How to Use #Ottertime to Fight Online Hate and Disorient Trolls

by Shari Graydon

Esther Choo is a physician who does medical commentary on CNN, MSNBC and BBC. She has more than 192,000 followers. And because she’s a feminist, tweets about gender inequities, and is also Asian American, she gets trolled. 

But she’s smart and has a sense of humour, too. So here’s what she does when she gets sent online abuse: she responds by sharing an image of an otter. No explanation, just the image of the otter. 

I love the brilliance of this strategy. 

First of all, it’s confusing (see troller’s dumbfounded response, below).

Ester Choo MD MPH tweets One day I was being bullied by a condescending troll and just had it. So I posted a picture of a otter - just thinking, what's the exact opposite of this asshat? - and blocked the guy. Esther Choo tweets a picture of an otter. Troll responds Huh? I don't know what that means. Is that an otter?

Don’t you love the reply? He can’t reconcile the image with his intended effect. So he’s forced to ask for clarification, which disrupts the invective and undermines his stream of attack.

Secondly, it’s a way of Dr. Choo saying “your comments are so ignorant and uncool as to be unworthy of my intellectual or emotional capital; they do not deserve a response.”

Which, instead of silencing her, makes him both irrelevant and, in a way, invisible. 

Thirdly, the disconnect between his asshattedness and her sophistication is priceless.

Anyone who is regularly being targeted with online hate can attest to how exhausting it is to be on high alert as a result of vitriol and insults that find their way into the palm of your hand as you scroll Twitter or Facebook for news, or the threats that disrupt your workplace inbox. 

Dr. Choo continues…

Esther Choo MD MPH tweets So that became my standard response to bullies and misogynists. And I told my girlfriends to do the same. We use the otter to signal to each other, too, so everyone knows a sister is getting harassed and can jump in and help or block en masse. #ottertime Tweet reply reads Ladies, here's what I've been doing in response to this sh**. 1. Respond to harassment with a pic of an otter 2. Use #ottertime hashtag to signal a bully to other women 3. Block and report Original tweet by Kathie Dello reads men, if you're interacting with women, an your fingers take you toward these keys: sl blank, bi blank, wh blank

Finding, let alone maintaining, a sense of humour in the face of egregious hate speech and personal attacks is almost impossible. So having a default response that helps you avoid the downward spiral into someone else’s dark, ugly world – and also gives you something easy and constructive to do to subvert the negative energy – is a special kind of genius. 

And inviting others to adopt the strategy is a special kind of sisterhood. But it gets better…

Dr. Choo then goes on to write about how perfect otters are as an analogy for women fighting back against online harassment:

Although they look harmless — and, often, it must be said, adorable — they can be really ferocious, using their powerful jaws and claws to tear apart enemies. Their thick fur makes them resilient to extreme cold and they’re smart enough to use rocks as tools and carry them around in pockets of skin. Moreover…

Esther Choo MD MPH tweet reads As my friend @darakass almost immediately pointed out, female otters are called bitches. Crying emoji She also noted, importantly, that female otters join hands with other female otters in groups called rafts to keep from drifting out to sea while resting

It makes me feel giddy to imagine the solidarity of women banding together like otters, emulating a “raft of bitches” to protect one another against the waves of online hate. 

So let’s embrace and build on Dr. Choo’s brilliance with a five-step action:

  1. Search for images of “otter”; 
  2. Copy or download a couple onto your desktop or phone so you have them handy;
  3. Prepare to disrupt and disorient the next “asshat” who dares to mistake your social media feed for one that requires his ignorance, insult or hate speech; 
  4. Incorporate the hashtag #Ottertime to signal to other feminists and allies that someone is unclear on the concept of “social” media;
  5. Share and repeat as needed.


Shari Graydon is the Catalyst of Informed Opinions, a non-profit amplifying the voices of women and gender-diverse people and combatting the #ToxicHush of online hate that is silencing voices that are already discouragingly under-represented.