Online threats are real threats

It’s so easy to say “just turn off the computer!” when people (especially women) are harassed and threatened and verbally assaulted online. How many times do you think they receive death threats, sexual assault threats, threats to expose their/their families address/number/private info (aka doxxing), etc., etc. It’s a constant, never-ending stress lingering in the back of the mind, whether the computer is on or off. Especially if there are “real-world” effects such as a damaged reputation, anxiety, and even annoyances like food order trolling (i.e. ordering like 70 pizzas to someone’s doorstep).

And it’s not a possibility to just “turn it off” – our world is becoming more and more integrated with the “online world” where anything and everything can be found and done online. Not to mention there are people whose livelihoods are based on their online content, such as journalists, writers, reviewers, and YouTube creators, to name a few. And many employers look up any prospective hires online – imagine how much damage a defamatory blog post or a spoofed account could do to one’s job prospects. In one of the links I listed below, the author’s cyberstalker would write damaging emails to the author’s friends, family, and employer, pretending to be her. And is “turning it off” really supposed to be a permanent solution? The posts and emails and comments will still be there – are the victims supposed to swear off computers forever?

A lot of people – and law enforcement! – still don’t take this “online violence” seriously. Even if it’s not immediate physical harm, the damage done is still just as real to the victims – mental harm/illnesses (anxiety attacks, depression, to name a few), constant struggle and fear, damaged relationships and damaged reputation. And if law enforcement refuses to take action, the abuser is free to continue harassing their victims – sometimes for years on end. Online services such as Google and social media platforms aren’t much help either. It’s difficult to request a takedown from Google and social media sites- meaning anyone who searches the victim’s name will still find aggressive, click-baity articles and blog posts attacking the victim. Some sites have improved their Terms of Service to prohibit inflammatory or hateful content, but it still takes a long time to process flagged posts and reported users. So there is little recourse for victims of cyber violence, other than “just deal with it.”

One of the comments I read (on the second link) scoffed at the idea of “cyber violence” being a real thing, and pointed to conditions in other countries that threaten severe physical harm/assault on a daily basis, and most people don’t even have internet access. I strongly disagree with this sentiment. “Stop complaining! Other people have it worse!” is not a valid criticism of someone else’s suffering. Yes, there are (unfortunately) many countries that condone violence against women, among other atrocities. That doesn’t mean that acts such as harassment and cyberstalking aren’t crimes and shouldn’t be punished. If someone steals an expensive sports car, it’s still a crime, even if someone points out that most people in developing countries don’t even have cars.

If someone “in real life” stalks you, continuously follows you and yells at you in a derogatory manner, spreads malicious rumors about you, and threatens to sexually assault or kill you and your family, this is clearly a crime and you can take the matter to the police. Why is it different when the evidence is only online and the person is hiding behind an avatar and username?

One last note: Gamergate, oh Gamergate. Maybe Gamergate started out as a “campaign for ethics in journalism,” but quickly devolved into hordes of people harassing, doxxing, and dogpiling onto female game critics/reviewers, and other women in the video game world. It shows how much rage the Internet can muster against one/a few people… and how useless law enforcement is in punishing online (essentially anonymous) abusers.

A few links:

https://backchannel.com/i-ve-had-a-cyberstalker-since-i-was-12-384ea9853b79#.1bg8xko6c — A (long-ish) account from the author about struggling with a cyberstalker for several years. Thoroughly describes some of the effects of cyber violence (especially for women), and how difficult it is to find a solution.

https://medium.com/local-voices-global-change/online-violence-against-women-a-global-issue-b9be0b326312#.yz4ky0vkp — A short overview of online violence against women around the world.

https://medium.com/@dlawrence6/the-story-of-the-story-about-a-troll-ea7186edbaf1#.w3mokwj7r — The author write about hard it is for writers/journalists/online publishers to deal with “trolls.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/15/anita-sarkeesian-feminist-games-critic-cancels-talk  — Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist game critic, cancelled a talk at a university due to an email threatening a mass shooting if she did not cancel.

http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html — Cyberbullying statistics

(I meant to write this post last week but I couldn’t really get into it until now :x)

 

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Online threats are real threats

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