In order for this post to make any sense, you’ll need to read this piece titled “Twitter: a new world of abuse against women” by Julia Baird in which the author addresses the problem of “evil” trolls.
Then I strongly urge you to read this piece by Helen Razer, titled “A troll in the park” in which, among other things, the author points out some crucial statistical absences in Ms Baird’s argument.
Then you ought to read this piece by Cathy Young, titled “Is there a cyber war on women,” and if you want further complexity, you could read this piece by me, titled “Toxic, online and feminist. Really?” in which I address the matter of white media feminists claiming they are being “trolled” and “silenced”by women of colour, and am chastised in the comments for my audacity by a couple of white media feminists who no doubt have added me to their list of trolls.
No thinking person could quibble with the disagreeability of being targeted online for abuse. While I can control this on the blog, I’ve been surprised by the abuse sent my way when I’ve written for media outside of my control, and sometimes have had cause to wonder if the moderators were sleeping. It is not nice. It is not acceptable. It can be frightening. For women who are usually relatively safe, and have managed to construct an environment for ourselves that is relatively safe, the internet is an area over which we have no control.
An argument made by Ms Baird is that if anonymity is forbidden at sites that provide the opportunity for engagement, the problem of online abuse will disappear. Very few trolls, apart from the famous ones who make a living from it, use their names, so there is some sense in the argument against anonymity.
However, many, many internet users prefer anonymity, not because they wish to abuse and troll, but because they prefer to maintain their own privacy for any number of good reasons. Should everyone be forced to identify themselves in order to provide a safe space for ladies who fear the troll will silence them?
To my mind, this would result in an appalling silencing on an appalling scale, and so is in no way acceptable.
If we are to participate in an online world we have to be able to deal with its reality, which is that we are not discussing topics around the dinner table in our homes, or only with the like-minded, but we are participating in a global exchange that lacks any of the usual social protections normally enjoyed by the privileged. Anyone can say anything to us. And they do.
Some of us may well be silenced by trolls and this is, of course, wrong and unfair. Yet I know many, many women, myself among them, who have endured enormous abuse, physical, sexual, emotional, mental and spiritual, and who have not been and never will be silenced by abuse we’ve experienced.
The world does not adapt itself to protecting us from the massive potential for abuse it contains. In the scheme of things, the sorry-arsed losers whose only source of pleasure is attempting to intimidate someone else on the internet are very low in the hierarchy of potential abusers. Yes, they say very mean things. Yes, they make threats that are alarming and intimidating. No, of course they shouldn’t do it, and we shouldn’t have to be subjected to it. However, as there is no way of making the internet nice, and perhaps we should be grateful for that, we’re going to have to toughen up and learn, like the man kicked by a donkey, to overlook the insult on considering the source.