Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £29.99 £19.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Managing negative attention

In this video Dr Sara Perry talks openly about the negative attention she's experienced online, and how she's dealt with it.
Introduction My name is Sara Perry and I’m a lecturer and researcher at the University of York and I live a lot of my life both professionally and personally online. I was originally trained in both Canada and the UK as an archaeologist and a visual anthropologist studying how archaeologists deployed different types of media for a variety of audiences both professional and public audiences – specifically with an interest in visual and digital media – and through that work I’ve begun to develop a very, I guess, exposed digital identity. I’m active on Twitter and Facebook, through blogging and other such tools.
And as a result of all that work I would have to say that I have become very familiar with both the great benefits and the huge risks associated with digital practice.
I can probably speak about it from a variety of different perspectives but in my own case, it’s been very… I guess traumatic one would say. As a PhD student, and then when I was beginning my lectureship at the University of York, I began to receive a series of private messages through my different social media accounts and through my email from colleagues – in the most cases at different institutions around the world. Those messages concerned my physical appearance and sexuality. They were often very explicit and sometimes incorporated photographs and other such things.
And in the first instance – the first couple of instances – when this presented itself I just ignored the problem because I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. But the fifth time that it happened, I felt like I needed to take action. In that case it was particularly persistent and aggressive and so I did react.
I think I went with my natural instinct as a researcher to begin to research the situation,
and I looked up other individuals: people like Anita Sarkeesian in the US – associated with Feminist Frequency if anyone follows that – who produced quite an inspiring set of digital resources for those subject to similar forms of abuse and targeting. And I attempted to learn in part from their experiences.
The difference is however is that those individuals have much visibility and in many cases their perpetrators were unknown or anonymous in some fashion, and in my case I was virtually unknown and knew all of my perpetrators and hence I began to think a lot about what it means to be subjected to such abuse and how it relates to things like gender obviously; to one’s status; to your place in your career; to your competencies –
and being able to respond to the problems; and also to issues: to the issues of anonymity and whether the person that is or people that are perpetrating the abuse are known or unknown to you.
In my own case I was forced to ask a lot of questions about what it means to be a relatively unknown individual with few tools and a very small support system for grappling with the problems. And I suppose on an individual level it’s about teaching people to feel confident; to recognise problems as quickly as possible; to speak very candidly and in the language that it is being communicated to you – and so not to use terms to cover up the harshness of some of the communications that are taking place.
So in other words, to speak very frankly about it all because I think if we don’t practice in that fashion, where we are being very candid about what going on and we don’t react immediately, then we are negating the very thing that these online tools are meant to supply to us. Which here means to promote democracy, to promote engagement, and to promote understanding between other individuals.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can empower people in troubling ways. How can we handle negative comments and behaviours?

The experiences Dr Sara Perry discusses in this video are by no means unique, and they are far from unusual. The act of speaking your mind on the internet can lead you open to all manner of abuse, and this risk is increased for certain groups. Yes, you can ignore some of it. But you can only ignore so much. And let’s be clear: you shouldn’t have to ignore anything of this kind.

In her Guide to Internetting While Female, Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian defines six forms of online trolling. Perhaps you’ve experienced some for yourself…

Sealioning: named after a Wondermark webcomic, sealions pop up, unsolicited, in your online conversations, and politely asks you to evidence seemingly self-evident points as a means of derailing your original point.
Concern trolling: manifest in ‘helpful’ comments and ‘constructive criticism’, concern trolls operate from a seeming position of support as a means of cushioning their opposing views.
Gish-galloping: drowning out by recourse to a torrent of arguments (often petty). Responding to a gish-galloper’s every comment will demand significant time and effort.
Impersonation trolling: hoax accounts posting inflammatory comments under your name.
Dogpiling: when the cyber-mob are called in to overwhelm you with a barrage of responses, insults, accusations or threats.
Gaslighting: presenting false information in an attempt to make you doubt your own memory. In terms of online abuse, it extends to questioning the abuse itself, and underplaying its impact; for instance: “You’re not getting all of this abuse”, or “It’s not as bad as you’re making out”.
Feminist Frequency have produced a guide to protecting yourself from online harassment which offers best-practice for online privacy and safety, as well as advice for reporting harassment. In terms of social media they recommend the following:
To prevent harassers from finding your frequent hangouts, turn off geolocation on your posts;
Decide what you want to share: social media relies on sharing, but avoid giving away information that might risk your security;
If you’re concerned about your online reputation, monitor your information online to see what’s being said about you. You can even do a reverse image search on your photos, and set up a Google Alert on your name;
If you don’t want people to impersonate you online, it might be worth creating stub accounts on each platform in order to own your namespace. And if you ever need to take a break from social media, don’t delete your account, lest someone come along and use your old handle against you;
Tailor the security settings for each social media platform you use, and use its features to your advantage. Report any abuse you get to the platform;
If you are receiving directly threatening online harassment, report it to law enforcement.
As Sara says in the video, it’s important to have the confidence to recognise problems as quickly as possible so that you can speak out against abusers, document their abuse and report them. It’s also important to remember that if someone harasses or threatens you online, it’s not you that is in the wrong. Feminist Frequency highlight the importance of self-care when considering your response to online harassment:
Regardless of what you choose to do about your harassers, also consider what comforts you most when you’re upset, angry or triggered, and do the best you can to plan for it… You’re going to have feelings. It’s ok to honor them rather than deny them. Whatever you can do to give yourself space to have them and take care of them will make you more resilient in the long run.
This article is from the free online

Digital Wellbeing

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now