Thought the first: on trolls and free speech
Writing this blog, I’ve learned a lot about trolls – how they operate, how they think, how to deal with them or not deal with them as the case may be. Despite my dyed-in-the-wool cynicism, I really thought at the outset that I would be able to maintain a policy of not moderating comments. One of the main goals, after all, of this blog was to reach out to gamers who maybe didn’t identify as feminists and illustrate just why the way gaming treats women is fucked up. I make a point of avoiding feminist theory past the ultra-basics and the tone I take here is decidedly non-academic. I was hoping that would make this blog an accessible place and that when trolls did pop up, people could ignore them and move on with their lives. Most of all, I was tired of anti-feminists claiming that “feminazis” who moderated other feminists blogs hated free speech and I wanted to see if I could counteract that.
…wow was that a huge mistake.
See, there were two things that I wasn’t prepared for: the level of vitriol that would be hurled at me and the sheer volume of troll comments I would come to get.
The level of vitriol was hardest to adjust to in the beginning. What helped me the most in dealing with bile-filled troll comments was when I started to see how similar they all are – like they were all reading from the same script. Despite the personal attacks they all resort to – saying that I’m fat, ugly, slutty, stupid, crazy, have a radical agenda, whatever – they weren’t attacking me. They were attacking the radical notion that women are people. That perspective was helpful for me in dealing with these attacks, but not so helpful for other people coming here to comment that had to see this shit as well.
Eventually, however, the volume proved to be even more overwhelming than the bile. For the first few months, I had relatively lower traffic and far fewer commenters. It was manageable at the beginning when I was averaging 100 views per day. By the time I got to the point where I was averaging 1,000 views a day things were getting rapidly unmanageable. It got to the point where I got emails from people who wanted to comment on something they’d seen on my blog but didn’t want to get dog-piled in the comments. That was when I started to question the wisdom of not moderating comments.
My friends, who are much smarter than I am, had reached this point well before me. They’d be all like OMG JUST MODERATE COMMENTS ALREADY WTF ARE YOU DOING TO YOURSELF? And I’d flail around guiltily with ARG BUT THEN IT’S LIKE I HATE FREEDOM OR SUMTHING WHAT DO I DOOOOOOO. And then they’d roll their eyes and say WE JUST TOLD YOU.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I received my first comment saying that I should go kill myself. That was the moment when I said to myself, “you know what, fuck free speech”. And the difference since doing that has been wonderful. I didn’t really realize until after I started moderating comments just how much oxygen the trolls had been sucking out of the conversation. I can’t moderate 24/7, so I can’t promise that this will be a completely safe space, but it’s wonderful having my blog feel like my space again. (Though I will say that I appreciate the irony of the fact that the post that announced the new comment policy was one of the most aggressively trolled posts I’ve done in the last few months. You know, because saying I’m not going to tolerate people telling me to lie in front of a train is super-controversial. /eyeroll)
So lesson learned. Other feminist bloggers were smarter than me. Trolls don’t have an inalienable right to free speech in feminist spaces.
Thought the second: most trolls are reading from the same script
There’s a shocking lack of originality in most troll comments. (Well, that and attention to proper spelling and grammar.) The vast majority of them seem to fit into a few fixed categories:
- hurr hurr you’re ugly
- it’s just a game/it’s just fantasy
- I’m a woman and I’m not bothered by it
- It’s just a joke/satire you stupid humorless feminist
- you aren’t qualified to criticize [whatever I happen to be criticizing]
- you feminist bitches are so silly
- you’re a fascist/nazi/pink commie
- you’re making this all about you
- the female body is art
- nonsensical slurs
- games are for men
- talking about discrimination is stupid and makes people feel bad
- omg ur biased for not showing that dudes in games are just as bad
A few times I’ve responded in a general sort of way to these sorts of things. Most of the time it’s just not worth the hassle. Occasionally a troll comment manages to rise above the masses to the point where it becomes humorous – or at least it does in retrospect once the initial rush of anger goes away. My personal favorite is a comment that started: “So, another interesting thought. Riddle me this, Aderp Titler, Furor[sic] of the feminazi’s…”
Of course there are also plenty of comments that still rankle well after the fact, like the person who found one of the few photos of me on the interbutts and said ‘well no wonder she’s a feminist’. (Ouch.) There’s far too many to quote here, but if you’re curious, the following posts are worth checking out:
discussions of trolling
- getting trolled on Reddit
- my response to the flood of comments on my first GenCon post
- my new comment policy
unusually aggressive/offensive trolling in the comments
Thought the third: exercise caution when following trackback links
I have mixed feelings about trackback links. I’ve found some really interesting stuff thanks to them and have added a few blogs to my RSS feed that way. But just as often, I’ve encountered people saying really depressing and horrible stuff about me, my blog, my appearance, my politics, or my agenda. Over time, I’ve observed some patterns that have been useful in helping to avoid the worst bile out there:
1) Don’t ever follow links back to Reddit. OMG, just dont. The absolute worst comments do tend to get deleted by moderators after a while, but that doesn’t keep you from seeing them. Any place where I get called an “ignorant judgemental cunt” (on the /r/GirlGamers subreddit no less!!) is a place I don’t need to go to. I’ve washed my hands of Reddit and accepted that it’s a lost cause.
2) Don’t ever follow links back to forums on major gaming sites or to forums specifically devoted to one particular fan community. ESPECIALLY never follow links back to the BioWare forums. There’s a few people who will link to my posts there actually appreciating what I’m saying, but they always get dogpiled by the legions of rabid BioWare fans who tell them to OMG SHUT UP THOSE FEMINIST BITCHES BE SO CRAZY. So much as I love BioWare’s games, their official fan community can go jump in a lake as far as I’m concerned.
3) Similar to number 2, but slightly different. On occasion there have been some columns on the really big gaming sites like IGN that have cited my blog. And those are great to read, so long as you never ever read the comments. Resist the temptation. All they’re good for is raising your blood pressure.
Of course, sometimes I do something stupid and follow a link to Reddit when I know I shouldn’t. But at least this way I can avoid most of the worst bile being said about me.
Thought the fourth: occasionally, positive things can come out of engaging with trolls
…but that’s the exception that proves the rule. I can only think of one instance where engaging with a troll led to a positive outcome, and one where it led to a neutral outcome. In the first instance, some podcaster found my blog and tweeted that I must be ugly. His podcasting buddies then had a “discussion of sexism” that was really just slamming me for half an hour without actually reading any of my blog. I took down their comments pretty harshly in a response here. But afterward I offered to come on their podcast if they wanted to talk to me and not about me, and we actually had a pretty positive conversation. I won’t say that I totally converted them, but I at least was able to present the feminist perspective in a rational and not crazy light. So that was a win.
The other was when I received a very long, very condescending comment from a publisher who makes 3rd party Pathfinder products. I responded with, um, a little bile. (Okay a lot of bile.) Because I was angry, there was a bit of splash damage onto Paizo as well and Erik Mona came and posted some surprisingly calm comments in the comment thread. Nothing really came of it: Erik Mona was still pretty entrenched in his position after our brief conversation in the comments. But I at least appreciated that he was polite about it after I said some harsh stuff about Paizo that was maybe a little unwarranted. Also, that comment thread gave me the phrase “leathery nipple trainwrecks”, which still amuses me.
Thought the last: there are always people who will try to judge your feminism
That’s one of the harder things to deal with. I was pretty new to feminism when I started this blog and I said some stuff that was wrong-headed. And I acknowledge that it was wrong-headed, and apologized and mostly mended fences with the people who rightly took me to task. But there are still people out there who view my early wrong-headed statements as proof that I Am Not and Will Never Be a Real Feminist. (There’s one former commenter in particular who has said nasty stuff about me Not Being A Real Feminist in a variety of places outside of this blog.)
Hell, there are people who have seen more recent stuff that I’ve wrote in which I bent over backwards to make sure I was on the correct side of social justice who came and told me that “MY FEMINISM IS RIGHT AND YOURS IS WRONG, WRONG, WRONG”. And other people might disagree, but I’m going to call this trolling as well. Feminism is a big movement, and contrary to popular belief we aren’t a hive mind. There’s going to be disagreements. But I think it’s dangerous to judge other people’s feminism as “wrong”, because who knows – maybe you’re the one who’s wrong and are too entrenched in your position to be open to that.
And that’s all I have to say about that