Thursday, 24 January 2013

Internet trolling - misogyny, violence and bigotry - Mary Beard answers back

A Don's Life: Internet fury: or having your anatomy dissected online

Mary Beard enters the fray - and I admire her for doing so. She's brave and honest. I still find it a dilemma to know whether the 'trolls' are best ignored or whether one should fight back because, as she says, this stuff is often misogynistic (women trolls are sometimes more misogynistic than but also vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts), and hateful. Here is one extract from Beard's post:
 So who are they? ... I suspect that this is a (rather small) number of grown up lads plus, I think, a woman or two. The compassionate side of me says it is a sad sign of a sense of disempowerment (there's plenty of "you've got all the advantages" talk, which may be fair enough in a way). The less compassionate says it is brutal sexism.. heaven knows how they relate to real women; I dread to think.
Should those of us who have a voice use it to speak out against these people, or should we refuse to degrade ourselves by wading into such a viscous and uncontrollable space populated by rather pathetic people driven by bigotry, hatred and fear, and with far too much time on their hands? I am undecided, but Beard's posting deserves a wide readership and I hope it prompts an examination of conscience by those who parade their vitriol on the internet under the mask of anonymity. 


  1. A Woman Not A Troll24 January 2013 at 15:23

    But Tina, everyone thinks you are pretty and attractive, no-one would apply the same criticisms to you as Mary Beard, who relies on her intellect aned learning.
    It is unworthy of you to bracket yourself with her and certainly to claim victim sisterly solidarity with her.

    The reason why you are attacked is because you depart from the mainstream Catholic and Orthodox belief. It is your teaching not your feminity, you are being judged as a theologian and someone who speaks as a Catholic, and someone who has influence on many Cathic institutions.

  2. A message to Anonymous: Thank you for your comment, which I am not publishing here because it refers to a Facebook posting and not to anything I have put on my blog, it names somebody I did not name, and it divulges information about that person which is not in the public domain as far as I know. Nevertheless, my whole point is that using the internet to hurt others personally rather than to engage in informed and reasoned debate is unacceptable, and I have therefore removed that post from my Facebook site. It was making a general point but I accept that it could be taken personally and I would not wish to cause unnecessary distress.

  3. I agree with much of what you write here. Mary Beard clearly has been on the receiving end of some filthy attacks. Women online in general are undoubtedly subject to particularly nasty onslaughts when they offer their views. There is a general difficult in knowing how to deal with internet trolling. Those of us who remain anonymous online have a particular duty not to abuse that anonymity.

    I don't know everything you've been on the receiving end of, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of it wasn't also quite horrible. But some of the criticisms that have been levelled at you, although personal, are attacks on your judgment or on your commitment/loyalty to the Church. I'm not going to suggest that all of those will have been fair or expressed as politely as one would hope. But in principle, when you're dealing with someone who is acting in a teaching capacity, judgments about what might be described loosely as epistemic virtues are going to involve character and thus are unavoidably personal. In particular, judgments about who to invite or not to invite to speak are judgments about a person: roughly, how fruitful that person is going to be in speaking in that situation. That doesn't excuse incivility. But it probably does mean that a certain amount of personal distress is unavoidable when criticisms are made.


Comments and contributions are welcome so long as they respect the rules of courtesy and respect, which is not to inhibit robust disagreement.