February 3, 2019

4chan-ers Harass Laid Off Journalists. Pro-Trump Trolls Add Fuel to the Fire

By Melissa Ryan

“Learn to code” is a large scale coordinated online harassment campaign, mainly targeting recently laid off journalists at Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Writer Talia Lavin first reported the campaign forming on 4chan and spreading to Gab and wrote about her experience at The New Republic:

“Then the responses started rolling in—some sympathy from fellow journalists and readers, then an irritating gush of near-identical responses: “Learn to code.” “Maybe learn to code?” “BETTER LEARN TO CODE THEN.” “Learn to code you useless bitch.” Alongside these tweets were others: “Stop writing fake news and crap.” “MAGA.” “Your opinions suck and no one wants to read them.” “Lmao journalists are evil wicked cretins. I wish you were all jail (sic) and afraid.”

I looked at the mentions of my editors, who had been laid off after years at HuffPost, and of other journalists who had lost their jobs. There they were, the swarm of commentators, with their same little carbuncular message: “Learn to code.””

The laid-off staffers made for easy targets both because most of them posted news of their departures on social media, and because journalists have to make it easy to contact them as a function of their job and as a result, many put their emails on the social media profiles.

The harassment was pretty vile and seems to have spread beyond just the laid-off staffers to anyone associated with either company. I woke up last Sunday to find multiple “Day of the Rope” memes in my mentions on Twitter, some of which referenced the fact that I’d recently had an article published on Buzzfeed. For the uninitiated “Day of the Rope” memes are a reference to a day of mass executions in the Turner Diaries, a neo-nazi novel and probably the most influential white nationalist work of fiction ever published. Multiple journalists have reported getting similar memes in their mentions and inboxes last week.

To Twitter’s credit, they responded fairly quickly (for them anyway) to “day of the rope” memes. Within a couple of hours, the memes had vanished from my feed. The next day, The Wrap’s Jon Levine reported that Twitter would treat anyone tweeting “learn to code” at a laid-off journalist would be seen as abusive behavior. He issued a correction less than two hours later saying “Source was a Twitter spokesperson. Company has issued following clarification. “It’s more nuanced than what you reported. Twitter is responding to a targeted harassment campaign against specific individuals — a policy that’s long been against the Twitter Rules””

But pro-Trump trolls gotta troll and they ran with the original statement from Twitter, claiming it was more evidence that Twitter was biased against the right, and mocking those overly sensitive laid-off journalists. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson got in on the act, referencing “learn to code” on his show and calling out Twitter for censoring the trolls. Carlson, per usual, went out of his way to ignore the facts in his segment neglecting to mention that journalists were being harassed, lying about “learn to code” headlines he put on the screen, and ignoring the correction from Twitter entirely. But his segment tracked exactly to the pro-Trump troll narrative: Twitter was censoring folks on the right who were just joshing some millennial snowflake reporters.

Harassing people who’ve just been laid off en masse is a shitty thing to do. There’s no justification for sending someone violent threats and memes period, but to do it on the same day they’ve been laid off is especially vile. Worse, journalists have been continuously dehumanized by Trump and his trolls putting them in real danger. Media outlets have increased their security in response to the increased violence directed at them, but laid-off journalists no longer have an employer to provide security or protection, making them especially vulnerable.

On Friday, Vice Media announced that it would also be laying off 10% of its workforce. Expect the Frog Squad to harass those laid-off staffers as well.

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