For women, having a voice and being visible has often been dangerous. For women online, it has become increasingly so. Women who speak up online have been the subject of vicious harassment, cyberstalking and, in the recent case of women-in-gaming advocate Anita Sarkeesian, even death threats. The anonymity of the Internet emboldens some men to take their misogyny to frightening levels, as in the ongoing #Gamergate brouhaha.
Now Women, Action & the Media, a nonprofit that pushes for gender justice in media, has entered a partnership with Twitter to make the Internet a safer space for women. Twitter users who are experiencing gender-based harassment or abuse can now fill out a simple WAM! report here. In addition to expediting these abuse reports to Twitter for speedy handling (within 24 hours), WAM! will analyze the collected data over a test period and then work with Twitter on how they can best respond to attacks. WAM!’s executive director, Jaclyn Friedman, said of the collaboration:
The disproportionate targeting of women online results in them removing their voices from the public conversation. We’re so glad that Twitter recognizes that the best way to ensure equally free speech for all users on their platform is to ensure that all users are equally free to speak without being targeted by harassment, abuse and threats.
A new Pew research study reveals that 25 percent of young women online have been sexually harassed and 26 percent have experienced online stalking. The study also found that women are disproportionately targeted for the most severe forms of online abuse, such as physical threats.
This isn’t the first time WAM! has successfully pressured a social media platform to protect women users. Last year, it launched its #FBrape campaign, which resulted in Facebook admitting that it has failed to remove content promoting gender-based violence. The company agreed to drastically revamp its response to what it considered gender-based hate speech.
For too long, online harassment, just like street harassment, has been seen as something that “comes with the territory” of being a woman in a public space. Thanks to the work of organizations such as WAM!, major social media players like Facebook and Twitter will no longer be allowed to treat these issues with apathy.
However, as noted in The Atlantic, despite the billions of dollars Twitter has the company has outsourced the protection of women on their platform to a tiny nonprofit. A better show of solidarity would have included Twitter devoting a portion of its gargantuan staff to this; it definitely has the resources. Friedman herself said:
I’m frustrated. For all the money they make off their users … I don’t think we should have to do this work. … I think it’s a scandal that a tiny, under-resourced nonprofit with two staff members is having to do free labor for them.
Regardless, this small step on the behalf of Twitter is still a move forward in ensuring that free speech is a reality for everyone online.