Lizz Winstead talks to Raw Story about the creepy men who make the Internet a hellhole

By Tony Ortega
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 8:00 EDT
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Lizz Winstead’s tweet caught our attention yesterday because it was so short and direct:

“I get this shit all day. Every day.”

She also provided a link to a screenshot of several tweets from someone calling himself “hotskanks710″

Earlier in the day, Winstead had put out a reaction to the typical cold-weather noise from climate-change deniers: “Is there anything more boring than the person who uses winter as a reason to deny global warming. #Honestly”

What she got in return was a series of four tweets from hotskanks710 with mostly incoherent attacks, saying that Winstead was “using pussy as a pretext to entrap allies,” and asking, “when bitches [are] making feminism a part of their personal brand and attack allies with pussy get threats?”

The fourth message had the most disturbing suggestion:

“why shouldn’t everyone including feminsts [sic] plagued by people like you root for the lone crazy with a gun?”

The tweets didn’t make a lot of sense, but we could understand Winstead’s sense of frustration. We’d just been reading Amanda Hess’s devastating piece at Pacific Standard about how women — particularly journalists and others in the public eye — are harassed unmercifully on Twitter and Facebook and other sites. Winstead is not just a public figure (she co-created The Daily Show in 1996) but she’s consistently provocative, and usually hilarious on Twitter. (And she pushes boundaries, which actually got her into a little trouble last May over a joke about a tornado). If anyone was likely to get blowback, it was Lizz Winstead.

So we did two things: We dived into Twitter to see what people were saying about and to Winstead, and we called her up.

“I use Twitter for a very specific purpose,” she told us. “And 90 percent of what I’m doing, I read a news story, I post it on Facebook to see what the gut reactions from people are to the story, and then I write material for Twitter.”

When she puts a one-liner on Twitter, she keeps close watch on it.

“If I get 25 retweets or favorites in the first minute, I then save that material for my act,” she says. “And I add hashtags just as tag lines, not because I’m trying to make them trend.”

She mentions that last part because on Saturday, Twitchy took her to task for a hashtag that didn’t go viral. Riffing on the Hobby Lobby controversy over Obamacare, she had written, “Hot glue gun your knees together #HobbyLobbyBirthControl”

“Twitchy posts this thing, calling it a ‘hashtag fail.’ If I was trying to trend something, wouldn’t I do like ten things with the hasthag? But they’re so stupid,” she says.

Like her other political jabs, the Hobby Lobby tweet generated a lot of angry responses. “Do the world a favor and drink a gallon of bleach,” said one. And another proposed that one form of birth control would be “try to fuck Lizz Winstead with the lights on.”

But Winstead says there’s a reason she puts up with the abuse.

“Look, these people are out there. I get asked, ‘Why are you always talking about abortion?’ and other things. These people might only have two followers, but they have one vote. We all need to be super diligent about getting out to vote because these people are out there,” she says. “They used to just write letters to the editor and call into their local radio show. Now they have Twitter and Facebook and so many other things to get their views out.”

Winstead was glad to see the story by Amanda Hess, and we talked about the best ways to handle the Internet’s creeps. Winstead said she enjoys retweeting their vulgarities for others to see. “It’s a great strategy. And also, too, I want them to know they’re not in a vacuum. And look, I don’t know how many of you are sitting in a basement being a goon, and how many of you think you’re warriors who think I’m killing babies and need to be stopped. I don’t know, but if something happens to me, maybe it will help explain it if I’ve retweeted these guys.”

If retweeting is one strategy, Winstead says she’s less likely to use another: blocking “bots” that attack her on Twitter.

“If you block them, they know you see them,” she points out. And also, they seem to respawn almost immediately under a slightly different (usually vulgar) name. “I wish somebody could figure out how they do that,” she says.

As for the worst abuse she’s taken online?

“The worst one I ever got was on Facebook,” she says. She had recently posted a photograph of her mother on the anniversary of her death, and someone wrote, “I wish I could dig up your mother and rape her for having you.”

Most of the time, she says, the abuse tends to follow the same pattern.

“It’s always this weird thing of, ‘I don’t want to fuck you. You’re ugly.’ Why does it go there? You’re not going to fuck me? Like that was a possibility?” she says.

And she says there’s little point actually trying to engage with the creeps.

“It’s not about trying to change people’s minds. It’s really about looking at people who seem so compelled to be so vicious. And if you don’t get mad at them then they really get upset.”

But she’s there to test material for her act, she’s not there to debate. “Why don’t you stay and battle, some of them complain, because I don’t stay to argue with them about climate science or that women are whores.”

Other threats are more subtle. She says she’ll notice that someone will sign up for her website with an e-mail address like WatchYourBackLizz@gmail.com.

She takes precautions, particularly on the road, where she’ll do shows to raise money for Planned Parenthood, for example.

Her current project is Lady Parts Justice, which is raising money to push back on the laws being passed on the state level to restrict abortion. She says we should expect a series of videos in the spring.

In the meantime, she’ll keep taking shots at the Internet’s underbelly.

“Some people think they know how bad it is. But they don’t really pay attention. Everybody thinks they know how much Rush Limbaugh sucks, but they’re just getting the highlights. If you listened to him all the time, you’d be amazed,” she says.

And the trolls aren’t getting to her?

“It really takes a lot to rattle me. But I worry about other people who are more afraid. The bad guys want you off Twitter, because they see it’s powerful and that you can effect change, and they hate that.”

As for the other part of our project, we spent a couple of hours sifting through Twitter responses to Winstead, which are voluminous. These are only a sample of things that showed up in just a 48-hour period.

(For the record, Winstead isn’t Jewish.)

Tony Ortega
Tony Ortega
Tony Ortega is Raw Story's executive editor. From 2007 to 2012 , he was editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. He also worked at Voice Media Group's other newspapers in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Fort Lauderdale. He lives in New York City and is originally from Los Angeles.
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