May 25, 2013

What Can Atheist Drama Teach Us About Harassment?

Ready for some atheist drama? Sure you are! At least this drama is relevant to something that has been and will continue to be important in the atheist community: how we define harassment. This is why I am sharing it and not merely for whatever entertainment value it may have.

If the concept of harassment is to be meaningful, it has to mean something more than "you did something I didn't like." If we insist of defining it this way, we render the word meaningless, and we make it more difficult for victims of actual harassment to get the support and assistance they need. To illustrate this point, brace yourself for the following tale.

Our story begins when Reap Paden posted a photograph of some of the Freethought Blogs gang, which had obviously been digitally altered to change the content of the signs the individuals pictured were holding, on the Slymepit. Justin Vacula then posted the same photo on his Facebook page, where Reap tagged some of the individuals pictured.

Next, Ophelia Benson left two comments on Justin's Facebook page:
 Don't tag me Reap tagged me

Evidently, she thinks that tagging someone in a photograph on Facebook is harassment. Now, I'm not completely sure of this, but I believe that one's Facebook settings can be changed so as to prevent oneself from being tagged.

Justin responded that he did not tag anyone and then engaged in some unfortunate name calling:
 name calling

I understand that Justin would be frustrated if, in fact, he was falsely accused of tagging Ophelia. However, I think that calling her a fraud and a coward was inappropriate. This sort of thing is not going to win him any support and will likely alienate potential supporters. This is yet another example of the sort of name calling we should be able to rise above.

Ophelia insisted that Justin did tag her and provided us with additional insight into her fascinating views on the meaning of harassment:

photoshop is harassment

As you can see here, Ophelia Benson appears to have convinced herself that either using Photoshop in general or the use of Photoshop in this specific instance is harassment. We'll hope it is the latter, but she is wrong in either case. This photo isn't harassment; it isn't even close.

Justin then attempted to rebut each of Ophelia's claims:

response to Ophelia

He pointed out the marked inconsistency between Ophelia's repeated claims that she does not want to talk with people who are "harassing" her and her repeated comments on his Facebook page. He then claimed that he wants to "get past" their differences and that he would "love to work alongside you and consider you an ally." Justin, why you would want to work alongside someone you consider to be a coward and a fraud? And how is it reasonable to call her these things and expect that she would want to work with you? Who would want to work with you after being called names like this?

Ophelia repeated herself one last time:
 Ophelia explains

Yes, she comes to Justin's Facebook page and leaves publicly visible comments telling him that she doesn't want to interact with him. No, I don't get it either.

Justin responded by pointing this out:
 Justin responds again

And finally, Reap pointed out that he tagged Ophelia and why:
 Reap tagged Ophelia Reap explains

What have we learned from all of this? Anything? I'm too tired to figure that out right now. What do you think?

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