So. I like to tweet a lot. When something is pressing on my mind and I don’t have the time or concentration to compose a full blog post (which is nearly aways these days), I go on twitter and fire off a few 140-character mini-monologues. Often I tweet about issues related to gun safety and that always forces me to make some choices about how I communicate. Sure, I can just type words and some of the people who follow my tweets will see them and that’s a good thing. Or I can use hashtags and be part of the larger conversation on major topics and a wider audience can find my tweets.
But with hashtags come trolls. Trolls, for the uninitiated, are people who wander the internet looking for content that pisses them off so they can leave angry comments about it. I know. I don’t get it either. All I know if every time I use the hashtag “gunsense”, pro-gun trolls show up to yell at me. Usually I don’t feel like dealing with trolls – because, let’s face it, you never know who or where these people are and if they might show up at your house with their attitude and their guns – so I refrain from using hashtags or I simply blocks the trolls as they come.
Yesterday, I was feeling feisty, though, so when I decided to tweet a bit about the latest spate of open-carry demonstrations happening in grocery stores, I used the gunsense tag. Here were my tweets:
You can guess what happened next, right? Yep. A couple of trolls appeared to tell me all the reasons I was wrong to feel frightened of heavily armed people strolling around in public. Moreover, they insisted that I had no right to my feelings or to react to armed people.
First of all feelings are feelings and no one gets to tell me mine are wrong. Period. Second of all, the Second Amendment isn’t the only one. Yeah, these folks may have the right to stroll around with rifles slung on their backs but I, and you and everyone else, has the First Amendment on our side when we take to Twitter and talk about them (Or swear about them in my case.) And while they have an equal right to troll my remarks, I refuse to grant them the right to belittle me for what I say or who they think I am.
You see, the other things that happens every. damn. time. a troll gets going on me, is that they stop arguing the point at hand and start using misogynistic dogwhistles to try and shame me for being a woman with an opinion and a working knowledge of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment that allows me to exercise my 1st Amendment rights with impunity. Ahem. What I meant to be saying is that trolls lose the plot after about six tweets and begin calling me “hysterical” “irrational” or “unhinged”. (One yesterday got cute and attacked my parenting skills by suggested that I “can’t control my kids”.) That’s always when the real fun begins. Because once a troll has started in on the ad hominem attacks, they won’t stop. From crazy they’ll go to stupid then ugly then fat then slutty. It’s like they all received the same list of Things To Say To Make Stinky Girls Cry On Twitter.
It’s taken me a few years of dealing with trolls but I’ve finally figured out how to retake the offense when they hit the point of insults. They key is telling them what they’re going to say next. I’ll start saying things like “Unhinged? Would you say that to a man? Or are you a misogynist? Will you be calling me fat next?” Trolls hate that. But when I flip the script and start anticipating all the insults, well, they’re stuck. They WANT to call me a stupid fucking whore, but they can’t because that would make me right and everything in their world depends on me being wrong. So, instead of all the insults they’d usually use, they try and outsmart me with the 16 impressive words they remember from all the practice they did for the essay section of the SATs. By the time they’ve repeated a word like “fallacy” in three tweets in a row, then I know I’ve won. Their arguments are tapped out, as is their vocabulary.
Anyway, I share this with you because it’s been the most empowering discovery of the summer for me. Instead of mild anxiety when I get trolled, I know I can control the conversation if I choose to engage in it instead of just blocking them out of hand. By seizing that control, I’ve strengthened my voice. I refuse to be silenced by trolls.