Because online abuse is becoming more and
more common, and it’s only going to become more and more common, and it’s a huge blind
spot for most therapists. That’s been a huge challenge for me, getting
therapists to understand the answer to, “Well, why don’t you just log off?” [Deep sigh] But most of all, we need to build
a culture of mutual protection and to be mindful of people’s humanity, because that is the
big problem. If they revoke your humanity, you eventually
stop thinking of yourself as a human. And yeah, there is an inherent risk in standing
up for friends and colleagues who are being attacked by bad and often dangerous people. We can’t act like these people are not dangerous. They are. But do it anyway. Because the alternative is silence. Thank you. [Applause]

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