The saying online goes: Don’t feed the trolls. Ignore taunts. Don’t rise to the bait. When people join a conversation with outrageous or insulting comments, turn a blind eye. Don’t give them the attention they crave. Leave them alone and they’ll go away. Or maybe they won’t, but in any case you can’t win an argument on the Internet, so don’t try.
In general I’ve followed this advice. I almost never delete comments from this blog, because I don’t want to stifle discussion. However, I’ve made it clear that commenters need to be respectful. This is my playhouse, and you don’t get to come in and vomit on the floor. When commenters have attacked the character of people I know, I’ve told them to knock it off. When they’ve attacked entire nationalities, I’ve called them on it. When one threatened to have me arrested because she didn’t like me joking about her, I pointed out the absurdity of her threats and banned her. Nobody who threatens another’s safety here gets to continue commenting.
But in general I have been okay with pseudonymous comments and heavy sarcasm, here and elsewhere online. Freedom! Brave New World! On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog!
But “online” isn’t a separate special nature preserve anymore. It’s everywhere, ubiquitous, now thoroughly integrated into our lives for communication, entertainment, and commerce. It’s not a special realm that should be exempt from all laws and standards. It’s one more neighborhood where we live.
It’s a neighborhood without streetlights. And that lets ugly things crawl around in the dark. And, sometimes, attack.
If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest tactics of online trolls, a favorite is to threaten women with rape and death.
Caroline Criado-Perez: “After the Jane Austen announcement I suffered rape threats for 48 hours, but I’m still confident the trolls won’t win.”
Criado-Perez led the successful campaign in Britain to have Jane Austen’s picture on the next generation of £10 bank notes. In response, she received thousands of rape and death threats on Twitter. Thousands.
“Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart, give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place”
Men were sending her this message and similar shit every single second for twelve hours straight. Why? For fun. Because they hate women. Because they’re casual bullies who want to shut their victims up and break them. Because they get away with it.
So maybe it’s time to drag the trolls out into the light and call them on their crap. That’s what Mary Beard did this week.
The broadcaster and academic Mary Beard has silenced an internet troll after naming and shaming him on Twitter.
Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, retweeted the “highly offensive” post from Oliver Rawlings, who has 243 followers on the social networking site, on Monday.
In his tweet, Rawlings called Beard a “filthy old slut” and made a sexual comment.
Professor Beard offered to forward the tweet to the troll’s mother. At that point he backed up so fast he nearly tripped over his own feet.
There have been calls for technological controls to shut down trolls, but I tend to agree with Channel 4: it’s going to take a culture shift.
So let’s set out some principles.
- Telling everybody to “Jump on the rape train” and attack a woman? Wrong. Wrong face to face; wrong online.
- Telling a woman that if she’s still breathing after a rape, she needs to be raped again until the breathing stops? Wrong. Always, everywhere.
- Laughing when a target complains, telling her that the torment is her own fault — that if she would just shut her mouth, they wouldn’t have to promise to rape her in the face with a sledgehammer until she dies — not gonna take that.
If we heard a stranger spouting this garbage at a woman in a restaurant, I hope we’d tell them to stop it. Online, it should be even easier to say: this isn’t funny. It isn’t cool. Cut it out.
Luckily I’ve never experienced such abuse, though this week I blocked my first troll on Twitter. Being called a hack-job, grotesque, and a 1-star author was no fun, even though I know that this troll latches on to writer after writer, flinging insults in a ceaseless campaign for attention and publicity. For now, I’ve simply shut off his ability to attack me… from that particular Twitter account. In the future, I may handle things differently.
Telling people to sit quietly and take it ain’t the way forward.