“One person said I should get cancer, I had somebody threatening to find me and tie me up”.
Last week, best-selling feminist author, Jessica Valenti, decided to take a break from social media following death and rape threats directed at her 5 year-old daughter. In recent weeks, there has been a surge in online hate and abuse directed towards women. A fortnight ago, JAN Trust participated in a conference held in London organised by Reclaim the Internet, to address the issue of online abuse. Reclaim the Internet is a campaign which brings together media platforms, tech companies, campaign groups, think tanks, employers, trades unions, politicians, the police, teachers, students, journalists, public figures, youth organisations and young people to take a stand against online abuse.
Our Director, Sajda Mughal, has been the target of online hate speech a number of times. Recently, she was subjected to a tirade of abuse on Twitter following a tweet she posted about the Fireman Sam Quran incident which sparked an Islamophobic row. This week, Nottingham Women’s Centre manager, Melanie Jeffs, who successfully campaigned for misogyny to be considered a hate-crime spoke out about the abuse she’s received since Nottinghamshire Police started recording misogyny as a hate crime. The most recent high profile case of online abuse was that of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones who received a torrent of racist abuse on Twitter. This led her to quit the social media platform but before doing so she spoke out against racist Twitter trolls and urged Twitter to do more to fight racist abuse saying we need to “stop letting the ignorant people be the loud ones.”
A study has revealed that in the space of 3 weeks from the end of April, 6500 Twitter users received 10,000 misogynistic tweets in the UK. Internationally, the figures were 200,000 misogynistic tweets sent to 80,000 people – surprisingly, over 50% of offenders were women! A report was released by the United Nations in January 2015 which “suggests 73% of women worldwide have been exposed to or are the target of some form of cyber violence. In the 18 months since then, online abuse – particularly of women, and, in the wake of the murder of the British MP Jo Cox, female politicians – has come under greater scrutiny”.
Women aren’t the only ones being attacked online. There are countless news stories about children being afraid to go to school or college or committing suicide because of cyber-bullying. There are also stories about young people with health issues such as anorexia who face a barrage of abuse online.
Although some perpetrators have been prosecuted, civil society organisations have said that there isn’t enough being done to tackle online hate. Social media companies have been told by the government that they need to do more. Currently, Twitter’s website provides it users with instructions on how to stop abuse received via its platform. This can be done by either blocking the Twitter account, or reporting it. However, if Twitter deletes the account, the same person can create a new account. People won’t stop abusing others online until there are stricter community guidelines and they realise the consequences of violating these guidelines.
At JAN Trust, we are standing up against the hate; through our Web Guardians© programme, we educate women an mothers on how to they can protect themselves and their children when online.