Death threats from strangers, simply for being a woman with an online presence, have been and continue to be directed at Bailey Poland.
“I have a very persistent stalker who shows up every few weeks and threatens to graphically murder me in some new way,” said the Findlay resident, a University of Findlay Master of Arts in Rhetoric and Writing Program student. Others have showed up at her doorstep, threatened her family members with violence and otherwise sought to instill fear by trolling and menacing. Her attackers are single loners, married men with successful careers, and everything in between, she said.
Poland’s experiences with digital male harassers, and her efforts to ensure her own safety, have been so galvanizing that she has written a 312-page book. Titled “Haters: Harassment, Abuse and Violence Online,” it addresses the often-overlooked cybersexism problem by illustrating her own personal experiences and those of others, showcasing individuals and groups that treat cyberstalking and bullying as a sport aimed at destroying the lives of randomly-targeted women, and providing historical context. She also suggests ways that lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others in authoritative positions can better assist and protect victims.
“I tried to come at the research from as many angles as possible,” said Poland. “I present the academic side of things, the day-to-day reality of what we see on the ground, the activists who are working on solutions, and I offer my proposals for what people can do going forward both as individuals and from an organizational level.”
“Haters” is available in paperback on Amazon.
Exemplifying the influence of online connectivity, the book idea originated from a paper Poland wrote for a Digital Media and Composition course. In it, she described some of the harassment she has received, and noted online that she offered trigger warnings prior to her public presentations to give audience members a chance to leave the room if they wished. “It’s gross. It’s horrifying. It’s really, really awful,” she said of the material she used from men who have digitally harassed her. Her tweets grabbed the attention of a reporter from “The New Yorker,” who quoted her in an article about the use of trigger warnings on college campuses. That story in turn sparked the interest of a University of Nebraska Press acquisitions editor. Potomac Books, an imprint of that press, has published “Haters.”
Society is behind the times in regards to effectively combating cyberstalking and harassment that sometimes leads to physical violence and death, Poland maintained. The technical aspects are frequently intimidating for those who want to help, and the nebulous nature of the online world makes it difficult for those not affected to understand the ramifications, she noted.
Many outsiders will advise, “Don’t read the comments, just grow a thicker skin, turn off your computer,” Poland said. “Those strategies don’t work. And it’s putting the burden of solving the problem on the victim, not on the people engaging in this behavior,” she added. There is a thriving internet subculture that exults in launching “abuse campaigns” which endanger women physically and psychologically, but which aren’t being addressed or taken seriously, she explained.
“Definitely the biggest issues that I see are that there’s no awareness of the problem, how to investigate it or how to help someone who’s in that situation,” Poland said. “It’s definitely frustrating to try to pin down because there’s no one solution, which I think is part of why people give up working on it. There’s no magic button that just makes everything easier. It’s a whole range of things that have to be done, and it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be fast,” she admitted.