The Guardian

you want me dead, but who are you anyway?

Article I wrote for The Guardian


When I broke the neck of my sick cat and then made a handbag of her skin, I honestly had no idea of what I had got myself into.

The project was an artwork entitled My dearest cat Pinkeltje with which I wanted to launch a discussion about the hypocrisy of how we keep animals both as part of our  families and simultaneously as a comodity  to be consumed. We live in a culture where the origin of our food or clothing is seldom seen and we hand our sick pets over to an expert to be given a lethal injection to end their suffering. Did you know that there is still disagreement about the ‘painless’ euthanasia done performance by a professional vet? People in rural areas, where they take such matters into their own hands, laugh at these tales from the city.

I uploaded a manual in which I described step-by-step how to kill your cat and then how to prepare a bag of it. - I gave presentations in which I described these acts.

Outcry from the online world followed. Blogs and activist sites published stories about the atrocity I had committed: The killing of my cat.

Chain mails rotated: “A sick woman has murdered her cat as art and the bitch must die. Do not look at her website because she earns money on that”. To them, the fact that I also had made a purse out of her skin showed my disrespect towards the animal kingdom all the more.

In the first few days that the story went online, more than 40,000 unique visitors visited my website and my mailbox was flooded with violent threats and death wishes.

In 4 years I have received about 100,000 responses.

The senders came from all walks of life; visible because many emails automatically included a signature with a link to a personal or company website. They were easy to google.. Most hate mail came from the combination of a false sense of anonymity and the idea that everything digital is “not authentic”; I had the impression that people who described graphically how they wanted to tear me apart, rape me and bleed me to death would not say such thing to my face.

People wished me things in which they themselves failed. One morbidly obese woman who was very active on dieting forums cursed my hideous appearance. Amateur Artists argued my failure as an artist. Animal rights activists cursed my work because they believed I encourage animal abuse.

Frequently you could tell from the e-mail the most recent horror movie the writer had seen in the violent scenarios described.

There was little substantive variation in the hate mail I received which, given the amount of typos and the overuse of capital letters were were full of passion.

I decided that it had to be a book and I approached Coralie Vogelaar to assist me. For almost a year she studied the contents of my mailbox and she researched online for the identity of writers.

The hate mails were categorized and in total we defined twelve variations of content and format, which became the chapters in my book. We published not only the hate mails, but also all the information we found on Facebook profiles, Amazon wish lists, YouTube accounts etcetera that was linked to the email address of the senders.

Often writers have public profiles on multiple sites and the combination of the data from different websites gives a very comprehensive picture of the “private” lives of these people. In some instances we even found pictures of their houses on Google Maps.

Shocking to note was that most death threats were sent by people who appeared quite normal; sweet-looking teenage girls, policemen, housewives, office-workers. With only a few exceptions, these were not people you would expect to brawl, let alone issue a death threat.

Publishing a complete profile in the book was a way to bring the writer to account- you want me dead, but who are you anyway?

It also allowed for the anonymous status web-users often delude themselves into believing exists to be brought into question. How public is your online information and how much harm can an online diary do when the whole world has access to your personal life? For me important questions that should be giving attention to in primary school.  Webethics and privacyguides.  - And maybe a little decency.


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During the years that I became used to the insulting and threatening hate-mail that was sent to me, I had a front-line view to bear witness to a new development in which varying degrees of anger-expression entered the online world.

What were once standard 'babelfish-translated' letters circulated between friend’s e-mail networks, distributed with the intention to copy-paste them en-masse to my mailbox are now anti-TINKEBELL. facebook pages, online petitions and amateurishly written "news”-blogs spreading the globe.

The biggest difference is that the hate-mails are no longer send to my private mailbox. The threat is now public. This results in competitions; who is the most irate writer? Who knows how to insight the most fury in men?

Everything is permitted.

Online petitions are more likely to be signed when the story has been exaggerated and laced with vile descriptions. A blog is validated by the grace of “likes” on facebook, Thumblr-reblogs or, better still, “The Real News” (traditional news media, i.e. News Papers etc.) who take advantage of this. If there are enough online quotes to use as a source, even if it is not the truth, the most-told story may be published as "trustful news". This will often be a compilation of the most far-fetched, sensational accounts that attracks the most readers, advertisers and again-reblogs to yield themselves as a mutating story in more and more languages ​​to travel around the web.

And so now I rarely get a threat because I twisted my sick cat's neck. No, it’s because there are "hundreds of pets in my house that I torture every day, just for fun ofcourse. The living chicks that I hang on hooks until they bleed to death and the hundred hamsters from which I took the eyes out, put them into balls for weeks, spinning until they died of starvation." – published in several newspapers and websites worldwide such as the Polish Gazeta Wyborca, the Italian Leggo.it and many more.

Recently, I myself made the first response under such a story on an animal activist newsblog to make clear to both writer and readers that the truth lay somewhere else. One of the responses I got was that as google results clearly indicated that I really took pleasure in my daily animal-torture-habits, the story had to be true.
The notion of "truth" has taken on a new meaning by this way of spreading 'news':

That of the most re-blogged one.

 

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