Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Women's Aid Conference Speech on Stalking and Harassment Online.


Firstly, I would like to thank Women’s Aid for inviting us here today and giving us the opportunity to take part in and share this event. I’m Alison Boydell, one of the co-founders of End Online Misogyny, a Twitter account which was set up as a direct response to Caroline’s horrific experiences, at the time of the horrendous threats and abuse.

At the same time, a very similar account, NoMoreAbuse3 was also created by Catalina Hernandez who is based in Mexico, and we came together to form what soon morphed into a campaign, which is still somewhat of a fledgling one at this stage. We were totally taken by surprise and unprepared for what was to follow (that is whole other story entirely).


EOM aims to highlight and expose misogynistic language and abuse, and we hope that by raising awareness of this, as we know how it is so deeply ingrained that it can be normalised as being part of the female experience, that we can effect change by #SHOUTINGBACK and stating that this is UNACCEPTABLE.

We also want to stand by women experiencing misogynistic abuse as it can be extremely isolating and whilst she may have lots of support; the problem has taken such a hold that not everyone feels comfortable expressing their support openly for fear of being abused themselves. Even men who support us are ridiculed, for example one man said that male feminists only want to get into our 'crusty vaginas'.


We start with the premise that however an individual woman responds to misogynistic abuse and language directed at her, it is the correct response for her. This is paramount. There is no right or wrong way to respond to misogynistic language and threats; only that which is safest for each individual woman and her specific circumstances.

Back in those earlier ‘halcyon’ days (all of 5 weeks ago, although it seems like a lifetime), at the height of my naivety, I enthused about EOM to my parents whose immediate reaction was one of horror with ‘oh no, but you’ll get loads of abuse’! Strangely prophetic as that is exactly what has happened and this is one of the huge problems with social media in that some women can be deterred from engaging in activism.

Not only this but often seemingly innocuous exchanges can engender abuse never mind those highly contentious topics (and we won’t even go there!). Therein lies one of the problems.


We know why this is; it is because of misogyny and male entitlement.

We need to stop referring to it as ‘trolling’ as it goes much deeper than that. Social media, the new frontier, is the latest medium for violence against women and girls.

The word trolling minimises the behaviour and the impact


We won’t use the term ‘male violence’ exclusively here as we have witnessed misogynistic and abusive behaviour from women although it is predominantly men who behave in this manner. And it starts with boys. My own daughter, for example, at the age of 11 had already received rape and death threats via text and was also harassed and stalked on FB by a boy of the same age from school.


There is a spectrum of misogynistic behaviour, all types of which can have devastating impacts and we must not assume that those considered more ‘low level’ do not have the same effects as others that some will perceive as more extreme. Louise will elaborate on this.


This is what we, at EOM, have identified as the Spectrum of Misogynistic Abuse based on our personal experiences and those of the EOM campaign.

The Spectrum of Misogynistic Behaviour

Sub-tweeting→ Storyfying & ElevatorGate→

Monitoring & policing with whom you engage→

Misogynistic abuse→ Threats of doxxing→ Actual doxxing→

Implied threats→ Direct threats→


Sub-tweeting is where other tweeters are talking about you in such a way that it makes you feel uncomfortable, without @-ing you into the conversations but you are aware of what is being said as it is being done so openly. This is often the intention of the tweeters involved and we have seen women take prolonged or permanent Twitter breaks as a result of this.


Storyify - is an application that allows people to record Twitter conversations.

It has become a tool of harassment and, as with the owners of Twitter and Facebook, the owners of storify have abdicated all responsibility for any harassment, abuse or stalking of women using their application.


One of the more notorious users of this application is ElevatorGate, a Twitter and Storify user who goes by this name. He is a well-known cyberstalker of predominantly women via social media. His latest method of doing this is to compile a multitude of pieces on Storify, often including every single tweet sent by his chosen targets, and then publish them. An email notifies the women in question that he has published yet another piece archiving their every word. After repeated complaints and requests for help, Storify deactivated the notification feature on his account, which doesn’t actually solve the problem as means it is now happening under the radar.

We have reports of some women being storyfied up to 20 times in one day


Monitoring and policing with whom you engage & follow is something we are increasingly seeing being used as a silencing tool. “You associate with and/follow x and are therefore guilty by association because I don’t agree with them”. This new wave of McCarthyism also presumes that the woman being attacked has knowledge of that user’s entire tweeting history and every single view that they have expressed.

We know that many women are self-censoring and taking issues and conversations to direct messaging as a consequence of harassment and abuse, or fear of it.


This invariably leads to CALL OUT CULTURE which is where women are frequently subjected to abuse and threats for having the 'wrong' feminism.

Some are even co-erced by threats and abusive language, from other women, to call out other women on a perceived or real transgression. We have noticed that it is very gendered in that this ‘calling out’ is usually directed at other feminists rather than misogynists.


Caroline and Nimko have already highlighted many vile examples. Misogynistic abuse takes many forms:

Usually, the first point of attack is to make personal comments about the woman’s appearance if the photo in the avatar is of her. These range from: MILF, attractive, too good looking to be a feminist, you’re a hypocrite and how can you call yourself a feminist when you are wearing x, y, or z in your picture(s), no wonder you’re a feminist, you're ugly , are you a man/'tranny'’? Regardless of the comment, this is objectification and it is judging the woman to see if she passes the ‘patriarchy “fuckable”' test.


If they can’t use your appearance against you, then your words, behaviour and views will be instead or in addition to.

'slut-shaming’ is very common, as we have recently witnessed with the vilification and demonisation of the ‘Slane Girl’ and Miley Cyrus. However, we also see a lot of generalised comments about women very much along the lines of the archetypal ‘whore/madonna’ dichotomy.

Graphic sexual language and the use of images is another tactic that misogynistic men use, sending women unsolicited graphic and obscene material, some of which is illegal.

Anti-feminist abuse is propagated by both men and women with the use of words such as ‘feminazi’, misandrists, bigots, prudes, transphobes, perpetrators of hate speech, censors of the freedom of speech (aka the freedom to be abusive), belittling and criticising whatever the cause and telling us we should be campaigning about more important things and ‘real oppression’.


Then comes the gaslighting and assumptions about our mental health. We have even witnessed this from a health professional with a substantial platform. We’re crazy, nutty, insane, deluded, paranoid and want to be perpetual victims, apparently.

Threatening behaviour comes in a variety of forms.


Doxxing is the act of identifying a person from one small bit of information such as an email address. Doxxing is "legal" as long as you are only finding publicly available information. However, just because this is legal, it does not mean that it is remotely ethical.

It becomes illegal if you stalk the person through online chat services.

Threats of doxxing are done both by sub-tweet or made directly to the woman.

We saw a recent example the other week of a woman who was being sub-tweeted about being doxxed because she has a different opinion, with the intention of making contact with her employers.


Actual doxxing is when private and personal information, including address and real name are placed on public social media. A high profile example of this was when the name of the woman Ched Evans raped was published on Twitter where she was 'slut' shamed, victim blamed, vilified and & had to leave the country, never mind social media.

Women who supported the woman Ched Evans raped also received threats and abuse, for example and I know of at least one who was doxxed and Ched Evans’ supporters contacted her employer. She had to create a new account under a different name.


Implied or indirect threats - these can be to the woman and/or her children and other family members. This extremely frightening and distressing. They can take the form of rape and death threats or 'wishes' such as, 'I hope you die slowly and painfully in a fire', 'I wish you would die painfully of breast cancer', ‘you deserve to be raped’.


Actual direct threats take the form of rape, other acts of violence and death threats to the woman and her family. This happens to women with a platform, celebrities as well as regular Twitter users.


You're accused of attention seeking if you stay and fight back, or told to ignore them and "do not feed the trolls". Or ridiculed for 'flouncing' off Twitter as some prominent women have been. Are they supposed to be immune to this kind of onslaught as they are human too? We stand by our premise that however an individual woman responds to misogynistic abuse and language directed at her, it is the correct response for her.

As you can see, many of these tactics are the very same ones that domestic violence and abuse perpetrators use and they have the same effects. This is all part of the power and control wheel, which many of you will be familiar with.

Whilst some perpetrators may exaggerate their behaviour online, it is their misogynistic and sense of male entitlement attitudes that are amplified rather than created by this medium.

It is a facilitator of predominantly male violence against women and girls and in finding not only a platform but other like minded folk who validate and often corroborate their behaviour; they find a sense of community and belonging just as we would like women to be able to do.

Social media can strip away any vestiges of empathy but, as Caroline said, is at the same time is an incredibly powerful tool and we have to remember that and use it in a positive way.

The current lack of regulation and sanctions mean that the world wide web may well as be known as the Wild West Web. It appears to us to be a lawless environment which is the last refuge of those whose behaviour would be less acceptable offline

I started with a family anecdote, so will end on one. Every time I ‘go off one’, as my son calls it, he grabs his phone (which is currently lost somewhere in the house) and plays the WWII air raid siren declaring ‘Rant Alert’.

It is simply not good enough to tell women not to use social media, to just block, to avoid certain topics, to constantly be on their guard. We want the misogyny to be addressed and challenged. We want all women to have a voice.






Thank you.

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