Please note, the following information may be triggering
Social media has a funny way of making us all feel brave. When you live behind a screen, you can be anyone. You’re invincible. You have no face, no name, you don’t exist. You are free to speak your mind, your opinion is there for the world to see, and in a way, it can feel very validating. However, with lack of identity comes lack of accountability. The exhilaration of being able to say whatever you please without repercussions makes the internet a playground for sexism, misogyny, racism, and intolerance. Ashley Judd chose to speak out about her own experiences with online harassment after being subjected to brutal threats over a tweet about a basketball game. Not only was this response openly rejected, but it was met with even more vulgar and violent threats that eventually led her to call the police.
This in itself is a new, special brand of misogyny that really started to emerge with the Internet and anonymous culture. Aggressors not only were made to feel to like they were safe enough to openly dismiss her thoughts with rude and aggressive language, but also to send death and rape threats via twitter, facebook, and email. These messages terrified Judd, rightly so, and she chose to call the police after receiving serious and numerous threats. Once this information was released however, the public reacted even worse.
Judd was publicly shamed on social media as being “too sensitive” and “attention seeking”. Users told her to “Grow up.” and implied that if she wanted attention and publicity, she should have filmed a sex tape. (O’Neill) These are prime examples of both victim blaming and rape culture. By blaming the victim for coming forward and seeking help, you belittle their experience and remove their agency in the situation. The power they had from taking control of their trauma is stripped from them, as they are made to feel foolish and second-guess themselves, which they have probably already done many times before. Additionally, the act of threatening violence, rape, and genital mutilation to someone anonymously, and then simultaneously shaming them for being offended and afraid are classic traits of rape culture. The victim is both harassed, and then once again shamed for being upset by it. It implies that the victim’s body is not their own, and that everyone is not only allowed to have a say, but that what they say is “freedom of speech” regardless of how offensive or invasive.
What’s even more horrifying is that this is not a unique case. In fact, scrolling through your news feed and seeing an article or post about online harassment is about as common as seeing a video of a cute but unlikely animal friendship. Online harassment has led to severe bullying, forcing children to change schools, and even suicides. And as much as we see it day to day, and the rate at which it continues to get worse, we still don’t take enough precautions to prevent it, and certainly don’t take it seriously when it occurs.
Amanda Hess experienced an incident where someone on Twitter outlined a very detailed and thought out plan for her murder. Rightly so, she was terrified, and decided to call the police. When an officer arrived however, and she explained what had happened, he responded that he didn’t know what Twitter was. To make matters worse, when she showed him what they had said, his response was that she “should try not to look at it.”(Zetlin) People trivialize issues that would otherwise be taken seriously if they did not take place on social media. If someone received a hand-written death threat in the mail, police would probably assign someone to watch over the house. Bullies in schools are apprehended, while those on the Internet are dismissed, and sometimes even encouraged.
Social media has become a breeding ground for homophobia, racism, and sexism. It has evolved over the years as it becomes easier and easier for people to voice their opinions, regardless of how ignorant and hurtful, without receiving any consequences for what they say. It both normalizes this aggressive behaviour, making people feel as though it is okay, and make victims feel that they are not safe to come forward and talk to someone about what is going on. Whether there is a sure fire way to fix this is questionable, but by raising awareness and being able to recognize it when it happens will help us prevent it in the future.
Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time. Time, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
Zeltin, Minda. “Harassed on Twitter? Here’s How Ashley Judd and Others Are Fighting Back.” Inc.com. Inc. Magazine, 22 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
O’Neill, Lorena. “Ashley Judd Suffers Renewed Backlash for Stance on Social Media Abuse: Read the Messages.” The Hollywood Reporter. The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.