There is a point at which a certain group of people decide that you have too much influence and make it their mission to silence or discredit you. This is commonly referred to as “trolling,” and the attacks are usually targeted in nature. A troll’s tactics can include anything from sending constant derogatory and belittling messages to editing and distributing offensive images, and even making threats. They may go beyond misogynistic trolling and become are abusers, harassers and stalkers.
It is important to distinguish between generic trolling and gendertrolling. Karla Mantilla defines “gendertrolling” as different from the usual “annoying or disruptive” troll behaviour and connects it to male entitlement. She writes, “Gendertrolling is far more vicious, threatening and pervasive, and often enduring than generic trolling.” She goes on to say that unlike “generic trolls, [these people] take their cause seriously, so they are therefore able to rally others who share in their convictions to take up the effort alongside them resulting in a mob, or swarm, of gendertrolls who are devoted to targeting the designated person.”
When women claim their space online, there is push back by gendertrolls. They seem to have a lot of time on their hands, a lot of anger towards women and very little respect for anyone else’s right to express themselves freely and without harassment. Fortunately, there are many examples of women taking back the tech by occupying public online space, including #blacklivesmatter in the US, #deepdives in India and #FeministWhileAfrican. Feminists and activists need to respond swiftly to online violence and attempts to silence us. Our organisations, movements and allies need to support the digital security of women’s rights defenders online. It’s truly time to #TakeBackTheTech and #ImagineAFeministInternet.
B. Strategies for dealing with trolls
Here are some strategies we’ve put together from the experiences of women’s rights and internet rights activists in the Take Back the Tech! Digital Safety Roadmap and Toolkit and the Tactical Tech collaborative manual “Zen and the art of making tech work for you.” There is no ideal response that suits everyone. Our online lives are a continuum of our offline lives, and our contexts and realities vary. Choose a strategy that suits your reality.
Sometimes we decide to deal with abusive trolls because they are attacking us personally and/or our organisations and we want to support our allies. Think carefully about the resources you share with them. The aim is to challenge their lack of knowledge, but by doing this you might call their attention to other people/organisations that will then come under attack. Other things to think about when selecting a strategy: Do you want to use your real identity to expose and engage with them? Do you have the time to document and report the abuse?
Don’t let them push you offline, silence you and make you feel like you can’t experience the internet as yours. Speak to friends, ask for assistance. Getting others to witness and support you is important and can help you feel more secure in taking action. Remember that you are not alone!
Document what you can. Keep evidence in case you need to report the abuse. Save the tweets and the twitter names of the trollers. Remember that screenshots are not acceptable evidence for all platforms, so ask friends to help you document tweets.
Ignore them. Trolls want attention and often want to escalate the abuse. You don’t have to respond!
Block them. Projects like Block Together and Block Bot allow people who are harassed to share their block lists with each other. Twitter also enables sharing of block lists.This means you don’t have to see harassment and trolling. Keep in mind that trolls may create numerous different profiles to continue the harassment, and this means blocking has to keep up with their new accounts. Also, blocking means you can’t see how serious the attack might be getting.
Report them. Social media platforms take misogynistic hate speech more seriously than they used to, although their responses are still far from ideal and skewed towards the Northern-based, English-speaking population. You can learn about Twitter reporting here and Facebook here.
Expose them. Tweet out their hashtags and handles and say what they are doing. Note that this does not mean doxxing, or revealing personal information about them. It simply means revealing their behaviour. You can create secondary accounts to avoid having your real identity trolled.
Engage them. If you feel so inclined, push back against the trolls. Tweet out resources and statements on the reality of online violence against women and highlight the importance of feminism, technology and women’s rights online. At the end of this document, you will find resources you can tweet. Another way to engage is to support people being targeted by joining others in responding to trolls and harassers with feminist messaging and simply tweeting support to the person being targeted. Using this strategy is best if you create secondary accounts to avoid having your real identity trolled.
Go anonymous. If you are feeling particularly vulnerable, rather than going offline, become anonymous. This means you can keep your real identity private and still take action. At the most basic level, you can create new Twitter accounts that are not publicly associated with your personal details or contacts and support the campaign from that handle. If you want to go totally anonymous online, find out more here.C. Strategies for online security and offline wellness
Change your passwords to passphrases. Change them regularly, particularly when you are experiencing abuse or are pushing back against trolls. Keep your passphrases safe! Find more here.
Explore security tools. Take Back the Tech! has developed a Safety Toolkit where we recommend tried and tested tools for keeping your computer and mobile phone as secure as possible. You can choose the tools you need to protect yourself online.
Make self-care a priority. Violence aims to undermine your confidence, your sense of well-being and your ability to be an active, engaged member of society. By taking care of yourself, you are using a critical form of resistance, regaining control of your life and beginning the healing process. Here are some self-care suggestions.