After The Guardian launched a campaign called The Web We Want, in preparation for a conference next month, it was discovered that of the top 10 most abused accounts on Twitter, eight were women and two were black men.
As women make up the majority of internet users, tend to worry more about what people say about them online than men do, it comes as no surprise that they suffer more from the black web syndrome. And it’s not just celebrities like American rapper Azealia Banks, the outspoken columnist Katie Hopkins or the likes of Hillary Clinton getting bulk of the harassment.
When think tank Demos carried out a three-week study in the Spring (they used the words “whore” and “slut” to find these offenders) it turned up with 6,500 users in the UK users had faced abuse from 10,000 menacing tweets.
Cyber harassment of any form is a serious affair. As the founder of Act Against Bullying I know the consequences on anyone can be life-threatening.
However, the investigation coincides with the launch of Reclaim The Internet, a political consultation about the worryingly high levels of misogyny on social media and online. It was spearheaded by a group of female MPs from both the political right and left, namely Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Jess Phillips, former Tory minister Maria Miller and former Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson. The aim of the cross-party campaign is to take down, in particular, women-bashing trolls.
Giving this operation a distinctly feminist overtone, Yvette Cooper explained that the campaign title had been inspired by the Reclaim The Night movement of the 1970s, where women took to the streets to protest violence against women by men.
So while this seems on the surface a worthy cause to bring gender abuse into the 21st century, the news that half of the authors of these “misogynistic tweets” were actually penned by women has rather put a spanner in the works.
What’s to be done about it? Death and rape threats are obviously terrifying. No one, male or female, should have to tolerate such aggression on the net for voicing their opinions in a free speech forum. The whole ethos of the World Wide Web was positive and educational, not the opposite.
Sure, it would be good to get something done. However, the success of the operation will also depend on finding an answer to the conundrum of what to do when it’s not actually online sexism that is the problem, i.e. men against women or vice versa, but something far more complex and less politically convenient.