How should I respond to an online attack?
More than ever, online attacks have become a priority tool of members of the extreme right, who use social media to try and punish political opponents—particularly women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ and gender non-conforming communities. The attacks are often brutal, relentless and overwhelming.
The first thing to understand about this kind of attack is that it’s a technique of fascist movements that right-wing extremists have adopted. It’s not personal and it’s not intellectually honest.
Second, if your work makes you a target of right wing attack, you may consider taking some precautionary steps before any attack happens. The steps you take are optional and depend on trade offs that make sense in your life. They may include: create separate online identities for your work and personal life – be vigilant and avoid any cross referencing. Check you organizing web pages and bios – and remove any unnecessary personal information and contact information (e.g. avoid publishing your cell phone number). If you have meetings at your house, send the address to people who are attending rather than publishing it publicly. Run web searches on your name and see what comes up. If you see something you don’t like, try to have it removed.
When you feel you may be under attack on social media, i.e. you’re seeing a trend among several posters (not just one bothersome individual who can be ignored), do the following:
- Immediately inform your organization or the group you are working with. Explain the attack and then ask to collectively draw up a plan of action and share the work to implement it. Your plan must ensure your safety – both your mental health and also your physical safety are at risk, as is the safety of your families and friends (who are also vulnerable to attack as ways of getting at you). This step is critical and must be completed before you continue.
- Make sure you agree on one important principle: you are not leaving that social media platform or the Internet. Nobody can chase you away from your rightful place where you do your life’s work.
- Immediately let your network and everyone following you on Facebook and Twitter know that you are being attacked online.
- Make a statement. One strong answer is enough. Don’t get into name calling and back-and-forth responses. That’s how they derail your work. Also, have your organizational colleagues respond as well. This way the attackers realize they are engaging with more than one person.
Your responses aren’t meant to convince the attackers of anything. They aren’t thinking. The point of the responses is to convince on-lookers and confused people who might somehow be swayed or have their buttons pushed by right-wing rants. Saving those people is, after all, part of your work.
- Continue making posts and doing your work without slowing down. They only win when they stop your work.
While hiding may seem easier and more reasonable, it gives the harassers a harmful victory. It weakens our movement by taking away one of our activists. Responding sharply might momentarily increase the attacks, but it will also build movement and support in the long run.