It’s Just a “Boyish Hoax” Ladies, Relax!
// Posted by Cora on 03/24/2014 (6:53 PM)
After our class discussions last week, I wanted to continue to focus on the topic of women and the Internet. After reading Amanda Hess’ article, Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet, it became just how important this issue truly is in our current society. In our digital age, it is far more likely for individuals to feel comfortable expressing themselves more freely than they normally would in face-to-face conversation. This is, simply put, because we are able to hide behind a screen. We do not feel the direct affect our words have on others, have control over who sees what we post, and do not have to take the risking our confidence. Although this ability for open expression does yield various positive results, it is also poses very serious threats to individuals’ emotional and physical safety. Where do we draw the line? When is a threat made online taken as seriously as one made in person? Whose responsible for this content and what shall be the repercussions for it?
One set of statistics in Hess’ article really stood out to me: Feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day while Masculine names received 3.7. Similarly, she references a survey that Pew conducted gathering data from 2000 to 2005 which showed the percentage of internet users who participated in online chats and discussion groups. Participants dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent, “‘entirely because of women’s fall off in participation’” (Hess). After receiving both morbid death and terrifying rape threats, it is understandable why a woman would turn away from the Internet- delete her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Should women really be so uncomfortable to the point where they have to do so? Where they feel there is no other option than to “digitally disappear”? This position women often face does not seem fair to me. The use of the internet will only continue to expand and women should not have to choose between using the Internet and feeling safe. The Internet is a crucial resource for work and social communication between family and friends.
A big part of this dilemma is the lack of law enforcement in regards to digital threats. Hess discusses the experiences of numerous women who had been continuously threatened on the Internet. Even after consulting the police, however, the situations largely remained unresolved. As Hess asserts, “the Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction” (Hess). With police dismissing online threats as non-immediate and therefore not serious, women are left alone with no real resolution or justice. With this common pattern of police response, it seems as though they are suggesting that women should take online threats lightly. Obviously, a woman can experience harassment anywhere, not just on the Internet, however, as our society continues to increasingly depend on the Internet, it is no longer something we can overlook. Today, harassers are able to remain anonymous and target women for no reason whatsoever. Who is to tell women that their fear and anxiety is not real? Why is the seemly discrete message seen to be, just forget about it and move on? Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture…
The Internet is not a safe place, and even less safe of one for women. Although there have been various efforts to prevent online harassment and bullying, there are no laws that allow women to bring claims against individuals. This is because the Internet is not an official workplace, but a never-ending universe that lacks individual accountability. Even if multiple users attack an individual, there is no way to group them into one and take action. The Internet allows a sense of mobility and liberation that causes—even encourages— individuals to say whatever they want to without any repercussions. Although I understand the challenges of holding anonymous screen names accountable for their words, I think that it is something that needs more focus as it will only continue to have an effects on our society, on an individual level and on a larger scale. The Internet has become real life and we need to start treating it accordingly.