Notes on Trolls and Criticism

“Our society teaches young girls, […] that likability is an essential part of you, of the space you occupy in the world. You’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likable; you’re supposed to hold back sometimes– pull back, don’t quite say, don’t be too pushy, because you have to be likable. I think it’s also something that’s quite difficult for even older women and self-professed feminists to shrug off.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, stated this in a part of her acceptance speech for a Girls Write Now award in 2015. And she’s right. It’s hardly a secret that women with a voice on the internet overwhelmingly receive the bulk of online harassment and trolling. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explains how success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women in her book, Lean In“When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”

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Taylor Swift put it plain and simply– “Haters gonna hate”, and she’s right– you simply cannot please everyone. But let’s face it: everyone wants to be liked. Society is so much nicer to you if you’re liked. And I, as a blogger, a woman, a teacher, a friend, a person, want to be liked, too. So that is why, each time I create new content, I choose my words very, very carefully. I am aware that I write and tailor and fix many of my blog posts in the hopes that I will offend less people, be less controversial, and therefore be more well-liked. I don’t hit publish in the hopes that people will comment and troll and criticize– nobody does.

That’s why when I published one of my most personal and recent posts entitled, “When the Grass isn’t Greener: Falling Out of Love With France,” and The Local France picked it up and ran an edited version on their site, I was (perhaps naively) expecting a bit of [constructive] criticism, some fair questioning, and thoughtful conversation. What I got instead were hundreds of comments on the pubic Facebook page as well as The Local’s website, my Twitter handle, and my personal blog about how awful of a person I am. Eventually The Local France suspended the comments section on their website and posted a rebuttal post entitled, Just How Far Can Foreigners Go in Criticizing France? This article got further commentaries including many who justified their bashing and trolling.

And let me just say, as awkward as it is to walk in on conversations where negative things are being said about you behind your back, it is SO surreal to stumble upon internet spaces in real time where people openly talk about how terrible you are, and not really know how to defend yourself or respond in a constructive and poised way without further “feeding the trolls.” I must say, adults, and especially adults who are safely behind their anonymous screens of their own electronic devices, are some of the most crude and vicious bullies around.

The advice given to people victims of trolling and internet abuse is to simply to grow some thick skin, let it go, shake it off, and stay away from the comment sections. I know that most of the people who troll public Facebook pages and comment sections lead sad, lonely lives. And unfortunately, there’s not much else you can do, especially because there are still not many laws regarding prosecution for online harassment in existence. But sometimes you can’t help it- sometimes you do read the comments, and sometimes the hurtful words of others have a subtle way of crawling back under your skin. The childhood quote, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is one of the most backward pieces of advice in existence.

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Being a woman with an opinion on the internet means that you are subject to entitled men advocating for violence against you if they disagree with you- and by pulling cheap shots by critiquing your body instead of your work (because as a woman you can’t have a “gross” body and a merited opinion.)

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Because let’s take someone who uses gendered slurs and whose photo is a woman’s hand on a computer mouse meant to be an optical allusion for genitalia seriously.

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“Ray C.” is one of those perpetual trolls who has several different names all over the same comments section but has the same IP Address.

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Is it just me or did he also insult the French?

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Brenna from Brenna in France had a lot of intelligent, constructive things to add in several threads.

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Because when you don’t agree with a woman online, call her a whore instead.

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I guess there are worse things to be called than a “Leftist American Social Justice Warrior.”

“Elodi” was all over the Local France page as well as my personal blog’s comments, where she called me “a self-important, liberal nit-wit from generation special snowflake who needs to clear off”. Unfortunately I do not have the screen shot!

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Er… Yes. I just “get to live here.”

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Yes, Kristina, I probably do need to get out more. Anyone who knows me or actually reads my blog would agree with that statement.

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I must say… cool name.

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Such good puns here!

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Clearly, since you’ve never personally experienced it, Morgane, it must not be true.

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… I’m 26, and I’ve lived in France for three years, not six months. Anyone who would have taken a mere 30 seconds to actually read this would have known that. Cheers, Su La and Isabelle.

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Lise, like Elodi, took the time to troll both the public Facebook pages and my personal blog. I’m honored, especially since she almost fell asleep reading my boring writing.

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It’s justified trolling or bashing you guys, because well, I’m wrong, and a cry baby!

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I actually had to look up “Dubya” on Urban Dictionary.

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This was a response from a different post, but I thought it merited criticism all the same. I censored the name because I know this person personally.


Most of these comments were not in fact, criticisms about my opinions or my work, but directed at my intelligence, maturity, body, and autonomy. Most were not the least bit constructive. Thankfully, despite all the garbage I had to sort through, I did have the pleasure of reading some thoughtful, constructive criticism. Thank you to those who had kind, interesting, and constructive things to say. Thank you to the staff at The Local France who did their best to keep the comments under control. Thank you to those who sent me private messages offering your support. Thank you to Diane from Oui in France for your post on Civility. Thank you to French Girl in Seattle and her community for maintaining a civil, welcoming environment. Thank you to the kind words spoken by my friends Emily and Kaitlyn, as well as fellow bloggers Diane, CRose, and Jill. To those who have a personal problem with me or my opinions or my blog: there’s the door. I am personally giving you the opportunity to close this browser and not open it again. Please do not come back here; instead, go do something more productive and positive with your time.

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The goal of trolls is to put people inside a box and make them feel small. And although I won’t always be able let things like trolls roll off my back so easily, I’m not afraid to keep writing.

Bisous,

Dana

31 thoughts on “Notes on Trolls and Criticism

  1. I greatly enjoyed your original piece and found it to be a thoughtful reflection on your changing perspective. I also thought you still came across as loving both the US and France, while accepting each country’s faults.

    I’m so sorry you’ve dealt with all these horrible trolls. I’m impressed that you’ve taken their comments and used them to address the wider problem of unfair criticism/harassment/trolling that women receive. Like you pointed out, few of those comments had anything to do with what you actually wrote. Instead, those jerks all resorted to name-calling. You show much greater maturity than any of them!

    Oh, and that “motherly” bit was SO condescending. I’ve never had a “real” job according to her, I’m sure. But I love my unusual career trajectory and the opportunities I’ve had for making unorthodox choices.

    1. Thank you so much, Brita!

      I appreciate that you are able to recognize the biases in the trolls and comments as well as condescending undertones 🙂

      Bisous!

  2. Well, you go girl!

    I just read your original post and now read this one. I’m glad you are choosing laughter because while these comments can be really hurtful, they are also ridiculous! Like, what is wrong with people?

    You handled this well and I am glad you are not silencing yourself! Seriously, people are allowed to have a different opinion and perspective — why don’t people understand that? And if you really don’t agree, talk about why and the points why — don’t just insult someone. That’s the stupidest form of argumentation ever.

  3. Hi Dana,

    I just want to commend you for being brave. It is really difficult to put yourself out there for the world to criticize. Perhaps there are some faults in your view of France. Perhaps some people were right in saying that you don’t see France much like other people do. Perhaps you have become disillusioned with France based on your experiences. Maybe all of those things are true, but that doesn’t make bullying you okay. You might be a white, privileged, middle class, millennial American who has had experiences in France that have given her a negative view of the country, but it’s not fair to criticize you for what you have personally experienced. Everyone has different experiences. As a fellow white, privileged, middle class, millennial American, I must say that I think what you did was right. I think that living abroad and seeing both the positives and the negatives of any country, including your own, is important to seeking a better understanding about the world. I, too, have experienced criticism on some of the things I have written, on some of my views, and I have to say that I have never once told people that I am completely right or that I know everything. I don’t think you do so either. I think people automatically pick us out as those type of woman and assume that we are full of ourselves, ignorant, prideful, and completely reject any further understanding of people, places, things, ideas, countries, and cultures just because we write about what we have experienced so far. I understand who I am and where I’ve come from, and I understand that I don’t fully understand others people’s stories. That’s why I travel. That’s why I write. That’s why I chose to live abroad, and all I can see is you doing the same thing. I also don’t understand why us being white, privileged, middle-class, millennial, and American make our opinions any less important than someone who is completely opposite of us that would criticize maybe some negative experiences they’ve potentially had in our culture. How are we ever supposed to start learning about our differences, embracing them, and understanding them if we can’t openly express our views and our perceptions of certain countries and experiences that ultimately can lead to discussions that lead to understanding and changed life views? Perhaps you are wrong in some of your opinions, but I do not believe, based on what you’ve written that you are against constructive criticism and discussion. I’m also a Christian, and I do not feel personally attacked by that article (just thought I’d mention that). I’m probably rambling at this point, but I am hurt by the fact that most people went straight to attack you and didn’t even bother to see your side. If people think you are wrong, if people have a different view, then attacking you isn’t going to help you see. It wouldn’t help anyone. All this to say, continue being brave, writing, seeking understanding, and trying to learn more about this world. I’ll definitely keep reading about it.

    Much love,

    Lindsey

    1. Cheers Lindsey!

      I never expected to receive 100% support for my article. Many things seem criticism and I respect that and am open to discussion and to learning and changing. Unfortunately there was a lot of finger pointing and not much else… Alas, thanks for your kind words! Best of luck in Milwaukee- I’ll be living vicariously through you! Xoxox

      1. Yeah I definitely read all of those comments. Horrible. People finger point because it makes them feel better. I’m definitely going to keepy reading for sure! Also, I’ll be blogging about my time in Milwaukee and graduate school! I’m also open to hearing suggestions of places to see and do in Wisconsin. I realized that I don’t know much about Wisconsin.

  4. Hi my first visit here you can thank Diane from Oui In France http://ouiinfrance.com/ for that and have to say I am glad I came for visit I also rarely delete nasty comments but then I also rarely get nasty comments but I am a believer that everyone has a right to their own opinion and you all don’t have to agree with me because I am also entitled to my own opinion. That said I don’t get trolls I get who they are and what they do but why that I don’t get but then I am properly too nice and wouldn’t ever do something like that.

  5. Dana,
    I only started following your blog recently but it feels like I have been doing it forever. Your experiences are priceless and I love how you are taking the time to figure it all out and follow your dreams, even if they change. I’m trying to do so myself, and it’s not easy especially when others seem to think they know your future better than yourself. I really loved your post about falling out of love with France because it brought some perspective to me as I prepare to go abroad yet again. It’s terrible that so many people made personal attacks. Just know, from one Midwesterner to another, your bravery has inspired me to put myself out there and for that I will be forever grateful ❤
    ~Caroline

  6. Hi Dana,
    I just wanted to say that I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for the past year. I thought your article was insightful and honest. I’m participating in TAPIF for the 2016-2017 year, and your article reminded me that France is not perfect (although it does have some awesome things going for it.) Keep up the great work– Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

  7. You just earned another fan. I liked your article very much and when I read that you had so many negative comments, I was stunned! It says more about the people criticizing than it does about the author. Your viewpoint was well thought out, balanced and interesting. Thank you for providing intelligent content!

    1. oh yes! I love Lindy West! I just read her new book, Shrill and had this episode in mind as well. She faces much, much worse things that I do. Good to hear from you!

  8. I’m so glad you wrote this because we have to stand up to people who bully others. I know there are kind, respectful people out there (as shown by the comments and likes on the post of mine that you linked to) and even if the trolls outnumber them, we can’t let the trolls’ opinions win. If people can’t phrase their comments respectfully, they’re not worth our time. Hang in there. 😉 You’ll always have my support.

    1. Thanks Diane ! It’s so funny because if you read the comments on FB for other articles regarding secularism etc many of them Agree with what I say.. Trolls are just ridiculous.
      Thanks for your support xo

  9. Wow. I’m honestly so disgusted. We have a lot of keyboard warriors in society today…think they can just bully everyone since they’re behind a screen of a phone/computer/tablet/etc. I for one am grateful for you and appreciate what you do!
    -Megan

  10. Oh wow, Dana. I’m so sorry that a publication decided to run your work with a comments section enabled, and that commenters filled it with garbage. No one who reads your blog would think of you as a whiny, shallow idiot. I know that you speak French (a really important part of it) and have been living in France for years, and that you’ve reflected deeply on what it means to try to make a life for yourself in a country that you weren’t born into.

    Sending support your way as another American who is temporarily, but perhaps someday permanently, in France.

  11. I still maintain that anyone who hurled gross insults your way on that post didn’t bother to read past the title. The article itself was very mature and well-thought out, and regular readers of your blog such as myself (and probably every other TAPIFer ever!) know just how much you love France. It particularly upsets me to see people call you spoiled or an entitled Millenial when it’s VERY clear just how hard you’ve worked to get where you are. I look forward to reading your future posts about your upcoming job, your travels, and I especially look forward to your more opinionated posts. Bisous

    1. Thanks so much Erin for your comment! I appreciate everything you’ve had to say and you’re so right! The community we have here in blog world knows each other way better than the majority of the trolls who came over to stir up trouble. Thanks so much for your support xoxo

  12. Hi Dana,
    I’ve read your blog (and enjoyed it!) for a while but never commented before. I’m a fellow TAPIF alum and also a Wisconsinite (and I’m moving back to France next month). I’m so shocked at all of the criticism you received. It makes no sense to me. I thought your article was extremely interesting and insightful. Even though I don’t agree with all of your points, I loved reading about your opinions, and could really relate to a lot of it. So anyways, not much of a point to this… just thought you deserved a positive comment to counteract some of those ridiculously negative ones 😉 Good luck with your new teaching job.

    1. Thanks Marissa for your comment! In no way do I expect that everyone will agree with all or some or any of my thoughts- but I didn’t think I deserved to be called names or condemned to violence. Thanks so much for your comment and kind words. I appreciate it a lot 🙂 xo

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