My week in convulsions
Like a lot of people in these halcyon days of catfishing, trolling, and cyberstalking, I got hit with an online harassment campaign this week. I wrote about how to accept generosity from Trump supporters when it’s impossible to forgive and forget. Then messages like this started rolling in.
Impeachment prosecutor Daniel Goldman and Rep. Adam Schiff both make the point that cyber intimidation campaigns, seen as an extension of domestic terrorism, determine everything from Republican complicity to career moves to the choice not to call witnesses in the impeachment.
Of course they also aim to freeze the free press.
While law enforcement aims to stop these campaigns, especially the ones aided by foreign military intelligence (like the 2016 cyber campaign against Hillary Clinton), it’s imperative for those in the media to realize one simple thing:
We can’t stop these campaigns, but we can stop being afraid of them.
Partly that means seeing them for what they are: organic or inorganic, coordinated or uncoordinated. It’s also important that either the FBI or local police determine how likely it is that threats turn “kinetic”—meaning, become physically dangerous to journalists, property, families.
Once I got doxed—someone put my address on Facebook and someone else started texting me with threats—I called the cops. So far nothings’s gotten kinetic.
The other part is working with journalists to take practical steps to manage (a) online experience and (b) the anxiety and demoralization that follow these campaigns.
As few pieces of advice:
Every journalist who’s even remotely in the line of troll fire should use something like Delete Me to remove personal info from the internet. This can prevent doxing.
If you get threats of violence or even hints of it, alert local police. Let them know there might be swatting. The police WANT TO KNOW this. They will not roll their eyes. If the harassment is along ideological lines they may make decisions about contacting FBI.
Temporary restraining orders are also an option; let the police know if anyone by name is involved in threats, doxing, etc.
A journalist should separate the content of his or her article from the context of the threat campaign. These campaigns aim to put journalists on the defensive and try to pretend they’re opening a real debate. NO. Obviously don’t feed the trolls on social media.
Lock your social media down for three days. That is the usual course of things. If it’s still going on, I recommend another three days and on and on.
Block liberally, and start with the superspreaders. Maps can show who are the influencers pushing campaigns.
If you block Tucker Carlson or Ben Shapiro you are less likely to see trolling posts downstream, in their replies.
Most human trolls are not starting anything. They're being used by bad actors in these campaigns. Anyway, whether you're being trolled or tempted to troll someone else, try to see these campaigns for what they are: a machine-spawned convulsion that only looks like human culture and politics.
Ethan Zuckerman who worked on MIT’s studies on trolling and disinfo campaigns highly recommends outsourcing to a trusted friend the reporting of trolls to Twitter and other social media sites. Even outsource blocking to someone you trust with your accounts. No one should have to read thousands of obscenities and violent/racist/rape language directed at them.
The DART center increasingly deals with trauma from online troll campaigns, which are seen by some as an extension of domestic terrorism. There are psychologists who can walk a journalist through exactly how a campaign is getting in his or her head, while it’s happening, to prevent trauma.
Some of this trauma treatment has to do with noticing where you’ve done your job well and that you’ve handled the attacks well.
One maxim of mine, which I’ve shared:
Give yourself credit for the transgression and compassion for the trauma.
The transgression is the “speaking truth to power” part. The trauma is the panic and distress these campaigns can cause.
The SHAME of online troll/bot campaigns is sometimes or often harder on men than women. Men, especially non-Black or non-Jewish men, may simply be less used to it.
Everyone should be encouraged to be open about what’s happening. To share harassing posts with their employers — and anonymous ones can be shared on social media. Knowing that other people go through this is hugely helpful when you feel most alone. It’s like calling the bluff of a blackmailer.