When the Internet Looks Back
This is what it’s like when the internet starts noticing you.
At first, it’s exciting. You see your words pop up in random places. If you have a Facebook page, you watch your likes grow and your web traffic increases. You start to receive nice notes on Twitter and via email, messages telling you how much they appreciate your work. You feel validated and appreciated.
Your star continues to blaze. You know better than to read the comments. They can only ruin your joy. You plan for the next submission because this isn’t the last. You know that this is just the first of many successes for you, and you plan to run headfirst down that path to greatness. You’ve worked hard and you earned it.
Then you receive a twitter message. You open the app, one that previously only conveyed positive messages affirming your work, to find someone calling you a bigot. They tell you that you are a racist. That your dad was a shitty father. That you are irrational, hateful, a crybaby. At first, you’re confused. Why are they saying these things about you? You feel your heart race and your breath quicken. You worry that this is just the first of many verbal assaults. No, you don’t know the people but how can you stop them from attacking you in the first place. You realize you can’t and feel helpless.
You take a moment and start to think. You work to calm down. Finally, you remember that you can block people from messaging you. Sure, it’s reactive, but at least it’s something. You go back and block all the people who sent you messages. You investigate apps that can help block known problematic accounts and ask other Twitter users for advice on handling abusive tweets. The response is unanimous – block them. Twitter doesn’t feel safe anymore, but it feels better.
But you are curious. Where did this onslaught originate? So you google your essay and find a reddit thread discussing it. It’s linked to several known anti-feminists and proponents of reverse racism. This is all you need to know but you cannot resist looking at the thread. The comments are…ill informed, but it was what you expected and you move on, occasionally check the feed to ensure the thread has died.
Things quiet down. You live your life, notice a drop in your web traffic, and feel comfortable that the storm has passed either in ignorance or denial of how the internet works. Once you post something, it has the capacity to be spread. And so, a week later, you wake up to find several app notifications from your various social media accounts. Thanks to the previous week’s experience, you are apprehensive to look. That much activity overnight feels suspect. Your curiosity gets the best of you and you open Twitter.
Today you are an ugly, fat bitch whoring yourself to the white man. You are nasty looking and desperate for man. Today you are stupid and pissing on your dad’s grave. Today you are socially dysfunctional and need to be medicated.
This time, you are better prepared for the onslaught. Again, you are curious what provoked this attack. You google your essay, but the results are the same so you try Bing. There you find a different forum. You click the link to find it is a forum for supporters of a Black man who attacks Black women YouTuber. You look for the post that started the thread and find that the Black man who attacks Black women YouTuber tweeted your essay to his followers starting the influx of negative tweets. You look at your webpage traffic, smile, then look at the forum and frown as they have downloaded pictures of you and are mocking them. A part of you is horribly embarrassed. The rest of you decides to hide your Flickr account and double check your security settings.
You visit your webpage and look for your referrers. You see some referral sites you’ve never heard of. You follow them and find they are forums dedicated to people against interracial relationships. After being attacked by some groups, you know there is at least one more waiting to pounce. You are just unsure if they will. So as things slow down, you wait. You watch your website hits gradually drop, and with it, so does your tension…kind of. Because you know that at any moment someone will grab your essay and share it with a new audience, potentially reigniting the flame that has been reduced to an ember.
For now, it’s just words. It’s minimal visibility. It’s low hanging fruit ignorance and hate which quickly dissipates as I fade back into obscurity. It is something I can live with, for now.
But there may come a time when my visibility is more frequent. Perhaps even consistent for brief spurts of time. Can I live like this? With this sword dangling above my head?
I don’t know. This is the first time I’m dealing with anything like this. I know other people have dealt with much worse, more frequently, but I am living through this and learning how it is at this very moment. I am learning how I cope with anonymous verbal abuse and having experienced in-person verbal abuse, this is a lot less direct, but still hurtful.
And while I feel the pain of being attacked, I don’t actually care about the attackers. They are less than nothing. They aren’t even a name on the screen. In less than a day, they will be forgotten. What I will remember is that I was attacked, not who or what the attack actually was, just that it happened. And that is the fear they want you to remember so that the next time you think about speaking, writing, or asserting yourself you remember what it felt like when they tried to beat you down. You remember what it felt like to hurt. And you stay down to avoid it.
I’ve learned over time that I’m resilient. I have broken and put myself back together. I hurt and I heal. All this can do is hurt me in the now.
They will. They have. And I’m still here.