Online harassment is nothing new but over the years, the act has become more and more aggressive – specifically towards women. Vv Magazine’s Ama Scriver shares her personal experience as well as others’ experience with cyberbullying.
Although I’m sure this isn’t news to anybody, the Internet isn’t safe for anyone. But more specifically, the Internet isn’t safe for women. It’s a broad and bold statement to make, but the reality is this: it’s true. According to a Pew Research Centre study, 73% of adult internet users have seen someone harassed in some way online but it is young women (ages 18-24) who experience harassment at disproportionately high levels. 26% of women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment. So to say online harassment is a new phenomenon would be highly inaccurate, but the better question is why aren’t we doing anything more about it?
It is young women (ages 18-24) who experience harassment at disproportionately high levels. 26% of women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment.
Over the last year, I have been the target of threats and harassments online on multiple occasions. I chalk this up to being a loud femme on the internet with opinions. During the summer of 2016, I was part of a public shaming campaign by Milo Yiannopoulos (aka Nero) and his band of followers. They decided to target folks who had shown support towards retailer JC Penney for their brand new plus-size line using Project Runway winner Ashley Nell Tipton titled, #HereIAm. In less than 24 hours, my inbox was flooded with death and rape threats along with other anonymous users sending me harassing tweets calling me everything from “whale” to “waste of space”. I quickly blocked as much as I could but the two days I spent dealing with the targeted harassment (on a small level) had me feeling panicked and sick. Sadly, there are folks dealing with this out there on a much greater level.
Back in 2014, Gamergate targeted several women in the video game industry with a larger scale harassment campaign ranging from doxing, threats of rape, and death threats. When these women decided to use their platform to speak out against the harassment, things got worse. Some were forced into hiding and others closed their accounts or stayed silent because of fear itself. The fact is, we have created this dialogue and since 2014 nothing has changed. Cyberbullying and trolling has become almost well… normalized. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook doing almost nothing to step in. I chatted with online personality Erika Szabo who explained, “The biggest problem is its sense of anonymity. Many seem to think that when they are in an online space they can say whatever they want without any care or consideration for others. In this way, online bullying is far more detrimental in that much of that behaviour will be normalized even if those same people might feel more silenced in real life.”
“Many seem to think that when they are in an online space they can say whatever they want without any care or consideration for others.”
Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca has been at the centre of harassment for quite some time. Having taken on Tucker Carlson and widely loathed pharmaceutical magnate Martin Shkreli, she penned in an op-ed piece for Teen Vogue, “The internet has radically shifted our communication forums, and in many ways, the public square has shifted to take place online.”
When I chat with Hayley, who is a bartender in Toronto, she explains to me that much like the pick-up artist movement, certain Reddit groups recruit men (and women) into “an alt-right and misogynistic mindset and train these people online to be abusive to any woman who won’t submit to what they want and how they think.” Between both Hayley and Erika, they have been the centre of attacks on various levels both explaining that even though the harassment has stopped, it’s something you just can’t shake even when it’s done.
While online harassment against the women who dare to speak out is a real and continuing problem, we also need to figure out where we go from here. More recently, author Lindy West penned an op-ed in The Guardian about how she was leaving Twitter as it has become unusable for anyone but trolls. Last year, actress Leslie Jones had deactivated her Twitter but has now seemingly come back and Buzzfeed Canada editor Scaachi Koul also deactivated her Twitter account last year after receiving of harassment for soliciting pitches for freelance writing opportunities from prioritized (specifically not white) voices and has also come back to the Twitter platform. Szabo explains to me that for women dealing with harassment, dealing with it is something you have to decide for yourself explaining, “Everyone has their own way of finding comfort – some do so by leaving the situation entirely, some decide to stand up for what they believe to be right. There really is no right or wrong way to go about this so long as the person dealing with this behaviour is doing what’s best for them and their safety.”
“Many people who encounter trolling are vulnerable. With things like doxing, trolls put people at risk even further – it can cause entire lives to be ruined.”
While some may think that online trolling is “obnoxious and harmless” behaviour, the sad reality is that it’s not just harmless. We’ve seen cases like Amanda Todd who was cyberbullied and their committed suicide. We need to keep speaking up and we need to find a solution with Hayley explaining, “Many people who encounter trolling are vulnerable. With things like doxing, trolls put people at risk even further – it can cause entire lives to be ruined.” Freedom of expression means very little if women who are trying to make and use the internet freely are afraid to speak up and take space.
Do you agree that the Internet has become a dangerous space for women? What do you think the solution is? Let Vv Magazine know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.