Harassment and the Consequences of Visibility

“…The most dangerous time for a woman with online visibility is the point at which others are seen to be listening, “following”, “liking”, “favoriting”, retreating. In other words, the point at which her readers have (in the troll’s mind) “drunk the Koolaid”. Apparently, that just can’t be allowed.

From the hater’s POV, you (the Koolaid server) do not “deserve” that attention. You are “stealing” an audience. From their angry, frustrated point of view, the idea that others listen to you is insanity. From their emotion-fueled view you don’t have readers you have cult followers. That just can’t be allowed.

You must be stopped. And if they cannot stop you, they can at least ruin your quality of life. A standard goal, in troll culture, I soon learned, is to cause “personal ruin”. They aren’t all trolls, though. Some of those who seek to stop and/or ruin you are misguided/misinformed but well-intended. They actually believe in a cause, and they believe you (or rather the Koolaid you’re serving) threatens that cause.”

via Serious Pony, Trouble at the Koolaid Point

Since I moved to Washington five years ago, I’ve become more open and active in my politics: I volunteered at a non profit organization that celebrates women in geek culture, curated two zines about self care, started identifying as a fat activist, formed a local meetup group for people of size, created a body-positive coloring book, and spoke on and moderated panels about being a fat geek. I am fortunate that these projects have been received so well and I feel very privileged to have a platform to pursue justice and fight for marginalized groups.

I am very active (and vocal) on social media and have managed to accumulate a small following that supports the work I am doing and helps share my work with their followers, giving me exposure to people I would not have reached otherwise. I am not by any means a public figure, but I think it’s fair to say that my work is seen by a significant amount of people. This has been great for both the causes I fight for, as well as my professional career, but this kind of visibility is a double-edged sword.

I have quite a few friends and colleagues that have been subjected to some of the most vile forms of harassment, including rape and death threats, for simply pointing out sexism in gaming, or being fat on the internet (and in meatspace too). For women who speak out against our unjust society, harassment is sadly par for the course. I’ve been lucky to have been able to fly under the radar for so long but it was only a matter of time before the scum of the internet found me.

Fat people live in a world where they are constantly being silenced, dehumanized, or made to feel like shit for taking up space. Recently, my blog was bombarded with fat-shaming comments and a large amount of traffic from Reddit. I decided to find the origin of these attacks and I ended up in the subreddit /r/fatlogic. The sheer amount of people participating in hating fat people is staggering. And this is only ONE of many anti-fat subreddits. I’ve always known there was a lot of push-back against fat activists, but you never truly know how it feels until it happens to you. And realizing this group of hateful people were concentrating their efforts on me is absolutely terrifying.

I never once considered the consequences of being an activist online. (Hella privileged, I know.) My experience is nothing compared to what others have gone through, but I’ve learned the hard way that the consequences of visibility and having a voice can be very serious. I truly believe in the work I am doing for the fat community and I’ve decided that I’m not going to allow these trolls to silence me. But where does that leave me now? If this is just the beginning of the oncoming shitstorm, what can I possibly do to protect myself and be better prepared to cope with online harassment?