Trigger warning for graphic description of internet harassment.
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We science writers all have our favorite troll comments. For me, they are the ones that claim I don’t know my topic, that tell me what I should have written, that criticize my tone rather than my content. The commenter that said my child is an abomination and will die before she’s 40. The commenter who claimed to hope I never got raped, worded in such a way that he did, indeed, hope I got raped. I’ve only had comments with content on rape a handful of times, but each one manages to terrify me and upset me for several days.
Yet, is our experience in academia that different? What about the student who asked one too many questions about masturbation? The emails that try to overwhelm you with evidence in a way that clearly implies they don’t think you have read the same literature? The colleagues who question your expertise, particularly if they disagree with your behavior or the way you perform your gender? The reviewer that will never be satisfied with your responses and revisions, because they fundamentally disagree with your research question? And of course, in science writing and in science we have stories of outright harassment and sexual violence.
Next week, I am giving a talk at the 2013 American Anthropology Association Meeting in Chicago, IL on the impact of internet trolls on attempts by women to write for the public, as part of a broader session on public anthropology (the session, 8-9:45am Friday the 22nd; my talk, 8:30am). What I want to explore are the intent and impact of troll comments on women who communicate science. I’ve been asked to do this in the context of my own science writing on reproductive health, and I will be drawing a bit on some of my past writing, notably this and this. As I implied above, I’m also thinking of weaving this conversation in among the ways women’s work gets criticized in academia.
But I would like to broaden the conversation.
My question is, dear readers: what are your most notable trolls/troll comments? I’m intentionally asking in this way, because I am not writing to solicit your “worst stories,” but rather the ones that stick with you. I am not trying to gather data in a rigorous way for this talk, I am just thinking the discussion will be richer if I don’t draw only from my own experience.
So, if you have any stories or quotes you’d like to share, of trolling or mansplaining or threats that happened to you when you tried to communicate science, please let me know in the comments or email me. I am happy to attribute or anonymize your contribution, depending on your preference. I’d also love being pointed at any folks who have already written a lot about internet trolls and gender in science writing, as I’ve inevitably missed some in my own research.
In addition to the public anthropology panel, I’ll also be participating in a roundtable discussion Sunday the 24th from 12:15-2pm on The Urgency of Now: New Forms of Writing and Communicating Anthropology.