Ignoring, Muting or Blocking Abusers

Ignoring Muting Or Blocking

Ignoring abusers (often aided by Twitter’s ‘mute’ button, which prevents you from seeing their tweets) and, in more extreme cases, blocking them (an option available across many platforms), may well be the most common responses to online abuse.

They are important means for women and gender minorities to carry on with their online lives without getting bogged down by harassment.

They are also ways to say to abusers, ‘You matter so little, I won’t even bother qualifying what you say with a response’.

I get emails from random email IDs which are not easy to trace and track. Quite often, many of them are hateful abusive mails. They don’t deserve my attention. I just ignore and delete them.

- Tripti, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand

The other thinking behind this approach is the now-famous logic, ‘don’t feed the trolls’. A 2015 study by Stanford and Cornell looking at how abuse evolves online points out that ‘trolls’ get more responses than average users, suggesting they might be more successful in ‘luring’ others into abusive conversation. If you don’t give them fodder, be it through simply ignoring or actively blocking, they might feel less encouraged to perpetuate the behaviour.

Whether or not you buy this logic (check out ‘engaging with abusers’, 'making abuse public', ‘humour’ and ‘contacting an abuser’s family, friends or employer’ for reasons why you might actually want to feed the trolls), not reacting to it is a way many of us deal with abuse.

In September 2015, Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor responded to a four-day meat ban in Mumbai:

Twitter user Sonam Kapoor tweets about misogyny in India.

People did not take it well.

Twitter user retaliates calling her a 'bimbo' making a fool of herself. Sonam Kapoor responds to say that this proves her point.

Despite a valiant fight against her harassers (which you can check out in its entire fiery glory here), Sonam was advised by several people in the Twitterverse to ignore the abuse.

Here’s journalist Barkha Dutt, who is no stranger to online abuse herself, advocating that she ignore these ‘bullies’:

Twitter user Barkha Dutt sends a message of support to Sonam Kapoor that they are bullies, and asking Sonam Kapoor to ignore them.

And one of her followers explaining with a meme (more on the usefulness of memes here) why blocking is the way forward:

Twitter users share messages of support to Sonam Kapoor. Oneof them has a meme of Leonardo DiCaprio giving a toast with the words 'blocked!!! cheers.'



In fact, many advocate ignoring as the best way to deflect abuse.

During the trolling of a Twitter hashtag designed to help women and gender minorities talk about online abuse (which you can read more about here), this was one of the most popular memes used in defiance:

Twitter user says "When you thinking abt responding to Twitter trolls, remember the words of the wise. #TakeBackTheTech" with a picture of a woman in a gray t-shirt that quotes Rosa Parks saying 'Nah.'

Janice Fouts, a social media coach, writes on her website:

Ignore them. Trolls exist for the spotlight. Often ignoring them will either make them simply go away or they’ll say even more ridiculous things making them look foolish and desperate.

Similarly, Muksaan, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand, says:

I don’t want to engage… They want attention, and when they don’t get it, they stop eventually.

Takeaway

Ignoring or muting abusers is a refusal to give them the attention they are seeking.

In 2015, when 23-year-old tennis player Heather Watson was competing in the Wimbledon grand slam, she was subjected to a vicious slew of online abuse. She said in an interview:

I've had people threatening to kill me and kill my family, wishing that I get cancer and die a slow, painful death. Horrible words I couldn't even think up in my head, to be that mean.

But ultimately, she didn’t feel it was worth getting into.

I've had so many now that it doesn't mean anything to me. I don't want to get too involved in other people's opinions and thoughts of me because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter.

Remember: just because you don’t engage, that doesn’t mean you’re weak or scared. Ignoring, muting or blocking abusers are perfectly valid means of self-preservation, as well as of letting abusers know that you just do not give a shit.

Takeaway

Ignoring, blocking or muting abusers prevents you from getting sucked into what might be an emotionally draining conversation.

To make ignoring abusers even easier, the tech companies have started to lend a hand.

Twitter allows you to mute notifications from specific kinds of accounts - all at once. Freshly-minted fake profiles coming at you? Mute all new accounts. No time to humour the rage of absolute randos? Mute notifications from all the accounts you don't follow.

Check it out.

Screenshot of the Notifications > Settings page of a Twitter user. There are options to mute notifications in a number of filters. For example, mute people you don't follow, mute people who don't follow you, mute people who have a default profile photo etc.


And with Facebook Messenger, you can just choose to 'ignore' a conversation - which is great if you don't want to deal with your abuser's direct messages to you. Your conversation will instead be moved to a separate channel for unverified messages so that you don't need to keep seeing abusive garbage in your main inbox. Plus, your abuser remains in the dark, and won't ever be notified that the messages are being ignored.

Takeaway

Some platforms allow you to automate ignoring specific abusers, so you have to spend even less time dealing with them.

Ignoring abuse doesn’t only mean ‘ignore and forget it ever happened’. In fact, while many women and gender minorities might initially ignore abuse, they simultaneously strategise about what to do if the abuse crosses a certain line. One such strategy is to collect evidence of the abuse.

Best thing I do is keep a screenshot and shut up, unless the person is running a hate campaign. Then I will take steps.

Kalpana, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand

Even if you are ignoring or muting the abuse, collecting evidence is also a good idea in case you ever need to file a legal complaint.

Actress Mihika Verma received abuse from a man on her official Facebook fan page. She says:

I try to read messages and even reply to some if I have the time. I was scrolling through messages and saw these messages from a man, which was written in such bad language that I was quite disturbed. He even abused my brother.

Mihika initially considered making the post public,

Like the Delhi girl who posted the sleazy messages sent to her by a random guy online, I also thought I'd do the same.

but eventually decided against it:

But I have decided to give the man the benefit of doubt and not take any action against him. He is someone from Meerut who is currently settled in Noida. I have blocked him and in case he tries to harass me by creating some other profile, I will make his name public and also file a complaint against him with the cyber crime cell.

In this way, the decision not to engage or make abuse public is often coupled with a plan of action about what to do if abuse goes any further. Where the line of ‘further’ lies varies from person to person, and depends on a range of factors including the type of abuse and the context in which it occurs.

Takeaway

Even while ignoring abuse, there are things you can do to prepare yourself in case the situation worsens. This includes taking screenshots and storing evidence.

Blocking abusers is often seen as a stronger action than ignoring or muting, and is commonly employed. Blocking prevents communication between two users, and is an option available on many platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and some blogging platforms.

Sowmya, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand, says that she chooses to blog on Wordpress because of its blocking feature – something that platforms like Blogger don’t provide. On Wordpress, users’ IP addresses are visible, and you can block those IP addresses you don’t want interactions with.

Rishika, also interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand, recalls the first time she was heavily abused, or trolled, on Twitter.

Like an idiot I responded to even people who were abusive to me. I thought that if I’d engage/explain, they will change – and they didn’t. I started blocking after I realised that I am not here to please everyone.

In July 2015, Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma explained that blocking was now her go-to strategy in the face of ongoing abuse and harassment on Twitter.

Twitter user Anushka Sharma says "Trying to keep my Twitter positive (well as positive as possible) so will BLOCK people who rant nonsense with no sense of responsibility."

Credit:India Today

Takeaway

Blocking an abuser prevents all communication between the two of you, and can be useful way to stop large volumes of abuse.

Is blocking always the best strategy? It might be for you, but one failing is that it doesn’t always take other women and gender minorities into account.

Blocking is good for my peace of mind, yes! But they don’t disappear. Imagine there is a harasser on the road. You might have dealt with him but then there are still other girls on the road.

– Sumona, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand

One way around this is to share your ‘block lists’ with each other, so that you can warn other people about the dudes who haven’t been the best behaved.

In July 2015, Twitter added a new function to its settings that allows users to share lists of the people they’ve blocked with each other. Previously only possible via mutual aid technologies such as Block Chain or Block Together, this positive move by Twitter allows like-minded users to import or export ‘block lists’ and collectively identify abusive handles.

Screenshot of the Blocked accounts > Settings page of a Twitter user. Advanced options on this page include exporting and importing block lists.


Takeaway

By sharing your block lists with others, the dudes who don’t really know how to behave will not only be stopped from harassing you, but also might not get the chance to misbehave with other folks either.

In Summary

Ignoring, Muting or Blocking Abusers

  • Ignoring, muting or blocking abusers are important ways for women and gender minorities to carry on with their online lives without getting bogged down by harassment.
  • Many folks (and studies) believe that if you ‘don’t feed the trolls’ and respond, they will leave after some time.
  • Ignoring or muting abusers helps you to stay away from emotionally draining conversations.
  • It also doesn’t give abusers what they want the most: your attention.
  • Blocking abusers is a useful way to stop large volumes of abuse.
  • A growing range of platform features makes ignoring and blocking abusers easier than it ever was before, and sometimes allow you to even do so collectively, making the Internet a safer place for all.