This is a series of posts designed to help people approach diversity and inclusion. These are questions and scenarios we’ve actually heard or seen in the wild. This is part of our corporate programming for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. For more information, click here.
Question: I am a woman who is very outspoken about issues of sexism and racial justice, but lately I have experienced a large amount of pushback by trolls. I am afraid of being doxxed, or worse. Is this a real fear, or am I being paranoid?
Attacks by online trolls and the fear of being doxxed is absolutely real in today’s social media and cyber worlds and your unease is certainly well founded. Doxxing – a revenge tactic used by hackers where they drop documents or “dox” with malicious or revealing information – is especially terrifying as online attackers can expose you to potential harassment, loss of employment, and identity theft. This not only affects you but your family, your children, your safety and your financial well-being.
The most common response to being doxxed is fear, as you mentioned, if not outright panic. Feeling vulnerable is understandable. Especially when there are a lot of angry people on the internet who rely on doxxing to “win” an argument. Any comment of yours speaking up against these systems of oppression has the potential to draw the wrath of an internet mob. Doxxing is intentionally designed to violate your sense of security and cause you to shut down, panic, or lash out.
So first, let’s address these cowards in the online room, shall we? These trolls and doxxers are really just cyber-bullies who think they can anonymously heckle people without consequence. This form of bullying is used by cowardly people who live in fear and attack versus having a generative discussion which might actually allow both parties to connect or grow.
I myself have been a victim of very nasty trolls and hurtful bullies on my series, The Antiracist White Chick. I found when I engage with these online weasels, they gain steam and lash out even more. I finally, albeit painfully, learned to ignore these trolls…and they really hate being ignored. I also block anyone that is derogatory or hateful as I don’t think I can truly reach these people and I don’t want to engage that energy. Unless there is a direct threat to your life, which you should report, I suggest simply ignoring or blocking these cowardly bullies.
That being said, it is very important to stand up against offensive behavior in all interactions, including social media, as you are being called to do. So let’s look at the incredible company you keep with those who have been outspoken on freedom, rights, and equality before you – and the kinds of trolls they had to deal with. Looking at how the bullies of the past and present have tried to silence leaders might put your fears into perspective. Before cyber-attacks, nonviolent movements speaking out against the very topics of racism, sexism, and more were met with federal ambivalence, violence through mass arrests, violence from mobs and police, jail beatings, lynchings, church bombings, assassinations, and murder.
A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind in regard to the trolls who have always been present in various forms of our country’s history,
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
So I ask you, in these times of online bullying and attacks, where do you stand in the challenge of fighting for your rights as a woman, as well as others’ rights as human beings?
Dr. King Jr. also said, “Those who stand up for justice will always be on the right side of history.” As a true ally, which side of history do you want to be on? The side that was silenced by anonymous bullies or the side that stood up for and voiced what is right?
Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter and a queer Black woman who is outspoken on sexism and racism as well, has said, “I mostly block and delete and keep it pushing…It’s, like, way too much energy. I’m trying to fight much greater things than a troll on Twitter.”1
When Patrisse gained visibility on a global level with BLM, the increase of threats became very real. “With that type of visibility comes a lot of backlash. I had no idea. I had heard about racists going after people at a Black Panther party during the Civil Rights Movement, but you don’t think that it’s going to happen to you, at least I didn’t. Once it did, and I started receiving death threats and the trolling, there’s not much you can do to prepare yourself for those moments. Just be in it and grow tougher skin….What I do believe in is a deep and profound love for Black people and our freedom, and knowing that when we get free everyone else gets free.”2
Even recently, on June 10th, 2021, Cullors-Brignac posted about threats from the FBI – her own government – as seen here:
“FBI contacted me yesterday. Another threat on my life. Separate from the threat I received last year. I receive death threats via email, phone calls, and via my social media. An abolitionist world means an end to white supremacist threats and violence.”
Knowing you are standing tall in times of challenge and fighting alongside some of the most brilliant and brave people of our time – on the right side of history – can hopefully ease your paranoia about these faceless online cowards.
You are a strong woman who can use your voice to make change for the good. You are helping others by voicing your beliefs and helping them voice their own, in turn. I feel that as a woman speaking out on the issues of sexism and racism – systems that have been built to oppress and deny groups of human beings their basic rights – you should be very proud of yourself. And in holding that pride, you hold your power. Trolls find that threatening which is why they might try to silence you. They fight because they know you’re right. They fight because they are scared.
But if you own your voice, if you own what you know is right in your heart and soul, you then own your power. And when you own your power, you empower others. You pass it on. Those in the know, those in the truth, those on the right side of history don’t have to weaken others to empower themselves. They empower others to empower others to empower onwards. Use your power for the good and don’t let anyone silence you or dim your fire. Burn it brightly and use it to burn all the systems of oppression down.
The people who hate and cowardly attack others are coming from a place of fear. The question is, is your reaction fear-based as well? If so, they win. But when you come from a place of love, we all win. Fighting for equal rights for people of every color, class, ability, non-binary identity, lifestyle, sexual orientation and beyond is not an easy path. But is the path of love. And when you come love, you can never lose.
The choice is yours to make and I agree the fear of trolls and doxxing is real. But as an ally, I ask you to ask yourself, “Is my voice, my power, my point of view needed in this world? Will what I say affect change and help someone grow, think, or transform their attitude on these important issues? Am I coming from a place of love?” If you say yes to any of these things, as an ally, I think you have the answer to your own question.
(There are many ways to prevent the likelihood of being doxxed as well as steps you can take if you become a doxxing victim, all of which can be researched and easily found online.)
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Patrisse Khan-Cullors, author
New York : St. Martin’s Press 
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