Another day, another social media site rocked by misogyny.

Last week, a UK feminist was virtually pummeled for leading a campaign to keep women memorialized on bank notes.

By mid-day Saturday, two Twitter employees had responded. The timing seemed late, and the action, sub-optimal. Would the outrage grow, jump across the Atlantic? (Think Texas Sen. Wendy Davis or MotrinMoms of yesteryear.) Or would this be yet another flash-then-gone tempest?

It’s not like this is the first time a social site has been in the news this year for misogyny. Or the first time we’ve talked about it. Here’s Jessica Coen from last year:

I never stopped seeing stories of women who were harassed online. Didn’t even matter what they were writing about; women are just punished for existing on the internet… there’s so much misogyny online that I can barely raise an eyebrow?

Facebook was widely criticized in April for “branded social ads showing up on pages and posts that are misogynistic and violent” (trigger warning).

And women journalists have to deal with “new forms of harassment, sexist comments, or worse, from social networkers.”

Amazon came under fire (pun intended) earlier this year for selling a target practice mannequin of a woman that “bled” when shot. The vendor displayed the mannequin at an NRA convention as “The Ex.

rape shirtUniversity men see nothing wrong with penning a newspaper column that recommends teaching girlfriends a lesson, explaining: “It’s not rape if you shout ‘surprise’.

Slut shaming has entered our vocabulary, along with new “definitions” of rape: struggle snuggle.

If you really want to feel depressed, read the @everydaysexism project.

Chicken-and-egg?

Which comes first – acceptance in popular culture or acceptance in digital culture – isn’t the key question.

The key is this: where can brakes most easily and effectively be applied?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving might make an excellent role model for effecting social change if language were as clearcut as a breathalyzer test.

It’s not.

But one one thing the offenses do have in common is this: they are both about behavior. Not an offensive person. Offensive behavior. So ease of reporting that offensive behavior is essential.

That means report a tweet as abusive, not an account. With one click, right beside the retweet button. Ditto Facebook updates. Not as spam. Abuse.

And then act PDQ.

In other words, Silicon Valley, treat your female customers as though you respect us.

There’s certainly a history in the Valley that dampens any optimism that that this time we’ve hit a tipping point. Kathy Sierra. #1reasonWhy. Death by 1000 paper cuts. Xeni Jardin on men inventing the internet. Donglegate. Anita Sarkeesian.

Brian Scates wrote in Medium, “The first step toward fixing a problem is recognizing that there is one.”

Twitter, do you finally recognize that there is a problem?

Late Saturday night, it sounded like their answer was yes.

Twitter had quietly rolled out the ability to report a single tweet using the iPhone Twitter client.

In a statement emailed to the BBC and GigaOm, Twitter promised to extend this functionality to the web and other platforms, but without a timeline.

Reporting. That’s half the equation.

The responding PDQ part? That’s going to be much harder, as Alex Howard details.

How to create the first digital social space where there are quick, clear, inevitable consequences for advocating sexual violence?

The bigger challenge: how to create a society where it’s unacceptable to call a stranger a cunt, which is what happened to me after I wrote about this on Saturday.

Let’s help @Jack and @DickC as they #startChangeHere.

Let’s not let this turn into just another day in Silicon Valley.

Instead, let’s make this the point where future historians will see that those who practice misogyny became a pariah.

KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst
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Copyright 2013 The Moderate Voice
  • Cross posted at HuffPo

  • The bigger challenge: how to create a society where it’s unacceptable to call a stranger a cunt, which is what happened to me after I wrote about this on Saturday.

    It already is. But there are a lot of unacceptable people out there. They’ve actually always been there, it’s just there have (usually) been instant reactions to such bad behavior, namely a punch in the head.

    On the Internet, folks can get away with it. And therefore don’t learn the dangerous lesson.

    Twitter is acting abysmally, it would seem.

  • Online anonymity makes it easier to be a jerk, yes.

    But treating women like sex objects – using violent language? It’s on the *RADIO*. It’s on television and not just cable. It’s in magazines and on billboards. And of course video games.

    These are “socially accepted” tropes — an extension of those strangers calling me a cunt. Those strangers telling a woman in the UK that she needed forced anal sex because she had the gall/balls to lobby to keep women on bank notes. BANK NOTES for chrissakes.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    “On the Internet, folks can get away with [calling a person a cunt][and other things, like ‘coward’]…and get away with it”

    Very true.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    “Online anonymity makes it easier to be a jerk, yes.”

    Very true, Kathy

  • sheknows

    Interesting, when I went back to visit my friends in NYC last fall, they were telling me that if you even verbally call someone a name, racial slur or curse word you can be taken to court and fined now.
    It has really cut down on the bad language, especially she said on the water when boating and driving as well. You can’t flip anyone off either. Why can’t we have fines or cancellation for users of “inappropriate” language on line or twitter? We have rules here at TMV and other websites have as well. There is no reason twitter can’t cancel accts or facebook etc for using foul language.

  • Oh, my. It concerns me to say this because I agree with the general tenor of the article, and I certainly recognize the right of private companies to police what happens in their domain.

    But, when the government starts dragging folks into court and fining folks for what they say or the gestures they make? Count me out. Punch ’em in the nose. Shame ’em till they turn beet red. Take their pictures and show it online. But government penalizing folks for what they say…no matter how offensive…no. The First Amendment trumps that, or at least it should.

    As someone more famous than I once said, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Or something like that.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Oh my Kathy those replies to you were offensive, cruel, and incredibly immature.

    I believe in free speech, but do not believe the First Amendment gives anyone the right to abuse another. The comments are abusive.

    Tidbits what was the original intent and context of the First Amendment? How is this not like the the present reality of the Second Amendment being outdated? Over time a culture changes and is fluid, when we use the Amendments to justify abuse of it’s citizens, then we are in danger of constitutional fundamentalism.

    http://anti-troll.org/

  • ShannonLeee

    There are two issues with internet anonymity. First, people can write what they truly think without social repercussion. Second, some people just like to poop on other people…they simply enjoy it. Granted, it takes a little misogyny to write certain things without blinking, but these folks simply enjoy being terrible human beings.

    The first group is the real problem and anonymity is what allows us to recognize that those people are still around. Women still have a long long way to go when it comes to equality. Thanks to the internet, that fact is still very easy to see.

    The second group just needs to grow up.

  • Hi, folks! I am on the side of pseudo anonymity – some of you may recall my rants when Google decided it was going to try the “real names” path with G+. It’s important in places like Egypt and Iran … and Alabama and Seattle.

    Pseudo anonymity isn’t the same as drive-by anonymity. It’s developing a reputation around a handle. Twitter is an environment that supports pseudo anonymity and has technology in place to shut down drive-by anonymity. TMV is another pseudo anonymous community.

    This problem of how women are treated is BIGGER than technology.

    We talk about it more, perhaps, because technology makes individual action — as contrasted with socially approved actions like movies/TV shows/ads/etc — more visible.

    It’s like bullying -I’m not convinced that there is more of it today but it is more visible AND gang behavior is easier to trigger.

  • Sparrow,

    This is an area where I have long parted company with my more politically correct friends here at TMV. Remember that I also spoke out against hate crime legislation because it punishes people for what they say or believe.

    The problem with compromising on freedom of speech is determining where the line is once one agrees that censorship is acceptable. Take this thread itself for example. We begin with use of misogynistic word c**t, which then gets compared as being equivalent to being called the word “coward” by one commenter. Nothing personal. The person who was called “coward” was obviously deeply offended. But, is it equivalent to what Kathy was called? These slippery slopes really do exist when issues of censorship enter the discussion.

    Who decides what should be censored? Does it change depending upon who’s in power? This is why, to me, having a base like the Constitution matters. Just my view.

    tidbits

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    FYI, ES, I said:

    “On the Internet, folks can get away with [calling a person a cunt][and other things, like ‘coward’]…and get away with it”

    and

    “Online anonymity makes it easier to be a jerk, yes.”

    Very true, Kathy

    These were statements of personal opinion not intended to have anything to do with censorship, the government, the slippery slope or freedom of speech.

    Just about civility.

    Thank you.

  • Dorian,

    I agree with you about civility, and certainly acknowledge that you did not suggest censorship. My apologies if you were offended by my comment.

    tidbits

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thanks.

    Not offended (by you). Just clarifying…

  • JSpencer

    So is technology (access and anonymity) just making more visible the misogynistic, stupid, and ugly behaviors that have always existed or is society becoming worse? (I fear it’s the latter)

  • ordinarysparrow

    Thanks Tidbits….

    Another question… Do you agree with FCC regulations on Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcasts

    It’s Against the Law

    It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours. Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the responsibility for administratively enforcing these laws. The FCC may revoke a station license, impose a monetary forfeiture or issue a warning if a station airs obscene, indecent or profane material.
    Obscene Broadcasts Are Prohibited at All Times

    Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and cannot be broadcast at any time. The Supreme Court has established that, to be obscene, material must meet a three-pronged test:

    An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
    The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
    The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

    Indecent Broadcast Restrictions

    The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.

    The courts have held that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely. It may, however, be restricted in order to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.

    Consistent with a federal indecency statute and federal court decisions interpreting the statute, the Commission adopted a rule that broadcasts — both on television and radio — that fit within the indecency definition and that are aired between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. are prohibited and subject to indecency enforcement action.

    The Internet is a public space, why would it be treated different?

    Also, a side note….. It is a strange culture that holds free speech a kin to the Holy Grail, yet has increasing intolerance of free choice when it comes to women’s bodies.

    How sick when our society allows women to be called degrading and explicitly vulgar and sexual slurs under the umbrella of free speech, but is restricted legislatively when it comes to her own physical body.

    Cards are stacked against woman on this one. ” Woman can be called a “c__t” and have her vagina the target all kinds of legislation and regulations. (?)

    I guess our privates are not private after all?

  • sheknows

    I was surprised by what she told me, but I can also see where it was a great inhibitor of escalating violence in a city like that. I’m not talking about the government policing the words and actions of citizens without THEIR say.
    People voted for these laws they wished to see enacted. If they want to live in an environment that doesn’t permit the use of bad language or inflammatory gestures, that is entirely their choice.
    As for twitter and facebook etc, I feel the company can and should control that issue.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Just to add more ire…

    When free speech is used as permission for abuse, then it is a misuse of our laws and amendments, and sends a very clear message that woman’s vaginas are ‘public domains’.

  • Geez, Sparrow, that’s a lot of questions, but here we go…feel free to disagree at any point. These are all just my opinions.

    Another question… Do you agree with FCC regulations on Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcasts

    I have long suggested that the censorship function of the FCC is unconstitutional and have long advocated for the elimination of the FCC in general. Those with more power than I have, so far, have disagreed and left the agency and its powers in place.

    The Internet is a public space, why would it be treated different?

    The official reason is that broadcast radio and television involves the licensing of “public airwaves”. Because airwave frequencies are finite, the government is permitted to license them and add terms and stipulations to the licensing agreements. This, btw, also explains why cable tv is treated somewhat differently that broadcast television, and why premium cable channels get even less censorship attention from the FCC.

    It is a strange culture that holds free speech a kin to the Holy Grail, yet has increasing intolerance of free choice when it comes to women’s bodies.

    Good point.

    How sick when our society allows women to be called degrading and explicitly vulgar and sexual slurs under the umbrella of free speech, but is restricted legislatively when it comes to her own physical body.

    Your observation is accurate. But, I think the solution is to expand freedom in allowing women to control their own bodies, not restricting freedom in the realm of speech. It is my view that people should be educated, and if necessary shamed, into not using sexual, racial or other slurs. It should not be handled legislatively. It should be addressed at a social level, not a governmental level. Small personal example: I have made it clear that the N-word is not to be used in my home. That is respected by those who otherwise would use it, and a few times a year at family gatherings it doesn’t get used…and maybe those who once used it now think twice in other contexts as well.

    tidbits

  • sheknows,

    We often find ourselves in agreement, but not here. People vote for many things they want enacted that are (thankfully) forbidden by the Constitution. Please permit me to first quote what you said, then re-write it in a different context and see if I manage to make my point.

    I’m not talking about the government policing the words and actions of citizens without THEIR say.
    People voted for these laws they wished to see enacted. If they want to live in an environment that doesn’t permit the use of bad language or inflammatory gestures, that is entirely their choice.

    Now the re-write:

    I’m not talking about the government policing the segregation of citizens without THEIR say.
    People voted for these laws they wished to see enacted. If they want to live in an environment that doesn’t permit racial integration, that is entirely their choice.

  • LOGAN PENZA

    tidbits, I assume that when advocating the elimination of the FCC, you refer only to its discretionary content restrictions and not its technical spectrum-management functions.

  • dduck

    As a side note: I have been enjoying enormously Coleen McCullough’s ancient Rome series. Interestingly, a heavy epitaph to call a man, at least in this fictionalized venue, is a cunny, but not a woman. Wall scrawlings were common in those days and along with the pictorial were verbal insults. These were common in Pompeii also, and I assume throughout the Roman Empire. I am not a big fan of censorship of language but I can understand if some people’s feelings are hurt. By all means call me a male body part or a sexual act which I could never perform on myself, and I will put up with it, but insult my intelligence and you strike a deeper chord of insult. I just think certain epitaphs are short hand, usually meaningless out of context and a lazy way to attempt communicating. Yes, I called Weiner, my nominee for Body Part Language Commission, a putz. A person who shows immature and poor judgement qualities with a tendency to self delude and lie. Wait, putz is shorter and better. Never mind. 🙂

  • ordinarysparrow

    Thanks Tidbits… this is one i am contemplating further…

    I do have a question, on this one it appears that you are a purist or a fundamentalist. Can you express simply and clearly what that stance is based upon. Since i know you are not a ‘fundamentalist’ kind of thinker,for you usually have more swag in your think, would love your feedback on this one, so i can perhaps have a greater understanding of fundamentalism. Thanks

  • (1) Twitter is PRIVATE space and it is not a first amendment violation for a company to say ‘this speech is not acceptable’ They do it it TOS all the time

    (2) Tidbits this is NOT about the FCC and I’d appreciate threads not being hijacked.

    (3) please re-read the headline and closing. The examples are from the tech world. The LAMENT is larger. Why is it that no one seems to want to talk about that larger world? Am I such a poor writer? Do others not agree? Are we stuck in the pormography debate – eye of the beholder and all of that? Hells bells!

  • Sparrow,

    The rights of all of us are only as good as the rights we afford to the least of us.

    That belief has driven my life both personally and professionally. It is why I fought and continue to fight against the death penalty. Murderers are surely “the least among us”. It is why I spent 19 years on various boards, local, state and national, that sought to enhance the rights of the elderly, and why I still carry that cause close to my heart. And, it is why I will defend freedom of speech from government censorship even for the obnoxious, the crude, the uninformed, the racist and the misogynist…again the least among us.

    Do you remember 1978? That was the year the ACLU fought for, and won, the right of the American Nazi Party to march in Skokie, Illinois, well known as a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago. That is “the least among us” as well.

    Guaranteeing the rights of the least of us, guarantees the rights of all of us. If we can take away the rights of the least, then we can take away the rights of the next-to-least, and if we can take away their rights, then we can take away the rights of the middle, and so on until only the elite have rights left.

    I don’t regard myself as a fundamentalist. I have taken a less than fundamentalist stand on gun rights for example, and I recognize that there may be a very, very few well placed exceptions to free speech, such as criminal conspiracy. But, I admit to being very close to being a purist where civil liberties are concerned…certainly much further that direction than most, I think.

  • No intent to highjack the thread, Kathy. I will not comment further.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Sorry about that Kathy… did not purposely hijack your post, but the kink in my mind did take it that way, just the way it flowed in trying to sort through this issue. I offer you sincere apology for what came out of my mind in response to this issue, but to be honest that is what i was needing to understand more deeply and greatly appreciate the thoughtful reply from Tidbits. Call me dense but i do see the relevance of FCC and First Amendment in attempting to sort through this…And to be truly honest with you, do not feel i was hijacking your post.

    Thanks Tidbits, appreciate your reply and thoughtful stance. My attempt was purely to ask about your stance for i knew it had to be some powerful foundation principle that you were willing to stand upon. I have never seen you as fundamentalist and that i asked for i know your are a broad and inclusive thinker.

    The rights of all of us are only as good as the rights we afford to the least of us.

    That is a powerful ground to stand on and respect that one…

  • sheknows

    Tidbits…you are a true proponent of ” sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” aren’t you?
    Truth is…words DO hurt…as we all too well know. That’s why there are LIABLE lawsuits. That’s why we are cautioned from early childhood to NOT NAME CALL. That’s why, even though we may have the right to speak out without censorship, we employ certain rules of a civilized society.

    There is a difference between government control without consent, and government enforcement of societies’ laws.
    First amendment dfense is like the 4th amendment to you. If people have the right to keep and bear arms..why don’t they run around and shoot up in the air or at tin cans whenever they feel like it?? Because it’s isn’t in accordance with societal values.

  • sheknows

    Sorry also Kathy for getting sucked in to this adjacent discussion..which I may have inadvertently started by proposing website restriction. and NO…I LOVE your articles and find you a great writer. Your audience however, has the attention span of fleas. 🙂

  • ordinarysparrow

    wow!

    ” Sticks and Stones can break my bones but words can never harm me. ”

    The aerial view on this is very interesting.
    I am the one that hijacked with posting the FCC statements. Will fully take the rap on this one, does not belong to Tidbits for pulled him into questions.

    Bad case of fleabitus today.