The “shitty media men” list wasn’t made to be a bludgeon. When the anonymous, crowdsourced Google spreadsheet was first created earlier this month to collect anonymous reports of alleged sexual abusers, harassers, and general creeps in the New York City media and publishing sphere, it was presented, and understood by its creators, more as a shield than as a weapon — a tool to help women to protect themselves from men they should avoid. It was highly and admittedly unreliable — “take everything with a grain of salt,” it said at the top, and “if you see a man you’re friends with, don’t freak out” — but it was also private, meant to be shared quietly and directly between women the way whispered warnings always have been.
This model, of course, didn’t work for very long. For about 24 hours, the list circulated as it was intended to, among a fairly small number of women. Then it was taken offline, though screenshots, and a re-created read-only version floated around the internet in the days that followed. That iteration of the list was also taken offline; now, an Excel spreadsheet that appears to be a reproduction of the original Google document is floating around the web. This time, though, the list is no longer even theoretically a tool for helping women. It’s now being leaked and distributed not to protect women from predators but to publicly attack the men on it. The list has been weaponized for the online culture wars, and the women who created it, contributed to it, and were intended as its readers left totally powerless and voiceless as it’s used to undermine the industry in which they work.
A few days after the first public reports of the list’s existence — a BuzzFeed piece entitled “What to Do With ‘Shitty Media Men?’” — the ultra-right-wing blogger Mike Cernovich (the man who brought you Pizzagate) offered a $10,000 reward to anybody who could supply him with a copy of the list. His request was answered several days later, though he says his informant wouldn’t take his money. Cernovich, who in 2003 was charged with rape, later reduced to “misdemeanor battery,” presented his acquisition of the list as a reportorial coup, and insisting that he was acting to rid the media industry of sexual predators, published two names from the list, accompanied with a game-show-like promise to reveal the rest of it once he’d “give[n] the men accused of sexual misconduct time to reply.” Notably, the only two names he published were long-standing personal enemies of Cernovich. He has yet to post the whole list at the advice of his attorney.
Now, having moved from its original private status into wider and wider circles, the list has reached the final stage. Yesterday, a copy of it was published on Reddit; since then, an anonymous Twitter account devoted to it has been tweeting a link incessantly. Somehow, these anonymous users seem even less interested in protecting women or punishing wrongdoing than Cernovich was. The Twitter account is linking to the list in tweets that include trending hashtags — a classic spam tactic — and tweeting the link at various sportswriters and some alt-right accounts in a transparent attempt to stir up shit and drama on Twitter and throughout media. Now, there’s not even a pretense that the list is being published for any reason other than to instigate fights, attack the hated liberal media, and settle a series of imagined scores.
This is disappointing, but not unexpected. It’s how the internet works: The aggressive and disingenuous trolls of the new far-right have never encountered something they couldn’t refashion into a cudgel for their endless crusade. The moment the list became public knowledge, it transformed from something potentially helpful to something potentially dangerous for everyone involved. Mike Cernovich and company are driving the story, and they’re going to take it where they want. You could attack the list’s creators for not seeing this coming, or defend them by pointing out it’s not their fault that the list was leaked. But what’s the point? They’re not even part of the conversation anymore.