Trolling: which hornets’ nest have you kicked?

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

We all kick different hornets’ nests. Whatever you write, whether it’s vegan recipes, erotica, news or even lighthearted comedy, at some point or another you’ll have to deal with a gang of angry people who really want you to stop. You’re too X, not enough Y, you’ve pissed off someone’s idol or what have you. Mentioned something controversial. Unless you want to be either bland or silent, you’ll write things that stir up emotions. You offer your opinion. Make an argument. Tell a story.

And in doing so, you’ll probably kick a hornets’ nest.

Helpful criticism versus trolling

Criticism can be hard to deal with – particularly if it’s dismissive of something you’ve put a lot of time into. It can sometimes be fun, if you think of a satisfying snarky comeback to someone who doesn’t deserve a full response. It’s also often helpful, because it makes you examine things you might not have considered before.

That’s not the kind of criticism I’m talking about here, though. Many a thoughtful commenter has pulled me up on something and made me examine the way I’ve been thinking or what I’ve said. Those aren’t the hornets’ nests though: the hornets nests are the ones which do nothing but sting. And sting. And sting. They have no hope of changing your mind, and you’ve no hope of changing theirs, so you just hope to fuck they go away soon.

Recently I gave a talk on trolls – about what to do when they come and bombard you in comments or on social media, or even in your inbox. You know you have to do something, but you’re not sure exactly what. Delete? Reply? Cry?

I used examples of comments that troubled me. Libellous ones, threatening ones, incomprehensibly twatty ones. We had a good laugh, talked through options, and in the Q+A other people opened up about their own comments: the different hornets’ nests they’ve kicked. It occurred to me that most of the examples I used had a very particular flavour: misogyny. Men’s Rights Activists, Pick-Up Artists (or fans of them) or armchair evolutionary psychologists convinced that because they saw a documentary about lions fucking they’re sure all men are proto-rapists.

They’re my hornets. I kick their nest by talking about feminism, and they come to sting the fuck out of me. But in discussing this with other bloggers, I realised my view on the likely ‘hot topics’ has been skewed by what I write about. Although I’ll kick MRA hornets’ nests, other people’s experiences come from different groups altogether.

One other blogger explained that she’s more likely to get stung by angry, body-shaming women. People who have sucked up the idea that naked pictures equal attention-seeking, and will pontificate by telling sex bloggers to ‘put it away’ or offering their unsolicited critique on every inch of that person’s body. Like one of those creepy magazines circling cellulite with a mean red pen.

Someone else had kicked the religious hornets’ nest – a huge, terrifying structure built over centuries. Ironically, while extremist religion is usually deeply divisive, the extremists can still bond by joining together in condemnation. The furious Christian unites with his angry Muslim brother to drop dog-turds of hate into someone’s email inbox.

As you can tell, I’m not religious. But I’m not Richard Dawkins either – flailing wildly with every limb in the hope of disturbing as many hornets’ nests as possible (perhaps in a mistaken search for precious honey). It’s as possible to be a loving, tolerant Christian or Muslim as it is to care about men’s issues without doggedly haranguing me about rape. I just wish all of them knew that.

If you’re struggling with online harassment, DJFet’s guest blog has some great practical and psychological tips. 

How do you prevent trolling?

Is there a way to stop people trolling you? Well, sort of. You can – if you like – avoid kicking the nest. Try not to comment on topics you think are tricky, or edit your posts until it’s impossible for anyone to tell what you’re really trying to say. But it’s hard to tell which nest you might disturb until you’ve put your size 10s straight through the walls, and the hornets are swarming around your head shouting “BUT WHAT ABOUT FALSE RAPE ACCUSATIONS AND JESUS WANTS YOU TO PUT YOUR TITS AWAY YOU FAT SLAG” and you wish someone would come along with a can of insect repellant before you’re stung beyond recognition.

The only way to avoid kicking a hornets’ nest is to never take a walk in the woods.

But that’s no fun at all.

You could try to become immune, I guess. Be so ‘challenging’ that there isn’t a hornet alive who doesn’t want to sting you in your shitty, ‘controversial’ face. I call this the ‘Katie Hopkins’ route (for Americans – Katie Hopkins is what Donald Trump would be if you treated him with the contempt he deserves). The Hopkins route is an option, of course. But it’s a shit one too.

So what do you do about trolling?

Welp. I’m not your mother, your priest or your boss, so I won’t tell you what you should do. But here’s what I do: I accept that I’m going to kick the odd hornets’ nest or two, and I take advantage of all the tools there are to help me deal with the stings when they arrive. Reporting options on social media, snarky responses, the support of my friends and family. Sometimes I get in touch with particularly supportive commenters to say thanks – so they know that their help in dealing with the hornets is appreciated. I have a filter on my gmail labelled ‘possible entitled douchebag’ so that when someone I provoked six months ago pops up again, I don’t fall into conversation with them before I realise that last time it ended with me asking them to please stop. Sometimes I mute people on Twitter. Sometimes (although only in super-extreme cases), I use the ‘delete’ button. And fuck it – sometimes I pour myself a big gin and tonic, stick a weepy film on to catalyse the misery, and I cry and cry and cry.

Lindy West – one of my writing heroes – regularly not just kicks but stamps on misogynist hornets’ nests. In my head I’m picturing her wearing big Doc Martens and a ‘fuck you’ grin. Because that is how I always imagine Lindy West – a larger, brighter, fiercer version of my internal self-image. The warrior I’d love to be. On a one-woman mission to destroy hateful shits wherever she comes across them.

But of course she isn’t magic – she’s just human. As we all are. Sometimes we have to delete, sometimes reply, and sometimes drown our sorrows in gin.

It’s scary to kick the hornets’ nest, and it hurts, but the hurt shows that you give a shit – you’re not at ‘Trump’ stage yet. And seeing you fighting might inspire others to fight too. Your answer might be to delete awful comments and emails. You might report them. You might weep. But whatever your choices, mine is this: I’ll do anything and everything other than stop.


  • Hazelthecrow says:

    Good, don’t ever stop! Lindy is a legend. its funny you picture her just the same way i do :-)

  • Great advice, and it’s inevitable at some point.

  • Bekah Rigby says:

    Keep it up! We need you to keep kicking those fuckers’ nests.
    For me, personally, the biggest sting I got was when I wrote an intentionally humorous piece about how my vagina was too fat. It was meant to be sarcastic and satiric. Obviously my vagina is not too fat. Like, it’s not eating cheetos or anything. It was commentary on the fact that body shaming is getting so fucking ridiculous that we’re now evaluating the “fatness/thinness” of a body part over which we have zero control.
    And, holy shit, did some people hate that.
    I was called everything you can imagine: a slut (because I have a vagina?), a bigot (because I wrote from a cisgendered woman’s point of view), and an enabler of obesity (because, duh, obviously I want everybody to get the diabetes.)
    My theory: The human race needs to collectively take a fucking Xanax. Seriously, if you don’t like somebody’s blog post, write your own. It’s not that hard.
    Anyway, as always, love, love, LOVE your posts! They’re always thought-provoking.
    (Also, I still maintain that my vagina is perfect. Plump, perhaps. But still perfect.)

  • I usually console myself with the fact that the calibre of assclown who comes after me must mean I’m doing something right ;) And I think that’s true of you, as well.

  • Moyamygirl says:

    Dear GOTN
    A few weeks ago I made the following comment on Michael Knights sex blog – he had posted an image of his wife kneeling on a burial slab in the aisle of a church, lifting her dress and presenting her naked arse to the alter.
    I wrote ‘This is unappealing – I am not religious but respect the sentiments of those who may be. To bring your sexual kink into a place where people worship their deity shows lack of respect for others and immaturity.
    Just as an afterthought would you have been so cavalier with your use of a religious site if it had been a mosque and the place of worship of our Muslim brothers’.
    My comment to Michael appeared to stir up a bit of a hornet’s nest for you GOTN as you replied to it on his site stating that use of religious iconography as part of a sexual kink should be acceptable and inquiring as to whether I was Islamaphobic. Moreover, I cannot but help think that your above post regarding ‘someone’ being trolled by ‘furious Christians’ uniting with ‘angry Muslims’ refers to my original post to your friend Michael that you took umbrage with.
    Firstly I would like to say that I am not a troll. Neither am I a furious Christian. I have been a single parent for the last 11 years and as a qualified social worker well aware of research that finds children from broken homes are more likely to be disadvantaged. As such I chose to raise my two kids with proven protective factors such as lots of clubs, emphasis on doing well educationally – and attending a child friendly local church.
    I am not necessarily a Christian as I explained in my comment to Michael – neither are my kids as they were brought up to explore spirituality; my 19 year old is a vegan who leans towards Buddhism my 15 year old recognises the value of a spiritual side to life but is not necessarily a Christian either. We are tolerant of other people’s beliefs and faiths and I do not take offence at the use of religious iconography as part of a kink as you suggest I do.
    I also do not take offence at the photos of Molly’s naked buttocks out and about in the foliage and flora of the UK or in amongst our tourist sites as have been posted previously on Michael’s blog. However I do think there is a tangible difference between using religious props to satisfy a kink and entering what is in effect a sacred site for some – one that has been consecrated using holy water (holy to the members of that sect) in order to present your bare arse to the alter for a photo-shoot.
    Christians and especially Catholics who believe in transubstantiation – and that the alter represents Christ, genuflect, bow and during a service do not turn their back on the alter. To therefore see a photo of a woman in effect ‘mooning’ at an alter I found highly disrespectful to those that hold that site sacred. Just as I found it highly disrespectful when an colleague of mine refused to take her shoes off to enter a temple as was required by the beliefs of those that worshiped there.
    Once again I am not calling into question the choice of a mentally capacious adult’s usage of religious iconography. I am merely highlighting the fact that a consecrated building such as a church is not iconography. Furthermore that it could be considered offensive by those that hold those type of sites sacred to use them to indulge a fetish that involves presenting naked buttocks to the most revered part of said building Presumably consent was not sought from those that have a vested interest in the building ie those that worship there and their priest.
    As far as my comment suspecting that Michael will not follow up the church photo with a similar one inside a mosque with bare arsed Molly, kneeling towards Mecca – that was a simply meant to highlight the dis-respectfulness of the church image and questioning whether given the current world climate ( In terms of us here in the UK and attacks in Europe by factions that have interpreted religious doctrines in a way that incites medieval barbarism and murder) Michael would be up for equality re which major religion he was prepared to be disrespectful towards. This question does not make me islamaphobic GOTN

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hi there – when I refer to hornet’s nest, I’m referring to stirring up large groups of people – people with whom you’re unlikely to ever agree (and vice versa) but who will not let things go, or accept that it’s possible to agree to differ without slinging insults and (occasionally) threats. I wasn’t referring to you, and I’ve had to go back and work out what exactly it was we were discussing. As I mentioned in the blog post, these were things that came up in discussion after the talk, mentioned by other bloggers.

      So, to your first point: I didn’t mean you.

      To your next point – “Furthermore that it could be considered offensive by those that hold those type of sites sacred to use them to indulge a fetish that involves presenting naked buttocks to the most revered part of said building” No, I don’t think ‘consent’ or ‘offence’ of people who a) aren’t present and b) don’t know is anything people should be concerned about. If it were, the church would have us all chaste until death. What’s more, if Molly’s bare arse was the worst thing that had ever happened in a Church I’d be a seriously happy woman.

      To your final point: yes, that does make you Islamophobic, I’m afraid. If your concern is people disrespecting your church, why bring up someone else’s church (and a hefty assumption that that ‘someone else’ is necessarily violent) to support your point? You’re effectively saying ‘why insult THIS church, and not THAT one, where the people in it will kill you for insulting them?’ The assumption of violence is Islamophobic, as is the assumption that your church is inherently more worthy/forgiving. What’s more ‘go say that to Muslims!’ is a tactic frequently used by the religious right to try and imply that they are more reasonable/put upon than any other religion, often while they fight to take other people’s rights away.

      So no. I don’t agree, I didn’t mean you, and I do think you’re Islamophobic.

    • Michael says:

      I have responded to your response to my post as well as this response to GotNs response over at This D/s Life

      I may be responded out ;-)


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