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Being a Woman, Online

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Amanda Hessfreelance writer and contributor to Slate was on vacation when she found out about a Twitter account created for the sole purpose of sending her threatening messages.

They were bad enough that she was compelled to call the police. The officer who came to her door looked her in the eye and said, “What is Twitter?”

As a writer who covers issues of sex and feminism, this is just one of many instances where Hess has received online rape and murder threats. But she says about this type of unwanted attention: “None of this makes me exceptional, it just makes me a woman with an Internet connection”

As we learned from our listeners who called in to the show, you don’t have to be a professional writer to be harassed online. The problem is what to do about it once it happens.

“Harrassers and people who threaten women," she says, "will try to harass women in a way they think they can get away with by either making their profile anonymous or by talking around the letter of the law to manage to harass someone without making it a criminal threat. And I think the cumulative effect of harassment like that is very real. Women have to deal with a bunch of vile material just in the course of doing their jobs, and there’s not a lot of legal frameworks to remedy that or to discourage it among anonymous trolls.”

She also blames the lack of females working in the tech world for a lack of understanding on the issue. When asked what it would change if there were more women in the field, Hess responded: “I think it would change the world.” Read her piece in the Pacific Standard"Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet."

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Comments [63]

L from New York

"Richard from Putnam County" you mean there is no "women-hating" in any other country?

Jan. 22 2014 01:16 PM
Valerie from New Jersey

The one time I received a death threat was after a letter to the editor at in the Trenton Times was printed. The packet, which sent to my home even though only my town was printed in the paper, included all kinds of religious, demonic, anti-just-about-everything pictures, notes and drawings. It was sick. I sent a copy of the packet to the paper which forwarded it to the police. I was one of many who'd received these threats, the police followed up, the guy went to jail. He's out now. I received another packet last year from him, no obvious threats this time. He's learned his lesson. I'm still shaking that a looney knows where I live.

Jan. 15 2014 07:54 AM

Sorry but any legislative attempt to 'corral' the wild and wooly Internet is going to succeed about as well as putting an end to file sharing. Ain't gonna happen any time soon.

Next time you are threatened respond in kind with "Bring it on, slugger. I've got Mr. Smith and Wesson over here and their fifteen of their 40 cal cousins who want to meet you."

Save their response - if they dare - and give it to your local police.

Jan. 14 2014 06:43 PM
Rose Rowland from Cortland Manor, NY

This type of harassment has been very virulent since Moms Demand Action became active. We are CONSTANTLY being attacked and threatened online for anything and everything we post about sensible gun control. It got so bad that Atlantic magazine did an article about it.

Jan. 14 2014 04:06 PM
Rose Rowland from Cortland Manor, NY

This type of harassment has been very virulent since Moms Demand Action became active. We are CONSTANTLY being attacked and threatened online for anything and everything we post about sensible gun control. It got so bad that Atlantic magazine did an article about it.

Jan. 14 2014 03:03 PM
Dom from ManH

Inwoodista - You've shifted categories - the issue under discussion is about threats of violence to women, sexual violence being a subset. I assume that most violent threats come from men(my guess 80%?, particularly those which are sexual(98?); and that women are overwhelmingly the recipients of the sexual violent language... not many people have ever doubted this. However, recipients of general abuse I guess are more or less 50/50. I object to the whittling down of a general crime 'verbal abuse/violent threats on the internet', which we have all experienced, which needs general legislation, action protecting us all, to the singular case of men against women. Rape is rape, child abuse is child abuse, violence is violence - victims and abusers are from both genders, law and ethics do not see differences according to gender - sociologists, psychologists, etc do - and they have interesting, considered, nuanced things to say about these differences. Amanda Hess is coming from the former, not the latter - i.e. she is talking about crime, prevention, punishment, and expressed little or nothing about the latter.

Jan. 14 2014 02:35 PM
Margit from Brooklyn

On a related note: We have a story on TueNight by writer Cheryl Botchick about how she faced down a nasty internet comment that trailed her for 13 years: http://tuenight.com/2014/01/how-an-unimaginably-nasty-online-comment-haunted-me-for-13-years/

Jan. 14 2014 01:28 PM

Ms. Hess' treatment is horrid.

This seems like it's a matter for Congress to strengthen federal law and the FBI/ DOJ to establish better training for its investigative arm, enforcement, education, etc. They can work with state and local law enforcement to develop better standards. (For instance, that harassment should be taken seriously from the first point of contact between complainant and the police).

Sadly, I doubt people probably cannot rely on local police for tech harassment. At the least, work with the State police.

It's not surprising that Mountain View, CA would have the attitude and response Ms. Hess described. That's the core of Silicon Valley.

Jan. 14 2014 01:00 PM
Kathleen from New York

Perhaps Amanda Hess and others could file suits based on anti-defamation laws and/or libel laws because such comments made publicly defame and libel a person's reputation and public standing by making her out to be sub-human.

Jan. 14 2014 11:48 AM
Inwoodista from Inwood, Manhattan

Dom, despite your use of fashionable academic language ("gendering") in this context, the fact is that it is WOMEN, not men, who are almost exclusively subject to repeated direct violent sexual threats online. If can collect the data to prove otherwise, please do. Yes, men are also subject to violent sexual threats via anonymous comments. And that's significant. But what percentage (compared to women) have been subject to continual direct threats and digital stalking over months and years? Data from a study about this would be very valuable.

Jan. 14 2014 11:44 AM
Eric

Amanda Hess has said some pretty stupid, idiotic things in her time (namely her vigorous defense of valley girl Kim kardashian style uptalking as the voice of superior people). But I would never ever remotely attack her and her right to such stupid ideas with such language as she's faced just for existing on the internet.

The comments from all the regular trolls below, always desperate to be acknowledge by Brian, in effect encapsulate what's wrong with this whole internet contraption. A desperate need to matter and taking this segment personally because the fear of being portrayed like those who stalked Hess. The worst thing that ever happened to society was the internet making every anti-social reject feel like they matter.

Jan. 14 2014 11:35 AM
Blacksocialist from BKbaby

mr bad - preach on, preach on......... and please understand that this is in no way endorsing harm to anyone, but please...

Jan. 14 2014 11:29 AM
Dom from Manhattan

This is an important issue & lot more can and should be done about it. Rigidly gendering the issue is not helpful. It's not an accurate reflection of reality, it is not a successful strategy for getting something done about it, and it ironically seems sexist - selling the simple myth that 'men' are the aggressors, women the victims.

Jan. 14 2014 11:28 AM
Amanda

A Reddit user recently wrote that he created a fake OK Cupid profile ( "a gender-swapped version" of himself) just to see what would happen, and he was surprised and alarmed by the aggressively sexual messages that he received right off the bat. The story generated a lot of "No duh" responses from female Redditors, of course. Perhaps more men should try this sort of awareness/empathy exercise.

Link: http://www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes/comments/1uqym6/as_a_guy_i_wanted_to_know_what_it_was_like_to_be/

Jan. 14 2014 11:28 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

jgarbuz from Queens, right you are. We all need heavy weapons
to protect us from our insane fellow Americans. Glock, AK47?

Jan. 14 2014 11:25 AM
henry from md

John - women can be bullies, just in another adroit and snide way. In what world are you living?

Jan. 14 2014 11:24 AM
jm

Thank you Amanda (and Brian) for the advice!

MichaelB: my case involves someone I personally knew years before. Several other female friends have also reported scary harassment from men under the same circumstances. All of the men in question happen to be in their 40s. In every case, the harassment was surprising. I can only say we're not accusing men in general of anger toward women, just reporting our personal experiences. We know that most men don't harbor secret rage against us, but we're upset that this sort of thing has become some kind of rite of passage for women.

Jan. 14 2014 11:24 AM
Richard from Putnam County

That there is so much women hating in our culture - and as a man I can tell you there is A LOT - proves how degenerated our society has become. America is a cesspool.

Jan. 14 2014 11:23 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Meg from SI: Your problem is that you accepted an invitation from them. If an invitation is issued, it is most likely fraudulent and you can check that by holding your mouse over (but not clicking on) the name of the sender. You should then see the actual address from which it has issued, which is generally NOT the authentic address of the company.

Any time you want to participate in such an activity, you should seek them out (www.nameoforganization.com), not answer an invitation.

Jan. 14 2014 11:22 AM
Richard from Putnam County

That there is so much women hating in our culture - and as a man I can tell you there is A LOT - proves how degenerated our society has become. America is a cesspool.

Jan. 14 2014 11:22 AM

Similar to men's room graffiti:
"For a good time, call [girl's name] at [phone #]"
But the internet audience is much wider.

Jan. 14 2014 11:19 AM
Kathleen from Park Slope, Brooklyn

The majority of these comments just go to support Hess's argument, from both the side of those who have suffered aggression online and those who deny it exists.
The idea of "staying off the Internet" is just as unreasonable as saying "staying off the sidewalk" --- being online is a major part of people's lives, both personally and professionally. The most troubling thing about both these comments and the on-air discussion that prompted them is how they reveal(not so latent) perspectives on women's roles and identities that we like to believe disappeared for the most part with the turn of the twenty-first century. Clearly, much more work needs to be done for women to feel secure and comfortable in all arenas.

Jan. 14 2014 11:18 AM
Rita Houlihan from NY, NY

Harassment of women who dare to speak in the public space has been practiced since at least the days of the Roman Senate (5-1st C. BCE). See excellent example in 'When Women were Priests' by K. Torjenson of Cicero's slander of a powerful Senator's wife who dared to oppose his(Cicero's)election to the Senate. Cicero denounced the woman as a loose woman. In Roman society, and by some today the accepted belief is that women who dare to speak in the public space can be targeted for abuse and assumed to be sexually immoral. All of our cultural institutions, especially churches and government need to denounce this old assumption about women in public spaces.

Jan. 14 2014 11:18 AM
John

"This woman is choosing to be harassed"

Mr. Bad, wow ... got it, you're a psycho.

Jan. 14 2014 11:17 AM
From Michigan to NY from Michigan

Sometimes women are the worst harassers. Some woman posted my name and address, pre-Facebook and Twitter, to Craigslist when I had a relationship with her boyfriend when the two of them had "temporarily" broken up.

Jan. 14 2014 11:17 AM
John

Henry, do you honestly think that women are threatening to rape and kill other women? You don't think it's much, much more likely to be some creepy "mens' rights" activist, who clearly has an axe to grind to women?

Jan. 14 2014 11:16 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

First, I have never had this experience, but I don't think it is limited to women.

Second, unfortunately, much of this e-mail harassment is protected by the First Amendment, and we can't change that simply because it is important that our speech be protected.

Third, has Ms. Hess tried using her e-mail account's protections? Yahoo!, for example, has a list to which you can add people from whom you do not wish to receive e-mail. Any e-mail coming from that address, no matter what name is associated with it, won't get through.

Fourth, there should be key words or phrases that should raise a red flag that you should automatically send to various authorities, including your ISP. If the Internet Service Provider has a complaint against a particular party, they can track down the IP address, contact their counterparts and have the harasser's internet privileges revoked. As a matter of fact, ISPs should be able to do this based on key words and phrases being used by its customers WITHOUT spying on everyone simply by having an algorithm that picked up on the language randomly and then cutting off the service of the user and reporting the use to authorities.

Finally, ultimately there is never protection from real lunatics. Their activities are random, their motivations obscure. And the issue is how to protect our freedom of speech without curtailing that of the lunatics.

Jan. 14 2014 11:16 AM
Female from NYC

Two things:

A friend had a threatening online stalker and hired a lawyer to go to court and get a protective order. It cost thousands of dollars. Not a solution for most people. We've got to have better options.

The other thing -- Y'know how, when you're walking down the street and you sense that the guy walking toward you is staring and getting ready to say something demeaning? And they always wait until they're right next to you to speak? What I've started doing is, when he gets about 2 yards away, without looking at him, I just casually start picking my nose. It really disarms them, girls!! ;-)

Jan. 14 2014 11:15 AM
henry from md

Brian, why don't you respond to some of the comments on your web site in the way you are addressing this or other subjects?
John A for instance wrote: "On the (all female) panel of 'To The Contrary' this article was brought up and there it was stated that Internet bullying can also originate from the women themselves. The point was seconded by another panelist. Transformation is needed everywhere on the Internet, with many camps, not just the men.

Jan. 14 2014 11:14 AM
jm

I should have been more specific with my question: what are the general precautions women need to take and our local recourse resources for digital harassment across state lines? I've always had public access to social media on lockdown, and my domain registration info doesn't reveal my address. How do I balance between my need for both professional exposure and private safety?

Jan. 14 2014 11:14 AM
cervantes

Jgarbuz.. so no conservative women ever get harassed ? not every comment wears its political stripes,guy. your premise is quite perverse,in and of itself. all people should be dealt with in a dignified way,what the hell difference does ideology have,or should have?!

Jan. 14 2014 11:14 AM
Melanie from New York

Even when we are not public figures and people are not responding to images of us or our publicly shared opinions, it is a problem.

I used to play scrabble online under the handle "Melanie". This was an online space only for serious scrabble nerds, so I wasn't expecting explicitly sexual comments and harassment. I changed my handle to "FatDave" and it mostly stopped, except for a few instances of "I bet your name isn't dave. I bet you you're not really fat. I bet you're really hot..."

So jarring.

Jan. 14 2014 11:14 AM
Mary Cozza from NYC

Women have to take this seriously not as victims but standing up for their own civil rights. Ex. there is now a law that a man rubbing his crotch against you or touching you on the subway is not legal (something we used to just regard as part of being a woman on the subway at rush hour). We have to be bold enough to yell STOP and get people to hold him till a cop comes. Fear of taking, and insisting on, action is a big part of the problem. Same for demanding that online vendor takes down those comments immediately and/or comes up with flters before comments are posted.

Jan. 14 2014 11:12 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Cervantes

Who is "we?" Women can protect themselves. The old "protect women and children" is male chauvinism that presumes that women are incapable of taking care of themselves. Feminists claim they are, so by all means let them defend themselves. I not going to protect anyone but myself, and will never call on any man or woman to protect me.

Jan. 14 2014 11:12 AM
The Truth from Becky

A civil rights issue? Listen for the "race" comparison argument in 10...9...8

Jan. 14 2014 11:10 AM
John

"Men in general are frustrated with being the target of this unrelenting one-sided barrage of criticism."

This is such BS. I'm a man, I have never been targeted with any criticism from women just because of my gender. Can you give any examples? At all??

Jan. 14 2014 11:10 AM
Jeb from Brooklyn

TINY MINORITY? Brian's comment shows why men need to take this more seriously. One hopes that most men don't actively attack women online or elsewhere, but even if we are talking about a minority it is not insignificant. Or sufficiently tiny. It's like saying one's body only contains a small minority of cancer.

Jan. 14 2014 11:10 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

the men harassing women online arent doing it to rid women of the right to pontificate online. conflate much? more often than not it is done for giggles. to rile up the gals. the feminist truly are reaching on this one.

Jan. 14 2014 11:10 AM

"You're fat.", "You're ugly." are gender based? There's part of the problem we can control. How we perceive insults from others. Giving any weight to physical insults from a person that has never met you is silly...on the receiver's part. Sticks and stones...

We SHOULD be more civil in general...not just in our posting lives...but the advent of more widespread online anonymity has made us generally more coarse not less.

Jan. 14 2014 11:09 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Listen, anyone who can be easily intimidated on the internet should either get off the net, or grow a pair and attack back verbally in the same way. We are not going to change people. "Times may change, but people don't." If you can stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Jan. 14 2014 11:08 AM
jm

I was recently harassed online with horrible language, out of the blue. He wasn't a stranger, but someone I knew in real life many years ago (before I moved to NYC). He's located in another state. I've save the screen shots of the conversation, and another friend sent me psychotic comments he subsequently posted about me.

This is a grown man, on the edge of middle age. It's likely I don't have to worry about physical safety since he's a known alcoholic who posts crazy content while drunk and deletes the next day, but should I be doing anything else to establish a record?

Jan. 14 2014 11:08 AM
cervantes

a lot more men than women commit violent crime,plus there is this thing known as physical and societal power differential;so why should we not protect women,Jgarbuz ??!!

Jan. 14 2014 11:07 AM
John

Mr. Bad -- you're saying these threats aren't serious? Have you even had someone call you on the phone and tell you they are going to rape and kill you? Are you serious or just a troll?

Jan. 14 2014 11:07 AM
The Truth from Becky

Uhmm..stay off the internet? I'm just sayin' it is a choice.

Jan. 14 2014 11:07 AM
Jeneba from Brooklyn

I think there is a pervasive underlying sense of frustration, anger, and hostility in online culture in general. I have been flamed repeatedly on fitness and weight maintenance websites - mainly by other women. I wasn't writing anything provocative, believe me.

Jan. 14 2014 11:06 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I wouldn't for a moment excuse or condone any of the behavior that the guest is describing. In fact, I find so much of internet/blogging intercourse to be ugly, self-indulgent, and coarse.

But this subject about male anger for females -- where is the discussion about where this is coming from?

I suggest that the culture, very much including the media, has been conducting a long, unbalanced, non-nuanced campaign of male-bashing for many years. Plus, on an individual basis, women can be very critical and dismissive of men, with an attitude that bespeaks that her attitude & opinion is the one that counts, and that's the end of the discussion. Or, how dare you question my right to my feminist _______ (whatever the details.) In other words, her way or the highway.

Men in general are frustrated with being the target of this unrelenting one-sided barrage of criticism.

Now I know some woman is going to write now and tell me that if men only didn't do this or that, there wouldn't be the need to criticize them. Which is NOT the point; the point is women aren't perfect, gracious little angels either in all cases, but they don't come in for nearly the constant haranguing that men have been subjected to for years -- decades even.

Again, I think what the men who bullied these women did is totally unacceptable. But why are they so angry? No one answer covers all of them.

Jan. 14 2014 11:06 AM
Saskia Scheffer from NYC

Did Lehrer just ask what to do about the sexual aspect? This is sexual? I thought it was violence.

Jan. 14 2014 11:05 AM
SamBrown

I am not trying to minimize this woman's experience, but it should be noted that the internet is often a mean nasty place where online anonymity allows people to say outrageous and terrible things to women AND other men. Also, this woman is dealing with a specific sick individual who happens to be using the internet. Does that mean "Women aren't safe on the internet!" as some kind of social problem? This comes across as overblown or a...manufactured "crisis".

Jan. 14 2014 11:02 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

So what do these feminists want now, men to protect them?

Jan. 14 2014 11:02 AM
cervantes

imbeciles who stalk and harass should be prosecuted to the fullest..!!

Jan. 14 2014 11:02 AM
John A.

I note great force used all-around on the Internet to (slowly) eliminate the use of Anonymity in major sites, like FaceBook and YouTube, and support this change. I have seen a lot of nuts stuff taking place, including fake suicides and homicides, real self-mutilations, etc and plenty of hate. When people lose the ability to make "fake" identities then all this fantasy stuff (including fantasy violence) will go down significantly.

Jan. 14 2014 11:01 AM
!#* from Nj

I like to tool around on Youtube listening to music, and I have to say, I'm often shocked and appalled by the level of vitriol and hate dished out in the comments, usually just attacks on someone's musical opinion or misnomering of a genre (as in "This isn't dubstep, you #*%! idiot.) More than once I've seen it devolve into pure misogyny. I feel internet commentary needs to be held accountable.

Jan. 14 2014 11:01 AM
Elizabeth from Jersey City

Some one put my Facebook photo and naked pictures from the neck down (not me) and my phone number on Craig's list now gone "" casual encounters" section. I got hundreds of phone calls and text message from men looking for a prostatute. It took Craig's list almost 24 hours to take the page down. The Jersecy City police were not able to do anything saying it was only a prank. I never found out who set up this page but I am now more careful with my image online and what personal info is out there.

Jan. 14 2014 11:00 AM
cervantes

..oops, and i just wrote your instead of you're.. i speak from empiricism.

Jan. 14 2014 10:59 AM
I Mask from NYC

It's true, as a female I mask my sexual identity whenever possible - at times choosing to identify as "Other." Far better than identifying myself as female. there are too too many weirdo men over-run with testosterone who 'light-up' at the sight of the word - female.

Jan. 14 2014 10:58 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

If she is so frightened, maybe she should get a gun?

Jan. 14 2014 10:58 AM
John

How can we find these creeps and give them the beatings they deserve?

Jan. 14 2014 10:58 AM
Meg from SI

Years ago, on a quiet Saturday night, I decided to accept the email invitation from eHarmony.com to try it on a trial basis. Now, I should state up top that I'm a lesbian, but I had nothing much to do that evening so I thought, 'why not'. So, for the next hour or so, I completed the eHarmony profile. I should add that there was nothing in my profile that was offensive. I merely answered all of the questions posed truthfully, except for the obvious.

The next day, my email crashed. And it crashed for the next couple of days because of the number of men expressing an interest. At some point, I read some of the requests and was totally awestruck by what was written.

A number of them demanded that respond to them. Indeed, many of them sent follow up emails DEMANDING that I respond to them as soon as possible. Others were similarly aggressive in their insistence I contact them.

I discussed my experience with several women, both gay and straight, and they were equally appalled. Some theorized that it is because men today generally have no positive role models and really have not clue on how to behave generally and how to respect women respectfully.

Jan. 14 2014 10:57 AM
cervantes

btw- the female to male epithet equivalent of "your fat and ugly" is, "your grammar sucks"

Jan. 14 2014 10:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Anyone stupid enough to threaten someone else over the internet, is stupid enough to get caught.

Jan. 14 2014 10:54 AM
Cervantes

What does that even mean ? women can bully online,and they do. often,there are female right fighters who stand behind an ideology,as if that were it's own validation. "Don't talk to me,i've a history of oppression". there is truth to that of course,but you can't make that the "be all end all". if you are factoring the 14-27 year old, "white guy flamers",that's one thing. it's not all of men,however. this convo needs nuance,or else it's going to easily degrade into self serving gender-centric projection.

Jan. 14 2014 10:52 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I believe the internet has to remain free for people to rant and rave and express their true feelings, as repugnant as they may be, because it should be the last bastion of true, unregulated, unfettered free speech. Every forum, like this one, can make its own rules and regulations as to what they allow to be posted but I don't believe there should be any overarching authority to micromanage it. It should also be free for police and other authorities to track down terrorists and criminals as well.

Jan. 14 2014 10:51 AM
John A.

On the (all female) panel of 'To The Contrary' this article was brought up and there it was stated that Internet bullying can also originate from the women themselves. The point was seconded by another panelist. Transformation is needed everywhere on the Internet, with many camps, not just the men.

Jan. 14 2014 10:39 AM

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