Students Speak Out: 5 Ways to Stop Online Harassment

7719544848_1a596acbd9My gender studies class at Cal State Long Beach discussed online harassment and came up with its own guide on how we can all work together to make online spaces safer for women.

We know that most men do not harass women online.

We know that many men are willing to stand up to harassment and misogyny.

Yet men’s harassment of women is an ongoing problem that threatens women into silence in online communities. Anti-violence activist Ben Atherton-Zeman wrote on the Ms. Blog about the sexism, racism and homophobia embedded in online harassment, pointing out that “men’s online abuse results in women hesitating to write, stopping writing altogether and fearing for their physical safety.” Feminist author Soraya Chemaly, puts the issue of online harassment more bluntly: “The intent is to silence women.” Online harassment has offline consequences and should never be dismissed as a non-issue.

As students, we take this seriously. Our goal is not to restrict the Internet, but rather to promote accountability on the part of its users. Harassment creates a culture of fear. This fear can be silencing. Visibility should not equal vulnerability. In light of these issues, we have developed the following call to action:

1. Keep speaking out about online harassment. As an online user your right to free speech matters.
2. When posting online comments, critically analyze the ideas, not the person. Free speech does not include harassment.
3. Take threats seriously. If you experience or witness online harassment, report it to the proper authorities. This may include consumer relations, hosting services or law enforcement.
4. Encourage top-down policy regarding online threats and abuse. Contact media outlets, corporations and hosting sites to demand they create anti-harassment regulations.
5. Make it real. Start conversations about what harassment is and how we can interrupt it. Consciousness-raising is the first step to social change.

As students and as members of a free society, we value the robust exchange of ideas to promote the well-being of individuals and our communities. It is time that our policies keep pace with our technologies. Just as harassment in the workplace is no longer tolerated, we now demand a non-hostile online environment. Hate-free Internet policies are crucial for promoting the safety of all people who contribute to progressive cultural and political dialogue.

Contributing student authors from California State University, Long Beach, include Kelsey Brown, Marisol Solares, Bethany Acevedo, Ciera Carson, Eddy Montes, Jessica Jimenez, Jen Insley, Nia Pines, Sean Cardenas and Evelyn Hernandez.

Photo courtesy of Emily Kidd via Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Outstanding blog, and great suggestions from the students! Thank you so much.

  2. Nina Flores says:

    Such an important piece! I hope this call sparks action from students and administrators — these are powerful suggestions that can improve campus policies in this area.

  3. michele marino says:

    And Michele Marino too!!!! Thanks Ben for your wonderful articles, advocacy and support!!!! You should open up a training/recovery center so up and coming young men can come in and be “debriefed” of the patriarchal brainwash, and be restored to a more natural, honorable approach to life!!! You are a jewel!!!

  4. Lori Baralt says:

    Great call to action!

  5. “4. Encourage top-down policy regarding online threats and abuse. Contact media outlets, corporations and hosting sites to demand they create anti-harassment regulations.”

    When you think about it, approach #4 could be remarkably effective. Any online comment, even if made under an ‘anonymous’ user ID, can be traced via websites and internet providers to someone with a real name and street address (where the bills from the internet provider go). The problem could be reduced pretty quickly if we had a licensed enforcement body (or lawyers or hired PIs?) legally allowed access to the information held by the websites and internet service providers involved. The evidence, being in the form of printed words, would be far more solid than for most types of crime. As long as harrassment had consequences (e.g. suspension of internet access for a matter of months, or years for severe offenses such as harrassment of children), it could be reduced pretty quickly.

    Few harrassers would be tech-savvy and well-resourced enough to hide their steps. Besides, anyone with that sort of skill is likely to have better things to do with his time and relatively little need to prop up his ego by putting others down.

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