Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

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Rosemary Gibson
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Oct 30, 2023 10:01 am

Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Rosemary Gibson » Wed Nov 15, 2023 3:51 am

In response to the Lichess article about the revelations at the St Louis Chess Club and in the USCF,

https://lichess.org/blog/ZNTniBEAACEAJZ ... he-silence

I wrote a blog on Lichess about my experiences of online harassment as a female chess player. To date, this blog has almost 20k views and has generated 74 pages of discussion in over 730 posts. After it was published, it was trending at #1 in the Community Blogs on Lichess for several days.

https://lichess.org/@/QueenRosieMary/bl ... e/h9S8jea9

https://lichess.org/forum/community-blo ... g-h9S8jea9

I think this is an important debate, to talk openly about both OTB and online abuse, it is a problem that has been known about for years. I think it's time the chess community stepped up to stop this. I would like to invite you to read the blog and comment here and in the blog forum if you wish to contribute to the discussion.

If you do contribute, I would appreciate it if people don't reveal my identity on Lichess. After I wrote the blog, I received more harassment and some threats. It is unfortunate that I have to use my real name to post here given the sensitivity of the situation.

Thank you

Nick Burrows
Posts: 1701
Joined: Sat Aug 14, 2010 12:15 pm

Re: Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Nick Burrows » Wed Nov 15, 2023 9:21 am

I am sorry to hear that you have received so much abuse online. This kind of toxic, adversarial discourse is unfortunately growing across all platforms and forums. The anonymity offered by the internet seems to dramatically intensify the abuse. And a lot of (big) boys clearly can't handle the thought of losing to girls.
As unpleasant as it is - It's very likely here to stay.

Whilst not offering any wider solution, in terms of simply wishing to play abuse free chess, I have played online for many years and experience close to zero problems from opponents. I guess in large part this is because there is no indication of gender in my profile.

Thomas Rendle
Posts: 467
Joined: Tue Aug 10, 2010 8:31 am

Re: Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Thomas Rendle » Wed Nov 15, 2023 10:42 am

Unfortunately this is a serious problem, and obviously not just on Lichess. I spoke to a woman at the 4NCL a while back who used her picture on her Chesscom profile. As a result she receives a huge number of messages & friend requests every day - some relatively innocent, others less so.

With the explosion of interest in chess, and membership growing all the time, it must be hard for online websites to keep up. Obviously report such harassment if/when you see it, and call out such behaviour if you see it from friends or members of your teams online.

The sad reality is that I usually advise turning of chat when competing on these websites to many of my students, although I accept this is not a real solution.

Rosemary Gibson
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Oct 30, 2023 10:01 am

Re: Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Rosemary Gibson » Wed Nov 15, 2023 11:20 am

Nick Burrows wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2023 9:21 am
I am sorry to hear that you have received so much abuse online. This kind of toxic, adversarial discourse is unfortunately growing across all platforms and forums. The anonymity offered by the internet seems to dramatically intensify the abuse. And a lot of (big) boys clearly can't handle the thought of losing to girls.
As unpleasant as it is - It's very likely here to stay.

Whilst not offering any wider solution, in terms of simply wishing to play abuse free chess, I have played online for many years and experience close to zero problems from opponents. I guess in large part this is because there is no indication of gender in my profile.
The question of whether or not to hide one's gender in online profiles has been brought up quite a lot in the discussion forum for my blog on Lichess.

A lot of women, myself included have rejected this as a solution because we feel we shouldn't have to hide our identity in order to not be harassed. I have consciously and deliberately used an obviously female username on Lichess to be visible as a female to encourage and support other female players that they are not alone, even though we are clearly in a tiny minority.

I suppose the real life equivalent might be for a woman to dress like a man, have short hair and no makeup so she doesn't get attacked on the street. It might work but she is not able to enjoy her femininity that way.

But you are probably right as to why you enjoy so little problems from opponents online, sadly. And it's not just opponents who lose, it's people in forums, arenas, just random guys who send dms.

Rosemary Gibson
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Oct 30, 2023 10:01 am

Re: Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Rosemary Gibson » Wed Nov 15, 2023 11:30 am

Thomas Rendle wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2023 10:42 am
Unfortunately this is a serious problem, and obviously not just on Lichess. I spoke to a woman at the 4NCL a while back who used her picture on her Chesscom profile. As a result she receives a huge number of messages & friend requests every day - some relatively innocent, others less so.

With the explosion of interest in chess, and membership growing all the time, it must be hard for online websites to keep up. Obviously report such harassment if/when you see it, and call out such behaviour if you see it from friends or members of your teams online.

The sad reality is that I usually advise turning of chat when competing on these websites to many of my students, although I accept this is not a real solution.

As I probably said in the blog but definitely in the discussion forum on Lichess, turning off chat isn't really a solution for me, or limiting my message privacy settings. I run a global online chess team of around 600 members (Think Chess) and I organise (mainly) classical and correspondence tournaments. In order to effectively communicate with the many team members, and the participants in the tournaments, anyone can message me. Again, this is a choice I made, I don't have to lead a team, but I feel that there are so many good things about it that I don't want to give it up because of a tiny minority.

Since I wrote this article, I receive a lot of messages of support and encouragement (and fanmail lol) and a much, much smaller amount of negative messages. Again, I would hate to miss out on the positive to exclude the negative. I do block and report where needed, and I have to say the Lichess staff have been very good.

Mick Norris
Posts: 10281
Joined: Tue Apr 17, 2007 10:12 am
Location: Bolton, Greater Manchester

Re: Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Mick Norris » Wed Nov 15, 2023 11:50 am

It's good to hear that Lichess staff have been good; I'm not sure if the same applies with others, and what pressure can be put on them if not

One of the benefits of this Forum is that it isn't anonymous

OTB abuse is another matter though, which we have discussed on other threads
Any postings on here represent my personal views

Roger de Coverly
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Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:51 pm

Re: Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Roger de Coverly » Wed Nov 15, 2023 1:17 pm

Nick Burrows wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2023 9:21 am
I have played online for many years and experience close to zero problems from opponents. I guess in large part this is because there is no indication of gender in my profile.

In casual but rated online chess there is no need to talk to your opponent before, during or after the game. I haven't conciously disallowed chat but lichess seems to disallow it by default.

Rosemary Gibson
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Oct 30, 2023 10:01 am

Re: Breaking the Silence Online - sexual harassment in online chess

Post by Rosemary Gibson » Sun Nov 19, 2023 6:14 am

Roger de Coverly wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2023 1:17 pm
Nick Burrows wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2023 9:21 am
I have played online for many years and experience close to zero problems from opponents. I guess in large part this is because there is no indication of gender in my profile.

In casual but rated online chess there is no need to talk to your opponent before, during or after the game. I haven't conciously disallowed chat but lichess seems to disallow it by default.
Hi Roger, this is an interesting take on things. I agree, if you are talking about the likes of a blitz arena where you are playing a lot of fairly fast games in quick succession there is not much need, or even time for small talk. On the other hand, in the likes of the club championships (still talking online games here on Lichess within the team) where the games might be rapid or classical, and are arranged individually to suit people's personal schedules, there is a necessity to talk to your opponent, something along the lines of "Hi xxxx, we are paired in round 2 of the team classical championships, would it suit you to play on Tues or Weds evening some time?" Chances are, in the team, you may know your opponent and want to chat more or socialise a bit. I used to just play lobby games or Lichess arenas when I first joined Lichess until I discovered the incredible friendships and community that can be found in teams. I have also made some friends, including Caroline Robson from the ECF through the Lichess Forums.

The idea of just playing chess, but never talking to anyone seems a bit bleak and pointless to me. I suppose it is different for everyone though. I am very social, and as a result of that, I inevitably encounter mostly good but occasionally not-so-nice people.

In terms of after-game chat, I often chat with my opponent to analyse the game afterwards (again, not in blitz arenas more so in longer time controls or games that are not in arenas)

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