Hey friends, long time no see. I didn’t mean to let the fields go fallow here, but life happens, even if it’s nothing exciting. I’ve been thinking about this space and what I want to use it for, so stick with me for a bit.
Today though I want to talk about what some of you have followed along with on Twitter and Instagram, namely me considering my safety and relative anonymity on the internet. It’s not as if my domain, my social handles, or the other methods to find me are really sneakily removed from my real world identity, and that was by design. I don’t want to hide from every person who might know me offline, but I also want to be able to better manage the search results for my full legal name.
Like many of you around the same age, who benefitted from growing up pre-social media and being in nascent adulthood (for me, late college) when Facebook really became a thing, we don’t have our childhood mistakes littering the internet. We might have still done some dumb shit online, or otherwise not guarded our personal identity or information, but that’s firmly in the realm of “well, you’re a grown ass person” mistakes and not “you were a child whose brain is still developing and that probably shouldn’t haunt you forever” mistakes. As such, I’ve been able to carve our the spaces I want to carve for myself online pretty consciously. I’ve been able to build a life for myself offline where I am not afraid or embarrassed by anything that might be dug up that I’ve said online. If an employer ever found my Tweets in support of Black Lives Matter and decided to hold that against me, well, disaster fucking averted for me.
But knowing all that didn’t stop fear from setting in when someone who I’d known offline, who I had repeatedly blocked on multiple social channels, sent me a contact request on a new channel. There’s a lot of shit with this particular person, and the group of people and the gross negative experience surrounding them, that I’m not gonna go into because: I don’t have a time machine, I have done everything to make sure they are held accountable and do not harm others the way they harmed me, and now I have to go on with my life or risk making it all about them, which is so much more than they are worth. The short version is I have made it abundantly clear I do not want any more contact with them, and yet, here we are, the innocent ping of a contact request.
Honestly, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt personally harassed by social media. Multiple times, LinkedIn and Facebook have suggested, hey, don’t you want to add Your Harasser as a contact? I had the luxury of severing myself from the whole social circle we all belonged to, so I didn’t have to go through what I know many other people do, seeing people you thought were friends standing next to Your Harasser, smiling and happy, begging neutrality when silence in the face of harassment is taking the side of the harasser. And what a relief to avoid that stress, not to mention the stress of having harassers who are genuinely persistent, who are out to dox or shame or otherwise actively pursue me in the semi-disguised spaces I occupy online. Like honestly, I don’t think they give a shit about me as long as I am silent. In the spectrum of harassment it’s sad that that’s lucky, but it is.
So after a social lockdown for my own sense of safety, I went through much of the examination you see above. Not doubting my fear, because fear in the face of someone repeatedly ignoring boundaries and pursuing contact that you’ve rejected is pretty damn sensible. But asking if I could get over that fear, because actually they were insignificant and I was safe. Asking what compromises I wanted to make about how I spoke to and connected with other people online, in the many ways I have found amazing and supportive and incredibly expansive, in order to not fear a handful of people who I have receipts on if they really want to push it.
I came to two conclusions.
One: Donate some money to Black Lives Matter. Because in the absence of a time machine to undo harm, doing good in the present while also giving the middle finger to what your harassers believe is pretty satisfying. (If you’re also interested in donating, go to BlackLivesMatter.com and click “Donate” in the upper right.)
Two: Un-lockdown my social.
I am not so tired of blocking that I can’t do it a few more times. And I have seen and know I’ll continue to see the benefit of being able to interact freely with people online, about issues that matter and that we care about, and honestly, about things that are stupid and that don’t matter but that are still fun and make us happy. I know it’s a luxury that I get to feel this way, that the harassment I’ve dealt with is so small and manageable it only requires some personal assessment before returning to my status quo of online behavior. Women, especially minority women, have been driven off the internet and the positive communities they might have interacted with by harassment and spewing vitriol much worse than anything I’ve dealt with. But we’re not all competing in the Harassment Olympics–I’m just saying in the great variance of bullshit that’s out there to deal with, it’s also kind of bullshit I’m grateful mine was so minor. It’s bullshit that harassment is so prevalent that we do have so much variance, and the often immediate response to incidents of harassment is to say “well it’s not as bad as…” rather than “that should never happen.”
If you’re the target of online harassment, take a look at the Crash Override Network, which offers free and confidential support.