When Social Justice Warriors don’t have a problem to complain about, they create one.
Late Wednesday evening I got on Twitter to find several people I follow tweeting their support for a comic book writer named Chelsea Cain. Cain is the author of the recently canceled Marvel comic book Mockingbird. I learned from these tweets that Cain had deactivated her Twitter account in response to harassment from “misogynist trolls.” Curious, I decided to look into the matter to see what kind of abuse had been so unendurable that Cain felt she needed to leave Twitter.
Since there were no abusive tweets referenced in the tweets from the people in my feed, I did a quick search for “Chelsea Cain” on Twitter to see what came up. I found a lot of people tweeting about Cain, but nothing that looked like abuse to me. About 3/4 of the tweets were supportive of Cain (or condemning the trolls); a quarter were critical. None of them rose to the level of “abuse” in my opinion. I saw no profanity, threats or personal insults. So I did a search for Cain’s Twitter handle, @chelseacain. The results were similar: a lot of support, some criticism, no abuse.
Having failed to find the offending tweets, I next tried a Google search.
The first result for “Chelsea Cain” was a story on CBR.com explaining that Cain “deleted her Twitter account, citing multiple instances of online harassment.” There followed screenshots of several tweets by Cain…
…along with this editorializing:
Cain noted in a tweet that she never blocked anyone on Twitter until she started writing a relatively low-profile comic book series, never having to in her years as a novelist selling millions of books. Cain subsequently expressed that this type of harassment is a problem specific to the comics industry.
The departure of Cain from Twitter is part of an ongoing issue. With the rise of social media and accessibility of authors online, there has been increased visibility of harassment in the comics industry, which is frequently targeted towards women — both creating a platform for new instances of harassment and highlighting systemic problems that have persisted for decades. As former Image Comics Director of Trade Book Sales Jennifer de Guzman wrote in two tweets, “[Chelsea Cain] has been driven off Twitter by misogynists in comics. There are women who have been driven out of comics entirely. Comics, you’re a problem.”
Oddly, though, the story included no quotes or screen shots of any of the offending tweets. So I went to the next story Google offered, from Comics Beat. This article stated flatly:
Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain, the bestselling author of Heartsick and other thrillers, deleted her Twitter account today after receiving abusive tweets yesterday.
This story included several embedded tweets from Cain as well as several more tweets from fans offering their support and condemning the misogynistic trolls. But this story too lacked any citations or screen shots of the supposedly abusive tweets. I clicked the next story on Google, from Inverse. It didn’t cite any of the offending tweets either.
By this point, I was getting pretty suspicious. How can you write an entire article about someone being chased off Twitter by harassment without giving a single example of this harassment or backing up your claim in any way? The authors of all these articles were pretty clearly on Cain’s side; wouldn’t it have been in their interest to include some of these nasty tweets to demonstrate how awful these trolls are? Why didn’t they?
I went back to Twitter, asking if anyone could direct me to any of the offending tweets. I tweeted several general appeals, referenced the hashtag #StandWithChelseaCain, and even tweeted directly to several of the people condemning the trolls to see if anybody could point me to the tweets that had traumatized Cain.
None of the people I tweeted to responded. About half of them blocked me just for asking the question. An hour later, I had received exactly zero screen shots or links to abusive tweets. One of my followers tweeted this story to me. I get the sense that this author at least had a sense that something wasn’t right. The piece contains the line:
With her Twitter deleted, it’s difficult to track down the tweets that drove Cain from the social media site.
Difficult? What does that even mean? It’s on online service with a search function. Either you can find the tweets or you can’t. Since when do journalists use the excuse that they didn’t cite any sources because it was difficult?
The story goes on to say:
But responses to folks who have tweeted their support for the “Mockingbird” author — many of them using the #StandWithChelseaCain hashtag — are illustrative of what women in comics, video games and other entertainment media face on a regular basis.
Here are the tweets that the author thinks are “illustrative of what women face”:
Those tweets were the closest thing the author could find to “abuse.” One person advised Cain to use the mute button. Someone else used the word “numbskulls.” The horror. And remember, these responses were sent well after the supposed abuse occurred. So where’s the actual abuse?
Thousands of people tweeting and retweeting about misogynistic trolls, but very few actual trolls (and even the trolls seemed pretty tame to me). I couldn’t find a single tweet that I would consider abusive from around the time that Cain left Twitter. This is literally the worst tweet I could find:
Not very nice, sure. But if I left Twitter whenever somebody told me one of my books sucked, I’d have thrown in the towel six years ago. I literally got a tweet from someone about how my books suck while I was writing this paragraph, for Pete’s sake:
I’m not making that up; that’s an actual tweet somebody wrote seven minutes ago, specifically to tell me that my books are “god awful.” I don’t consider that abuse. I consider it the uninformed opinion of an idiot. Granted, I am an emotional rock, but I think I will sleep okay tonight despite this harrowing encounter.
So what actually happened with Chelsea Cain? As far as I can tell, there was no actual abuse or harassment of any kind. Note that I could be wrong. It’s possible the tweets are out there, and somehow I’ve missed them. It’s also possible the troll(s) deleted the tweets, or had them deleted by Twitter. But it seems very strange that with all the publicity this story is getting on Twitter, nobody seems to be able to come up with a screen shot of any of the tweets.
As far as I can tell, what happened is this: a few people told Cain they didn’t like her comic. Having your comic book canceled is a shitty thing to have to go through, and having people tell you that your work sucks doesn’t help. Cain probably felt overwhelmed and quit Twitter to avoid the negativity.
But this narrative that she was “chased away” from Twitter by “misogynist trolls” appears to be fiction. So how did this fiction spread so quickly, and with so few people asking any questions or asking for proof? Well, the fact is that there are a lot of people out there who really, really want stories like this to be true. They want to feel like they’re on the right side, and they want to get patted on the back by all the right people for having all the right views.
In a better world, those people would be held to account for spreading this kind of nonsense. Unfortunately, we live in a world with this guy:
Note: another Twitter user who was trying to get to the bottom of this at the same time I was, Brad Glasgow, wrote this. He couldn’t find any abuse either.