They Are Not Trolls. They Are Men.
Trigger warning for discussion of the various types of abuse perpetrated by those humans known as “trolls” incuding rape and death threats and suicide.
Back in July, during Netroots Nation 2014, Zerlina Maxwell spoke on a panel about online harassment. I wasn’t there, but someone tweeted a quote that stayed with me:
“Don’t call them trolls. They’re assholes.”
I think this is important. By calling these people “trolls,” we are basically letting them off the hook. It’s a lot like the “boys will be boys” mentality that helps to keep rape culture thriving, but it’s also different, because boys are expected to be human. By calling these people “trolls,” we relegate them to non-human status, and we make it clear that we don’t expect them to live up to the same behavioral standards as human beings.
So, who are these assholes? Well, the subset of the population we refer to as “trolls” is mostly (almost exclusively, in my personal experience) made up of men who—for reasons that range from angry entitlement to I-don’t-know-what—make it their business to perpetrate harassment and abuse on targets who are mostly not men.
As a woman online, I’ve dealt with and watched others deal with all of these things and more:
Men who insist that we engage them because they disagree with something we’ve said.
Men who keep tweeting at us or commenting when we’ve asked them to stop.
Men who keep tweeting at us after we’ve told them in no uncertain terms we’re done and have blocked them.
Men who create sock-puppet accounts pretending to be women and use them to harass us, gaslight us, threaten us.
Men who haunt hashtags they disagree with so they can harass people who are not men who speak out about issues that matter to them.
Men who haunt hashtags about gender violence, sexual assault, and other painful topics and target the people there telling their stories.
Men who band together to create armies of sock-puppet accounts to harass us and discredit the work we do.
Men who reply to our stories of rape to tell us that it wasn’t rape. (And who are very likely defending their own behavior.)
Men who play devil’s advocate on issues that disproportionately affect people who are not men.*
Men who chime into conversations about sexual & domestic violence to speculate on what the victim should have done differently.
Men who attack those of us dedicated to fighting for equality simply because we fight for equality.
Men who call us “feminazis” and “white knights” because we identify as feminists and talk about feminist issues.
Men who use racist and sexist and transphobic slurs to attack marginalized people, often for months on end, with no consequence.
Men who send us graphic photos of everything from sex acts to gaping wounds in order to punish us for talking back.
Men who tell us all we need is a good fucking to set us straight.
Men who tell us we should get raped.
Men who tell us they hope we kill ourselves.
Men who tell us how they hope we die.
And of course, all of this is in hopes that we will simply STFU, or better yet, cease to exist.
I think Zerlina’s right: we need to start calling them what they are. Assholes, yes. But also, men who choose to harass and abuse others online, sometimes to the point of driving their victims off the Internet, out of their homes, and even to suicide. So, when you talk about these men, consider using words that describe what they actually do and are, such as “harassers” and “abusive assholes.”
These men are human beings who treat others as less than human—who purposely cause pain and suffering and sometimes even death. It is time we stopped letting them off the hook.
Note: This post has been updated to include the suggested term “harassers” per my friend Mandaray.
*Post pub note: The idea that I would include “playing devil’s advocate” in a list like this seems to have confused some folks, so I want to be clear about what I mean, here: There are people who innocently wonder about the other side of an equation and there are dudes who use “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” as an excuse to argue with women and other marginalize people simply for the entertainment value of engaging us and wasting our time and energy (and even when there’s no ill intent, it’s often really unhelpful and can even be harmful, such as when “devil’s advocates” engage in victim-blaming). Yes, there are degrees of trolling, and this is the least of what anti-feminist trolls do, but feminists—especially those of us who engage in online activism—must, on a daily basis, deal with a barrage of people who are primarily cis white males telling us what feminism really is or isn’t, what misogyny really is or isn’t, what street harassment really is or isn’t, what rape really is or isn’t, and “devil’s advocate” is one of the flags they wave when they’re reminded that they are being part of the problem, as though it excuses them. I hope this clarifies my meaning. Also, if you’re pulling this one item out of the list and ignoring everything else, you may be missing at least part of the point.
Oh, and just for good measure:
Trolls Harassers and abusive assholes who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)