Social state Metroplus

Ensuring our (online) safety in numbers

In an episode of This American Life podcast titled, “If you don’t have something nice to say, say it in ALL CAPS,” the issue of online trolling takes a new, vicious turn. While this may seem like ‘feminist-y stuff’ (as an aside, may we please retire the word ‘feminazi’?), almost always, when a woman says something that is considered objectionable in an online forum, her personhood is attacked, rape threats are made.

In the podcast, writer Lindy West speaks about her own experiences being trolled online — the most horrifying of which is when a troll goes to the extent of creating an account in her dead father’s name and taunting her — and how particularly brutal it can get for women online. West’s experience isn’t new, or even singularly graphic, even when one of the tweets against her is about how a man threatened to rape her. Taking even the tweets against public figures, if it’s a woman, she is attacked because she is a woman, and a man for what he has done.

In this space of entrenched misogyny, a lot of women who aren’t public figures (and women writers), myself included, have created what is a defence mechanism from being called names. We either lean towards hearts, puppies and sparkling things or act mean and funny, like a minority-community sidekick in a blockbuster movie. It’s to an extent instinctive, and excuses us from participating in serious thought. Because when we do so, there will be at least one person to pull us down, to say why we deserve to get violated.

This, while it may not be ideal, is what has worked for us in many social situations. West eventually does speak to the man who pretended to be her father. His reply: “Women are being more forthright in their writing. There isn’t a sense of timidity when they speak or when they write. They’re saying it loud. And I think that — and I think, for me, as well, it’s threatening at first.”

It’s similar to a woman occupying a public space that was previously filled with men. In the early days, our immediate response in such a space, in real life, would have been to pull ourselves close together or walk without making too much eye contact with anyone else. Or we sought safety in numbers. Our presence in the online space is still in those early stages, where we are still taking tentative steps. The sad thing is we have somehow become comfortable in these personas we have created for ourselves.

Because, as we know too well, and as West says, “Thanks to internet trolls, I’m perpetually reminded that the boundary between the civilised world and our worst selves is just an illusion.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 6:11:22 PM |

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