In PEN America’s conversations with writers and journalists, we were amazed by the sheer volume of those who admitted to feeling isolated and alone during episodes of online harassment. How could this be possible, we wondered, when so many people are undergoing the same awful experiences?
Despite numerous articles on the subject of online harassment, not to mention countless Twitter conversations about the ways in which online hate targets women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community in particular, it’s clear that there remains a dearth of storytelling around online harassment, including who it affects and the concrete ways in which it impacts people’s lives.
Storytelling creates solidarity, offers insight, serves as a launching point for important movements and conversations, and most importantly, makes people feel less alone. Since this Field Manual exists explicitly for writers and journalists—our ultimate storytellers—we wanted to offer a glimpse into the lives and perspectives of actual workaday writers who have been targeted by online harassment and survived to write another day. These stories are not glamorous, and don’t necessarily result in historic feats against vanquished trolls (although some do!), but they reveal important, honest insights into online harassment from a variety of viewpoints, with useful tips and strategies sprinkled throughout.
The following interviews have been conducted by PEN America with writers of different genres, backgrounds, political affiliations, and identities. Given the vicious nature of online harassment, some names have been abridged to protect the privacy and security of the storytellers.