I have recently been the subject of more trolling than usual on the internet. Trolling, itself, isn’t new. Pretty much since I started reporting, there have been trolls online. That’s fine. Or, rather, it’s not fine, but it’s a fact of life. That trolling has gotten more intense as I’ve written bigger stories with wider audiences, or maybe just as more people have gotten into the anonymous hate game on the internet. The essay I wrote on the Billfold (which I had actually titled “Lessons from My Parents: Don’t Have Kids”), prompted strangers to give me unwarranted life advice and speculate about my attractiveness, sexual history, and dubious life choices. Some of the craziest comments I ever got were actually in response to a very small local news story that I wrote as straight news about a councilman arguing with another councilman and who voted what. This evidently made it clear that I hated the Constitution, was an un-American communist, and most likely a radical unattractive hack.
Now, I generally just don’t read comments, especially on controversial things I write, like about sexual assault, smoking bans, or oyster farms.
Recently, though, the trolls have left the news sites and are forcing themselves into my life. They’re sending me (lots of) Twitter messages and long personal emails. And they’re doing it in a way that is very clear that they wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t a woman — or, to a small degree, if I wasn’t a woman who looked young and small and intimidate-able.
Yes, I expected the hate for a story I wrote for the campus site on the ‘yes means yes’ law, especially since I expressed an opinion! About sexual assault! But, the long email cajoling me to grow a pair and start smiling more in my profile photos was in response to a fun piece on the best places to tailgate. Tailgating: always a hotbed of outrage. And, the funny recap of “How to Get Away with Murder” prompted both crazy sexist AND racist comments. Because, you know, that’s a totally rational appropriate response.
There’s been more written recently about how the internet is becoming a dark alley for women. It’s not just uninviting, it’s dangerous. People say ignore them. Yeah, no kidding. People say don’t feed the trolls. Just super great advice. And, after my initial reaction of “Fuck them!,” I also didn’t want to give any of it any weight. I didn’t want to respond — because that never goes well — or say anything or mention it to anyone. As if by ignoring abuse it’ll go away. When a friend asked what the Twitter handle was of someone who deliberately followed me just so he doesn’t miss an opportunity to tell me what “shitty feminist propaganda” I write, I didn’t initially want to tell her. I didn’t want to egg him on or let him know I thought about him at all or that this was even a question in my mind. But, then, I thought, “If you want to invade my personal space, I don’t see why you deserve any either.”
Now, I sort of hope she is sharing her thoughts with him online, though I doubt anyone has the same level of commitment and lack of anything else going on that so many of these people seem to have. Mostly, though, I hope we just start saying, “See that person over there, that person is a real person in real life, and it’s not ok what he says when he thinks no one is watching.” We’re watching.