I live-tweeted the Super Bowl and got harassed. I'm still a little surprised by it, mostly because the hate and vitriol came out of nowhere.
I decided weeks ago that I would tweet during the Super Bowl, because it's a great event to tweet. Lots of people are online and there were so many promises of great Michael Jordan crying memes. And of course, the commercials would probably have some problematic stuff in them, and that's my bread and butter. So here's what happened: I tweeted about a couple of commercials using the hashtag #NotBuyingIt, which is meant to encourage people to call out sexism in commercials with the point that "misogyny doesn't sell." I love Twitter and live tweeting, so of course I participated.
Everything was going great ... and then NARAL retweeted me. NARAL Pro-Choice America is one of the biggest pro-choice organizations in the country. The politics of the account did not bother me, but I was placed on the radar of anti-choice folks who hate NARAL with a fiery passion of 1,000 suns. And now me, by extension.
Being a woman on the Internet is hard. I've heard the stories and witnessed other women being harassed online, especially women in sports. I regularly see my colleagues beating back the "trolls," so to speak. That wasn't my life, at least until Sunday. Normally when I receive anything less than kindness or civil disagreement, it is about specific topics like transgender inclusion in sport, or people saying that women's sports don't matter. That disagreement is rooted in ignorance and misunderstanding. What happened on Sunday, however, was hateful, plain and simple.
I was fat shamed, referred to as "it" because of my gender-neutral pronouns and told that I should be deported. There was also a questionable mention of suicide. No rape threats, though, so I guess that's a win?
What was most disturbing to me was that I found myself being pulled into a space mentally that is antithetical to what I believe in.
The idea of connection not bound by geography is appealing to me, especially since I grew up in a town of 1,300 people where I was always seen as different. The Internet has always been a space to expand my relationships. I also believe strongly in dialogue and in the merits of challenge. In a world where we can curate our own social feeds, it is easy to be shielded from ideas with which we disagree.
When I'm being yelled at and called names for no reason, it becomes difficult for me not to shut down and yell back, even at the people who aren't being hateful. Personally, I don't like being in that head space, where I'm so angry I just blindly lash out.
So I blocked almost everyone and feel zero remorse about it. I don't need that (and you don't, either). At first I thought that if I believe in open discussion, I should be open to having conversations with everyone. But that is unreasonable when other folks are spewing hate for literally no reason.
I did, however, have discussions with some people, and I found that to be rewarding. We didn't agree, and we probably never will, but that doesn't mean we couldn't have productive conversations. Hearing perspectives that differ from my own provides an opportunity to reaffirm my own beliefs while considering the possibility of changing my mind, or at least having a more informed opinion.
I don't want to lose that part of myself and philosophical leaning. I was shocked at what people were saying, and my first instinct was to not talk to anyone. For me as an activist and educator, that was bothersome. This won't be the last time I get flamed, but I refuse to turn into someone I'm not.
Not gonna let the haters win.
Katie Barnes is a Digital Media Associate at ESPN. Follow them on Twitter @Katie_Barnes3.