Misogyny & The Internet
An Exploration Into How Women Are Treated Online
Online Harassment: An Overview
The prevalence of the Internet is increasing in our daily lives, especially as society is becoming more and more dependent on it. We use it to connect with others, find out what’s going on in the world, and entertain ourselves. With all the positives the Internet brings with it, there are dark sides to it as well.
Online harassment is something many young people, especially women, experience. From being objectified physically to being attacked for their opinions, the Internet is not the safest place for women.
According to a recent study by Maeve Duggan for Pew Research Center, which surveyed 2,849 web users, four in ten Internet users are victims of online harassment to varying degrees of severity. The age group most likely to be harassed online is 18–29 year olds. Additionally, young women between the ages of 18 and 24 “experience certain severe types of harassment at disproportionately high levels: 26% of these young women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment.”
“I tend not to think of ‘online harassment’ as a separate category from offline harassment,” says Mary Anne Franks, an Associate Law Professor at the University of Miami School of Law, who has also been a victim of online harassment. “If harassment is a generally identifiable phenomenon, the medium in which it is expressed should not necessarily matter.” Franks defines harassment as “conduct that serves no lawful purpose and causes reasonable people to fear for their safety, severely undermines their right to engage in free expression and association, or substantially deprives them of employment, educational, or civic opportunities.”
Websites such as Ask.fm, which allows people to anonymously submit questions to the site’s registered users, has caused many young teens, both male and female, to take their own lives due to cyber bullying. One example would be of 15-year-old Ciara Pugsley from Ireland, who received messages on Ask.fm saying she was fat, ugly, had no respect for herself, and was an attention seeker. She was found dead in a wooded area near her home in 2012. According to Irish Examiner, the police “have confirmed they are investigating the online messages and the apparent cyberbullying connection to her death.”
“A lot of online harassment exists because people who, pre-Internet, would have been too lazy or too fearful of the consequences of harassing someone can now abuse massive amounts of people with a click of a button and almost no fear of being caught,” Franks says.
Within the last couple years, many female journalists and gamers have been targeted for pointing out misogyny in video game culture. One of these women is independent game developer Brianna Wu. In October, upon receiving death threats via Twitter from an anonymous account that also posted her address, Wu and her husband fled their home and filed a police report.
Franks notes that these sort of cases could be prosecuted under the federal threat statute which states, “Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
“We live in a society that’s sexist in ways it doesn’t understand. One of the consequences is that men are extremely sensitive to being criticized by women. I think it threatens them in a very primal way, and male privilege makes them feel free to lash out,” wrote Wu in an article for Polygon.
“Women are far more likely to be the targets of sexualized harassment, from catcalling in the street to sexist comments in the workplace to violent online threats of rape,” says Franks. “Women are far more likely to be harassed in a way that focuses on their bodies as opposed to their ideas. The reasons for this are varied, but much of it is, to put it bluntly, misogyny,” she continues.
“Revenge porn,” when someone posts nude photos of an ex online without consent, is another form of online harassment that’s often experienced by women. Hunter Moore from Sacramento, California, the founder of revenge porn site isanyoneup.com, was arrested by the FBI in January 2014. Thesmokinggun.com reports that he has been charged with conspiracy, seven counts of identity theft, and seven counts of unauthorized computer access. He faces up to five years in prison.
“We know that the vast majority of harassers generally (stalkers, street harassers, violators of restraining orders) are men,” says Franks. “Online harassment is more complicated because it’s possible to mask one’s gender, but the majority of people who have been charged with hacking, stalking, and revenge porn have been male. Acknowledging that a great deal of harassment of women is perpetrated by men is essential to understanding the dynamics of that harassment.”
Cases of hackers obtaining and distributing nude photos of celebrities can also tie in to this. In 2012, Christopher Chaney from Florida was sentenced to 10 years in prison after hacking the e-mail accounts of various celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, whose nudes he found and posted online.
According to Franks, 11 states have recently passed laws prohibiting this behavior. Legislation has been introduced or is pending in an additional 17 states, as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Other forms of harassment, such as stalking, are prohibited by both federal and state law.
“Subjecting women to unsolicited judgments about their bodies, turning women’s private sexual encounters into public entertainment, threatening women with sexual violence — all of these behaviors signify a deep and profound disrespect, fear, and hatred of women,” Franks states.
A version of this story was originally published on Medium
Tangled in The Web: Real Stories of Internet Usage Leading to Harassment
Since its inception, the internet has been a place where different people from all over the world can have their voices heard and their thoughts published without the gatekeepers of traditional media outlets. It’s an equalizer in this sense, as traditionally marginalized groups can now freely express their opinions for everyone to see.
Yet, the internet is definitely not the most friendly place when it comes to those marginalized users. Harassment is a very real problem, especially for women, and specifically for women who advocate for social and political change.
In 2012, rapper Tyler, The Creator Tweeted:
What Tyler neglects to acknowledge is in this increasingly internet-reliant age, it’s not always that easy to “just walk away from the screen.” Many people rely on the internet for their livelihoods, and also have created solid communities of friends via the internet.
Lachrista Greco, a 30-year-old from Wisconsin, founded Guerrilla Feminism, a feminist non-profit, in 2011. Because of the work she does, Greco has not only received a lot of hateful messages, but has also been personally targeted by people who disagree with her views. “I think about just quitting a lot because it really is such a hard and horrific experience to go through, and I really feel for teenagers, because if I had Facebook when I was 16 or social media or anything, I really do not think I would be okay right now because the amount of vitriol is so pervasive and it’s everywhere,” she says. “You pretty much have to just disconnect from the internet if you want to just not be part of it, and for someone like myself who runs a nonprofit that’s primarily online there’s really no way for me to disconnect from the internet.”
Other women, such as Daisy Tackett, have found a legitimate sense of community and belonging because of the internet. Tackett, a 20-year-old from Florida, spends a lot of time on what she calls “weird Facebook” groups. “It’s where a lot of people who are traditionally rejected by real communities and come together and find each other in online communities,” she explains. “There’s a lot of trans and non-binary members of weird Facebook, and it’s great how it’s really focused on making sure everyone feels comfortable. It’s kind of a cool sentiment this online community has.”
Yet, being active on the internet and enjoying online communities has had consequences for Tackett, who was doxed. Doxing is a practice where people publicize one’s personal information (such as phone number or address) for malicious purposes.
This began for Tackett when she noticed a picture from her online dating profile was being posted on sites like Reddit and 4chan, as well as on various list articles, such as one from eBaumsworld about the weirdest Tinder profiles. A friend Daisy had from online found the thread on 4chan where she was being discussed, and wanted to prove to the other commenters that he knew her, which he did by posting a screenshot of a text conversation of theirs which listed her full name. From there, things went downhill. “I started getting Facebook messages and requests from these guys that were on the 4chan thread, and I was getting kind of freaked out. I was getting rape threats and getting death threats all because my picture was on 4chan,” she recalls.
Tackett’s harassers also searched her name on the internet more thoroughly and found things such as her high school recruitment video for her rowing team, which they began to post as well. “They were pulling up my roster pictures, and they were going through my Facebook and posting different profile pictures of mine in this thread,” she says. “They were talking about like, ‘oh she has red hair I wonder if the carpet matches the drapes’ and they were talking about my firecrotch. It got so weird and sexual within 10 comments.”
She began receiving anonymous phone calls as well, which she initially thought were part of a real-life harassment experience she was also going through at the time. “I was concerned that they had found my number, which I don’t know how they would have found that. But then again, the internet has so much information, it’s so vast,” she says.
“It took about a week before I stopped getting all these calls and Facebook messages and all that other stuff. A moderator on 4chan deleted the thread because of the direction it was taking. So I was grateful for that,” Tackett says. “But, I mean, I was having panic attacks and anxiety because I was already having to deal with a real life stalker, so dealing with this online presence, I felt cornered, I felt trapped.”
For Greco, too, her activity online resulted in some scary consequences. Her most frightening experiences have been from those who are extremely adamant in opposing her views, such as Men’s Rights Activists (or MRAs) and feminists who dislike Greco’s stance on the inclusion of transgender people in feminist spaces. These feminists are known as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs.
In her book Full Frontal Feminism, Jessica Valenti describes Men’s Rights Activists by saying, “Basically, their deal is that they blame feminism for everything from not being able to get dates to increasing crime rates.” MRAs mostly spend their time not advocating for men’s rights, but by arguing with and harassing feminists on the internet.
Greco’s most frustrating experience with an MRA came after she had banned him from the Guerrilla Feminism Facebook page for making sexist remarks. “He created a webpage about me personally and made some memes about me… he stole some of my personal images and created these memes that said I was a man hater and all this stuff,” she says. “Then he purchased the domain name guerrillafeminism.net that would go to his blog.”
She had a similar experience with Cathy Brennan, a well-known Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist who also happens to be a lawyer. “I banned her from [Guerrilla Feminism] because she made some transphobic comments as she does pretty much everywhere. She was really upset by this, so she continued to Tweet at me, harassing me on Twitter, and then she wrote a blog post about me calling me a woman hater,” Greco recalls. “Then she purchased the domain name guerrillafeminism.com, so that I could never purchase it. It linked directly to her blog which is kind of scary because I wouldn’t want any of our community members to accidentally go there and be triggered by the vitriol that she puts out.”
With both these instances, Greco was concerned for her personal well-being, as she didn’t know how far either of them would take things. She worried about being doxed and having her personal information publicized, as well as being sued by Brennan, as she’s a financially well-off lawyer.
Rossalyn Warren, London-based news journalist for Buzzfeed and author of the ebook Targeted and Trolled, notes that it’s not only outspoken women who become the targets for unwanted attention online, but even some women who do something as simple as post a selfie on Instagram. “Women, if they share photos of themselves where they’re feeling happy with how they look, they get a random fucking anonymous person slating them in the comments,” she says. “They might not be on Twitter voicing feminist views, but they’re still there being targeted.”
According to Pew Research, young women ages 18-24 are more likely to experience severe forms of online harassment, such as stalking. Additionally, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to experience online harassment.
Warren criticizes how lightly Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks take this type of targeted harassment, rarely finding that it violates their community standards when such content is reported. She believes this might be in part due to the lack of diversity in the tech world. “I think the immediacy of taking action [when offensive content is reported], the severity of [how they take] these issues, having more women higher up in these companies, voicing these views could massively help,” she says. “That’s a huge problem across the tech world… not enough women, not enough people of color. It’s the same in a lot of companies and a lot of industries, but especially important for companies like Facebook and Twitter where it is so huge and so universal.”
Susie Lee, a Korean-American woman who founded the dating app Siren, concurs with Warren as she’s had first-hand experience in the male-dominated tech world. “It [the tech industry] rewards very aggressive type leadership, it rewards a very kind of hostile competitiveness.”
“The biggest thing is that if you notice the number of women in key positions in technology, it’s horrifyingly low.” Lee explains. According to the United States Department of Labor, women occupy less than half of all jobs in computer and information technology. For jobs specific to web and software development, the number is even lower.
“So that means, in any given company, especially [Twitter and Facebook], there are most likely not a women of color or someone LGBTQ or someone who really understands that experience,” Lee says.
Sonora Reyes, a femme presenting non-binary person of Mexican heritage, also agrees with Warren and Lee. Reyes has experienced harassment on sites like Facebook due to their feminist beliefs, in addition to having racist remarks such as “go back to your country” said to them online. They also notice social networks’ lack of care when it comes to dealing with racist and sexist content. “Facebook, the people who work there aren’t diverse,” they say. “So that’s a huge part of it because I’m sure if their employees reflected the actual people that are here and experiencing those problems, those posts would get taken down.”
“The empathy gene for privileged white dudes is not high,” Lee states. “So if they don’t feel that it’s threatening, they’re not going to implement the policy changes required to make it safer for people that they don’t understand.”
From Libertarian Bro to Feminist Transwoman
“[My boss] doesn’t think we should be letting trans people in places like school bathrooms and locker rooms,” says Ashley Wiggs, a 39-year-old transwoman who works as a chemist in Missouri. “I tried to explain that trans women are women. We are discreet in public locker rooms and he didn’t understand how it was violating a trans person’s rights.”
Many people want to assume all feminists live in their “echo chambers” of like minded individuals. These are the same people who think safe spaces are nonsense, such as displayed the recent South Park episode, and the same people who believe feminists would be “triggered” too easily by interacting with those who hold opposing viewpoints.
This is clearly not the case for Wiggs.
“I feel like I need to go into more hostile spaces,” says Wiggs of her online activism. “Because the only way I’m ever going to reach out to anybody, the only way I’m ever going to change any minds is to go to places like that, present well thought out arguments, be able to defend my arguments using logic and facts, and maybe I can convert some people.”
Since coming out publicly as a trans woman, Wiggs has noticed how her interactions online have changed, just like her social and political viewpoints have.
“I would say 5 or 6 years ago I was pretty hardcore libertarian, and anything that went with libertarian positions, the libertarian party, anything to do with that. I was not really happy with how I was then. Pretty right wing politically,” she says.
But at that time, she realized she was treated more respectfully during online interactions. “You say what you want to say and people are like, ‘oh, okay.’ They didn’t constantly ask you for, can you back that up, can you cite that. I could just state that this is a fact and this is why I state this is a fact and people would just be like, ‘oh okay that sounds reasonable’ and just move on with their day,” she recalls of her experience in political chat and debate rooms when she was presenting male.
Wiggs knew since she was a child that she was trans. “I actually came out many years ago as transgender and within a year put myself back in the closet because I got scared and didn’t have a whole lot of support,” she says. “I really didn’t know what to do with it which just made me overall pretty bitter about everything.”
It wasn’t until January 2015 that Wiggs re-emerged as a trans woman. “I was in a spiral of drug abuse,” she says. “The trigger was reading about Leelah Alcorn killing herself. I couldn’t let others die while I hid. I made a choice to live and I made a choice to help other transgender people.”
Soon, Wiggs’ online interactions began to shift, making the misogyny women face on the internet apparent to her. “After coming out and really starting to interact with people as a female, or even as a transgender person versus being male, I all of a sudden would get things questioned, people didn’t really want to talk to me, I would get just summarily dismissed,” she states.
“What I ran into was all of a sudden any of the places I frequented I just wasn’t taken seriously anymore,” Wiggs says. Thus, she began to branch out and interact in different types of spaces. “First I started going into more LGBT spaces, which, they’re kind of strange if you’re trans,” she explains. “Because a lot of the LGBT spaces are more for LGB people and not so much trans, so I found a few trans-only spaces.”
Wiggs describes the trans groups she was participating in as “not really discussion areas” but “more for support.” And in the spring of 2015, she found feminism.
“I was like, ‘hey what’s this feminism thing about’ and I just started branching off into that, and did a lot of my online interaction with that. I found a place that sort of fit for me,” she says.
“I mean, I knew [feminism] existed before that but I had no idea exactly what feminism was. I was of the general idea that feminism was equal rights for women, you know, whatever, everyone’s into that, it’s not a big deal,” Wiggs states. “I didn’t realize there were just so much to it, and when I started getting into it online I found it very fascinating and found it was something that really spoke to me and supported me. And, you know, I would never have gotten into it when I was reading male. I would have just said it was all bullcrap.”
However, Wiggs has noticed that as a trans woman, she’s not welcome in all feminist spaces and feels most at home in intersectional feminism groups where people are more supportive of transgender individuals. “If you get off... into some of the other either general feminist groups or, you know, I’ve joined some that were like feminist groups for socialism and different political stances, you get a lot of second-wave feminists and whatnot that just want to deny trans people have a right to even exist, so I have to justify my position and justify my feminism even to other feminists in those spaces,” she says.
Wiggs describes her experiences with the trans-exclusive feminists as “almost identical” to her interactions with Men’s Rights Activists and other anti-feminist individuals. “The Men’s Rights Activists, the evangelicals, and the second-wave feminists all use the exact same arguments to erase trans people and why trans people shouldn’t exist,” she says. “It might as well be one group when it comes to opposing trans people.”
Yet, as mentioned earlier, Wiggs isn’t afraid of confrontation from these types of people. “I can be in trans spaces, I can be in feminist spaces, and they’re good things for me, they’re healthy things for me, but ultimately you’re not reaching anyone,” she says.
Wiggs is a member of some anti-feminist Facebook groups, such as “Anti-SJW [Social Justice Warriors],” explicitly to attempt to reach out to people who disagree with her views. “Yes, it generates a lot of headaches for me, yes I get endlessly frustrated, I put up with mountains of harassment. But I do it because every now and again I get somebody that goes, ‘oh, hey, you’re right. I think you might have a point there,’” she explains. “If I’ve reached at least one person I’ve at least had activism online where I’ve gotten through to somebody and have changed something a little bit for the better.”
Romance is Dead: How Online Dating Leads to Harassment
Once upon a time, it was taboo to meet someone on the internet. “E-mail is for geeks and pedophiles,” said the character Sebastian in the 1999 movie Cruel Intentions. “You go in for a chat, and you end up stalked by psycho-people.com,” said one of the Olsen twins of internet chat rooms in their 1998 film Billboard Dad.
But times have changed since the 90s, and it’s now no longer considered strange to meet friends and romantic partners online. To be sure, there’s a swarm of dating sites and apps young people use such as Tinder, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, and many more.
Yet, many women and other femme-presenting people still receive a great deal of harassment via these sites and apps. While the internet has been a great tool to connect people, it’s also unfortunately used as a way to be rude to strangers.
“I’m sorry but straight boys on the internet are not a force for good,” says Bridget Shelia, a bisexual 20-year-old from California who has used both Tinder and OkCupid. “They’re kind of insufferable, especially when it comes to online dating.”
In order to deal with the creepy messages Shelia received on these sites, she would exchange screenshots of them with her friend Mindy. Soon, this habit resulted in the creation of a Facebook group called Being Mean To Boys On The Internet, where women, femme-presenting people, and queer men would post screenshots of the crass messages they got in their inboxes and make light of them with like-minded individuals. This group was similar to other projects women created to deal with this issue such as the Tumblr blog Straight White Boys Texting, the Instagram account with over 40,000 followers called Bye Felipe, the similarly popular Instagram feminist_tinder with over 113,000 followers, among others.
“Women and queer men seem to really like it as a forum because it’s just like, me and my friend Mindy’s conversations where we’d be like, ‘hey let’s check out this gross guy who’s the worst and I called him out on it,’” Shelia says. “Now it’s a whole group where everyone can do that, and people really like that because it’s something we’ve all encountered. If you’re dealing with men on the internet you’ve probably encountered it.” At its peak, the group had over 1,000 members from various countries.
While harassment on popular and mainstream dating sites is very common, some web developers are looking to create safer alternatives that are more welcoming to women and other marginalized groups.
Susie Lee, a 43-year-old working in digital technology, founded the dating app Siren in 2013 after realizing how uncomfortable online dating can be for women. Siren is similar to apps like Bumble which look to give women more agency in the world of online dating.
“My immediate reaction was that as a woman on these sites, I was like a pinned butterfly,” Lee says. “I was trying to sell something of myself that was not about personality, it was not about any kind of chemistry, it was simply this judging on a photo.”
With Siren, Lee hopes to create an alternative to apps like Tinder, which are so heavily based around one’s looks. “The biggest thing we’re trying to do is unlock a sense of personality through daily questions and to create a sense of community as opposed to this idea that you’re shopping for humans one at a time,” she says.
Lee explains that on Siren, there’s no way to outright reject anyone. Their discovery mode is based on daily questions instead of photos. Additionally, there’s an option available where you can blur out your photos so that someone you haven’t connected with can’t see you.
“The way that we’re approaching our community is that this is a dating app for introverts, for intellectuals, for people who are looking for something beyond a photo and something in the realm of maybe personality and that’s how they want to meet,” Lee explains, also saying she’s gotten positive feedback about the app and has heard stories of people who met on it that are happy together. Currently the app has 20,000 users with ages ranging from 18 to 65, with most of the users being in their late-twenties to mid-thirties.
Lee and her colleagues made sure to lay out their community standards clearly on the app and don’t tolerate any sexism, racism, or expressions of violence.
“One of the things we’re really proud about is that since the inception of the app, we’ve had zero reports of harassment messages from men and women,” Lee states. “No one has screen shots of Siren where someone says something really horrible.”
Unfortunately, as of March 1st 2015, Facebook deleted the group Being Mean To Boys On The Internet, most likely due to the type of guys Shelia speaks about reporting it.
“I’m not quite sure why it was deleted, besides the name. I wish I could have appealed it,” Shelia says. “It was absolutely not a harassment group. I wouldn’t feel good about being involved with a group like that.”
“Our name was pretty cut and dry. But the name wasn’t literal, and I reiterated that constantly to group members,” she states.
Shelia brings up a time when she stumbled across a group that sexualized female marines and reported various offensive posts in it to no avail. “Tell me how Being Mean To Boys On The Internet violated Facebook’s standards but [this group] didn’t? I’m baffled. And really, really, really grossed out,” she says.
Facebook could not be reached for comment on this.
In place of Being Mean To Boys On The Internet, a secret, unsearchable group called Being EVEN MEANER to Boys on the Internet was formed.
“When [the group] was deleted I felt really heartbroken and confused. I couldn’t imagine why it had been deleted, other than a bunch of butt hurt men gathering together and reporting it a bunch of times,” says Anna McDermott, a 19-year-old from Maine who created the new group.
“My favorite part about the original group was the sense of community that we had all established. We were all sort of bonded together by this shitty thing that is so common and not frequently talked about in day to day aspects,” she says. “For myself, whenever I experienced online harassment, I would immediately share it to the group for a sense of relief and support from awesome people.”
McDermott formed the new group with the hopes of establishing a similar community found in the original. She chose to make it secret in order to better be able to monitor the people joining so the outcome of the original wouldn’t be repeated.
“I find that often times when online harassment is discussed or shared, it’s really set in the confines of cis hetero female,” McDermott says, explaining how something she loved about the old group and hopes to create with the new one was that people of all genders and sexual orientations were involved. “Whether you were cis, trans, nonbinary, asexual, gay, bi, pan, hetero, etc., you were welcome to share your various experiences and bond with everyone else.”
“It’s just like, when you’re online dating as a queer boy or queer girl or nonbinary - especially nonbinary and femme, you just have virtual dicks flying at your face all day,” Shelia says. “And whether the virtual dicks are literally dick pics or just shitty comments from boys trying to tear you down, it’s not fun. And I like that we have a space where we can show how this behavior sucks.”
My Four Days of Cyber Harassment
As a journalist and outspoken feminist, I always knew the risks of being online. I’ve read stories of extreme harassment and doxing, such as when writer Lindy West had a troll pretend to be her deceased father or when game developer Brianna Wu had to flee her home. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve experienced my fair share of trolls, mostly on Twitter and in YouTube comment sections. Those types of trolls are easy to deal with though. You can ignore them on Twitter, or sometimes it’s fun to retweet their horrible words to your followers to show the world what you put up with. On YouTube, you can disable comments or replies to your comments, as well as block certain users. It’s annoying, but one of the unfortunate consequences of being so engaged on the internet. As the internet is a tool where every user has an equal voice, as women and other marginalized folks begin to speak up, there’s always going to be those trying to shut us down.
However, it wasn’t till this past winter where the realities of what I’m doing as a journalist and a feminist activist started to set in.
Back in December, I wrote a piece for Guerrilla Feminism about the harassment women in online-based STI (sexually transmitted infection) support groups are met with. I received a great deal of backlash from that piece from the online herpes community, specifically from other women. No matter how many times I reported harassing comments and messages, Facebook never saw them as violating their “community standards.” Instead, it was me who got banned for 24 hours for simply defending myself. This lack of care on behalf of social networks when it comes to this sort of bullying was a theme I saw yet again in January.
Since March 2015, I’ve helped to admin an intersectional feminism group on Facebook called Fantastic Feminism. I’ve loved to watch it grow in membership size, and I would smile every time I received a message from someone telling me how the group has helped them to learn and grow as feminists. Myself and the other admins have tried very hard to foster a safe and supportive community space. We even went so far as to have a new members survey as a screening process for people who would join. For the most part, we were successful at keeping those with less than authentic intentions at bay.
What we weren’t prepared for was a group of over 5,000 members called Anti-SJW (“social justice warriors”) to target us for their amusement. They’re a group of people from all over the world, of all different ages, who have one thing in common - hating people like us, people who are outspoken about feminism and other areas of social justice.
They sent in a bunch of fake accounts to our group and were apparently lurking for months, saying nothing, but taking screen shots of us and making fun of us in their group. Obviously we removed anyone who didn’t complete our survey or who acted in a problematic fashion, but some of these stealth accounts managed to slip under our radar. It wasn’t until I got a private message from a random guy hitting on me that I knew something was up. I spoke about it in the feminism group, and then got another message from him telling me to “stop posting about him in a hate group.” I blocked him, thinking that would be the end of it. But a few hours later, I was bombarded with messages from people telling me what a terrible person I am, how I’m a bitch, a cunt, a feminazi, etc.
The other admins and I began to crackdown on the group’s membership, deleting over 100 people who weren’t active or seemed suspicious or fake, as well as not allowing any new members in. We felt like we had an obligation to maintain the group’s notion of being a safe space, especially since many members talk about sensitive subjects. More of the people from the Anti-SJW group tried to join, and when they were denied, messaged me personally asking why. One of them was this lovely gentleman:
This guy had a public profile with his employer listed. Apparently he was a substitute teacher at a grade school. Considering he is denying cyber bullying is real when teens literally kill themselves over it, I felt it was important to email the school he works for, with this screenshot included, to inform them of their employee’s stance on this issue. And when it got out to the Anti-SJW group I did that, the harassment just got worse. I received private messages on Facebook, comments on my public Facebook page, Tweets, and even emails filled with violent and hateful words. Some I responded to, but most just I blocked and reported. Here are a few messages of the dozens I got during these four days:
One of my friends and a fellow admin in the feminism group went undercover in the Anti-SJW group and sent me screenshots of what they were saying about me, which included talks of contacting my school, my mother (which they actually did end up doing via Facebook and her business email), as well as doxing me on 4chan and 8chan. In fact, that doxing attempt did occur, though nothing resulted from it:
I was freaked out beyond belief. At its worse, I woke up to 58 notifications. I was in contact with Crash Override Network, who forwarded my screenshots on to their connections at Facebook and Twitter, because none of these messages or comments I reported myself violated the social network’s arbitrary “community standards.” Seriously. Not one was removed. I spent hours opting out of those strange websites that sell your personal information such as your address like peoplefinders.com and intelius.com (apparently it’s completely legal for them to sell public records like this). And I even went down to my local police station in tears to file a report. The legal term for this is aggravated harassment.
After a few days, the harassment died down, but this experience acted as a huge wake-up call for me - this is what I will have to get used to as a woman who is outspoken about social issues. This is the price women pay for speaking up, people (read: men) constantly trying to shut us up, to keep us in line, to make the virtual space of the internet mimic real life. But the internet is a social equalizer. The internet is our space. And though this experience haunts, I will not let these people silence me.
A version of this piece was originally published on Ravishly