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(Photo: kentoh/Shutterstock)

This Is What the Harassment and Abuse of Women on the Internet Looks Like, Part III

• January 15, 2014 • 8:00 AM

(Photo: kentoh/Shutterstock)

All week we’re running personal stories from Pacific Standard readers in response to Amanda Hess’ cover story, “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.”

MASSACHUSETTS

I’ve had an online stalker for over five years now (I don’t know who the person is, but I suspect it’s one individual). In college, I wrote the sex column for the school newspaper during the last semester of my senior year. I was prepared to deal with a fair amount of criticism—and there was a lot of it—but I was not prepared to deal with someone going out of his/her way to ruin my life for the next five years. Interestingly, the real harassment didn’t begin until I stopped writing about sex and feminism and started working at a high-profile consulting firm (I suspect my harasser took it personally—”skanks” aren’t supposed to have legitimate careers).

Over the years, this person has impersonated me, libeled me in every way possible on a slew of blogs dedicated to that purpose, outed and libeled friends and boyfriends, harassed their families, tried to get me fired, and, failing that, attempted to spread the rumor that I’d been fired anyway.

The police simply shrugged—they don’t understand and don’t seem to have the bandwidth to deal with this type of jurisdictionally vague, anonymous harassment (criminal in Massachusetts). For the same reasons, a tort suit is simply not worth the effort for most lawyers. I’ve had to deal with it on my own, which has meant giving up personal writing and never fully participating on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., for fear that more innocent people I connect with will be punished simply for associating with me.


NORTH CAROLINA

Once I had a blog on the former platform Vox. I wrote a review of a cookbook geared toward college students written by an actor. (The actor’s been in some critically lauded movies, but he’s far from a household name.) I wrote a fair review on why I didn’t like the cookbook and why I couldn’t recommend it to others, especially as a college student. I never insulted the actor once in my review.

I’m an African-American female, and at the time I was overweight. The actor, who apparently Googled himself, found his way to my Vox blog and then called me racial slurs and “fat” all because I didn’t like his cookbook. Not once did he politely tell me to take the review off, and not once did he read anything I wrote toward him saying I had the right to post my review the way I did.

I asked the Vox platform for help. I got one email saying I could change my privacy settings. I sent another email and was ignored. The advice I got from my Vox followers was better than the Vox platform’s “help.”

After the actor made a Vox blog to specifically target me, I ended up deleting the review to get the actor to leave me alone. After that, I ended up leaving the Vox platform.

Since then, I’ve operated a few social media accounts, along with a couple I’ve had before I was harassed by this actor. I don’t post pictures of myself freely on most social media accounts, and I refuse to have an avatar of myself on nearly all of them. I hope to one day have the courage to get over my fears.”


EGYPT

I’m a male journalist working 24/7 on Middle East issues such as politics and human rights, mostly in and from Egypt. I’m getting harassed almost daily by trolls who do not want to read factual reports when it clashes with their agendas, political beliefs, and religious extremism, which in the region is rampant. The attacks can be very vicious and vile and almost always result in immediate blocking where social media allows this. But having to read such stuff at first sight is sometimes more than just irritating. And some trolls just keep coming back with new handles once they’ve been suspended.

The things I get thrown at me are definitely not for the faint of heart. I get called “bitch,” too, and “fucker,” and all such lovely things, but it clearly is not meant in the way they use it to degrade a woman. It would be different if they slammed “faggot” at me (which so far has only happened once)—because it is used with the intention to sexually rob someone of his identity, smear him, rub him in what these guys consider dirt. But in the trolling of men this is not in the forefront. Here I find most who harass viciously do so out of extremism in ideas and beliefs or very often for having lost in a debate because of lack of arguments. Being a “loser” in a discussion many men can’t take—and then start taking revenge by heavily slamming back with insults and abuses.

The offenses the author has to bear go way beyond that. They are an intense expression of misogynistic, pathological threats with the intention to seriously scare the shit out of the allegedly weak woman so that the (anonymous, cowardly) guy feels he is the greatest and holds power over others. It is similar to men stalking in real life, with exactly the same intention as the author rightly points out.

That, I think, is something that with all the abuses hurled at us male journalists we do not have to endure. With all the swear words thrown at us, the trolls still accept us as being male and therefore, in part, at least “respectable.” What they do in turn to woman, however, the author’s brilliant and extremely shocking report showed clearly – it goes way beyond anything that a male on the Internet has to endure, unless perhaps if it is a gay youth bullied into suicide by macho youth. Above that age level, however, I think males are target of heavy harassment—again, I get it almost every day—but while it is irritating and very tiresome it does not manage to seriously damage the real life we men are in and is not meant in that way either. It’s letting off steam and a sign of being unable to control anger and bear one’s own stupidity more than wanting to truly ruin my life. I’m a man, after all, no matter what rubbish I allegedly write, and they would not in earnest contest that.

So while I’m very accustomed to what the author writes about, her report nevertheless left me in true shock and horror. The headline to the story pinpointed the problem: it is inferior males trying to dominate over women because their fear might make them feel strong. Truly pathetic and grave. I hope very much that society and those in charge of enforcing the law will grow up and start seeing what it does to women. The brilliant article is a milestone. Bravo.

By the way, I tried twice to get Twitter involved when harassing took really serious, dangerous forms. One account was suspended without informing me (and quickly returned with new handle) and Twitter didn’t even bother to react to any of my requests for help or complaints. So far, we are on our own. It takes courage to nevertheless go out there and be strong. But we must do it. It’s our job after all. And even working in print can sometimes be very unsettling when one gets letters of similar nature or even packages that you would rather first hand over to a bomb disposal unit than open it on your own. I’ve had it all.


UNITED STATES

This year I started a blog where I do a feminist analysis of the British sci-fi show Doctor Who. My audience grew rather quickly, and so far most of the responses to my work have been positive. Of course, not all of them have been. So far, the worst harassment I’ve received is swearing and name calling: “Cunt,” “Fuck you bitch,” and “She’s got daddy issues” (my parents got a kick out of that one). So as odd as it seems, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. But I’m constantly worried about what comes next.

I want to expand my audience, but I hesitate to do so because even if I bring in a few thousand more followers that love my work, I could get the attention of that one person who can make my life a living hell. I’ve seen it happen to other women commenting on pop culture. The harassment of high-profile women on the Internet has devastating ripple effects, and I wonder how many other young women are silencing themselves before they’ve even received any harassment or abuse because they’ve seen what happens to the women who do speak up on the Internet.


WASHINGTON

I feel very harassed by the barrage of rape jokes and misspelled rape jokes that make it past the chat filter on the free online game League of Legends. This chat filter may filter out words like “shit,” “rape,” and “fuck” but it fails to filter out “raped,” “fucking,” “fucked,” etc. Odd.

I feel that the League of Legends creators and administrators and rule makers are harassing me; they are taking away the only tools I have for some kind of justice against these disgusting, discriminating creeps that use the game alongside me. My ability to play would be suspended for using the game’s reporting features to not face this kind of language.

Offensive usernames are reportable in Leagues, but there is no feature to stop a rape joke/other offensive username from flashing up on the screen each time that user is part of an in-game kill or death.


CALIFORNIA

I have only been mildly attacked online. However, given that I work in a competitive, male-heavy, nasty part of tech (IT security), I know that if I publish the blog I want to, I will be attacked, and heavily. Likely by people with whom I have worked or to whom I will send applications for jobs.

I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

So, I do not blog. I keep my comments just about everywhere very neutral. This has cost my work. I have no online presence to prove my chops. But I will not put myself through that. It infuriates me, but I will not put my sanity or physical safety at risk.

I am deeply disappointed with the EFF and plan to tell them so on their site. I have followed and supported them since their inception. This is not OK.


INDIANA

I go to this chat site. It’s an adult chat with many rooms. I go into the BBW room, which has the more tame chatters in it. Every once in a while we will get chatters who threaten us. Despite the name of the chat site, we never really talk about sex, or sexual encounters; we keep the peace by telling silly jokes and sharing recipes of the dinners or lunches we cooked that day. My experience chatting on this site was wonderful until I caught the eye of several male chatters there. They told me i was “too mouthy” as I demand a certain amount of respect and courtesy.

Now keep in mind I was nowhere in a room that promoted sex. I was in a separate room on the site for BBWs. Anyway, these two men started in, first private messaging me when I had clearly stated to every one “I do not answer unsolicited private messages.” They messaged me anyway. They started out calling me “whore,” “slut,” “cunt,” “fuckhole,” “bitch.” But I have pretty thick skin, so I ignored it and was more outspoken to the moderators about the disrespectful behavior of some male parties in the room.

After about a year on the site, I was established in the room, and my boyfriend was coming on often just to see if anyone was bullying me. The threats became more and more detailed.

I then informed my boyfriend at the time about the constant harassment. My boyfriend, being protective of me, started outing the harassers in the public chat. which sadly made things worse. So we filed a complaint with the moderator who said to ignore them. One moderator even threatened me.

After that day I started taking screenshots of everything that the two were saying, determined to get them banned or removed. Then when I gathered what I thought was enough evidence to get them banned, the moderators said: “This is a sex site. If you don’t want to be flirted with, then leave.”


TEXAS

This issue is of great concern to me as a woman and mother of a young adult woman. I wonder why there isn’t more pressure on Twitter to register and validate the IDs of their users. I fear that something terrible will have to happen for that to happen.

I would like to know what I can do to support the cause of balancing women’s rights with privacy rights. Is there any legislation I should support or any legislators I should contact?


WASHINGTON

Five years ago, my then-boyfriend stole my passwords for various things (email, Photobucket, AIM), and, whenever our relationship was in a rough spot, logged on as me to stir shit up, later denying ever having done anything. Since then whenever I get a password reset request that I don’t remember initiating, I think he’s coming back.

This same ex also sent me numerous emails trying to blackmail me into doing whatever it was he wanted at the time by threatening to email my family and colleagues naked pictures of me (which I don’t think he had). He signed up for various Twitter accounts and sent my father messages telling him what a terrible person his daughter is, and sent me messages telling me why he thought I’m a terrible person. He signed up for accounts on various forums I am on, responding to comments I made with unrelated messages about (again) why he thinks I am a terrible person. He left comments on a blog I owned, with more of the same. He always chose usernames that I would recognize—related to the name of his roommate, or my ex that he thought I was still in love with, or disparaging nicknames that he used to call me.

The only time he ever actually threatened me was right after the last (and final) time we broke up. He had been sending me text messages roughly once every second, and calling me so often my phone was rendered ineffective. I let it go to voicemail every time, except when he used online tools to mask his phone number. One of those times, I picked up (it could have been a work-related call), and he told me he wanted to kill me. Within 10 minutes of hanging up I heard him outside my apartment. The next day I filed for a restraining order.

When it expired six months later, he started right back up again, now including messages about women filing for wrongful restraining orders. But at that point I had moved to a different state, with different rules about restraining orders, and couldn’t get any traction no matter how much he was affecting my ability to live. It’s been nearly a year since I last heard from him—maybe he’s finally given up.


WASHINGTON, D.C.

I’ve experienced it both online and from TV appearances, especially when I’m on Fox News. I’ve been called names I wouldn’t repeat, and there is little I won’t say. My ex husband actually told me that “I was the one that wanted to be out there.”


UNKNOWN

In my free time, I am a volunteer chat moderator for a somewhat popular streamer on Twitch.com. Even on a slow day, the stream has thousands of viewers from around the world. As a moderator, it is my job to supervise the stream chat and respond as required; I answer viewers’ questions about the stream and streamer in both English and my native language, remove messages that break the rules, and temporarily or permanently ban those who are intentionally disruptive. Here is a sample from the kind of messages I receive from those who get a permanent ban: “You’re a fucking twat, learn your place. Dumbest cunt I’ve ever spoken to.” This sort of message is common, of course. Twitch has a reputation for rude users.

Since the streamer I volunteer for relies on the stream for their income, I try to be as friendly as possible to viewers, even when it comes to questions that are strictly not related to moderating. (On more than one occasion, I’ve had to provide tech support, translation, or general information to viewers.) In one particularly memorable instance, a male viewer started asking me about my personal life. He kept asking in English about what country I live in, what part of the country, what city. I thought these were vague enough questions, so I told him. Then he started asking about where I work/study, my address, what I look like. I replied only by asking what he intended to do with that sort of personal information. His answer, in my native language: “We intend to rape you.”

Pacific Standard Staff
Pacific Standard grapples with the nation’s biggest issues—with a focus on economics, society and justice, education, and the environment—by paying particular interest to what shapes human behavior.

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