womens-trollsSpending one’s days on the advocacy beat out here on the Wild Wild Web can be hugely rewarding. Like, say, when you start getting recognized by organizations like the WHO as a strong voice for people-who-are-patients.

Then there are the days when you get called f***ing a**hole by strangers for simply speaking up.

This is not a unique problem for patient advocates – this happens to anyone who speaks up in service of changing a cultural norm. Just ask MLK, who was trolled by none other than the FBI, who told him he should just kill himself. Imagine the fun the FBI could have had on Facebook, if MLK vs. FBI on Facebook had been a possible-thing in 1964.

It can happen in the e-patient game, too, as shown in the Bill Keller/Emma Gilbey Keller/Lisa Bonachek Adams/NY Times dustup over whether or not patient blogs, particularly those about cancer, are TMI (Too Much Information – translation: “ew, gross”).

Just being a woman online (guilty as charged) can be enough to draw the gimlet eye, and ire, of a mob of trolls. The #gamergate mess – if you click that link, pack a lunch, a raincoat, and some serious antibiotics – is an example of that.

I recently tripped over a compelling piece on the Guardian’s site. The piece, by Lindy West, was about how she had been hard-trolled by someone who had gone so far as to create a Twitter handle that mimicked Lindy’s recently dead father, who she grieved for deeply. And who used that Twitter handle to troll her about her stance on rape threats.

My dad was special. The only thing he valued more than wit was kindness. He was a writer and an ad man and a magnificent baritone (he could write you a jingle and record it on the same day) – a lost breed of lounge pianist who skipped dizzyingly from jazz standards to Flanders and Swann to Lord Buckley and back again – and I can genuinely say that I’ve never met anyone else so universally beloved, nor do I expect to again. I loved him so, so much. ~ Lindy West

Lindy West is no stranger to the experience of being trolled. She’s a prolific, funny writer who’s talked openly about being a fat girl at the gym, about the toxicity of the “men’s rights movement,” about sexuality, about comedy … the girl’s got content. And trolls love to gang up on women on the web.

So put yourself in the place of a young woman, who recently lost her beloved dad, who suddenly finds a stranger co-opting her dad’s name and image, and then aiming threats of physical violence at her via the handy-dandy trolling tool known as The Internet.

What made this piece stand out was the payoff – after she shared on Jezebel.com how much this Twitter troll had wounded her by making rape jokes, and threats, using a handle whose avatar was a photo OF. HER. DAD. … she heard via email from the troll himself. I won’t put any spoilers here, because I want you to read the piece yourself. And maybe even listen to the recent This American Life episode that features a story about Lindy + the Troll.

My point? I think Lindy’s right – feed the trolls until they explode. Advocacy requires disturbing the status quo, which risks some serious pushback from those who are in that status quo’s driver’s seat. Ask any woman who’s blazed a trail outside “the woman’s place” – Boudicea, Susan B. Anthony, Golda Meir, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell – what it’s like to take on the boy Mafia status quo. Push for change, and be aware you’ll need all the ordnance you can muster.

Because what the haters really want is for us to shut up. What trolls want is our silence. We have to meet that with a serious, and steady, “THAT’S. NOT. OK.” chorus.

Advocacy, trolls, and threats – oh, my!
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