Earlier this week the amazing Erin Kissane published “How to Kill a Troll,” an insightful essay that proposes a multi-pronged approach to dealing with Internet trolls. Her final and perhaps most important point is that love, or the “willingness to be human, vulnerable, and rational,” might be the only thing that can truly get through to people set on anonymously bullying and harassing others (particularly women). The article, and the subsequent discussion, is a tremendous resource for anyone seeking to understand trolls and misogyny on the Internet.
As I point out in the comments there, the problem with many hardcore trolls is that the whole thing is a game to them. They’re not out to change hearts and minds. They’re in it for the lulz and they really don’t care what buttons they have to press to get them. Are they misogynists? Many are. Many are stupid kids who don’t give a shit. If they weren’t online, they’d be out burning ants with a magnifying glass. But they’re learning from the big trolls that it’s fun to pick on women because we make a lot of noise which equals maximum entertainment. And it’s so easy! Your material’s already been written for you by all the misogynist trolls who came before. You can tell her to make you a sandwich, pick apart her appearance, accuse her of being a prude, a whore, or OMG A LESBIAN. If you’re hardcore, you can threaten to rape her, or wish cancer on her nether regions. You can describe all the ways you’d like to hurt her with foreign objects. Trolls–the worst of them–do all these things and more.
But to be a genuine troll requires anonymity. That means people who engage in some of these behaviors in public, with their name attached, and no expectation of privacy, cannot be rightly called trolls. But I’m going to go ahead and call them misogynists. And they’re so easy to catch. All you have to do is place the bait like The Huffington Post did today:
The comments are a mix of “Yes, it’s sexist! Duh!” and “Who the hell cares?” sprinkled with stuff like this (Note: All of these comments are public on Facebook and viewable by anyone who has “liked” the Huffington Post–the fact that they are public is the point):
And stupid shit like this:
And the winning entry before I got sick of reading:
From the guy who thought this contributed to the conversation:
The mayor of the town, much like these two commenters, doesn’t get what all the fuss is about. He thinks people are just “humorless.”
What do I think? I’m glad you asked. Yeah, it sounds sexist to me. But I’m not nearly as interested in those two parking spaces as I am in how many people are willing to flaunt their misogyny in public. Are they brave? If we compare them to the elusive-yet-ubiquitous troll, perhaps. Or maybe our friend the troll is just smarter than his counterparts showing their asses in public with their names attached. But I’ll tell you one thing: some of these people scare me way more than any socially impotent Smeagol hiding in his lair beneath mommy’s sewing room tapping out hate and rape threats (and believe me, they scare me enough that I keep this blog anonymous). Why? Because they seem to believe their misogynistic horseshit at a level so deep that they’re not even ashamed. To some of these folks, putting down women is socially acceptable and hilarious. And to others, it’s just not worth getting your panties in a twist over.
These attitudes serve to (further) normalize misogyny, and they help create this environment we have where if a woman speaks out and says “I don’t think this is right,” she can expect to be a) bullied and/or b) told she’s overreacting. And that’s at the very least. I think we can do better.
Let’s talk about how. Maybe love is the answer, but I don’t know what that looks like in action. I’m open to suggestions.