Today I read Kate Messner’s post about a bitter controversy swirling around YA author Andrew Smith’s comments in a recent interview. Entering the piece I was curious, taking a slightly-guilty detour from my plans for my day (managing car repairs, grading, lesson plans, etc). Leaving the piece, I was deeply saddened and concerned. I had heard about the severe trolling that targets women who write about sexism in the gaming world. I suppose in my mind I thought this was awful but relegated it to the “gaming community” of which I am not a member. It’s only an isolated segment of our population—horrible in a remote sort of way, not really my problem. And yes, I feel ashamed as I type this.
However, reading Kate’s post made me revise my woefully superficial understanding of the depths of this issue. I mean, why would anyone post hostile comments on a Ted-Ed learning video about writing fiction? Or a photo essay on an Adirondack spring? What is this amorphous rage that spews out in hateful bursts onto the internet? I just don’t understand. Is this solely because women are the authors? Is it some sort of inchoate rage that simmers, erupting in random directions? I really don’t understand. Do these people feel empowered by taking others down? Is there something in our culture or in internet anonymity or a combination of some sort that breeds this sort of hate?
I recently listened to a piece on This American Life in which an author, Lindy West, who was severely trolled, spoke with one of her trollers—now repentent. This man had gone to elaborate lengths to harm this woman—creating a Twitter profile for her recently deceased father that included a picture and a bio that read “Embarrassed father of an idiot; the other two kids are fine”. He even tweeted her from this fake account. When talking to her now, the troller suggested that a lot of his self-hate was directed toward her because the issues that challenged him in his life were ably addressed in her own and didn’t affect her happiness. Why do some feel free to strike out at others when they are in pain?
Assuming he speaks the truth, I’m glad this man has stopped his trolling activities, but really the damage had been done. I’m sorry doesn’t make it all better. Lindy West noted afterward, “It’s frightening to discover that he’s so normal”. Apparently crazy, violent hatred can come disguised in banal packages and travel through the internet without repercussion. In a move imbued with the humanity so lacking in trolls, Lindy West chose not to reveal his name.
As a writer who is taking risks these days (extremely minor ones, but significant to me), I’ve been enjoying the anonymity of the web. Sure, my name is on my fledgling blog, but few friends know I am doing this, and the positive power of the Slice of Life writing community has been so uplifting. In marked contrast to these other women, I have anticipated reading any comments I get! I can’t help but compare my experience with the hateful, violent profanity-laden experience that Kate and Lindy West and all those gaming bloggers unwillingly shared. The internet community feels a bit shakier to me now, less secure, resting on a fault line. For now, I’m going to keep writing and posting and I know I will also continue thinking about this. Thank you again, Kate, for demonstrating the positive power of words in your thoughtful, eloquent piece.