Deny, Attack, Reverse the Victim and the Offender

Steven Wedgeworth has posted an article claiming he has been doxed and deepfaked by a malicious group of people. I would be one of those malicious people, because I shared the Genevan Commons Screenshots website on my blog. And I did that because I have been harassed by this group for over 2 ½ years now. Waiting for someone in the group to speak out. Waiting after confronting people in the group. Waiting for the people I’ve told about it to do something. Waiting while my reputation was continuously slandered, my looks picked apart, while they go after anyone who hosts me or says something positive about my work, while they go after my own session, and plots increased to “stop my agenda.” I drove to speaking engagements in fear, knowing these men have joked around about showing up and have called ahead to warn churches to guard their families from my danger. Waiting. No more.

Wedgeworth claims that he first had grief for the women maligned when the GC activity was exposed. And he reflected on whether he had been complicit, wanted to examine his heart. But that didn’t last long, because a friend told him he was deepfaked, quoting, “[A] deepfake is something like an extension of a doctored photograph to include audio and especially video, which is only really possible using advanced machine-learning algorithms and fairly powerful computers.

He claims that pictures and quotes were doctored to make it look like he and Mark Jones were participating in ways and saying things they were not to manipulate people viewing the website. He continuously refers to the site as a discernment site. Discernment sites have negative reputations, so who is manipulating the reader here? And with this huge accusation, the alarm is set: The website is a total fake! Then the tone of his article switched gears into DARVO mode. Now he is the victim.

After saying his “deepfake” wasn’t in the ordinary kind, but uses the same methodology, Wedgeworth emphasizes the private nature of the 1,000 + members who were able to see me and multiple others be trashed on a regular basis. But he wasn’t really paying attention, he says, because he was a member of so many groups. I have empathized with this response, as it is valid for a number of people on the membership list. I’ve been there and done that. Many readers can empathize with being in that situation. He says he left the group when he recognized an “unhealthy ethos and tone was dominating the group.” Wow, what a downplay and minimizing of what was going on in Genevan Commons. I guess there’s less responsibility on him to rebuke and pursue apologies to the people maligned by this group if it’s merely an unhealthy ethos.

But is that all it was? And is this just something Wedgeworth noticed from the outside looking in all the sudden after not paying attention to this group, or was he a part of it? I’ve seen Wedgeworth’s participation in Genevan Commons. And it wasn’t appropriate. He wasn’t ignoring it either. He was in it. He was partaking. Back in the fall, someone from Genevan Commons sent me hundreds—LET THAT SINK IN—hundreds of screenshots of reviling behavior from this group, as this person felt I had a right to know. Imagine that. From morning to night the screenshots were flooding in with their verbal abuse. Do you know what the physiological effect of something like that is? And during this time, both Wedgeworth and Jones were participating pretty regularly, especially as they were all about setting up bad reviews for Rachel Miller’s book, Beyond Authority and Submission.

But no worries, DARVO to the rescue. Any screenshots of them are a result of malicious deepfake. First, he goes after the organization of the evidence:  “But this evidence is not organized in the way that it would have been in the actual Facebook group.” Well that is true. And very revealing of Wedgeworth. He’s missing it. Someone like me, or obviously the person who set up the Genevan Commons Screenshot website, does not view the posts as if we are a callous GC member. Whereas someone like me reads the comments and goes Whoa, this makes me sick, he wants to be like, “But wait a sec, that’s not how we started, that’s not what we want to emphasize.” He wants to decide how we view the posts. The Screenshot website views GC from the perspective of those who are SLANDERED. That is a very important point. So of course the slander and bad behavior is what is going to be emphasized. Because the slander is what hurts us. The site creator is not going to emphasize his post about Cornelius Van Til or natural theology or whatever, but how they hurt and abused people with their group.

See where he says this: “But in nearly every case, the problematic comment appears in the middle of a lengthy thread.” He is minimizing the problematic comment and wants us to look at the OTHER things. It wasn’t so bad. But again, it’s like saying, “Oh don’t look at that knife there, look instead at these gentle slaps and complex theological arguments we made elsewhere. Don’t look there, look HERE.” He is dictating how we should view the site from his perspective, the male perspective. He is shutting down the female perspective. No wonder they do not like my writing!

Nevermind that plenty of awful threads were started with an awful post that set the whole thing up. Nevermind

Then he moves to the problem he calls the data dump, saying, “In addition to the misleading framing of the evidence, there is no sincere attempt at interpretation.” Just because it’s not his interpretation doesn’t mean there is no interpretation. There is interpretation in intentionally highlighting the horrible comments. It interprets them with the definitions given, emphasizing their weight. Things weigh heavy because they are heavy. There isn’t a lot of commentary there, as the reader is able to see for themselves.

Then he moves on to what is left out. Again, here he is minimizing the weight of the slander.

What is a few hundred sexist and racist comments up against an unknown number of harmless comments? What is your problem, women? Why are you so sensitive?

Now he moves onto the collages, as if it’s some kind of secret that the featured introductions into each thread highlights some of the bad behavior in a collage. The reader is guided to click on the full thread to see the comments in context. Undoctored. These threads are often very long, so the print to PDF cuts off part of a block if it extends beyond the page. It’s overwhelming to look at. But Wedgeworth says, “Many of the comments there, most of which do not involve me, are actually floating around in arranged shapes.” Just because you use the word floating doesn’t make it bad. In fact, that could be interpreted as intentionally and explicitly making it clear that it is a collage. That’s what a collage is.

But Wedgeworth wants to make this some sort of deepfake, and he gives one example, saying “Mark Jones was simply asking a question about the original post, yet he is positioned directly across from someone else who is making a demeaning joke.” Interesting he would say that. Let’s look at the full thread. Here you will see that before Mark Jones joins in, there were comments like, “I wish her husband loved her enough to tell her to shut up,” “will she share some good sammich recipes,” Wedgeworth is telling us that the majority of the world is STILL patriarchal,” a red pill video is posted, and after over 50  other comments mocking me and slamming a book that has just been contracted much less written much less read by anyone, someone finally pushes back saying to these guys, “Judge a book by it’s cover much?,” and after 19 sub-replies to that comment of people arguing why it’s ok to judge my book already Mark Jones comments, “I don’t see a cover.” Ok, continue judging on people. Laughy faces on Jones’ comment (and I have to also wonder if the laughy faces are because of an allusion to the defacement of my last book cover posted in GC to “Why Can’t We Be Naked?”).  I shouldn’t need to spell this out. The thread is terrible. No one should participate in it. At all. Even in private groups. This private arena where behavior is separate and less accountable is the world’s way of thinking, not the church’s.

He gives an example of bad cropping next. Wedgeworth says, “One example of cropping concerns a ministerial student named Zack Groff. He is shown to be saying ‘What happened to her face?’ Any ordinary reader would assume that this is a comment where Groff is disparaging a woman’s physical appearance, a truly despicable thing.” No, Groff wouldn’t do that. It took someone on Twitter a few seconds to find him laughing at a comment saying horse face isn’t enough for one woman, a whore is what she is (in a thread started by Mark Jones):

The screenshot website doesn’t even show who laughed at what, like this one does. But it is enlightening.

If you go back and look at the meme that Shane made in which ministerial student Zack Groff is commenting, it was a character intending to represent me and my work. They are mocking an image that they are using as an object to represent me. It’s all obvious and clear. And undoctored.

Now to the doozy— airbrushing. Wedgeworth wrote that some of the screenshots are blatantly airbrushed, claiming at least one of his is. “I am pictured saying ‘literally no expectations.’ There’s a blank above me, and there’s a blank below me, and my comment is off center. This is not how Facebook threads normally look.” That is correct. Facebook threads don’t look that way, collages do. The spaces actually show the reader that this is a collage, and again, they are to click on the obvious link to read the entire thread in its context. The space demonstrates time lapse. Again, it is on a collage. And no one ever said this comment was in a thread about me, so I don’t understand the “gotcha” moment Wedgeworth thinks he has in saying that if you look at the full thread—which again is super transparent—“it is plain that I was not talking about Byrd.” Ok. Who is saying that is suggested? The collage doesn’t give that impression either. It is a thread tearing apart Valerie Hobbs for doing her actual job as a linguist. Apparently she gave a lecture on how Christians use the word feminism as a weapon and they go to town, posting memes of Hillary Clinton and such; one pastor says, “If my sermons aren’t getting feminist ticked off, then I’m not really preaching the text” (really, this is an aim in your preaching?); and they go on an on lamenting and making fun of Hobbs for 20 posts before Wedgeworth jumps in with his comment, then another thirty-three comments of this junk before he jumps in again. It’s not ok. And the collage samples the rude and dismissive comments about other people’s work, prior to reading it, in the full thread. Rejecting Hobbs on superficial and arrogant grounds. These guys are all buddies and they feel perfectly comfortable and look like they are rather quite enjoying it all.

There is no deepfaking here. None. Wedgeworth did a little slight of hand. Collages are doctored. No shocker, that’s the point of a collage. Threads show everything in context. Pretty simple. But he then casts doubt on the whole revelation of their behavior: “It would not surprise me to discover that there are more such cases of manipulation and deepfaking in the various screenshots.”

Then in one sweep, Wedgeworth dismisses the whole site: “What I have seen is enough to convince me that readers cannot form an honest and just conclusion about the various commentators, nor the group as a whole.” And this of course undermines the paltry non-apology he gave at the start. He says the site has committed two tortuous acts: intrusion of seclusion and false light. Their private space was intruded upon. Rather than follow Eph. 5:11, “Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them,” like the person who was a total stranger to me last fall did, they partook. Wedgeworth partook quite a bit. From the sampling on the website, Wedgeworth is archived in a good number of threads. Looking through them, he has egg all over his face. Jones too. The light isn’t false, it’s just shining on what they thought no one (other than the potential 1,000+ members) could see.

From there Wedgeworth shows us how pious he is, “My own principles instruct me to avoid litigation in matters having to do with the faith, but it should be noted that the underlying principles of 1 Cor. 6:1–11 have already been violated by the leaker. Anyone currently publishing the Genevan Commons screenshots, and those with any intent to release similar sorts of leaks on others, should consider their own liability here. I highly doubt that everyone shares my position on lawsuits,” intimating that this is worthy of litigation.

But others might not share my view. Others might file lawsuits. Yes, he is right. I’m already being threatened with that. Call out your abusers, get sued. You’re not doing it right.

Then we all get a lesson from Wedgeworth at the end. Despite the deepfaking, he concedes that there are “a number of commenters [not him of course, those are deepfaked] who engaged in unbecoming and sinful rhetorical behavior.” More minimizing even in his hat tip. Nonetheless, those people should repent. Don’t worry though, they are small in number compared to the thousand-member audience they behaved in front of. And the audience isn’t culpable. He then claims that no one is actually seeking justice, repentance, forgiveness, or reconciliation here, just malicious activity. The screenshots themselves are an act of cyberbullying. But he does regret the “levity which [he] participated in discussions which should have been more serious.” Wow. That’s your apology? Even Judah took ownership of his seal, cord, and staff. A man is revealed by the way he responds when the receipts are handed to him. These Christian leaders should be ashamed. They should be modeling repentance to us. Instead, they put the shame on the victims. Well, I’m not going to stay a victim.

And onto the lesson of the “perils of online discernment” and “how the internet manipulates us.”

And look where it ends. Another warning about those horrible discernment blogs.

I spent my evening writing this. I’m tired of writing about this. I’m tired of making a case that is blatantly obvious. So tired.

And clearly there are multiple people with screenshots. I have mine, the screenshot website uses others, people on Twitter are showing more…I’m sure if there’s any more doubt about doctoring we can compare the hundreds of screenshots of verbal abuse from our own small samplings and compare.

Look, this could all be so much better with just a little bit of humility and compassion. Why do I have to say all this? Why am I the one defending my reputation? When will there be a conversation about qualifications for those in spiritual authority over Christ’s sheep?