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We know exactly how Jones feels: Twitter abuse can be unrelenting for outspoken black women

Septembre Anderson says many black women, herself included, know exactly how Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones feels. They've dealt with an onslaught of racial and gender violence, both individual and co-ordinated attacks, for tweets ranging from the benign to the controversial.

Sometimes logging off is the only way to escape the trolls

Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones was recently bombarded with racist tweets. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Outspoken women rarely make history. Or navigate social media un-harassed. Add blackness to that equation and you've got a recipe for social media hell.

We got a taste of that this week when Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones shared some of the hateful tweets that filled her mentions on Twitter.

"I feel like I'm in a personal hell," Jones tweeted in the midst of the social media dogpile. "I didn't do anything to deserve this. It's just too much. It shouldn't be like this. So hurt right now."

For hours, Jones was inundated with racist, sexist, hateful tweets. Her tormenters likened her to the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla Harambe, called her the N-word and created fake accounts with her name to post homophobic and anti-Semitic tweets.

"I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart. All this cause I did a movie. You can hate the movie but the s--t I got today ... wrong," Jones wrote in what at the time looked to be her final tweet (she has since rejoined).

And what triggered the storm of hate? Apparently, the North American release of Ghostbusters, a remake of the '80s classic that features an all-women cast, was just too much for some people to handle.

Many black women, myself included, know exactly how Jones feels. We've dealt with an onslaught of racial and gender violence, both individual and co-ordinated attacks, for tweets ranging from the benign to the controversial.  And, like Jones, we were temporarily or permanently run off Twitter because of the unrelenting abuse.

Recently, I spoke out in support of Toronto feminist Steph Guthrie after Gregory Alan Elliott was acquitted of criminally harassing her. I pointed out that being found not guilty in a court of law doesn't mean someone is innocent.

The hounds were released.

They tweeted me pictures and videos of penises, called me the N-word and threatened to hang me. Over a 48-hour period, I blocked at least 200 Twitter trolls.
Stephanie Guthrie was a plaintiff in a criminal harassment case in which she and another activist alleged a man harassed them on Twitter. (CBC)

Last year, I tweeted about the Toronto Caribbean Carnival and called for a more inclusive, financially accessible parade where people could participate in the party in the streets, rather than just watch from behind 14-foot fences. Trolls responded with more insults and threats, including one user who threatened to have followers harass me until I committed suicide.

Two years ago, my Twitter handle started trending because of all the venom directed at me.

My crime?

I dared to point out that the person anti-Rob Ford activists were attacking for having posted a photo of herself with the then-Toronto mayor, whom she jokingly referred to as her "boyfriend," was actually a high school girl.

72 hours of harassment

Four years ago, a man harassed me on Twitter for 72 hours straight after I tweeted about the public feud between comedy writer Jenny Johnson and singer Chris Brown. I pointed out that, while Brown was certainly wrong to beat his girlfriend, Johnson's three-year campaign of social media harassment wasn't exactly right.

For three days, no matter the hour, the troll responded to anything that I tweeted with hate and, in order to stand out from the rest of the trolls, he would torment anyone who tried to engage with me on Twitter. He called me the N-word, tweeted me pictures of penises, dismembered bodies, women being raped and threatened me with sexual violence and death.

After Day 2, I called Toronto police. The officer I spoke with told me that he didn't have the resources or know-how to do anything about the abuse. I took a Twitter break and the troll eventually stopped.

I recently looked him up on Twitter and discovered he has a new account. His most recent tweet celebrates the shooting of yet another unarmed black person in the U.S.

While Twitter permanently banned Milo Yiannopoulos, the ringleader of the Jones attack, for many black women, it's merely a token move.

When we block people on Twitter, there's nothing stopping them from simply creating a new account and continuing their harassment.
Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos has been permanently suspended from Twitter, following online abuse directed at Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

There are rarely consequences for this behaviour. Police are often ill-equipped to deal with online harassment or the laws just haven't caught up to the realities of the 21st century.

Twitter has shown users time and time again that it doesn't care about the safety of the black women who help keep it relevant and entertaining with trending hashtags, award show commentary, activism and critical analysis.

And yet we stay in this space that is equal parts uplifting, violent and useful. We learn how to spot a troll from a mile away, we block quickly and often, and we take regular Twitter breaks to recuperate from the violence that has become a daily part of our lives on the site.

Ghostbusters' Leslie Jones under hateful barrage on Twitter

7 years ago
Duration 2:08
Under a barrage of hateful posts on Twitter, Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones said she was "in a personal hell" and urged the social networking service to do more to eradicate abuse.


Septembre Anderson

Point of View

Septembre Anderson is a freelance journalist. She writes about current events and also covers fashion and beauty.