The Voices of Online Harassment

There is a thin line between trying to make snarky jokes and harassing someone. It is line that should never be crossed, but yet it is done so frequently. Especially in this technological age of social media, people feel more empowered to post whatever hurtful comments come to mind because they do not have to say it directly to someone’s face. Some become ignorant of how words, even on a computer or cell phone screen can affect one’s life. As a result, verbal harassment has increased to a point where it seems inescapable.

Ashley Judd is one person that has spoken out recently about the verbal abuse that she has faced on twitter. After posting a tweet at a basketball game that said that the opposing team was, “Playing dirty and can kiss my team’s free throw making ass,” Judd began receiving hateful, sexual responses and threats (Alter). Judd believes that this was due to her being a woman. She felt that her status as a woman made her vulnerable to threatening tweets because of the woman stereotypes that exist in society (Alter). For example, to some her tweet was seen as a woman being whiny or a woman speaking out on a masculine topic they do not understand. Consequently, Judd’s intellect, character and body were insulted (Alter). Judd therefore sees that social media is a source for perpetuating sexual harassment and dehumanization towards women.

While the issue of online harassment is important to discuss, Ashley Judd’s story is one that alienates groups that are also affected by sexual harassment. Judd’s experience is one that is discussed through the view of a privileged white female. As a result of her whiteness and fame, Judd’s struggles are the ones being heard, while others are not. As discussed in a lecture, threats and dehumanization towards black women, Indigenous women and any other women of colour are less discussed and publicized (Tolmie, Week 8 Lecture). Consequently, Judd’s experience generalizes one’s encounters with sexual harassment even though harassment among different cultures and races is not necessarily the same.

As discussed earlier, online harassment to Ashley Judd is seen as an issue rooted in sexism, the inequality between men and women. Judd said,

What happened to me is the devastating social norm experienced by millions of girls and women on the Internet. Online harassers use the slightest excuse (or no excuse at all) to dismember our personhood. My tweet was simply the convenient delivery system for a rage toward women that lurks perpetually.

With that being said, online harassment is not gender specific. There are those who choose not fall on the gender binary as a male or female but are also still harassed. For example, in class, Leelah Acorn, a Trans teen was discussed. (Tolmie, Week 3 Lecture). Leelah decided to commit suicide after she was bullied, harassed and unaccepted amongst her peers both in person and online (Tolmie, Week 3 Lecture). This goes to show that contrary to Judd’s belief, online harassment is not solely a result of sexism. It is important to recognize that people of all genders and race are affected by online harassment.

Even though Judd’s concerns with online harassment are limited to the experiences of the white, heterosexual, cis woman, her discussion of sexual violence is still significant. Judd brings to people’s attention that social media creates an environment where it is easy for people to dehumanize one another and then act aggressively. Judd says a common idea of the Internet is that it is “unreal and does not deserve validity,” and with that people are more likely say things without caution for the feelings of others. Consequently, harassers on the Internet feel safe to make threats because it is an “unreal” place without repercussions. Judd’s voice on the issue shows that the Internet is actually a real place where people need to be accountable for their actions.

Personally, I think that online harassment is not an issue that should be generalized to a specific group of people. I think it is important to recognize that everyone is exposed to online harassment and it is not an isolated experience. I do agree with Ashley Judd that the Internet makes dehumanizing other people easier and people should be held accountable for what they say. I recognize that some of online harassment is based on sexism and women stereotypes, but I do also know that women are not the only one’s experiencing online harassment. Homosexuals are harassed by homophobes online and trans people are unaccepted by some cis people online. Therefore, I think that if we want to have a discussion about online harassment, it should address and identify a variety of people and not one specific group.

References

Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time Magazine Online. 19 Mar. 2015 Web.

Tolmie, Jane. Week 3 Lecture. Queens University. 12 Jan. 2015.

Tolmie, Jane. Week 8 Lecture. Queens University. 2 Mar. 2015.

~ lesg1249

4 thoughts on “The Voices of Online Harassment

  1. graceelisabeth says:

    Your blog was so thought provoking. I think that the sexist and ignorant responses to Judd’s tweet were completely uncalled for and I sympathize with Judd’s experiences of sexual harassment. Your discussion about how Judd’s perspective on sexual harassment is limited due to her positionality was something that would not have come to my mind. You are completely right that sexual harassment touches many different minority groups, however these stories are not reported on like incidences of white females being sexually harassed. I think this comes from the white supremacy that controls our media, but we cannot let this illegitimize the experience of people from other minority groups. Also, I really like that you noted the fact that online sexual harassment is facilitated by the ‘unreal’ world of the internet. My question to you is how can we keep people accountable for their online actions? And how can we give minority groups the ability to speak out against online sexual harassment?

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  2. 12eg22 says:

    Thank you for an excellent blog post! I especially appreciated your discussion of how socially constructed identities can influence the forms of harassment people can experience. Judd is certainly privileged in many respects. Her whiteness gives her a platform and a voice that is not afforded to people of colour. Do you think by exercising this platform she is reinforcing her privilege? How might Judd go about dismantling this privilege while still highlighting the person attacks she faced? I imagine that an acknowledgement of white privilege might go a long way. For example she should have acknowledged that she felt comfortable involving law enforcement because she is white. As blogs by our peers have demonstrated, law enforcement is not a valid option for many people of colour as they face enduring more violence rather than getting justice. I agree with your point that a generalizes response fails to accurately address online harassment. There are various, interlocking root causes that must be acknowledged to find an appropriate response. I found this approach to ignorant comments extremely instructive for example: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/12/calling-less-disposable-way-holding-accountable/

    I would love to know your thoughts!

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  3. tlapp30 says:

    Your post really caught my attention and got me to thinking about how important it is to realize that online harassment is not just focused on one specific group of people. It is sad to think about how many people hide behind the screens of their computers and phones, so that they can harass people about things that they don’t believe are “right” in this world. Even at a young age, due to this technological era that we are living in, kids are being bullied more on the internet than they are in person. I’m not saying that they should be receiving physical abuse rather than internet harassment, I’m simply stating that the idea of the internet and “anonymity” is beginning to get out of control. I appreciate the way you incorporated Judd’s story, and how well you were able to break it down and explain it. I would like to ask you a couple of things: What do you think is an appropriate angle to take at ending online harassment? And do you think that young children should be given the opportunity to engage in such behaviour?

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  4. foster.s says:

    I thought your post was very well written. You have a great choice of words as well as course terms to emphasize the devastating truths of online harassment.
    I think that Judd coming out and expressing opinions about what happened speaks volumes as she is recognizing the problem occurring (online harassment) and is first of all, regretting her choice to post that tweet in the first place, and second of all deal with the issue at hand (this harassment happening to other girls every day). It is important to realize that it does happen, even if parents do not realize, and as you said “the internet is a place where people need to be accountable for their own actions” i agree.
    Your arguments in this post were laid out very well and clearly. I like that you added a personal opinion at the end with a concluding point.
    Very good post!!

    Like

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