As I’ve learned recently, people really like to give advice to those who have experienced online harassment, threats, and abuse. I could write a blog series simply collecting all the unsolicited advice (ranging from useful to absurd) that people (ranging from close friends to complete strangers) have taken it upon themselves to offer me after people started harassing me online. (For the backstory on my experiences with online harassment, see my blog series here, here, here, here, and here.)
One popular piece of advice is that targets of harassment should minimize their online presence. “You’re making things worse for yourself by writing about this,” is a refrain I’ve heard lately. “You should minimize your online presence, stop blogging, take down your photographs, deactivate your Facebook account, stop tweeting, pull your picture and your CV off your faculty profile, stop commenting in online forums, and just generally disappear for a while.” From talking to other people who have been targeted for online harassment, I know this advice is common.
A lot of the time — not always, but a lot of the time — this kind of advice comes from straight white men (who, in the aggregate, experience a disproportionately low amount of harassment) and is directed at women, people of color, sexual minorities, and other groups (who experience harassment at exponentially greater rates). One of life’s mysteries is why people who have never experienced much (or any) online harassment themselves believe themselves so abundantly qualified to dispense advice to those who have. Another mystery is why these people think their words of wisdom will be welcome: as Lindy West has said, “I’m sick of being told that I’m navigating my own abuse wrong.” And yet another mystery is why these people think their “keep a low profile” advice is some sort of brilliant revelation: do they really believe that someone who’s the target of egregious sexual harassment on Twitter every single day hasn’t thought about deleting her Twitter account?
All that is a topic for another blog post. This blog post is about why, for many people, the “keep a low profile” advice is not just condescending and obnoxious. In many cases, it’s also really bad advice.