Sticks and Stones of Cyberspace

The topic of women’s safety online recently featured in a Pacific Standard Magazine article and a follow-up in The New York Times. Each story emphasized how the Internet is not a safe place for women. Below is my response.

Generally, I avoid the barrage of negative tweets or messages on forums or Reddit. I lurk in the shadows and assume gender-ambiguous names, such as LaTortuga or TheDogCisco, when posting in public forums or online gaming sites. While it is true that online harassment is prevalent in the case of female bloggers, I have found ways to minimize the effect.

I used to have a YouTube account in which I posted tutorial videos for League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game; I also provided opinion pieces about the community and characters. During my sophomore year at Stanford, I took a rhetoric of social media class and decided to study my posts and responses from the League of Legends community. I even dressed up as one of the characters and created an online tutorial for a cosplay.

Most responses or comments started out positively, but my opinion pieces attracted cyberbullies. Comments on the cosplay went from harassment that was sexual in nature to responses such as “you should kill yourself.”

At first, I thought it was enough to disable comments, but I decided to block the videos altogether when responses shifted from illicit to disturbing. In the online gaming community, this is called “trolling.” Sometimes trolling goes too far.

I adjusted my opinions about cyberbullying when I discovered that a good friend of mine is a self-identified “troll.” Let’s call him Larry. Larry does not discriminate against gender, race or sexuality: “No one on the Internet is immune from cyberbullying.”This!

Larry is an archetypal man in his late twenties. He works nine to five, visits his mother regularly and plays video games. When I asked him about his motivations for trolling, he said, “Anyone who states their opinion on the Internet is subject to criticism. If you respond like a victim, you will be treated like one.”

I then asked him why he would suggest ways for a high school girl to kill herself. He told me that she created a poorly written guide for League of Legends and received a slew of criticism, then expressed a desire to kill herself. He thought she was making a martyr of herself and decided that he would “[mess] with her until it stops being fun for [him].”

Additionally, the opportunity and anonymity made the situation enticing.

When I understood his motivations, I better understood how to avoid harassment. While I still don’t consider what I did on YouTube as grounds for harassment, I now realize that the people who bullied me were likely just juvenile men who wanted attention.

I don’t take threats or harassment too seriously. I game and let the negativity slide off my back.

This discussion with him gave me enough insight into the preconceived notion that women are always the target and how a girl is safer and better off the internet. This was just another feather to the cap that controlled everything a woman did. Now I know being a girl is no less than being a man and I can do anything I want. I can play games online, upload tutorial, invest in the stock market , be it on my own or through trading software like HBSwiss, I am not going to be discriminated based on my gender.

Feature image courtesy of wuestenigel via Flickr Creative Commons license.