Haripriya Kaur is an avid traveller and part of the popular Facebook group—The Himalayan Club—where she often shared her experiences and pictures. But the bliss did not last for long. Wanting to go to Ladakh on a road trip, but failing to secure a travel partner, Kaur posted on the group asking some “fun-loving” and “like-minded” people to tag along. What followed was a trolling mammoth, with some abusing her of being “characterless” and “loose”. If you are an avid user of the social media, chances are you could have been a victim of online abuse sometime or the other.
Statistically speaking, more than 80,000 people on Twitter were subjected to over 2,00,000 aggressive tweets using the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ over three weeks in April and May, a study released by Demos on social media misogyny stated. In the UK, the online abuse has reached a political level. Politicians of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are coming together to call for a national campaign to defeat the online abuse, which, according to a study is more than often targeted at women on social media. Few members of parliament are coming together to launch an online public consultation—Reclaim the Internet—to create a national-level discussion about tackling the growing scale of online abuse.
Facebook promptly backed the campaign with its support but admitted that it doesn’t actively take down misogynistic comments on its platform.
The consultation calls for comment and suggestions from individuals, organisations, employers, union members, victims, police, and tech companies. The move comes on the heels of a research done for Guardian’s project—the web we want—revealed that out of the 10 most abused writers online, eight were women and the other two were black men. According to the Demos study, celebrities are also among the most frequently targeted for abuse online.
However, UK’s teacher’s union NASUWT claims that it is teachers, not celebrities, who are the biggest victims of online abuse from pupils and parents. In a survey of 1,300 teachers, 50 per cent said they had been targeted on social media for work-related issues, and most of it came from the parents. The percentage of targeted teachers, according to NASUWT increased to 55 percent at present, compared with 48% in 2015. The victim count is on an increase, even as an effective solution to online harassment via social media remains obscure.
“One parent threatened to smash my face in in a post on Facebook and another accused me of being homophobic because we did not expel a pupil who had made homophobic comments to her son,” a male assistant headteacher, who did not wish to be identified, says.
Alex Krasodomski-Jones, a researcher at the centre for the analysis of social media at Demos points out the significance of the study. It shows the irony of social media, which has opened up several new opportunities for public debate and social interaction, it is also a platform where biassed, abusive, and naïve opinions can be staged, without an actual consequence of it.
“This study is a bird’s-eye snapshot of what is ultimately a very personal and often traumatic experience,” he says. “While we have focused on some social media platforms, it’s important to note misogyny is prevalent across all social media. This is a stark reminder that we are frequently not as good citizens online as we are offline.”
The inspiration for Reclaim the Internet consultation came from ‘Reclaim the night’ movement of the 1970s, which was started to protest against harassment, intimidation and violence against women. “Forty years ago women took to the streets to challenge attitudes and demand action against harassment on the streets,” UK’s Labour MP Yvette Cooper says. “Today the internet is our streets and public spaces,” she adds.