I have been hearing so many cases of cyberattacks on women lately. As a father of two daughters, it distresses me. Yesterday’s article in the Atlantic gives an excellent — if frightening — overview of the problem, with the tagline — “Under the banner of free speech, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been host to rape videos and revenge porn—which makes female users feel anything but free.” But the real meat of the article isn’t that — it’s this:
Across websites and social media platforms, everyday sexist comments exist along a spectrum that also includes illicit sexual surveillance, “creepshots,” extortion, doxxing, stalking, malicious impersonation, threats, and rape videos and photographs. The explosive use of the Internet to conduct human trafficking also has a place on this spectrum, given that three-quarters of trafficked people are girls and women.
In an increasing number of countries, rapists are now filming their rapes on cell phones so they can blackmail victims out of reporting the crimes. In August, after a 16-year-old Indian girl was gang-raped, she explained, “I was afraid. While I was being raped, another man pointed a gun and recorded me with his cellphone camera. He said he will upload the film on the Net if I tell my family or the police.”
In Pakistan, the group Bytes for All—an organization that previously sued the government for censoring YouTube videos—released a study showing that social media and mobile tech are causing real harm to women in the country. Gul Bukhari, the report’s author, told Reuters, “These technologies are helping to increase violence against women, not just mirroring it.”
And no woman is safe from it. Authors and comic book reviewers haven’t, in the past, been hugely public figures, but I know women in both of these fields who have actually stepped away from their passion and their chosen career — in at least one case, making the highly personal decision and the business decision of ceasing to publish books — because of the degree of harassment and violent threats they have received. (I know others who have taken a “bear it and keep going” approach, but I don’t think anyone can judge such decisions, one way or the other.)
It is sobering.
The first step is to be aware of just how prevalent this problem of gang or mob action against women online is becoming; the second step is to get people talking about it. I don’t what the third step is, yet. That will require smarter minds than mine.
What I do know is that we can’t just turn a blind eye. In neighborhoods near my own, there are houses that long had bars over the basement windows — not to keep burglars out, but to keep enslaved women in. People long walked past while their fellow human beings suffered just yards away. Knowing this, I refuse to accept the idea that collective, anonymous violence, whether verbal or physical, toward women in my community (whether local or online) somehow isn’t my problem.
What we cannot do is neglect to talk about it.