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  • Writer's pictureFarah Benis

Unmasking Emotional Labour: How Online Trolls Tax Women

Image of troll comments such as "I disagree, I am absolutely special to grope, paw at and molest women. In fact where do you live" by user @brougotaboner another from @andh_bhakt__ "so all I'm hearing is you want to be beaten" another by @vlande_boio "this video caused rape to up 1%" and @skybo.1i "imma touch u"
Trolling comments on @catcallsofldn instagram

In the age of social media, where the virtual realm intertwines with our everyday lives, the concept of emotional labour takes on a new and often taxing dimension. As a woman navigating the digital landscape, I've encountered firsthand the emotional toll exacted by online trolls. My journey into this world began when I started Catcalls of London with the intention of creating a safe space for people to share their stories of sexual harassment. However, when content goes viral, the effort to moderate thousands of comments becomes a burdensome task. And the trolling began the first time I appeared on television, where it truly came to light on Instagram — a platform that has served as both a canvas for creativity and a battleground for those seeking to silence and harm.

Understanding Emotional Labour

Emotional labour, in its various forms, is a topic that extends beyond the confines of traditional workplaces. It manifests in online interactions, as individuals are confronted with the emotional demands of engaging with others. These demands, I've learned, can be particularly taxing when discussions take a turn for the worse, transforming into online harassment.

The toll it takes on mental well-being is significant. The relentless barrage of negative comments, derogatory messages, and personal attacks lends opportunity to chipping away at one's emotional resilience. While I've had the privilege of witnessing meaningful discussions and connections flourish on social media, I've also faced moments where the dark side of the digital world has left me emotionally drained.

It's in these moments that I've come to appreciate the importance of recognising emotional labour for what it is: a taxing burden that disproportionately affects women in online spaces and I've often found myself at the receiving end of gendered online trolling tactics, from sexist remarks to harassment that extends beyond the screen. As women creators, we often find ourselves investing hours in moderating, reporting, and reviewing comments that are steeped in blatant misogyny, all in an effort to protect the integrity of our platforms.

While platforms like catcallsofldn were born from a desire to empower and educate, the dark side of virality brings with it a wave of online trolling that can be emotionally exhausting. What started as a safe space can quickly become a battleground where women are forced to defend their right to be heard and respected.

Yet, there's a decision I've made when it comes to dealing with these trolls that I believe is crucial: I choose not to engage with disingenuous individuals who aren't there to engage in constructive dialogue.

Online Trolling and Gender Dynamics Across Platforms

While my journey began on Instagram, it's a troubling trend that has extended its reach across various platforms, including TikTok, Twitter (a cesspit), and even the surprising domain of LinkedIn.

The gendered nature of online trolling has become evident on these platforms, which serve as both forums for sharing ideas and professional networking. As a woman who openly expresses her thoughts and attempts to educate on various subjects, particularly violence against women and sexual harassment, I've encountered a spectrum of trolling tactics that extend well beyond Instagram.

These tactics include derogatory comments about appearance, attempts to undermine credibility, and even threats of physical harm. What's disheartening is that such attacks often appear intended to stifle the voices of women who dare to express themselves, regardless of the platform they choose.

Moreover, a disconcerting pattern emerges where some trolls, particularly men, feign ignorance on issues or put forward straw man arguments. They appear uninterested in engaging in productive dialogue or offering constructive criticism. Instead, they seem to take delight in sowing discord, spreading hate, and attempting to provoke emotional reactions. This deliberate disingenuousness adds another layer to the challenges faced by women in online spaces.

The proliferation of this troubling trend across diverse platforms underscores the need to address the issue comprehensively. As we continue to explore the dynamics of online trolling and its impact, it becomes evident that gendered harassment is not confined to a single platform or a specific tactic but is deeply entrenched in the digital landscape.

The Toll on Women's Emotional Labour

The toll of online trolling on women's emotional labour is profound. As women navigating the digital landscape, we encounter a relentless barrage of negativity that takes up an incredible amount of resource.

These online interactions demand a considerable amount of emotional resilience. The constant need to moderate comments, and filter out hate is an exhausting process. It chips away at our emotional resources, diverting our energy from positive engagements and creative expression.

This emotional labour is especially pronounced when platforms meant to provide safe spaces for sharing stories of sexual harassment, like catcallsofldn, go viral. While the intention is to create an inclusive environment, the effort required to moderate thousands of comments, many riddled with misogyny, becomes overwhelming.

Online trolls, particularly those employing gendered tactics, seek to undermine women's voices and contributions in a range of ways. Derogatory comments about our appearance and attempts to discredit our credibility are but a few examples. While in the past, I might have taken these to heart, with the wisdom of age and time, I now see them for what they truly are – small men attempting to transfer their insecurities onto others.

What stands out me in these experiences outside of the overtly vile comments is the glaring disingenuousness of certain men. Thinly veiled sexism designed to bait you into dialogue, though they have no interest in engaging in meaningful conversation or offering constructive criticism. Instead, they thrive on discord and attempts to provoke emotional reactions.

Amidst this challenging landscape, a conscious decision emerges as a vital form of self-preservation: not engaging with disingenuous individuals. Choosing not to feed the trolls who have no intention of genuine conversation is an act of reclaiming control over our emotional well-being.

This decision is not a sign of weakness or surrender; rather, it is a powerful assertion that our emotional labour is precious. We must invest it where it can yield positive outcomes and foster growth. By refusing to engage with trolls who seek to deplete our emotional reserves, we exercise agency over our own mental health and time.

The Role of Social Media Platforms

The role of social media platforms in addressing online trolling and safeguarding the mental well-being of their users is a topic of significant importance. It is on these platforms that we share our thoughts, engage with others, and express our creativity, making them a critical part of our digital lives. However, their effectiveness in handling online harassment and trolling varies considerably.

One troubling aspect that has come to light is the discrepancy in how social media platforms handle reports of abusive and harmful content. Often, reports on comments that include threats of violence, including rape threats, receive responses like "This does not go against our community guidelines." This dismissive stance raises questions about the adequacy of content moderation and the platforms' commitment to ensuring a safe environment for all users.

Conversely, my own posts discussing violence against women in an educational and informative manner have faced removal. This stark contrast in how content is treated is a cause for concern, as it suggests that some platforms may prioritize silencing meaningful discussions over addressing actual instances of abuse.

The inconsistency in content moderation policies underscores the need for social media platforms to adopt more transparent and comprehensive guidelines. These guidelines should prioritize the safety and well-being of users, ensuring that abusive and harmful content, including gendered online trolling, is swiftly addressed.

Furthermore, platforms should provide transparency in their content moderation processes, offering explanations for their decisions and allowing users to appeal when they believe their content has been unjustly removed or flagged. These steps can go a long way in building trust and creating a safer online space for women and other marginalized groups.

Coping Strategies and Support

Navigating the tumultuous waters of online trolling and gendered harassment demands resilience and self-care. Over the years, I've discovered several coping strategies that have helped me protect my mental well-being in the face of these challenges.

  • Social Media Time-Outs: One of the most effective strategies I've employed is taking regular social media time-outs. Stepping away from the digital world for a while allows me to recharge and refocus on what truly matters in my life. It's a pause that enables me to gain perspective and distance from the barrage of negativity.

  • Building a Supportive Online Community: Surrounding oneself with a supportive online community is crucial. Connecting with like-minded individuals who share your interests and values can provide a sense of belonging and solidarity. These connections often serve as a source of encouragement and empathy during challenging times.

  • Setting Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries on social media is essential. This includes defining what type of content you're willing to engage with and the limits you'll set in interactions with trolls. Setting these boundaries helps protect your emotional well-being and sends a powerful message that harassment will not be tolerated.

  • Muting and Blocking: Social media platforms offer tools like muting and blocking to help users manage their interactions. These features allow you to curate your online experience by silencing or removing individuals who engage in abusive behaviour. It's a way of taking control over your online environment.

  • Seeking Professional Support: Sometimes, the toll of online harassment can become overwhelming. Seeking support from mental health professionals or support groups can be immensely beneficial. It's essential to recognise that reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

  • Engaging in Positive Activities: Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfilment can counterbalance the negative emotions associated with online trolling. Whether it's pursuing hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or contributing to causes you're passionate about, these positive experiences can uplift your spirits.

In the face of online trolling, it's important to remember that self-care is not selfish; it's an act of self-preservation. By adopting these coping strategies and building a support system, we can better navigate the challenges of the digital landscape and protect our mental well-being.

The Way Forward

In the battle against online trolling and gendered harassment, forging a path towards a safer and more inclusive digital environment is a collective and individual responsibility. It's imperative that we not only address these issues head-on but also enlist the support of allies, including men, and leverage the strength of our communities.

  • The Role of Men in Stepping In: Men have a pivotal role to play in the fight against online harassment and gendered trolling. Allies can be instrumental in challenging toxic behaviour when they witness it. By speaking up against sexism and misogyny, men can help create a culture of respect and inclusivity online. Encouraging men to use their privilege to amplify the voices of women and marginalised groups is a powerful step towards change.

  • Communities Mass Reporting Abusive Comments: Communities have the potential to make a significant impact in combating online trolling. Mass reporting abusive comments can signal to social media platforms that certain content violates their guidelines and should be taken seriously. This collective action sends a strong message that online harassment will not be tolerated. It also places pressure on platforms to improve their content moderation systems.

  • Advocating for Clear and Comprehensive Guidelines: It's essential that social media platforms adopt clear and comprehensive guidelines that prioritise the safety and well-being of all users. Users should be educated about these guidelines to ensure a shared understanding of what constitutes acceptable behaviour. This clarity will help in the fair and consistent enforcement of content moderation policies.

  • Transparency and Accountability: Social media platforms must also enhance transparency in their content moderation processes. Providing users with explanations for content removal or flagging, as well as a robust appeals process, fosters trust and accountability. This transparency helps in rectifying instances where content is unjustly removed and ensures that platforms take appropriate action against abusive users.

  • Education and Awareness: Promoting education and awareness around online harassment is essential. Schools, workplaces, and communities should implement programs that teach digital literacy and respect in online spaces. Empowering individuals with the knowledge to recognise and respond to online harassment can contribute to a safer online environment.

  • Supporting Legislation: Advocating for legislation that addresses online harassment is a critical step forward. Legal frameworks that hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and protect victims can act as a deterrent. Collaborating with lawmakers and advocacy groups can help push for meaningful change in this regard.

As we look to the future, it's clear that combating online trolling requires a multifaceted approach that involves individuals, communities, social media platforms, and legislative bodies. By working together, we can foster a digital landscape where emotional labour is respected, harassment is condemned, and all users can engage in meaningful and constructive online interactions.

In conclusion, the way forward demands collective action, a commitment to inclusivity, and a steadfast resolve to create a safer and more compassionate digital world for everyone.

In our journey through the labyrinth of online trolling and gendered harassment, one truth shines through: the emotional toll of this digital battle is real, significant, and disproportionately borne by women.

We've explored the facets of emotional labour in the digital age, from the toll it takes on mental well-being to the disingenuous tactics employed by trolls. We've scrutinised the role of social media platforms, highlighting their responsibilities and the need for transparency in content moderation. Coping strategies have been discussed, emphasising self-care and the importance of supportive online communities. We've also examined the way forward, emphasising the role of men as allies, community action, education, and advocacy.

As we conclude, let's remember that the path to change is not easy, but it is one worth pursuing. It demands vigilance, unity, and a commitment to a digital landscape where respect and inclusivity reign supreme. By prioritising the protection of our emotional well-being, we can pave the way for a future where online spaces are safer, fairer, and more equitable for all.

The battle against online trolling is ongoing, but it's a battle we can win together. And so we continue to raise our voices, demand accountability, and work towards a digital world where emotional labour is valued, harassment is condemned, and every individual can engage in online interactions without fear. And over and over again, I remind myself that when I choose to reply, doing so with grace rather than just telling someone they're an 'oxygen thief' is the higher road, one that leads to more constructive and meaningful conversations in the digital realm.


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