With the rise of social media and smartphones in the last decade or so, Facebooking, tweeting, pinning, blogging, and vlogging have become a default part of many people’s professional, personal and social lives. Communities are no longer limited to face-to-face interactions, but also flourish online in the form of Facebook pages, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers and blogger networks.
Through these online communities, the Internet has become a conduit for the free-flow of ideas, opinions, thoughts, beliefs and values. As online communities become more ubiquitous and entrenched in our lives, the boundaries have long-ago blurred between our offline behaviour and online conduct and in many cases, the Internet acts to amplify anti-social, criminal and bigoted behaviour because of the anonymity it gives to participants and commentators who frequently engage in hurtful behaviour with impunity.
In the case of Violence Against Women (VAW), the Internet and social media has given misogyny an incredibly visible platform with almost no controls in place to check their behaviour towards women and girls online. As Laura Bates, the founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, says:
The internet is a fertile breeding ground for misogyny – you only have to look at the murky bottom waters of Reddit and 4Chan to see the true extent to which it allows violent attitudes towards women to proliferate. But, crucially, it also provides a conduit that enables many who hold those views to attack and abuse women and girls, from what they rightly perceive to be an incredibly secure position.
Indeed, from Anita Sarkeesian to the Steubenville rape case, cyber VAW has been on the rise over the past decade, with the most recent high-profile case being the horrendous Twitter attacks on feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez after her success in getting the Bank of England to include a woman on a UK currency note.
Anti-VAW activists and nonprofits and online women’s rights communities are now fighting back with campaigns aimed at getting social media networks, governments and law enforcement agencies to take cyber VAW seriously and to take action to prevent and stop it. As with all aspects of stopping VAW, support of men and boys is crucial to this fight and in this “16 for 16” article, we present 16 ways in which men can help stop cyber VAW
Introduction by Regina Yau; Written by Rashad Brathwaite and Regina Yau; Edited by Jerica Nonell and Regina Yau.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #1: Acknowledge the violence. There are 3 important ways in which men need to effectively acknowledge cyber violence against women. The first step is to be aware of and accept the fact that it definitely exists. The second step is to acknowledge that in the rough-and-tumble on online interaction, women and girls face a different, more extreme, and more insidious kind of backlash than men including a disproportionate number of threats of physical violence, name-calling, reputation assasination, death threats, sexual assault threats and rape threats. The third step is to publicly recognise cyber VAW when it happens and to intervene.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #2: Educate yourself. The first step towards effective online bystander intervention is developing the ability to recognise the signs and manifestations of cyber VAW within online communities. These run the gamut from rape joke Facebook pages to mass misogynistic trolling in the comments section of opinion pieces written by women. Check out online resources that provide information online online bullying and cyber VAW, including What Men Can Do. Knowing what cyber VAW looks like will enable you to take timely action to intervene to stop the violence.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #3: Educate the next generation. One of the most effective ways of helping stop cyber VAW is to educate the next generation of boys and youth about the issue and to equip them to deal with it. For example: That’s Not Cool is a public education campaign that raises awareness about teen dating violence by sharing examples of unhealthy, controlling, and abusive behavior. The campaign teaches youth risk factors for “textual harassment,” “pic pressure,” and other signs of unhealthy relationship behavior. “That’s Not Cool” also provides resources and information on ways to intervene if a young person has a friend, family member, or acquaintance who is being verbally, emotionally, or sexually harassed via technology.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #4: Educate your peers. When engaging online with your male peers, friends and co-workers, look for opportunities to steer the conversation towards discussing why cyber VAW is not acceptable. These opportunities can include talking to them when you see them exhibit disrespectful or bullying behaviour towards women and girls in the online community; or when discussing high profile cases of male celebrities committing VAW. You can also invite your male peers to join you on liking anti-VAW Facebook pages, following anti-VAW Twitter accounts and participating in online discussions about the importance of stopping VAW.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #5: Lead by example. Make sure that your website, blog, social media profiles, and behaviour in forums, comments sections and chatrooms are free from any form of misogynistic behaviour including mansplaining, dismissing women’s opinions, sharing tasteless VAW jokes that blame the victim, sexist name-calling, putting up pictures extolling the ‘virtues’ of the rape and battery of women etc. Be self-aware about your own behaviour and treat women and girls as equals when engaging in online discussions or interactions with them. Step up to intervene when you see cyber VAW happening.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #6: Make Amends When You Make a Mistake. As an ally, you will make mistakes. Anything new that is being internalised has a learning curve, and learning to question societal norms certainly is no exception. Being an ally involves constantly learning and re-learning, constantly questioning your own attitudes and language. If you find that a view you hold or a post that you have shared is problematic, apologise. If you are called out on problematic behaviour, listen. Do not become defensive or feel as if you are being attacked when called out – it is the only way that you can learn and change.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #7: Call ’em out! People who perpetuate cyber VAW need to be called out on their behaviour IMMEDIATELY because many aggressors and trolls are empowered by the silence of bystanders and the protection of online anonymity. Make sure that they know that what they are doing is wrong. Even if you are the only voice saying so, your intervention may get them to reconsider their behaviour. Even if the the perpetrator declares that he means no harm, it is important to disrupt incidences of cyber VAW while it is happening by.publicly and calmly pointing out that cyber VAW has hurtful consequences for the victim, and reflects badly on the perpetrator.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #8: Be Specific. When you engage cyber VAW perpetrator about their behaviour, be specific about the exact behaviour that you are addressing, be it name-calling, victim-blaming, death threats, or rape threats. Having to defend their specific behaviour and tactic may cause some attackers to rethink what they are saying to try and having to think through their actions could trigger a change in their attitudes towards women online. Ask them questions you would like them to ask themselves: Would you issue this threat if it was a man expressing the same opinion?
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #9: Safety in numbers. When attempting to call out the behaviour of a group of cyber VAW perpetrators or any other type of cyber bullies, form a group yourself. Talk privately to other members of the forum, page or community about what is happening and get their support to back each other up when facing down aggressive and misogynistic groups. Similarly, when you see someone courageously taking a cyber VAW perpetrator to task, chime in. This action has 3 effects: it lets the person know that someone else agrees with them; it signals to the victim that the community will not stand for the treatment she is receiving; and it lets the perpetrator(s) know that more than one person is calling out their behaviour.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #10: Use that button! Most social media sites have policies against bullying and hate language by allowing for comments, threads, and users to be flagged as offensive. If engaging the cyber VAW perpetrator is impossible either because he repeats his behaviour or you are facing an entire community that actively commits cyber VAW, use the reporting tools that most social media networks set up to enable communities to report hate language and bullying to get the perpetrator removed for repeat offenses.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #11: Reach Out. If you witness cyber VAW, remember to reach out to the target of the attack after you have intervened to stop the perpetrator. Provide support and engage with her to develop the best course of action. Find out how she wants to handle the situation and how she would like you to help. Online communities can easily make someone feel isolated when they are being attacked, so your outreach will help her to realise that there are people in the community who will not stand for cyber VAW and sexism and who are willing to step in to help.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #12: Take it offline. If reporting cyber VAW to social media network administrators, forum moderators or website owners do not yield any action and the cyber VAW continues to escalate, begin documenting the violence with screencaps and contact an agency, nonprofit or grassroots campaign specialising in stopping cyber VAW and cyber bullying with the evidence. They will be able to assist you or advice you regarding the next steps with taking action to hold the perpetrators or the site accountable for their actions. In certain cases of cyber VAW that can be localised to a country or city, report the case to the relevant authorities such as the police. With governments and law enforcement agencies in many countries such as Canada, the UK and The Philippines starting to recognise cyber VAW as a crime, there are now increasing avenues to getting help to stop cyber VAW.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #13: Create safe spaces. Whether you are a blogger, website owner, forum moderator, Facebook page administrator or are responsible for any online community, make sure you work with your fellow moderators/administrators to have a zero tolerance approach to cyber VAW and cyber bullying of any form. Make sure you are upfront with your policy on acceptable behaviour. Many major websites do this by stating on top of their comments sections or “about” sections of their websites and profile pages that while everyone is welcome, they will not tolerate bigoted, sexist, violent or disrespectful behaviour of any sort and they enforce it by moderating comments and banning those who violate their rules.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #14: Size does not matter. If an organisation, celebrity or company makes misogynistic, violent, and hateful remarks towards women and girls online, or refuses to moderate cyber VAW on their show, website and social media channels, organise or join a campaign that hits them where it hurts – their profits. This approach has been done successfully several times. The latest example is that of the #FacebookRape campaign organised by Laura Bates (founder of The Everyday Sexism Project), Jaclyn Friedman (Women, Action, and the Media) and Soraya Chemaly a prominent feminist writer. In summer 2013, they and over 100 anti-Violence Against Women organisations (including The Pixel Project) mounted the #FBrape campaign to get companies to withdraw advertising from Facebook until Facebook agreed to take cyber VAW on their social network seriously.
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #15: Share Your Knowledge. One of the greatest features of the internet and social media is its ability to spread information at a rapid pace. As an ally, you have the opportunity to spread the knowledge that you gain to people who are not necessarily looking for the same information. Make your awareness viral! When you find a good article or video that puts online violence in perspective, tweet it, blog about it, share it!
Men Helping Stop Cyber VAW – Tip #16: Be a virtual volunteer. Online anti-VAW nonprofits and organisations, such as The Pixel Project, are always looking for more people to get involved in the movement to end VAW. Whether you decide to volunteer with an online support service for survivors of VAW, or with a non-profit that specifically fights cyber VAW and cyber bullying, adding your voice to their ranks and allows for more information to be published faster, reaching more people. If for no other reason, your experiences and your insights are unique and valuable.