Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

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Chris Rice
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Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Chris Rice » Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:53 pm

A Norwegian journalist, Julie Egeland has written an article for Morgenbladet alleging she has been sexually harassed at Chess.com and demonstrating why female chess players may be put off from playing online.

As the article is in Norwegian, below is a Google translation so apologies for the translation and grammar errors but hopefully its readable, followed by a link to the response from the Chess.com CEO where the CEO apologises to the journalist and clearly asserts that he wants to stamp out this disgusting behaviour.

"When I decided in the New Year to join the world's largest chess community - chess.com - I expected to be humiliated. I have not played chess since I challenged the school's caretaker to a lightning game in a small room and I have no greater knowledge than I know where the various pieces can go.

What I did not expect, however, was that nerds from around the world should ask if I get wet by losing my queen or being called a whore when I sacrifice a rook to win a knight. It is, of course, off the board I should be humiliated, not on it.

At Chess.com one can play games against not only friends but random people from all corners of the world. Like many others, I play via the chess.com app on the phone. When you want to start a game, the chess app selects an appropriate opponent based on the level you are on. Playing against random players is a good strategy to become a better player and get a better rating. (Not to mention that it's fun when you have about two other friends playing chess.) While the party is in progress, you have the opportunity to chat with your opponent, for example, to arrange possible draw, or send one of chess.com's automated messages, like "good game".

It is here, behind the black and white fields - in the dark gray zone of the internet - the real game takes place for some. Since I created the user Jullassjakk in January, with an associated profile picture/portrait photo of myself wearing sunglasses, I have received messages from about ten different users who are directly sex-depriving, as well as several more innocent but still flirtatious and ongoing messages.

I must honestly admit that when writing "show ur pussy", I don't get hurt in my stomach or feel the tears pushing. I find it primarily unruly comic. At the same time, it is not to be overlooked that being asked to show pussy while sitting at the kitchen table and playing before dinner seems distracting. It takes your mind away from the game itself - in just a few seconds. When you play a five-minute speed match, those seconds are valuable.

If you search for "Sexual harassment, online chess" in Google, you get a number of threads from the forum to chess.com, where several female users write that they are still amazed at how many approaches they get of sexual character when playing chess online . More people ask for advice on what to do to avoid getting such messages. An alternative is to shut down the chat, another to report the user and try to get the person blocked.

Fortunately, several male users in the forum have the final answer to the problem: They suggest that as long as one only switches to a neutral profile image and does not choose to have an avatar where one clearly sees that one is a woman, then the harassment disappears. The user embutido writes: "If you leave everything as it is, maybe you are subconsciously looking for attention from men?"

In other words, we have made the mistake; to be a girl on the internet. If we are to avoid ending up when we play chess, then we must pretend that we are a man. The rhetoric belongs in the 1950s.

At the same time, these users have a straightforward turn. When I talked to my two male friends and chess.com players about the approaches, they just amazed me. They didn't understand what I was talking about, they had never received messages other than "gg" ( good game )!

Chess.com is not a unique case - unfortunately. Rather, it is an example that shows how the stallion is in 2019. According to a report by the Institute for Social Research of 2016 , women experience more gender-based ecstasy than men do, and women are also more prone to sexual harassment and stalking - unwanted and repetitive attention. Being a woman online is completely different than being a man.

It is also tempting to draw parallels from the dark corner of chess.com - not to forget the answers to the forum - to the big problem of the chess in 2019: That sport is still dominated by men. It applies to who is playing and claiming in chess, but also who is the leader in the conversation about it - and sets the premises.

The messages I have received tell something ominously about the work of recruiting more girls which "everyone" agrees is a stated goal. As The Guardian commentator Alisha Matthewson-Grand wrote after the Chess World Cup in 2018, the root of the recruitment problem is that we still lack prominent female chess players in the world top - we lack a female Magnus Carlsen. Junior talents are developing early. So how do we build them? We must at least avoid pushing them down.

For one thing, what the chat room on chess.com is doing with me, a falling star on the chess sky of 28 years, but what about the 15-year-old girl, who may be the start of a promising chess career, who is training play online after school? How can such harassing, at best, slothful messages affect her and her self-image? What does it do with the will and desire to go further on chess?

If the chess environment continues to close its eyes to what is happening in the place where "most people" actually talk and talk about chess - on the internet - they may risk losing more female talents and future stars along the way. In that case, it will be a loss."

Chess.Com CEO response

David Sedgwick
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by David Sedgwick » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:34 pm

The CEO seems to be taking the matter seriously, which is good.

However. I have felt for a while that some of the comments in response to news items on Chess.com go beyond what Carl would allow on here.

They are not like the comments Ms Egeland has been receiving, just rather unpleasant. That makes them easier to ignore, of course.

Roger Lancaster
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Roger Lancaster » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:39 pm

I'd commend the Chess.com CEO on his prompt response although, of course, actions as well as words are needed.

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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by David Robertson » Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:17 pm

My sympathies to the journalist-player concerned. But she's a bit wet behind the ears, not to say years behind the times. The online (& thereafter offline and real time) abuse, harassment, stalking, doxxing and even death threats towards women have been long-term features of the largely male-dominated gaming world, including online chess. The matter has been widely discussed; academically researched; and politically interrogated. Little has changed. Online misogyny has spilled over into a broader abuse and harassment of women in public life (cf. Trump & Hillary Clinton, 2016; Luciana Berger, 2019)

The go-to case is this: the Gamergate controversy (2014). There are enough references here to keep you busy for a while. Suffice to say that online misogyny has been closely correlated (in America certainly) with the rise of the far-Right and pro-Trump politics. What was once written off as cheesey sexist banter has morphed into a darker toxic masculinity of male resentment towards wider social changes in women's position in the economy and so forth. If you want to dig deeper, GO HERE. It will be small comfort to the women concerned to learn that the online chess community lies at the relatively restrained end of the range.

Kevin Thurlow
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:21 pm

"Suffice to say that online misogyny has been closely correlated (in America certainly) with the rise of the far-Right and pro-Trump politics. "

That would please the left wing of course, but I think it is just some men/boys being totally obnoxious. Online abuse of female players certainly pre-dates Trump politics by at least a decade.

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JustinHorton
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by JustinHorton » Sun Mar 03, 2019 9:31 pm

Kevin Thurlow wrote:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:21 pm
. Online abuse of female players certainly pre-dates Trump politics by at least a decade.
I think this is true, but one thing I'm often struck by is how certain online arenas, and this would include, for instance, Twitter, YouTube comments and (say) Chessbomb comments, are reminiscent of bulletin boards and forums fifteen to twenty years ago in that they're mostly or entirely unmoderated. This is an absolute invitation to every bully and bigot around, and because society is as it is, it's women and minorities who bear the brunt.

(I know there were moderators back then, but the philosophy very often was that you should just learn to take it, and so on. Of course what the victims generally learned was that they weren't welcome and nobody was going to help them.)
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Roger de Coverly
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Roger de Coverly » Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:26 pm

Chris Rice wrote:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:53 pm
A Norwegian journalist, Julie Egeland has written an article for alleging she has been sexually harassed at Chess.com and demonstrating why female chess players may be put off from playing online.
She's been the victim of "trash talk" or as it's known in cricket, sledging. You can get the same anywhere the rules are sufficiently social to allow talk during the game. So in the OTB context, that's "friendly" Blitz when there are no serious games taking place alongside.

As indicated in the article, the defence is not to reveal anything about yourself when playing online.

J T Melsom
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by J T Melsom » Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:46 pm

Arguably the most foolish of all 17,614 posts you've submitted. Re-read after a good night's sleep and reflect on why this is simply unacceptable and not remotely like sledging; for a start it's anonymous and effectively private unless the victim complains. Moreover as the article suggests you can be messaged outside of the game time. And there should be no reason for the victim to change their behaviour- being a woman shouldn't be an invitation to be abused. Horrendous scenes.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Roger de Coverly » Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:14 pm

J T Melsom wrote:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:46 pm
Re-read after a good night's sleep and reflect on why this is simply unacceptable and not remotely like sledging; for a start it's anonymous and effectively private unless the victim complains.
I think you are missing the key point that those who didn't divulge personal details didn't suffer the abuse. Many servers allow chat to be off whilst playing.

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JustinHorton
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by JustinHorton » Mon Mar 04, 2019 5:53 am

I think you're missing the key point that those who suffered the abuse shouldn't have to. Women shouldn't have to hide to play online chess.
"Do you play chess?"
"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."

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Roger Lancaster
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Roger Lancaster » Mon Mar 04, 2019 8:39 am

Roger de Coverly wrote:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:14 pm
I think you are missing the key point that those who didn't divulge personal details didn't suffer the abuse. Many servers allow chat to be off whilst playing.
Sorry but that's entirely wrong. It's down to the abusers, not the abused, to change their behaviour.

NickFaulks
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by NickFaulks » Mon Mar 04, 2019 10:09 am

Roger Lancaster wrote:
Mon Mar 04, 2019 8:39 am
Sorry but that's entirely wrong. It's down to the abusers, not the abused, to change their behaviour.
The case which started this discussion looks quite egregious and, assuming it is verified, the banning of the individual would seem to be an easy decision. However, there has to be a border between innocent banter and offensive language, and not everyone will agree on where it is.

Those toward the "easily offended" end of the scale should turn off chat. In fact, even though I am not easily offended, I tend to do that myself, because I am there to play chess, not to chat.

Watching a game on, for instance, Chessdom is another story. There may be some pearls of wisdom among the comments, but they are buried in piles of rubbish that is offensive or just stupid. I'm afraid that looks irretrievable.

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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by J T Melsom » Mon Mar 04, 2019 10:54 am

Brilliant - people who are 'easily offended' should avoid social contact with those who behave in toxic behaviour. So best not to venture out of the home. Oh and if women do venture out they should ensure they dress modestly.

The messages are not as some are suggesting confined to chat during games - you can post on somebody's personal page and during my couple of months on this site I've seen profiles where insults of a lower order have been left.

There should be no reason for women to take special precautions when playing on line and the suggestion that they should is a throwback to a less civilised age. Can we not just unambiguously condemn the behaviour of the individuals who perpetrate this vile nonsense??

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Carl Hibbard
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Carl Hibbard » Mon Mar 04, 2019 11:02 am

J T Melsom wrote:
Mon Mar 04, 2019 10:54 am
Can we not just unambiguously condemn the behaviour of the individuals who perpetrate this vile nonsense?
Yes.
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Carl Hibbard

Roger Lancaster
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Re: Harassment and Toxic Behavior on Chess.com

Post by Roger Lancaster » Mon Mar 04, 2019 11:03 am

NickFaulks wrote:
Mon Mar 04, 2019 10:09 am
However, there has to be a border between innocent banter and offensive language, and not everyone will agree on where it is.
Agreed but I think common sense plays a big part here. Even innocent banter can offend some people so it makes sense to reserve it for occasions when, perhaps just being in the company of close friends, you can be sure it won't be taken amiss. I've failed to observe this rule myself (usually in face-to-face situations rather than online) on more than one occasion and discovered that what I believed to be a harmless joke was taken in a completely different spirit.

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