Five years ago, when I started my own business, I had no money for marketing. But I did have time and enough writing talent to use blogging to build backlinks to my business website, which also attracted the attention of journalists and resulted in more and positive media attention. I eventually created book and author sites after writing unexpectedly became part of my career. I wrote prolifically and was fortunate to be widely published. With every article I wrote, my rankings in Google rose, until finally I hit #1 in the country for my profession for when clients searched popular keywords. Mine was the lucky one out of 10 small businesses that succeeds.
Just over a month ago, I wrote a satirical feminist article that lit up the manosphere like wildfire. Men’s rights activists (MRA’s) are like kudzu rhizomes, a matrix of replicating tentacles of character assassination. A relentless Twitter-flogging ensued for five days, which then alternately quieted down and flared up for weeks. From Twitter the flames fanned out to Facebook, and then to other social media platforms. I shut down comments on all videos on my YouTube channel, among other protective measures.
It’s impossible to maintain the level of 24/7 vigilance needed for extended amounts of time, so inevitably hateful and defamatory comments—often carpet bombing my social media accounts under dark of night—remained unseen by me for long enough that potential clients probably saw them before I could take them down. It was and continues to be like a game of whack-a-mole. For each of my conscience-free attackers, sending out a nasty tweet or two was the easy part—sticking with it across multiple social media platforms for days and weeks has been the stuff of valor.
After the initial harassment, things only got worse. Groups of men on Reddit and 4Chan coalesced into self-appointed task forces to ferret out my licensing board in an attempt to get my license revoked. They also flooded my professional membership organization with emails demanding that my membership be rescinded. They reported back to each other about their progress, and they passed around screenshots of my address and phone number, taken off my business website. Was I doxed? Does that word apply if my contact information is already on the Internet because I run a business from my home? Seeing it still sucked the air right out of me.
Groups of men on Reddit and 4Chan coalesced into self-appointed task forces to ferret out my licensing board in an attempt to get my license revoked.
I reported my harassment to Facebook, following their protocols. I did it dozens of times and never got a single reply. I couldn’t get 1-star reviews removed or make the choice as a small business not to have “Reviews” on my page at all. I read in online forums that people used to be allowed to disable that function, but no longer. Policies like this prop open the floodgates of Internet hate and tie my hands behind my back for the pummeling.
I repeatedly deactivated the Facebook page, only to have a school of sharks resurface when I enabled it again, having incorrectly assumed that the storm had blown over. Soon I had to monitor my author page as well, because frustrated terrorists who could no longer lob grenades at my business page turned their attention to the second-best target. My techy husband had to spend time making sure my three websites were secure from hacking. There is no bottom to the hellhole that is online misogyny.
I worked crazy hard to stay on top of the situation, but the joke was on me. I simply couldn’t do that and do my job. As a self-employed person, when I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Gaze upon reality for a moment, and it’s plain to see where the problem lies. This was a breathtaking act of economic vandalism, and it was legal.
Then there was the shame. It took me days to tell my husband what I was going through because I thought he would think I was foolish for writing something that might attract MRA’s. I was so grateful that he understood and supported me.
I worked crazy hard to stay on top of the situation, but the joke was on me. I simply couldn’t do that and do my job. As a self-employed person, when I don’t work, I don’t get paid.
The additional work of screengrabbing everything “just in case” was another enormous time-sink. Finally one night, I was truly terrified. I decided to call the police, even though I was paradoxically afraid to do so, knowing that many police officers are not exactly feminists. But I was concerned about being “swatted” (having one of my tormenters call in a fake report to the station about a bomb, or domestic violence, or anything else that would lead to a swarm of cops descending upon my house with guns drawn). Yes, this is officially now a thing.
There are other precautions I had to take that I am apprehensive to disclose, even though I’m anonymous, just in case one of my trolls figures out who I am. I don’t want to provide a blueprint for how to ruin my life even more effectively. I must consciously choose between protecting myself and unselfishly standing up along with other women. Sophie’s Choice should not be running through my head, because this situation does not merit a demonstration of Godwin’s Law, and because my livelihood and mental health should not be at risk at all.
I am also currently considering using a pen name to access my free speech rights in the future, but then I wouldn’t actually have them. I also wouldn’t accrue the same benefits that men do when they write—social media shares, backlinks, reputation building, networking, and so forth. When I use my voice, I use it at my own risk. No one has taken away my right to free speech, but MRA’s have made exercising that right pricey and dangerous. It is my “choice” to write anonymously in this post so I can tell my story without instigating another cyber-attack. That’s not really a choice.
Copyright Women’s Media Center, 2016. For reprint, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.