Hollaback is a feminist organization whose main goal is to raise awareness of “street harassment”. Their tactics are controversial, some might say they’re a form of cyber-bullying- allowing women who claimed they’ve been harassed to shame men (because only men harass) by posting their stories, pictures, and videos on the organization’s website. The group was launched in New York City but has chapters around the world.
Hollaback raised a lot of eyebrows on January 27th when, only a few days after Elliott’s exoneration, they announced the launch of HeartMob- an online “‘army of good” that plans to organize individuals to fight back against online trolling. Media reports used Elliott’s case as an example of the type of situation where HeartMob might be useful.
Julie Lalonde is an Ottawa-based “women’s rights activist” and the founder of Hollaback Ottawa. She’s worked on projects with Stephanie Guthrie and has been one of the complainant’s most visible supporters since the end of the trial. Like the other media coverage described in this series, Lalonde’s interviews with the Huffington Post and Ottawa’s 960 News radio have been high on spin while playing fast and loose with the truth.
An Introduction to Hollaback
Holaback’s website documents men who catcall, harass, touch, threaten, or “leer” at women on the streets. The organization has been criticized as anti-social; focussed on “revenge”, “humiliation” and “public shaming” of men who women perceive have acted inappropriately towards them. Their leaders have admitted that their website is more about “raising awareness” than ending street harassment- a great tool to back up the radical feminist narrative that men are awful.
In October 2014, Hollaback released a controversial video called 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman. The two-minute film features actress Shoshana Roberts being filmed with a hidden camera as she walks through New York City. Roberts is subjected to 100 catcalls and other unwanted comments during the 10 hours she walked around filming.
It didn’t take long after the video was released for people to realize there was something seriously wrong, most of the men behaving badly were latino or black- not a single was white. Hollaback claims that their camera only caught quality shots of blacks & latinos- but there were plenty of white men behaving this way. The organization was subject to significant criticism for the video from people on both sides of the political spectrum.
Hollaback Ottawa was launched by Julie Lalonde, a “sex-assault prevention educator” who originally comes from Sudbury, Ontario. Lalonde also runs the Draw The Line Campaign, “a bilingual public education campaign aimed to get people across Ontario talking about consent, harassment, and sexual violence,” and the Ms. G Project- a campaign that successfully campaigned to bring women’s studies classes into Ottawa high schools.
Lalonde describes herself as a “rage-fuelled individual” and a “feminist buzzkill”. She believes that successful campaigns must use a “diversity of tactics“- so, anything goes, and she’s exempt from the rules. That said, anyone who dares to offend Lalonde had better watch out.
A group of Carleton University students learned this first hand- experiencing her wrath after wearing t-shirts that said “Fuck Safe Space”. Their goal was to protest for their right “to “fucking swear”. Lalonde responded by going apeshit– implying the protest promoted “hate speech, racism, misogyny, homophobia, all of those things.”
Like the complainants in Gregory Alan Elliott’s trial, Lalonde has built her career provoking people into being angry- often baiting her rivals with controversial (and sometimes misandrist) statements. She uses their responses as currency to back her claim that women who speak out will be “silenced”.
Her Twitter feed is packed full of gendered provocations; accusations that all men are “a bit rapey”, comparing men’s rights organizations to white power groups, and the obligatory comment about “man’s tears”. It’s a brilliant self-promotion tactic- but also a slap in the face to women (and men) being genuinely attacked for speaking their truths.
Emma Paling Gets Ugly In The Huffington Post
Emma Paling’s Huffington Post hit piece features a short interview with Julie Lalonde where she claims that she was targeted by Elliott’s supporters in “an organized attack on women who speak their minds.” The story combines a similar mix of half-truths, exaggerations, and anecdotal fallacies as the stories we examined in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series- not a surprise considering Lalonde’s working relationship with Stephanie Guthrie.
Lalonde explained how the “organized attack” started after she sent out a tweet supporting Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly:
“Regardless of how the courts decide, I believe the victims.”
I have serious doubts Guthrie was as afraid as she claimed she was- she has a long history of launching vigilante attacks against people she disagrees with. That said, part of my mind still wonders if she’s deluded herself into believing she isn’t culpable for her own behavior. How else could she have justified the risk of continuing to misrepresent Elliott as a pedophile to the police long after she realized it wasn’t true?
Lalonde explained to Pailing that she “was instantly flooded with an incredible amount of trolling” after she posted her tweet. She told Buzzfeed that the tweets were “aggressive”, “hateful”, and “harassing”. But had either publication bothered to check her tweet out for themselves it wouldn’t have taken long for them to realize Lalonde’s claims were seriously exaggerated.
There were only 90 responses to her tweet coming from about 75 different Twitter accounts. The vast majority were polite objections to Lalonde’s claim that she still believed the complainants. Only 5 of the tweets could qualify as trolling. Buzzfeed was so desperately hungry to validate Lalonde’s claim that they resorted to using a screenshot of a retweet that wasn’t even addressed to her.
Paling quoted Lalonde saying that “she blocked more than 100 people in only 40 minutes.” But she ignored the inconvenient truth that Lalonde participated in the debate with the people she claimed were harassing her. Three of Lalonde’s responses left the impression that she was the real troll.
In one case Lalonde took a cheap shot at someone’s spelling mistake. Her two other tweets made the outrageous claim that when Canadian courts pronounce a person “not guilty” it doesn’t mean that they’re innocent. It’s trolling so blatant it’s almost as if it was written by Ken M.
Up until this point in the story, it was hard to tell whether Lalonde is pulling the wool over Pailing’s eyes or if they’re both in on the joke. The answer appears to come from a screenshot provided to her by Lalonde- and her curious choice of what she neglected to quote from it:
“he’s “pleased” she experienced domestic violence. “just [sic] like how you support domestic violence against men and believe domestic abuse against men should be legal, i [sic] feel the same about feminists :)”
What Paling leaves out of the quote is important information that provides context about the writer’s frame of mind. There’s never a justification to wish violence on any other person, regardless of their toxic behavior. But if the letter was sent by a genuine victim of domestic violence his behavior is probably motivated by pain. Plastering it all over the Internet, misrepresenting it’s meaning, and allowing friends to tear him apart isn’t much better than writing it in the first place.
At the end of Paling’s story, she makes a questionable accusation about Joe Rogan- claiming that his July 2015 tweet about Elliott’s case provoked a torrent of hateful responses against Stephanie Guthrie. It’s a deflection tactic we’ve seen a lot of from Guthrie’s supporter’s in the past year. And, like most of the articles we’ve seen written by supporters, it completely ignores the fact that Guthrie launched one of the most famous online swarming attacks in the history of the Internet- “sicing the Internet” against Bendilin Spurr.
Comments posted on the Youtube video of Canadaland’s interview with Guthrie were vile and disgusting; “This bitch needs to be tortured to death”, and “This whore needs to be cummed on and shammed.” Lalonde is quoted explaining how it’s “terrifying” how Elliott’s case gives a “get out of jail free card” to people who write comments like this. Lalonde’s cheap ad-hominem attack is not only vile and tasteless, but it’s absolutely wrong. Elliott never made comments and threats like these. Had he done so he’s probably be sharing a jail cell with the man who was convicted on criminal harassment charges for threatening Conservative MP Michelle Rempel.
What’s going on here Julie Lalonde? How can a woman who crusades on behalf of an anti-harassment organization allow herself to smear Elliott on behalf of Guthrie- one of the world’s most iconic initiators of cyber-violence? How does Lalonde justify this behavior?
Anti-Harassment Guru Lies To Protect Cyberbully
On January 25 Julie Lalonde was interviewed about Elliott’s trial by Devyn Barrie of Ottawa’s 960 News, the show was broadcast on the 27th. If you were shocked by the blatant disregard for truth unmasked in this series at The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Newstalk 1010- you’ll be blown away by the scale of Lalonde’s disinformation. The radio interview was the kind of stuff that would make Hanoi Hannah and Toyo Rose blush.
Barrie began the interview asking Lalonde to explain her thoughts on Elliott’s trial; claiming that he was “perfectly aware” of the facts, but wanted her to repeat her thoughts for his audience. Her Orwellian response was simultaneously expected and chillingly scary:
“I’m am of the opinion that the results of this particular trial set a really scary precedent for freedom of expression in Canada. In particular, freedom of expression for women, and particularly marginalized voices.”
Lalonde explained her view that the judge’s decision was “actually infringing on freedom of expression” because it resulted in the complainants being “silenced”. She claimed that the decision “set a tone that harassing women on Twitter is perfectly legal,” and demonstrated that “it’s unreasonable to believe that someone threatening you on Twitter could make you fear for your safety.”
It was impressive when Barrie brought up the subject of Guthrie’s call to “sic the Internet” against Bendilin Spurr- He’s the only person in the mainstream media besides Christie Blatchford who appears to have discussed this important detail:
“The reason that he did start to harass them was because one of them was trying to “sic the Internet” on somebody who created this offensive game where you punch another woman. And she wanted to set her followers off on that person to get him fired from his job and keep other employers from hiring him. How did you feel about that?”
Lalonde responded making it clear that she doesn’t “support doxxing in any way shape or form.” She didn’t explain how Guthrie doxxed Spurr by tweeting out his OKcupid account, nor how Guthrie testified she had no problem if her call to the Internet to attack Spurr encouraged others to doxx him. She followed making a statement that appears to be an attempt to justify Guthrie’s behavior:
“I also think that there’s a difference in saying “hey, someone created a video game where other people could punch a woman in the face.”
Lalonde implied that Elliott tweeted the complainants saying he was going to follow them “wherever you’re going”- this never happened. And while it’s true that the complainants asked Elliott to stop tweeting them, Lalonde leaves out the part of the story where Elliott had already stopped but later resumed after they began smearing him as a pedophile. She also neglected to mention how Guthrie enlisted her friends to amplify her accusations that he’s a misogynist.
She followed up with an attempt to explain that Guthrie’s attack on Spurr has no relation to the case against Elliott:
“So I do think that it’s a quite convenient approach for him to bring in what she did to support Anita Sarkeesian in this particular case. Because I don’t think the two were actually connected at all.”
Her claim that Guthrie’s attack against Spurr wasn’t connected to Elliott’s case was inaccurate. The judge acknowledged the attack’s relevance in his final ruling saying “Guthrie herself describes as when relations between her and Mr. Elliott took a bad turn.” Next she makes another inaccurate claim about Guthrie’s intentions:
“Because her saying to an employer, ‘hey, somebody on company time created this video game’ is not inciting folks to come after them in the way that doxxing in the way that it’s traditionally understood”
Her statement that Spurr created the game “on company time” is absolutely false. Guthrie didn’t know where Spurr worked and never stated anything about company time in her attacks. Besides, Spurr worked for a restaurant- his workstation was a stove, not a computer.
Lalonde repeated her statement to the Huffington Post that she was “harassed” after tweeting that she still believes in the complaints. But this time she pushed her exaggeration a bit further- claiming she received tweets from “literally thousands of people”:
“I’ve been on Twitter for years, I’ve had other moments where I’ve experienced a lot of harassment and I never felt I had to put my account on private. But within hours of the judge’s decision – I mean, literally, thousands of people were tweeting harassment at me – and so I had to shut my account down temporarily in order just try to deal with the volume of it.”
Her final attempt at damage control was deeply disturbing:
“So now these women have to deal with the repercussions of that for the rest of the lives. Where as him, when you Google his name you see not guilty- so that this idea that they ruined this man’s life is far from the truth.”
The reality of the situation is that both Elliott and the complainants will have to deal with the repercussions of this incident for the rest of their lives. But it wasn’t the complainants who lost their jobs because of this incident, and they didn’t have to spend their life savings to defend themselves- and newspapers on three continents didn’t print a false claim labeling her a homophobe.
The complainants been treated rather fairly by the mainstream media, it’s good to have friends in high places. But as this series has been documenting, the court might have ruled Elliott as not guilty- but the complainant’s friends have dragged him through the mud.
A Dodgy Survey About “Street Harassment”
Similar to when starting a business, one of the keys to launching and operating a successful advocacy organization is to demonstrate the need for its proposed services. It’s hard to raise funds, motivate volunteers, and secure the backing of community leaders without metrics to back-up an organization’s claims.
It’s fairly straightforward to gather metrics for a routine problem like ensuring a city has a sufficient number of homeless shelter spaces. Existing shelters can provide data on their occupancy rates and the number of people they’re forced to send away, cities often keep homeless counts. But wicked problems like Hollaback’s goal to end street harassment are more difficult to clearly define- each person has their own perception of what constitutes harassment, and few governments have statistics detailing the issue.
Hollaback Ottawa’s approach to gathering metrics was to run a survey in 2013. The results, if they are to be trusted, showed that a whopping 97% of the city’s residents had experienced street harassment in the past year- only 10% had reported them to the appropriate authorities.
Many people didn’t believe Hollaback’s numbers were representative of the city’s population- Lalonde responded to their disbelief claiming:
“I think any survey, whether it was done by Ipsos Reid or by us, there’s always ways to poke holes in it. I think if our results had been vastly different than the national average or from stats in other communities then I think (skepticism) would be warranted.”
Okay, but considering Hollaback’s dodgy claim their (allegedly) racist video magically screwed up each and every catcall made by white men- how can we trust Lalonde’s assurances?
Hollaback claims their survey had “about 350” respondents, the metro Ottawa population was approximately 1,221,000. If the survey was released by Ipsos Reid, or any professional pollster, the final report would have included a margin of error, but they didnt. A survey calculator indicates that if their survey was scientific and professionally executed there’d be a margin of error somewhere between 4.4% and 6.9% percent (Ipsos Reid’s is usually between 2-3%).
Hollaback’s survey was the polar opposite of scientific and professional- Internet surveys rarely are. The poll was run using SurveyMonkey- the link was posted on Hollaback’s website. Respondents were statistically more likely to have an interest street harassment than the average Ottawa resident- and there was a high probability a good chunk came from the feminist social justice community.
Had Lalonde been straightforward and honest with the media, she wouldn’t have ever made the ridiculous claim it was in any way reliable. The proof is in the demographics; 5% of Canadians identify as LGBTQ compared to 54% in the survey, about 24% of people in Ottawa were born outside the country but only 10% of respondents were, only 19% of people in the city use public transit but 44% claimed to have been harassed on an OC Transpo bus.
Will HeartMob Be A Force For Good, Or Organized Harassment?
HeartMob’s launch has received a lot of attention from the media. Many people see it as a positive opportunity to support people who’ve been subjected to online harassment. The organization has worked with major social media companies and published a useful set of documents that outline how platforms like Facebook and Twiter deal with harassment.
Hollaback has promised to thoroughly vet each user and do their best to ensure only “the right people” are allowed to participate. Users will be asked to document instances of abuse, file reports with social media platforms, and provide moral support to people who’ve been targeted by trolls.
Hollaback’s American founder Emily May has also been speaking out about Elliott’s trial, but not so much about the specifics of the case like Lalonde. It would be unfair to judge Hollaback’s project based entirely on the actions of one of their chapter leaders, but Lalonde’s reaction to Elliott’s trial raises a lot of red flags-so does one of her quotes to the Toronto Star used in a recent story on the Jian Gomeshi trial:
“Justice for women doesn’t begin and end in a courtroom.”
It will be interesting to see how and if they respond to Lalonde’s spin. Lalonde publicly stood up and backed the initiator of one of the most well-known instances of online bullying in Internet history. Will HeartMob make the world a better place, are they just organizing vigilantes? Time will tell, stay tuned as the story develops.