Journalist and feminist Natasha Devon has found a great rule for handling Twitter spats: think like a man.

feminist Natasha Devon

Devon takes on Twitter for not supporting a particular feminist issue

Devon recently took to Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and, when not supporting a particular feminist issue, found herself subject to sustained harassment from Twitter “trolls,” individuals who obsess with someone and send unwanted and often obscene public messages over Twitter.  Devon’s episode ended with police involvement, which happens much more than is known. In London, for instance, police handle 1,500 crimes per year linked to harassment or bullying over the Internet.

After breaking up with her first boyfriend, Devon reveals advice her close uncle gave about trouble in a relationship than can also apply to Twitter trolls.  Men handle it by “just scratching our balls and waiting for the storm to pass,” her uncle observed, advice that Devon has taken with her.

The Twitter problem started for Devon when she refused to sign the No More Page Three petition and “after repeatedly being poked with a stick by Twitter users demanding to know why I wasn’t being a ‘Good Feminist,’ I finally relented and listed my (numerous) reasons,” Devon writes. “As a result, one of the petition’s signatories began bombarding me (as well as anyone I happened to converse with) on Twitter. She would tweet me sometimes 20 or 30 times a day, using a fake picture and avatar.”

Feminist surprised by the veracious level of female twitter trolls

Devon was surprised by the veracious level of female twitter trolls she received, challenging the stereotype that Twitter was populated with angry, sexually repressed males. What she discovered in female Twitter trolls she was “completely unprepared” for.  She paints a broad brush as she categorizes female trolls as “relentlessly manipulative and snide,” a description that would likely get a male commentator in trouble.

What Devon was experiencing isn’t too uncommon in the financial world as well.  Twitter intimidation is a method to keep political topics from being discussed and to intimidate those speaking out on particular issues.  For instance, HFT activist Eric Hunsader noticed he was suddenly being bombarded by a group of seemingly coordinated attacks from people who were not followers, many of whom hid behind fake avatars and pictures.

I’ve experienced this myself on several levels.  Often the sophisticated of the Twitter trolls use complex strategies to de-rail a conversation by obfuscating facts or bringing in technical details that only confuse the issue. The primary method of control used in financial services is obfuscation, making what should be simple complex to the point it can only be understood by the masters of the universe. Sophisticated Twitter trolls will add issues to a story that doesn’t matter.  In the HFT debate for instance, the basic fact HFT critics point to is non-public market moving information is being sold to market insiders without general public knowledge. This is a simple regulatory violation. But then comes the obfuscating tweets: it’s the technology that gets the information faster.  This, in a relationship, is the “its not you, its me” excuse. The less sophisticated Twitter trolls don’t try to add complexity to a conversation. They just like to go for the throat of your reputation.

What I’ve found is the best advice on dealing with Twitter trolls came from Devon’s uncle: Let the storm pass. You can’t answer all your Twitter attention anyway, so just relax and even listen. I’ve had Twitter trolls who attacked me but they had a good point. If a Twitter troll is intelligent and actually makes you think, acknowledge them.  But this, according to Devon, could lead to trouble.

Feminist makes stereotypical generalizations while analyzing the differences between men and women

In her article, the feminist analyzes the differences between men and women, making stereotypical generalizations that might land someone in trouble if the situation were reversed.  After engaging a troll, however, Devon’s situation turned dangerous.

After being threatened with the comment “I hope your taxes are in order. I work for HMRC (British tax collector),” Devon started receiving anonymous phone calls and emails from apparent fake accounts.  Then she took the issue to the police.

“It occurred to me I might be able to take legal action,” Devon writes. “The four-letter name-calling on its own was enough evidence for me to have the main culprits officially cautioned. However, I was recommended not to proceed, in particular in relation to the account that had started the whole sorry furore.

“The more attention you give her, the further she will go,” the police officer advising Devon warned her. Ignoring the Twitter stalker could be good idea. I have discovered, however, when you receive Twitter troll remarks it just might be helpful to understand their point of view. Who knows, they may be right?