A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how the phrase "it's just the internet" as a response to abuse and harassment online is little more than a bullshit phrase that enables the abusers. I also tweeted about an idea that I've been turning over in my head for some time: ""Trolls" are unserious. Laughable. This diminishes the abusive, threatening, violent behavior. They are people engaging in bullying.".
I want to talk about using the word "troll" to describe people who engage in violent, abusive, threatening behavior. I'm not really talking about the generally mock-worthy juvenile behavior of the 'who monitors your bevis?' variety (though that is obnoxious and one definitely could make a case that it is bullying). No, I mean the people who engage in the rape threats. The death wishes. The DDoS attacks. Sending a continual stream of hateful email under various aliases. The constant sockpuppeting to harass. The photoshopping pictures. The searching out of addresses and phone numbers, then posting that info encouraging further abuse. The setting up of entire other websites for no other purpose but target someone with hatefulness. The "fill the comment section with porn and/or hate to try and ruin someone's site" attacks. The creating a "game" targeting the person you hate with violence. The, as Jay Smooth put it, "sustained, amplified, hyper-aggressive" behavior (aside: I highly recommend watching Jay's video because his point about how "don't feed the trolls" is a silencing and enabling tactic is relevant and righteous).
"Troll" is is othering, in a way. It's "monstering", though in an almost comic sort of way that encourages a "do not take seriously" mindset because who is supposed to take trolls seriously, right? You're supposed to "not feed" the trolls, after all, no matter how horrible. People who engage trolls in comments tend to be admonished. People who confront them in posts or tweets are admonished. All of that rather plays into reducing the behavior to something that's less-than-real abuse. It's "just trolling".
Like with how it's been suggested we should change the discussion about domestic abusers and rapists to stop making it seem like only "certain kinds of people" abuse or rape (the "monsters", the "strangers in the bushes"), I'm suggesting we, as a whole internet society, need a language--and thus perception--change about those who abuse and harass people online.
I get that it is easy, almost natural, to want to separate out those who write things like this to someone who criticized the creators of a comic strip:
"I hope something pushes you far enough that you kill yourself. I'm tired of assholes breathing my air."I mean, WHO SAYS SHIT LIKE THAT, right?
As I said in my one post:
It is a genuine person, too, who made that threat. Not some abusive robo-troller program. Perhaps that person is serious or perhaps they think it's "funny" to threaten and abuse another person into silence and fear.I'm not meaning "humanizing to seem sympathetic" but to realize that they are real people engaging in some truly heinous behavior--behavior that if done in-person or even over the phone, could in some cases potentially be criminal.
I know, I know: "troll" is so ingrained in the culture of the internet that it seems like it'd be impossible to change the reference; that suggesting changing a term that's as old and well-worn as "LOL" can seem too radical and/or unnecessary. Tradition, however, does not preclude change. Jay starts this process by separating them out in to two levels. I'm not sure that's enough.
Perhaps if we could talk about people who abuse and harass others online in terms (or acronyms...we, as the internet, do love a good acronym, right?) that don't tend to minimize the behavior, there could be further progress in really confronting the culture of violent abuse and harassment that happens, especially to women and people of color and LGBT people, online. Further progress in seeing it for what it is.