Earlier this week, a fairly large-follower account left Gab.ai publicly and in a huff because the site would not remove users she felt were harrassing her. I’ve heard many women complain about the relentless, horrible harrassment (sometimes described as “verbal violence,”) that makes the internet a hostile place for women.
I can’t say that has been my experience. Given that I am a woman, and spend a great deal of time online talking about highly controversial subjects, how could this be? I’ve given some thought to the tactics I use avoid “harassment.”
1. Don’t overreach. Or as we say in the South, “Don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash.” I’m not going to make a bold assertion unless I am pretty confident I can defend it against detractors. And if someone makes a good point I hadn’t thought of, I’m willing to say, “Well that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.” If you care more about getting to the truth than about winning internet slap-fights, you should be fine with doing that once in a while.
2. Don’t fight out of your weight class. If I’m approaching someone with an expertise that I don’t have, I’ll take a deferential tone in my questions and challenges. There’s no shame in not knowing something, but there is shame in haughtily flaunting an expertise you do not actually possess. If you get into the ring without proper preparation, intent on taking on a heavyweight, and in return receive a humiliating beat-down, it’s not harrassment, it’s being put in your place, and it’s your own fault.
Unfortunately, part of the problem is that the the “everybody gets a prize” culture of today gives many people an unrealistic sense of their own competence, and renders them unprepared to formulate or lose arguments. Thus, when they are effectively paddled online after asserting what they know is a fact (because everyone at their college said so), they often conclude, “This person is guilty of wrong-think and made me feel bad! That’s not supposed to happen! Stop the harrassment!”
3. Pick your battles. If you make a controversial statement in a public setting, you’re going to get push back. It’s a fact for everyone, not just women. You can choose to engage or ignore. Before responding, I ask myself: Is this a person capable of having a good-faith discussion from which one or both of us might benefit? If not, is there a chance that my response to this person might be instructive to other observers? If neither is true, take a pass. I occasionally give into the urge to tell an idiotic jerk that they’re an idiotic jerk, but I always regret it. Mark Twain warned against arguing with idiots, lest they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. This is pointless wheel-spinning that accomplishes nothing but leaving you feeling emotionally battered, and possibly, well, harassed.
4. Don’t feed the trolls. Some people use the term “trolls” to mean anyone who gives negative feedback. However, I am referring specifically to the verbal poo-flingers who offer vulgarities and ad hominems, but no substance. If someone comes at me out of the gate with “yer a dumb bitch,” they don’t merit a response, even a dismissive one. I suppose this kind of talk may be considered harassment, but I believe these pathetic slobs to be a step above zoo animals and not worthy of my concern or attention. I have blocked a handful of these people, but they usually lose interest and move along fairly quickly if you don’t engage them.
(By the way, men also have to put up with their share of poo-flingers on the internet, but most of them just brush it off rather than engage in hand-wringing about harassment).
5. Be an adult. Gab’s Andrew Torba told the woman complaining about his refusal to intervene to protect her from trolls, “We are not babysitters.”
You put part of yourself on public display when using social media, and occasionally someone who strikes at you will hit a tender nerve. It can sting, and it sucks. But that’s life. You can plead with authorities to provide you a safe space, which is in my opinion a childish response, or you can resolve to move forward with as much strength and effectiveness as possible.
In sum, if you engage with others respectfully and wisely, avoid pointless shit-stirring, and ignore the sewer creatures, most of the so-called “harassment” is not a problem.