Writer Fights Online Harassment
An Australian newspaper columnist who contacted the employer of a man who left verbally abusive comments on her Facebook page has expanded the global debate about online sexual harassment.
On November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Clementine Ford, a columnist on the Australian website Daily Life, wrote about the violent and sexual insults she received through the course of her work. After a male poster called Ford a “slut” she contacted the man’s employer, listed on his public Facebook page.She included several screen shots of the man’s posts, which she described as “an assortment of vile racism.”
After it was reported that he was no longer working for the company, Ford explained why she notified the man’s employer.
“I’m sick and tired of men abusing women online and continually getting away with it,” Ford wrote.“I don’t really see that there are any appropriate mechanisms, particularly on Facebook, to really deal with these kinds of things.”
“I think the power comes from women standing up together and saying this is what happens when we speak up. This is harassment that all of us experience, and it’s not OK,” wrote Ford.
Ford said she was frustrated with Facebook’s system for reporting abuse. Twitter has faced similar complaints.
Last May, the organization Women, Action and the Media (WAM) issued a report on online harassment that found young women are the most likely to be victims of severe online harassment.
Jessica Gaulin, a founding member of WAM’s Montreal chapter, reported that women speaking on topics previously dominated by men, like sports or the gaming industry, were most likely to be victims of online harassment.
But it doesn’t stop there.
“Women who are presenting themselves online as a feminist and speaking on feminist issues are absolutely targeted for very severe online harassment,” Gaulin said.
Facebook and Twitter have functions that aim to deal with abuse: blocking, muting and forms for reporting the accounts that are posting the abuse.WAM’s research looked at how effective these mechanisms are.
“Twitter actually acknowledged that they felt that they were lacking in this field,” added Gaulin.
WAM’s report contained recommendations broad enough to apply to all online platforms.It asks platforms to broaden their definitions of harassment, improve users’ ability to filter abusive comments and hold abusive users responsible for what they post.
Gaulin hopes social media sites will stop allowing users to have a level of anonymity that allows abusive harassment without consequence.
“Ideally, those platforms would evolve in such a way that the people who feel that they can hide behind their anonymity and not be held accountable for those violent actions will eventually feel that they are no longer being active in a sphere that allows them to do that,” she said.
—Women, Action and the Media
Clementine Ford, a contributor to the Australian website Daily Life, was sick of the online harassment endured.