Women’s Org. Unites With Twitter To Create Online Harassment Reporting Tool

twitter-harassment

Is free speech really free? What about when you freely express your views online via social media and you get viciously attacked and harassed to the point where you are afraid for your actual life? This may be a hypothetical question for some of us, but unfortunately it is a daily reality for many women.

Think of Anita Sarkeesian and the whole gamergate saga where women like her were being doxed (personal details exposed by haters online because they chose to speak about about an issue) and they were forced to shut down their twitter accounts.

For the large part, social media should be a democratic space where everyone can express themselves and not have to fear for their lives. But it has fast become a place where vicious anonymous (and cowardly) bullies reside, waiting to “take down” anyone who doesn’t fit in line with their way of thinking.

The other problematic part of this issue is the internet censorship laws, or lack thereof we should say, in many western countries. It’s not just the #gamergate hashtag where you can see evidence of harassment, feel free to check out #yesallwomen or #whyistayed for example to see some of the disgusting comments made toward women, because yes, most of the hate is directed at women who choose to speak up about something they feel strongly about.

Or for a very specific example all you have to do is look at how the late Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda was harassed on Twitter following her father’s death. She received such ugly threats and comments online it forced her to shut down her account, and also forced the social media site to publicly declare they are going to re-evaluate their “trolling” policies.

You know, many years ago women were silenced by beatings, being put in jail, spat on, stoned publicly, put a mental asylum and the like, for speaking out about something or even for being different. Have we progressed much? Or has the battle just moved to a different platform? Today, women’s voices are being shut down and it is time organizations and the social media platforms themselves take a stand to say “enough!”

Women Action Media, a group dedicated to fighting for gender equity in “media access, representation, employment in ownership” have teamed up with Twitter to create a tool where people can report online harassment. The project was announced on November 6 via a press release which stated they are aiming to cut down on the harassment of women on the popular social media platform.

“Starting today WAM! is running a running a pilot project to support all Twitter users experiencing harassment and abuse on the platform due to their gender,” they stated.

They have a created form which you fill out and send back to WAM.

woman-angry-computer

“We’re thrilled to be working with Twitter to make their platform safer for women. The disproportionate targeting of women online results in them removing their voices from the public conversation. We’re so glad that Twitter recognizes that the best way to ensure equally free speech for all users on their platform is to ensure that all users are equally free to speak without being targeted by harassment, abuse and threats,” said WAM! executive director Jaclyn Friedman.

Before this, people could report harassment to Twitter but there was no specific system in place to take action against it, and sadly many people’s complaints go ignored. But this new initiative, they hope, will go a long way to giving Twitter the tools they need to properly deal with online harassment.

“We’re using this pilot project to learn about what kind of gendered harassment is happening on Twitter, how that harassment intersects with other kinds of harassment (racist, transphobic, etc.), and which kinds of cases Twitter is prepared (and less prepared) to respond to. We’ll then work with Twitter to improve their responses to the harassment of women on their platform,” it says on the report form.

Of course, gender harassment isn’t the only form of harassment that exists in the world or online, so it is important that WAM! and Twitter are focusing on the differing types of cyber-bullying.

WAM! cites a Pew Research Study which found 25% of women online have experienced some form of harassment, and 26% some form of stalking. And no surprise here, but women are disproportionately affected by online harassment than men.

Their overall goal is to ensure women have the same level of access to free speech and and safety online as men. In 2013 WAM! teamed up with UK advocate program Everyday Sexism on the #FBrape campaign which successfully convinced Facebook to crack down on content with promotes gender-based violence.

Perhaps this is a great time to bring up Hollaback’s recent street harassment video which went viral, and reiterate the point that no, any form of harassment is not ok, and no (Steve Santagati) women shouldn’t just have to put up with a seemingly harmless comment from a guy simply because he feels the need to utter it. The only argument here is that a woman should be able to walk down the street, go online, share her views and express herself without being harassed, examined, put-down or subjugated in any manner.

The truth is we don’t live in a truly equal democratic society the way we like to think. All you have to do is scratch a little deeper to see what is going. This new test project with WAM! and Twitter is hopefully going to mean a break through in online harassment and change the way bullies use social media as a means to silence women who use their voice.

Women-action-media

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