What It's Like To Receive Death Threats

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

If I ever see Ferrett, I will punch him in the fucking face.
As a blogger, I’ve received three death threats in my time.  I think two of them might have been serious.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it?  I think.  Ego-surfing your name and finding someone who’s said they want their friends to hold you down while they kick you, well… you have to parse that.
(And that’s not even a death threat.  Just good ol’ physical violence.  I’ve gotten maybe one or two of those a year.)
You know they’re probably not serious.  Probably.  So you read the rest of the post, maybe check a couple other of their writings, just to see if they’re prone to overstatement.  If you’re lucky, you see a couple of other ha-ha things where they’ve made other oversized threats to other people, and you realize that they probably aren’t kicking people randomly, and this five minutes of your day has been rightfully spent.
But you wonder.  You have to expend a little bit of brainpower, because this stranger you’ve never heard of has just popped this mental image of you, in a hotel stairway, being held down while some furious guy kicks your ribs until they shatter.  It’s the kind of thing that makes your blood run a little cold that day, even if it turns out it’s just a big ol’ laugh, because the next time you think, “Yeah, I’m going to go to the convention and have a great time!” you flash to that image and wonder: Is that guy gonna be there?
It’s a little sliver in the skin.  It saps the fun from the convention, because now there’s this element of concern that maybe you’ve misread this dude’s sense of humor – and it’s always a dude – and he’s gonna snap and fuck you up.  It’s what I think of as “the insurance conundrum” – almost nobody buys home insurance because they think, “Aw, man, now I get to set my house on fire.”  They buy it because the consequences of not having insurance should that happen are Really Fucking Bad.  It’s not a big risk, miniscule even, and maybe you can get by without it…
…but if you’re wrong, Very Bad Shit happens.
So when you get that shock of a stranger writing in exact detail where he’d like to insert the knife into your body – yeah, you betcher fur I remember that post – you do your damndest to shake it off.  But your options are limited.  Tracking some random dude on the Internet back to his real life lair is difficult at best, and the cops won’t do shit even if they find him, and what if your attempt to get him in trouble metastasizes his anger and really pushes him over the edge?
It’s just a joke, right?  He didn’t mean it.  He was just talking shit among friends.
That’s what you tell yourself.  And you move on.
Mostly.
Look, don’t fucking tell me I don’t have thick skin.  Or that I can’t take a joke.  I’ve been involved in my own Internet shitstorms, the posts where I was the chewtoy of the day for something stupid I said, the one where hundreds of blog posts got written about what a clueless idiot I am.  I’m still posting.  I don’t mind people despising me, or mocking me, or even saying, “I don’t want this asshole near me, he’s not welcome in my spaces.”  That’s their right.
But those death threats?  I worried.  A low-grade worry, but enough that I never told Gini until now because I didn’t want her to worry.  And as a guy who’s pretty comfortable standing in the line of fire, I have to tell you that there were days my fingers hovered over the keys, and I remembered that guy with the knife… and the mental effort involved in going, “That was probably nothing” was enough to make me think, Maybe I shouldn’t blog.
I’m a dude.  That’s a privilege on the Internet, because if you’re a woman, well, in my experience you’re likely to pull far more death threats and physical violence fantasies per audience unit than guys.  And once you achieve a critical mass, chances are good you may get lovely little threats of rape, too.  It’s a game that asshole men play to try to shut uppity women down, and the sad thing is that it works.  A lot.
Which is why I was so heartened when Wizards permanently banned Lucas Florent from professional Magic events, for posting that he planned to “rape” Helene Bergeot, Director of Organized Play for Wizards, over some of the changes to the Pro Tour.  But I had a friend on Facebook who asked:
“Please don’t let anyone think I want to encourage people to say stupid things.  Did he intend to carry out his ‘threat’? Almost certainly not… Rape is a word that is charged with emotion for understandable reasons, but to give him a life ban for writing one idiotic comment in a forum seems like an over-reaction to me.”
Except it’s really not.  On the one level, you can force someone to wonder: “Is this just someone’s sense of humor?  Am I really in danger?” and then have that vague, continuing concern of “If I keep speaking up, maybe some day I’ll discover that I’m wrong, and when I do it’s going to leave lifelong scars.”
Or you can say, “You have the right to free speech; we have the right not to want to deal with you for your stupid fucking statements that make it harder for the people we like to stand up and speak.  This is not a democracy – and if you feel like threatening people even in jest, well, you don’t get to play in our reindeer games.  Because if we have to choose who’s going to be made uncomfortable, guess what?  It’s you, asshole.”
Maybe Lucas didn’t mean it.  Probably he didn’t.  But maybe it’s better for everyone else at Wizards that their employees don’t have to try to decide for themselves who meant it and who didn’t.

6 Comments

  1. Blogmella
    Nov 14, 2011

    I feel angry at the bullies and sorry for you. When do people like this decide they have the right to threaten others?
    Women bloggers in the UK have been fighting back at bullies. I wrote this: http://soylentdave.com/2011/11/the-way-women-are-treated-online/
    We can’t let these idiots drive us into hiding!

  2. Nicole
    Nov 14, 2011

    I grew up with a father who regularly received death threats – usually phone, either direct or left on the answering machine – as part of his work. He was a black man who regularly stood against racism. Ran a men’s shelter in NYC, a halfway house for Vietnam vets in VT.
    Death threats took a toll nOt only on him, but me as well. Imagine being 9, coming in from the park and hearing a death great o the answering machine.

  3. CalebD
    Nov 14, 2011

    Strongly agree. Thanks for writing this.

  4. Keith
    Nov 14, 2011

    Ferrett – this is probably the best written blog reply to a short comment I’ve ever read.
    I now agree with you, albeit that I feel a little sorry for Lucas – and I don’t sway easily…

  5. jenx
    Nov 14, 2011

    Do you feel sorry for Lucas because he made a poor choice, or because he now has to suffer the consequences of that choice? Because I have a hard time feeling badly for anyone who threatens to rape someone, full stop.

  6. jenx
    Nov 14, 2011

    Sorry, my comment was directed at Keith…the hazards of using my phone.

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.