Award winning journalist Ginger Gorman has spent five years investigating predator trolling which has resulted in her book Troll Hunting; a fascinating look into the world of trolls.
Ginger was inspired to write her book after she and her family became the targets of an orchestrated online hate campaign in 2013, as a result of a story she wrote and broadcast on the ABC. This included a death threat. (If you’ve got a few minutes, watch Ginger’s TEDx talk about this.)
After the terror faded, she went out to find and interview serious and committed trolls. She had no idea of the darkness – or the rabbit hole – she was walking into.
Ginger spoke to 9Honey about the impact of online trolling; one of her key messages is that trolling has nothing to do with victim blaming.
LJ. Is online misogyny one of the biggest issues when it comes to trolling of women? How should women react, or should they not react at all?
Ginger: When I speak in public about online misogyny, I’m always asked how victims should behave. Everyone, including women should be safe online. The United Nations has recognised internet access as a human right. Women who are under attack are often told to ‘stay off the internet.’ This is ludicrous. It’s like saying: Don’t drive on the roads. We have to be online just to live our lives. It’s a facet of modern society.
So, the onus shouldn’t be on the victim. Police and social media companies should make sure we’re safe – but they don’t. Yes, there are some actions cyberhate targets can take to keep themselves safer. But let’s not forget it’s the system that needs changing – not the fact that women are online.
LJ: When women are trolled, is it mostly around their appearance? What other ways are women attacked?
Ginger: I wanted to get to the bottom of some of these questions and so I commissioned nationally representative research from the Australia Institute for my book, ‘Troll Hunting.’ According to our findings, 44 per cent of Australian women and 34 per cent of men have experienced one or more forms of online harassment. However, the devil is in the detail. Men experience more abusive language about religion and ethnicity than women and more abuse about and political beliefs. Aside from these two exceptions, women report enduring more online abuse in all other categories that we surveyed. The abuse against women is more sexual and more violent. For example, 24 percent of women have been sent unwanted sexual messages or images, compared to 11 percent of men. Women are more likely to receive threats of sexual assault, death, rape and physical violence.
LJ: What’s your best advice for a woman who is being trolled online – should she just ignore and block?
Ginger: I’ve really changed my thinking about this. It really depends entirely where the cyberhate is up to. Trolls want to hurt and upset you. They are sadists. So, with this in mind, silence can be a great weapon. I always say – be silent to the trolls – but not each other. Make sure you have your real-life support network around to you too and lean on those folk if you need to. Crucial to this point is that women must not feel silenced online. They must not be driven out of these spaces.
Understand the risks of being in the middle of a cyberhate event and consider those risks. This is a choice you can make. Don’t respond if your mental health is suffering and you’re not up to it. However, if you feel you need to respond, think carefully about it. You have a few options here.
LJ: Is it ever a good idea to use humour?
Ginger: Humour can be a great trick because it also shows you aren’t hurt or upset. For example, the fabulous Australian feminist academic Susan Carland taught me a troll-busting trick that I’ve employed numerous times in response. GIFs from Mean Girls! Recently a troll was upset with me for being an expert and using my voice to talk about trolling. He wrote me an email telling me I was a ‘subhuman c**t’ and should kill myself. I sent him back Mean Girls GIF showing Regina George’s character saying, ‘Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries.’
I never heard from him again.
There are other more serious ways to use speech to combat harassment online – some of them are outlined in a top-notch Online Harassment Field Manual, published by Pen America.
LJ: What should women do if they find themselves at the centre of a major trolling incident and should they change their behaviour?
I think there’s lots of ways women can change their behaviour. But they shouldn’t really have to. The social media companies like to put the onus back onto us by giving us “tools” to manage our safety. But they should have designed safe platforms in the first place! It’s like creating unsafe cars and then telling drivers to watch out in case they are killed.