I Stand With Emily: A Look at the Very Real Threat of Cyberbullying

In the past, the Collective blog has addressed issues such as nerd privilege and the way that sometimes being in a fandom can hurt us. Today, however, I’m presenting an issue that extends to every user of the Internet: cyberbullying.

This is not something that only affects teens. This is not only the title of an ABC Family movie. This is not a myth.

Cyberbullying—sometimes known as cyberharassment or cyberstalking—carries much of the same definition as traditional bullying. Dan Olweus, a Norwegian researcher who is recognised as the leading scholar on bullying, defines cyberbullying as “bullying performed via electronic means such as mobile/cellphones or the internet” (1). ‘Traditional’ bullying, he defines as “using three components: (1) aggressive behavior with negative actions, (2) a pattern of behavior over time, and (3) an imbalance of power or strength” (2). We most frequently associate these actions with children and adolescents, but this is not always the case.

In 2008, a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin compiled a photo essay with commentary while she attended WisCon, a feminist sci-fi convention. The post, which was published on Something Awful until she requested its removal, targeted obese convention attendees. It was viewed by many as shocking, and the post was received in the online community as “homophobic, trans-phobic, anti-fat, anti-disabled…among other things” (3).

In 2012, at the Cross Assault gaming competition, Miranda Pakozdi was verbally assaulted by a fellow competitor, who used phrases such as “rape that bitch” when eliminating a competitor. According to BBC News, the competitor “made offensive comments about fellow player Miranda Pakozdi, including guessing her bra size, talking about her body parts, and sniffing her” (4). The incident happened in person at a competition, but was simulcast on an internet stream, on which the male competitor stated that “Sexual harassment is part of the culture.”

These are random samplings from 2014 of the many examples of cyberbullying that is encountered on Twitter by one user, Emily Rose, who is a reporter for The Geekiary. She is the founder of SPNAntiBullying, and works to end cyberbullying the Supernatural fandom, either against the stars of the show or its fans.

These are all examples of using aggressive behavior via technology and social media platforms. It is considered cyberharassment or cyberbullying even when directed at a public figure. Currently, there is no legislation in the U.S. that renders cyberbullying an act subject to criminal law because of the First Amendment; however, libel and defamation of character are subject to civil action. In simpler terms, writing something untrue to deliberately slander or harm a person’s reputation is subject to action in a court of law (5). Cyberbullying, when it includes a physical threat of harm, is actually actionable under criminal law. A threat in this context is defined as:

A menace; a declaration of one’s purpose or intention to work injury to the person, property, or rights of another. A threat has been defined to be any menace of such a nature and extent as to unsettle the mind of the person on whom it operates, and to take away from his acts that free, voluntary action which alone constitutes consent. (6)

Last weekend, Rose attended a Supernatural convention in Chicago, where she was ejected from the convention before the commencement of Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles’ panel. According to Emily Rose’s Tumblr post about the situation, she was removed from the convention because “Clif Kosterman, the bodyguard for Jared and Jensen, had informed them that [she] was a security threat to [Padalecki and Ackles].” Creation Entertainment, the organisers of the convention, informed Rose that she was banned from all future Creation events.

Later, Kosterman tweeted this as his only response to the outpouring of tweets asking for the reasons behind Emily Rose’s ejection from the convention:

http://twitter.com/bodyguard4JandJ/status/526578461058404353

Update 11/4/14 Kosterman has since deleted this tweet. Many who have used the #IStandWithEmily hashtag, including Emily Rose, have since been blocked by Kosterman on Twitter. #BlockedByClif has since been used by Emily’s supporters who’ve found themselves blocked on Twitter by the bodyguard. 

This is a screencap of a conversation in which Emily Rose discussed negative reactions to her organization of a gift to the entire cast and crew of Supernatural in celebration of their 10th season and 200th episode. You can read the entire conversation thread here.

It is unclear how Kosterman was made aware of this particular tweet, but it was obviously screencapped by someone.The screencap that was shown to/found by Kosterman is not a threat. It is a quote from Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. 

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Even if this had not been a quote from a popular web series, to any criminal justice professional, “A mere threat that does not cause any harm is generally not actionable. When combined with apparently imminent bodily harm,however, a threat is an assault for which the offender might be subject to civil or criminal liability.” (7) Emily Rose did not mention a particular person or any form of bodily harm in her tweet. 

In an unfortunate case of irony, a prominent member of the SPN fandom who fights cyberbullying is now the target of cyberharassment with real life consequences, including damage to her reputation as a reporter. In another unfortunate case of irony, it is freedom of speech that allows such bullying to continue. Just as Emily Rose has the right to quote Doctor Horrible, bullies also have the right to post their opinions about her online. However, and this is important, when such “free speech” affects a person’s employment or reputation (and in this case, freedom of the press) it then becomes a case bigger than just “I can say what I want because of the First Amendment.”

This is why you should care about the outcome of Emily Rose’s situation: if the right to freedom of speech can be manipulated to injure a reporter’s reputation without consequence, then a precedent has been set. The justice system in the United States relies on precedents as guides for judgments in court cases. If this situation is not addressed, a precedent has been set that indicates to cyberbullies on any platform or in any fandom that their freedom of speech can be used to permanently damage the victims of their bullying in ways that have socioeconomic consequences.

Emily’s situation has prompted a large online movement in support of her, one which we at the Collective proudly support. The tag #IStandWithEmily has been trending on Twitter since the incident occurred, a petition has been made to Creation Entertainment to have the ban lifted, and thousands of tweets have been posted in support of The Geekiary and their reporter. You can read The Daily Dot’s write up here, as well as the the Daily Fandom’s hereUpdate 11/4/14: Over 28,000 tweets have used the tag #IStandWithEmily.

This is how you can stand with Emily. You can sign the petition here and you can use the hashtag #IStandWithEmily. We also have the right to freedom of speech, and it’s important that we use it to let cyberbullies know that what happens on the internet can have real life consequences.  Sometimes, even legal ones. (But please note that fighting bullying with bullying not only defeats the cause, it undermines it. Be kind and respectful as you address TPTB).

And you know what? We can use our freedom of speech to quote Dr. Horrible as much as we damn well want to.

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To the Geekiary and Emily Rose: we stand with you.

Update 11/4/14: Since first posting this nearly a week ago, Creation Entertainment made an official statement on their Facebook page about ChiCon: 

Security removed an attendee from our Chicago convention last Sunday morning. We regret that this occurred and have reached out to the attendee to discuss this matter in private and have refunded all convention purchases. In addition, we would like to clarify that the attendee has not been banned from future conventions of ours. Our main objective remains the safety and enjoyment of all those who attend our events.

I have been and will continue to update this post with developments as they occur, because this is important. #IStandWithEmily because #IStandAgainstBullies. Please continue to speak out against cyberbullying.

-The Collectress

 References, because I’m academic like that. 

1. Olweus, D. (2012). Cyberbullying: An Overrated Phenomenon? European Journal of Developmental Psychology. (1-19).

2. Recognizing Bullying, VIOLENCE PREVENTION WORKS!, http://www.violencepreventionworks. org/public/recognizing_bullying.page

3. Mills, E. (2008). Internet famous, real-world notorious: UW student mocks WisCon, starts online firestormIsthmus.com

4. Fletcher, J. (2012). Sexual harassment in the world of video gaming. BBC News.

5. “Libel.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School.

6. “Threat.” The Law Dictionary.

7. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc.