In the fediverse, which is a loose collection of software and sites that can interact with one another through common protocols, things like Mastodon/Pleroma/Misskey sites are referred to as instances. Each instance is run separately, often by a single user.
As an example, I run tech.lgbt, which is a Mastodon instance intended to be a space for queer people with an interest in technology to connect with one another. I have a team of moderators to keep an eye on interactions, and we’re kick to ban/block without having to do things like appeal to Twitter in hopes that they will remove bad actors. Btw, you are welcome to request to join!
Earlier this week I received a variety of messages intended to get me to respond negatively. They were hateful messages attacking my looks, my personality, aspects of my fursona (furry fandom), and friends of mine. I still don’t know what set them off to target me specifically, but by the time I took action, a full conversation had formed in separate instances, with me getting tagged in a few of them to ensure that I was aware of the hate.
Since I run the instance that the conversation was taking place, and since it was clear that the entire instances that they were on were harmful, I blocked any instances that weren’t already blocked. As an example, one is literally called shitposter, and another is kiwifarms, named after a notorious doxxing troll site linked to multiple suicides. The block means that they cannot directly interact with tech.lgbt and any of our members.
I monitored the conversation for the rest of the day and the following day until it had clearly died off from my lack of continued response. My goal was to preemptively block other instances that exist solely to spread harm, and a few more were found. But the blocks themselves and lack of any additional action on my end beyond warning others of the instances pretty much killed their interest.
Near the end of the main thread is a reply from one of the original harassers: “honestly if he’d just own it and be like “yeah so what?” and banter back I’d have some respect for him.”
That’s what it’s about. They don’t want to make fun of random people on the internet. They want those people to know that they are doing it, and to try to egg them on to respond in order to face continued harassment.
I do own who I am online and offline, but I know that I don’t owe it to anyone, least of all random harassment accounts, to respond in any way that suits them. I realize that I’m writing a whole newsletter post about it, since what’s gotten under my skin a bit is the idea that anyone would actually think that a troll would treat you (and in turn, future targets) better if you just, “banter back”. In this case, banter apparently means hurling personalized insults at someone who you’ve never enaged with before. No thanks.
We know that we can find new designs to address online behavior. We know that it’s not anonymity, but pseudonymity that leads to more civil engagement. And we also know that while it’s not always true, sometimes it really helps to not feed the trolls.
If you made it this far, why not share this newsletter with a friend? Or share with me some of the things that you found that you liked this week. Either way, I’m thrilled!