A Misogynist Troll Attacked Me Online. Here's What I Learned.
Internet asshats beware!
So there I am, minding my own business, when what should Facebook say but:
Actually, Facebook didn't say it. A guy I'm going to call Aaron (not his real name) said it. He was one of my Facebook friends (blame the comedy world for "too may friends in common" as a deterrent from not rejecting a friend request from someone I don't actually know, also who doesn’t like attention?) and though the message was relatively harmless, for whatever reason, it struck me in just the sort of way where it stung a little more than I cared to admit at the time. As if his private message wasn’t disrespectful enough to pronouns, it made me feel gross: that icky feeling of “did I do something wrong?” or even ickier feeling of wondering how many of my photos he had scrolled through in my feed. It felt like I had invited a vampire into my house and now needed desperately to get him the hell out. The internet can feel like that a lot, I’ve found.
I decided to unfriend him. I may have control over very little in my life, but over these five thousand individuals I list as friends, I do.
Before I blocked him, however, perhaps because of a spicy breakfast, perhaps because enough is enough, I posted this screenshot of our exchange:
Then, I de-friended Aaron.
Here is what happened next.
There was an outpouring of comments to the effect of “Aaron strikes again!” and “Yeah, that’s just what that guy does."
Pretty cool, right?
Then, a bunch of my guy friends jumped in.
One offered to post the screenshot at Aaron's place of employment so that they might become aware of his habit of harassment.
One posted a screenshot of the offensive comment on every post on his page.
One male friend solicited him back with similarly grotesque sexual advances.
The exact amount of "faggot" comments one might expect in such a conversation (“I know you are, but what am I?”) were exchanged back and forth until eventually, Aaron blocked them all. My friend's roommate picked up the conversation where it had left off:
Until he, too, was blocked into silence.
At the same time, a number of women reached out to me with screenshots of their own advances from the same individual. He referenced us as "bitches" and "dykes."
I said, "as long as it's just Facebook comments, it's harmless, right!”
They responded, “No, he's physically attacked women, too. At open mics. He's banned from a couple of venues around town.”
So there's that, too.
Apparently there had been several unsuccessful attempts from multiple women to get him suspended from Facebook which made me laugh a little, knowing how many of my female friends had been put on probation for "inappropriate posts" for posting images of their own bodies. #SaveTheNipple
Here, in the end, is what I have taken away from the situation:
1. Trolling Leads To Trolling
Fact. The internet is largely unregulated. Generally speaking, that’s a good thing, but if you sit down to go tit for tat with someone who abuses their right to free speech, you invite them to direct their comments to you. The internet is an infinite yelling match if you want it to be. Sometimes, these yelling matches are hilarious:
2. Ignore It
If you don’t clap because you believe in fairies, the fairies cease to exist. Trolls thrive on acknowledgement. Don't let them thrive.
3. Don't Be Ashamed
Sometimes, however, we need more than silence. What I went through felt like a perfect microcosm for sexual assault in our country. Someone, a guy that I had unintentionally invited into my social ring, put me in a forced situation that made me feel unsettled, or at least, made me feel guilt or shame for something that was entirely not my fault. His infraction wasn’t grave enough for the authorities to step in, so my girlfriends played defense (unfriend this guy before he does it to you, too) and my guy friends played offense (yo bitch, your a**hole tight?). The end result was effectively zero sum. Aaron is still on the web. At least he has been slapped on the hand (I think?) by the strong social fabric of which I am a part.
4. Backup Is Nice Sometimes
The internet is the wild west of human interaction. Choose your battles. It was charming to me that my guy friends were willing to ruffle Aaron's feathers a little bit, and I am genuinely thankful that they did, but I took solace in maintaining silence, myself.
Some of my male friends were willing to take a risk they knew I did not want to take, much like those drunken nights in bars when it is easier for my intimidating guy friends to settle an argument via intimidation that it is for me to try to rule the day with diplomacy. That felt nice. It felt like even if we haven't moved as far forward as a society as I would have liked for us to move, at least I felt safe, like someone had my back.
5. Trolling Is Public AF
Say whatever you want on the net, but be prepared to accept the unintended results. Aaron's name is now in a blog on Oxygen describing a history of online sexual harassment towards woman. Sorry, dude. Them’s the breaks.
5. Block, Report, Repeat
There is a power in forethought, both when on defense and on the attack. I can’t rid the world of every "Aaron" there is, but I can get him out of my feed. And maybe if enough of us report him, Facebook will kick him off, and then it’s for the Twitter gods to sort out.