Over the last 24 hours, Twitter has erupted in an all-out brawl over the supposed publication of the ‘Shitty Media Men‘ list, a private yet widely-shared document listing alleged sexual predators in media.
The list was created in the wake of Harvey Weinstein, putting the ‘whisper networks’ women have long used to stay safe in male-dominated environments into digital form. There was a lot of discussion around its validity and potential issues in naming alleged sex pests (and including everything from mildly problematic behaviour to alleged sexual assault), and very quickly, the ultra-right-wing conspiracist Mike Cernovich was offering $10,000 for a copy of it. (He ended up publishing two names, both of whom were his ‘enemies’.) The list was subsequently taken down, but still makes the rounds online because the internet never forgets.
So what’s happened now?
A rumour began yesterday that a major magazine was intending to out the woman who started the list, a move that’s irresponsible at best and extremely dangerous at worst.
The magazine was quickly identified as Harper’s Magazine, according to writer Nicole Cliffe, and so began a campaign to kill the story.
Before too long, Harper’s confirmed there was a piece coming in its March issue by Katie Roiphe, a writer best known for denouncing (loudly and frequently) the very idea of date rape in the early 1990s, and who hasn’t really improved since.
Cliffe then led a campaign for writers with pieces in upcoming issues of Harper’s to pull their stories and find homes elsewhere. As well as connecting writers with editors, she offered to financially compensate anyone who would lose out by pulling their piece.
By Wednesday afternoon, she’d pledged to pay more than $19,000 to writers. Brianna Wu, a video game developer who was targeted with death threats and abuse during Gamergate, then offered to pay half of that cost, calling it “journalistically indefensible” to out the woman.
✅ She will get death threats to the point she will have to leave her home
✅ Same with rape threats
✅ Everything she’s ever done in her career will be poured over in attempt to get her fired
✅ Her family will be threatened. If she has kids, they’ll be threatened too
— Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) January 9, 2018
3/ Worst of all, this will NEVER END for her. Gamergate was almost four years ago, and I’m still dealing with it.
It is journalistically indefensible to put her in danger. There is no public interest.
You will end up a cautionary tale in a journalism textbook if you publish.
— Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) January 9, 2018
Following the campaign to kill the story, Roife began to claim she never intended to out the creator of the list.
“I am looking forward to talking about what is actually in the piece when it actually comes out,” she told the New York Times via email. “I am not ‘outing’ anyone. I have to say it’s a little disturbing that anyone besides Trump views Twitter as a reliable news source.”
[Nitpicky aside: this is fundamentally wrong. Trump is widely documented to get his news primarily from Fox and Friends, and Twitter is a primary network of news sharing. Okay, RANT OVER.]
But despite Harper’s declining to comment on the editing process, the NY Times obtained an email that showed a Harper’s fact checker contacting someone said to be the creator of the list, and which said the article identified her as someone “widely believed” to be the creator.
Roiphe’s claims that she wouldn’t out the woman was also disputed by Cliffe. “I’m flighty but I”m not dropping [$20,000] because someone on Twitter said they heard a thing might be happening,” she tweeted. “The piece was happening, and Katie is not a trustworthy person, and the source was contacted and *terrified*.”
Fast-forward to today, and Oscar-nominated director Lexi Alexander came forward to name herself as the creator of the list.
“You didn’t think I was going to let Harper out me before I out myself?” she tweeted. [The tweet was deleted because she tagged the wrong ‘Harper’, but she reposted a screenshot.] “I just needed to get some personal security in place… but luckily that used to be my job as you all know. So I’m ready.”
She says she would have come forward sooner, but simply wasn’t on Twitter to see the drama unfold.
“They shouldn’t have been working on [this story] at all,” she wrote. “What soulless human being destroys a network created by women to protect other women in the workplace. Shame.”
A few people wondered if this was an “I am Spartacus” moment (a.k.a. taking the blame for the protection of others, hopefully resulted in everyone taking the blame and no one person being identified as the culprit), but Alexander insisted that no, she really created the list.
“No, I just made the list,” she said. “It really was me… if I hadn’t been off Twitter I would have come forward earlier.”
Of course, there still lies some confusion; Alexander doesn’t even work in media, and the idea of dozens of women coming forward to falsely claim the list has been floated.
Hey, women in media, what if we all just did an I AM SPARTACUS type thing where we all claim to have started the Shitty Media Men list?
— Lux “Ask Me About Self-Managed Abortion” Alptraum (@LuxAlptraum) January 9, 2018
But as of now, it appears that if the piece was ever going to identify the creator (and you’ll have to use your own judgement, but FWIW, it seems a pretty likely bet), then it no longer will be.
“I am quietly confident that the version of this piece which appears in March will not include identifying details about the person in question, and that is all we wanted,” said Cliffe.