The Char­lotte Dawson case, which has now res­ulted in her hos­pit­al­isa­tion, says a lot about the way that women are treated in social media spaces and the diver­gent tac­tics that are used to address the issue.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the equally com­plex issue of how social space has now con­flated pro­fes­sional and private space to the extent that vit­ri­olic thought­less asides on “per­sonal” accounts result in real world pro­fes­sional con­sequences. (Although, it does need fur­ther ana­lysis: Tanya Heti, who is cur­rently sus­pended with pay from her job at Monash Uni­ver­sity over her role in this case, is not the first and won’t be the last; Cath­erine Deveny was fired from her role at Fairfax in a sim­ilar situ­ation of using a “per­sonal” Twitter account to mock a celebrity, but appar­ently has not been a suf­fi­ciently salutary example that it stopped the rest of the trolls.)

Internet trolls have been around since MUDs and MOOs. In other words, since before the com­mer­cial Internet as you know it. The famous 1993 art­icle, A Rape in Cyber­space, by Julian Dib­bell, was the first time they’d been talked about pub­licly. And slowly, as an ethics of the Internet grew, learning as much as it could from the cyber­worlds that had gone before it, we whispered the secret to each other: don’t feed the trolls.

Trolling is delib­er­ately taunting someone in the hope of get­ting a rise out of them. In the begin­ning, it was a way of playing with new­comers, to see if they were wise to the tricks yet. And if you could spot the troll, the delib­erate mis­in­form­a­tion or insult, and not rise to the bait, you won somehow.

The issue is this: as more and more women got involved with the Internet, pat­terns started to emerge. Trolling women was dif­ferent. It wasn’t about argu­ment or smarts any­more. It was tar­geted, per­sonal, about bodies and rape and death threats. And that’s when women decided to change their tac­tics.

It’s not that they decided, “Hey, let’s feed the trolls!” It’s more that they real­ised that “don’t feed the trolls” sounds very sim­ilar to, “Shhh, just keep quiet and it’ll be our little secret…” The tactic they moved to was about naming and shaming, calling out our attackers, describing their methods in order to disarm.

That’s what Char­lotte Dawson was doing by retweeting her abusers, but she also gave them more air­space. The issue here is not that Dawson used this tactic. It’s pos­sibly that she had insuf­fi­cient social media training to know what to expect when she did. It’s def­in­itely that she had too much training as a woman in our cul­ture to take on blame and inter­n­alise insults that were not hers. She’s quoted in The Age (in big let­ters, just so you don’t miss that she’s taking respons­ib­ility for her own assault) “I always bite back, I know it’s my problem, but I can’t just let it go without having some­thing to say.”

No, Char­lotte, it’s not your problem. It’s all of ours. Because this has been going on for 20 years now and you’re just the latest victim.