Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How To Be More Helpful Than "Ignore the Trolls"

[Content note: Discussion of online harassment, sexism, racism]

Leslie Jones' recent experience with racist, sexist harassment got me thinking again about Internet civility, and particularly the roles of bystanders to online harassment.

First and foremost, I understand that many consumers of Internet content don't feel safe to participate in hostile conversations, either to directly engage harassers or to publicly offer support to those experiencing abuse. Neither is it realistic, either physically or for our own mental well-being, to think that we can jump into the fray every time we see someone being harassed on Internet.

While explicitly noting that, I want to underscore a tension with that principle. In line with the reality that people who produce online content are also actual human beings, we need to fully appreciate that Internet is, on many platforms, a participatory medium. This participatory nature is both the problem and, perhaps, part of the solution. One reader may not think their comment may have much of an impact, but just as abusive comments can cause actual harm to recipients, supportive comments can help targets feel if not less harmed at least less isolated.

Secondly and related, I want to suggest what I hope are helpful comments people can contribute to situations of Internet harassment when they are up to the engagement. I see a lot of what seems like (mostly) well-intentioned advice rendered on the Internet for targets of abuse to "ignore the trolls" or "don't read the comments."

Yet, ignoring abuse neither addresses the abuse or demands better behavior. It often means resignation to a shitty situation or all-around low expectations for civility. I also find convincing the argument that letting harassing comments stand without counter can implicitly signal validation of harassment.

Internet culture is an ever-shifting, dynamic thing and, I believe, it is something most of us as consumers/content-producers have at least some small (or large) ability to shape into what we want it to be.

Leslie Jones, partly responding to the "ignore the trolls" advice some were offering, instead said:

On this topic, Melissa at Shakesville has written:
"Who I am, who I want to be, depends on my not ignoring that I am despised. Who I am depends on my greeting that hatred head-on, and pushing back on it with all the strength in my strong, tough, fat body. 
I will not behave like a person who isn't full of gumption. I will walk into the world each day with my head held high, and I will react when someone tries to lower my chin and slow my stride."
I agree with both. We can, we must, be louder than those who perpetuate sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, other -ist abuse. When various platforms do not adequately police abuse, this pro bono countering abuse is apparently the external cost that decent users perhaps must pay to have a more decent Internet society until companies invest adequate resources into the issue.  Shitty, but true.

Accordingly, I offer the following as helpful responses to situations of harassment that do not include the concept "ignore the trolls":
1) "I'm sorry you are experiencing harassment"
2) "I support you"
3) "What these people are saying/doing is not okay"
4) "Can I help you counter this?"
5) "Stop saying/doing that" (to person being abusive, obvs); 
          6) Communicate to the platform/company that the abuse is happening and that you disagree                    with it;

          7) Like Tweets/posts countering the abuse;

          8) Re-tweet supportive posts if you can't/don't want to write one of your own;

Thoughts? Disagreements/agreements? Additions? Other solutions?

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