Internet flaming—or trolling—has been a … thing for as long as the World Wide Web has been in existence. In fact trolls and the internet go together like Chipotle and explosive diarrhea. And lest you’re a person susceptible to bubble guts, sometimes it’s best not to feed that kind of hunger. As technology and social media trends evolve, cyber thugs tend to kick things up a notch on the sociopathy scale with their harassing behavior; much of it is easy to disregard and some of it is cause for alarm. And more often than not people of color and women (especially) tend to be at the receiving end of the vilest of vile comments and threats.
Recently, journalist and cable news pundit Goldie Taylor was the latest person to come under attack, at the receiving end of some pretty nasty threats from a prolifically racist Twitter troll who called himself ‘Americanist’, and whose handle was @BreakObama. This person launched an all-out virtual assault on Taylor (and other noted media and social media personalities), tweeting her personal contact information for public consumption, assailing her with nasty racial epithets, and menacingly telling her to watch her back. I mean, you could practically see the fumes of hate blistering from his every word: “@goldietayler, I know where you work. Better watch over your shoulder. But you won’t know before it happens.”
Goldie and her supporters alerted Twitter admins to no avail. Pleas to suspend the offending account were met with silence. Taylor finally sought the help of a follower… an attorney known on the microblogging site as ‘Wieland’ (@lawscribe) who, thanks to his sharp internet sleuthing, was able to track down and expose the racist cyber terrorist. Wieland then tweeted his findings to @FBIDallas and Twitter, who finally decided to suspend the @BreakObama account this past Monday; an action that should have been dealt with posthaste the moment Goldie Taylor performed the proper protocol per Twitter’s TOS. Particularly since making pointed cyber threats is considered a federal crime and are punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.
According to a storify curated by Wieland, the threats were traced to Justin Acker of Dallas, TX: a man who works as a ‘Church Compliance Consultant’ (??) for a non-profit/charitable organization, and former history teacher and high school football coach who purportedly helped write the Texas school social studies curriculum- (TEKS).
After having the curtain yanked back on him, @BreakObama promptly deleted his LinkedIn account and I’m sure his other social media pages have since been deactivated. Listen, if you’re going to be about that troll life, spew hate speech and threaten acts of violence against people on the internet, assume that not everyone will be easily intimidated and will likely strike back. Because if you’re brave enough to hurl racial epithets at people on social media and threaten to kill them, then you deserve to be exposed for who and what you truly are… to your employers, colleagues, and to the people who think they know you. Perhaps @BreakObama will reinvent his hateful self under a new online identity, but I’m sure the since the moist rock he resides under has been lifted, it will definitely give him pause.
The stance Wieland and Goldie Taylor took on cyber harassment is a glowing example of the results you reap when you speak out, and serves as a more suitable contrast to this past Sunday’s #TwitterSilence protest— prompted by British journalist Caitlin Moran, in reaction to threats issued to female journalists— and underscores why being silent was problematic, as well as why those [of us] who don’t have the luxury of staying silent, thought the protest was counterproductive. The last thing a person, particularly a woman, should do is remain silent when being threatened online or during any other instance in her life. Many likened the protest to staying indoors and altering your life completely on account of real-time harassment, rather than reporting the abuse and challenging errant misogyny.
#TwitterSilence relinquishes power to online bullies, who continue to hide behind the cloak of anonymity posting the address and phone number of their target, to cyber stalk, and to threaten harm. And while speaking out won’t do away with the act of trolling in general, it will definitely help weed out potentially dangerous people. I’m a firm believer in collecting receipts and using the information to take legal action against cyber terrorists who cross the line with declarations of an intent to inflict injury and putting them on blast, because as Audre Lorde succinctly wrote in her essay The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action: “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” Especially if you’re among a collective of women whose voices are often drowned out and who don’t always have resources or an empathetic ear extended to them when they do seek help.