For some writers, ignoring the trolls, focusing on one’s writing, and practicing self-care are the best ways to move beyond an episode of online harassment. For others, taking a stand against an online troll is a form of self-care.
Roxane Gay, a writer who consistently and publicly pushes back against vicious online rhetoric, states on her Twitter profile: “If you clap, I clap back.” Clapbacks, a form of counterspeech Merriam-Webster attributes to a 2003 song by Ja Rule, are targeted comebacks intended to shutdown negative online interactions. (What’s “counterspeech”? In short, it is a direct response meant to undermine forms of expression that promote hateful rhetoric and increase the risk of violence against members of another group. The Dangerous Speech Project does an excellent job of breaking down counterspeech in all its forms.)
Not to be confused with outrage mobs, which tend to flay the messenger instead of the message, and can end up silencing discourse that actually contains important nuance, clapbacks and other forms of online counterspeech are a valuable way for targets of online harassment to assert their own voices and humanity while simultaneously eroding the impact of hateful or defamatory messages. Counterspeech is also a useful tool for witnesses who wish to intervene in online attacks. Some examples include:
- Retweeting hateful messages along with an explicit statement about what makes the message so harmful.
- Reclaiming a hashtag that’s been used to promote a hateful idea by flooding that hashtag with positive messages.
- Enlisting an online community to redirect the conversation in a comments section, Twitter thread, etc., by posting a succession of positive and constructive statements aimed at content, not people. (For more information, check out the Deploying Your Supportive Cyber Communities section of this Field Manual.)
Of course, different kinds of online harassment merit different responses depending on their severity, which is why you are the best person to judge whether or not it’s safe to confront an online harasser or intervene in someone else’s online abuse. Always assess the risk online counterspeech poses to you, your social network, and your loved ones before deciding to engage in it. (To learn more about threat assessment, visit these guidelines.) If you’re confident that your personal security won’t be compromised—or if that’s a risk you’re willing to take in order to stand up for what you believe in—it can be cathartic and empowering to confront an online abuser using the power of the written word. You’re a writer, after all. The written word is your most powerful tool for wresting control of false and dangerous narratives.
If you think you’d benefit from confronting online abuse head-on, please follow our Guidelines for Safely Practicing Counterspeech.
For some additional inspiration, check out the below examples of people who have confronted their trolls to some degree of success.
The Troll Slayer
Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker
A sexist troll attacked Sarah Silverman. She responded by helping him with his problems.
Allison Klein, The Washington Post
In bad cases, I sometimes donate to @ACLU, @PPact, etc. for each troll tweet
Celeste Ng, Twitter