Trigger warning – rape threats, threats of assault, sexual harassment.
“#twittersilence”. This article from the Huffington Post talks a little bit more about what it is, but today has been a day of protest against rape threats made on Twitter to high-profile tweeters such as campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and Member of Parliament Stella Creasy. This day of protest has involved a 24-hour commitment to not tweeting.
I’ve not been observing any degree of Twitter silence today. I refuse to be pushed off of Twitter by online misogynists who want to silence me and silence other women. I won’t be bullied or threatened into submission, and it saddens me that it has come to this. Whilst I respect and admire those who are “keeping their online mouths shut” as it were for the day, I can’t help but wonder what it will achieve. Not tweeting for a day will do little to deter the threats I receive over the internet. In fact, I think it will probably further encourage them, supplying them with further “feminist rubbish” ammunition for them to use as sick justification for their malicious actions.
Of course, the most common suggestion – naturally, mostly from men – to deal with such behaviour – threats of violence and rape – is to “block and ignore” the abusers. I find this “solution” problematic for a few reasons. Firstly, that attitude would not be acceptable were the threats made in real life, because when someone threatens to kick your head in, ignoring them and pushing them out of the way probably wouldn’t help the situation. Secondly, for that reason, it smacks of victim blaming. The emphasis is taken off the person who is making threats, and put onto the victim. And thirdly, quite often, by the point of block and ignore, the damage has already been done. The mental and emotional effects of such threats must not be underestimated.
The other suggestion is the discussion surrounding the “report abuse” button. The advantages and disadvantages of such an option can be debated, but it seems absurd that there was no easy-access mechanism to report such vile behaviour to begin with, especially considering malicious tweets can be criminal, as proven with the abuse thrown at Tom Daley in 2012. Or do “ordinary people” not warrant a similar reaction? Is the seriousness of your claim ranked dependent on your online voice, your number of tweets, your number of followers?
One of the saddest parts of this whole debates for me personally, is that a few short days ago, Caroline Criado-Perez was receiving publicity for leading a great campaign, and a great win with the Bank of England. When you typed her name into Google, there were countless articles about what she, and women across the country, had achieved together. Today, if you typed her name into Google, you only see articles about trolls, about rape threats, about clear and constant online misogyny. Caroline Criado-Perez, according to the internet, has ceased to be a strong, determined campaigner for women’s equality, and is now a victim of the awful hatred which breeds online. That is a sad injustice.
I am glad she has been able to twist such abuse on its head and begin a country-wide discussion on the treatment of women within the walls of the world wide web, but it shouldn’t take day after day after day of solid, vile abuse towards a woman like Caroline for people to sit up and take notice of what women have to endure day in, day out on the internet. And what of women who don’t have such a platform? Women who are vulnerable? Women who we have a duty to protect? Women to whom such threats are life changing – just like some of the comments I have received over the internet.
Comments where I was threatened with rape, and in the same series of tweets told that I was “too ugly for anyone to want to rape me”, for challenging people who thought using the hashtag “things that are worse than rape” hashtag to make jokes at rape victims’ expense. Comments where I was told I need “a great big cock up my arse, whether I like it or not” for challenging homophobia on the internet. Those are equally as upsetting and uncomfortable as the man at Westbury train station who asked me for oral sex. Equally as disturbing and terrifying as the man who followed me around a club, ignored my requests for him to leave me alone and proceeded to attempt to force me to kiss him, and put his hands down my pants. They are not any less damaging because they are written in pixels within my mentions on Twitter. They still show the same disregard for my feelings, the same ignorance of my safe space. Such degrees of misogyny exist both inside and outside of the internet, both equally as concerning as the other, both needing to be challenged.
That challenging comes from calling out injustice when it happens, both on and offline. The majority of those calling outs won’t be pleasant. The type of people who think its acceptable to threaten anyone over the internet probably aren’t going to be particularly if you challenge them. But Stella Creasy put it best – “This is not for women to accommodate – it’s for society to stamp out.” Highlighting the problem and ensuring it’s acknowledged is the first step. Teaching women that such behaviour online doesn’t have to be accepted is next, until trolls no longer get the sick kick out of abusing women that they do now.
I will shout back. I will not be told not to “feed the trolls”, as though it is somehow my responsibility to prevent people threatening me with rape. I will not be silenced by rape threats, because that is exactly what these misogynists want to happen. The threat of rape has become a weapon of power to be used against women over the internet, often in a way which few would re-enact in reality, because “Twitter has enabled people to behave in a way they wouldn’t face-to-face”. And for as long as those threats – as long as sex – are used as a weapon without consequence, women will never be free.