All experiences matter: Have you tried… not sending death threats?

Sian Avery 6 February 2015

I’m going to take a brief pause from talking about welfare in general to talk about my own. More specifically, about all of the death threats I’ve been getting. Yes, death threats. It’s sad that I have  to write that. I’m 24 years old, and I’ve had more death threats made against me than is acceptable (i.e. >0). 

Last year, I was the victim of a sustained campaign of online abuse. I received over 50 anonymous threats of death and sexual violence by email. I then started receiving hundreds of text messages telling me I should kill myself. Rather ruined my Masters year, to be honest. 

This year, I wrote a piece calling out Germaine Greer for her hateful statements about trans people. Some people took exception to my article. Then the death threats started to arrive by email. The first was comparatively conservative. I should “educate myself”, and then “burn in hell.” As an ex-Catholic, that’s really just a summary of phone calls home, to be honest. Also, how am I supposed to educate myself if I am also burning in the fires of damnation? I get the impression that’s a rather full time hobby. 

It got worse. I was branded a Men's Rights Activist and told I should be violently raped and mutilated. One message was just a picture of my Facebook profile pic, defaced with offensive slogans, and with instructions to jump in front of a train. The messages didn’t have their own internal logic, just a random spew of hatred at me for daring to suggest that Greer is a nasty transphobe.

My sense of deja vu didn’t get any better after a chat with the authorities. As with my last experience of reporting harassment, despite showing proof of threats, I was treated as a bit of a nuisance. It was suggested to me that I should not write things online if people were going to threaten my life. I suggested that maybe people who disagreed with what I wrote online shouldn’t put me in fear of violence. Apparently that’s now a radical new idea. 

As I write this column, I’ve just deleted my Twitter account. I made the mistake of trying to engage with some of the trolls, and lo and behold, the death and rape threats commenced in that medium too. I've never used Twitter that much, to be honest, but now I can’t go near it without fear of some kind of insult, or worse,  threat. 

I know for a fact I’m not the only the one who’s had online abuse after expressing an unpopular opinion. Maybe it’s a comment on a news article, a Facebook post, a Tweet, or maybe someone has gone so far as to send you a threatening email. The only thing I can say is: self care is an important and valuable act.  It’s frightening to feel like the internet is shrieking hate at you. But if I could draw something positive from my experience of online harassment, it would be this: look after yourself. You don't have to pretend everything is ok.  Don't let the bastards grind you down.