For many women, sexual assault survivors, and allies, the Brett Kavanaugh Senate nomination embodies the issues of consent and gendered violence in our culture. Sophie Vershbow, senior social media manager at a one of the world’s leading publishers, felt that she lacked a place to vent her feelings about the hearing and so she, like so many others, turned to Twitter as an outlet, tweeting the lines: “DO NOT FUCK MEN WHO SUPPORT KAVANAUGH.”
IMAGE VIA HUFFPOST
In an article for HuffPost, Vershbow explains her rationale behind the tweet:
I felt utterly insane sitting in my cubicle watching MSNBC with tears streaming down my face. Short on outlets to relieve the rage building up inside me, I tweeted, “DO NOT FUCK MEN WHO SUPPORT KAVANAUGH” (four times, with emojis for emphasis).
Considering her level of experience—professionally and personally—with social media, Vershbow knew her tweet would elicit a strong public reaction, but she could not have predicted what happened next. The response was immediate. Women and survivors joined her in expressing their grief, their feelings of helplessness, and their willingness to help each other during a time when those in power continue not only to ignore, but to discredit their experiences.
In contrast, the second wave of responses came from “internet trolls,” as Vershbow calls them, who sent her messages ranging from slurs to death threats. She states that many such haters had “photos of President Donald Trump in their profile pictures or #MAGA in their bios”; a troubling yet unsurprising fact considering Trump’s public endorsement of Kavanaugh.
Unlike her Twitter where Vershbow “barely knows anyone” who follows her, Vershbow’s Instagram (though public) is mostly a way for her to connect with friends and family. She was horrified that any and all members of her family, right down to her “stepcousin once removed,” would be subjected to witnessing the trolls’ abuse along with her.
IMAGE VIA INSTAGRAM (@SVERSHBOW)
In typical troll fashion, though, not every move was entirely thought through; the trolls attempted to report Vershbow to her employer by tweeting at the publisher, not realizing that that as social media manager, Vershbow necessarily manages such accounts. Thankfully, her employer proved exceptionally supportive, and Vershbow was able to take down the post without feeling like she was giving her haters what they wanted:
It wasn’t until almost a week later, with a handful of trolls lingering on my company’s account, that I decided to take it down. By that point, I felt so fortunate to have the backing of my company that deleting one social media post to end the harassment felt like an easy decision. Anything to make those last few people who continued to email every public inbox listed on the company website move on.
IMAGE VIA INSTAGRAM (@SVERSHBOW)
Vershbow’s experience with trolls is almost inevitable on a site that encourages its users to freely express their personal ideas with very little restriction. On the bright side, though, she declares that Twitter was a place of immeasurable support during emotional times:
In the wake of the Kavanaugh tweet, it was hard to feel optimistic about anything. I couldn’t shake the sense that we had fractured too far as a country to ever sew ourselves back up. And I’m so thankful to the community that reminded me there really is still good in this world. For a platform that hosts so much hate, there sure is a lot of love on there.
IMAGE VIA TWITTER (@SVERSHBOW)
In addition to providing an important sparking point in the debate around internet-policing and free speech, Vershbow’s experience provides a bit of hope to those of us who are equally as disheartened as she is with the results of the Kavanaugh hearings. The fact that a major publisher like Random House was willing to stand by her—even as her position proved controversial—is a huge victory.