My Twitter handle is @lamegirl1234 and my display name is my first name in lower case. My icon, a Maureen Gallace painting of pink beach roses, matches the sickening pepto-pink color of my page. I am not very popular on the internet. Mostly I use Twitter to live-tweet my hangovers.
On Friday October 6, 2017, I woke up to notifications from a few hundred strangers. A musician in LA, a self-described rapper and memer named Ka5sh, had quoted a tweet of mine from the night before to his twenty-thousand-something followers. In the tweet I’d quoted a woman I didn’t know named Helen. Helen, whom Ka5sh follows, retweeted the tweet-quote.
I didn’t know Ka5sh, so I clicked through the link in his bio. It brought me to his personal website, which led me to his YouTube page. I listened to his most popular song—a rap song with 190,000 views called “I’m depressed,” sung in autotune over a synthy beat (“I’m depressed / yeah I’m depressed baby / well I’m depressed / I’m depressed baby”)—and scrolled through the responses to his tweets:
bitch ass blocked me but he won’t block these hands!
fuck this dude, blow up his spot I hope he gets his ass kicked
@RollingStone, @Playboy, @Refinery29, Do you support that your employee Michael _________ repeatedly abuses women?
To this last one, Ka5sh responded, “HELL YES!!” Strangers across the internet started clicking through his tweets to mine and Helen’s.
The night before, Helen had tweeted four pictures of her body from the chest up. The first, taken from below, showed a black-and-blue bruise the size of a quarter on the underside of her chin, just above her throat. Two more showed smeary, elongated strokes of purple across her clavicle. The last showed a circular bruise on the back of her shoulder. “sux men in media hate women yet write abt feminism n masquerade as allies but its sadder this happens. 2015 I screamed @ my own reflection,” she captioned the photos.
She was responding to a story published on BuzzFeed claiming that a senior staff writer and former editor of Broadly, Vice’s feminist vertical, was cozy with the alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos. Broadly, Helen added, had also published eight articles on “male feminism” by a man who had raped her two years ago. A tweet thread outlined the details.
Everything about her description seemed familiar to me, so I DMed her.
“Hi Helen, I’m sorry if I am overstepping,” I wrote, “but I think I had a similar experience with the same person.”
“What’s his name,” she replied.
I typed it out and hit return. A gray ellipsis bounced as she typed.
“Yeah,” she said, “that’s him.”
We started talking. I said there were others, at least two that I knew of. Six months ago at a party I had run into Deirdre, a woman I knew from the internet who’d also had a traumatic experience with Michael. We barely knew each other, but it all came out within five minutes of talking. “Here’s a thing,” she told me. The previous year, an anonymous man had messaged Michael claiming someone had posted about his preference for nonconsensual sex in a Facebook group for women writers. Michael panicked and texted Deirdre, sending her screenshots of the stranger’s DMs. “Do you know who this is?” He asked. She didn’t, but she saved the pictures. Later she sent them to me.
I told Helen about it and forwarded the screenshots to her. “I am outing him then,” she said.
Deirdre and I talked before about not wanting to “come out” about Michael, but when I texted her with a link to Helen’s thread she changed her mind. “I think,” she said, “I will quote tweet this.” I told her I would, too.
“These bruises came from the same guy who physically forced me to do cocaine during sex,” Deirdre wrote in response to Helen’s pictures.
I quote-tweeted Deirdre and added, “this is the same guy who choked me at the foot of the stairs until I passed out and then repeatedly punched me in the face.” That wasn’t all, but it’s what I could fit into 140 characters.
All these tweets were connected to Helen’s thread. But depending on who was following whom, only fragments of information would be seen by the same eyes. Maybe it didn’t matter. For us it was a gesture of solidarity. None of us named the man.
But a few hours later, Ka5sh did. “The guy that did this abused multiple women his name is @m_________ and We shouldn’t let him get away with this.” Ka5h then posted screenshots of Michael’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
By the morning our tweets had blown up. A boy with a rose emoji in his name replied to me to say that not all men are bad. Seeing an opportunity for comedy, Karl from Online replied with an extreme close-up of rose-emoji boy’s profile photo, a white guy’s smiling selfie. The point was self-evident. Perhaps realizing this was mean, and that no one liked it, Karl deleted it. Rose-emoji boy deleted his tweet, too. Another stranger replied with his sympathies and said that not all men were this bad, that this was not the norm for men. When a woman mocked him for his not-all-men schtick, he said she sounded like a real cumstain. These tweets were also deleted. People were throwing shit at the wall—ignoring me in my own mentions.
“Do you want to turn your notifications off?” Twitter asked. No. I went to work at 9 AM and told my boss it was very important that I stay online.
“You are strong [ten fist emojis],” Jerry Saltz tweeted at Helen just before he went on my page and liked my follow-up tweet to my confession (“I’m never getting hired now lololol”). Two internet feminists picked a fight with a conservative man in my mentions who accused me of not filing a police report to protect the liberal agenda. “I am going to mute you now,” one of the women tweeted at him, “because your views are very unpleasant.” Simultaneously, he was waging the same battle with a different woman in Deirdre’s mentions who was defending our right to stay silent. You don’t know what kind of threats he made to them, she said. “Oh yes I do . . .” he responded. “No more roles in Miramax movies i.e. their bank account was more important than protecting other women.” Then, a minute later, “Oops wrong thread haha.”
Things quickly spread to the alt-right. Helen’s thread was retweeted by Mike Cernovich, a well known alt-right Twitter troll, who was captivated by the possibility of allegations against a self-described male feminist associated with Vice. He retweeted Helen’s tweet, then Ka5sh’s tweet identifying Michael, which led to the first alt-right article published that morning on the Gateway Pundit: “Prominent Far Left Male Feminist Faces Multiple Rape Allegations, Potential Jail Time.”
The article recounted the allegations in our tweets, which were said to be among “many stories that we were able to verify through multiple sources” (just our tweets). In reality, Michael was not prominent, nor did he face potential jail time, but this didn’t bother the bloggers at the Gateway Pundit. Cernovich tweeted the article, his third endorsement of the same story in twelve hours. Like Ka5sh, he piled multiple retweets on top of one another to map how the story unfolded, for the full 3D effect.
That day I got a DM from a Jezebel reporter asking if I was willing to go on the record to talk about my experiences for a potential story. Still processing what I’d done, I agreed under the condition that my full name not be attached. I sat in one of the empty conference rooms at work and called the reporter during my lunch break. I was asked to lay everything out from beginning to end: how Michael and I met, which bar we met at, how long we were seeing each other, the details of the rape alluded to in my tweet. It would be helpful, she said, to provide as much evidence for my allegations as possible. Text messages, DMs, pictures, anything to provide further proof or help confirm the timeline. I didn’t have much, I said. My iPhone 5 had smashed long ago and I never figured out how to use the Cloud.
When I got home, I rooted through my drawers for my old phone. I still had it and was surprised to find it in semi-working condition. I turned it on and scrolled through my old text conversations with Michael. Some of them were disarmingly conversational, too intimate. Through the cracked screen I could see an image embedded in our text thread, a picture I’d sent him after a particularly bad night. It showed a single bite mark he’d given me on the inside of my right forearm. “Jesus,” he responded. The bite had gone deep enough to draw a small amount of blood and was scabbed over in splotches of yellow and pink in the shape of a crescent. Something about the smattering of visible arm hairs on my pale skin—together with the angle of my forearm, the flesh pressed flat against my upper arm so that it looked slightly bigger than usual—grossed me out. I messaged the Jezebel reporter with screenshots of a DM conversation between the two of us and told her I had nothing else to send.
The following Tuesday my boss brought me flowers, ugly dyed-orange carnations that were already in a vase when I got to my desk. She said she could tell I was having a hard week. Everyone complimented the flowers, and the totem of sympathy made me more visible than I was accustomed to being at work. “Her last name is O-N-E-I-L,” I heard one of the editors say in the next conference room. I guessed that some of them knew, or knew enough. It didn’t bother me. I wanted to be pitied enough to be let off easy.
Most people I knew didn’t say anything. I got some texts from friends and acquaintances, some to say I did a good thing, most to ask if I was OK. A few days after our tweets first hit, I was messaging a friend and asked him if he’d seen them. He had not. “Not to be not-all-men . . .” he texted, “but not all men.” Another friend messaged me on Facebook to ask how things were. “Your Twitter has been a little dark lately,” she said.
That day I was shared on the Google spreadsheet called Shitty Media Men. Michael was sixth on the list, his cell highlighted in red to indicate multiple allegations of physical abuse. An anonymous poster had rewritten our tweets under “Alleged Misconduct.” I added “non-consensual non-condom use” and closed out.
After that, our tweets stopped circulating. More and more people were reading the spreadsheet.
When a reporter for BuzzFeed wrote about Shitty Media Men, the spreadsheet went viral and became a news peg for a discourse around what should and should not be shared online. Slate wrote, “men on the list have allegedly forced nonconsensual anal sex, choked a woman ‘until she lost consciousness,’ and taken off condoms without consent.”
When responses to the spreadsheet drifted rightward, so did responses to our tweets. Our mentions were full of condolences from men with display names like Standing Up 4 Trump and A_Pizza_Justice, men with #MAGA in their bios and pickup trucks and frogs as avatars. A woman named Abby quote-tweeted Helen and wrote, “I too was forcibly entered and choked by the same male feminist.” “Say his name then,” pleaded someone named Party Daddy. Among the condolences, another user replied, “When are feminists going to learn?” Attached was a picture of a text block that read:
Me? I’m dishonest, and a
dishonest man you can
always trust to be
dishonest. Honestly. It’s
the honest ones you
want to watch out for,
because you can never
predict when they’re
going to do something
incredibly . . . stupid!
Also on our side were GamerGate men, guys who’d carried out the massive online harassment campaign against prominent women in the video-game industry in 2014. In 2015, Michael had written a short article for a clickbait site about Zoe Quinn’s GamerGate abuse memoir becoming a movie, so they counted him as an enemy. A website dedicated to GamerGate news wrote, “His profile page on Vice.com also indicated that he was indeed a propagator of the male feminist agenda.” The account @gamingandpandas screenshotted our tweets and put them in a thread of anti-GamerGate figures who were outed as abusers; that screenshot has more numbers than my original tweet. None of them were even calling me a whore, which I thought they would. They weren’t calling me anything.
Strangest of all were the random men on YouTube who recorded their reactions to the Gateway Pundit story, like the guy who took a video of himself in front of a bohemian tapestry. From what is clearly a dorm room, he looks solemnly into the camera, his hair gelled up into a blonde triangle. “Male feminists,” he says. “What. Is. Going. On . . .” He narrates over pictures of Helen’s bruises pulled from Twitter: “There are pictures, as you can see on the screen, of bruises, of being battered, and you can see them all over her body!” Screenshots of both my and Deirdre’s tweets float next to his head as he says, “this goes to show that there is something systemically wrong with male feminists at this time.”
The YouTuber looked to be in his mid-twenties, about my age.
The next week I went to a conference at UC Berkeley about the New Narrative movement. I’d spent the previous year reading New Narrative writers, whose theory-based texts in the 1970s and ’80s stressed performativity and confession. They argued that reading and producing literature constituted a politics. Confession became my politics too, but privately. I was an outsider at the conference, well-read on each writer’s sexuality and their descriptions of their bodies and their lovers’, but I didn’t know anyone. The air that weekend was smoky from the Northern California Wildfires and it was hard to stand outside for too long.
I was there to present a paper on Chris Kraus and mysticism. Drawing from Simone Weil, Kraus wrote in Aliens & Anorexia, “The panic of altruism: sadness rests inside the body, always, nascent like the inflammation of a chronic disease.” To describe pain, I said, is to reach within yourself and unite with universal suffering as a form of empathy. During the Q&A, someone asked about personal confession on the internet, if the ethos of New Narrative had translated to the masses. “Twitter is all about the personal I,” I said, thinking of the phone buzzing in my pocket.
The next day, the #MeToo hashtag started circulating. Women everywhere were posting, sharing, and tweeting their own accounts of abuse, harassment, rape, and trauma, or retweeting and reposting other people’s.
That trauma is “personal” marks it as private, as something to confess. To get beaten up and raped obviously feels like shit, but to know this experience was shared by other women made it less personal, and this in a way was a relief. The instinct to keep my life private disintegrated; the more pressing desire to share won out. As the emotion behind each newly surfaced Me Too story triggered more stories, it felt as if we were tapping into a network of grief. The mass collective rage broke an invisible barrier and it was suddenly acceptable to tell your story.
I felt high as I scrolled through my feed and waited for my flight back to New York, drunk off three Bloody Marys, openly crying in an airport Chili’s.
We all talked to each other individually, over Twitter DMs, and then via group text. One night Abby, Deirdre, and Helen came over to my apartment to eat pizza on my roof. As we talked, we filled out the more intimate details of our timelines with Michael: when we’d slept with him, how it had ended. One of us had met his parents. All of us had met some of his friends. We had all worn the same blue robe to the bathroom he had hanging behind his door.
I had invited a fourth girl, Larkin, a friend from college who I recently found out had dated Michael in high school. But she was too sick with stress to come. And since she was not on Twitter, she got left out of the story.
I worried that people would begin to associate us with the alt-right for all the attention they were giving us. Jezebel wasn’t sure they were going to run their story about us. We haven’t forgotten, they said. It’s been a hectic week.
I took an interview with a writer from another online news site famous for its clickbait headlines. It was a weekday evening and its offices were half-lit and nearly vacant. The young journalist greeted me in the lobby near bins of branded promotional materials and said I could take anything I wanted. I took one neon yellow sticker that said LOL in bold font. We wove through the newsroom, which was lined with oversized versions of the LOL sticker and yellow banners repping dated internet slang, and through a snack room filled with soda machines and bins of candy.
We sat at the head of a long white table in a conference room and I recounted the timeline of events, again from start to finish.
Every few minutes, the fire alarm went off and I had to stop talking. The journalist paused the recorder on his iPhone, and we sat in silence until it passed. I didn’t really want to cry in an office that made internet quizzes but I couldn’t help it. The journalist had kind eyes. He told me he had found our tweets on Muck Rack, a media database, under the tag “sexual assault.”
On my way out I wove back through the neon rooms, fire alarm blaring, a lemonade in one hand and a mini-pack of Twizzlers in the other. It was unseasonably warm for October and I left the lobby in a coat too warm, knocked out by the heat and jittery from the sugar in my drink. I walked to the subway like I did every weekday, kind of dazed, untethered from my body.
Autumn always feels tender, but I swore I saw more young women openly crying on sidewalks or subway cars than usual during that month. I, too, was crying in public. Most days I would slump over a table at Hale and Hearty Soups on my lunch break and scroll through Twitter until I had go back to work, where I’d find myself back online, killing time between the menial tasks. All four of us were receiving messages from other girls who had been raped by Michael around the same time as us who didn’t come out publicly. I felt heavy, and, despite myself, guilty for waiting two and a half years to say something.
Breitbart was next to write up the story. “MULTIPLE WOMEN ALLEGE ABUSE BY VICE ‘MALE FEMINIST’ CONTRIBUTOR,” went the headline. The lead image was a crowd shot from the Women’s March showing a group of protesters in pussy hats. A portion of Breitbart’s readers had already canonized Michael alongside celebrity abusers and perverts; one commenter wrote, “The perp joins in a long line with the likes of Ted Kennedy, Bing Crosby, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Anthony Wiener, Sandusky, Woody Allen, and Harvey Weinstein.” It’s always the liberal guys, another wrote, like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton. Clearly none of them knew how media worked. Writing a few articles for various name-brand publications did not make you a celebrity. Some people in the comments didn’t read the article but commented anyway to voice their negative opinions of the protesters wearing pussy hats.
The main voice of the article was Helen’s, with the embedded tweets of the other women rotating around her as supporting evidence. Abby’s tweet was omitted, then later tacked on as an update. When the story dropped I tweeted, “How does @breitbarttech and @mrnashington feel posting my tweet knowing I am both a socialist and a feminist.” “Indifferent,” the reporter responded. He quote tweeted me to his followers, “One of the women who made allegations against Vice reporter is angry Breitbart reported on it . . .” I called him a douchebag and said that quoting tweets didn’t count as journalism.
“I don’t think you’re one to decide what is and isn’t journalism if you think journalists need permission to embed tweets or write about people,” he wrote back. An account with the display name “I’m too autistic for this bull shit” and a Pepe profile photo responded to concur. I was getting annoyed now.
In truth, I was inconsolably agitated. Acting up online, tweeting into a void—like the times I tweeted “all my male friends are acting like I have cooties now,” or “father forgive me for I hath swallowed half an adderall pill and shared my trauma on the internet again,” or the time I changed my display name to Official Breitbart and announced I was the new editor-in chief. The more stories of other rapes came out, the more I wanted to stay online and keep tweeting. I felt as though I was being collectively authored by other Twitter users, performatively simulating trauma online while absorbing the grief of other public cases through my iPhone, and I reacted with a certain amount of insolence. Emma Bovary may have had novels to escape the banalities of her life, but I had the whole internet to amplify the chaos of mine.
Like Emma, women who came out about abuse were being accused of hysteria, first in tweets decrying mass panic, then in obnoxious conservative think-pieces. Also like Emma, I was finding it harder and harder to eat, refueling with coffee when my energy waned or when the hunger pangs hit, until I was stuck with a steady dull ache that seemed to cover my whole abdomen. Restless, too foggy to exercise, I would walk around my block, frantically going through packs of cigarettes at 2, 3 AM. In bed, tossing and turning in the heat, I would close my eyes and see an angry irritated shade of dark pink behind my eyelids. Stomach acid kept me alert, and online, throughout the night. Sensations of mental and physical agitation all meshed together.
The flowers on my desk stayed alive the whole month. The carnations with shorter stems wilted first, and I kept some of these in my jacket pocket so that when I went out walking or outside to smoke I could hold onto them like stress balls and eventually knead them to pieces. Jezebel was still unsure whether they would publish the story. The clickbait website passed on it. Many stories were coming out about men I’d heard of. All my friends were reliving past traumatic experiences, some in public, but most of them in private. All this excess energy and nowhere to put it.
I have, on occasion, been so sad I end up in the hospital with bleeding ulcers. “Hi Marty,” I emailed my doctor, whom I’ve known for three years. “I haven’t been sleeping well and am just frenzied all the time. My stomach has started to hurt again.” I made an appointment and sat in his office, naked under a paper hospital gown.
“What happened, did you just like, have a panic attack?” he asked when he walked in.
“I am very stressed and it is making me sick,” I said, hoping for a Klonopin prescription. “I came out about my rape online and everyone knows, and Breitbart wrote about it.”
He nodded, and sighed. “Have you talked to your mom about this?”
When I started to cry he wordlessly left the room and came back with a box of Kleenex. “Dilara, Dilara,” he looked at me sadly. “You just cannot cry in my office like this. I hate seeing you so stressed. Also, did you mean to end up on Breitbart?”
Ten days after the BuzzFeed story about the Shitty Media Men spreadsheet, Mike Cernovich tweeted a live Periscope video announcing that he had obtained the spreadsheet before its creator took it down. “It’s definitely all there, the whole enchilada! And I have pages and pages and pages,” he lisped. He repeatedly shouted the title “Shitty Media Men list”—“which,” he spat out, “I DO have!” In the video he is sitting up in bed.
“TRIGGER WARNING BRB,” he calls out, holding his phone as he stands up to grab his laptop, awkwardly balancing both as he walks back to bed. “I don’t wanna show you too much yet, we’re still investigating!” And then, laying down in bed, scratching his left shoulder while his right hand props up his smartphone, “people love it when I do laydown periscopes.”
His hands keep coming in and out of the frame, gesturing anxiously to the rhythm of his own words. Occasionally he rests them on his face. As he strokes his chin and runs his fingers through his facial hair, his thumb and forefinger occasionally dip into his mouth as they travel to rest on the corners of his lips. Or they come close to his nose or ears but never land, as if he’s suppressing his normal habits in front of his audience.
“What shall I do with the shitty men in media list?” he asks in a mockingly earnest tone. Still laying down, he reads the red cell where our tweets are summarized. “Hitting and punching women, nonconsensually choking women until she lost consciousness, forced drug use, non-consensual non-condom use, inappropriate communication.”
Laughing, he speaks to the camera: “who the hell is this? That is like serious shit!”
A pause. “Oh, that’s a freelancer.”
It keeps going:
On November 3, Jezebel published their investigation, “Former Male Feminist Columnist Faces Multiple Allegations of Assault.” The article opens with our tweets embedded at the top, and I, ‘a woman known on Twitter by her first name,’ was listed after Deirdre and Helen. For the next two days the tweets were resurrected from the void and I was inundated with notifications, this time from feminists and the media. I couldn’t stop staring at my phone. People were looking at our accounts again, and I couldn’t completely make sense of who was reading about it. There were some clues. For example, Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser to Obama, followed Deirdre.
I wasn’t ready to close the book, so I started a tweet thread after the Jezebel article: “let er rip.” I said Michael asked me to take my dress off and when I said no, choked me until I passed out. When I woke up on the floor, I still had to take my dress off. I said I saw Michael one more time, that I heard from him for months after, that I ended up being an easy target, that my professor presented his lecture on Desdemona’s complicity in being choked to death and I threw up in the bathroom. There’s no real pleasure in unwilling submission, only shame, though generations of male philosophers have convinced themselves otherwise.
“You could have died,” my mother typed out over Facebook messenger when she read the article. She says this to me often about various things, but she had a point.
In the following days, several more articles were written quoting the Jezebel article and our tweets—summaries more than reports. The contents of my additional tweet thread, that excess of emotion I now wish I’d deleted, were translated into different forms of media. There was the article on Heavy.com: “Michael _________, the Male Feminist: Five Fast Facts.” The number five fact is my tweet thread, copied and pasted to become one chunk of text with “some punctuation added or edited to turn multiple tweets into a single paragraph.” An article in The Advocate misspelled my name and quoted our tweets in-line, describing the appearance of the tweets as events themselves. The Daily Stormer, a Nazi website, wrote “Male Feminist Cuckboi Vice ‘Journalist’ Now Accused of Sexual Assault,” which called us jealous thots after quoting the Jezebel article that quotes our tweets. Addressing Jewish liberals, the article concludes, “Now your karma check is here, pay up you faggoty nerds!”
The most infuriating was the article on the Daily Mail. Titled “I was forcibly entered and choked”—a quote from Abby’s tweet—the article was a disturbing multimedia collage: screenshots of tweets mixed in with pictures of Helen’s body combined with other tweets written out in prose. The article reads strangely stilted, as if not written by a human at all. Each screenshot is posted in a single row accompanied by caption-style text, which rephrases the “body” of the article. It plays tricks on the eye, jumbling the different interpretive functions of the brain. The story is scattered, the timeline is out of order, there is no arc. It is not my story, or Deirdre’s or Helen’s or Abby’s, but the story of the distribution of a tweet. We declined comment to the Daily Mail, but our tweets are public property.
Sometimes I’m grateful. I would have been suffering alone, not knowing about any of the other girls. The only way I’m able to track the progression of events now is through my own Twitter, by looking back at what I was tweeting that day. Gleaning bits of data, creating a document. Now that I’ve given my story its own boundaries within space and time, I think I may delete my account.
The air cooled into winter, and as the holidays approached I began to feel more conspicuous. “Reading your name in Jezebel was surreal,” a friend said to me. A man I’d gone on one date with three months earlier messaged me to let me know he was sorry about what I had gone through. He told me my story was making him rethink some of his past sexual interactions, which was upsetting for him. “What, did you Google me?” I asked. “I did Google you, yes,” he wrote. He asked me out later that week but canceled an hour before. “I cannot even fathom the disrespect,” I typed out. “I told you I was going through a lot,” he replied.
One night I was at a bar with several students from my graduate program when one of them brought up my tweets. I proceeded to get trapped in conversation with a boy my age who considered himself well spoken in seminar, even though he rarely did the reading. “I guess I’m the opposite,” I said. I always did the reading and preferred to listen to the professor speak.
“Does that mean you are more submissive in the bedroom?” he asked.
“You can read about it in my memoir or on Jezebel dot com,” I joked.
A few weeks later I ran into him again at a bar. He was with several other young men I knew from school, and when I walked through the door one of them, sloppy from alcohol, leaned over to his friend and said, cheerfully, “Dilara keeps getting retweeted by the alt-right.” I was not sure whether they wanted me to hear them. I went home at 3 AM a little buzzed and a little high, hair damp from the snow, wondering if they meant to be so mean. Then again I had just changed my Twitter display name from “dilara” to “the alt right sucks please stop retweeting me.” Mike Cernovich had dredged up the story again, posting links of stories written about the men who were on the spreadsheet who had been outed. Before any of the famous editors, Michael was listed first, as number one.
By that time almost everyone had disappeared from my mentions except for one man named John who had obsessively responded to tweets about Michael from the start. In response to me he said, “Normal guys aren’t feminists, and that’s okay!” In response to a journalist’s tweet, “Any male feminist is probably a pervert. Normal men aren’t feminists. That’s ok.” In response to another writer: “Men aren’t feminists.” After the story died, he started responding to articles about Vice. “Come on man,” he argued with a former Vice editor after the New York Times exposé about the company’s pervasive culture of sexism. “Michael _________ was a serial rapist and it seems rampant.” After Vice tweeted a link to an article about Justin Trudeau’s views on Palestine, John replied to say that Vice used to be cool before they deteriorated into social justice victimhood “that has produced 1 serial rapist named Michael _________ and a bunch of broke writers.”
I read the Vice exposé on the bus ride to my parents’ for the holidays. Helen is one of the sources in the article, and is photographed on a sunny Los Angeles balcony, gazing over the California landscape. The publication of that photo itself felt like a victory.
By Christmas I was emotionally strung out. Now that the notifications had slowed to a stop, the dopamine rewards of being public were dropping off too. It was becoming harder to read a book, and most books left me feeling raw. I negotiated by spoon-feeding myself two Marguerite Duras books. But mostly I ended up back online, reading conservative takes on #MeToo, all of which condemned young women for their fragility. I suppose like Ka5sh sang, I was depressed. My therapist wanted to know when I was going to unplug.
In one of Marguerite Duras’s last essays, “Writing,” she describes the feeling of watching a fly die on the floor of the house where she’s staying. You don’t have to write about the fly, you can watch it die, she said. But the fly also had its own story, with only one witness. I was nervous that my moment was dying, that no one would transcribe it.
I searched Michael’s name on Twitter, and the results turned up a long scroll of fresh bots reposting the same article:
Michael _________, the Male Feminist: 5 Fast Facts
Michael _________, the Male Feminist: 5 Fast Facts
Michael _________, the Male Feminist: 5 Fast Facts
Michael _________, the Male Feminist: 5 Fast Facts
Michael _________, the Male Feminist: 5 Fast Facts
Months later, I discovered that this article had also been converted to sound.
“Michael _________, the Male Feminist: 5 Fast Facts” had been audially reproduced by bots and uploaded to several different YouTube accounts. All the videos have fewer than one hundred views. One has eight views, and the word rape is mistyped as “r ape” in the title.
The voices of the bots vary slightly. Two have a low-pitched voice that suggests a man. One has a British accent. Another has a higher, perhaps feminine, voice. Their pronunciation is identical and certain nouns come out unnaturally. Twitter as “tweeter,” for example, Breitbart as “Bree-it bart.” When they say, “a woman known as Dilara,” the bots pronounce it like “Dilah-roh.”
Every video is the same, with the same five screencaps from various articles shown in a slideshow on loop. One is a screenshot of Michael’s Facebook page, all information set to private except for his cover photo, a reproduction of Jung Lee’s The End. The upbeat electronic music starts, wah wah wah ba baduuuum, and introduces the title. Words run into each other. If a section of the script runs onto the next page there is a long pause in the bot’s voiceover.
Where natural pauses in speech for human breathing would fall, the bots go on, their words paced instead by the placement of punctuation. But the articles barely use any—it’s just words on top of words. Our tweets sound breathless.
If you like this article, please subscribe to n+1.