In 2006, researchers from the University of Maryland set up a bunch of fake online accounts and then dispatched them into chat rooms.Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. There are three federal laws that apply to cyberstalking cases; the first was passed in 1934 to address harassment through the mail, via telegram, and over the telephone, six decades after Alexander Graham Bell’s invention.The cop anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, “What is Twitter?” Staring up at him in the blazing sun, the best answer I could come up with was, “It’s like an e-mail, but it’s public.” What I didn’t articulate is that Twitter is the place where I laugh, whine, work, schmooze, procrastinate, and flirt.We have been thinking about Internet harassment all wrong."Ignore the barrage of violent threats and harassing messages that confront you online every day." That's what women are told.We have been thinking about Internet harassment all wrong. “There is a twitter account that seems to have been set up for the purpose of making death threats to you.” I dragged myself out of bed and opened my laptop. Then: “You suck a lot of drunk and drug fucked guys cocks.” As a female journalist who writes about sex (among other things), none of this feedback was particularly out of the ordinary.But making quick and sick threats has become so easy that many say the abuse has proliferated to the point of meaninglessness, and that expressing alarm is foolish.Reporters who take death threats seriously “often give the impression that this is some kind of shocking event for which we should pity the ‘victims,’” my colleague Jim Pagels wrote in Slate this fall, “but anyone who’s spent 10 minutes online knows that these assertions are entirely toothless.” On Twitter, he added, “When there’s no precedent for physical harm, it’s only baseless fear mongering.” My friend Jen Doll wrote, at The Atlantic Wire, “It seems like that old ‘ignoring’ tactic your mom taught you could work out to everyone’s benefit.... Which means we shouldn’t take the bait.” In the epilogue to her book , Hanna Rosin—an editor at Slate—argued that harassment of women online could be seen as a cause for celebration. Many women on the Internet “are in positions of influence, widely published and widely read; if they sniff out misogyny, I have no doubt they will gleefully skewer the responsible sexist in one of many available online outlets, and get results.” So women who are harassed online are expected to either get over ourselves or feel flattered in response to the threats made against us.
Just appearing as a woman online, it seems, can be enough to inspire abuse.We have the choice to keep quiet or respond “gleefully.” But no matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment—and the sheer volume of it—has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet.Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages.It sits in my back pocket wherever I go and lies next to me when I fall asleep.And since I first started writing in 2007, it’s become just one of the many online spaces where men come to tell me to get out.