Honestly, Anon, I get almost none. I get maybe one every couple of months. And while I wish I could say it’s because I handle it so well, I think we all know the real reason I don’t when all the women I know in fandom do. Not a ton I can do about that, other than acknowledge it and support them, but just be aware that while I have an answer, it may not be the best answer for you.
And readers, please feel free to chime in with how you deal with hatemail, and with its relationship to depression (remember to reblog or comment, since I don’t post asks sent in response to other asks). Because what I’m about to say below also involves me having the privilege, as a white man, to
very rarely be attacked in any way that impacts my identity. This may not be the best solution, for example, to things like Jewish people on Tumblr getting Nazis sending hatemail to their inbox or submissions box. This is just my experience and on tumblr this is not the experience of the majority, so this is only one solution among many.
But the best way I’ve found to deal with it is as follows:
On occasion – less, in the last few years – I’ve gotten into fights with people online, and I’ve said incendiary things or rude things, and it always made me anxious, because I had no idea how the other person would respond to it. The longer I went without a response, the more my anxiety stretched out, and if I didn’t get a response I could spend a long time upset over it.
And one day I got into it with someone – a near-total stranger – who obviously wanted my attention. They didn’t really want to make me mad,
they just wanted me to pay attention to them and thought antagonizing me was the only way. And I thought, gosh, it’s kind of sad, I don’t think they even realize why they’re doing it, and I know they don’t understand that they’ve already lost this fight because I don’t need anything from them, but they need something from me. So I ignored them, because that was clearly the very worst thing I could do to them, but was also the best thing I could do for me.
These two factors combined led me to believe that probably most people feel the same way I do about hostile online communication. There’s a deep sense of dissatisfaction when you say something designed to draw a response and you simply don’t get one. It’s like having a loose tooth you can’t get to fall out.
So I do one of two things: either I respond to them publicly without sharing their words directly, which protects my readers and infuriates
the hatemail-sender (ie: “To the anon who wrote about X, here is my response”) or I ignore them completely. One time I had someone send me something, and I responded publicly to tell them they were being childish and I wasn’t going to give them a platform for spewing their ugliness. They responded, in my inbox, with the kind of deep ignorance I knew wouldn’t be impacted by reasoned thought. So I ignored them, and they sent me four more messages – including one message apologizing for an earlier message in which they called me a r*tard.
They were so desperate to get a response out of me that they apologized to me for using bad language. Let that sink in.
And I didn’t answer. I deleted them as soon as I’d read them. I didn’t actually read the apology in full. By then they had long since lost their chance to interact with me.
This led, as it normally does, to two results: one, because I
had set a policy of not answering and deleting as soon as I finished reading, it barely impacted my day and I forgot about the content of the message (I couldn’t tell you now what we were arguing about; the only reason I remember the apology is because it was super funny). This is a positive thing; this is a good thing, because you’re moving on with your life. And if you have depression, deleting something as soon as you’ve read it helps to alleviate its presence. You know you can’t respond, because it’s gone, so your brain moves on to other things. This takes some training – it takes two or three instances of “oh shit I really want to answer that” which can sometimes take a few days to get over – but it is very helpful once your brain resets itself to “It’s deleted, nothing I can do, might as well move on and spend that time worrying about meteors hitting the Earth and wiping out all life instead”. You kn
ow, the important stuff.
But if you have a streak of mean-spiritedness in you, and honestly, I do, then there’s the second and more satisfying result: it obviously upset them a lot, and for a really long time, so in the end they suffered more than I did.
I have the deep satisfaction of knowing nothing I could say would upset them as much as saying nothing. And it took a lot less energy for me, too.
When you treat your time and attention as something precious, something that should be rationed out only to the deserving, then you can punish evil, hateful people by simply withholding it. You may never see how they suffer, but when you know that you have an innate value that they want and can’t have, you know that you’ve punished them. And, more charitably, maybe if they realize that being an asshole gets them ostracized from people of value, they’ll stop doing it.
Plus, treating your attention as somethi
ng valuable to be earned helps in the self-esteem department, too.
I’m not much on religion but I do like the quote from St. Francis of Assisi that goes “The deeds you do today may be the only sermon some people hear.” Nobody said it couldn’t be a sermon of the hellfire and brimstone type.