On Stalkers, Trolls and Awesomeness
Posted by E on January 29, 2016
I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject, especially in light of a recent landmark court case which determined that freedom of expression on social media networks trumps moral outrage and the perception of being harassed simply because one’s feelings have been hurt due to insensitive online comments. As the judge put it, “One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.” (Judge B. Knazan, R v Elliott). This precedent-setting court case involved two prominent Toronto feminists, Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly, and a man named Gregory Alan Elliott who had directed crude and disparaging comments at the women via Twitter.
As a writer and freelance journalist who prizes freedom of expression, but also as someone who identifies as a feminist and who has been harassed online, I understand both sides of this argument – the importance of standing up for your right to express dissent, even comments that others might consider politically-incorrect and offensive, versus a human being’s basic need to feel safe and not personally-attacked. It was an ugly case that probably shouldn’t have ended up in criminal court at all – a case where people on both sides of the equation were not entirely without blame for adding fuel to what became a nasty online battle made up of hurled insults and unproven accusations (such as pedophilia) between feminists and MRAs (men’s rights activists).
For most of us who write political commentary and engage in social media conversations, this battle hits close to home. For me personally, what comes to mind is a comment left on my Facebook Author Page last year where an Oshawa man threatened to blow my head off with his shotgun. It was just after I’d published my memoir Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-up and the threats were coming in.
Even though I screen-captured the comment and my friends urged me to contact police, I held back – knowing that it wouldn’t do much difference. Some of my supporters contacted the man directly and threatened to report him to the authorities, and he promptly removed the comment and sent his profound apologies, terrified that I would get him arrested. In truth, I didn’t want to go through a court case and deal with police. Instead, I just blocked him on social media and chalked it up to drugs and/or alcohol having played a factor in the threat. Fortunately, after the dust settled I never heard from him again.
A couple of months later I received an email from Aryan Nations in Idaho (I have site trackers installed on my websites and I was able to authenticate the IP of the email as having come from the Hayden Lake, Idaho area) also insulting and threatening me. Once again, it disturbed me for a little while but I decided to shake it off – after a few years as a prolific blogger, you get your share of disturbed individuals and pretty much the only thing you can do is not let them get to you.
The courts are not going to be of much help. As everyone has seen after the Elliott case was decided, the comments being hurled at Steph Guthrie on Twitter these days are a lot more mean-spirited and threatening than what Elliott had ever previously tweeted. Moral of the story? Nobody can help you if you can’t help yourself first by disengaging in conversations with trolls and blocking them. It also means that you resist the temptation to answer back, to check what they might have said after you blocked them, to call them on their bullshit, etc. Ignoring someone is a two-way street, and most people learn this the hard way.
Indeed, I have blogged and published content on various social media platforms for close to a decade. In that time I’ve encountered my fair share of online stalkers, creepy harassers and trolls, and I also spent far too much time stressed and concerned over my safety – but such stress has impacted on my own well-being and productivity. As anyone who’s had an online presence for that long will tell you, the more nasty comments, tweets or emails you get, the more your ability to express yourself becomes limited, at the very least on a subconscious level.
You begin to censor yourself, to be unduly careful not to express opinions that might be divisive, lest they provoke and set off someone whose only pleasure seems to be targeting individuals online with anonymous hate and abuse.
Although my exposure to such abuse has prepared me for the possibility of being a target, I can’t say that it’s made the experience any easier when it is actually happening. I have come to realize that it’s an ugly world out there and not much I can do about mentally-ill, unbalanced individuals or substance abusers who have nothing better to do than stalk my blogs and websites obsessively.
While I cannot do much about others’ behaviours, I can choose to exert control over my reaction. I know it’s a cliché but it’s one that makes sense for a reason – your reactions can make or break your confidence and impact your view of the world. Despite the distress I’ve felt over the years, I realize today that I must grow a thick skin if I am going to last in this profession – I already wrote about this last spring in a piece titled The Brutal Truth About Being a Writer.
I have no choice but to reframe my reality and embolden myself by accepting that no matter what I do, crazy people will always be there. But they cannot hurt me if I don’t allow them the power to get to me, to poison my mind with fear. Like with voodoo, threats and intimidation only work when you allow yourself to believe them. By rejecting fear, you detach from needing external validation from virtual strangers, reject their interpretation of who you are, and take back your power.
This is how I become INVINCIBLE.
This brings me to my 2016 Resolution –to REFRAME how I deal with daily #socialmedia psychos. From now on, instead of allowing them to affect me or stress me out, I will simply view them as my jealous, adoring Bieber-like fanbase. People without any creativity or talent to make something of themselves; sad and pathetic losers who don’t have a life of their own and are obsessed with mine.
Besides, everybody knows that growth in popularity is commensurate with increase in psycho fandom – any celebrity can tell you this. Whether a movie star or bestselling author, the more popular you get, the more nutbars you are bound to attract. Call it the hidden cost of success.
So, from this day onward, instead of feeling stressed & harassed by IP-specific trolls (who’ve also used proxies and VPNs to stalk me), I will view them as adoring fans addicted to my awesomeness 😉
So if you’re reading this, I know you can’t help yourself – indeed, I am THAT awesome 😀
This entry was posted on January 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm and is filed under activism, blogging, politics, press, social media, writer, writing. Tagged: amirightfolks, awesome, blogger, blogging, facebook, gregory alan elliott, harassment, resilience, social media, stalking, stephanie guthrie, strength, troll, twitter. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.