Attack of the Twitter Trolls: My Experience

You may be familiar with right-wing journalist, meninist and twitter arsehole Milo Yiannopoulos. I wasn’t until recently when I watched a documentary called ‘Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK: Men at War’ about men’s rights activists, or MRAs, in the UK. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, MRAs believe that society is unfairly bias towards women and thus that men are oppressed, and that there needs to be a return to ‘traditional gender roles’. This documentary was an amusing watch, but also fairly maddening, seeing a number of young men being interviewed and revealing that the “oppression” they experienced was essentially that women weren’t obliged to have sex with them.

Channelling my annoyance into vaguely amusing tweets, I took some screenshots of some of the interviewees – all with smug expressions, ill-advised haircuts and the striped shirt/ugly tie combo that young Tories seem to favour, captioned “men’s rights activists look exactly like you’d expect them to’. A few of my friends replied telling me that one of these men was the aforementioned Milo Yiannopoulos and, basically, that he had a reputation for this kind of thing. I did a quick google, found articles written by him vehemently supporting Donald Trump, calling women who get abortions ‘murderers’, and arguing that women deserve to be payed less than men, and I concluded that this guy was indeed a piece of work. Satisfied that he did appeared to be some kind of turbo-Katie Hopkins, I tweeted ‘didn’t know who Milo Yiannopoulos was before today and I’m just glad I escaped him for this long’ and, satisfied with my mildly amusing liberal commentary, I left my phone for about twenty minutes while I went to make some pasta.

When I returned, my phone was buzzing non-stop, new twitter notifications appearing constantly. ‘I’m really sorry for what’s happening on your timeline right now’ the first message from one of my friends read. Confused, I scrolled down, finding hundreds of messages, all from people I don’t know, containing all-caps, vitriolic insults. Most were fairly unimaginative, calling me ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’, the go-to insult for any woman who disagrees with you on the internet. A lot of them were about how I look like a ‘typical feminist’ which basically seemed to come down to the fact that I wear glasses. My personal favourite was one that just said ‘I bet you read the Guardian, don’t you?’

It turns out Milo Yiannopoulos apparently searches his own name on twitter and RTs anyone who doesn’t agree with him, usually with a weak jibe of some sort, essentially directing his 120,000+ followers, largely other MRAs just waiting for someone to spam with insults, towards me. For about two hours I waded through tweets telling me that feminism is idiocy or to ‘get back in the kitchen’, many of them filled with racism, transphobia, or hatred of any other minority. (Another personal highlight: “she’s not funny. Also, she is a woman. COINCIDENCE?”)

If I’m honest, I have spent far too much of my life on the internet. I’ve seen this happen to people, mostly to women, many times before, and as such I can brush it off fairly easily – a few retweets of some of the more ridiculous messages I got, a few uses of the block button, and I pretty much got on with my day. Knowing what the anonymity of the internet can do to some of the worse people of this world, it was pretty easy to shrug off, was more amusing – and somewhat tiring – than it was upsetting. Also, the treatment I received was fairly mild – I know a lot of women have received rape threats, death threats, have had their addresses posted online, have felt themselves to be in very real, immediate danger. In comparison, some playground bullying from, I’m assuming, a bunch of grown men is relatively tame. But the fact that this is such a common experience for women online gives a pretty grim view of where the human race is at right now. The most frustrating thing about trolling is that there’s no attempts at a cohesive argument; there’s no intention to open up a dialogue, just a load of people hurling shit at you. Inundating someone with abuse is never going to convince anybody, just irritate or upset them – trolls know this, it’s why they do what they do.

Also, as a 20-year-old with decent self-esteem who’s seen this happen many time before, who knows how this goes, I knew it wasn’t something to take personally. For a young teenager just beginning to discover feminism, as many girls are through sites like Twitter or Tumblr, or for anyone less internet-literate, this may be genuinely upsetting. It’s also rather depressing that I, that many other women, are so adjusted to this now, that we constantly, quietly anticipate any expression of opinion to be met with threats and abuse.

Practically, there isn’t a lot to be done about this unfortunately – hateful people armed with the anonymity of the internet are probably always going to relish such an opportunity, although I do think the volume of trolling this is directed at woman is a symptom of wider misogynist culture, and of men who are bitter at recent gains made by feminism and their own, at least in their minds, loss of power. It’s the lack of any attempt at discourse that’s particularly frustrating, that fact that there’s no real cause, just an excuse to be vile to someone. The most advisable option seems to be the block button.

[Clare Patterson]

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