***Trigger warning: the content below addresses issues of sexual violence and abuse as well as contains strong language.***
If you have spent any time on social media or reading the comments sections of YouTube or online articles, you’re familiar with internet trolls. Individuals that seem to lurk in their parent’s dark basements, waiting for the next best opportunity to disrupt online dialog. Undoubtedly, I have been amused by a troll or two. But, the number of times I have chuckled or appreciated harmless, clever or off-topic comments pales in comparison to the number of times I have gasped, felt rage or sat dumbfounded at the cruelty and heartlessness of some commenters. Last week was no exception.
On Monday, a friend of mine commented on a photo related to the United States’ National Infertility Awareness Week. There was some banter between my friend and another male. He stated several unsavory comments, which he deleted, but felt the need to follow up with my friend in a private message.
On Wednesday, I watched a video released by the #morethanmean movement regarding the abusive Tweets female sports journalists receive on a regular basis. Sportswriters Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro sat opposite to several volunteer males as they read some of these Tweets directly to the journalists. The men were not given the opportunity to preview the Tweets prior to reading them. Visibly moved, appalled and uncomfortable, the men read through the series of Tweets, including:
- Sarah Spain sounds like nagging wife on TV.
- I hope your dog gets hit by a car, you bitch.
- One of the players should beat you to death with their hockey stick like the whore you are. C*nt.
- This is why we don’t hire any females unless we need our c*cks sucked and our food cooked.
- Hopefully the skank Julie DiCaro is Bill Cosby’s next victim. That would be classic.
- I hope your boyfriend beats you.
- Why bring up your own rape in the story? Is it your way at firing back at critics who say you can’t get any?
- I hope you get raped again.
- Sarah Spain is a b*tch I would hate f*ck.
- You need to be hit in the head with a hockey puck and killed.
Statements like: “I don’t think I can even say that” and “I’m sorry” and “I am having trouble looking at you when I am saying these things” are uttered from the men, emphasizing how damaging these statements are, not to mention that it’s just as unacceptable to write these things as it is to say to another human being in person.
On Friday, I read an article from The Guardian that outlined the results of a research project regarding disruptive and abusive language in the comments section of the publication’s online articles. 70 million blocked comments (comments that were removed because they didn’t adhere to their community standards) were examined. Of those comments, the top 10 number of writers to receive the most number of abusive and disruptive comments consisted of eight women and two black men. On the opposite end of the scale, the top 10 number of writers to experience the least amount of trolling were all men.
Included in The Guardian’s summary of research findings are interviews with three of the writers in the “top 10” list of most number of abusive/disruptive comments on their articles. Two of whom are females Jessica Valenti and Nesrine Malik. Both are brave enough to be interviewed, and kind enough to share how abusive and disruptive comments impact them.
Valenti says that she often receives “the most horrible rape and death threats,” continuing that she get nervous “when someone comes up to me one-on-one to talk … Is this the person that threatened to rape me this week?”
To get to that place where you are used to being called a ‘c*nt’ everyday, that’s a terrible thing to get used to – that does something to who you are. – Jessica Valenti
As a result of such horrific online abuse, she decided to guard herself very carefully: “I have a P.O. box; there is no physical address listed [online]; I don’t check into hotels using my real name.”
As a humanist, I am stunned at the audacity abusers have when commenting.
Would they actually state that they’d rape a woman to her face?
Would they heartlessly, in person, tell my friend to adopt a cat?
Assuming online abusers wouldn’t actually say this in person, why do they feel it is acceptable to write it online?
Guardian authors Gardiner, Mansfield, et al say, “Anonymity disinhibits people, making some of them more likely to be abusive. Mobs can form quickly: once one abusive comment is posted, others will often pile in, competing to see who can be the most cruel.”
Malik believes that the “fundamental sense of entitlement enrages people [because] they don’t have that position and someone else that they do not respect does … I feel the motivation behind the comments is to wound rather than to make a legitimate point.”
The point is to intimidate, and the point is to hijack, and the point is to ensure that the conversation becomes about the troll and your position as an undermined person. Once that happens, they have won. – Malik
Admittedly, I am uncomfortable writing about this topic because I know I am making myself susceptible to online trolls. But, I firmly believe this conversation is far too important to shy away from it. This phenomena is growing at an alarming rate, and the disconnect between people is being amplified by online trolling. As a society, we have forgotten that behind each smart phone, tablet and computer screen is a human being. A human being that is digesting each word. A human being that is actually affected.
While most of us have not uttered death or rape threats, or preyed upon on someone’s personal misfortune, we have likely been less than courteous when dialoging online, or laughed when someone said something distasteful. And, we may have forgotten that behind the screen is a person.
Let’s remember that each online profile or username is someone else’s daughter or son, and that we have the opportunity to impact them, and online discourse, positively. We can be the change we’d like to see.
Let’s just be kind to each other, okay?