Screenwriter | New York
November 8, 2017
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Out of concern for the writer’s safety, their last name has been omitted.
What kind of writing do you do?
I have a web series for children and do television writing.
Where have you experienced the bulk of your online harassment?
It’s been primarily around my web series. I do queer, LGBT-education work for children, so YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are where I get a lot of comments. When an episode gets picked up by the media, that’s when I get the most harassment.
The first time you experienced online harassment, what was your initial reaction?
When it first started, it was really, really difficult. And hard to manage in a time-management capacity. I had to delete offensive comments because of the particulars of my audience and how young they are. It took a big toll on my mental health. I’m in a good place with it now, but I’d say it took about six months to be where I could figure out how to ignore [the harassment], where it wouldn’t impact me on a day-to-day basis. Every once in awhile, something will still get through that shakes me.
Can you characterize some of the online harassment you’ve endured?
The most intense thing I’ve ever gotten was a death threat. That was terrifying. I called my parents. I called the police, filed a report. They did nothing. That was definitely the most scared I’ve ever been.
The first [continuous] wave of harassment I got was from an article written about me on a Nazi blog. I had people tweeting nooses at me, a gas chamber, a shower. Within troll communities, [the trolls will say] “kill yourself” or “drink bleach.” Stuff like that. Stuff that’s technically a death threat, but it’s less “go and die” than it is about hopping on the bandwagon.
This all sounds absolutely horrifying. What did you do when you received the death threat?
I called 911. They came to my house. They wrote something up, and that was pretty much it. There was no follow-through. I think they pretty much dismissed it. They didn’t take it particularly seriously and were just like, “Okay, we’ll have a record of this on file for you.”
Have you ever directly engaged your trolls?
I tried for a little bit, and it’s just not worth it. It’s not worth my time. It’s just not relevant to my audience and the work I’m trying to do. I think it’s different when you’re working with an adult audience, but my audience is so much younger that it doesn’t really make sense [to engage].
Has your online harassment ever spilled into your life in other ways?
So there’s this website that’s pretty much the dregs of the earth. They’re the people that got kicked off 4chan for being horrible. They have ongoing threads on people, and I’ve looked at it a couple of times. They’ll screenshot things that I’m doing, like my tweets. I don’t know if it can be categorized as full-on cyberstalking, but it feels stalkery and I feel very aware of everything I’m doing online publicly because of that. My mother’s Facebook page got screenshotted at one point and put up on Reddit. That was a little scary. That crossed the line.
Have you ever censored yourself or changed what you write about in response to online harassment?
I don’t think I’ve ever altered something. I definitely know when I’m writing something that I’m going to get shit for. [Although] sometimes I’m not quite sure. After I put out my very first episode [of my web series] two years ago, I didn’t produce anything else for another three months, partially because I was putting things together but also because I was dealing with the first wave of harassment and how intense that was. I’ve definitely taken off a week or two from uploading [episodes] because of the amount of harassment. Now I upload once every other week, and that helps. I personally haven’t stopped making content or tweaked things to cater to [the harassers], but I definitely know people who have.
What steps have you taken to protect yourself during and after online abuse?
Improved cybersecurity has generally been helpful, [which is] something I still have to do day-to-day. I have a password vault—an online tool that houses all of your passwords. I use two-step authentication on pretty much anything I can. I’m also in therapy, and that’s been a huge help. Making sure I have the time to take care of myself mentally, that’s definitely something that’s been a bigger focus in the last year because of the harassment.
Have you developed any specific strategies for countering the trolls?
Sometimes, when it gets really bad, I’ll hand my social media accounts over to a friend, or a good group of friends, and have them moderate comments for me. YouTube has a feature where you can add moderators onto the channel, so they can weed through comments for you and flag things. I’ll put out a post to my Facebook friends, like, “I don’t want to deal with this right now. I’m getting a huge wave of crap. I need someone to help me weed through it as much as possible.” It’s still overwhelming, even though I have a bunch of people who are on that list now.
How about your health and wellness—have you adopted any helpful coping mechanisms during episodes of online abuse?
For self-care, it’s just the stuff that I enjoy doing: hanging out with my partner, cooking dinner, playing music. Just making sure that I’m living my life outside of internet spaces and just taking the time to do the things I enjoy.
Any words of advice to other writers who are currently facing online harassment themselves?
The self-care part is really important and shouldn’t be belittled. It’s something that’s really helped me. Gathering your community, whether that’s an online community that can help you out logistically, or, [since] I come from a queer space, gathering my queer community online and in real life as well. Knowing people who are going through the same thing as me and having people I can vent to is super, super helpful. And just locking down your online security. That’s also been a big thing.