This isn’t the first time for me to write about trolls. I last wrote about my experiences when someone went to the trouble of writing me a long, insulting and (of course) anonymous email. Before that, it was a slightly more naive look at what this all means – about the trolls themselves, about me and about how, really, I never really had it that bad.
In April of this year, I recorded a video for YouTube where I read out some mean tweets that had been directed at me, following my discussion of sexual harassment (asking for it, surely). I finally got around to editing it today – and, while I’d never see a semi-decent piece of content wasted, even now, five months later, it feels outdated.
You can watch it anyway (because, y’know, #allaboutdemhits) – but, even while I edited it, I felt vaguely unsettled. Maybe it’s the way I’m smiling and laughing at just how bonkers these tweets are; I don’t remember feeling particularly upset at the time, and I think that comes across in how I read them out. But the moment I’d uploaded it, I started to get comments from people who were surprised not only at the content of the responses to me, but at my blasé attitude to them.
“You think that’s bad?!” I felt like screaming at them. “Things have got so much worse since then!”
Me, my trolls and I
Ever since around May of this year, I have been receiving consistent, constant messages from someone – I think it’s one person – on Twitter, with a similar theme. This person has an issue with the post I wrote about my rape (TW: rape, sexual assault). They think I’m recategorising a sexual experience I regret as rape; they think I’m disgusting; they think I’m an attention-seeker.
When they tweet me, they call me Rosie. One day, they started talking about how much nicer I am in real life. They don’t know why I act like such a bitch online – they’ve met me several times and I’ve been perfectly nice. It was so, incredibly creepy. I started keeping screengrabs, in case I ever need to go to the Gardai about it. (Although, it feels like one of those things that, by the time I “need” to go to the Gardaí, it’ll be too late.) One of their tweets read: “Oh, I know you well, Rosemary.”
They have created 16 different accounts – that I could find when I recently went back through my tweets – in the past four months. (That’s one a week, on average.)
Shouldn’t I just ignore it?
My reactions to these tweets are pretty much split down the middle. Half of the time, I block, report and “ignore” – if ignoring is classified as not responding online. In the real world, I feel a bit sick. I feel vulnerable and frightened and I feel upset that someone hates me that much.
I’m not all that surprised – earlier this year, when I wrote a piece about how I don’t think overexposure on social media is good for children, an Irish DJ-slash-store-owner put a public post on his Facebook page about how much he hates me. It got 121 comments; human beings, under their own human names, suggested that I needed a few punches. So: I know that some people really, really dislike me. They’re entitled to that.
The other half of the time, I respond. I retweet my trolls – I highlight the fact that this shit goes on all the time. When you’re a woman who’s in any way opinionated and not afraid to share said opinions, well, people don’t like it. And please: don’t pretend to me that there’s no sexism involved.
Take the Snapchat article; mine isn’t an extreme opinion. It’s been written about dozens of times. It’s not like I suddenly suggested we send all immigrants to internment camps; I merely suggested that documenting your child’s every move on social media wasn’t wise, or kind. The pitchforks came out pretty much immediately.
When trolls come out of the cave…
Then, during the summer, I woke up one day late. It was Saturday and, because I get up at around 6.30am every other day, I had a lie in. We didn’t open the front door until about 11am – to find that someone had tied three balloons to the front door, with insults scrawled on their rubberised bellies. I still wonder how many of my neighbours saw them there, tied to the door knob, before we emerged to take them in.
And that’s before I even get to the part where SOMEONE TIED FUCKING BALLOONS TO MY DOOR pic.twitter.com/aMZwjzIns5
— Rosemary Mac Cabe (@RosemaryMacCabe) July 22, 2017
I sobbed for about an hour. I called the Gardaí. The man I spoke to didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. “Balloons? And what has you being a blogger got to do with this?” I felt like an idiot. He told me that, if I wanted, I could go down to the station and make a statement, “just in case, God forbid.” I didn’t. I suggested moving house; Stephen told me to calm down. I suggested getting CCTV, but we decided it would just make us paranoid. (How awful would it be to spend hours trawling through CCTV footage of your front step, just waiting for someone to come along.)
…I go into mine
Instead, I decided that I’d had enough.
It was as if something had snapped; when I talked to my therapist about it, I explained it as if I was the little boy, with his finger in the dam. Suddenly, the pressure had built up too far and I just couldn’t hold it all together anymore.
I know that some people will say I deserve it. I’ve spent years rabble-rousing, sharing my opinions and unrequested critiques with anyone who would listen (and read). I can’t count on two hands the number of people I’ve pissed off, or who – probably quite legitimately – think I’m a dickhead. Like I said, they’re entitled.
For those same years, I could take it. I wasn’t afraid to be opinionated and I wasn’t going to back down because I’m entitled to my opinion. I’m entitled to share it. It’s not a sin to be critical and, overall, I thought, Ireland was way too much of a love-in at times. But I realised that I didn’t want to be someone who opened up their front door to find sinister balloons tied to it. (Who would want that?!)
I haven’t really talked to a lot of people about this, but for the last few months, I’ve been afraid. I haven’t been going to events because I’m afraid people will be talking about me. I haven’t been socialising much because I’m afraid I’ll see someone I vaguely know or, worse, that I won’t see someone who knows me. (With the help of a friend, I’ve had some success tracing my troll and I know where they are – too close for comfort – although I’m not 100% sure who they are, which is disconcerting.)
That’s it, I quit?
I thought, for a while, about quitting the internet altogether – but it’s been such a huge part of my life for so long that the idea of living without social media, without sharing and connecting and writing and reading and commenting, seems too bizarre to contemplate. But I’ve taken a step back. I’m changing careers (and I won’t pretend this hasn’t been a factor in that decision). I spend more time offline now than I do on, and I feel calmer than I have in ages.
There is a big part of me that thinks I’m giving up and, in doing that, letting the trolls win – but then I realise: I don’t care. I ndeireadh na dála, this is my life and I’m the only one I have to worry about. If stepping back from the internet; if keeping my opinions to myself; if shutting up and sitting down and getting into line makes my life easier, then why not? Because, honestly, the alternative isn’t worth the hassle.