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feminist bloggers face online harassment

by May Lui | November 22, 2007

As women know, no space can be counted on to always be safe for them.

When it was first becoming popular, blogging was seen as an excellent new tool to get ideas out. It offered the potential to reach women in both a particular geographic community, and all over the world.

Then, Canadian feminist bloggers began to report of trolling and sexist harassment. Years later, women continue to describe the kinds of harassment they experience, what they do to prevent it, and how they come together for support and to share ideas.

This past August seemed to be a low point in online harassment.

Since the Internet knows no national boundaries, women have shared stories from all over Canada and the United States, as well as other countries. The international support that they provide each other has helped individual women in the online feminist weblog community to stay online, and to continue putting their ideas out there. One way in which they do this is to hold what's called “carnivals” on various topics, as a way to stay connected and to share ideas.

The creator of One Woman Army wrote about her experiences:

Trolls, beware!

I have only been back blogging for barely two days, and the trolls are already out. There is no women’s space that is sacred any more – not even the blogosphere.

I find it ironic that in writing a post about fighting for my right to feel safe on the street, to feel safe walking alone – I get attacked verbally and harassed in writing about it.

What do I wake up this morning to find but trolls attacking my right to feel safe.

On the blog Angry For a Reason, the post “For all feminists under attack” included a very helpful insider's guide to find the identities of harassers and trolls. It also had information about how to shut such abusers down down, legally. Suggestions include everything from how to find Internet Providers of websites where comments originate from, to tracking down site registrations.

From apophenia:

But it truly saddens me that blogs aren’t safe space. They don’t sit in a context; they don’t have a set of shared norms. And sometimes, it’s just simply not fun to constantly fight for the right to speak from your own perspective. It’s in moments like this where i remember why some people have no desire to speak up, no desire to fight.

While it is being used against feminists, the borderless Internet also serves as a way to counter these attacks. Canadian bloggers are using the medium to connect with each other in this country and around the world. They are learning ways to respond, developing networks, and breaking away from feelings of isolation - of being alone in the struggle.

It’s the new grassroots feminism, virtual-style.

kinds of harassment
  • Trolling is done when someone makes comments on blogs, or joins message boards, only to cause trouble, insult participants, or destroy discussions. Recent trolling on many Canadian feminist blogs has caused some to closed down permanently – a loss to us all.
  • Cyberstalking happens when someone (often a man) follows another (often a woman) around online, posting on the same message boards, discussion forums and blogs that she visits or runs, in a way that is aggressive and often upsetting. Because of its fragmented nature (on different websites, over several threads, spanning months and sometimes years), it can be very difficult for someone targeted by cyberstalking to explain the problem, or for others to see it as alarming and potentially dangerous behaviour.
  • Hackers have been known to change a website’s code, allowing them to manipulate women’s blogs and cause all sorts of mischief, such as posting multiple times, creating responses, and changing functions without permission.
  • Spamming, hatebombing, or xchan happens when a man or group of men decide to bombard a site, usually one that is expressing views they disagree with – such as a woman’s right to choose or lesbian solidarity. An overwhelming number of hateful emails or pornography links are sent to a site, sometimes causing its server to overload, and often resulting in a woman deciding to shut her project down temporarily or permanently.

Toronto’s Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) has an extensive description of the different kinds of harassment women face on the Internet (see below).

online carnivals

Carnival Against Sexual Violence
The Carnival of Feminists
Carnival of Radical Feminists
Erase Racism Carnival


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