Cosmopolitan covers a ‘millennial misogynist’ investigator

We can't ignore the link between violence against women and mass shootings

Unfortunately, after every mass shooting in this country, I go to the writer Rebecca Traister’s Twitter feed to see if she linked to the blog post. Last week, after two young white men killed at least 31 people in El Paso and Dayton, she shared it again. The post “What Mass Killers Really Have In Common” traces the lineage of mass shooters, from Elliot Rodger to Dylann Roof, who had a history of violence against women. Traister’s post was published in 2016, yet today The New York Times published a front-page news analysis “A Common Trait Among Mass Killers: Hatred Toward Women." In a separate piece about the gunman in Dayton, female classmates recalled his dark, often threatening behavior. In the early 2000s, he was allegedly suspended for writing a list of girls he wanted to rape; last week, he killed his own sister. What continues to strike me: in a society where we often don’t believe women, we expect girls to be nice to boys who clearly see them as subhuman. Meanwhile, the violence boys and men carry out online and in the real world are connected, and we should not treat that connection as fringe.

In 2019, there’s a direct line between misogyny and the dark-web recruiting ground of potential shooters, yet women have been writing about the abuse they face online for years.  Many of us know about the high-profile cases: Zoe Quinn and Gamergate. Or ex-Reddit CEO Ellen Pao. Or the celebrity nude leak on 4chan. But as we know at Clipped, most conversations about the harassment or abuse women face online exist in a vacuum. While online regulation and digital privacy is a feminist issue, there are few lawmakers, attorneys, or law enforcement officials who know what the hell to do about it. To cite feminist writer Jessica Valenti, we have no plan to educate or help these “terrorists: disaffected, radicalized online, seeped in racial and gendered resentment, and hoping for lasting glory.”

Enter “the Savant,” an unnamed and faceless digital vigilante recently profiled (sort of) in Cosmopolitan. This military veteran is one of the nation’s leading investigators of online hate groups on sites like 8chan and Gab, and right now she’s got 1,000 men on her “List.” The secret investigator called “K” is doing some of the most perilous digital sleuthing work out there: monitoring the cesspool that is comment sections, threads and conspiracy theories for online misogyny. “This isn’t a powder keg waiting to explode,” Cosmo’s features editor Andrea Stanley writes. “It’s been exploding for years.” K has developed the skills to determine or suspect when violent speech in an internet forum like 8chan might realistically result in a violent crime. K then reports these people to authorities, and says it’s “heartbreaking, devastating” when she can’t identify a potential shooter before he acts. She did not identify the El Paso shooter, who reportedly left behind a manifesto that spoke of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” on social media. Many of the men flagged by K aren’t your typical incel or “trolls in basements,” but instead men who actively disguise their views that, for instance, feminism is destroying western civilization and birth rates. These dudes might even post lots of photos of their pets and kids. 

For many women, the men behind harassment, violence, stalking, or trolling aren’t faceless or unfamiliar. It hits close to home. Last summer, I received threatening messages from friends of my 22-year-old brother who traffic in misogynistic rhetoric, the NRA, Ben Shapiro memes, and neckbeards. I never imagined that a young, college-educated white millennial with the same parents as me might be connected to people who’d willfully troll a woman (for reasons including "a feminist agenda”!) within their small orbit. 

Media outlets play a role in how we think about mass shootings in America, who we choose to protect or vilify, and what warning signs we ignore. The data journalist Mona Chalabi has illustrated that while the statistical majority of mass shooters since 1982 are white men, that group is most likely to be described as “mentally ill.” Yet according to the latest Times piece, psychiatrists say the argument that mental health can lead to mass shootings does not explain how hatred like misogyny motivates a perpetrator. We lack a broad understanding of how or why misogyny online can galvanize potential shooters, and tech platforms lack a solution to control the problem. If history tells us anything, it’s that women aren’t safe in the physical (or digital) world, and we’ll have to discuss the threat of online misogyny at length before anyone does anything about it. I wish more men in power would acknowledge that this problem is well past fringe — an emergency. We don’t need to live like this.

— Natalie

related coverage in women’s (and one men’s!) publications: 

more from Clipped:

Correction: In the last Clipped, I suggested that Joan Didion was not “living,” rather than not “extremely online.” My college professor and mentor who graciously introduced me to Didion emailed me and pointed this out. <3