Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online

Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online - Bailey Poland

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I don't read non-fiction that often, so when I do, I always want those books to be good, to teach me something, and/or to make me think. I guess this one was all three? I pretty much "enjoyed" reading it—from an academic point of view, because let's be honest, the problems it describes aren't so savoury, and it's such a shame they're still here in 2016. Interesting, too, was how I could discuss it with a couple of friends, and they hadn't necessarily realised either all that online harrassment involves: not just the insulting posts/tweets/interactions, but how all those get dismissed so easily, and by basically everybody and their dog, under the umbrella of "don't feed the trolls" and "if you don't like it, just turn off your computer".

Because not feeding offenders doesn't mean they'll stop: what they want is not always attention, but the feeling that they've "won" by driving you away.

Because "just turn the computer off" is not a solution, especially not in our age where every potential recruiter and employer looks you up on the web, and if you don't maintain some kind of online presence, you're not good enough, but if what they find are blogs and profiles defaced by abusers, it's even worse.

Because, sadly but unsurprisingly, it still all ties into the "blame the victim" culture; into victims being the ones who must waste time and make efforts to get rid of the abuse; into (yes, once again) the fact that women and minorities get a lot more abuse than ye olde middle-class white guy—and that it's about abusers demanding that their victims waste their time on them, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

I've been lucky so far in terms of abuse, but I've lived in bad places offline and I know what it is to get cat-called by shady guys in the street, who then proceed to insult you when you don't drop everything you're doing to turn all your attention to them. So, yeah, when we have to contend with that shite online as well? Not good.

Sadly here as well, people who'd benefit most from reading such a book (in order to realise why it's not okay—or that we've called their BS long ago and the only ones they're fooling is themselves) won't read it, won't care, will probably abuse the author, whatever. Nevertheless, I think this would be food for thought for many, many other people: it's amazing (and worrying) how easy it is to internalise that culture of abuse, to react ourselves with mild aphorisms like "just block them", as if ignoring what's happening will make it vanish by magic. Tiny little details that we continuously feed into our own daily narratives, poisoning ourselves, even when we're obviously against abuse and behave in civil ways otherwise.

The author provides quite a few examples of abuse situations or larger events like the Gamergate, showing how abusers behave, and what kind of dangers this can all lead to, ranging from personal and professional issues to physical wounds and worse (revealing information like Social Security numbers and addresses, for the targets to be abused offline as well).

The one thing I found a little difficult at times was the academic style, which was dry in places, and sometimes seemed to repeat itself (possibly in attempts to keep it to a more generic kind of language, I'd say, and prevent it from immediately being labelled as "see you're writing about abusers but you do that in an offending way"—also note the irony of, once again, having to keep ourselves in check so that the real abusers won't be able to bounce on it). On the other hand, the book as a whole is accessible and not "hard" to read and understand.

Conclusion: Important matter, dealt with in understandable ways, and deserving of being read by a wide range of people.