As I read his latest comments, I realised that almost all of the online hate I’ve received over the years have been from men – or profiles with male names and profile pictures. Luckily I know how to use the “block”, “ban” and “report” functions on Facebook, twitter and WordPress. It did however get me thinking – since we’re right in the thick of things with the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Abuse and Violence campaign.
Where does one end and the next begin? Abuse, after all is not just something measured in bruises and blue eyes. NO.
If you’re the victim of any of these, should you simply delete, block and ignore? Or should the victim stand up, fight, speak out and ring the alarm?
I’ve always assumed that being on the receiving end of serious insults – and at other times mere mockery – online was simply the unavoidable dark side to making use of the platforms that also provide the awesome opportunity to engage with thousands of listeners and viewers in positive ways. If there was some sort of balance to the insults and the variety of people they come from, it would seem utterly harmless and general; but, the concerning trend I’ve noticed is that when the victim is a woman the perpetrator seems to almost always be (or appear to be) male. This is often not just random hate mail, it’s sexism – and it’s often akin to verbal abuse. So, should we simply take it on the chin and move on? NO.
“YOU’VE WISHED CANCER, RAPE AND DEATH ON ME”
The Prime Minister of Australia recently spoke out against an online “sexist smear campaign” against her, but cyber abuse is unfortunately not limited to victims with a public profile (no matter how big or how small, from Julia to little old me). It happens to women who go about their daily life in relative privacy as well. It can range from something ridiculous like a guy nagging you to comment on his man boobs (?!) by endlessly spamming you from various fake accounts – as is the case for one female twitter follower /friend of mine. And it also gets much, much worse! Johannesburg-based twitter user and real-life television producer @TheJoLurie was the victim of a truly hair-raising case of cyber abuse. Below are excerpts from a blog she posted in August, in response:
“Here’s what … I’ve been on the receiving end of… You’ve wished cancer, rape and death on me. You’ve bullied me. You’ve threatened me with legal action. You’ve promised me I will rue the day I had a standpoint on morality. You’ve guaranteed me that you will ensure my career will suffer for it. … Do I wish I had thicker skin? Yes. Should I toughen up? Probably. You’ve posted some really intensely personal things about me (which have since been removed) in the comments of not only my blog, but on blogs I have contributed to. … Your character and your influence is not measured by how many followers you have, but who you are when you’re not anonymously lurking in the shadows of the internet.”
Truly shocking, but since these attacks are perpetrated by the faceless – the anonymous – there is often no repercussion. For her, the loudest, clearest way to say NO was posting that blog.
After I posted a status on this topic on Facebook, a user on my page called Luke Hattori commented that I should just “get used to it”. It happens. It has become the way of the internet. So, shall we just delete abusive messages in much the same way we’d brush aside the insults of an anonymous drunk on a street corner? NO.
THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF ANONYMITY
Think about what happened to Darren Scott. After making a terrible, racist remark toward a colleague – a mistake he admitted to and publicly apologized for – he found himself out of employment in a heartbeat. And what about Jessica Leandra, the model who infamously made racist remarks on Twitter and in the process lost a lucrative sponsorship and retreated eventually by closing down her account…
The sensitive issue of racism elicits an immense response, and rightly so. But, what about sexism? And verbal or, in this case, written /non-verbal abuse? And, does it make any less wrong if it’s done anonymously? NO.
Can you imagine what the repercussions might have been for @TheJoLurie ‘s attacker if his/ her colleagues, friends, family and followers had seen him make these abusive remarks, wishing “cancer, rape and death” upon Jo, on a public platform like twitter?
I fear online anonymity affords trolls, bullies and, ultimately, abusers a slippery slope down which to slide into the depths of what would perhaps otherwise have remained a well-hidden and inhibited tendency to abuse.
GUNS DONT KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE DO
Is the online platform to blame? NO. The internet is a tool, the same tool carrying this message of mine around the world can, sadly, also be misused to inflict gender-based online abuse.
As a user of any online platform, you are left exposed and vulnerable to this kind of abuse, but you also have rights. In my opinion, you even have the obligation to other users who might in fall prey to this predator in future. You need to block and report abusers immediately. Fight the fight with every tool at your disposal! There are various ways of saying NO.
- Know that you are NOT alone. This happens to many people of all walks of life and you did NOT do anything to deserve this.
- Report, don’t delete.
- Don’t respond. Don’t feed the troll. That’s what they thrive on.
- Keep evidence. Record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances. Save and print screenshots and emails. Supply the platform involved with this evidence.
- Block or ban the profile from yours and report the offender immediately – no matter how laughable, silly, idiotic or harmless this attack may seem. It could be the first slip down that slippery slope of abuse.
If you feel your dignity has been impaired, no matter how private the attack might seem, you deserve a remedy, whatever assistance you need and protection.
You deserve to say NO.