How One Woman Got Her Internet Troll To Come Clean

Photo: Lindy West/Instagram.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with an opinion must be in want of a troll. Take Lindy West — a writer known for tackling social issues, feminism, and body image — who is beset with hundreds of anonymous messages offering to "rape her with a traffic cone" or suggesting that she kill herself. One day, the unthinkable happened. One of the trolls — the worst — came forward.

In a recent segment on This American Life, Lindy tells the story of how this particular troll got her attention during a particularly troll-heavy point in her career. In 2013, she covered the buzzy topic of rape jokes in comedy (spoiler: sometimes rape jokes aren't so great!), inciting an onslaught of comments, tweets, and emails calling her a "fat cunt" who was just bitter because she was too disgusting to get raped. "It's something I'm used to. I have to be," she says. "Being insulted and threatened online is part of my job, which is not to say it doesn't hurt." Then, she got a message from her dead father. 

That is to say, a stranger somewhere in the world took the time to dig up information on Lindy's family, discovered that her father had recently died of cancer, and set up a Twitter account using his photo and the name "Paul West Donezo." Get it? Because, her father had recently died right in front of her of a protracted and painful illness. Donezo.

Paul West Donezo's bio read "embarrassed father of an idiot" and listed his location as "dirt hole in Seattle." He used the account to send more revolting messages to her, and though Lindy hews to the standard rule of Don't Feed the Trolls, this time, she reacted — and who on earth could blame her? She called out the troll in a post on Jezebel, expecting only more vitriol. What she got was something almost unheard of: an apology. 

"It was the lowest thing I had ever done," said the email. "When you included it in your latest Jezebel article, it finally hit me. There is a living, breathing human being who's reading this shit." The troll admitted he'd been harassing her for a long time, though he wasn't even sure why. "I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my own self."

This may in fact be an unprecedented incident in the world of online trolling. Virtually all web writers have faced this brand of bullying before. We're supposed to shrug it off because, clearly, these are just a bunch of insecure, infantile creeps, desperate for attention. But, we've all had daydreams about their public shaming or a sorrowful apology (at least, this "fat cunt" has).

It is to Lindy's enormous credit that when Paul West Donezo showed his true self, she didn't take the opportunity to expose him publicly...or burn his fucking house down. Instead, she got him on the phone for a peculiar and astounding interview. Both awkward and open, the troll discussed his own self-loathing and shame about his body, and how Lindy's lack thereof provoked him. Even more astonishing, he explained how the experience forced him to face his own misogynist perspective. "Women are being more forthright in their writing. There isn't a sense of timidity to when they speak or when they write. They're saying it loud. I think, for me, it's threatening at first," he said. "Back then, if someone had said to me, 'Oh, you're a misogynist. You hate women,' I would say, 'Nuh-uh, I love my mom. I love my sisters. I've loved the girlfriends that I've had in my life.' But, you can't claim to be OK with women and then go online and insult them — seek them out to harm them emotionally."

In a perfect world, Lindy's interview wouldn't be quite so incredible. It would just be sad. But, the Internet is far from perfect, and for each new, kick-ass, outspoken woman writer who joins the ranks, there will be a fresh crop of wormy little cretins who don't like what she's saying or how she's saying it — or that she's saying anything at all. Getting trolled means you're probably doing something right — and some poor souls out there just don't have the guts to do it themselves. 
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