The social media experience that comes across as a liberating tool for women is often equated with a safe space where one could confidently voice opinions in the public sphere. However, recently, a series of incidents have sounded a note of caution against the euphoria around social media. It has been compared to a street where women are abused, threatened, ogled at, and rebuked - only virtually.
Modern technology, including emails, blogs and social media platforms, have supplied new avenues for circulating abusive content regarding women in general, and more specifically to women active in politics, as bloggers, activists or politicians. Female Twitter users find themselves not only abused through words but also through morphed photographs with captions circulated online by other users.
The use of hate speech, threats and bullying to intimidate people into silence or away from certain topics is a far greater threat to free speech than any legal sanction. “Imagine this is not the internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there's a free speech issue there. But not the one you think.” Ally Fogg
Abuse over political tweets isn’t a new phenomenon, it has, however, significantly gone up. There are currently too many examples of women being harassed and bullied through the Internet, especially women involved in politics and these are just a few:
• A young Fijian woman who intends to stand in the Fiji elections says she has received threats, including threats of rape, on social media;
• Laurie Penny, a UK political journalist, received direct threats to her and her family for criticizing neo-liberal economic policymaking;
• Italian Parliamentarian, Laura Boldrini, and other female politicians have been harassed with graphic sexual taunts and Internet threats of torture and murder;
• Criado-Perez, of Rutland, UK received abuse after her campaign for a woman to appear on a bank note resulted in Jane Austen being selected for the £10 note;
• Kavita Krishnan, Indian feminist activist and political commentator, recently opposed the induction of a controversial chief of a right-wing outfit, who led an attack on women in a pub, and drew a barrage of online abuse. Responses were replete with sexist comments and death threats. Additionally, there were many others who endorsed rape threats directed at her;
• Indian female politicians active on Twitter have been subjected to scornful tweets, often threatening their family members.
In this discussion, we would like to hear from you whether you have ever faced online harassment and share good practices or laws which were effective in curbing online harassments.
Q1. Do you have an example or a story to share of online harassment of women leaders, activists, bloggers or feminists?
Q2. What do you think would be the best measures to stop or control virtual harassment against women in politics?
Q3. Do you know of existing awareness campaigns that can be shared on stopping virtual harassment against women in politics?
Q4. Are there any laws in your country to prevent and punish (sexual) or virtual harassment of women?