imagine there was a special doorway for traveling to alternate realities, one through which we had just taken our first steps. although we have no way of being seen, heard, or felt by anyone within the new reality we are still able to travel unencumbered. in short order we discover that this world and it’s people are very much like us, their technology has adapted in such a way that when the internet was invented, it was somehow turned into a physical place the world’s people could travel to at any time, as long as they pressed a button they wore on a necklace. because the doorway allows us movement through this alternate world, we decide to visit this online metropolis for a time. it’s called the City of Masks.
the City of Masks is overwhelming and much larger than any place imaginable, but we see familiar patterns emerge which we understand. it looks and works a little bit like Second Life. districts and locales are kind of like protocol. advertisements exist everywhere and pop out of unexpected places, but they can be avoided through various means. everything is loud, especially the Youtube district, it’s various videos playing in endless buildings and walkways. websites are like streets and you can walk through any street you wish if you only say it’s name. one can even search unknown parts by visiting City Hall (called Google) and thumbing through their endless archives.
we see streets covered in rolling marquees and giant billboards, information for any language and any culture, packed with voices and information rolling in from giant screens. smaller voices hold court in little street halls and eagerly discuss what they hear and see, fighting with one another for control of the conversation
as our sojourn leads us to discover, this amazing city allows great freedom but proper navigation does require a bit of time. the City of Masks itself does not always require people to wear masks, but most chose to wear some form or another if street or building entry demands it, or when they wish to communicate with other citizens. we infer these coverings are a means of protection, a form of anonymity, for like our own internet this place is not always secured. this reality still uses money, and more than one street has been raided and it’s resident’s information robbed by clever thieves utilizing special masks which see through walls and, as if by magic, take every scrap they can. mostly people get their stolen wealth back, for the city has some laws to protect those fooled by unwary gatekeepers, but no one can ever recover their stolen information or wealth if the unwise hand things over to the unscrupulous through their own foolishness.
people can change their coverings and often prefer it depending on the streets they occasion. some use the same mask on more than one street, so they can be easily identified by those with which they communicate. the bind can look like whatever the wearer desires; the majority choose one which looks nothing like their face. bold people or those looking for romance often deck themselves in cover as thin as a veil, and so do those in friendly company. because the women here face obstacles similar to our native reality, they often favor disguises of a most manly or inscrutable nature. the famous, the powerful, and those who wish to be credited for what they create within the city streets often appear as they do in the corporeal world (though most touch their image up!) more than one person has lost a mask or two but the ever-helpful street keepers often remind their owners what they wear with a quick peek and a secret word, for city lanes rarely enjoy users to wear the same mask but for the blank white cover of a guest.
to those within, it’s very hard to tell who someone in the City of Masks really is without them volunteering you their real face. and even then it remains possible they are adopting multiple camouflage. but that doesn’t mean it’s always impossible to know someone from one lane to another. if an individual commits a crime, for instance, law enforcement can request information from street keepers and gate keepers about their owner and trace them back to their world. someone could possess a surprisingly individual style of design which is detectable no matter where they are, evident the minute they’re seen. perhaps a person decides to leave a copy of something on one street and then leaves another copy in a similar venue. say they make a confounding log of their travels or thoughts somewhere of great personality: the curious masses might travel from everywhere to see it and mimic what they’ve found for other places to enjoy. darker corners of the city trade in ill-gotten wares stolen without their owner’s knowledge. all to often the city is full of the exploited and the exploiters, or simply those who become unbalanced and release a thing which cannot be taken back. that is why masks are so valuable, and why they must be cared for as well as a face of flesh.
after a fashion, we observe there are subtle, unspoken rules governing masks and appearances. they are revered for offering their owners protection yet they seem to create as many problems as they solve, a double edged sword. the constructive nature of anonymity allows for some to unleash a darker aspect of their personalities, which they abuse to take advantage of other residents. right now the public seems split on just what should be done to control this matter (if anything). we ponder the parallels to our own universe.
if masked Phil met masked Mary on a street, and hated her so much after a fashion that he called her a “worthless cunt who he would kill” and ran off to press his button and return to reality, Phil would still be a rude jerk even if the street were empty and no one but masked Mary heard his remarks. it still happened even if there is not anything Mary can really do about it, because she had no idea who his reality was. but let’s say masked Mary was active elsewhere and tweeted the video of masked Phil to all her friends and followers along with an audio recording of his remarks (let’s assume she was famous for wearing a hidden camera at all times) to report in another street. although most would support her actions because Phil committed a crime with his threat, there are some who object. these people say Phil’s remarks weren’t really a threat because unmasked Phil didn’t say he would kill her: it was masked Phil who made that threat. the opposed argue masked Mary and Mary is in the wrong because by revealing Phil’s mask she could ruin his life, as it’s easy to find out who masked Phil is because of say, his street profile. these people want Mary to stay silent because even though she has proof Phil committed the crime and didn’t commit any herself by revealing the information from this incident, it is better everything remain unknown because there is a small chance Mary (or her mask) was making everything up, and call for doubt. although it can be argued skepticism is healthy, it is logically inconsistent to assert Mary or even masked Mary has a responsibility to protect Phil’s identity if he was willing to first compromise it himself by committing a crime he thought would never be reported.
let’s go down a different road in the city of masks and pretend we are wearing ones ourselves. this street is known for having a big wall of magic graffiti upon which anyone can paint and anyone can usually see what everyone else painted unless the artists chose to cover their work. artists must paint in only one color and no other artist has any way of using the same color. their choice of paint is like their signature, how artists are identified among each other in case they collaborate on a picture (and many do). one day, we find an artist painting pictures regarding various crimes he has committed in another city: a real city, a metropolis without masks. an intrepid denizen decides to find out what truth there could be to these crimes. she discovers quite a bit of information about the artist and believes he is who he says he is, and has committed the crimes he says he has. she let’s all the other artists know and temporarily logs off to inform real world authorities so they can investigate further. the police are happy she has brought such a matter to their attention. online she finds her fellow artists are less than impressed with her research. they see it as a free speech issue and not a safety issue, despite the fact the wall is being used incorrectly and that sort of art is not encouraged. a few of the head artists even take it upon themselves to accuse her of maligning them by calling attention to the artwork.
it occurs to us that this is not an isolated incident. the City of Masks is full of this type of thing. the City of Masks is becoming over run by trolls in every street, and rather than confront what can be done about it, if anything, most citizens seem to prefer to ignore what is a growing problem: crime. they question why victims don’t simply press their buttons and log off. they wonder what business it is of theirs what happens to someone else’s mask, and seem willfully oblivious to the fact it’s mostly female targets who seem to be affected. they don’t seem to grasp the simple fact their electronic online existence, though it might not be corporeal, is still part of reality. and it’s growing in scope and size by magnitude, it’s effects resonating wide. we ponder what the future will hold for this odd city should it continue to be so blaze about it’s future.
the doorway calls us, and we leave for our world. we face similar problems, and we have masks of our own to wear. and to remove.
last Saturday someone very vile unmasked himself to me, and i responded in kind.
/u/yasserkhan1, was active on Reddit, Facebook and local communities where he was similarly honest about his crimes against women. showing a predilection for victimizing women with rape and violent outbursts among a slew of other things like grand theft auto, cocaine use, (he claims he is recovered) and petty sales, he was very candid about his character (or lack thereof). at no point did he express remorse for his actions or any of his self-alleged victims. if he hasn’t been caught breaking bad it’s not for lack of trying: it’s because no one has tattled.
here is a record of his own recollections in his own words. it is not all of it; just the worst. it is heavily edited to remove personal information.
so, i got my hands dirty: i verified who he was in real life and i reported him to the local police and a number of online communities he uses to perpetuate his dangerous behavior. even if he is reformed, his lack of remorse and his utilization of drugs and violence leads me to conclude his reformation has a long way to go. i did this to protect other women, because he travels often enough to know how leaving town can complicate investigations, and because he is of enough means to hamper even the most rock-solid accusation leveled against him. i took my time and made sure i had all the information i possibly could to assure a useful response to this matter. i did not doxx him: far from it. i responded to a dangerous individual who needed help.
on Reddit, my aim was to have his handle and IP banned for his disgusting behavior, and i went as far as to notify the mods of subreddits who he was and what he has claimed to do so they could identify him if he attended any events or meetups, and let their users know if they desired. on Facebook i hoped to have his account removed and reported. he has a business which houses people so i let the owners of that business know who he was and what he was capable of, not only for what he had admitted to do and might be capable of in the future, but because i found he broke their terms of service with a prior unreported arrest and conviction. i doubt anyone could fault me for reporting an admitted rapist and violent felon was operating a business which would give him ample access to travelers in need of housing. online venues exhausted, i finally packed up my laptop to go down to the police station to make a report through the official channels.
when people commit offenses like this and admit it, they are often looking to be caught. they are looking for a response and a punishment. it might be a cry for help. maybe this was the intervention he needed.
the response i garnered for seeking to make that intervention was mixed.
i am no stranger to how ignorant the internet can be to the parallels between real-life harms and online danger. if Project Dark Horse taught me anything it was that online trolls feel no remorse in undertaking actions which disturb the actual lives of their victims, meaning that if you which to respond you must be equally aware.
if you have the fortitude you must not shy away from unmasking yourself. trolls of all colors operate by anonymity so by putting your name and face on things as you take away a troll’s great weapon: their ability to threaten your real life identity. it also holds you to a higher standard; when one put’s their name on something it behooves them to be proud of whatever it may be.
i put my name on the reports i made about /u/yasserkhan1, because i believed in what i was doing and what i found out. it was a serious matter. it was not part of some greater online goal; this was an individual attempt to report a dangerous individual of means who was making himself a danger in the real world. i got in touch with the heads of the communities he frequented. some of them, from the convention circuit, were more than happy with what i had to say and what i had uncovered. they knew that by handing over my information directly to them, in addition to the police, i was showing respect for their leadership.
to the leadership of Facebook, to the heads of DragonCon and those of Burning Man and TomorrowLand communications, you have my respect. no matter what happens, you saw a woman who was reaching out to you about a serious matter and you offered support. you treated me with dignity and kindness. you acted like human beings.
with the exception of all Burning Man related communities and subs, i cannot say the same for Reddit’s leadership, who treated me with dismissal and contempt. perhaps Burning Man subs knew something the others didn’t about the consequences of ignoring online abuse. keep in mind the people who dismissed me are all mods of large city subs who are, as of now, refusing to ban and/or warn their communities about an admitted, real life, unapologetic rapist using their communities to get in touch with people and connect in real life. i don’t know what /u/yasserkhan1’s intentions are, but if he’s capable of admitting to rape on the same handle he uses to meet and travel, he’s not one for discretion or judgement.
this what the individual mods had to say to my reports:
” If you have a specific comment within this subreddit that is of a threatening nature that you would like to report to us, then do so.
Reddit is not a law enforcement community and doxxing is never the answer. If you have a genuine, real-life safety concern then you should file a police report, or if you have already done so, then continue working with the police.”
note i did at no point “doxx” anyone: i reported a rapist, who more to the point, wasn’t apologetic about it and still using the communities they moderated to meet people in real life. he also admitted his rape victim was on Reddit as well and posted her user name. sure, maybe his rapin’ days are behind him. maybe he doesn’t do coke anymore and steal cars either. i’m not an idiot: i know there is jack-shit mods can do to prevent anything beyond a button. nor do they have an obligation to do so. but if you are in charge of a sub that an unapologetic rapist and not just some random troll is using to meet other people, wouldn’t you, say, want to know about it? warn other users when it comes up? attempt the bare minimum? it’s not that hard to be a decent person.
” Yeah, I’d say your best bet is to deal with law enforcement regarding this matter. I cannot ban someone based on posts that could be photoshop. If you have actual links to content where he explicity admits to commiting a crime then I will glaldy ban him.”
right, because i just go around photo-shopping rapists because… i don’t know. reasons. bonus points for the misspelled response; it really lets me know they care.
” You’re triggering me.”
i know this guy was being sarcastic, but it’s still a crappy thing to say.
as for the Reddit admins, they had this to add:
” Hi. This user has not broken an rules on the site that we can see. There is also no proof that he has done anything illegal.
As you have contacted the authorities we will be able to provide them with information through a subpoena. It is best to let their investigation decide if this user is a danger to others.
Thanks for the info.”
scary stuff, no?
at this point, i’d like to add: if you are a member Reddit’s Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, or Dragon Con communities, be wary of who you meet and where. especially with events, use caution.
look, i know Reddit cannot be the Internet police and go after every user. i know their are a lot of trolls, a lot of false reports, and a lot of shitty stuff they’ll never get to do anything about. but here is what could have been done:
1) the mods and or/the admins could have delivered polite responses to me and warned their communities about some less-than-savory elements within them.
2) the admins could have made an IP ban and a strong announcement rapists shouldn’t use the site to brag about their crimes and try to meet people on city subs.
3) literally anything but dismiss it.
instead, the majority chose to do nothing, so nothing will happen, yet again. rapists get to walk away without consequences, as they do most of the time. their victims get ignored and their advocates get shuffled away as rabble-rouses and trouble makers.
it’s often said Reddit is a shitty place for everyone. but it’s rare it can put anyone in actual danger. by enabling and allowing this person to operate within it, the front page of the internet is making it clear they will not take even the slightest step to protect their users. no one is asking for a mass overhaul of their business model, just the bare minimum from a business to protect it’s patrons. when someone is danger to women, they are obviously less of a business priority. banning a user and warning the community is as easy as a few letters and the press of a button, and they won’t even do that. i think i know why.
Reddit’s user base, and an unfortunate number of it’s moderators, are still operating under the delusion of the split-world. this is why they gave more care to the issue of my “doxxing” a rapist and abuser than they did to the fact he actually did it and admitted to it with his real name elsewhere. the split world allows that there is no evidence his mask committed any crimes, and therefore, he is not guilty.
there is a darker misogyny lurking beneath this assumption of innocence. because /u/yasserkhan1 named his rape victim’s Reddit handle you would think he allowed her to be harassed: random users could now inundate her account with questions and force her to relive her attack. he raped her, and then took away her power to report him. he compounded the attack with an online, but very real, humiliation. he created the dialogue and now /u/yasserkhan1 controls it. she has no recourse, even though he knew she might see it, and professed he didn’t care. i don’t intend to become her white knight or carry her burdens, but i am sorry i could not help his victim gain control. i am sorry i failed. it is too often rape, which is a crime of control, is treated like a case of “he said, she said.” even when it is a crime of “he said, he said,” it is still treated with contempt. all rape victims deserve more, and women online, who are more often subjects abuse disguised as trolling, deserve more.
if we keep drawing attention to cases of hate levied against real people, and remind everyone what happens online is not isolated from what happens in real life, we may achieve more legitimacy for victims of online abuse. until that day, the best we can do is take off our masks and make sure everyone knows real people are behind a screen, and behind a threat.
there is ray of hope to end this sordid tale: a few people in charge of Dragon Con and Burning Man thought what i said was credible enough to take action. i emailed them and i received loving responses. flipkey and travel advisor have yet to get back to me. although i don’t know what these groups will yet do about what information i have brought to them, i remain hopeful they’ll take it upon themselves to protect their communities. they have no obligation to do so, but i’d argue some moral obligations carry more weight than the bare minimum.
what happens online and “in real life” are not separate any longer and only a fool thinks of them as unrelated. the internet is not some distant universe: it’s a mass data aggregation and information delivery resource utilized everywhere. data is more freely accessible but it’s also more freely abused, so internet anonymity has given us the illusion our information and online actions are less personally traceable and therefore not always our own. given we’re all to some degree unreliable narrators, it’s understandable we’d create an unreliable narration as well, even inevitable. this duality doesn’t mean everything on the internet is a lie, it just means that every time you surf the web, there are more than a few grains of salt to take on the waves. you may see a facebook page from a mother holding a Kickstarter for her baby boy’s cancer treatments, and the odds are she is being truthful about her intent, yet you have good reason to verify her information. use caution in real life as online.
anonymity can kind of be like a mask for some people, like another face. oftentimes trolls and con artists perform actions on the net which they would never do under normal daily circumstances. this includes delivering threats anonymously or creating shocking content for the purpose of their own entertainment or to attempt to victimize another. sometimes trolls get personal and go so far as to illegally rip off data from others for their gain and enjoyment, or they lie to other users about who they are in life for a boon. it is rare to find a troll who tells the truth about themselves, for so many are paper tigers. if their actions could be traced back to their faces instead of their chosen personas, certainly there would be less trolls on the net, but there might also be a lot less honesty.
sometimes anonymity let’s us know who people really are. and who they are not, behind the mask, whether or not they choose to remove it.