By: Wendy Widom
Chicago (CBS)– Five years after GamerGate brought global attention to the scourge of harassment of women online, an Illinois writer with a genetic disorder tweeted multiple selfies in defiant response to YouTube commenters who made derogatory and hateful comments about her looks.
Melissa Blake, a DeKalb, Illinois native, runs a personal blog about disabilities rights and women’s issues called ‘So About What I Said’. In August, she received a message on Facebook informing her that a YouTuber named Mark Dice had mentioned her in a video criticizing the call to unfollow President Trump on Twitter.
Dice, who has 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube, described his platform the “BEST CONSERVATIVE CHANNEL ON YOUTUBE.”
In the video, Dice referred to Blake as an “alleged journalist,” and showed an image of her, along with an excerpt from her August op-ed on CNN.com, which reads, in part, “Some say Trump should be banned from Twitter, and I wholeheartedly agree.”
In the comments section below Dice’s YouTube video, the commenters’ vitriol focused on Blake’s appearance.
In response to reading the negative comments about her appearance, Blake tweeted screenshots of them and wrote: “Reminder that this is what it’s like to be a disabled woman writer on the internet AND #ThisIsAmerica in 2019: A conservative YouTuber mentioned my recent op-ed about #UnfollowTrump.
The comments? I’m fat, ugly and look like a blob fish, a parade balloon and a potato with a face.”
Reminder that this is what it’s like to be a disabled woman writer on the internet AND #ThisIsAmerica in 2019: A conservative YouTuber mentioned my recent op-ed about #UnfollowTrump. The comments? I’m fat, ugly and look like a blob fish, a parade balloon and a potato with a face. pic.twitter.com/ROczIXKNom
— Melissa Blake (@melissablake) August 8, 2019
Blake was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a disorder “characterized by joint deformities,” according to the NIH website. She told CBS 2 she has undergone multiple surgeries due to the disorder.
Weeks after tweeting about the negative YouTube comments, Blake realized she had more to say. “I’d been thinking a lot about what had happened and then I thought ‘well, maybe I should give them the exact opposite of what they want!’” she told CBS 2.
Blake tweeted three selfies and wrote: “During the last round of trollgate, people said that I should be banned from posting photos of myself because I’m too ugly. So I’d just like to commemorate the occasion with these 3 selfies…”
During the last round of trollgate, people said that I should be banned from posting photos of myself because I’m too ugly. So I’d just like to commemorate the occasion with these 3 selfies… 📸😉👋🏻 pic.twitter.com/9ZuSYFOtwv
— Melissa Blake (@melissablake) September 7, 2019
That tweet has gone viral, with more than 26,000 retweets and 275,000 likes.
TrollGate is an extension of GamerGate, which refers to the online harassment faced by women in the gaming industry. GamerGate came to national attention in 2014 when gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled an appearance at Utah State University after someone sent an anonymous letter to university staff promising “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if Sarkeesian’s appearance took place.
For women, the choice to speak up about inequality must be weighed against the fear of one’s life and personal safety. As CBS Chicago reported, in cases like GamerGate, harassment doesn’t stop at overwhelming criticism on Twitter. It often corresponds with hackers disclosing personal addresses and phone numbers, along with rape and death threats.
The threat of violence even forces some women into silence.
Since tweeting the selfies, Blake has received a flood of support from people around the world. Her Twitter following has spiked to over 50,000 from 7,500.
One woman who disagrees with Blake’s political views told her, “You and I don’t agree on anything politically, but I don’t condone,” the attacks, Blake told CBS 2.
“You’re opinion of yourself is so much more important than what other people think of you,” Blake told CBS 2 when asked about advice she would give to people facing online hate. She said she also recommends blocking people when necessary. “People may say things but you don’t have to listen.”