— Heidi MacDonald(@Comixace) August 2, 2012
So I’ve been on vacation (on and off) for the last two weeks and hadn’t been paying too much attention to the internet—a wonderful activity that I highly recommend every six months or so. On the way home from a wedding I was surprised to learn that the man I call “John V.” seems to have become the focus of concentrated internet outrage for a day or so—and I couldn’t be more thrilled.John V., a message board poster who uses rotating IPs to avoid filters, has been haunting the comment boards of female writers for over two years. A few months ago, for whatever reason, he seems to have started using Twitter as a base for his insults and rape-obsessed ragings. As you can see from the above, about a month ago he made a series of posts aimed at me, Tom Spurgeon, DCWKA’s Sue, Jill Pantozzi and a few others that shocked quite a few people. Although John V. is clearly a misogynist with a deep hatred of women, he also seemed to have a mad on for men of comics like Spurgeon.
At this time we all just ignored him. It was nothing new. I know he’s been hounding Sue for a long time. His Twitter bio read “I eat loudmouthed feminist morons for breakfast. Afterwards I’m full because they are really, really fat.” It was also nothing new for The Beat. I have many of his deleted comments saved up. Here’s a sample:
Heh, linking to dcwomenkickingass. One dumb bitch linking to a dumber bitch. Classic Heidi.
And more recently:
Hey Heidi, guess who’s going to wondercon? Can’t wait to see you there, sugar britches. This is going to be really fun.
While these sexual threats and “I’ll be back!” warnings are the products of what is clearly a disturbed mind, John V’s most annoying trick was posing as someone else—often a woman—and completely derailing otherwise at least semi-intelligent discussions, such as his posing as “Jason in the UK” and arguing that Faith Erin Hicks was a welfare slacker despite the plain statement that she had worked at an animation studio. My troll radar wasn’t up and Hicks herself defended herself against this creep, a situation I deeply regret and which I’ve apologized for. Here was his excited “unveiling:”
Well folks, now that things have died down, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed derailing this thread and causing the internet shit storm that I did. My troll powers are as unparalleled as the idiocy and irrelevancy of female comic bloggers. I had only intended on messing with my favorite victim Heidi. What a bonus it was then to get Faith Hicks all butt hurt!
Since then I’ve been very suspicious of new posters engaging in long arguments in the many gender comment threads here…if I’ve gone too far the other way, too bad. One rotten apple and all that….
Frankly, I never bought this up before because John V. was looking for attention and hoping to frighten people and I didn’t want to give him any more attention. But now the cat seems to be out of the bag. Over the last few days he made the mistake of targeting Ron Marz, who got people more up in arms about it; and then Mark Millar saw it and was shocked:
As male pros we maybe live in a little bubble. This might go on more than we realise. But we need to clamp down on this shit fast… ethically, if not because many of these pros are personal friends of ours. Comics has the coolest rep with people now. It's a broad church and much less of a boys club in particular than it was when I was a kid. This kind of thing just gives us a horrible name and we owe it to ourselves as well as the pros concerned to stop it.
According to Millar’s sources, John V. is a 51-year-old married man living in California. And the law has been engaged:
Thank you very much, but I engaged a criminal lawyer in LA yesterday and have one of the women involved co-ordinating with the others today, hopefully. I don’t want to say much more in a public forum just now as it may prejudice the case and between the details we’ve got and the tweets we saved the police have everything they need. Even if this doesn’t go to court the guy should hopefully be publicly outed in California and the shame of this will not only stop him attacking women online, but also discourage others from trying this in future. I found out last night that this idiot had been making sexual threats to some of the women concerned for over two years now.
While no one has contacted me directly, it does seem that John V’s Twitter accounts—he had several—have been shut down. If this guy is as crazy as he seems—and his mentions of rape and escalation of contact over the last few months suggest that there is some real escalating mental illness involved—I doubt that the threat of legal action will be enough to stop his behavior. But we’ll see.
And of course there has been a ton of internet commentary on this. And a private message from a woman industry professional I respect greatly who says she actually altered her public behavior over fears about John V. I can’t express the rage and sorrow this makes me feel. I never thought John V. was anything but a pest, but I can see how others have taken him more seriously. Maybe I didn’t take him seriously enough.
There’s also been some discussion of whether it took a man to actually rouse people against the troll. I’m really, truly grateful to Ron and Mark for raising awareness of this. One of the reasons I know several women never brought this up is because they felt they would be questioned for making accusations—and indeed some of the “free speech” advocates in various comment threads has diverted attention from the fact that some malicious idiot was making threats and crude sexual comments about women.
That said, this is far from my first time at the internet pigsty dance. I was once a member of a message board where male members proudly discussed that they loved to make “jokingly” misogynist statements. When I complained (or argued) I was told I didn’t get the joke and was being childish. Guess which message board I don’t go to any more?
Back on the Comicon.com and original TCJ.com boards—petri dishes of internet fungus in a variety of colors—a coterie of deeply embedded trolls got on my case a number of times—photoshopping a picture of me into a sexual act, calling me names, blah blah blah. At the time, these things bothered me, of course, but it bothered me more when some of the perpetrators were eventually allowed back into the fold—I’ll tell you this right now, my tolerance for internet trolling is Zero and my forgiveness is non-existent. Electronic emotion is cheap, and if you go out of your way to insult me on the internet, I have no reason to forgive that member ID ever.
Nowadays, I have more of a seen-it-all attitude towards the internet and message boards. I get annoyed and angered but not upset. However, I know a lot of people aren’t as thick-skinned as I am. And while we all take our lumps on a public forum, I’d suggest that those who were so outraged by the crude rape threats of John V. look a little deeper into some of the other messages floating around. For instance, Rachel Edidin examines the Idiot Nerd Girl meme which started as another expression of “get your cooties out of my hobby” insecurity:
I hate the Idiot Nerd Girl meme. I hate it for much the same reason Feminspire writer Jessica Bagnall hates it: the entrenched geek misogyny that informs its pretty pink face. I hate it because it’s a convenient distillation of everything I hate about the “fake geek girl” strawman. I hate it because it vilifies enthusiasm. I hate it because, as a member of the geek community and a geek-industry professional, and especially as a feminist geek, I nurture a deep and abiding dislike for gatekeepers.
I hate the Idiot Nerd Girl meme because it’s not just a meme in the diluted ‘net-slang sense. It reflects and recycles and reinforces a bundle of more traditionally defined memes: the sticky and tenacious subtexts and cultural dogmas that justify and normalize misogyny and harassment and make the geek community so seethingly toxic to female members–and especially female newcomers–that it doesn’t even need a formal gate to keep them out. Idiot Nerd Girl is the throwaway byproduct of a culture that regularly responds to criticism from women with flurries of rape threats.
One thing is true: I am definitely seeing a lot more male insecurity in the trolls and threats, as do some of the women I’ve privately corresponded with over this. I’m sorry that some of you feel powerless when women invade your pastimes. But just as uniting the power of the crystals makes the most powerful crystal or it takes a lot of vehicles to make a Unicron …the more people who take part, the more powerful the hobby. Guys, we’re not STEALING power. We’re making it.
In conclusion, I don’t know the actual status of any legal action against John V., but anyone who wants copies of my correspondence can email me at comicsbeat at gmail dot com.
And thanks again to Ron Marz and Mark Millar for raising attention on this matter. It’s nice to have someone in your corner.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.