Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Steve McRae Served Restraining Order: My Thoughts.

Over the past year, YouTuber Steve McRae, familiar to many atheists, agnostics and skeptics as the co-host of the popular Non-Sequitur Show, has engaged in a program of intense harassment against a female journalist. This culminated yesterday when McRae was served with a restraining order under the Violence Against Women act for his harassment of this woman. In this post, which is very much an opinion piece, I hope to explain to you why this case matters, and why the platforms that McRae used to engage in this vendetta need to seriously question their approach to dealing with cases of sustained harassment.

*Amendment: following a recent conversation on social media, I felt it only right to explain the role the VAWA played in McRae receiving his restraining order. The VAWA ensures that restraining orders are actionable in all 50 states of the US by applying the terms of full faith and credit. This specifically applies to McRae’s case as he does not live in the victim’s state. 

I’ve watched this situation develop with concern for 10 months. At the end of last year, McRae had made around 50 hours of YouTube ‘content’ about this journalist across two YouTube channels, one of which has 14 thousand plus subscribers.

One of the most concerning elements of McRae's activities, for me, was the fact that he seemed unable, or unwilling, to state what outcome he hoped to achieve by the intense focus on this journalist. He felt she had wronged him by making certain unfavourable comments about him on Twitter, but she had already apologised and he had rejected said apology.

During one stream, he passed the comment that he would 'never stop.' Think about that as I relay what happened next.

At the beginning of December 2019,  I was in Bern, covering the launch of the CHEOPS telescope. During the 72 hour period that I was away, McRae made 12 hours of videos about this woman. The breaking point for many of his fans came later that month when he shared a video of this woman’s child and asked followers to comment on his medical status.
After this, perhaps taking the advice of friends or seeing how some long term fans reacted to exposing a sick child this way, he ceased making content about her. He continued to make passing references, but that was it. He continued, however, to run a closed FB group above her ‘misdemeanours’ as he saw them.

Until last month.
In May, McRae once again started talking about the journalist in question. His focus on her again became ‘obsessive’ in the opinion of many, including myself. He spoke about her on his own YouTube channels, other people’s channels, on Instagram, Twitter, and on podcasts. He even created a Reddit thread devoted to her. This was after he was removed from another negative thread because his behaviour was too extreme for even these critics of this journalist.

In one of these appearances, McRae sat laughing as disgraced ex-president of American Atheists David Silverman made the following statement to the journalist in question whilst leering at the screen. "I want to harass her. Penis. Penis. PENIS."

What an intellectual, right?

If this wasn’t disgusting enough, and for many of you I’m certain it is, on the closed FB group, an associate of McRae’s with the screen name ‘Tina I’ll Cut You’ posted an image of this journalist’s home and surrounding area. The address was listed on the image. The image was accompanied with a chilling message: “She thinks she’s safe.”

Further to this, McRae’s Reddit thread became littered with postings of this journalist’s address. Mention was also made of her husband's place of work. Yet, McRae did nothing to remove them or the users posting them. This all came to a head last week when the journalist stated she intended to take legal action, criminal action.

As mentioned above; yesterday — June 02/06/20 — McRae was served with a restraining order awarded under the Violence Against Women act. This means that further harassment could be deemed a felony offence. The protection order covers activities in all 50 states.

An hour after receiving these papers, McRae was on the closed FB group talking about the situation, and STILL referring to this journalist, just not by name.
Why am I telling you this; why does this matter?

Firstly and most obviously, this is a clear case of a woman being harassed to a shocking degree. I can only guess about how unsafe this woman and her family felt knowing that her address had become freely available on the internet, known to people who had made comments about her feeling of safety — an implicit if not explicit threat, in my opinion.
Secondly, this is a situation that deeply affects me as a journalist. We have all seen the treatment of journalists during the deepening crisis in the US. Media representatives have become victims of vicious rhetoric from the President of the United States, and populist politicians across the globe. Journalists have been attacked on the streets of London during pro-Brexit marches, on the streets of the US whilst covering a growing civil uprising.

Journalists, I wager, have never been under such pressure and the harassment and stymieing of journalists is a serious and credible threat to our personal liberty and our ability to access correct and accurate information.

Yes, this woman is an entertainment journalist and Vlogger, but that doesn't make her any less deserving of the protections offered to others in the profession. 

That’s not to say that journalist should be above criticism, that is far from the case. There are many legitimate systems in place to bring action against a journalist who has acted irresponsibly. Intense harassment, implicit threats, doxxing, discussion of their personal and private lives are not, and never will be, these avenues.

I seriously hope that this restraining order represents the end of this situation for this journalist and her family. But, I have deeper concerns.

In particular, I don't believe that this journalist should have had to go to a judge to determine that these actions had to be halted. I would like to know why YouTube did not step in and stop this harassment earlier? I want to know why Patreon continues to allow this man to collect money from his followers, money that has been used to harass a woman and her family?

At the end of last year, YouTube introduced measures specifically intended to deal with exactly this kind of harassment. Yet they did nothing to stop McRae using his channel with 14k subscribers to harass a journalist.

Around the same time, Patreon removed the account of the YouTuber Onision for the doxxing — revealing the personal information — of a fan. Yet, McRae has now been linked to the doxxing of several people. Yet, nothing has happened.

Is the fact that this man is now under a restraining order and faces criminal action if he violates it, which he arguably already has, enough for these two platforms to take some responsibility, accept their part in facilitating this harassment and remove his ability to do this again?

I genuinely hope so, not just for this journalist, but for McRae himself, who seems determined to let a slight against him ten or so months ago lead him on a vendetta that has been detrimental to his own life.