WHETHER IT’S A DIRECT MESSAGE OR A MENTION, the rude, incomprehensible, and downright hateful messages one can receive on Twitter have been enough to drive some people off the Internet entirely. Of course, for every person who leaves the Internet in abject terror, there is another who chooses to fight back. Clementine Ford blogs her experiences with Internet harassment. The Feminist on Tinder shares her conversations with men who react to the “feminist” label in her bio. And I, well, I share my stories with friends and family, because my mentions have yet to blow up with hateful diatribes on a daily basis.
But that day is coming. Don’t think I don’t know that. Every time I write and share an article with a feminist or political bent, I have to think: Is this the one? Is this the one that gets the death threats and the doxxing? Is this the one that gets someone I love hurt? Because that possibility is always out there. Being a woman on the Internet is dangerous enough, but when you’re educated and opinionated, what’s left of your safety is constantly draining away.
Because I believe in self-care, I don’t engage any toxic messengers unless I feel up to the battle. Sometimes, a debate is good. It can be cathartic to have my opponent resort to an ad hominem attack, because it’s a win. I was stronger. I had the better argument. I won. Other times, just seeing the replies light up my phone is enough to make me want to quit the Internet, and I have to choose whether I want to risk my own health for that win.
Sometimes, self-care means not acknowledging those unwanted messages at all. If I didn’t reply to you on Twitter, chances are pretty good that it was for one of the following reasons.
1. I forgot.
This is highly likely. Ask anyone. I forget things all the time, even very important things.
2. You sent me nonsense.
I once had a man reply to a Facebook post with a comment that was clearly directed at one of several other articles I had shared that day. When I attempted to redirect him by asking if he perhaps meant to publish his comment elsewhere, he went off. His sputters were nearly incomprehensible as he insisted that he was just commenting and did I know how many books he had read and certainly many more than I ever would.
I deleted his comments and blocked him. I don’t know why this kind of thing happens, but it’s a pretty common occurrence. If you get irrationally angry at me, and begin spouting nonsense, I probably won’t talk to you any further.
3. You flirted with me.
4. You were clearly talking about something you had not read.
I have one listicle that is very prominently displayed at the top of my writer profile on one website. The headline, admittedly, sounds pretty brash. However, anyone who takes care to read the few paragraphs that introduce the list will understand its purpose and direction. Somehow, it seems that no one ever does that.
And so people message me to tell me how arrogant and uninformed I am. How, if I really knew what I was talking about, I would have included X instead of Y.
At one point in time, I responded to these kinds of messages. I wanted to defend myself and my work. But the knee-jerk reactions to the headline just kept right on coming, so I gave up. If you don’t read my work, I don’t have any business talking to you about it. If that makes me an #ArrogantBastard, sobeit.
5. I didn’t know what to say.
Sometimes, people like to talk about things and try to include me in their discussion. That’s a very nice thing to do, and I appreciate it, but I really have no idea how to jump into that conversation, especially if it is about my work. I write a lot of things about other people, and when they’re already talking, what more do I have to say on the subject?
If I gave you a heart but did not respond, this is probably why.
6.You pestered me.
Leave me alone. If you tweeted @ me, and I did not respond, do not use my automatic “Visit my blog!” DM as an excuse to ask if I got that thing you sent me. Clearly, I did, since I got your DM. And for whatever reason, I did not respond to you. I’m not any more interested in talking to you now than I was then. Respect that, and walk away. Retweet a bunch of things to cover up the tweet I never responded to, if you’re that worried about it, but trust me: you’re the only one who is.