518: Trollish

A Thousand Things to Talk About
518: Trollish

25Have you ever been trolled or threatened online?

Full episode script

In July of 2017, the Pew Research Center took a close look at online abuse. They found that, quote:

41% of Americans have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online, and 66% have witnessed these behaviors directed at others. In some cases, these experiences are limited to behaviors that can be ignored or shrugged off as a nuisance of online life, such as offensive name-calling or efforts to embarrass someone. But nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking. […] For those who experience online harassment directly, these encounters can have profound real-world consequences, ranging from mental or emotional stress to reputational damage or even fear for one’s personal safety.

Which is a very clinical way of putting into words the deeply scary and deeply threatening experiences some have had online. One of the most visible recently has been Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency. She has been experiencing harassment, quote:

non-stop for half a decade – including a continuous barrage of rape and death threats, a bomb scare and a game in which players can punch an image of her face. It’s only when she speaks that she reveals a cautiousness most of us lack; Sarkeesian chooses her words carefully, ever mindful of what may spark even more abuse. “The biggest difference is that I don’t monitor our social media any more,” she says.

Unlike direct personal threats in person, online threats come with an added layer of deniability. As was explained in Wired:

trolls cast indiscriminate lines for and hide their intentions. They bait those fishing lines with what Judith Donath, a Harvard professor who has studied early internet deceptions, calls a “pseudo-naive” idiom: “I was just asking!” Standing on that plausible deniability, they sit back and wait for tempers to flare.

The online magazine Flare talked to several individuals who handle abuse on a regular basis. Quoting from that article:

“When I came out as trans, I was running a wedding business and I was having trolls leave fake reviews everywhere,” says Sophia Banks. “They were actually trying to harm my business and my income,” says the Montreal-based artist/trans advocate. “It was a really traumatic experience,” says Banks—a trauma that was compounded by the standard advice that urges victims not to feed the trolls.

“When we say, ‘just ignore it’ we are literally saying that we are forfeiting the Internet to abusers. We are saying this belongs to you and we just get to visit and that’s it,” says Julie Lalonde, Ottawa-based advocate for sexual assault survivors and self-described “feminist buzzkill”. More importantly, she says, turning the other cheek doesn’t work.

The Internet’s troll problem remains unsolved, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless if it happens to you, says London, Ont.-based lawyer David Canton, who advises on social media law. “There’s only so much you can do sometimes, but people shouldn’t just give up or sit back and take it.”

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.