There are several obvious consequences of online harassment and stalking all of which are designed to silence and isolate women, particularly since online communities have become a lifeline for many women. For women with caring responsibilities, life limiting conditions and disabilities, social media can be their main access for contact and support. Women in abusive relationships or who have experienced sexual violence are increasingly looking for safe spaces online to discuss their experiences as specialist services for women are being demolished by “austerity measures”.
The increase in cyber stalking and online bullying is eradicating what should have been safe-spaces and succeeds only in further isolating women.
There are a number of parenting sites based in the UK that are dominated by women. These function as both support sites and places just to “hang out”. Whilst the positive impact of these sites for women cannot be underestimated, they can also be used as ways of controlling women’s behaviour.
Despite anonymity, abusive men have managed to track down their partners and stalk them online. There have been a small number of cases wherein abusive men have threatened to use women’s as “evidence” of a woman’s “unfitness” to parent in court. The threat has been sufficient to result in a number of women having to have their entire posting histories removed because of stalking by violent ex-partners. While this may sound inconsequential to those with offline support, for women who depend on parenting websites the removal of an entire posting history is detrimental to their emotional welfare.
More commonly, sites like Mumsnet which have an active feminist community, are also targets for abusive men targeting any vulnerable women. Abusive men have taken to posting on the relationships board. Very frequently, posts on the relationships board are by women in abusive relationships asking for support or simply for someone to name what is happening to them, especially around the issue of rape in marriage.Abusive men post on these threads in order to minimise male violence but equally to gaslight women into believing that they are over-reacting to the abuse. Unfortunately, some women do collude with the abusive men although in many cases these are women who are not yet ready to confront the abuse in their own relationships.
The relationships board on Mumsnet is perhaps one of the safest feminist spaces online. The abusive men get very short shift from long-term posters but the fact of the matter is that these men, either singly, or from “invasions” of men from Fathers4Justice, Reddit, and a number of “car enthusiast” sites are deliberately targeted mostly women spaces in order to harass and stalk women. Sometimes it is to target women they know but frequently it is just to harass random women on the internet. These men do not make outright threats of violence but their behaviour is clearly designed to harass women.
[Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game and First Person shooter with multi-player functionality]
The misogyny within the online gaming community is well documented with women frequently being targeted with abusive language, sexually explicit language and, increasingly, threats of sexual violence. Many multi-player online games have chat functions which can, and are, used by abusive men to send threats of sexual violence and abusive language. Along with female avatars, which consistently present women as sexually objectified, online games allow male players a space to sexually harass women. Stalking has become an increasingly common phenomenon. I have heard numerous stories of teenage girls pretending to male when playing these games in order to stave off sexual harassment from adult men.
Facebook’s toleration of online misogyny and abuse is equally well documented. The secret and closed group function on Facebook could have been a very safe space for women to interact, however, Facebook has made it perfectly clear that the safety of women is not their concern. They allow pages threatening rape to be posted. “Revenge porn” pages are abundant and Facebook has refused to remove videos of women being raped.
The recent campaign against Facebook’s problem with misogyny led them to acknowledge that it has a problem but without actually doing anything about it. Instead of being a safe space, Facebook has made it clear that they are only interested in protecting men’s rights to sexually humiliate, stalk, harass and threaten women.
Examples of Abusive tweets sent to EOM
As Alison mentioned, our campaign was in a direct response to the attack on Caroline Criado-Perez, however abuse of women on twitter is not new. The woman raped by Ched Evans was the victim of a coordinated attack by Evans supporters which included releasing her name online. EDL members have a well documented history of sending racist and misogynistic threats to women. There are literally hundreds of thousands of examples of twitter accounts opened with the express purpose of abusing women and which twitter has consistently refused to close.
These are just a selection of abusive tweets that have been brought to the attention of EOM in the past few weeks. I have redacted names for this paper.
The fact that twitter allows this abuse to continue unabated and flat out refuses to permanently ban violent men from sending threats makes Twitter another unsafe online space.