What It’s Like To Be Trolled By Sexist Men On Twitter

There’s a dark part of the internet that seems to breed trolls, and Twitter is their mating ground. They’re aggressive, unrelenting, and they all seem to know each other. Twitter has begun blocking abusive accounts, but trolls are tough to beat — you cut off one head and two grow back in its place. In the seven years I’d been on Twitter, I hadn’t managed to surpass 300 followers, let alone incite the wrath of a troll. And then Mike Cernovich came along. I first learned of him when my coworker sent me an article called “How to Avoid a False Rape Case.” We had gotten into an argument about how many rape accusations were false, and he cited Cernovich’s blog, Danger and Play, as source material. The more I read his blog, the angrier I became. It’s hard to be a fan of a guy who says, “Feminists are not intellectually honest,” and cites research that 40% of rape accusations are false. Naturally, I tweeted at the guy.
I didn’t expect much. Cernovich has more than 93,000 followers — surely my little jab wouldn’t even be on his radar. But the next day, I nearly dropped my phone in the toilet when I saw that he had retweeted me.
Cernovich’s delivery was impeccable: He acted as if he were doing me a favour. He didn’t say anything mean, or directly challenge what I said — and he didn’t have to. He had an army of trolls who could do it for him. Within minutes, several people were tweeting at me, demanding to know what issue I had taken with Cernovich’s article. Honestly, at first it was pretty exciting — nothing ever happens to me on Twitter! But from the back of the office, my coworker warned me in a singsong, “You poked the bear…” He was right. Just 20 minutes later, I was doubly surprised to see that Cernovich had tweeted a picture of me.
It took me a second to figure out where he had found the photo. It was a year old, one of the first Google image hits for my name. The photo linked to an article entitled “Morgan Boyer: NYU’s Most Fashionable,” and featured me in a green pleather crop top and striped Urban Outfitters suspender pants. It was so ripe for ridicule, I almost didn’t blame him. But that picture was all it took to open the floodgates to his trolls.

That picture was all it took to open the floodgates to his trolls.

Without insulting me at all, he provoked dozens and dozens of people to attack me. Throughout the day, I received one tweet after another of some of the most inventive insults I’ve ever heard. There was no part of my appearance that they wouldn’t comment on. My style, hair, figure, and weight were all fair game. Certain tweets were so creative in their insults that I read them out loud to my coworkers. I didn’t care what these troll losers thought of me, so might as well have fun with it, right?
When I showed my friends some of those tweets at dinner that night, they didn’t quite see it that way. “I can’t believe he did that to you!” one said. “I’m so sorry he was such a dick. What gives him the right?” cried another. I laughed it off. However, what gave me pause was the sheer volume of tweets I received, and how quick these people were to attack a 22-year-old girl at 1 p.m. on a Thursday. They jumped at the opportunity to comment on whether I measured up to their fuckability standards. I wasn’t mad at Cernovich. All he did was summon the support of his loyal community, and prove to me that his audience was, at least in part, pretty vile. I can't say that I was surprised, either. He is writing a book about Donald Trump's rise, frequently takes on political pundits who criticise him, and is strategically harvesting many of the followers who have gotten Trump to the point he's now at in the election. Plus, I'm far from the first woman to endure this kind of online treatment from a white privileged male.

When Dana Schwartz called Donald Trump out as an anti-Semite
, she received similar and even uglier attacks. A single tweet won her a flood of responses referencing ovens, work camps, greed, and Satan. Trolls made fun of her nose, told her to kill herself, and called feminism a cancer. According to Schwartz, no matter how much she tried to intellectualise the trolling, nothing could have prepared her for how vulnerable the attacks on her appearance, religion, and values made her feel. When Mayte Lara Ibarra announced on Twitter that she was an undocumented valedictorian with a full ride to the University of Texas, trolls took the opportunity to report her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and ridicule her for her appearance and accomplishments. Heck, they'll even harass a mindless Twitter bot. Regardless of whether internet trolls actually mean the inflammatory things they say, they know their craft, and they know their audience will eat it up. They enable cultures of hatred and promote inequality. Mike Cernovich let me off easy. He’s gotten people fired, he’s broadcasted their back taxes, and he’s proudly humiliated them. To be honest, I was a bit frightened to write and publish this article. If one tweet sparked such a tremendous response, what will these trolls unleash on me after this? I don’t know Cernovich personally. I have no idea what his real personality is like outside of his blog and Twitter antics. But he’ll always exist to me as the guy who condoned my harassment just because I criticised him. And if he and his trolls don’t like my analysis of him, I say to them exactly what he says to his critics: Go. Cry. More.

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