Cyber-lynching

Most important message: This is my blog. These are my thoughts. I don't represent any other person or organisation.

This relates to an earlier post Why I don't want to be part of the 'autistic activism' scene and the fallout from it.


What happened when I dared to criticise an autistic event

I went to Chester Autistic Pride picnic (no need to avoid identifying them now they've very publicly made the connection between my blog post and their event) and subsequently wrote a blog post that I knew would be controversial, but ended up attracting far more vitriol than I could have foreseen. The organiser, Sara Jane Harvey, a.k.a. 'Agony Autie', most likely would never have seen a post on my backwater blog, but I was aware that it was possible, and it did happen because someone connected the dots for her, not anticipating the fallout it would cause.

Sara then posted my link in multiple different places on social media. An excerpt from her post that accompanied the link follows:

An Autscape (autistic led non for profit) organiser came[...] I was told they were coming to Pride and I was really excited as I had applied to speak at Autscape this year (but unfortunately wasn't accepted).

I had no idea at the time—it is because they hate me. I thought they were coming to Pride to say hello... but they came to mock everything about our Autistic Pride event [...] they called our family event Hostile, Negative, Paranoid and more awful things about our performers who were ALL autistic :(.

This is from an organiser of an autsitic led organisation, which I TRUSTED!

I've been slandered, bullied, mocked and defamed by this person [...]

Her supporters then proceeded to run me into the ground, with Sara joining right in, saying really awful things about me - things I would never say about anyone - having nothing more to go on than the one article. They also ran down anyone who had endorsed my article. This continued relentlessly for 36 hours in my blog comments, on her Facebook page, on my Facebook page, and in at least three unrelated groups on Facebook, one of which I am not a member of. I expected criticism. I did not expect a cyber-lynching.


My response

I know I should have just left it. I can take a lot of criticism - I'm used to it after almost a decade and a half of organising a public event and two decades in online communities - but my integrity is very important to me. It wasn't the criticism that got me, it was the lies about what I said, thought, and did. I also can't stand by and let Autscape get dragged through the mud. So I need to clarify a few things:

An Autscape (autistic led non for profit) organiser came

Yes, I am an Autscape organiser. That fact is utterly irrelevant to my decision to attend a local event at the weekend with my family. I was not there as an Autscape representative. Sara did not seem to be able to get that, even referring to me as 'Autscape' repeatedly in posts and comments, as if that were my name.

I was told they were coming to Pride and I was really excited

She later said she was told this by no less than three different people, although she hasn't been able to say who. I find this highly questionable considering I didn't know myself that I was going until I set off, having had a very busy day already.

as I had applied to speak at Autscape this year (but unfortunately wasn't accepted). [...] I had no idea at the time—it is because they hate me.

This is wrong in two main ways:

  1. How Autscape decides which proposals to accept. This year, Autscape received over 40 proposals, many of them very strong. A group of 5 organisers together decided which ones to accept, and the board (9 members) approved them. We consider proposals on their merit, speakers skills, topic, breadth of appeal, and the balance of the programme. Personal feelings about the proposer don't enter into it and many times we have accepted proposals from people I don't like much personally.

  2. How I felt about Sara when proposals were being considered. Not only did I not hate her, I had never even heard of her. Nor can I, at this point, recall anything about her proposal. After everything she's done to me now, I can't say the thought of Sara brings me happy feelings, but I still don't hate her.

I thought they were coming to Pride to say hello... but they came to mock everything about our Autistic Pride event;

I went because:

  • the travel cost was low
  • the location was familiar
  • a friend was there
  • the weather was lovely
  • I was curious
  • one of my autistic children wanted to go along

I did not go with any intention of writing a blog post. After nearly a year since the last one, I was as surprised as anyone that I managed to write one at all. I didn't have a definite plan to go, let alone with a specific purpose in mind.

more awful things about our performers who were ALL autistic :(.

That they were autistic is irrelevant, that's the point. I don't think it's doing anyone any favours when we pretend that something by a disabled person is automatically wonderful just because of the feelings behind it. Working hard at something doesn't make it perfect. Overcoming anxiety in order to perform doesn't make it good. People act this way with children (even non-autistic ones) all the time, and they keep doing it with autistic people all our lives. Because it's an attitude normally reserved for adults towards children, it is correctly characterised as patronising.

This is from an organiser of an autsitic led organisation, which I TRUSTED!

I have no idea what the basis was for that trust. As far as I am aware, there is no relationship between Sara, Agony Autie, and Autscape.

I've been slandered, bullied, mocked and defamed by this person

I think it's pretty clear Sara doesn't know what any of those words mean. I can't very well slander or defame her without at least being specific about who it was I was talking about. If I'd wanted to bully her, I would have sent her the link myself.


Further notes

Source material
The catalyst for being able to come up with the article was that I actually went to an Autistic Pride event for the first time. When I wrote the post in question, I was deliberately non-specific about the event and people, because:

  1. It wasn't about that event specifically. It was drawn from a number of experiences, thoughts and feelings over a period of 10 years or more. Yes, I am that slow (see the main topic of this blog). This is why I am relatively defenseless in real time debates. If I had waited longer it would have been clearer that it wasn't about that event, but because of my initiative deficits, I almost certainly wouldn't have done it at all if I'd waited.

  2. I didn't want anyone to take it personally (because it wasn't).

Criticism
I expected controversy and criticism. I invite it, so long as it's respectful. I did not expect, and do not condone, personal attacks. I want to see criticism with some substance. Something I can defend or surrender.

Changing or improving events
The article was about why I don't want to be part of that sort of thing. It's not everything that's wrong with it. I don't expect - or want - events to change to suit me. (That's very unlikely to happen without removing all the humans, at least the ones I don't already know, and having it indoors in private.) I want them to suit the people who like them. If they already do, then they are serving their purpose. These are personal opinions, not objective truths. Some people like autistic activist events. I don't.

Pride
I am aware that people use 'pride' to mean not ashamed. I may be wrong, but that seems connected to the idea of pride as being dignified or 'having human dignity.' I am uncomfortable with these uses of pride as they can be (and are) so easily twisted to support superiority to other ways or forms of life. If white pride is wrong, why is gay pride ok? Both are based on characteristics that (should) have no moral value. The question is rhetorical. I know the standard answers; they just don't work for me.

Being an activist
I am not an activist, advocate or self-advocate. Other people have tried to describe me as such, but I object. I have not stood in the way of activists, but I don't want to be involved with it. I have, however, always had difficulty articulating why that is. It is not unusual for me to take anywhere from days to months to work out how to express a feeling about something. In this case, it has been a decade or more, and then going to an event gave me some concrete examples that helped me work out the words.

Examples of my points
The reaction to my post actually serves to illustrate some of the points in it. E.g. 'if you're not with us you're against us'. They have also clearly demonstrated the anger and hostility I talked about. I have been considered angry and negative in writing it, but I am not, really. It's not (it wasn't, before the attacks) that emotional.

Apologising
This is not an apology because I'm not sorry for what I actually wrote. I think it's unfortunate that some people took that and twisted it and used it as a weapon. I don't understand why people who claim to support someone would draw their attention to something they thought would hurt them and spin it to be the most hurtful possible interpretation.

Silver lining
This whole incident has had some positive outcomes as well. Before it went so terribly wrong, I had a few responses (more than I anticipated) that were broadly or specifically supportive. Some of these were from people I'd never heard of saying that my post would improve the way they run their events.

Specifically because of the attacks, I have received many messages of support from people I've never heard of before, from people I already know but rarely interact with, and from people I already know and almost always disagree with. Some of them agreed with me, some didn't. All supported my right to my own opinion.

Because of this, I now have:

  • some new online connections,
  • a deeper allegiance with a long time acquaintance I seldom agree with,
  • some people who want to meet with me in person to discuss (or debate),
  • a hell of a lot of publicity for my blog, and for Autscape (not that it needs it).

About me

  • I was a founder of Autscape. I sometimes feel like I live and breathe Autscape for months at a time. That doesn't mean that everywhere I go I am doing so as an official (or unofficial) representative of Autscape. I'm not even on the board.

  • I never set out to hurt people on purpose. I have a strong personal ethic against launching personal attacks or name-calling, even in the heat of an argument. However, I have also been called 'honest to a fault'. I say things as I see them. I have heard many times that I seem kind of scary online, but I'm really not in person. I've also heard that I'm unfriendly in person. What can I say? I'm autistic.

  • I don't hate anyone, even people who have hurt me enough to alter the course of my life, because I figure that anyone who is worth hating doesn't deserve the amount of my energy it would take to hate them.

  • I don't want other people to feel the same as I do. I may criticise something if I don't like it, but I can also accept that others may get something out of it. Football, beer, autistic pride picnics, politics, oboe - all things that some people like and I would really prefer not to be subjected to.

For those wondering if I am an anhedonic cynic, here are some things I enjoy:

  • Organising Autscape (but I'm of two minds about whether I like going to it as a participant, which I've only done once)

  • Serving on Autistica's Scientific Review Panel. This is easily the best voluntary job I have ever had. Even though I am there with lower qualifications (only a MA, while the others are top autism researchers with PhDs and professorships) because I am autistic, I feel respected as an equal member and not like a token at all.

  • My family. I have 5 children. Two are definitely autistic, two more are neurodivergent, and one is 'fully neurotypical'. She is all grown up now and getting married next year.

  • Thinking, studying and learning. I have a very high drive - need - for intellectual stimulation. When I get it, I'm at my most functional. When I'm deprived of it for long enough, I get depressed.

  • Playing strategy games and doing logic puzzles of all kinds.

  • Being a nerd in nerdy autistic space like Autism Inclusive

  • Music - singing and listening, but my likes are fairly narrow