By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Bailey Poland is following her own advice with the publication of her book: “Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online,” which discusses online sexism and how to fight it.
“Often what someone who engages in online harassment wants more than anything is to silence their target,” the Findlay woman said. “So sometimes the best thing you can do is just not shut up.”
A blogger and Twitter user with more than 15,000 followers, Poland is personally familiar with harassment women can face on the internet.
“It’s been years and years of a lot of harassment. It’s gotten to where I’ve had someone show up at my house,” she said.
While some topics can spark more controversy than others — video games, sports, politics and feminism, for example — no subject is immune from harassment, Poland said.
“The problem generally isn’t what women are talking about, but that women are talking at all,” she said.
A Twitter user since 2009, she’s noticed an increase in harassment as she has learned how to reach more people.
“The amount of harassment I receive is absolutely proportional to the number of followers I have and how often I tweet, but the bright side is that the amount of support has followed a similar trajectory,” she said.
She wrote a paper about sexist online harassment for a class at the University of Findlay, where she is working on a master’s degree in rhetoric and writing. When she spoke about harassment at conference presentations, she used “trigger warnings,” notifying her audiences at the beginning about unpleasant topics that would come up.
Poland also talked about her use of trigger warnings on Twitter, which caught the attention of Jay Caspian Kang, who interviewed her for an article on trigger warnings he was writing for The New Yorker.
That in turn was noticed during the summer of 2014 by an acquisitions editor from the University of Nebraska Press, who wanted to know if Poland was working on a book about online harassment, since the publishing house was looking for one.
“And I said, ‘Well, I am now,'” said Poland, who then sent sample chapters and was approved to write the whole book. “It was a very strange path and I feel really lucky that they got in touch with me.”
The book, published in November, describes types of harassment and advice for how to handle it, including how to manage security settings, find support, and figure out what personal information is online and could be removed.
“Haters” focuses mostly on harassment experienced by women, and includes advice for men who witness it.
“Often the response is to talk, you know, to that woman instead of like trying to distract the people harassing her, or intervening in a way that’s actually productive and doesn’t cause more stress,” she said.
The goal should be to get an attacker’s attention off of the woman being targeted, she explained.
Poland notes that other groups — “men, non-white men, immigrants” — can experience abuse online too. Still, there are those who don’t acknowledge harassment is a problem.
“For people who say it’s not a problem, I like to show them the file I keep on my desktop of, you know, all of the rape and death threats I’ve received,” Poland said.
While she has not faced physical violence, some harassment has warranted contacting the police.
None of that has caused her to stop talking about the problem, and she has two speaking events planned this month in Findlay.
She’ll talk at the University of Findlay at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, in Ritz Auditorium, and at Owens Community College at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30, in Room 111 of the Education Center.
Both events will likely include a reading, discussion of the excerpt, and a question and answer segment.
The Owens event will focus more on cyberbullying of students in kindergarten through 12th grade, which can be similar to harassment adults face.
“It’s offline bullying taken online, and then it doesn’t stop when the school day ends, which I think is where a lot of the more traumatizing effects come in, because kids feel like there’s no way to shut that off then. So nowhere is safe,” Poland said.