I’ve been blogging, podcasting, and doing public talks in one form or another since my early twenties. I’m a paranormal researcher who is quite skeptical about paranormal claims and that annoys a lot of people. I’m also a woman who is quite opinionated and that also annoys a lot of people, too. In the decade(ish) that has passed since I first started blogging, I have experienced the wrath of a lot of trolls and mean people online. There is a tonne of advice given to young women about how to deal with this, but here is what I have learned…
Nobody can prepare you for the abuse you might get.
People can tell you from experience that putting your opinions and thoughts out there will attract the best and the worst of people, but they can’t always tell you how to cope with it. Some will tell you to ignore those who send you abusive messages or comments online. By not engaging them, you’re told that they’ll go away or get tired of being horrible. Other people will tell you that ‘sunlight in the best disinfectant‘ and that by responding and publishing and sharing the harassment you receive, you will shame people into silence, or show that you cannot be intimidated.
What I’ve found, though, is that it’s a little bit of both approaches that works. I mean, it’s tiring enough having to read horrid messages in the first place – but after doing so for this many years, I guess I’ve developed a thicker skin. Luckily for me, I’ve never received rape or death threats and the worst I’ve dealt with is threats of violence, people trying to get me sacked, and being followed home (yeah… lucky me…)
Sometimes, you’ve got to mock the mocker
What I do now is read messages and comments and decide if it’s worth responding. It’s easy to hit the delete, mute or block button and forget that person ever tried to interact with me, but sometimes… sometimes the abuse deserves to be challenged or mocked, which is why on my blog you will likely come across many comment threads in which I expertly employ the use of sarcastic memes or gifs.
When you get trolled, sometimes you’ve got to troll back harder. Nobody automatically deserves your respect, especially if they’re abusive or rude.
Take threats or harassment seriously
As I mentioned before, I’ve been followed home by what I suspect was one of my online harassers. There have been three occasions in the past on which I’ve had to involve the police regarding threats or behaviour and, thankfully, the police were great at handling the issues.
When people tell you to ignore harassment, it’s usually a well-intentioned piece of advice, but sometimes you need to ignore the advice to ignore the harassment and trust your gut feeling if you think something doesn’t feel right or makes you feel unsafe. Even if a law hasn’t technically been broken, you can still speak to the police about what had been said or threatened and they can log your concern – that way, if it escalates, you’ve already got a file with them about the situation and you’re likely to get a quicker response if the situation develops.
Own your high ground
There’s nothing anyone can say to me that I haven’t already said to myself because I was once a teenage girl. However, people will try because people who cannot meet your opinions or statements with reasoned debate will instead attack you and will aim for the things which they think will hurt you the most. The best way to respond to this behaviour is to recognise that this is a logical fallacy called Ad Hominem (which roughly translates to ‘to the person’), and only people who have weak arguments will resort to this tactic. They often don’t realise they’re doing it and how it shows that they’re debating from a weak position. Once somebody starts to attack you instead of your argument, you can safely assume that it’s fine to ignore them.
You deserve to be heard
When you’re an opinionated person- especially a woman -people will often tell you that you should keep your opinions and thoughts to yourself. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that you should shut up and be silent. In the 21st Century, it’s easy for anyone to say their piece and be heard and if you’ve got something to say and you want to say it, then say it.
That said, nobody has to listen to you or take you seriously, but at the same time nobody is entitled to tell you to be quiet because they disagree with you or feel offended by what you have said. If someone is offended and you haven’t intentionally offended them (or even if you have) then that’s a shame for them, but it doesn’t entitle them to your silence or an apology.
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