Rape threats and Twitter: My article on online abuse

I explain why I felt the need to write an article about online abuse towards women for my journalism Masters XCity Magazine, including interviews with Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Laurie Penny & Helen Lewis

*Tweets shown based on real tweets; not actual tweets received

*Tweets shown based on real tweets; not actual tweets received

Rape threats on Twitter, women being targeted for their apparent sexual attractiveness, anonymous social network users who seem to think any woman (or man, but less so) who dares to speak or act in a public space deserves anything they can throw at them, utterly repulsive, offensive or sexist or otherwise.

Even typing those sentences makes me sigh; makes me angry – haven’t we done this already? How many times does it need to be said for people to realise that targeting people in this way is completely and totally not OK? And not only that; that it happens, that it’s a problem, that women suffer it daily; fear it daily, and that it genuinely shuts down discussions and only adds to the prevailing bullshit idea that women are whinging harlots merely overracting when someone disagrees with us? And that basically, we need to ‘play nice’, and as women, sit down, be quiet and look pretty?

Well, apparently more times, and more again, if the past few days are anything to go by. This is a minority issue, sure (few men, I am certain, would think the behaviour of such ‘trolls’ is acceptable) but the minority are currently ruining it for the rest of us.

 

Caroline Criado-Perez, journalist and campaigner, who successfully spearheaded the recent ‘women on banknotes’ push with the Bank of England, and before that set up The Women’s Room to champion the visibility of female experts in the media, has been subjected to days and days of harrassment – from the ridiculous to the bafflingly sexist to the all-out rape threats – via Twitter. For so many people that I follow, women (and a few men), this is sadly almost routine.

So much is online sexist abuse an accepted issue in many online media circles that in March, as part of my journalism MA degree, I wrote an article about it, exposing its existence and asking what could be done about it, and interviewed Cambridge professor Mary Beard, New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis, Criado-Perez herself, journalist Laurie Penny and others on the issue, which had been bubbling under the surface for months. Read it here. In itself, this discussion is lamentably nothing new.

Except this time it’s come to the fore; a man has been arrested; the issue has made front page news, and a Newsnight investigation led to its serious discussion – finally – in mainstream media. Could this be the beginning of social media sites and the wider population at large finally addressing what so many female journalists – especially those who “dare” to talk about such subjects with candour, honesty and anger – know already? The online space can be a threatening one. Legislation already exists to combat threats and harrassment in the real world; could it be now has come the time for genuine consideration of how to police this new online one?

I bloody well hope so.

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