I really don’t intend to keep talking about this David Weingart situation, in no small part because at this time there isn’t actually any situation, just an increasingly labored post-mortem on one, but there are a few more things that came up over the weekend that I think I’m going to wrap up here under the heading of “final thoughts”.
First, there is a lot of reason to believe that there is a generational/internet literacy gap at work here. A lot of people (himself included) didn’t understand how his posts could possibly lead anyone directly to the party whose identity he was ostensibly protecting, while some of us—myself included—immediately spotted it at first glance. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that anyone reasonably internet savvy could find a person who fits the bill in five seconds.
This gap in reactions speaks to a gap in understanding of how the internet works, and in my experience, people who don’t “get” social media on that level have a hard time understanding how conduct that on the surface seems utterly benign and friendly can be menacing or creepy.
After all, it’s “only the internet”, right?
In the same vein: a few of his defenders have taken umbrage with references to Weingart’s “followers” (in the sense of social media subscribers), thinking that it’s ascribing a leadership position to him and a subordinate/minion status to them. They don’t seem to be aware that the term lacks those connotations when it is used in this fashion, dans la belle internet.
“Follower” in this sense is the one-directional version of saying that two people are “friends” on a given site. Just as being “friends” on a social site does not necessarily mean everything connoted by “friend” in a wider context, neither does saying someone is “following” someone on social media share the wider meanings of “to follow” A better synonym for “follower” than “minion” would be “subscriber”.
Why don’t we just say “subscribers”? Because that’s not the word that’s come into common usage in this context. It’s “follower”.
A similar point of contention has flourished around the use of the word “reply”.
As I noted in my previous post, David Weingart’s entry into the all-staff chat forum was to post a reply in a conversational thread started by the staffer he’d agreed to not contact in any way. Now, as he contends and no one that I have seen denies, he made his initial comment in reply to another commenter in that thread.
The pro-Weingart position seems to be that as long as he was affirmatively replying to a specific person in the thread, no one can say that he was replying to the original poster, and thus there was no contact.
But his comment (and every other comment posted into the conversation) are, perforce, also replies to the initial starting point. Not in the colloquial conversation sense, but in the internet messaging sense. It’s like replying to a comment someone else left on a Facebook post; you’re also replying to the Facebook post.
I don’t know if the software in question uses such notifications, but under a lot of systems, the originator of the thread would have received a notification of his comment, which makes the contact that much more direct.
Now, an important nuance to keep in mind: none of this necessitates or implies that the contact was intentional! No one knows what David knew about the thread, the underlying system, its organization, etc. No one knows what he intended. We only have his own report to go on there, and honestly, I see no particular reason to disbelieve him. For the heinous crime of pointing out how internet replies work, I’ve been accused of “slandering” him and “heaping calumnies” on him, but I ascribe no motivations to him and my “accusation” consists of accepting at face value his own report that he innocently posted a video to a particular thread, with the added context from Worldcon 75 about who started the conversation.
But taking both sides at face value, we’re left with the fact that in replying to another commenter on the thread, he also replied to the person who made the thread.
This might well be a case of “you get it or you don’t”. People who understand how threaded comments/internet conversations/forum posts work get it. People who don’t, don’t, and if they’re sufficiently motivated by loyalty to a friend they see as being unfairly accused, they very likely won’t.
I see this alone as reason enough to back away and simply trust that people will think what they will. Language gaps like this are not unbridgeable, but they can’t be bridged by one side. There’s a saying about horses and water that applies here, and it applies doubly so when the horse really likes the other stream on the other side of a hillock and regards drinking from this stream here as treason against the other stream.
This brings me to my second point, which is the generational gap around priorities, which we might describe as a difference in opinion of what it means to serve a community: being loyal to that community’s most prominent and loyal existing members, or attempting to serve all members and potential members of the community equally.
As an example: another prominent filker, in posting what he no doubt considers a spirited defense of David Weingart and denunciation of Worldcon 75, has said words to the effect that the con has decided the filking community is not important or welcome.
I have to say, I fully understand the impulse to stand by your friend and your fellow community member. But casting this as an anti-filking decision, a conscious decision to exclude or attack filkers, is not a good look.
What’s the implication there?
That filkers in particular should receive special dispensations when it comes to their behavior?
I mean, imagine this wasn’t your good buddy Filker Dave in question, but… well… let’s say there’s a guy who goes by Filker Knave. Filker Knave is not Filker Dave. Filker Knave is a nice enough guy, but also a genuine creep. People have been warning each other about Filker Knave for years. Heck of a filker. Nice to his friends. Stand-up guy in a lot of situations. But even his friends know better than to leave Filker Knave alone with a woman.
Not that he means any harm!
He’s just socially awkward, you know?
So Filker Knave causes problems. He causes a particular problem for a particular staffer at a particular con. The con respects Filker Knave’s contributions and expertise (he’s a stand-up guy, apart from the whole “can’t be trusted around women” thing, you know) enough that they are initially willing to accept his help and they attempt to work with him to avoid the problem coming up, but eventually, perhaps inevitably, there is a parting of ways.
But Filker Knave has friends, many of them filkers. Even filkers who don’t know him personally know his friends, and there’s a lot of rallying around when they feel their community is under attack.
Meanwhile, there’s also… Regular Knave.
Regular Knave is a lot like Filker Knave, except not a Filker. He still has friends, his friends are all sure he’s a great guy, never seen him angry, wouldn’t hurt a fly, etc. But like Filker Knave, he causes problems when left alone with women. Like Filker Knave, he comes on too strong. Like Filker Knave and a lot of Knaves, he sort of relies on a sort of rules-lawyery legalism in place of any understanding of social appropriateness or nuance. (“She wasn’t saying no.”, “But she said I could drop by any time.”, etc.) He takes what we might call “plausibly deniable liberties” where he can be seen, and does worse where he can’t.
And while Filker Knave’s friends have a certain cachet in fannish circles, being respected filkers, Regular Knave’s friends are just run of the mill attendees of no particular standing.
And like Filker Knave, he causes problems that causes the con to seek a separation from him.
According to the “defense” of David Weingart’s filking friend, a convention that commits the sin of treating a Filker Knave the same as it treats a Regular Knave is making a horrible mistake and should expect to be penalized for offenses against the community.
In other words, according to this “defense”, David Weingart should be accorded special and preferential treatment because he is an important person in fandom. He should get consideration for being A Big Deal. The safety and security of the unnamed other staffer, being not such A Big Deal, should never have been given priority over his comfort and convenience.
The choice between having Filker Knave on staff or in attendance versus having any other random person on staff or in attendance should always fall on the side of Filker Knave, because Filker Knave is a filker, and an important person, and he has friends who matter. Regular Knave, not so much.
This state of affairs is very much the way things have gone in fandom for generations, I’m sorry to say. I’m less sorry to say that we’ve been moving away from that kind of thinking. This is why I applaud Worldcon 75’s decision in this matter. It reaffirms to me my general impression that the con’s leadership has their priorities straight and is working to make fandom better, safer, and more inclusive rather than deferring to “the way things are done”.
Now this is the point where David Weingart’s defenders pop up to say, “But he’s not a knave! How dare you call him a knave! How dare you make these comparisons and cast these aspersions!”
Well, here’s the thing.
I said this on Twitter, and it was one of the first things I said about his mess: you can’t prioritize safety in your community right up until the point that it becomes inconvenient for you or your friends.
David Weingart himself thought the other person’s feelings about him were valid enough that he insisted on only working for the con to the extent that it could be guaranteed the other staffer would not come into contact with him.
You can take it up with David Weingart if you think that’s unfair. Don’t ask the con to justify David Weingart’s decision.
He eventually used the word “sanction” to describe what the con chairs were asking him to do, and he spoke of consequences in terms suggesting he saw them as punishment, but all the con was doing from start to finish was trying to ensure that the state of affairs he had stipulated as necessary (no contact between himself and the other party) was actually observed.
I have seen a number of people saying things like, “I agree with believing the victim, but this is going too far because I know you David Weingart and I know you are a good guy.” And I’m not going to disagree with them in their judgment of their friend, because I don’t know David Weingart.
But go back and look at any case where someone is accused of harassment, stalking, abuse, or worse, and you will find their friends and loved ones saying the same thing. And most of them meant it. And most of them had the same kind of direct, firsthand evidence and strong personal intuition that it is guiding David Weingart’s friends.
Now! Important! I’m not saying “Therefore, this proves that David Weingart is blah blah blah blah blah.” The fact that his friends think he’s swell doesn’t prove anything other than the fact that, like most people on this planet, he’s swell to his friends.
Everybody defending him wants to argue about what’s “actionable”, as though this were a legal proceeding and a court were doling out criminal penalties. Well, in the sense of “what is firm evidence that can be acted on”, the people in you’re life whom you are good to saying that you are good to them is not actionable in the positive direction. It’s not relevant. Not admissible.
This is a difficult situation, and a real test of the priorities of a community. Trying to prioritize safety only in cases where the danger is provably real is like deciding to buckle your seat belt only when you know you’re going to get in a car crash. That’s not how safety works. If we could know when and where a car is going to actually crash, we wouldn’t need seat belts. We would just avoid the crashes.
If there were any real way—any—to know who the “good people” are and who the “creeps” are, to know who’s upstanding and who is just reasonably charming, we wouldn’t need things like codes of conduct or behavioral agreements or mediation between two parties. We’d just keep the creeps out and trust in the good nature of everyone else.
So what we do in a situation like this is, as I said, a test. David Weingart did a really good job of dealing with it, right up until the point where he felt he was either being accused of ill-intent (he wasn’t) or being asked to accept punishment for an accident (he wasn’t).
That he failed at that point isn’t necessarily a fatal stain on his character. I honestly think both he and the con deserve a certain amount of credit for trying so hard to make this work. And while I find some aspects of his responses since then a little unsettling, I still can’t say that my image of this man I don’t directly know has been indelibly stained.
My image of the fandom community subsets that have rallied around him, though, are taking a beating.
This brings me to my final point, which is: I’ve seen at least two people be shocked and repulsed to look around and realize that they are on the same side as Vox Day in this mess. You really shouldn’t. You’re very firmly in his ideological camp. At the point where you find yourself talking about “illiberals who insist they have a right to be free from anything that offends them” (when no one, and I mean no one, has claimed “offensiveness” as an, ah, offense), you might as well be standing in line to be one of his three or four hundred numbered minions.
Worldcon 75 definitely had some PR missteps in this, though I think even that is overblown. It’s easy enough to look at the blowback they got for addressing Weingart’s post and say they should have said nothing, or left his name and details out of it while acknowledging that the separation had happened, or whatever. Well, it’s easy to litigate a hypothetical.
But we, none of us, can ever know how we would actually have reacted, had things gone differently. We don’t know how we would have reacted, only what seems like the wisest course, knowing what we know now. It’s entirely possible that some or even most of the people now saying they should have said nothing would be saying, “It’s criminally incompetent that Worldcon hasn’t issued a statement! They should be addressing David’s charges! They’re not even defending themselves, so does that mean he’s right?”
The one thing that I think we can take away from this, from a PR standpoint, is that open comments do not lead to open communication. You can’t force people to understand a nuance they’re motivated not to see. You can dump information on the internet, but you can’t make people take it in and put it together. And I say this in response to both parties that have tried to tell their side, David Weingart and Worldcon 75. You can’t control what people take away from what you put out there. If there’s something you need to put out: put it out, and be done with it.
That said, my personal takeaway in all of this is that my faith in Worldcon 75’s leadership has not been in error. When faced with a difficult test, they made a decision that shows for all the world to see that their priorities are not in placating powerful and influential members of entrenched fan communities, but in preventing conflict and ensuring safety for all members of fandom.
Oh, and one final tangential point: I should address the obvious question by the 99.9% of people reading this who have no idea what “filking” is and are wondering if they dare Google it and should turn Safe Search on first, it’s, roughly, “fannish folksongsmithery”. Imagine troubadours who go from convention to convention singing creations in the vein of Weird Al’s Star Wars songs and you won’t be that far off.
And to whatever portion of the 00.1% of the people who already knew what “filking” is feel shocked and outraged that I said that 99.9% of people on the internet don’t know what filking is: sorry, but not sorry. When you live in a pond, you think the world is water. Doesn’t make it so. If frogs are a big deal in your pond, you will tend to assume frogs are a big deal everywhere. Doesn’t make it so.
Some people are saying that this brouhaha reflects poorly on Worldcon, but let me tell you: a whole heck of a lot of people, even people who go to cons, are hearing the word “filk” for the first time in a context where its meaning sticks, and are becoming aware that a “filking community” even exists, and man, this whole mess is not representing the filking community well.
And this is really all I have to say on the subject. This post is quite long, I suspect my longest yet on this topic, because I’m making a single post rather than addressing individual points individually.