Oh Shit, Should I Be Worried: An OTC Primer for Threat Assessment

Our hosting provider, A Small Orange, is the online equivalent of the human taint, also known as the gooch depending on regional dialects. I will often receive all at once several months to a year’s worth of comment notifications or emails sent to me via the site’s email address.  One time a terminally-ill author sent me a lovely message asking me to review his last book because he was so moved by my first review of his work. I received it months after he died. I do not know why we haven’t changed providers yet, but I suspect it’s because I don’t stay mad long enough to make it a priority. I also am less active on the site lately and check the back end far less often than I should, so I don’t notice gaps in messages in a timely manner. However, this last flurry of notifications contained a comment that gave Mr. OTC pause, enough pause that he became angry that such a comment had gone months without us seeing it.

“Some asshole is effectively threatening you and this comment sat unseen on the server for months until A Small Orange deigned to send us notification,” Mr. OTC said. “What if he’d said, ‘I’m on my way to kill you!’ and we had no idea?” I suspect A Small Orange, who as a company sucks balls (which, by the way, are near the taint) will not be my host much longer. It should be mentioned that Mr. OTC ultimately was more angry at the taint than the asshole because he understands what is considered an actionable threat and what isn’t, but I was surprised that he was so appalled at the comment. He knows what I write about.  He knows that I get terrible comments. Yet he looked at the comment and did not see what I saw. He saw the potential for genuine threat.

Here’s the comment, with the beginning of my reply.

I think most spouses would feel uneasy seeing that their partner receives comments that invoke torture, extrajudicial murder and final judgement for perceived wrong-doing. But I’ve got this. I’ve been doing this for thirteen years and somewhere along the line I learned how to analyze documents in a way that gives me a pretty good metric for whether or not I should be afraid or concerned about what angry commenters say to me when they are especially pissed off.

Finally! A use for an English degree!

While it has to be said that I am not a behavioral sciences expert, nor am I a legitimate threat assessor, I’ve been reading the words of madmen and reactions to the words of madmen for so long that I reckon I can differentiate between a threat and a dude who unloaded on me after a really bad day (or month, or year). Rob may have intended for me to feel afraid, but offered no harm that I felt could endanger me or my family.

I’ve had two or three threats I considered legitimate since running my book discussion sites and those messages were radically different than Rob’s. Those comments showed that the authors know who I am, meaning they know my full name, where I live, the names of some of my pets, that my husband is ex-military. They had specific issues with something I definitely wrote, showing that they actually read what I wrote and were reacting to me specifically, and they did not speak in generalities. They made reference to how easy it would be to find me or a specific pet, what they wanted to do to me or the cat, and mentioned a time frame wherein they hoped to do harm to me.

Rob’s comment wasn’t anywhere close to being genuinely threatening. Unpleasant? Yes. Reason to freak out? Nope. I know some people will disagree with that assessment so let’s break his comment down and hopefully I can explain why I think Rob hollered at me online rather than metaphorically kick the family dog after having a bad day, and hopefully this analysis will help anyone else who is periodically frightened by what angry (mostly) men say online. Plus, sometimes it’s just fun to hyper-analyze the hell out of weird comments.

Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

I was initially going to discuss all of the Boston Marathon Bombing conspiracy theories in one entry. However, as I researched I found that, in less than a month after the bombings, the theories were so deep and so wide I had no hope of discussing and/or debunking them in one entry.

Though I found it easy to debunk a lot of these theories, a handful of them I cannot debunk because there is not enough information available to me.  However, I need those who read these discussions to understand that debunking these conspiracy theories is not a de facto agreement with the official stance that the Tsarnaev brothers are responsible for the bombings.  I have a lot of trouble with the way the FBI is managing the case and releasing information, and I have even more trouble with the way the mainstream media is spreading rumor as fact.  To be really specific, I have now and always will have problems with any case that involves Carmen Ortiz.  After her shameless and shameful behavior in the Aaron Swartz case, her presence in any investigation and prosecution will trip my alarm bells.  I say all of this so that no one reading here is under the impression that I am pushing a specific agenda other than one that requires legitimate evidence and actual proof offered before I believe anything.

In many ways, I think that people who are embracing Boston Bombing conspiracy theory are doing so because that is how the human brain works.  People like loose ends tied and most of us are impatient. If the mainstream media fails us, some of us turn to the fringe to find resolution.  Some think the sort of pattern recognition that goes into believing conspiracy theory is a trait that can be explained via evolutionary psychology.  There are understandable reasons why people engage in conspiracy theory and even as I find such methods of problem solving strange, those people deserve respect.

But then there are the others, those theories propagated by people with vile intentions and completely unsound world views.  The amount of anti-Semitism I have found in a couple of the theories, most notably one of the “Dzhokhar is Dead” theories, is sickening.   Watching as the young women and teens who make up the bulk of the “Free Jahar” movement actively spread these theories with little knowledge of what they were endorsing other than that it proved that their latest fandom idol was innocent was distinctly horrible.  There is no way for me to see those theories as anything but toxic and anathema to a decent society.

As I debunk, I will try to be as respectful as I can to the theories that are not utterly disgusting, and even then I will not be engaging in any sort of insult or cruelty.  I don’t have to be nasty to tell the truth about people who believe terrible things. I urge anyone who chooses to respond to my debunkings to follow my lead on this.  These days people can barely stand to read the comments on the Internet, so low has the discourse sunk.  That won’t happen here.  Please engage with an eye to discussion and civility.