Last year, I became the target for a campaign of anti-Semitic, misogynistic harassment by email and on social media for an article written for an online publication. That negative attention was a direct result of the work I do in studying classical reception in online antifeminist communities. Although many perceive online harassment by trolls to be an entirely distinct problem from harassment in a professional setting, my experience has been that being harassed online directly impacted my interactions with my colleagues. In this paper, I will discuss the need to re-conceptualize online abuse as a professional struggle which an increasing number of classicists will be forced to confront. I also discuss how to lessen the negative impact that it can have on collegial relationships.
Internet harassment can shape a classicist’s career in many ways. It can discourage the use of social media, inhibiting the scholar’s ability to connect with peers – connections that are especially crucial in the case of independent scholars who are not part of a department and rely on social media to stay in touch with colleagues. Malicious comments can also negatively affect how others perceive the quality and value of one’s work. In my experience, colleagues are also likely to judge harassed scholars based on how they respond to online abuse: is the abused scholar a “troll slayer,” as the New Yorker once praised Mary Beard? Is she feeding the trolls? Is she whining? Is she bringing the abuse on herself? Public outreach and online engagement are, increasingly, a compulsory part of academic activity. As more writers in all disciplines become the objects of targeted harassment campaigns, it becomes imperative that the field of Classics understand what online harassment is, why it is so damaging and painful, and consider how to respond as a discipline.