I have gained some notoriety in Asian American circles for some of my blog posts and articles over the past year and a half. While the stuff I’ve said is divisive, most of the feedback has been supportive and positive and I’ve met some of the most amazing people and even a few of my heroes because of what I’ve written. But, this being the internet, I’ve also become the target of some seriously horrible trolls and online stalkers.
Being on social media is so critical to our livelihoods now. We socialize, job-hunt, network, shop, date, etc. online. But the dark side of social media is that since everyone is on there, you’re going to end up with trolls and bullies. We have a president who is basically a professional Twitter troll and he has people who actively troll for him. South Park’s entire last season was about online trolling. So much of the internet is anonymous so it’s become the preferred tool for bullying. When people are hiding their identity, it’s going to lead to some seriously bad behavior and shit-posting. When you say something divisive, you can expect people to get emotional. But when does it cross the line? It’s one thing to debate someone on a particular topic, it’s another thing to go out of your way to bring down someone’s quality of life and attack a person personally.
I believe that a lot of online bullying happens because people want to boost their reputation inside of their own ingroup. They love raking in those likes and upvotes. Women, people of color and activists get it so much worse and it’s really easy to eventually internalize such negative comments and personal attacks.
Why am I being targeted? I have put out some very divisive opinions and made some people VERY angry. I’ve gotten harassed in the form of emails, rape threats, messages telling me to kill myself, threats of bodily harm, and personal attacks on my appearance and my family. I’ve been accused of being an attention seeker.
I know this first hand. A year ago, I wrote Dear Asian Women and it turned into a nightmare because of the amount of people who used it as a shield to justify their hate for these kinds of couples. I've learned a lot from the experience though.
Who is doing the harassing?
The gender divide is a big issue in the Asian American online community. Part of the reason Asian women do not participate in discussions about subjects like internalized racism is because some of the most vocal people on there would rather rot in self-pity than listen to another viewpoint. I am talking about several groups of extremely bitter and misogynistic Asian men that troll the internet and search for people to harass -- usually Asian women, particularly Asian women with white partners and consider themselves activists or feminists.
If you're new to those spaces, especially as a woman, your initial take would be that they have fallen into primitivism -- they hate any kind of Asian woman/white man relationship and they hate any kind of progression towards a more matriarchal culture. Any empowerment of Asian women is squashed immediately if that Asian woman doesn't fit into the very narrow definition of their ideal. Asian women with white partners are told that they are no longer part of the Asian community and no longer have a right to voice any sort of opinion.
I have been very clear about this. Asian women coupled with white men do not automatically uphold and perpetuate white supremacy just by being in such relationships. There are many that do but it’s unfair to lump all of us in the same category. I also believe Asian Americans do have the resources to dissolve the problems in our community but I think some people would rather just complain.
People who say that Asian women with white partners are not allowed to have a voice for the Asian community absolutely love to use President Barack Obama as their example. A recent biography about him talked at length about how he broke up with his half-Japanese, half-white girlfriend in order to find a black wife so he could appeal to identity politics. (I like to use Jordan Peele and Cornel West as examples of black men who have white wives and are still pro-black and have made huge impacts in their community.) I think it's also important to remember that Obama had a white mother so if it weren't for the interracial union of his parents, he wouldn't exist at all.
Feminism, especially Asian feminism is looked down on in these spaces. Let's talk about that. They're dismissed because so many public figures are partnered with white men. If so many Asian women activists are partnered with white men, then it should say something about that dynamic. To say they are all anti-Asian, anti-Asian male and perpetuating white supremacy is such a myth. It is an absolute falsehood and it's absurd. People who make those claims are guilty of tribal avarice. They want their very narrow definition of Asianness to be the only point of view but that is just not how things work. Having a white partner will not protect you from any kind of racism, even if it is a white man. So most women respond by pushing back -- publicly.
So what can you do about it?
The advice out there isn’t great. Some people say that you should just delete all your accounts and get offline as if this is your own fault. But like I said, our livelihoods are so online dependent now that that’s just not a solution. It’s almost impossible to report this stuff to social network admins because they are dealing with a huge amount of reports of abuse everyday. They minimize and trivialize your issue. They do this because they just can’t keep up with how much of it goes on. And to be honest, they also don’t care that much.
I have gone to the local police with printouts of these threats of violence against me. They were unable to help me because, in their words, there was “no credible threat.” And that they can’t do anything until something actually happens. (Thanks a lot, I feel so much safer now.) At the same time, if police were to start investigating every single time someone is harassed online, that is all they would ever do.
You need to document as much as you can, meaning you need to keep a permanent record of screenshots in a file somewhere, even if it’s just on your phone. It’s pretty terrible but I have a ton of screenshots of disgusting things people have sent me. The problem with this is that it’s so emotionally difficult to have all of this visual evidence of abuse. When you report these attacks on the platform they occurred on, the admins will almost always ask for a screenshot. If you’re friends with someone who is being harassed, you should report it too. If enough people report it, the faster the admins will actually do something about it.
When it comes to comment threads, a lot of it depends on those first initial comments. A lot of people don’t read articles. They respond to other comments. So if those first initial comments are negative, it just becomes a pile on and everyone starts ganging up. The people with a more positive or supportive comment will probably be a lot more hesitant to say anything because they don’t want to get ganged up on either. It can get toxic really fast.
Twitter is my favorite social media platform but it’s also the most efficient platform for bigotry, harassment and bullying. Use the block function liberally if you want to prevent people from seeing your account. If you don’t want to block, you can also mute people (they still follow you, but you can’t see them). Twitter’s anti-abuse tools just aren’t strong enough to hold back even a handful of trolls, let alone a horde of them. There are several third-party mass blocker apps out there like Block Together and Twitter Block Chain which is a Chrome plug-in. If you know someone who has similar views as you and they have a block list, you can use their block list too. This is exactly what I did recently and it’s been very effective at keeping trolls at bay.
If the harassment is in email form, Gmail has a policy in place for email harassment and there is a page on Google to report any email abuse from a gmail user. The only problem is that it takes a long time. I honestly don’t think that the law has done a very good job with keeping up with all the changing technology when it comes to online bullying and nothing can stop someone from creating several burner email accounts so they can troll people online.
So what not to do?
Don’t retaliate or engage. Also, stop blaming the victims of abuse saying it’s their own fault. I see a lot of “Well, harassment is bad, but….” NO. Harassment is bad, full stop. Disagreement is fine. The lines can get blurred though because 9 times out of 10, when someone asks for a “civil discussion” about a topic, it’s not at all what they’re looking for. It often devolves into personal attacks and generalizations. If someone asks for a civil discussion on a matter, vet their profile before engaging. If they’ve been bashing other people or bringing in a mob of their own supporters to swarm you with replies and insults, they’ll do the same to you. It’s not worth getting involved.
It’s instinctive to react defensively to people attacking you on the internet but try your best not to. It’s even harder to depersonalize the criticism. Keep in mind that much of their anger is just projection.