November 19th is World Toilet Day, a day designed to draw attention to the fact that almost one third of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a safe toilet, contributing to the deaths of around 1000 children under the age of five every single day. The first World Toilet Day was held in 2001, and it became an official “United Nations International Day” in 2013.
Anyone that knows me well enough knows that the issue of sanitation is one of my passions. It was the focus of many of my essays as an undergraduate student. It was the topic I chose for my honours thesis, and was supposed to be what my PhD research centred around (the universe apparently had different ideas on that).
So, as she does every year, a friend wished me a happy World Toilet Day on Twitter.
And then this happened:
Apparently my research interests and deep love of all things loo-related means that I hate men. It was news to me. I actually laughed out loud at Mr.CloudedByAgony’s nonsense.
I’ve previously written about the trolls I – and pretty much all women online – have encountered, and how I refuse to be silenced by the anonymous whiny dude-bros of Twitter. So, I retweeted his absurdity for all to see (and by all, I mean the small number of followers I have on Twitter):
So, after questioning his knowledge of the existence of World Toilet Day, I carried on with my day. I put some laundry on. I got started on cooking dinner. I came back to my Twitter feed to find this response:
For those of you who are like me, and had never actually heard of the word “branks” before, let me fill you in. Google informed me that: “A scold’s bridle, sometimes called a brank’s bridle or simply branks, was an instrument of punishment used primarily on women, as a form of torture and public humiliation. The device was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head.” It looks just as evil as it sounds.
At first, I got kind of creeped out. I mean, I’ve had my fair share of rape threats and violent taunts thrown at me online – although admittedly it’s much less than other women get. This, however, was a level of weirdness that I hadn’t encountered before. But then I got mad. Dealing with aggressive tweets from anonymous creepers is exhausting. It’s exhausting, unnecessary, and incessant. It becomes a never-ending cycle of reading awful (and often graphic) threats, blocking and reporting. So, I decided to check out Mr. CloudedByAgony’s other tweets. He seems like your average anonymous white supremacist, misogynistic Gamergater who likes to demean and threaten anyone who isn’t a white male.
Except that his Twitter bio mentions that he’s a single dad to four kids, two boys and two girls.
I wondered what kind of man would send such vile things to women online if he had two daughters. Surely he would be horrified if it were his daughters that were on the receiving end of tweets telling them that they’re the reason medieval torture devices were invented, right?
So, I did a little digging. It took me roughly ten minutes to discover Mr. CloudedByAgony’s real name. It took another ten minutes to work out what part of Colorado he lives in, the names of three of his four kids, and what school one of them attends.
It turns out that his anonymous hatred isn’t so anonymous after all.
I’ve often wondered if people would be so quick to fire off their missiles of hate and threats of violence online if they were unable to hide behind a username that doesn’t identify them. I wanted so badly to let him know how easily I’d worked it out, how quickly I was able to unmask a troll, using nothing but Google. I wanted to send him a private message to let him know that I’d figured out exactly who he was. But I didn’t.
For a brief moment, I felt like I’d managed to gain the upper hand on a guy that sits on the internet with the sole intent of harassing people – women in particular. I had a tiny little bit of power back in my corner, but I couldn’t use it.
I couldn’t use it because I would never stoop so low as to use the details I’d discovered about his children for my own benefit. It’s not their fault they have a father who likes to abuse people online.
But I also couldn’t it for another reason. One that I’m almost embarrassed to admit: I’m too scared. I know too well what can happen when people online decide to target a woman. I’ve seen the revolting, terrifying threats. I’ve seen the doxing and I’ve read about “swatting”. I’ve spoken to women who lives have been irrevocably changed because some guy somewhere decided that they were his target of choice.
No matter how much I want to, I won’t be letting a troll know that his vitriol is no longer anonymous, because we live in a world where men’s violence against women is so prevalent that I’m too scared to do anything with the small amount of power that I gained back last night. I’m too scared of the possible repercussions. And I hate that I’m scared. I hate that violent repercussions are even something I have to consider, but I do.
The best I can do for now is to report his tweet to Twitter, an action that’s probably futile, but that I’ll do anyway. The futile action taken by countless women around the world, over and over and over again because we live in a world where some men don’t like women to have a voice, while others don’t think online threats are serious enough to warrant real action.
I will report this creepy weirdo to Twitter, and then I’ll carry on with my life, tweeting about whatever I want, and enduring the cycle of blocking and reporting as necessary. And continuing to mark World Toilet Day with gusto every November 19th until every single person on this planet has access to a safe and hygienic toilet. Even those who threaten women online.