Susan Carland is troll bait.
Not only is she a woman, she’s also an Australian academic with opinions, the wife of the talk-show host Waleed Aly, and Muslim.
As she wrote last week for the Sydney Morning Herald, she is perpetually bombarded with hateful tweets from trolls.
Her anonymous correspondents don’t ask her what she believes. In true troll fashion, they prefer to use her as a blank slate on which to project their beliefs.
Though they don’t know her, they’re quick to tell her what she thinks: namely, as she tells it, they tell her that as a Muslim woman, she loves “oppression, murder, war, and sexism.”
The threats entail…
... requests to leave Australia, hope for my death, insults about my appearance (with a special focus on my hijab), accusations that I am a stealth jihadist, and that I am planning to take over the nation, one halal meat pie at a time.
There are many ways to deal with trolls like these. Carland has tried many of them.
She tried blocking and muting. She tried engaging with the trolls. She attempted to ignore them.
One of the only things she didn’t try was the Curt Schilling method: naming and shaming.
But none of it made her feel that she was diverting, or diluting, what she calls “the merry stream of toxicity.”
Nor did what she was doing feel like the “edifying Islamic response” that the Koran calls for, she writes:
The Koran states "Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with what is better." … I'd tried blocking, muting, engaging and ignoring, but none of them felt like I was embodying the Koranic injunction of driving off darkness with light. I felt I should be actively generating good in the world for every ugly verbal bullet sent my way.
In order to honor the precepts of her faith, Carland decided to try a novel way of dealing with online hate: she pledged to donate one Australian dollar to the charity UNICEF for every hateful message received on Twitter.
I donate $1 to @UNICEF for each hate-filled tweet I get from trolls. Nearly at $1000 in donations. The needy children thank you, haters! 😎
— Susan Carland (@SusanCarland) October 21, 2015
She’s been doing it for months now. And not only did she manage to raise and donate over A$1,000 as of October, her action has garnered wide support and has even spurred others to follow her lead.
— kevin armstrong (@kw8xi8) November 13, 2015
As of Thursday, Carland said that she was overwhelmed by tweets and instructed sympathizers to donate directly to UNICEF.
Thankyou for kindness, everyone (& shout out to haters who still can’t help themselves 😎).Overwhelmed by tweets.Donate to @unicefaustralia !
— Susan Carland (@SusanCarland) November 12, 2015
It’s unclear whether Carland’s action has encouraged trolls to send her more hate-filled tweets than ever, but what’s important is that she’s turned them into a force for good: the more poison they spew, the more a deserving charity benefits.
What’s more, she has refused to let trolls define her.
Or, in her own words:
By refusing to let the hate of others mould me, I am more secure and relaxed in my own identity than ever. Their hatred of what they believe Muslims are has encouraged me to recommit to the beauty of my tradition.
I have a choice: to respond similarly, or respond with "that which is better". Their hate doesn't define me; my beliefs do. And so what my response should be is clear.