I had planned to write about a fun old game this week. Or maybe I would have called an audible and wrote something about writing or submitting or art or how inspiration can come from anywhere and it’s great to use your diverse interests to feed your art.
Instead, I think I will write a very small amount about harassment. Online harassment to be specific.
We hear a lot about online harassment, and I don’t know if you know this, but the internet is not different from real life. It is a connected and shared space. It’s not physical, but actual people are on the other end of every interaction you have. They are very real, and they can, and often do, react in very real ways to the things that you do or say.
I write all of this, because this week I was harassed online. Well, sort of online, sort of in physical space. The details are, frankly, too stupid to reiterate, and the incident is over, but the anger, and even fear, I felt were very real.
I know that what I experienced is an absolute sliver of what people being systemically harassed experience. I also know that I will never suffer the way some people do. There is very little that any individual online can actually do to me. I did nothing to earn it, but I have a certain amount of armour, built of age, cultural privilege, and means. It makes me a very poor target. For one, I have the privilege of feeling and expressing anger rather than fear.
Not everyone has that armour. People I know and care about might not have that armour. And that was the part that made me the most angry.
I’m extremely lucky. I can laugh this sort of thing off. I spent a few tense hours communicating with people I know and preparing a defense that I knew I would never need. That was all. Nothing really. I will likely not come across an individual this misguided again, and if I do, the incident will likely follow this same pattern.
What about people who don’t have that armour? What about people who for whatever reason wouldn’t be able to talk to administrators, or management, or police? What about all the people who might have a legitimate need to keep a private life separate from their online one?
There are far too many people who could have been put in personal or professional danger from the sort of thing that just happened to me. I wish that everyone could be so impervious, but the fact is, they are not. And the internet is real life. Things said and done on the internet are real.
I know that I can’t do much to stop harassment from happening. I can attempt to shield my friends and family from it. I can try to ensure that the shared spaces I occupy are free of bullying and harmful attacks. I can intercede on others' behalf, because, let's face it, I might not deserve this armour, but I do wear it.
Online harassment is real. It’s not lesser. It’s not different. It can, and does, cause actual harm.
If you also wear this armour, use it. Make the spaces you share on the internet safer for those who don’t.