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Why Did This Feminist Activist Promote a Tweet Telling Trans People to Kill Themselves?

Caitlin Roper's Twitter has been duplicated multiple times by trolls. We spoke to her about why she's being targeted and how she's coping with it.
May 21, 2015, 11:02pm

Caitlin Roper does not hate transgender people, but one Twitter troll wants you to believe she does.

Roper is an Australian feminist activist who works for the grassroots organization Collective Shout. Collective Shout's mission is to call out the objectification of women in media. They've launched campaigns against the dancewear industry, against Playboy, and against Grand Theft Auto V.

In October 2014, Roper tweeted an online petition against reinstating Ched Evans, an English soccer player convicted of rape. After she shared the petition, Roper almost immediately began receiving rape and death threats via Twitter. Soon after those started, a Twitter user with the screename Nader created a fake profile purporting to be Roper. With the fake account, the user tweeted about sexual services that Roper supposedly provided, claiming she wanted to sell her underwear and that she enjoyed being raped. Roper wrote about the experience on The Guardian. In her piece, she describes the futility of going to the police, who asked her, "Why don't you just shut down your account?" Eventually, Roper was able to prove her real identity to Twitter, and they shut down the fake account.

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Now, Roper is being targeted again with a similar method. This week, a new fake Caitlin Roper Twitter account has sprung up to tweet transphobic hate speech. The troll behind this Twitter account managed to successfully run paid promotion on one tweet, which urged "trannies" to "commit suicide now." Twitter suspended the account 15 minutes after other users began reporting the tweet, but not before it had been seen by thousands of people.

Roper believes she's found the perpetrator on—surprise!— 4chan. (Warning: it takes about two posts for that thread to devolve into a mess of homophobia, transphobia and, somehow, racism.)

The thread references Collective Shout's successful campaign to petition Kmart and Target to remove Grand Theft Auto V from their stores, due to what Roper calls "extreme sexualized violence against women." (She's been targeted by 4chan users for this campaign before.) The thread also features other users congratulating the original poster for "doing God's work." I spoke to Roper about her history of being targeted for online abuse.

Hi friends, someone has created a Twitter account impersonating me and tweeting hateful comments. Account suspended, thanks for your help x
— Caitlin Roper (@caitlin_roper) May 20, 2015

VICE: How did you track down this 4chan person who you believe to be behind the fake account that posted transphobic tweets?
Caitlin Roper: I actually was alerted to the 4chan because Buzzfeed acknowledged their post in an article, but then I also googled later and found it quite easily. I've been targeted by 4chan users before in response to the GTA V campaign. I think a lot of them are gamers associated with Gamergate, who are very angry with my colleagues and myself for our campaign to get this video game out of retailers.

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How did you track down Nader, who first targeted you by creating a fake profile of you selling sex?
The story with Nader, from last year, was that basically he left a trail linking back to his Facebook account. I think he'd targeted enough women already that there were other Twitter users who were quick to step in and pass along the information.

Why do you think this most recent harassment campaign against you is also about transgender people? Do you think the person is sincerely transphobic, or just wants to paint you as such?
I'm inclined to think this is more a deliberate attack on me—to silence me, discredit me, and intimidate me with an onslaught of abuse. I suspect this person/people have little regard for the safety or lives of transgender people, but ultimately I think they said something deliberately inflammatory to turn a backlash of abuse towards me. Some of the content on the 4chan post indicates some real hostility towards transgender people.

Right. Why do you think they're targeting you specifically? Do you know anyone else who has been targeted using this "fake profile" method?
I do know of other feminist activists, as well as prostitution survivors, who have been targeted in this way. Trolls seem to believe this is a great way to discredit and undermine our work. If they are damaging our reputations, there is some truth to this. However, the opposite is also true—my platform tends to grow when I'm targeted in this way, and in that sense, my activism goes to a wider audience.

Out of all the potential targets on the internet, why choose Roper? Try as I might to suss out some quality that makes her a likely target, I simply couldn't find one. Roper works for a grassroots organization. She has about 2,800 Twitter followers. She's far from the most well-known feminist in the world. But she is a woman who points out sexism in media, and as we've seen before, that's a dangerous thing to be. For all of 4chan's talk of social justice activists' tendency to get "butthurt," their own butthurtiness comes to the surface as soon as someone says, "Hey, the depiction of women in this movie/show/video game isn't great."

Roper's work doesn't focus on transgender issues, so the troll's decision to make transphobia his main angle only kind of makes sense. The user clearly thought it would alienate Roper's fellow feminists, while at the same time providing the user an outlet for their own pent-up aggression toward trans people. If I may offer some constructive criticism, I would say that this effort seems muddled and needs a clear direction. But such is the way of trolls angry at being unable to buy Grand Theft Auto V at their local Kmart, the greatest injustice mankind has ever suffered.

As for the real Roper, her resolve is staying strong. But online harassment of women remains a frustrating problem because of the anonymity the internet provides. Still, as more and more people become aware of the ubiquity of online harassment, feminist activists like Caitlin Roper gain more support everyday. Maybe that's why her trolls are so butthurt.

Follow Allegra Ringo on Twitter.