My first real experience with online harassment came after I wrote a piece called “Why Does Creepy Uncle Joe Biden Get A Pass From Liberals?” on Talking Points Memo. It criticized the way the VP interacts with women on a public stage. The idea has since been written about by the media at large (Bloomberg, Time, Gawker, etc) but when it came out, I (a woman!) was the first to call bullshit on the funny Joe Biden memes. And unsurprisingly, it was not received well by the TPM audience.
I naively wasn’t prepared for what happened next. The personal insults were abound in the comments: I was a dumb idiot, a prude and a “puritanical ninny” who should get her degrees revoked. The worst was when someone dug up a reported personal narrative I wrote about growing up with an addict father. One commenter claimed I was mentally unstable and simply “projecting” my daddy issues onto Biden.
In my opinion, comments like these are blatant attempts to silence female voices. TPM ended up shutting down the comments section on the piece, but the damage was already done. My dad was pretty upset that someone called him a “terrible father,” and perhaps worse — I shied away from writing anything controversial for the rest of my time at the news organization. For a young writer, experiences like this are traumatic.
Ultimately, the “don’t read the comments” credo isn’t enough. It’s not only unrealistic — it’s a denial of the problem, when we should be working towards a solution.