Jamie Loftus, Mensa member, here. I would like to present you with a series of events, with some light commentary.
This past June, I took the Mensa entry exam as a joke and got in. I wrote the piece about how surprised I was to be accepted and joked that I would ‘hack’ the Los Angeles branch of the org. I received the card in the mail, joined the appropriate Facebook groups, and then sort of forgot about it. For my purposes, the story was more or less done after those two pieces: I didn’t think I was going to get in, I got in, and that’s it.
But sometimes, dear reader, when you shut a door on an international organization where the only sure thing is everyone took a test one time, you become embroiled in what has been a years-long issue of online harassment and frustration for Mensa members—and on the receiving end of a lot of rage.
My first-person, editorialized Mensa pieces were received differently than others only due to the number of messages sent to me from members after its publication. Most were friendly—they describing their experiences in Mensa, expressing that they got my joke but felt it had improved their social lives and sense of self, and encouraged me to get involved. A few messages mentioned the toxic online culture of Mensa, and one Facebook group in particular to avoid at all costs.
For context: American Mensa is in charge of two Facebook groups. One is intentionally unmoderated, so any person who joins it is potentially subject to harm. There are two groups in the first place because, according to Mpedia (because of course Mensa made its own Wikipedia), an attempt at moderating one divided the membership , with some “demanding a moderated, family-friendly group and others insisting on a free speech venue without censorship.” So things changed. One Facebook group sanctioned by the organization was created with the understanding that you were free to say whatever hateful, racist, misogynist, homophobic thought that crossed into your head, and another was created where you couldn’t do any of that.
One Sunday I was summoned to the group when a member reposted the piece I wrote upon getting into Mensa, tagging me on a post that immediately turned into a barrage of insults. Mensa does not like my eyebrows. Mensa does not like that I worked at a bagel shop in college. Some of Mensa thinks I am slut-shaming for saying “dumb slut” to describe myself as a joke, while others think I am too ugly to conceivably be a dumb slut. Some criticism was more practical, with demands I be kicked out of the organization, and others weren’t —your “I agree, she’s a dumb cunt,” and a bizarre, direct threat that we’ll get to.
The names are now redacted, but were not in my original posts. Please enjoy some highlights; let’s start with a death threat.
And continue, if I may, with a message whose author insisted I would obscure by only posting an excerpt. Not so!
To conclude, an insult with the cherry topping of a climate change denial.
(Writer’s Note: Before the comments got too bad, I replied to say I’d seen their tags and inquired into a “boob thread” one member implied I’d be too uptight to enjoy. The Mensa boob thread is a three-year-long thread of Mensans of all genders posting titty pics that is worth a novel’s worth of discussion on its own, and I would like go on record as appreciating the boob thread. I only mention this because a lot of people are saying I don’t like the boob thread, but I do like the boob thread, and I never said I didn’t like the boob thread. Boob thread. Glad that’s cleared up.)
I screenshotted and posted some particularly frustrating comments and posted them to Twitter dot com. While it’s true that I did not obscure the names of those who posted, that’s not a legal issue—just because it’s in a private Facebook group with a no-snitch atmosphere doesn’t mean that it is illegal to show others online harassment levied at you, even if some disagree with the ethics. I would probably choose to obscure the names now so that I could be seeing A Star is Born right now instead of writing this, but there’s no illegality in what I did as there was no request for retribution implied. Let’s not get into the weeds there, because that’s not the reason I got booted from Twitter for a week. (UPDATE: The night before this was published, after six days and a slew of very kind messages and support, Twitter reinstated my account.)
The reason I was removed is this:
Did you know, in the year 2018, that sharing a violent threat made against you on the world wide web and summarizing the threat in a caption is, in fact, a violent threat? Although it’s possible I am not being fair, and the people who responded to my Twitter ban are level-headed and just happen to quote famous Nazi Joseph Goebbels to bolster their point.
Another talking point flooding my feed is casting a shadow over all of the organization for a few bad apples. Two people involved in Mensa management have reached out apologizing for how the group in question operates, in addition to a number of members who have experienced harassment both in the online community and at public gatherings. The female organizer who reached out was immediately attacked by the Facebook group with a string of vitriol I don’t feel it’s my business to publish.
And to those in the group that feel I didn’t spend enough time getting to know other Mensans: it’s possible you’re right. I wrote what I wrote as a comedy column I’m not paid a lot to write, and wrote in a persona. For those that didn’t find it satirical or funny, it sucks to feel on the receiving end of a joke of something that may be valuable to you.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a group sponsored by your organization that has become a low-level hate community.
After posting the first of these without redacting a name, the Mensans in question attacked, claiming I had baited them, was seeking publicity, and starting a hashtag “#mensaresponds” before someone reported the screenshotted threat against me as me making a violent threat. Although I hadn’t threatened anyone I was suspended from Twitter for making a violent threat, an action so typical of social media giants at this point that it feels barely worth discussing. On this hashtag are a few users posting especially frequently saying I should have known to disregard the threat, that the group is a “Saturday night barroom,” “we blow off steam and relentlessly give each other shit,” it’s “rowdy and obnoxious.” And for a group I’m told is railing against me for obstructing their free speech, there was a mass blocking campaign organized so that I couldn’t see any of their further posts.
The Mensans in Charge and I continue to talk about it and internal progress appears possible, but the lesson I am hoping to take away in my dry and unused lady parts on my way to the job I absolutely sucked dick for is why these actively disliked communities are allowed to thrive if an organization can set hate speech and harassment policies within them. If there are protocols in place to protect members as I’m told, why is the organization intentionally keeping the group where a good deal of reports come from active?
Toxic online groups develop all the time, and are notoriously difficult to moderate. This one, however, is owned by American Mensa, and is unmoderated on purpose. If an organization owns a group, knows abuse against its other members (and I experienced what sounds like only a sampling of it) takes place within that group, and chooses not to close it down, that’s a statement on a group’s values.
Personally, it is my feeling that passing a test one time isn’t grounds for being protected when opening fire on another person who passes a test one time. Elitist clubs are annoying at best, dangerous and exclusive at worst. Except for the boob thread. The boob thread is fine.
Anyways, I’m in Mensa which means I’m smart which means pay attention to me.
This has been a description of a series of events, with some light commentary.
Jamie Loftus is a comedian, writer and social media victim of the International Olympic Committee. She’s the creator and star of the Comedy Central online original series Irrational Fears. You can find her some of the time, most days at @jamieloftusHELP or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.