Writer Fights On­line Ha­rass­ment

Herizons - - Arts & Culture Columns -

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.

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