In September 2015, Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor responded to a four-day meat ban in Mumbai:
People did not take it well.
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’:
And one of her followers explaining with a meme (more on the usefulness of memes here) why blocking is the way forward:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blocking an abuser prevents all communication between the two of you, and can be useful way to stop large volumes of abuse.