“Report. Block. Go private. Stay safe.”
Concerning the unwritten rules for surviving online harassment as a Star Wars fan — whether you’re the one being targeted or not — these are the most well-known. And possibly the most important.
It’s one thing to have someone spam your Twitter mentions telling you all the reasons they didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. There is no harm in disagreeing, or in expressing an opinion that differs from the person you’re replying to.
It’s another thing entirely to attack someone for something they do or don’t like, or for having an opinion you don’t agree with. For standing up to something they feel is unsafe or disrespectful.
The above rule doesn’t apply when the bullying starts.
And for the record … holding someone accountable for their behavior, calling them out on dangerous words or actions? Not harassment. In case you weren’t sure.
For those who haven’t spent significant amounts of time on Star Wars Twitter — at this point, it has basically become my job — first of all … congratulations. You very well may have, up until this moment, avoided some of the worst parts of modern humanity.
Secondly, there are two things you must know before we continue: (1) Most who engage on Star Wars Twitter are doing so by choice. (2) No one ever asks to become a target. For many, it has simply become the norm. Part of the job description, if you will.
Third: It should not be this way. But it is.
And if we don’t do something about it? It always will be.
Disclaimer: There will always be trolls. They will never go extinct. When we agree to become part of something bigger than ourselves, trolls come with the territory. You cannot drive them out of their caves. They come out only when they see fit, and they are likely impossible to defeat without the possibility of resurrection.
No matter how hard you fight, when one seems to retreat, a dozen more always linger. Even when they disappear for long stretches, they will always, when they feel like it, return.
But this is the reality that has led me here to this brain-space. Once a troll feels threatened, they lash out. They attack. They come in droves and they don’t stop until they get bored … or until they achieve some otherwise desired result.
The more we react when they do this, the longer they stick around.
So what if — understanding of course the reason we use Twitter’s block feature (more on that in a second) — we stopped reacting?
What if instead of hitting the block button, we muted the hate instead?
Is this a sound idea in theory? Sure. You don’t have to subject yourself to the hate, and they don’t know they’re screaming into the theoretical void. You can move on. You can forget about them. They’ll get bored and move on.
… Won’t they?
In this line of thinking we’re not fully considering why blocking is often the first line of defense for Star Wars fans — especially underrepresented voices (I speak to the female experience here because it is my own experience, but I and those like me are certainly not the only ones who deal with this).
We block because, in being who we are, we are automatically in danger.
Blocking Twitter accounts doesn’t just shield us from the hateful and damaging content on others’ profiles. It also protects us and our mental health — preventing unwanted harassment in DMs and mentions.
Blocking also has the potential to protect our personal information — what little we dare to include on Twitter, anyway. When you block someone, they cannot see anything you post. Only your profile photo, name, and handle.
I’ve been tweeting back-and-forth with Ben Amey all afternoon while watching a fellow creator endure harassment, death threats, all the “fun” stuff women so often have to face in this fandom and elsewhere — and he spoke to one benefit of blocking I foolishly hadn’t considered: How hitting one button can protect other people from getting hurt.
Ben said the following over multiple tweet replies to one of my posts (quote included, of course, with permission):
“From what I’ve read, blocking is the better way to go.
Especially if you are smaller, blocking makes them yell for a moment but they crave attention, so they will eventually move on to someone else. No one cares that you got blocked by a podcaster.
But more importantly, blocking cuts them off from you and it cuts them off from your followers. You’re not only protecting yourself, you are protecting the community. Muting still allows them access to your followers and to you.” (via Twitter)
You’re not just protecting your own space. You’re protecting anyone who follows you, who is subject to just as much harassment since they are connected to you with that follow. If they can’t access you or who you follow, everyone’s a little safer, not just your account.
It ideally takes about two minutes at most to create another account to view the content and profiles you’ve been blocked from … and technically you can proceed to continue your harassment as if nothing happened.
But we take the small wins we can get, doing what we know to do to protect ourselves and others. Right?
Blocking someone who is harassing you feels … good, almost.
Which might be the biggest problem of all.
If blocking someone feels good (almost) … being blocked might, to some, feel even more satisfying.
Yeah. I’m going there.
When you mute a Twitter account, essentially all you’re doing is quieting them in your own ears, so to speak. You don’t see their posts or replies unless you specifically go looking for them. The most appealing aspect of this method is that the other side doesn’t know if you’ve muted them or not. They just keep tweeting, but you see none of it.
But blocking someone is a more risky choice in some contexts. A person can see that you’ve blocked them. They no longer have access to your posts and can no longer interact with you.
They notice. They know their voice has been silenced in your world … and it’s possible some of them find that thrilling. “I was so forceful in my argument that they BLOCKED me! Wow!”
(Many likely don’t think this way, but take a moment to think about how you felt when (if?) a certain Star Wars actor recently blocked you after you spoke out about their transphobia. NOT THE SAME THING, I know. But it’s a rush. It happens.)
Do you really want to give them that satisfaction?
What if it fuels the fire — motivates them to continue seeking out those blocks by using hate speech, harassing fans, just being all-around awful?
The more people I speak to about this, the more I realize this is a deep fear of mine, that actively taking this step — one that others can see and comment on — will only make things worse. This fear is justified for me personally, since my name is still attached to certain YouTube videos created specifically to harass me and nothing good came from me calling them out. (I’m over it. Mostly.)
But that’s my fear, my trauma talking — and it’s the kind of fear that discourages us from taking action, from creating change, from standing up and saying “heck no” to these people and their unacceptable, dangerous behavior.
Ben is right. Blocking and muting ultimately have a similar desired effect: The harasser isn’t getting the attention they want, so they move on. Blocking, though, adds that extra layer of protection you may or may not need, but could be benefiting the entire community with all the same.
I don’t speak for every Star Wars fan. I’m literally just one person in a very big universe.
But I’m pretty sure most of us join this community because we love Star Wars, love interacting with other Star Wars fans … and just want to have fun and enjoy this thing we love so much.
Not only does harassment, bullying, sexism, racism, and exclusion ruin the experience for many — it also isn’t what Star Wars is about. And it simply can’t be tolerated. Not now. Not ever.
When you love something, you should want to celebrate it with others who also want to celebrate it.
So why do so many “fans” make targeting other fans part of their experience?
Perhaps the question we should instead be asking is: Why are we letting them?
From Star Wars fans new to the franchise to the higher-ups at Lucasfilm responsible for moving Star Wars forward in all respective ways … we need to do better. All of us. Simultaneously. Now.
Star Wars will not survive on hate. It was never meant to.
Also? We’re not going to let it.
In the end, it’s our collective love and more importantly respect for Star Wars, its stories, its creators, and our fellow fans that will keep the franchise alive forever.
Even though it may not seem like it now, love always wins.
Only you can decide the role you play in the fate of the galaxy far, far away.
Even if your contribution starts with one block … hey. It’s a start.
You are welcome to share your thoughts on this topic with me anytime @MegDowell.