Earlier this year, cartoonist Sophie Labelle’s Assigned Male comic, about a young trans girl, suddenly disappeared from Facebook. It was replaced by a page of vile, racist, neo-Nazi propaganda.
Labelle posted in May that her web comic was down “because it got hacked.”
“After receiving several thousands of death threats in the past few days for making my art, my address was also posted on several forums,” she added.
The 28-year-old Canadian comic creator tells The Advocate there was a coordinated attack on her Facebook page, which made it crash. That forced her to remove it, and someone used the opportunity to create a fake page posting neo-Nazi hate speech, including suggesting Labelle should be sent to a concentration camp or gas chamber.
“This is what you get for being trans on the internet and for reframing transness into something positive and empowering,” Labelle posted at the time.
She says Facebook has been very responsive. “They’ve been very proactive ... concerning the removal of harassment groups, hater groups, and those neo-Nazi groups.”
Unfortunately, that responsiveness may have intensified the recent attack. After “one of the biggest groups was shut down by Facebook,” Labelle says, “they decided to put the blame on me, and that’s why they hacked into my website and doxxed me by publishing my address and stuff.”
She says she’s been receiving death threats, “extensively for three years.” But the recent ones were more “vicious and violent.” Labelle was also stunned by the sheer volume: “We’re talking about thousands of people ... I got more than 20,000 messages.” The hate comes via emails, social media comments, instant messenger, and even her Etsy store.
Labelle hasn’t reported the latest attack to law enforcement in part because, she wrote, “Anytime I have dealt with police, I ended up being a victim of their transphobia.” In addition, she says, “Reporting harassment and doxxing is a temporary solution.”
These kinds of online attacks aren’t unusual, says Emily Waters, senior manager of national research and policy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “[We need] to address the ways anti-LGBTQ violence shows up [online].”
Labelle just wants to get back to drawing comics. But now she’s worried about her fans because, she says, “They’ve started harassing my readers. They made a whole page committed to post[ing] profile pictures of my readers. They’ve been sending messages to my readers — especially parents of trans kids … and it can be so violent.”
Labelle is concerned enough for her own safety that she moved to an undisclosed location. The official launch of her new book, Dating Tips for Trans and Queer Weirdos, was also canceled over safety concerns.
“I think it’s so funny,” Labelle says, although she’s not laughing. “It’s my cutest book ever. It’s about this trans [teen] who just wants to ask their crush on a date. And then they go on a date. It’s just this most innocent and sweetest thing ever and I’m getting death threats for that.”
Protect Yourself From Digital Attacks
The attacks Sophie Labelle experienced are becoming all too common. Emily Waters of the New York City Anti-Violence Project explains, “LGBTQ communities have always used the Internet as a way to create and share community,” which makes us all particularly sensitive to such attacks. “As our lives and communities continue to move online, we must realize that online harassment has a real impact on [LGBTQ] lives.”
Jaclyn Friedman, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency want to stop it from happening with Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself from Online Harassment.
“We wrote this guide in hopes of offering the support and tools we didn’t have when we experienced threats so that others can be better prepared,” Sherman says.
“Dealing with online harassment can be scary and overwhelming but there are steps you can take to protect your online privacy,” says Sarkeesian.
They suggest focusing on these three things:
• Set up a two-step verification: On email and social media sites you can turn on a two-step verification that requires a code from an app or text before you can sign in via a new device.
• Create unique, complex passwords: Your passwords should be hard to come up with. Good ones tend to be a mix of 7-15 upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. Hackers collect tens of thousands of passwords; if yours is common they don’t need to get it from you.
• Remove potential doxxing information: Your personal information — current and previous addresses, employers, driving and criminal records, previous names used (which can reveal if you’re trans), and family members — is available through public sites like Whitepages, AnyWho.com, and Spokeo. Fortunately, you can ask to have this information removed.
Visit OnlineSafety.FeministFrequency.com for more.