RationalWiki’s Mishandling of Paedophilia Allegations

This is going to be a long, messy post on an ugly and frankly dispiriting subject. Why am I spending so much time writing something that, I can confidently predict, only a handful of people at most will bother reading? The answer is simple. I’ve seen some disturbing things, I’ve had people with more power and influence than myself try to gaslight me into thinking that I didn’t see disturbing things, and it’s left me with a mental scab that I’ve been picking at for years. A recent incident prompted me to finally tear off that scab and let it all bleed out. You’re standing in the blood right now.

There’s a site on the net called RationalWiki, which is devoted to humorous debunkings of various extremists, cranks and con-artists. It’s got some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff. In the latter category, we find its coverage of a person named Sarah Nyberg. So, before I properly delve into RationalWiki, let me talk about Nyberg.

 

The Sarah Nyberg affair

In the notoriously high-speed world of internet culture, the Sarah Nyberg affair is already ancient history. It blew up during 2015, which may as well have been in the previous century. Nyberg herself seems to have vanished from the web: she hasn’t tweeted from her personal account since 2018. I suspect that many people who had smouldering opinions one way or another about her have forgotten the whole business.

If nothing else, this should at least put us in a position to sift through the embers and work out exactly what happened. If we do so, we find that this task is trickier than might first be assumed. A search on Google will reveal various posts about Sarah Nyberg, but most of these are blatantly biased either towards her or against her. The key player was Breitbart, the hard-right tabloid that hosted Milo Yiannopoulos — until he tanked his career by advocating pederasty. I have full sympathy with those who simply want to wash their hands of the whole sordid business, I really do; but somebody’s got to do the dirty job and it may as well be me.

Here’s the basic fact of the matter. Circa 2006, when she was about twenty years old, Sarah Nyberg was in the habit of publicly claiming to find children sexually attractive.

Right now, I’m picturing a number of readers standing up to voice their objections. “Hold on,” I imagine them calling out. “Wasn’t all of that made up by Gamergate as a smear campaign against her?”

Short answer: No. Gamergate did play a major role in spreading the dirt on her, but they didn’t invent it.

Much of the evidence against Nyberg takes the form of chatlogs gleaned from her old website Final Fantasy Shrine and now spread across various sites of varying reliability. However, I’d rather start by discussing a related piece of information: a thread from January 2006 at the forum of Venus Envy, a transgender webcomic.

Here it is. The author of the thread, who uses the screenname “retrogradesnowcone”, claims ownership of Final Fantasy Shrine, which is known to have been Nyberg’s website (“why is it so strange that I use ffshrine to host my pictures? I run the site, why not abuse the space I get?” asks retrogradesnowcone).  She also identifies as transgender and links to (now-deleted) selfies that have the name “Sarah” in the URLs. So, this is a transgender woman named Sarah who, in 2006, claimed to be the owner of Sarah Nyberg’s website.

The thread starts innocently enough, with retrogradesowcone asking about cosmetic surgery, but then another user — DJ Izumi — objects to her presence. They claim to have seen retrogradesnowcone admitting to paedophilia elsewhere:

Now we have to deal with an admitted pedophile on the forums? Who admits attractions to young girls between the ages of 12 and 6 but sometimes as young as 4? Who believes there is nothing wrong with those attractions and the only issue between you and your shemale lesbian child raping is legality and the fact that ‘All the meany non-pedo’s will freak out if I have sex with a child and their reaction would harm the child’ so in the mean time you’re content to ‘Just try and be their friends’?

After a second user expresses disgust, retrogradesnowcone returns to defend herself:

there is no reference of pedophilia before dj came along. I have no intentions of bringing it up here. she brought it up because it came up while I was in the #venusenvy chat. but for the record: yes, I am a pedophile. no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. no, I don’t– I wouldn’t ever– have sex with children. no, I don’t look at child porn. beyond that, I really wish it’d just be dropped.

So, retrogradesnowcone admits to having identified herself as a paedophile in the Venus Envy chatroom, which is where DJ Izumi came across her. At this point she could easily have claimed that she was just joking; instead, she doubles down and identifies herself as a paedophile again, albeit a non-offending one.

DJ Izumi then comes back and posts some snippets from the chatroom, where we see more of retrogradesnowcone’s statements. In one, she expresses hope for “a more sex-positive society” where an adult can “do sexual things with a child” without harm:

[03:08] <retrogradesnowcone> I don’t think it’s right to do sexual things with a child, not because a child can’t consent, but because in the context of society it can really @#%$ them up. in a more sex-positive society I don’t think it’d be a problem

Here, she discusses her personal ages of attraction:

[03:11] <retrogradesnowcone> I’m attracted to (usually) about 6 to 12. been attracted to as low as 4 but that’s atypical

In this exchange she refers to her “lgf”, and explains that this stands for “little girl friend”:

[01:57] <retrogradesnowcone> ;-;; this is making me miss my lgf

[01:57] <deaincaelo> lgf?

[01:57] <retrogradesnowcone> little girl friend.

There are other excerpts, including one in which retrogradesnowcone apparently links to what she considers “a site for lesbian pedophiles”, but you get the idea. The other members respond with varying levels of contempt, and retrogradesnowcone eventually gets banned. Nobody seems to question her sincerity. They take her posts at face value and treat her as a self-identified paedophile.

Now, compare this to an archive of Final Fantasy Shrine from January 2006, the same month in which retrogradesnowcone (who, remember, claimed to be the owner of FFShrine) posted at the Venus Envy forum. The page shows a snippet from a then-current conversation at the FFShrine IRC chat. Note the overlap with the chatroom snippets posted by DJ Izumi at the Venus Envy forum — namely, the references to an “lgf” or “little girl friend”, here made by a member named Sarah:

[00:20] <Sarah> thank heaven for little girls
[00:20] <Myra> lol sarah
[00:20] <firion> I can finally complete my collection of FF music
[00:20] <firion> 😀
[00:20] Action: firion dances
[00:20] <Apollo> 😮
[00:20] <Myra> you sure have a lot to thank for
[00:20] <firion> where has this room been all my life
[00:20] <Sarah> I only see my lgf like a few times a year ;(
[00:20] <firion> lol
[00:21] <Magere> Sarah, figured out when you are visiting her yet?
[00:21] <Sarah> at the very latest I will in summer sometime. my dad wants to go visit her place because he wants to go fishing there and I’d tag along and hopefully convince him to go fairly regularly !

As an aside, one person linked to this archive at RationalWiki, only to have the content revision-deleted by moderator David Gerard. For those unfamiliar with the workings of wikis, revision-deletion means that the content is purged not only from the page (as with a standard deletion) but from the history of the page, making it impossible to view unless you’re a staff member. This is one example of RationalWiki covering up awkward questions about this topic; I’ll be looking at more later on.

So, we’ve established that a transgender woman who gave her name as Sarah and claimed ownership of FFShrine was defending paedophilia  in 2006. There’s more. Here’s a mid-2006 thread about paedophilia at a forum called ThePriceisLol. One of the people taking part is a user called Sarah, who links to FFShrine in her signature with the text “come join my forums”. After another user passes judgment on the age of consent (“16 seems perfect, if not still a bit too young, but 12 is outrageous”) poster Sarah begs to differ:

having a high age of consent does nothing though. people choose to have sex long before they turn 16. pretending that they don’t doesn’t accomplish much. why is it okay for, say, a 14 year old to consent to sex with a 14 year old, but if the other individual’s 20, it’s instantly abuse? I don’t get that, and never have. the potential for abuse grows, sure, but it isn’t inherently abusive.

Responding to a few other posts, she then comments on paedophilia in general, suggesting that sexual relationships between adults and children are “not inherently abusive” and that “what’s harmful is society pretending children are asexual”:

couldn’t it be that children that had a positive, fulfilling, non-abusive sexual relationship with an adult as a child are more likely to realize such relationships are not inherently abusive, and be more likely to admit they’re attracted to kids (either to themselves or others)? […] definitely agree that most people aren’t ready at 12. but most people not being ready is NOT a valid reason to outlaw sex at said age. […] childhood sexuality is typically NOT expressed in the form of full-blown intercourse. instead it’s in ways that are inherently less dangerous and virtually impossible to lead to pregnancy, etc. childhood sex play is typically anything from playing doctor to mutual masturbation to SHOW ME YOURS AND I’LL SHOW YOU MINE. there’s nothing harmful about it. what’s harmful is society pretending children are asexual.

She also quotes, with approval, this comment by another member:

Throughout most of human history the age of consent was 12 or younger, at that age the body is biologically ready. Its our own fault we’ve created a bunch of fake puritanical religious doctrine and customs to suppress our own natural biological urges.

It seems safe to say that Sarah/retrogradesnowcone at the Venus Envy forum and Sarah at ThePriceisLol are the same person, given that they both identified as the owner of FFShrine and both made similar defences of paedophilia. Who, exaclty, is this person? Sarah Nyberg is known to have been the onwer of FFShrine, so what is the connection between her and Sarah/retrogradesnowcone?

Next, we have some anecdotal evidence. Here’s a 2007 post from still another forum in which a person describes their unpleasant experiences at Final Fantasy Shrine:

Another character was Sarah, an administrator who was allegedly a pedophile. (Don’t ask me whether “she” was really a girll; it was hard to tell.) I think Sarah had been expressing an unhealthy fixation on children from the very beginning, and I could only hope it was all some disgusting in-joke that had gone on for too long.

Between this and her banning from the Venus Envy forum, it’s clear that this enigmatic poster, who was involved with Sarah Nyberg’s website and was also named Sarah, had a reputation as a paedophile circa 2006-7 — years before Gamergate existed.

So again, who was Sarah/retrogradesnowcone? Were there two transgender women named Sarah running FFShrine in 2006 — one of them Sarah Nyberg, the other a self-described paedophile? Was someone pretending to be Nyberg to smear her as a paedophile in 2006 — and if so, who and why? Or are they the same person? The accusation that Nyberg is the same as the Sarah/retrogradesnowcone at these forums has been around at least as far back as 2015, and to the best of my knowledge, she has never denied it.

There is one more piece of anecdotal evidence I’d like to point out. Admittedly, it postdates Gamergate; indeed. it comes from a video hosted by Milo Yiannopoulos. Nevertheless, I believe that it is worth serious consideration. In this video Yiannopoulos interviews multiple people who claim to have been members of Final Fantasy Shrine; amongst them is a woman who identifies herself simply as “M”. This person accuses Nyberg of initiating sexually inappropriate roleplay with her, despite knowing that she was underage;

I was probably 14, 15 at the time, when I had gotten there, the IRC channel for our forum had kind of merged with the FFShrine IRC channel, and there wasn’t a whole bunch of mention of pedophilia or anything outright by Sarah at that time, so whenever somone would refer to Sarah as a pedophile or anything I would just assume it was some sort of running joke, and we actually got to be pretty good friends, we would chat pretty regularly about normal boring stuff. Occasionally, those chats would sort of edge into inappropriate roleplay where Sarah would make really strange and rather inappropriate requests of me, knowing I was well underage at the itme.

She would want me to roleplay as her mother, and she would want to be an underage child, very young, and then say things like “oh, mommy, tickle me where it’s wet” and I don’t really want to talk too much more about that.

And it would be one of those things where I was younger and really kind of edgelordy myself and kind of desperate for attention, it was a really embarrassing time. So eventually I would kind of start to respond for maybe one or two lines and then after that get really too uncomfortable to continue, and not really talk to her for a while after that. Then she wouldn’t talk to me either, and eventually just normal conversation would resume. And at the time I was really into 4Chan and weird shit would go on at that kind of place and I thought it was kind of normal, but taking a look now into what was said into the past before I was introduced to Sarah and the things she said to me, it makes me feel really kind of sick and complicit and all of that.

Later in the interview “M” states that her claims were ignored on Twitter:

I’m relatively new to Twitter… when I set up an anonymous account to tweet about this a little bit, just checking under hashtags for Sarah I noticed a lot of supporters and they said the only reason that this was even being brought up was to demonise her under Gamergate and it’s because she’s trans and those are the only reasons and there’s no proof and no victim, so I’d bring up the private chats and basically be ignored or blocked right after, so I don’t know if any more information is going to convince people she’s done these things…

I shall make no comment one way or the other about the veracity of the claims made by “M” — the reader can make up their own mind.

 

Sarah Nyberg: the case for the defence

After the FFShrine chatlogs (which I’ll examine in due course) were leaked, Nyberg’s contacts in the punditsphere rallied in her defence, convincing many of their followers to do the same. One awkward little detail that these people generally avoid acknowledging, however, is that the defence has been far from consistant.

An early variation, which I’ll be discussing later in this post as it made it into one of RationalWiki’s articles, was that the leaked chatlogs actually show Nyberg copy-pasting someone else’s paedophilic roleplay sessions to criticise. Other arguments were that the chatlogs were forged, or actually depict a different person with the same name as Sarah Nyberg.

However, over the course of August-September 2015, the most offensive portions of the chatlogs had become so widely-disseminated by Nyberg’s opponents that such arguments were harder for her supporters to maintain. Once it was established that Nyberg did indeed write that material, a new line of defence was required.

At least one commentator suggested that Nyberg was taking part in “consensual roleplay with someone”.  Another, more eyebrow-raising defence came from Reddit user ArchangelleJazeera, who acknowledged the possibilty of Nyberg being “a closet pedophile” and then thanked her for her restraint:

While some of the things attributed to Sarah are quite gross, and we are certainly against the active dissemination of pedophilia and pro-csa propaganda, it seems that at worst in 2015 she is a closet pedophile who no longer publicly supports CSA in which case we thank her for her restraint and hope she is getting help…

A similar tack was taken by author Elizabeth Sandifer. Sandifer  admitted that the evidence did point to Nyberg being a paedophile — albeit a “non-offending” one:

The person in question appears to have identified in several online discussions over the past decade as a non-offending pedophile, and has indicated that she’s sought psychiatric treatment for this and was, in her therapist’s professional opinion, not a danger to anyone. She also appears to have made rather a lot of tasteless jokes in IRC, but then, that’s basically true of everyone in IRC.

At around the same time, Sandifer also argued that Nyberg’s repeated claims to be a paedophile constitute “the minute complexities of a trans woman’s relationship with the idea of childhood”. The ugly implications of the notion that Nyberg’s paedophilic posts are connected to her gender identity scarcely need underlining. Sandifer’s defence of Nyberg also led to her arguing against the exclusion of “non-offending pedophiles” from activist groups.

(As an aside, Elizabeth Sandifer has a working relationship with RationalWiki’s moderator David Gerard: he edited her book Neoreaction a Basilisk. The circle tightens).

Then, three days after the Breitbart article went live, Nyberg wrote a piece on Medium in her defence. entitled “I’m Sarah Nyberg, and I Was a Teenage Edgelord”. Here, she admitted that the chatlogs were genuine, and did show her writing — but that she said those things as jokes.

Now, I’m not a mind-reader. Perhaps she’s telling the truth; perhaps she isn’t. I have no way of saying with certainty (although I would like to point out that the title of the article is somewhat disingenuous, given that Nyberg was in her early twenties when she made the bulk of her objectionable posts). What I’m discussing here is how her supporters framed her defence.

After Nyberg came forward with her claim to have been joking, this became the standard line of defence from Nyberg’s supporters. Their previous assertions — that the chatlogs were fake, that she was copy-pasting someone else’s roleplay sessions, that she was a “closet pedophile” who deserves gratitude for her restraint — were largely abandoned. Anybody who questioned Nyberg’s sincerity was treated as mentally and/or morally deficient, and her “teenage edgelord” excuse was accepted as the obvious, undeniable truth. None of these people seemed to think it strange that it had taken them so long to settle upon this “obvious” defence.

 

How does RationalWiki cover the Nyberg affair?

Now, let’s take a look at how RationalWiki’s Timeline of Gamergate article covers the Nyberg affair:

August 31: Gamergater “LeoThePirate” doubles down on Gamergate’s baseless attacks on Sarah Nyberg by publishing a video accusing her of being a pedophile, accompanying it with the hashthag “#FreeEncyclopediaDramatica”. The evidence used against her is gleaned from nearly 10-year-old IRC chatlogs obtained from when Gamergaters hacked her personal websites wherein, and here’s the kicker, she is explicitly expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplaying on LiveJournal that she was not engaging in herself. Gamergate has for months been accusing her of pedophilia because of she had copied and pasted the content and they removed the context that showed she was clearly against it. The fact that this information has been available for 7 months at this point, alongside debunked accusations that Nyberg is the “Sarah Butts” who wrote for The Mary Sue that they have other context-less chatlogs that may not even be from Nyberg, shows the ethical standards of people who align with Breitbart in action.

This is an atrocious paragraph that eventually descends into gibberish (seriously, read that last sentence out loud and tell me it makes sense) but more than that, it makes serious factual errors.

As well as getting the YouTuber’s name wrong (it’s TheLeoPirate, not LeoThePirate) the article completely misrepresents his video by claiming, falsely, that the chatlogs it excerpts show Nyberg “explicitly expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplaying on LiveJournal that she was not engaging in herself”. They don’t. The chatlogs in the video show Nyberg claiming to be a paedophile, in the same manner as “retrogradesnowcone” at the Venus Envy forum.

I’d rather not link to TheLeoPirate’s video, as it shows chatlogs mentioning Nyberg’s 8-year-old cousin by name, but suffice to say that I’ve watched it and am familiar with its content. I can’t say I’m a fan of TheLeoPirate himself: he’s unabashedly pro-Gamergate and starts off with an utterly facile defence of the movement (he tries to counter accusations that Gamergate is racist by playing a clip from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air). To use the vernacular, he comes across as something of a douchebag. But credit where due, the video is well-sourced, the bulk of it being taken up by Nyberg’s chatlogs.

Here are some excerpts. Nyberg’s 8-year-old cousin is a recurring topic, and I’ve taken the liberty of removing her name:

Well, this certainly sheds light on the reference to a “little girl friend” we saw in the archived links above. Incidentally, the link at the top of the previous screenshot was blocked out in the video; I examined the chatlog in question and can confirm that it was a link to a long-deleted file hosted by Imageshack. As an aside, an analysis of the image links found throughout the chatlogs — from an author entirely unsympathetic towards Nyberg — can be read here.

As the icing on the cake, the paedophilia is joined by overt racism:

Before I go back to RationalWiki, I’d like to mention a follow-up to the above saga of Nyberg’s cousin. In his Breitbart article on Nyberg, Milo Yiannopoulos claims to have traced the parents of the child (the latter referred to by the pseudonym of Alice):

Using the information Nyberg posted online we were easily able to locate and contact Alice’s parents, who said they knew nothing about these logs but had made sure that Nyberg and their daughter had never been left alone together. Alice’s father preferred not to elaborate on why he and his wife took the decision to make sure Nyberg, then called [deadname removed] and living as a twentysomething man, was never given unsupervised contact with Alice, 8. […] Breitbart is in contact with both of Alice’s parents. They confirm the facts of our story but have declined to comment on the record.

Nyberg’s supporters will doubtless tell me that Yiannopoulos is lying. Perhaps so — but if he’s lying, then what’s the truth? Are the child and her parents ficitonal characters? Are they real people, but Yiannopoulos is lying about having spoken to them? If Nyberg’s attackers invented entirely fictitious relatives for her, or else invented a fictitious conversation between her actual relatives and Milo Yiannopoulos, then why didn’t she mention such remarkable details in her Medium article? After all, ether case would have constituted the single most outrageous attempt to defame her. I have yet to hear anyone answer any of these questions.

Having cast an eye over the controversial chatlogs, allow me to return to RationalWiki. Which, in case you have forgotten, confidently informs us that all of the chatlog excerpts shown in TheLeoPirate’s video and later incorporated into the Breitbart article — all of them! — are no more than Nyberg “expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplaying on LiveJournal”.

Its sole evidence for this bold claim? A tweet thread featuring comments by Nyberg herself, which she made several months before TheLeoPirate’s video went live. This is the specific tweet linked to:

The tweet itself is barely relevant to the article. I suspect that the link was intended to point to a short exchange lower down in the thread, in which Nyberg mentions copy-pasting material from LiveJournal:

Here we see Twitter rando Poundingcake enquiring about “the dog one”, and Nyberg stating that this “was pasted from a livejournal”.

“The dog one”? There’s no mention of dogs in either TheLeoPirate’s video or Breitbart’s article, so what exactly is “the dog one”?

Well, I did some digging, and I found the excerpt from the chatlogs that is clearly being referred to as “the dog one”:

[16:04] <Sarah> My wife and I are new to the K9 thing but are very aroused by it. We have both tried oral on our K9 but his Knott goes away after just a few minutes and loses his hard on. Is there anyway to help him keep it up? Also my wife wants to see me get taken anally by our K9. Is there any real difference between anal and vaginal K9 intercourse?

So, this is the excerpt that Nyberg has claimed that she copy-pasted from someone else’s LiveJournal — and she’s almost certainly telling the truth. Just look at it: it’s a full, correctly-formatted paragraph of text, which isn’t something a person is likely to type into an IRC chat. It also mentions a wife, even though Nyberg appears never to have married (certainly, her wife doesn’t turn up anywhere else in this saga). It’s also true that Nyberg’s attackers have used this excerpt to unfairly accuse her of bestiality. Her more credible critics have condemned this practice: for example, the anonymous Medium article “5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Stand with Sarah Nyberg” acknowledges that “the claims of bestiality are unfounded.”

So, yes, on this occasion I’ll happily concede ground to Sarah Nyberg: “the dog one” is indeed a case of her copy-pasting objectionable material from somewhere else and being wrongly blamed for writing it in the first place.

However, this is very much the exception that proves the rule. We’re still left with the paedophilic material. Let’s take another look at one of the screenshots from the video:

The difference between this excerpt and “the dog one” should be clear. As noted, “the dog one” is a full paragraph that gives every indicitation that it was copy-pasted into the chat. The above conversation, on the other hand, is — well — a conversation.

Again, I can imagine some of my readers objecting: “but how do you know TheLeoPirate didn’t take those comments out of context? You’re not going to take that douchy Gamergater’s word for it, are you?”

Well, no, I didn’t take his word for it. I decided to look at Nyberg’s comments in their original context by examining the full chatlogs, which were publicly available at the time. It turned out that, in their original context, her posts are exactly what they look like. Nyberg is calling herself a paedophile, defending paedophilia, and expressing sexual attraction towards an eight-year-old cousin.

To recap, let’s return to RationalWiki’s summary of the affair:

The evidence used against her is gleaned from nearly 10-year-old IRC chatlogs obtained from when Gamergaters hacked her personal websites wherein, and here’s the kicker, she is explicitly expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplaying on LiveJournal that she was not engaging in herself.

So, as should now be obvious, RationalWiki is conflating different topics. The fact that she copy-pasted someone else’s post about bestiality is muddled with the fact that she repeatedly claimed to be a paedophile, leading to the false claim that she was just copy-pasting someone else’s paedophilic roleplay. Furthermore, bear in mind that the above line is referring specifically to TheLeoPirate’s video — which doesn’t actually include “the dog one”. Yes, it’s true that “the dog one” was misrepresented by many of Nyberg’s attackers; but credit where it’s due, TheLeoPirate’s video didn’t follow this trend.

As we’ve already seen, Nyberg wrote an article on Medium in which she admitted that the chatlogs show her own writing, but claimed that she wrote those things as a joke — albeit a “gross and disturbing” joke that she now regrets:

Chat logs from an IRC room I was in nearly a decade ago were leaked to gamergate. To say the contents of those logs were not flattering would be putting it lightly. They are, in some ways, much what you’d expect from an early-2000’s chatroom of 4chan expats trying too hard to outdo each other for shock value. Even with that context, much of what I said was gross and disturbing, and I have no interest in defending it. Since then, I’ve learned that intent isn’t magic, and a playground of the taboo isn’t particularly conducive to moral growth. That I’ve grown past the person I was back then is something I am deeply and forever thankful for. […] The taboo became a suit of armor; each day, I would be more shocking, more edgy, than the last. Defense of racism, sexual deviancy, murder, and more, all vented between discussions of video games and websites, and thankfully — though not regrettably — contained to those virtual walls.

Regardless of whether or not we accept her claims to have been joking around, I’d like to stress that Nyberg’s article is an admission that, yes, the “Sarah” quoted in TheLeoPirate’s video is in fact her. Here’s another screenshot from the video, showing a quotation in which Nyberg claims to have had a computer containing “legal non-nude model pics” seized by authorities:

Now, read this line from Nyberg’s Medium article:

Outlandish lies I told nearly ten years ago to get a rise out of people (like the straight-faced statement that my computer was “seized by police”) were taken at face value despite being obviously and entirely unsupported by reality — it never happened, and it’s easily verifiable that it never did.

So, there we go. She’s admitted that the above screenshot, which RationalWiki assures us was copy-pasted from someone else’s LiveJournal, is her own writing after all. In fairness, I believe that Nyberg is telling the truth when she claims that this particular statement was a joke; I very much doubt that her computer was actually seized. Does this mean that all of her other posts — including her repeated lewd comments about her 8-year-old cousin — are also jokes? Again, you be the judge.

 

RationalWiki contradicts itself

By this point I think I’ve done a thorough job of demonstrating that the posts in TheLeoPirate’s video do not show Nyberg “actually expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplaying on LiveJournal”, contrary to what RationalWiki claims. I decided to dig in and find out who was responsible for adding that argument, and the results were enlightening.

The paragraph asserting that Nyberg was “expressing disgust” at paedophilic roleplay was added by a user called Ryulong on 4 September 2015. A few days later, Ryulong added another claim: “the ‘chat logs’ that Gamergaters are using to attack Nyberg with were apparently uploaded to the server in question on August 12, 2015, bringing into question their authenticity.” This argument has since been rendered obsolete by Nyberg’s admittance that the chatlogs are authentic; but more than that, it contradicts Ryulong’s earlier claim. If both assertions are correct, then Gamergate forged chatlogs showing Nyberg expressing disgust at paedophilic roleplay — an obviously nonsensical notion.

Then, on September 16 — two days after Nyberg published her Medium article — Ryulong added this paragraph to another RationalWiki article, “List of Gamergate claims”:

The worst she had ever done was make tasteless jokes ten years ago to friends in a chatroom, and these chatlogs made their way to Gamergate. She owned up to the fact these jokes were horrible and reprehensible and she should have never made them, but that Gamergate is intensely hypocritical in saying she should be jailed and then raped and/or murdered in prison because they thought she was sincere 10 years ago for making jokes about being a pedophile when Gamergate’s meeting places actively harbor pedophiles, promote pedophilia, and host child pornography

Ryulong would later re-write this paragraph the following November:

They also attack Sarah Nyberg because Gamergate hacked her website and found chatlogs nearly a decade old where she made claims of being a pedophile, but she has since said was her and her friends making 4chan-style trolling jokes at each others’ expenses. She doesn’t defend what she said in jest, and neither does anyone else who saw through Gamergate’s smear job with help from “”ethical”” Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, but acknowledges Gamergate’s hypocrisy in attacking her for what she says is insincere when that’s their defense for their own similar statements with regards to pedophilia and racism.

This is a pristine example of the phenomenon I noted earlier: the defence of Nyberg changing to fit the available evidence with no acknowledgment of the inconsistencies. Before Nyberg wrote her Medium article, Ryulong was insisting that her chatlogs showed her “expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplay”. After she came forward on Medium and admitted that the logs showed her own words, however, Ryulong began asserting that “she made claims of being a pedophile, but she has since said was her and her friends making 4chan-style trolling jokes “

And he was too sloppy to fix his earlier claim, let alone acknowledge the fact that it was wrong. As a result, RationalWiki is hosting two contradictory defences of Sarah Nyberg: “Timeline of Gamergate” goes with the expressing-disgust-at-roleplay argument, while “List of Gamergate claims” goes with the she-said-she-was-a-paedophile-but-she-was-just-joking line.

In case you’re wondering what Ryulong makes of the allegations put forth by “M” in the video linked to above, well, it just so happens that another user linked to that very video at RationalWiki. Ryulong had plenty to say in his initial response — his reply clocks in at 557 words. He started by reverting to the standard defence, that Nyberg was only joking:

Sarah Nyberg has gone on record to say she said all those things in jest. Does it excuse what she said? No. But that does not mean she is in any way shape or form a pedophile regardless of what the chatlogs contain.

He then admitted that he didn’t actually listen to the interview:

I’m not watching that interview because A) it’s a youtube video longer than an hour even if you gave me a cued up link and B) it’s that blowhard Nero [as Yiannopoulos was known on Twitter] trying to justify what I covered in the first paragraph. She said things in that chatroom that are considered incriminating. She wasn’t being serious about any of it. It doesn’t excuse what she said. She realizes that. She’s owned up to that. She’s not in criminal trouble. She’s not a pedophile.

Despite not actually watching the video, he felt confident enough to dismiss “M” as a liar:

None of her real friends who actually know what went on in that channel and know that people like Roph or “M” in Milo’s interview are liars wants to come forward and call these people out because they know that once they do they will become prime targets for doxing by Gamergaters and Yiannopoulos egging them on, as had happened to one of her friends already and she didn’t even come forward and say anything about it.

So, in the mind of Ryulong (who, lest we forget, is treated by RationalWiki as the foremost expert on the Sarah Nyberg affair) anything Nyberg says in her defence is unassailable truth and anything any of her detractors say must, by definition, be a shameful lie

A day after this conversation, moderator David Gerard got involved. His reaction was to first protect the talk page so that only staff members could edit it and then to move the entire page to an archive on the grounds that it contained “rubbish” and “BS”. So, there we go: any criticism of Sarah Nyberg is, by RationalWiki’s definition, “rubbish”.

 

My exploits at RationalWiki

Having seen all of the above, I decided to edit the paragraph at RationalWiki and get it straightened out. Although I kept the “expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplay” defence, I contextualised it as a comment by Nyberg herself that is contradicted by her later testimony. I also provided a general clean-up:

August 31: Gamergater “TheLeoPirate” doubles down on Gamergate’s attacks on Sarah Nyberg by publishing a video accusing her of being a pedophile, accompanying it with the hashthag “#FreeEncyclopediaDramatica”. The evidence used against her is gleaned from nearly 10-year-old IRC chatlogs. On Twitter, Nyberg claimed that she was actually expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplaying on LiveJournal that she was not engaging in herself and that Gamergate removed the context that showed she was clearly against it. However, in a later statement Nyberg would admit that she did indeed take part in “[d]efense of… sexual deviancy”, claiming that she developed the habit of “trolling, stoking outrage, and defending the indefensible in an attempt to cause drama” as a form of escapism. Meanwhile, Jill Pantozzi of The Mary Sue denies that Nyberg ever wrote for the website, and that Mary Sue contributor Sarah Butts (a name also used by Nyberg) is a different person.

If anything, I’d say that I was being pretty generous to Nyberg here. I allowed plenty of room for her to be given the benefit of the doubt; I merely removed the demonstrable falsehoods from RationalWiki’s defence of her (well, except one: I ended up retaining the conflation of the paedophilia posts with the bestiality post, because I hadn’t noticed that error yet). I also cleaned up the English and replaced the two faulty links with archived copies; the only new source I added was Nyberg’s own Medium article.

The result? My edits were undone by user Techpriest, whose only comment was “someone tried to balance fallacy this one”.

The balance fallacy, also known as a false balance, arises from a mistaken belief that the truth of a topic can be represented by giving voice to two extremes, even when one extreme is clearly incorrect. It’s summed up by a widely-distributed cartoon showing a television debate about astronomy in which a professional astronomer is pitted against a member of the Flat Earth Society. However, what Techpriest clearly doesn’t realise is that, by pushing the demonstrably false assertion that Nyberg’s repeated claims to be a paedophile actually constitute her “expressing disgust at having found pedophilic roleplay”, RationalWiki is taking on the role of the flat-earther.

Indeed, Techpriest even reinstated Ryulong’s abysmal English, which I’d taken the time to fix.  At the time of writing, the article still contains gibberish like “Gamergate has for months been accusing her of pedophilia because of she had copied and pasted the content”. It clearly hasn’t been proofread, let alone fact-checked.

I pleaded my case on my talk page, pointing out that Nyberg’s own Medium article admits to the “defense of… sexual deviancy” that RationalWiki insists never happened. I received this response from Techpriest:

Sexual deviancy rather obviously refers here to the overuse of the homophobic slur faggot on chanboards if you read around the message in the post. Recontextualizing it to be used to refer to pedophilia makes no sense whatsoever.

Given the length of this blog post, you may well be surprised to hear that I’m at a loss for words. But I really am. Techpriest’s argument here is so utterly bizarre that I’m uncertain even where to start. We’ve already seen that Sarah Nyberg repeatedly claimed to be a paedophile circa 2006; no credible person denies this. Her statement that she defended “sexual deviancy” as a joke is, to the best of my knowledge, the closest she’s come to admitting to her past habit of claiming to be a paedophile.

And yet Techpriest is telling me that when Nyberg admitted to defending “sexual deviancy”, she wasn’t talking about her repeated defence of paedophilia — she was talking about her usage of the word “faggot”. Note that Techpriest isn’t simply asserting this, they’re flat-out insisting: Nyberg’s comment about sexual deviance “obviously” refers to her usage of homophobic slurs, and that tying it to her paedophilic comments “makes no sense at all”.

Clearly, Techpriest is in complete denial about the basic fact that Sarah Nyberg has a history of claiming to be a paedophile.

The argument reached the “Timeline of Gamergate” talk page, and Techpriest doubled down on their frankly bizarre claim (“to me the far more likely explanation is that she was referring to the habitual tedency of 4channers to call each other ‘fags’ as an endearing term, rather than anything to do with these logs”). So, I let loose at the glaring logical flaws in Techpriest’s argument — not least the fact that it flat-out contradicts RationalWiki’s own “List of Gamergate claims” article:

You’re the only person I’ve ever heard claim that, when Nyberg admitted to taking part in “defense of… sexual deviancy” she was referring to her usage of the word “fag”. Let’s put this in context. The chatlogs show her repeatedly claiming to be a paedophile. List of Gamergate claims point-blank acknowledges “chatlogs nearly a decade old where she made claims of being a pedophile”. When she admitted to defending “sexual deviancy” (albeit, in her telling, as a joke) she was almost certainly referring to the fact that she had repeatedly claimed to be a paedophile.

If she wasn’t referring to the posts in which she identified herself as a paedophile, then she was clearly being disingenuous by ignoring the main allegation against her. Even leaving aside the matter of exactly what she meant by “defense of sexual deviancy” in her Medium article, we’re still left with the main problem: the article’s claim that she was “expressing disgust with having found pedophilic roleplaying on Livejournal” is factually inaccurate. The chatlogs in the video do not show her expressing disgust at roleplay. Think I’m wrong? Fair enough, then: provide a source that proves me wrong.

I received no reply from Techpriest. One day later, RationalWiki moderator David Gerard swooped down upon me. He purged the discussion from the article talkpage, left a note on my own talkpage calling me a “blitheringly obvious gator sock” and, for good measure, banned me — his stated reason being simply “gator sock”:

I scarcely need to point out that Gerard’s accusation of me being a Gamergate sockpuppet is completely and utterly wrong. Simply searching my blog and/or Twitter feed for references to Gamergate should make it abundantly obvious that I don’t support the movement. Granted, I didn’t link my RationalWiki account to my wider online identity, so Gerard wouldn’t have known this — but that doesn’t alter the fact that his assumption was entirely wrong.

On 9 November I contacted both Gerard and the official RationalWiki account on Twitter concerning my banning. I received no reply; my ban for being a “gator sock” remains. RationalWiki’s stance is that my entire existence is an elaborate hoax orchestrated by Gamergate.

To recap: RationalWiki hosts false information about Sarah Nyberg; I attempted to correct that information; and they have responded by silencing and slandering me.

Even if you question the strength of the evidence against Nyberg, even if you accept her claim that she was merely trolling, there’s simply no excuse for RationalWiki’s handling of the affair — which is at best incompetent, at worst outright dishonest.

 

A final question: how were the chatlogs obtained?

There is one related topic that I’d like to address before concluding this post: the manner in which Sarah Nyberg’s chatlogs were obtained. Nyberg has claimed that Gamergate obtained the chatlogs by hacking into her server. Her opponents deny this, and have claimed that the logs were available to anyone who knew their way around a Web 1.0 IRC website. There are screenshots in existence indicating that the logs were archived using WebCite.org, something that can be done only if a page is publicly available.

I’m not sure who to believe. Given that the chatlos were published in multiple batches by multiple people, it seems entirely possible to me that both stories are partly true: that some logs were publicly available, while others were obtained by hackers. Even if the logs were not obtained through hacking, a case could be made that the tactics used to find them constitute a form of cyberstalking. So, yes, there are entirely legitimate ethical questions surrounding the publication of the chatlogs: my criticisms of Nyberg’s supporters should under no circumstances be taken as an argument that her attackers are good people. To me, very few people come out of this ugly affair looking particularly good.

This whole business touches upon some extremely important aspects of online ethics — from predation to privacy — and by all rights, it should have led to an open and honest discussion about these topics. One of the many reasons I resent Nyberg’s support base is that they smothered that conversation at birth by moving their argument from “the evidence is concerning, but there are ethical questions over how it was sourced” (a legitimate line of reasoning) to “the evidence doesn’t exist at all” (a cover-up).

To conclude, I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to anyone who made it through this post: I appreciate that it will not have been an easy read. I just hope that I have done my bit to shed light on a sordid series of events and, hopefully, made room for a little more honesty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: