#研究分享#【争取被认可:滥用互联网行为对四国女权博主的侵犯研究】

#研究分享#【争取被认可:滥用互联网行为对四国女权博主的侵犯研究】美国的研究人员对德国、瑞士、英国、美国四个国家一共109位女权主义博主的研究发现,73.4%的人在社交媒体和博客上经历过负面的影响。这些负面的经历不仅包括涉及辱骂性言论,而且还涉及跟踪,死亡威胁以及不愉快的线下遭遇。而博主们应对这些负面经历的策略包括评论和揭露这些人的行为,调整心态和团结起来。研究人员认为社交媒体上的民主仍然是偶然的,网上的喷子滥用互联网的行为是通过技术,法律,社会和文化因素构成和构建的,也必须要通过系统性的应对措施来解决。

女权

Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States

Women who blog about politics or identify as feminist in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States face great risks of online abuse. In-depth interviews with 109 bloggers who write about feminisms, family, and/or maternity politics revealed that 73.4% had negative experiences due to blogging and/or social media use. Most of these negative experiences involved not only abusive comments but also stalking, trolls, rape threats, death threats, and unpleasant offline encounters. Response strategies included moderating comments, exposing abuse, adaptation, and solidarity. I argue that the democratic potential of social media in democracies remains haphazard because online abuse is not fully recognized as entangling online and offline communication, constituted and constructed through technological, legal, social, and cultural factors. Using the theoretical approaches of digital feminisms, I call for more systematic empirical work on global recognition of online abuse as punishable crime.

 

Some 25 years after the advent of the World Wide Web, online abuse, especially of women who speak publicly online, has become a major problem (Banet-Weiser, 2015Banet-Weiser and Miltner, 2016Jane, 2014Mantilla, 2013Penny, 2013Phillips, 2015Turton-Turner, 2013). It is perhaps the most visible and worrisome symptom of a global society in which online and offline communication coexist and intermingle. Women have asserted themselves publicly online using the tools the Internet provides, yet women remain vulnerable when doing so. Especially when women post about politics or challenge what counts as political, they risk online abuse, meaning they may experience “name-calling, efforts to be purposefully embarrassed, physical threats, harassment over a sustained period of time, sexual harassment, and stalking” (Duggan et al., 2014: 10).

This definition by the US Pew Research Center does not specify whether these incidents occur only online. I argue that understanding online abuse requires including incidents that occur offline due to someone’s online postings or presence online. This also means that people can become victims when others create an online presence for them (with or without consent). Yet, the public, social media, law and law enforcement, and society do not adequately recognize online abuse as a punishable crime, and few scholars call them crimes (with exceptions of Citron, 2014 and in passing Penny, 2013).

Online abuse is often trivialized and framed as jokes; calls to address online abuse are dismissed as attempts to curb freedom of speech and impose censorship (Banet-Weiser and Miltner, 2016Jane, 2014Turton-Turner, 2013). The question of who takes which position in this debate depends on who can participate in which discursive activities online (Shaw, 2014). This in turn is based on the material realities and privileges offline that individuals lack/enjoy in a global power web (Dobson, 2015Gajjala and Birzescu, 2010Jane, 2014Mantilla, 2013Sadowski, 2016). In other words, technology and gender co-evolve and influence each other, are constantly socially constructed, and are situated in particular moments in space and time (Wajcman, 2008). Clearly, online abuses and offline dynamics are enmeshed and need to be studied in conjunction, as GamerGate (Wingfield, 2014) and the twin histories and cultures of popular feminisms and popular misogyny highlight (Banet-Weiser and Miltner, 2016).

I argue that the democratic potential of public online spaces where women can express their concerns remains haphazard in democracies. Online abuse needs to be taken seriously and addressed through all its contributing factors (in no particular order): the gendered constructions and affordances of online technologies (Wajcman, 2008), a lack of an appropriate legal framework and enforcement (Citron, 2014), and a continued history of rape culture and misogyny (Banet-Weiser, 2015Banet-Weiser and Miltner, 2016). Online abuse can only be understood in the context of specific gendered histories of geek culture (Penny, 2013), troll culture (Phillips, 2015), and rhetoric (Lane, 2015), all of which anchor the authority to speak to male bodies. This means online spaces re-create and re-enact oppressive normative social structures (Brophy, 2010).

I extend this line of research to lesser researched countries and lesser known bloggers by interviewing 109 women in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States who blog about feminisms, sexual politics, and family. Blogs are one of the oldest tools for public expressions online: They are fairly easy to create/operate, provide space to post large amounts of texts regularly, and encourage connecting with others via comments. Hence, blogs were the most useful starting point to research women’s experiences online and also over a longer time period. My research focused on the following questions: Which negative situations have women bloggers encountered and how have they responded?

Digital feminisms provide theoretical approaches to specific ways that online spaces remain a double-edged sword for women, not only providing opportunities for self-expression but also making them vulnerable to abuse. New technologies through their contradictions provide openings for resistances, while simultaneously new strategies emerge to hurt or exploit users or discredit feminisms (Banet-Weiser, 2015Dobson, 2015Gajjala and Birzescu, 2010Kanai, 2015Shaw, 2014).

For this study, online communication is defined as mediated communication using Internet technologies, such as, but not limited to, the World Wide Web, the deep web, and Internet2. Offline communication is defined as interactions via pre-Internet technologies. I distinguish between pre- and post-Internet technologies as the importance of the Internet for everyday use by the public for work, leisure, and necessities has increased tremendously over the past 25 years (Shaw, 2014). For instance, in 2015, the US Federal Communication Commission designated broadband Internet as a utility and “core of free expression and democratic principles” (Ruiz and Lohr, 2015).

Before detailing the negative experiences of women bloggers, I summarize literature on online abuse of women, theories of digital feminisms, and the study’s method.

Vulnerabilities of women online

Sexism, misogyny, and abuse chill women’s expressions online through self-censorship (Abidin, 2013) and online abstinences (Mantilla, 2013Ohlheiser, 2016Piner, 2016). Merely being read as a woman speaking online bears a great risk of abuse, often expressed in violent language and amplified when targets expose attacks (Banet-Weiser, 2015Banet-Weiser and Miltner, 2016Filipovic, 2007Jane, 2014Kendzior, 2014Lane, 2015Mantilla, 2013Shaw, 2014). US researchers have described this pattern since at least the 1980s (Herring et al., 2002). Chat room users with female-sounding names were 25 times more likely to receive threatening and/or sexually explicit messages than male-sounding names (Meyer and Cukier, 2006), and men routinely acted aggressively toward women in a large peer-scoring online portal (Warren et al., 2012). A representative US online survey found that young women are especially affected: 26% said they were stalked (7% of men), 25% said they were sexually harassed (13% of men), and the harassment took a “serious emotional toll” (Duggan et al., 2014). Online abuse also has negative professional and economic consequences for victims (Citron, 2014).

Similar but fewer studies exist in Europe. Of the 48,000 women across the European Union, 11% said they experienced sexual online abuse on social media, in email or via SMS; among women between 18 and 29 years, 20% said so (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014). In contrast to many studies, a survey of 349 respondents (women were 68% of respondents) on cyberstalking in the United Kingdom found that the percentage of women and men saying they experienced harassment on social media was similar: 63.1% and 61.1%, respectively (National Centre for Cyberstalking Research, 2011). The authors suggested that the numbers are similar as women reported a higher rate of cyber harassment from someone they had dated, whereas men were twice as likely to become victimized by someone at work via work email. It may also be relevant that more men work. While men were concerned about damage to their reputation, women feared physical harm.

As most studies used surveys, media reports, and/or auto-ethnography; were based in the United States and the United Kingdom; and focused on high-profile cases, I analyzed the experiences of a variety of women told in their own voice. Which abuse do they encounter and how do they respond to it? Below I outline my theoretical approach to online abuse.

Digital feminisms

Online abuse is best analyzed through feminist theories of technology and gender. Evolving from a rejection of technology in the 1970/1980s when men dominated technology, cyberfeminists embraced the affordances of new technologies to strategically work toward transforming gender relations (Paasonen, 2011Wajcman, 2008). Women came to see technology as a source for pleasure and agency (Wajcman, 2008), hoping a digital world would erase discriminating gendered dynamics. Yet, critical interrogations, especially in the 1990s, shifted theories to a more constructivist paradigm that emphasizes technology as malleable, containing contradictory possibilities and being source and consequence of social constructions of gender (Wajcman, 2008), race, and class (Gajjala and Birzescu, 2010Shaw, 2014).

The performance of femininity in online spaces in contemporary postfeminist and neoliberal contexts—with emphasis on an assumed confident but (self-)surveilled self—has become a focus of feminist scholarship on digital communications. Girls and young women are compelled to brand themselves online as powerful and sexy, while social media users they interact with correct deviations from accepted behavior (Abidin and Thompson, 2012Dobson, 2015Kanai, 2015). By extension, every woman is expected and controlled in her expressions online to follow accepted behavior. Feminists have transgressed these expectations using digital media to continue fighting for long-standing issues and addressing new issues born out of digital interactions. Emerging theories increasingly recognize not only that but also how offline and online experiences are intertwined. For instance, Helga Sadowski (2016) theorizes three types of digital feminisms: street activisms planned via digital media, Internet-born movements only constituted on social media, and activisms that fight Internet-related problems.

Particularly useful is Brophy’s (2010) theory merging cyberfeminism and liminality. Liminality illuminates the in-between-ness of individuals, groups, and societies transitioning to intertwined online–offline communication. The daily liminality of individuals’ online–offline switching that Brophy describes is exacerbated by the liminality of society-at-large moving to an enmeshed online–offline communication. Brophy’s approach rejects simple cyberutopia and abbreviated understandings of technology as extensions of bodies. She argues that “lauding cyberspace as merely a disembodied utopian dream masks the processes and performances that re-create and re-enact oppressive normative social structures—both in cyberspace and in our shared bodily space” (p. 931; emphasis in original). This contributes, she argues, to a normative assumption of online users as mostly White, tech-savvy, US-based men in which socio-economic contexts of the body are not considered for voices online. Furthermore, she claims that in utopian visions of spaces, online bodies are erased or backgrounded feeding into a mind/body dichotomy and other dualisms that valorize men while othering women. Brophy emphasizes that without a body we cannot access the Internet; this particular body is always constructed socially and performed—body and technology collaborate to reproduce gender online.

As Adrienne Shaw (2014) writes, the Internet, as with society “offline,” includes racism and sexism, “com[ing] out of a position of privilege that has been created via the same historical events that made ‘tech culture’ a particular form of masculine culture” (p. 275). She argues that people act as “jerks” when they can get away with it, no matter which space. Currently, the Internet remains a space that is legally, technologically, socially, and culturally constructed to allow perpetrators of online abuse, misogyny, sexism, and racism to go largely unpunished. I argue that this is in part because online abuse is not fully recognized as entangling online andoffline communication, constituted and constructed through not only technological and legal but also social and cultural factors. Online abuse is still too often treated as an “online only” phenomenon, assumed to be unlike other crimes, and thus not affecting or harming its targets despite studies showing harmful effects on victims (Citron, 2014Duggan et al., 2014).

For analyzing the experiences of women bloggers, qualitative methods were best suited to provide “rich, detailed descriptions of human experience, dialogic encounters between self and other” (Lindlof and Taylor, 2002: 28), specifically in-depth semi-structured interviews and textual analysis.

This study focused on women, rather than comparing women and men, as men bloggers already enjoy higher visibility than women in the United States (Harp and Tremayne, 2006Meraz, 2008), United Kingdom (Pederson and Macafee, 2007), Germany, and Switzerland (Harders and Hesse, 2006Schmidt, 2008). In-depth interviews gave women a voice, recognizing their importance and struggle despite lacking visibility while facing higher risk of online abuse. While scholars studied women bloggers in the United States (Chen, 2013Friedman, 2013Husbands, 2008Lopez, 2009McDaniel et al., 2012Morrison, 2011Stavrositu and Sundar, 2012), very few concentrated on women in the United Kingdom (Pederson and Smithson, 2013) or Germany (Seidel and Gerdes, 2014Winkler, 2013), and none on Switzerland.

I interviewed women who blogged at least partially about feminisms, sexual politics, and family, based on the concept of minimal politics (Macgilchrist and Böhmig, 2012). Minimal politics refer to the smallest, daily, radical, and democratic practices that destabilize hegemonic formations, questioning what counts as political.

I selected four countries as the history of international, comparative studies demonstrates that cultural, political, and historical contexts shape journalism (Hanitzsch, 2009), and in extension public online expressions, and that researching in more than one country can yield more insights. I do not have sufficient space to detail each country’s context, but evidence from four countries strengthens my argument that the democratic potential of online spaces remains haphazard for women in more than one national context. I argue this is based on the lack of recognition of online abuse as crime that include intertwined online–offline communication and gendered, raced constructions of who is privileged to speak publicly in which way.

Following the most similar systems design, country selection was based on “systems as similar as possible with respect to as many features as possible constitute the optimal samples for comparative inquiry” (Przeworski and Teune, 1970: 32). I used four countries because a higher number would not necessarily yield greater advantages (Kohn, 1989) and goes beyond the capacities of one researcher. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland provided sufficient similarities regarding democratic political frameworks, populations’ Internet use, and gender gaps in Internet use (Table 1). As a native speaker of German, I chose Germany and Switzerland due to my familiarity with blogging dynamics in Germany and my outsider status to Switzerland to gain fresh insights. Furthermore, both countries have been barely studied regarding online abuse and gender which compelled me to contribute to filling this gap. I chose the United States and the United Kingdom due to my fluency in English and familiarity with the United States as resident and my outsider status to the United Kingdom for contrasting insights in the Anglophone blog scene.

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Table 1. Overview over the population (in million); form of government; democracy rank (lower scores indicate higher amount of democratic features, Global Democracy Ranking, 2013); gender score (the higher scores indicate higher degrees of gender equity, Global Democracy Ranking, 2013); media system (Hallin and Mancini, 2004); and Internet use in the total population and by gender in the United States (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2015), the United Kingdom (Office of National Statistics, 2016), Germany (Frees and Koch, 2015), and Switzerland (Bundesamt für Statistik [Federal Office of Statistic], 2015).

Table 1. Overview over the population (in million); form of government; democracy rank (lower scores indicate higher amount of democratic features, Global Democracy Ranking, 2013); gender score (the higher scores indicate higher degrees of gender equity, Global Democracy Ranking, 2013); media system (Hallin and Mancini, 2004); and Internet use in the total population and by gender in the United States (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2015), the United Kingdom (Office of National Statistics, 2016), Germany (Frees and Koch, 2015), and Switzerland (Bundesamt für Statistik [Federal Office of Statistic], 2015).

Women bloggers were identified starting with the most prominent blogs in each country: blogs mentioned in leading American, British, German, and Swiss news media, for example, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Spiegel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and Tagesanzeiger; feminist magazines Bitch, Bust, and Missy; at annual conferences on blogging, re:publica, in Germany; the International Communication Association and the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication; and appearing when searching via Google for “women” and “blog” and “[country]” between January and December 2013. Two previous studies on blogs in Germany also led to contacts for bloggers in all countries. Through this purposive snowball sample, I emailed 242 bloggers asking for interviews after my university’s Institutional Review Board approved the study. Bloggers were promised confidentiality and anonymity. This yielded 109 interviews: 19 in Switzerland, 34 in Germany, 19 in the United Kingdom, and 37 in the United States.

Interviews were conducted in English or German by the author between April 2013 and January 2014 via phone or Skype/Google+, except for three conducted in person and four in writing due to hearing impairments or privacy concerns. Interview times ranged from 30 to 90 minutes. The majority of participants was a citizen of the country where they resided, identified as mothers (62.6%), Caucasian (79.3), heterosexual (70.1), held a university degree (76.2), and was married (53.3). Age ranged from 22 to 69 years; median age was 38 years (Table 2). In total, 22 participants had blogged for 6 months to 2 years, 55 participants 2–6 years, 26 participants 6–10 years, and 6 more than 10 years. Blogs were active for at least 6 months and frequently updated. Personal information stems from respondents’ self-descriptions.

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Table 2. Dimension of identity of participants (N = 109).

Table 2. Dimension of identity of participants (N = 109).

Interviews and samples of interviewees’ blog and social media posts were transcribed and translated by the author. Transcripts were textually analyzed by the author to discover emerging topics regarding negative online experiences and responses. Intra-coder reliability was insured by using a constant comparative method between transcripts of the different interviewees to check for reoccurrences and range of themes (Brinkmann and Kvale, 2015). A robust saturation (Krueger and Casey, 2015) was reached after coding all 109 interview transcripts. Closely re-reading transcripts led to subthemes for negative experiences, responses, and reporting to the police, detailed below.

Negative experiences

The most salient finding was the high level of negativity and abuse that bloggers said they experienced: 73.4% (80 of 109 women) recalled an unpleasant encounter. Simultaneously, interviewees demonstrated a high level of resilience and sophistication facing online abuse, and the majority with negative experiences said that abuse happened to them far less often than positive encounters. (Due to limited space, these cannot be detailed but included personal, professional, or financial benefits.) One 38-year-old White German mother, and freelance journalist for other highly visible online platforms, estimated that her feedback contained 10% negative and 90% positive comments. While most women did not quantify their positive and negative experiences, the 1:9 ratio appeared to apply to most of the 80 interviewees with negative incidents. Few women said they had repeated and/or high numbers of unpleasant experiences, but no matter the number no interviewee dismissed them as insignificant.

The most frequent negative experience interviewees noted were, by far, abusive or insulting comments: 69 of 80 women with negative experiences said they had received hate mail (rape threats and death threats were counted separately, Figure 1), via comments on their blog/site, tweets, or email. Bloggers noted that increasingly social media, especially Twitter, are used for commenting rather than comment sections on blogs; many linked their blogs to social media. Attacks included remarks about the blogger’s appearance and sexuality. For instance, interviewees said they were called “men-hater,” “men-hating bitch,” “CIA-bitch,” “Feminazis,” “bitch,” “Jewish bitch,” “ugly,” and “stupid.” They received remarks, such as “[being] chronically underfucked,” “she just needs to be fucked right,” “you just need to be raped,” “I know you’re not going to publish this but I still want to tell you that you suck,” “we’re standing in front of your house,” and that someone would like to see a blogger “gang-raped” or “throw a bomb on your head.”

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Figure 1. Numbers and kinds of mentions of negative experiences (N = 109, multiple mentions per person).

Of the 80 women with negative experiences, 26 said they faced trolls and/or so-called shit storms. The latter involve a large number of insulting and/or outraged online comments to/about a blogger in a short period of time; the term is used in Germany and was added to the German dictionary due to its significance and frequency (Duden, 2014). Trolls are users who provoke to disrupt/derail discussions and sometimes are defined as a subculture that enjoys disruptions for the laughs (Phillips, 2015). One 57-year-old White veteran blogger in Germany and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) advocate said she dealt with a troll posting weekly. A 38-year-old UK feminist1 blogger said a troll followed her from day 1, sending “sinister comments” about her private background, abortion, and business.

Of the 80 women, 12 said they had received rape threats; 8 said they had received death threats. For instance, a 34-year-old sex-positive American Black feminist described comments saying a “bomb should land on your head” and that she “deserves to be raped.” A 25-year-old American White women’s rights advocate and a 22-year-old White Hispanic feminist activist similarly were told they “deserve to be raped.” When asked whether she has had negative experiences, a 38-year-old White British feminist blogger said, “Oh my goodness, yeah. The hate is overwhelming. I don’t go a week without a death threat. When I started out I never expected that level of hate.” A British 36-year-old feminist White researcher said, “I’ve also been abused on Twitter and my public e-mail address via the university. I get sent links to pornography, get sent sexually explicit threats … threats of sexual violence.”

Half of the 80 women with negative experiences noted another wide range of intertwined online–offline troubles, such as parents, in-laws, or colleagues upset with their blogging; their blog getting hacked; their identity getting compromised; their content getting plagiarized; and their site getting linked to or visited by pedophiles, right-wing activists, or people with fetishes. For instance, one 39-year-old White American feminist blogger said people threw garbage on her lawn and published her identity, address, and phone number on a dating website. Another 35-year-old White American feminist mother said people sent police and health department officers to her for alleged wrongdoing. In Germany, the logo of the site of a 35-year-old White feminist campaign organizer was pasted onto a Facebook page with the twisted motto “feminism is fascism.” A 40-year-old Swiss mother said a colleague tried to use her blog against her husband (albeit unsuccessfully). A 48-year-old White feminist British blogger said that people manipulated the search for her name on Google so that users were taken to a pornographic site; her blog was featured on a site designed to attack women bloggers.

Among women with negative experiences (80), a much higher percentage of women identified as feminist, 73.8%, compared to women without negative experiences, 44.9%. Similarly, more participants with negative incidents said their blog is political: 70%, compared to 51.7% of women without negative experiences (Table 3).

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Table 3. Identification as feminist, blogging as political, and negative experiences (N = 109).

Table 3. Identification as feminist, blogging as political, and negative experiences (N = 109).

These findings are in line with studies showing that being a woman online carries a greater risk for (sexual) harassment. Indeed, with an average of 73.4% across all four countries, the percentage of women who reported negative experiences was far higher than reported in previous studies. Women who identify as feminist, regularly write about “traditional” political issues, and/or redefine what counts as political face a higher risk of online abuse than those who do not identify as feminist and/or write about or challenge “traditional” politics.

Response strategies

The most common response to online abuse was to “moderate” comments: 71 women said they approve comments before comments go online, and 32 after they are published. Of women without negative experiences, 35.5% allow comments on their blog automatically; of the women with negative incidents, only 27.5% did so (Table 4).

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Table 4. Commenting policy and negative experiences (N = 109).

Table 4. Commenting policy and negative experiences (N = 109).

These findings agree with data showing that pre-screening or banning disruptive users/comments has become common for women-centered groups online (Herring et al., 2002); early moderation can stop trolling in some cases (Korenman and Wyatt, 1996). Yet, virtually all participants allowed comments and engaged with readers. Only one 29-year-old White German woman (with negative experiences) said she no longer allowed comments, given repeated abuse, which she said she refuses to police. For most women, negative incidents—sadly—had become “background noise,” as one participant said.

More than a quarter said they “exposed” abuse on their blog, Twitter, or other websites (Figure 2). Several Germans said they submitted abusive comments to the German-language website http://www.hatr.org which collects such comments. The site divorces comments from the target, exposes comments in their abusiveness and ridiculousness, and potentially monetizes them, alleviating the target’s burden to deal with them (Sadowski, 2016). A 32-year-old American White feminist activist used Storify to publish abusive tweets. After hearing about the blog Dooce (2016), on which Heather Armstrong posts hate mail flanked with advertisements to “monetize the hate,” one 35-year-old American feminist mother makes “haters” pay for accessing her blog. While her pay wall has not deterred all trolls, she said, at least now they must pay for continued visits. Such efforts to expose online abuse show that women are attempting to proactively set boundaries on what is unacceptable online, publicly shaming abusers.

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Figure 2. Numbers and kinds of mentions of response strategies to negative experiences (N = 80, multiple mentions).

A similar array of responses was observed by Crystal Abidin (2013) in her study of women in Singapore whose livelihood depended on commercial lifestyle blogging. When confronted with online abuse, their first response was to ignore comments, sometimes reducing their amount. Some bloggers publicly shamed their abusers, sometimes leading to new cycles of abuse. Abidin also details the bloggers’ efforts to adapt to audience demands to change their appearance or lifestyle, to designate work versus leisure time, and to avoid hot button and personal issues. Most women in my study were not under financial pressures; none changed their appearance and blogging blended into leisure time. But women whom I interviewed also said that they avoided topics perceived to invite online abuse (more below). Remarkably, Abidin noted bloggers in Singapore rarely confided in each other about abuse. I found that 16 women used a buddy system, letting friends or fellow bloggers moderate insulting comments or sharing incidents to reaffirm they are not alone.

Such solidarity has contributed to increased awareness of negative instances among women bloggers. Almost a fifth of the women with negative experiences expected negative incidents, especially if they identified as feminist. Similarly, almost a fifth said they have become accustomed to banning/blocking users, deleting or ignoring their insults. Some social media allow filtering, blocking, and reporting abusers and are alert to detect online abuse (Lapowsky, 2015Twitter, 2016). Other sites implicitly condone abuse targeting women. For instance, Yik Yak identified to the police a user posting death threats against Black students (Thielman, 2015), but refused to identify who sent sexually abusive comments about a woman professor (Mahler, 2015). GamerGate (Wingfield, 2014) and the online messaging board AutoAdmit (Filipovic, 2007) further demonstrate that not all sites manage abuse adequately.

Online abuse also affected several participants’ expressions online. In all, 12 women said because of abuse or in fear of it, they keep a “low profile”: not posting on hot-button topics, emphasizing facts, toning down their language, or not promoting their blog to a wider community. They removed personal information from their blogs, such as addresses and photos of their children. One White 45-year-old mother said she used “to let loose and share something honest” online—until she was attacked on a website called “Get off my internets,” designed to attack women bloggers. Since then, she said, she pulled back “emotionally” albeit still enjoying posting on pop culture and feminisms but using more sources and facts. A 32-year-old Indian feminist in the United Kingdom said she carefully phrased a post on hijabs and Black hair because she was not “racially Black.” She said she is “double-cautious” when writing about topics, such as race, fearing negative responses. A 37-year-old White British mother said she seldom wrote opinion pieces because she does not handle criticism well, limiting posts to recipes, crafts, and daily activities. Similarly, a 39-year-old White American mother decided not to write about “charged topics,” such as guns and abortion, to not “open up a can of worms.” A 37-year-old lesbian British mother said she decided not to use the word “feminism” on her blog to minimize misogynist comments. Several bloggers in a community on special-needs children said they kept their group small and “quietly police” odd comments.

More concerning than the chilling effect on expressions is temporary withdrawal from posting or the Internet. For instance, a 32-year-old American White deaf feminist blogger described a shit storm she experienced:

I ended up having to go offline for several weeks because I was so distraught over it. It’s seen as part-and-parcel with blogging. I’ve known several bloggers to talk about how the more popular you become, the worse the negative attention gets. I worry about that a lot, actually, and that’s one reason why I’m glad my community is still relatively small.

While online abuse is concerning in itself given the individual, social, emotional, and professional consequences, public debate loses voices, undermining the Internet’s “core of free expression and democratic principles” (Ruiz and Lohr, 2015) as a public utility.

Seeking help from police

Nine of 80 women with negative experiences (11.25%)2 said they contacted police because they felt seriously threatened online or because a stalker crossed into offline harassment via phone or personal encounters (one in Switzerland; two each in the United Kingdom and the United States; four in Germany). Four said police helped to stop three stalkers and took a case of child pornography seriously. Five said police did not help or respond to requests. One 39-year-old White American feminist activist described the limbo after contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) cybercrimes division who advised her to contact local police:

the people who are doing [online abuse] aren’t local. … so the local police are not going to be able to do anything about it. … I contacted the local police chief about it and he never responded. … because the laws haven’t quite caught up to the internet but … it is not really true that the FBI cares about this thing or takes it serious.

Similarly, a 57-year-old White German LGBTQ advocate said,

One comment was about a rat that is supposed to eat me up from the inside; also “you will be killed.” … I filed charges twice [with the police] but in Germany this does not accomplish anything, also in other countries. I got a letter from the prosecution that this would be “tasteless prose” but not a threat to murder or for violence.

A 38-year-old British feminist blogger echoed this sense of futility. She said the police are “idiots” who advised her to change her email address, blog, and Facebook account and stop writing about certain topics.

Trivializing or ignoring threats and harm leveled against women has a long history in law, for instance, regarding domestic violence and workplace harassment (Citron, 2014). Threats were first dismissed as part of daily life, occurring only in specific environments, and/or have been blamed on the victims. The same “arguments” have been applied to online abuse which is often labeled as harmless teasing or cast as a feature of the Internet and anonymity, often implying that women need to able to handle this on their own if they participate online (Banet-Weiser, 2015Citron, 2014Jane, 2014: 204; Mantilla, 2013Penny, 2013). For instance, in Germany, only 2% of cyberstalking cases lead to convictions; US law enforcement and society are still catching up on recognizing online abuse as a crime (Citron, 2014Quarmby, 2014). While some laws and lawmakers in the United States (Citron, 2014) and the United Kingdom (Best, 2014) allowed for prosecuting and jailing online abusers, these cases have remained exceptions. Just in October 2016, the UK Crown Prosecution Service passed new legal guidelines to “prosecute [online abuse] just as if offences occurred offline”—yet it remains unclear which contexts count, what qualifies as “highly offensive,” and if “misogynist hate crimes” would be considered under these guidelines (BBC, 2016). Meanwhile, women must ensure their own safety, generating guidelines for dealing with online abuse, such as the Columbia Journalism Review’s advice on how “women journalists can protect themselves online” (Sweeney, 2015).

In sum, response strategies and women’s continued blogging despite abuse show that women not only want to be visible in their own spaces, but they also want to make visible how that makes them targets. When they expose online abuse, the abuse is often amplified (Filipovic, 2007; Jane, 2012, 2014). Women cannot rely on existing law; social media sites’ buttons to ban and report are limited to specific sites and their goodwill. Social media companies may also have an interest in keeping users engaged, benefiting from click rates and publicity ensuing hostile exchanges.

Women continue to claim their space and voice online to enjoy personal, professional, and commercial benefits. They have grown resilient in dealing with online abuse, individually and collectively.3 They have few other options. Law, police, social media, and society do not yet fully acknowledge the seriousness and frequency with which women are targets of online abuse. It constitutes systematic discrimination and crime that need to be rigorously prosecuted and penalized. This includes understanding such abuse as enmeshed online and offline communication.

As the Internet is crucial to pursue opportunities, online speech must be regulated in ways that ensure everyone has a fair chance to participate. Recognizing the Internet as a public utility in the United States (Ruiz and Lohr, 2015) and introducing new legal guidelines to prosecute Internet trolls in the United Kingdom (BBC, 2016) are positive steps toward legal, social, and cultural recognition of discriminatory and criminal behaviors in enmeshed online–offline communication. Pew research also supports cautious optimism: Millennials in Germany (70%), the United States (40%), and the United Kingdom (38%) support preventing and limiting speech offensive to minorities (Poushter, 2015).

If countries recognize the Internet as a public utility, fair Internet participation might rise to the status of a human right recognized by international bodies, such as the United Nations. Currently, online communication remains suspended in a liminal stage: Delusions of anonymity online as one of the affordances of online technologies, a continued culture of misogyny (Banet-Weiser, 2015Banet-Weiser and Miltner, 2016Penny, 2013), and gendered histories of technology and online subcultures (Gajjala and Birzescu, 2010Lane, 2015Penny, 2013Wajcman, 2008) generate an environment apart from accepted communication behaviors offline which are regulated and enforced by laws on the freedoms and limits to speech (Citron, 2014). Enforceable rules online have not yet solidified to establish an acceptable intertwined online and offline communication that recognizes the hurt to bodies navigating these spaces (Brophy, 2010).

Legal and regulatory frameworks may always remain behind fast-developing technologies and the ways people interact with and through them. This renders social–cultural determinants just as much, if not more, important to resolve tensions and violence online. Many of the women bloggers I interviewed have already challenged the social–cultural expectations of how women speak publicly. They write beyond and against the social constructions of how women are expected to participate in public discourse. Their consistent and mostly unpaid labor to express themselves speaks of their individual and collective persistence to change the social and cultural conditions for women to speak publicly, even if laws and enforcement lag behind. It is a fine line to walk—to recognize the significance of women bloggers’ tremendous work in laying down new ground rules for acceptable entangled online and offline communication, with solidarity, creativity, and sophistication, while not ignoring the major social, technological, cultural, and legal constraints they face.

Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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Author biography

Stine Eckert (PhD, University of Maryland) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Wayne State University and Vice-Chair of the Feminist Scholarship Division of the International Communication Association. Her research interests include the intersections of social media, gender, and minorities and the democratic potential of social media. She co-founded the Wikid GRRLS Project to teach online skills to teenage girls.

 

作者:Stine Eckert

来源:social media and society

链接:http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1461444816688457


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