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“13 Reasons Why” Turtleboy Sports is dangerous

There’s not much that I can add to the conversation around 13 Reasons Why, which, if you haven’t seen it yet, is probably the best new show on Netflix in quite a while. Even though it only debuted a few days ago, countless virtual gallons of digital ink – and some real ink as well – have been spilled gushing over it, examining the teen drama from every angle possible. What I can add, though, is some reflection on how it relates to the local semi-Worcester blog, Turtleboy Sports. More on that in a moment.

I hadn’t even expected to watch the show, but decided to give it a try when I found out that Gregg Araki – director of the iconic 90s gems Totally Fucked Up and The Doom Generation – had directed two of the show’s 13 episodes. I was immediately pulled in.  13 Reasons grabs the viewer, with its well-defined characters, excellent dialog, and strangely timeless quality. While the show’s preponderance of smart phones and other technology obviously sets the show in present times, it has an 80s or 90s feel to it; the main character, Hannah, almost seems like a dark, post-suicidal Clarissa explaining it all to you.

The plot revolves around the suicide of Hannah, one of two main characters. She’s killed herself before the series starts, and everyone is reeling in the aftermath. Her friend Clay receives a box of audio cassettes – did I mention there’s a retro feel to the show? – on his doorstep. Upon listening to them, he finds that they are a message from Hanna, one side of each tape dedicated to the 13 people who pushed her to her final act.

The story is wrenching on many levels: that anyone, especially someone so young, vibrant, and clever as Hannah, should take their own life is the most obvious. Just as wrenching, though, is the portrayal of the actions that drove her to suicide. Not all, but quite a few, involve misogyny and bullying. Hannah’s world, we come to realize, is one of isolation and pain. Few people realize it, though; not even Clay, her closest friend, understands. She’s written off by much of her school as a “drama queen,” a “slut,” or worse.

What does any of this have to do with a ridiculous semi-local blog? Everything.

Turtleboy, which was founded by disgraced ex-teacher Aiden Kearney and is financed (at the very least through advertising revenue) by Worcester city council member and county Republican Party chair Michael Gaffney, traffics in tormenting people in exactly the same way that Hannah was tormented by her peers.

Consider this statement:

“People who knew nothing about her ganged up on her for her perceived ‘wrongs,’ and tormented her online and sometimes via other media, calling her the most misogynistic of names and making her a pariah.”

What does it reference? Turtleboy Sports? The 13 people in Hannah’s tapes? The answer, as anyone who’s read the blog and watched the show should know, is obviously “both.”

Will Turtleoy Sports drive anyone to suicide?

A small example of Turtleboy:

In early March or late February, a woman – we’ll call her C. – posted on Facebook asking for a ride to Maine to see her friend, who is in prison. She offered food and pot in exchange. Obviously, none of this would fall into the category of “good idea,” but it’s also not a particularly relevant news story, and we know nothing of this woman. Nonetheless, trolling through Facebook, the Turtleboy people found this story and wrote an article about it, posting the girl’s photos and Facebook information.

A follow up appeared, in which the author (one never knows who writes their articles, because they are too frightened to use bylines) wrote about his amusement that people who knew C called the website or sent texts demanding that the story be taken down and threatening legal action. One of the recordings actually stated that C. had “a past of extreme mental illness.”

The caller posted her anger on the Turtleboy Facebook page and, egged on by Aiden Kearney and whoever the other authors are, the caller was attacked in the comments. After TBS publicized that this nineteen-year-old worked at a specific fast food restaurant, she was fired. Later, yet another TBS article appeared, triumphant, because the caller had called again, this time in tears, saying:

Whatever. You can even put this on another article, too. You win, okay? People are calling my cellphone number, and the comments on your website, calling me, like, a sand “n*gger,” and they want to come fuck me in the ass…you can just keep the article up, I don’t care anymore.

As the recording of the call is playing, Aiden Kearney can be heard in the background, stifling laughter.

To recap: the bloggers trolled around on Facebook, found a request from a woman with a history of mental illness, and publicly shamed her. When someone called in to say how wrong that was, TBS publicized that call, and publicly shamed the caller, a 19-year-old fast food worker, who then lost her job. The Turtleboy mob then called her, using racial slurs and threatening to rape her, bringing her to tears.

This is not some isolated, ill-advised case. This is what Turtleboy does. When they’re not bashing every non-Republican politician in the area, they are going after people who are at some kind of low point in their lives, and attacking them publicly, egging their supporters to pile on more abuse.

Will Turtleboy drive someone to suicide? Does anyone think it unlikely?

Turtleboy readers should take note of the show. In Hannah’s school, there were three types of people: those who actively created the lies and problems torturing Hannah; those who aided and abetted, by passing on rumors and photos; and those who could have done something, but did nothing. If, or when, someone does something terrible after a Turtleboy hitjob, each reader will be in one of those categories. “We all killed Hannah,” as one of the characters says.

Will Turtleboy Sports cause someone to commit suicide?

If they continue to do what they do, the answer is: probably. And then all of those who participated or enabled will have some amount of blood on their hands, some more than others.

Aiden Kearney is the founder of Turtleboy Sports and Michael Gaffney, the city council member and Republican Party of Worcester chair, seems to be its financier. Those two will have more than Turtleboy’s victims’ blood on their hands: they’ll be awash in it.

Image: Publicity still for 13 Reasons Why. Katherine Langford as Hannah.