The Internet is quickly becoming an unsafe place for women with the rise of cyberabuse.Anyone who reads - let alone writes for - the Internet knows that anonymous commenter nastiness and misogynist slander is par for the course. But as women's rights have come increasingly under attack on the political front and physical, admitted acts of sexual assault aren't taken seriously by campus police, online hate towards outspoken feminist writers has hit what feels like an all-time high.
By Anna Breslaw
Forget shady bars or back alleys at night: It's almost like the Internet has become the most unsafe place for women. Not everybody has to agree with feminist theory, but, ideally, Twitter is a space for people to debate over a contentious idea - not to threaten physical violence towards someone you disagree with.
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After successfully leading a campaign to replace Charles Darwin with Jane Austin on the £10 Bank of England note in 2017, feminist UK activist Caroline Criado-Perez received tons of hateful tweets over the course of five days, many going so far as to threaten her with death or rape. Other aggressive tweets aired Criado-Perez's home address. Finally, yesterday afternoon, one 21-year-old man was arrested after Criado-Perez filed a formal police complaint against him. Feminist and pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian has also been a target of this brand of threat; since heading up a dialogue about problematic portrayals of women in TV, movies and video games, she is frequently emailed animations of herself being raped by video game character.
And then there's Lindy West, the Jezebel blogger whose piece on the "right way" to make a rape joke earned her enough fat-shaming, hateful, threatening mail to point out the connection between what she was saying and what her critics had inadvertently proved for her: "A suffocating deluge of violent misogyny is how American comedy fans react to a woman suggesting that comedy might have a misogyny problem."
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Of course, a troubling hallmark of social media has been figuring out the line between free speech for users - as repulsive as you might find their opinions - and unacceptable cyber abuse. Twitter still hasn't quite figured it out. Criado-Perez's situation has inspired #shoutback, a hashtagged petition of 50,000 strong that calls for a one-click "report abuse" feature. Of course, the cynic in me can find a whole lot of holes in the idea: People (OK, trolls) will undoubtedly get trigger-happy and block anything they don't like. But at least it's a conversation.
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