“One midsummer afternoon in 2013, I got a message on Twitter from my dead dad.”
So begins Lindy West’s tale of being violently trolled on the internet by anonymous strangers.
West, a feminist critic and former Jezebel staff writer, joined “This American Life” this past week to share her story with listeners.
Back in 2013, West was constantly receiving threats because of her stance on how male comedians should approach rape jokes (they shouldn’t).
The threats ran the gamut of what you usually see on the web if you’re a woman with an opinion: people calling her a stupid b—h, a fat b—h, and every other NSFW and derogatory name under the sun.
But one creative troll took things a step further and set up a Twitter account in the name of West’s very recently deceased father.
Then the troll began to harass her.
“I don’t remember what [the message] said, but it was mean,” West recalled on “This American Life.”
We hear the following phrases a lot: “don’t read the comments” and “don’t feed the trolls.” But West couldn’t let this particular harassment go. She publicly called out her troll in an article on Jezebel. Then the unthinkable happened — he apologised.
“I don’t know why or even when I started trolling you,” he wrote in an email to her. “I think my anger from you stems from your happiness with your own being. It served to highlight my unhappiness with myself.”
Hey Lindy, I don’t know why or even when I started trolling you. It wasn’t because of your stance on rape jokes. I don’t find them funny either. I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my own self.
I have emailed you through two other Gmail accounts just to send you idiotic insults. I apologise for that. I created the [email protected] account and Twitter account. I have deleted both.
I can’t say sorry enough. It was the lowest thing I had ever done. When you included it in your latest Jezebel article, it finally hit me. There is a living, breathing human being who’s reading this shit. I’m attacking someone who never harmed me in any way and for no reason whatsoever.
I’m done being a troll. Again, I apologise. I made a donation in memory to your dad. I wish you the best.
Everyone understands the feeling of being a little braver sitting behind the screen of a computer, especially with the promise of anonymity.
West reached out to this guy (she chose to keep him anonymous). West wanted to hear from him to learn what made him decide to apologise and what made him troll her in the first place.
Part of it, he told her, was because she was a confident and secure woman; more confident and secure than he was.
He told West:
Women are being more forthright in their writing, they’re not — there isn’t a sense of timidity to when they speak. They’re saying it loud. And I think for me as well, it’s threatening at first … I work with women all day, and I don’t have an issue with anyone. I could have told you back then, if someone had said to me, “you’re a misogynist, you hate women,” I would have said, “Nuh-uh! I love my mum, I love my sisters, I’ve loved the girlfriends I’ve had in my life.” But you can’t claim to be ok with women and then go online and insult them, seek them out to harm them emotionally.
“Our silence is what the trolls want,” West said.
The story is incredibly powerful to listen to. You can listen to the full episode here.