#PrivilegeGate, or, How I Unwittingly Provoked a Troll Army

Yesterday, I tweeted this study about white privilege:

The tweet got a few likes and a few retweets, mostly from other professors in my faculty. I moved on. The study’s findings aren’t unexpected: they are in line with my own experiences working with pre-service teachers on topics of race and privilege, and they line up with other research about typical responses to learning about white privilege.

Today, I opened Twitter to find that I had 65 notifications, all from people responding to my tweet in various troll-like ways (most of which, ironically, included denial of white privilege and endorsements of meritocracy).

The responses ranged from cryptic comments to derogatory personal attacks, most apparently stemming from my tweet being retweeted by Twitter user @Nero to his 116K followers. Some of the worst include these gems: Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.47.44 PM Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.47.28 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.46.58 PM Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.45.26 PM

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 6.32.41 PM Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.46.29 PM

And my personal favourite: Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.49.21 PM @Nero didn’t actually comment on my tweet, but judging from his other tweets, it seems likely that he wasn’t retweeting me to signal his approval; scrolling through his recent feed, I found this tweet, which suggests that I’m not the only one who has experienced this:

This isn’t my first encounter with Twitter trolls, and I have a fairly thick skin; as well, a little digging also told me that most of the accounts in the troll army have few followers, and some are likely fake or paid accounts set up specifically for the purpose of trolling. Nevertheless, I found the situation a bit unsettling. At the very least, it paints a pretty depressing picture of the state of society. Also, it’s hard not to wonder if the reaction would have been the same had I been a white male tweeting the same article – I’m inclined to think that the answer is a resounding “no,” given the female-targeted responses to the Gamergate controversy.

But what’s more unsettling to me is that the trolls’ responses are likely an effective intimidation technique for most people. It makes it a whole lot less appealing to discuss social justice issues online when you know you’re setting yourself up for this type of hateful personal attack. As an educator, I am a huge proponent of speaking out about these types of controversial issues on social media, and I encourage my pre-service teachers to do the same, but this encouragement now needs to come with a warning about the potential ramifications.

Luckily, the Internet isn’t all bad. I received several messages of support:

I think that last one sums it up nicely. We still have a long way to go, but we’re on the right track.

28 thoughts on “#PrivilegeGate, or, How I Unwittingly Provoked a Troll Army

  1. I’m so sorry you got hit with troll-venom. It’s sometimes hard for reasonable, intelligent people to break through the miasma of shit-disturbers.

  2. Wow (actually not-wow). I always thought this kind of stuff happened to people I don’t know. Trolls are trolls, but they’re also simply lazy; the slaktivist of an altogether different kind and end of the spectrum. My condolences to you for slogging through this crap & nastiness. Time you will never get back. Onwards…..S.

    • Thanks Sean…it’s happened before, but this was definitely worse than any of the previous times. People clearly have way too much time on their hands.

  3. What sad people who can hate like this. But, upside, I like to think that the vitriolic sh*t stingers are a minority. Most people are ambivalent.

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  9. I have read your post a couple of times. I am really sorry that this happened to you. Glad that you are able to make a positive situation out of a negative one and share this incident with our class though!

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  13. Twitter trolls–emblematic of much larger, sociocultural realities that the ‘isms’ are firmly embedded everywhere and how social media can magnify this problem. I’m glad that you chose to fight fire with fire albeit with diplomacy. Apathy and looking the other way would, I think, reinforce the problem although people need to do what would best protect them in this unique situation. As negative as the experience was to experience this online backlash directed towards you, I think you accomplished the intent of the post–discussing white privilege makes people uncomfortable and the denial of it makes people retaliate. This should tell us that we definitely have a lot more work to do.

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  19. Katia,
    Unfortunately, there are many many people in this world who are very uneducated when it comes to privileged. I find that even when talking with my friends and family, they have a tough time admitting their privileged in society, and will often get feisty versus understanding. There is always a positive bright light at the end of the tunnel, the support that others offered is the counter discourse that is need in a situation like this!! Keep up the good work.

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