Hayley is a Ghost

Trolls, misogyny & a valid silence

Posted on: November 12, 2011

I’ve often blogged in the past about the ageist, sexist and threatening behaviour I’ve had to deal with in comments and in person as a result of speaking my mind.

People have said they’re going to corner me at conferences, have told me I am ‘too boyish’ for their liking, and have explained to me that I am a ‘receptical worthy of any mans porridge’, to name a few highlights.

[Examples of my past blogging here, here, and here]

Green fire exit sign adapted to show the silhouette of a woman running for an exit.

Recently a lot of people have been speaking out against misogyny that they’ve experienced as women who write online and it reminded me of the stuff that I’ve been the target of.

This week Skepchick Rebecca Watson wrote about comments left on Facebook by a ‘comedian’ who was digging up old news and making tired old stereotypical comments.

Rebecca wrote about why she doesn’t think ‘don’t feed the trolls’ is a good approach to dealing with those who make abusive comments to posts, videos and more saying:

What it [don’t feed the trolls] means: Suffer in silence. Read those emails about what a fucking cunt you are and then quietly delete them. Go lay in bed and cry until you don’t necessarily feel better but can at least pretend like you feel better so that we can all continue our lives blissfully ignorant of anything bad ever happening. The abuse will continue to come, because they don’t want attention – they are bullies. They want power over you. They want your silence, and they got it.

Rebecca then went on to say she was in favour of more of people speaking out about this sort of unacceptable abuse in the way that has happened in the last few weeks.

It got me thinking. I always delete hateful comments but suddenly, after reading that Skepchick blog post I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing or if it was helping. There have been times when I’ve wanted to attack my trolls right back.

I’ve spent some time in the last few days mulling things over and ultimately I think there’s a difference between speaking out against misogyny as many have done these last few weeks, and trolling your trolls right back.

Although making fun of those who are abusive to you online can make you feel a bit better, it ultimately just drags out the interaction you have to have with that person and that can’t be healthy. It gives people the justification they seek to practice their stereotypes and abuse. That isn’t to say you’d be to blame for any abuse you got, but they will use any abuse you issue to them as a justification in their mind and in their explanations.

Personally when someone is an idiot on my blog or youtube account, or on a social media site I delete them, I block them and I never think about them again. I end the interaction before it could even begin.

I’ve noted the advice from the lovely Sharon Hill,

“choose your battles wisely”

I used to battle it out with people on my blog in the comments, I used to do what I thought was the right thing, but now I just walk away.

Trystan, my co-host of Righteous Indignation, had told me in the past of emails sent in to the podcast that he has not passed on because of the content aimed at me. I’m fine with not knowing what people had to say about me because it’s their time wasted and not mine.

I don’t take the time to listen to what those people have to say but there was a time when I did. It used to stress me out and worry me and I’m pretty sure it was a contributing factor to the crippling anxiety that derailed my life for a few months.

However, now I simply delete comments and ignore them, but I don’t agree with Rebecca that it means I am giving these trolls the silence they want. I’m simply not bothering with them and I’m pretty sure that want they want is to see that they’re getting to me and by not posting or replying to them they’re not getting it.

I actually find it empowering to hit delete when the troll is dying for me to try and defend myself when there isn’t any point. Every time someone makes a hateful comment on my blog or elsewhere they get flagged as spam and I never have to deal with them again.

I’m not going to enter into a ‘debate’ with them, and I’m not going to degrade them in public in return by drawing attention to them.

I don’t go ‘lay in bed and cry’ about it just because I’m not shaming the people who are abusive in my comments section.

I just use the time I would spend tackling trolls doing something more productive that isn’t going to end with me sitting behind my keyboard waiting for more hateful comments from more people sitting behind their keyboards that I am never going to meet.

If adults can’t behave like adults that’s their problem. I don’t make it my problem because that is what they want.

People will deal with their abusive trolls in their own ways which is totally cool, but I think that ignoring them is a valid way to tackle hateful bile too. Not responding doesn’t mean the trolls are winning, it often means that their intended victim just isn’t giving them the time of day.


14 Responses to "Trolls, misogyny & a valid silence"

And this is lovely.

There are assholes everywhere. Why waste your time engaging with them when you can be doing something that is positive.

I understand it is not a simple issue. So to advocate one solution is not going to work for everyone. My view is that I have a goal – I’m not going to be derailed by trolls. I don’t say don’t talk about hateful behavior against women or the disgusting incivility of the internet in general, just be selective and when you wish to address it, do it deftly and be done. I grew tired of the back and forth that devolved into taking sides and more name calling that proved the point that it was a waste of time.

I think you were right on point here. But I was a bit surprised to see my name appear. 🙂

As someone who has dealt with more trolls, abuse and so on than most, I have found myself at a point where I am so used to it that it doesn’t really affect me any more.
Whether it is youtube videos apparently exposing me, comments on my sites, forums, twitter, facebook and so on, i have seen it all.

I have tried going down the police route, I have took on the trolls and abusers head on, I have ignored them.

I have tried everything.

These days I take each individual case on its on, if its a youtube video about me, I try and get it taken down if it is overtly offensive. If it is critical of me, I try to answer and debunk it.

The one thing you must do, and this is the hardest, is never let the crap get to you, remember that as long as it is online, you can just turn your PC off and it all disappears from the real world.

One of the reasons I tried to keep my identity and image private was to have this separation between online and offline, of course this in turn was used against me, but it did work to an extent, (Until my myspace account was hacked and a website set up with my private photos on show).

One thing is that the vast majority of the people who attack you online are cowards, and those that say they will corner you face to face, often wont, and if they do, you stand eye to eye and you take them down.

I get accused so many times that “if you met me in person you would not say half the things you do” well whenever I have met such a person, I have said everything I wanted, and they often cower away.

Hayley, never let anyone bully you. never let anyone put you down, and never ever let anyone claim to be better than you.

As for the whole mysogyny thing, dont see the point in bringing that up, people are arses in general, whether you are a woman, born of foreign blood, have ginger hair, a big nose, whatever, they will find something to attack you with, the fact that the only thing they can use against you is that you are a woman is a good thing, means they lack imagination.

now go make us a cup of tea pet, it might settle your period pains.

(The last line is a joke, please dont hit me)

Terrific post!

I think I agree with both Rebecca and you on this issue. Engaging trolls may not be productive but it can feel good which isn’t a bad end in itself. Engaging trolls, though, as you describe, will do nothing to further the cause and one can do much more lasting things with their time. So, both fighting back and using the energy elsewhere is a good thing and one cannot really lose.

Of course, in the blindness community, I am doing my best to give up battling the publicly antagonistic to accessibility as I’ve no more energy for such.

I’ve seen trolls that would curl your hair. I used to run a forum and enforced rules of decorum. After giving as many warnings and chances as I possibly could, I’d finally be forced to ban some nitwit from the site. That’s when the fun started. Death threats by email, vile accusations on craigslist, my home address was posted, and even my wife and son came under attack. A guy even took credit for killing my cat. That’s when I learned the power of anonymity. You can’t come kill me if you don’t know where I live.

For the life of my I can’t imagine why anyone would send you emails like you describe. Why? Because you’re an atheist and don’t believe in ghosts? People are crazy.

I’ve read your blog and personally I think you are brilliant. I wish the world had more people like you in it. Remain true to yourself and keep up the good work.

Even as a man who who calls out egregious sexism when I see it and is pretty well clued in to the whole not-being-a-horrific-misogynist thing, it’s hard sometimes to comprehend the sheer volume of hateful bile being spewed out at women just for being women. I’ve gotten just a taste of it from disturbing MRA hornets’ nests, but I’m not their real target as I have a y-chromosome.

I think both you and Rebecca are doing what’s right for you, and there *is* no Platonic ideal of the “right” way to deal with trolls. Calling them out shames them but gives them more attention; ignoring them may give them less satisfaction but makes them feel free to keep badgering.

I see Rebecca’s point of trying to make the problem less transparent, but different approaches work well for different people and situations. The Metzger situation involved a mildly well-known (ostensibly, anyway) personality flamboyantly showing off how vile he is, which is a bit different from anonymous trolls trying to provoke a reaction for attention.

Great post, Hayley.

This is exactly my point when it comes to Watson and her trolls.

I don’t think trolls are out to make you “suffer in silence” by not responding to them. Trolls don’t care about having power over you. They’re after one thing, and one thing only, getting a rise out of you no matter what.

And there is a big difference between a troll and a stalker. A stalker can be a harmful threat to you and you should take action against them, by reporting them to the police.

Trolls who use ad hominem attacks or in other ways don’t address the real issue (whether it be on your blog, YouTube or other places) are not interested in debate. They just want to get a rise out of you and by acknowledging them, you’re giving in to their (non-existent) power over you.
Did that make any sense?

That’s why I write about how everyone has their own approaches. Rebecca must get so much more nasty stuff that I do and I wouldn’t assume to speak on anyone elses behalf about what is right for them to do and the right way for them to react to a situation. This post was a lot of personal rambling (actually, a lot of my posts are personal rambling…). However yes, your post made sense 🙂
Thanks for visiting my blog.

Personally, I believe there is a vast difference between tackling trolls, stoping abuse and then deleting posts (or not even allowing them to be shown after the verification process) that have a valid opinion of you, and your writings. On several occasions I have written on this blog with very real concerns about your methods and have had them deleted before they were even allowed to be shown on your blog. Everyone of these comments were non-abusive, non-argumentative, and yet all showed real flaws in your very forceful, very ignorant nature and yet were all deleted.

It’s very easy to pick and choose the comments that are shown on this blog if the vast majority of them are favourable to you, or delete the ones don’t have an answer it isn’t it?

You ether allow people who have a valid, non-abusive opinion of you write in your comments sections and take it on the chin or simply cease spouting on about freedom of speech – something you’ve commented about several times on this blog.

Normally you write under the name ‘CW’ and you normally just explain how horrible I am. You don’t offer anything to what is being discussed and you clearly have a personal problem with me. I’m not sure who you are as you don’t type under your real name or explain what your problem with me is. I have indeed deleted several of your comments as you just have a problem with me.

I am a strong defender of freedom of speech, but I’m not going to publish comments that are just horrible. I’m not abusing your freedom of speech – you are. I express the right to delete comments on MY blog – if you don’t like it, don’t read the blog 😉

“Everyone of these comments were non-abusive, non-argumentative, and yet all showed real flaws in your very forceful, very ignorant nature and yet were all deleted.”

LOL. AL’s not being abusive or argumentative, just showing you how ignorant you are! I think what may be at fault here is a misunderstanding between disagreeing with someone’s point of view (which would be to point out flaws in their LOGIC) and being a jerk (pointing out perceived flaws in their NATURE). Calling someone flawed and ignorant is actually abusive. I happen to know that Hayley posts and responds to a lot of comments that disagree with her, but if you’re not going to be respectful of someone on their blog, why would they post your comments?

Now I’m going to contradict myself and say why you should, Hayley…but with the caveat that they shouldn’t be posted as they were intended. One of the reasons I immediately had empathy with Rebecca in Elevatorgate is because I’ve seen the kind of misogynistic and sometimes quite scary messages sent to her by people in our own “community” that I would have hoped to be above that kind of thing. I know, I really should know better. However, I don’t think people realize how prevalent this kind of thing is and I think it should be out there for everyone to see.

Every person that says women find sexism and misogyny everywhere they look is not seeing this abuse and if they did they might get a better understanding of what is really happening. Just like the people in the US that are automatically assuming that the women accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment are lying are doing so because they constantly hear about women falsely accusing men. They’re not hearing about the incidents of real sexual harassment that happen every day, because we’re being silent about them. I know I was, for years. I thought I was supposed to be strong and shine it on and deal with it. I didn’t suffer in silence, but I took my anger to the perpetrator, not to the authorities. It never occurred to me that by doing this, I was setting up women who maybe are not as aggressive or self-confident as I am for the same treatment. They suffer in silence. Millions of women do.

For this reason, I think every female blogger should have a page highlighting their abusive, sexist and violent comments. Not to respond to them in any way…but just to show that they exist. Maybe allow other people to comment on them and see what happens. A guy made a very homophobic comment on a FB friend’s status update the other day and was immediately buried in the fallout. I doubt he’ll be doing it again. Could be a fun experiment.

I expect you blog and campaign with Project Barnum in order to influence people. You have to be in the business of arguing cases and certainly debunking those who hold contrary opinions and beliefs. Clearly any post is an invitation for those people to respond and further the debate.

Surely some of those posts will be regarded as open goals and enable arguments to be consolidated or opponents ridiculed. If there are coherent counter arguments then it shows the need to reinforce the logic that supports your reasoning. If you were not prepared to do this why would you post in the first place?

Most of us put our heads above the parapet in the first place because we care about the principles behind our arguments. I see atheists and skeptics as the good guys as few resort to the defamation laws or damn their opponents to hell.

That said there is no place for personal abuse particularly that based on factors like gender or race. Certainly being an outspoken, bright, attractive woman is no invitation to people to try to undermine your arguments by undermining you personally. It is a sad world when those brave enough to stand up for the truth need more courage just because of the variety of sex chromosomes they inherited.

It is your blog and you can delete any crap as you see fit. In my view arguments are needed but insults just ruin those and are unwarranted when you have provided the forum in the first place.

The value in exposing hateful comments or simply deleting them is entirely subjective. Your approach is right for you, Rebecca’s is right for her.

I hesitate to call these trolls, however, in that ‘troll’ implies that the commenter is not espousing a position out of firmly held belief but rather primarily for the purpose of stirring up an argument. With regards to the sexist/misogynist/etc comments I tend to think that they are not trolls but rather vile sexists. Call them what they are, trolls is insufficiently invective.

Having been saddled with a gender confusing name, I have often faced interesting situations. At one point I received a lewd phone call which was quickly stopped short when I informed the confused perpetrator I was a guy. Though amusing, it also made me think about how things would have been different if I had been female. Though there were times when the confusion did cause some amusement, such as when I was assigned to an all female dorm when I arrived at Penn State (way back in 78). I know I only had a slight taste of what women face everyday, but it is enough to keep me out of the good old boys mentality.

Ageism is also something I have experienced, again I was saddled with an affliction of having a baby face. Up until I was in my forties people thought I was in my early twenties. I often was not taken seriously with the public. It was frustrating though at times amusing. I can’t tell you how many times I had people tell me “When you get to my age you’ll understand.” I would inquire, what age would that be. Often they would be shocked when I told them I was older than the age they mentioned. Somehow I paid for my youthful looks by aging rather quickly and now I face ageism towards older individuals… though I am amused by the offer of senior discounts, even though I have more than a decade to actually qualify. If I was less honest I would take those discounts.

I guess this is a long way to getting around to, people will find all sorts of reasons to discriminate and we all have to find ways of coping and combating such discrimination.

I’ve been reading several blog posts about this lately and to certain extent I agree with all of them (for the silence and against silence). I happen to be op in one irc channel. Occasionally I get crap for being who I am and earlier I did just ignore it but I feel that I cannot just stay silent. But I go case by case. Sometimes I ignore, sometimes I tell them to gtfo and sometimes I do something between. I think everyone needs to find the way suitable for them, but I think no one should feel that they can’t voice their opinion and make noise when they feel they need to.

oh and off topic, I recently found RI podcast and you peeps are awesome. 🙂

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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