I’m 30 years old and I have been using computers since I was a toddler. I’ve been using the internet since elementary school. I designed my first website when I was about 13 or 14. I also ran an online zine on AOL at that same time. I’ve had my own domain where I host my personal blog for 13 years now. You could call me a geek or a nerd and I would be totally okay with that. What you should never call me is a whore or a slut. You shouldn’t threaten me with rape or murder. You shouldn’t say that I deserve a lobotomy or I look like a man or that I’m fat or ugly. You shouldn’t say this sort of stuff to anyone, anywhere. Ever.
Shortly before I turned thirty, I made the mistake of responding to a snarky comment from a Twitter user. This user had responded with “BWAHAHA A Woman made the hashtag” over my friend calling out people who were making rude remarks on the hashtag #FlukeForCongressCampaignSlogans. I asked him, “Is that supposed to make the hashtag any less offensive?” He responded with, “Haha! I bet you’ve never needed BC. #HumanManatee” I’ve been made fun of for years over my weight. It’s a sore subject for me, but I didn’t want this stranger to know that. I didn’t want him to know that I cared what he or anyone else thought about how I looked, so I fired back, “You think you’re original, but you really aren’t. And I have been on birth control off and on since middle school.” I probably should have either ignored the first remark or left out the part about taking birth control in middle school, but I didn’t. I never stood up for myself as a kid when people would say cruel things about me due to my weight, so I felt good about standing up for myself with this internet bully. And I’ve never been ashamed of the fact that I had to take birth control pills when I was in middle school (or high school or college) because there’s nothing shameful about them. A little packet of pills had never defined me before, but when I used them to respond to this guy, they did.
I was inundated with responses from him and from several of his followers who were egging him on. He accused me of trading anal sex for Big Macs. One of his friends used my then-profile picture to make some meme images that said that my face was birth control. A few of the people, including the original troll, said that I didn’t look like a woman because they couldn’t tell if I had breasts. I was called “Honey Boo Boo” in fifteen years. There were other comments that I can’t even remember right off. All I remember is that it went from this one guy insulting me to a group of five or six people insulting me dozens of times in less than fifteen minutes.
I reported every single abusive tweet to Twitter that night. I blocked each of the people. I quit engaging with people online for about two months. I also began self-injuring regularly again. I felt suicidal a few times. And I waited to find out if Twitter was actually going to do anything about it.
The first response was about a month after it happened. They decided the #HumanManatee comment wasn’t worthy of being considered abusive. I’m not exactly sure how that isn’t considered abusive and I tried to get them to explain it to me, but there really was not explanation.
The next response was another month later. It was the larger decision, about the rest of the tweets and the users who made them. Twitter decided none of these users were abusive.
I was dumbfounded. How was this not abuse? How was it okay to say these things? I know that sometimes when you’re interacting with someone you disagree with that you might get snarky or downright mean, but, in all my years online, I’d never seen it get this bad, this quick, and I’d never seen a service basically say there was nothing they could do. Twitter told me that I was basically going to have to both block this guy and keep up with whether or not he made any more attempts to harass me.
Instead, he picked on other people. He picked on enough people that he had his primary account permanently suspended. That occurred after he repeatedly used Islamophobic slurs. His secondary account had some temporary suspensions levied on it, but it still exists. His tertiary account also still exists. He’s had other people report him, yet these accounts still exist. I’ve had people contact me off of Twitter to tell me that this particular person has made comments to them like he made to me, yet these accounts still exist. I’ve seen people complain about reporting him or friends of his for sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise discriminatory language, yet these abusive accounts still exist.
A few hours ago, he insulted not one, but two of my friends. He said that he would never have sex with one because he didn’t have sex with animals. He made rape threats to another. The first friend is considering not using Twitter again. The second is trying to figure out why Twitter decided to give her a temporary ban for the argument, when they aren’t doing a thing about to the account of the guy who threatened her.
It’s not just Twitter and it’s not just this guy. Threats and abuse are levied at people every single day online. Some sites will do something about it, but social media sites, in my experience, just say, “Well, don’t pay attention to them and they’ll go away.” Sometimes they do go away, but usually, they’re only going away because they’ve found fresh meat. They only go away so that they can torment someone else. And when social media websites do absolutely nothing or next-to-nothing, it makes the sites complicit in the abuse. Banning one account or temporarily suspending one account for harassment or abuse doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t send any kind of message, except for the message that it is okay to abuse other people.
No one should have to avoid their mentions for fear of being told they’re ugly or deserve to be raped or stupid or an abomination or any of the other horrifying things that greet people when they’re checking their accounts. If a website like Twitter has an abuse policy, then it should be willing to enforce it. And it shouldn’t take months to do so. Months isn’t good enough. Weeks isn’t good enough. The way things are being done isn’t good enough. We all deserve so much better.