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WTF Monday: Abuse against women online

Hana Shafi

Take Back The Tech, an online campaign that seeks to bring awareness and end abuse against women in the info and tech world, has recently published a report that analyzes the policies on reporting abuse on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.

And of course, they totally suck. The report shows that there’s an extreme lack of transparency about how abuse is dealt with and who gets to decide what constitutes abuse. The report also determined none of the three social media outlets provides any way to appeal decisions—plus, responses from the companies are almost always a  vague email on reviewing the report and making a decision.

Take Back The Tech formatted the report like a report card. Facebook received a passing grade—an astonishing D+—due to greater transparency about the process of reporting abuse, but Youtube and Twitter both got an F.

Of course, for any feminist and activist online, this report comes as no surprise.  Abuse online, particularly through sites such as Twitter, is rampant, and the block settings can’t really do much. In fact, blocking someone who is harassing you on Twitter still means they can access all your tweets and profile, they simply can’t follow you and they won’t show up in your mentions. But, if an online abuser decides they’re going to tweet out your Twitter handle and call on their massive armies of misogynistic dudebros to spam your Twitter, well, then you’ll be spending a nice chunk of your weekend blocking people.

It sounds melodramatic, like something that doesn’t really happen. But I see it every day. Seriously, every day. I’ve been harassed online more than I count. When you’re a woman online, you come to expect that this is just the risk you have to take. But that’s unacceptable. Why should we have to expect abuse? Why must we develop thicker skins to deal with abuse and bullying, rather than demand these multi-million dollar companies refine their policies?

I’m curious to see how Take Back The Tech would rate Tumblr, where feminist and anti-racist blogs are easier to take down than neo-Nazi blogs. Yup, you read that right. I’ve seen activist blogs face fear that their accounts might be suspended, while blogs idolizing serial killers (those exist, can you believe it?) and white supremacist blogs are magically able to stay up.

When for so many women and other marginalized folk the real world is not a safe space it’s disheartening, to say the least, when online space is also not safe for us. We use sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube as safe havens for our opinions and expressions, places where we can connect with like-minded people and establish a positive online community. But these communities face major obstacles, with some women simply leaving Twitter or Facebook, rather than stay and face abuse.

Even though the report is disappointing, and unsurprisingly so, what Take Back The Tech is doing is monumental for women online and is bringing awareness to the fact that violence against women and abuse online aren’t two issues that are world apart; they’re heavily connected. And if social media steps up to take a more progressive stance against abuse online, rather than sweeping it under the rug, it will contribute to any even greater cause of keeping women safe whether it’s on a URL or IRL.

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