No comment: Dealing with Internet trolls as a female writer

Most people know trolls as cute fuzzy-haired dolls. But in the age of online journalism, trolls have a more sinister connotation — and their toxicity is shaming young female writers from pursuing their careers.

Female-identifying writers face relentless gender-based attacks from misogynistic internet trolls. These attacks often include online comments about their work based on appearance, intelligence, race and sexual orientation.

This phenomenon also affects Ryerson’s journalism students. Currently, the school doesn’t monitor gender-based comments on its students’ freelance work — doing so would be virtually impossible.

However, students working for The Ryersonian have at least some form of reassurance. Instructors monitor the comment sections on The Ryersonian’s website to remove racist and sexist speech.

And while this is a good place to start, the school could do more to educate and protect its students from gender-based attacks online.

The school’s curriculum doesn’t cover the scope of being a woman in the industry. It doesn’t set out what lies ahead for its female students. We aren’t told that, at some point, writing about a topic like violence against women could result in online violence against us, too.

But the onus shouldn’t be on us to learn about these things. Rather, the school should have a more official process to help female students facing these online attacks. Currently, there is no set system in place — though professors are generally “happy to help.”

Expecting attacks based on our gender is now as normalized as writing headlines. It comes with the territory of being a female writer. In the wake of relentless gender-based criticism, some female-identifying writers have contemplated deactivating their Twitter accounts, while others are forced to avoid the internet completely until the online abuse subsides. In the most extreme cases, female writers flee their homes in the face of rape and death threats; their addresses are published online.


Ironically, these attacks often come after a female writer writes about feminism, men’s rights and sexism. In Nov. 2014, fourth-year journalism student Hana Shafi wrote an opinion piece about International Men’s Day, arguing that everyday is International Men’s Day.

“Today, I will, as usual, get massive hoards of men trolling my article, flooding my Twitter mentions with misogyny, and subjecting me to sexist, hateful, triggering backlash that will last for hours,” Shafi wrote in the article.

Her prediction came eerily true. The problem, however, is that Shafi’s article was published outside of the School of Journalism’s purview.

While it’s understandable that the school has virtually no control over what its students face online, it should work to better support its female writers.

This story first appeared in The Ryersonian on Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

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