I haven’t written too much about my experience of online abuse with Fathers4Justice last year, mostly because I don’t want a swarm of their buckethead members descending on me. Again. However, the recent violent abuse directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez has made me change my mind on this issue.
My first personal encounter with Fathers4Justice was on Mumsnet. F4J members troll the relationships and feminist board on Mumsnet all the time. They are tedious and completely lacking in self-awareness. They frequently come on threads started by women who are experiencing domestic violence and blame the women for being victims. Members also start threads whining about how they aren’t allowed to contact their children due to the hateful mother. A quick google invariably finds that the man has been denied contact after criminal convictions for violence against the ex-partner and/ or drug and alcohol abuse. Their trolling isn’t restricted to attacking women survivors of domestic violence but also victims of sexual violence and rape. They deliberately misrepresent what is being said on a thread in order to discredit women. It is safe to say I have no respect whatsoever for their organisation.
The incident last year started with F4J announcing a new campaign targeting Marks & Spencer’s because of their advertising on Mumsnet who “promote gender hatred” and labels “men and boys as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters”. F4J members trolled both Mumsnet’s talk boards and Mumsnet’s Facebook wall making unsubstantiated and libellous statements about Mumsnet. The also attempted to publish the ad below in a variety of newspapers although only the I-Independent actually published the ad in the end.
There were numerous conversations on the Mumsnet talkboards and FB wall between members of Mumsnet and members of F4J. There was rudeness on both sides but Fathers4Justice members went beyond rude and straight to intimidation tactics and threats of violence. They told outright lies about what was written on Mumsnet, took quotes out of context and tried to silence criticism with threats of violence dressed up as ‘concern’. The F4J FB wall was a disgraceful example of male privilege and violence.
In the end, I posted a link to the Advertising Standards Agency’s complaint form on Mumsnet’s wall. I did so because the ad below is clearly in breach of ASA standards. I received hundreds of abusive messages from members of F4J on Mumsnet, Mumsnet’s FB wall and F4J’s FB wall. One member of F4J responded to my post by stating that I deserved to shot in the head.
According to the senior members of F4J posting on the wall, this does not count as an actual threat of violence because the member didn’t say he was going to shoot me in the head. Instead, this man suggested he’d help pay someone to shoot me in the head. But, this isn’t a “violent threat” and I was told I was over-reacting, whining and being a drama queen for demanding that this man remove his post. Mumsnet staffers deleted the whole wall post at my request. They also deleted almost the entirety of my personal posting history on Mumsnet at my request.
I had my posting history deleted because I don’t trust men who think its acceptable to threaten, intimidate and abuse women online. I don’t trust F4J to remove violent men from their organisation and I don’t trust the police to have taken the threat seriously.
A member of F4J threatened to shoot me in the head after a week of harassment and intimidation by other F4J members. Numerous members got in line to congratulate the man who threatened to have me shot. I have never received an apology from the organisation. Nor have they ever taken responsibility for the threats of violence and abuse made in their name against other members of Mumsnet.
My experience with F4J is commonplace. This is the abuse that all women face online. It was my first experience with a potential death threat [and by no means the last, even from F4J members]. In retrospect, I should have screencapped the threat and reported it to the police. But, at that point, it never even occurred to me. I just wanted the threat gone and my posting history deleted for the safety of my children [which MN did despite the fact that deleting a history as huge as mine was time-consuming and difficult!].*
As awful as that weekend was, I was also very lucky. I was surrounded by a thousands of women members of Mumsnet who stood with me. This is true feminist activism: standing up for other women. Being surrounded by women who have your back is a truly powerful and amazing gift.
This is why I am saddened by those attacking Caroline Criado-Perez as “attention-seeking” and insinuating that she’s over-reacting. I had one serious death threat in a 2 day period of intense harassment and intimidation. Caroline has had literally hundreds; not to mention the sheer number of rape threats. We should all have her back, as we should have the back of every single woman threatened by male violence.
The only people responsible for male violence are the men who perpetrate it and those who minimise it.
Criticism is unsisterly and divisive and it does nothing to destroy the patriarchy. It also ignores the perpetrator.
*A huge thank you to smallwhitecat and HelenMN for their personal support that weekend.
- On 3 March, a Mumsnet user started a conversation about a poster campaign being touted on Mumsnet’s Facebook wall by Fathers 4 Justice, and the fact that Fathers 4 Justice was bombarding a number of sites with this troubling image.
- A conversation then ensued on Mumsnet about Fathers 4 Justice and their tactics, which some members of Fathers 4 Justice joined. Some Mumsnetters said some pretty harsh things.
- We deleted a number of posts that broke our forum guidelines regarding personal attacks. In total, we deleted 70 posts from the thread, which went on over the next few days and reached 1000 posts in total. Sixty of the deleted posts were posts were made by regular Mumsnet members; ten or so were made by new joiners we believed to be from Fathers 4 Justice. Our community managers reminded users to follow forum guidelines on nine separate occasions, and at least one prolific Mumsnetter left the site in protest at our deletion policy.
- On 7 March and 8 March, MNHQ received a series of emails from the Campaign Director of Fathers 4 Justice containing threats of legal action and a threat to contact our advertisers. At the same time, comments on the Fathers 4 Justice Facebook page describing Mumsnetters as “barking mad harridans”, “weird sex obsessed paranoid perverts” and “child-abusing contact blockers” were left unmoderated. As were comments that described me variously as a “dried up old hag”, “an evil woman” and having an “IQ that would return a negative score”.
- On 11 March, Fathers 4 Justice posted another attack ad this time accusing M&S of “sponsoring hateful, bigoted and prejudiced comments about men and boys on Mumsnet” and demanding that M&S withdraw all advertising on Mumsnet or face a boycott. It accused the company of “serving up gender hatred for Mother’s Day”.
- Other organisations have experienced similar bullying tactics. In recent weeks, Fathers 4 Justice have targeted the lone parents’ support charity, Gingerbread, jamming up its telephone helplines. Senior NGO staff have told us they felt too intimidated to speak out against them.
- The suggestion that Mumsnet encourages gender hatred would be funny if it were not so offensive – and plain silly. The central aim of Mumsnet is to make parents’ (mothers’ and fathers’) lives easier. There are many and varied opinions on the site and no one Mumsnet party line prevails, save for the view that we respect diverse opinion. We do not pre-moderate or vet comments made to our discussion boards, of which there are around 30 000 every day.
- Men are and always have been extremely welcome on Mumsnet – and we have a Dadsnet forum for Dads to talk directly with other men, should they wish. We estimate that around 5 to 10% of our 2 million odd monthly users are men. Of course you can always find plenty of Mumsnetters whinging about their male partner’s shortcomings – more than there are whinging about their female partner’s shortcomings – but generalisations are swiftly pounced on and we do not tolerate gender hatred, or any other kind of hatred for that matter (save maybe hatred of Fruitshoots). We encourage people to be civil and supportive and, in the main, most people are.
- Fathers 4 Justice campaigns for fathers to have access to their children following separation or divorce. Its founder, Matt O’Connor, says parents have “fewer rights than a terrorist”. The organisation was temporarily disbanded in 2006 after it emerged that some of its members had plotted to kidnap Tony Blair’s son Leo. Fathers 4 Justice boasts that it is “the most controversial and high profile pressure group of modern times” but it has struggled to win public attention since abandoning its eye-catching tactic of scaling tall structures in superhero costumes. In recent weeks, it has targeted Cafcass, the body responsible for protecting the rights of children in court proceedings, Gingerbread, the charity for single parents (which it claimed supported “the abuse of children”), and Mumsnet. It has also, somewhat mysteriously, branded London 2012 “the fatherless games”.
- We believe that the issue of a father’s access to his children is important and needs to be discussed. We understand that many Fathers 4 Justice campaigners are driven by intense personal anger over what they feel is injustice they have suffered in their own cases. But the recent actions the group have taken against Mumsnet and others constitutes plain and simple bullying and intimidation, and only harms its cause.
- Reading this as a Mumsnetter, you may well already be spitting tacks by now. Please do remember that’s precisely what Fathers 4 Justice want. If you post on the subject, please keep it civil. We won’t be bullied, but we don’t want to be dragged into the mire either.