The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Anonymity of Internet allows harassment to be widespread 

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Depending on whom you ask, the Internet is an open source haven for sharing, learning and communicating, or it's a place rife with hate and intimidation.

The virtue of the Internet — its deregulation — has allowed us to harass and stalk each other without consequence. It's the "Digital Wild West."

Feminist blogs are a target for hate on the Internet. Why people attack feminist blogs is the same as to why people attack feminists in real life: they question and criticize traditional ideas about gender and sexuality in our society. That's threatening. People attack when they feel threatened and it's a lot easier to attack someone online than it is to do it in person.

The root of harassment lies with anonymity. If you create a username and learn how to mask your IP address, it can very difficult for the average Internet user to determine the true identity of the troll who is attacking them. Defreitas gaming 13Dara Defreitas experienced bullying when playing online games. For a long time she wouldn't speak in the game she was playing in fear of ridicule for being a female. Click here for her story.

Photo by: Adam Holloway.

Furthermore, there is no specific section of Canadian law that deals with online harassment.

The Canadian Criminal Code deals with cyber-bullying as harassment or defamatory libel, in which a statement is directed against someone that could seriously hurt their reputation.

Under Canadian civil law, someone could be found guilty of defamation, creating an unsafe environment or be held responsible for actions that they could have foreseen happening, such as someone killing themselves as a result of online bullying.

Online harassment often goes unnoticed and unpunished, and feminist bloggers, as well as other Internet users, are left to decide how to conduct themselves and how to respond to hateful comments online.

Jennie Palmer, a co-host of "Yeah, What She Said" on CJSW 90.9 FM and a feminist blogger, has experienced her share of online harassment.

Palmer wrote a blog post about popular sexist and offensive "de-motivational posters" that she received in an email. She received hateful comments on her blog.

"I was called a 'whiny cunt' and was told to 'go get laid' and 'accept that you have no life'," Palmer said.

Palmer chooses to leave negative comments on her blog and she advises feminist bloggers to be prepared.

"Do your research and write respectfully, but don't be afraid to be opinionated. Bloggers who let their personality and opinion shine through have the most interesting posts."

Palmer acknowledges that there is a certain risk with writing online — namely that coworkers or strangers may think she is "crazy" because of her blog. As a feminist blogger, I've shared her fears.

The Internet is a tough place for women, no matter what they do. A 2006 study at the University of Maryland found that users with a female pseudonym are 25 times more likely to be harassed online than users with male or ambiguous pseudonyms.

It seems that the solution to cyber-bullying is what Palmer is doing — do your research, keep writing, screw the haters.

But it can't continue this way forever. The problem of online bullying and harassment is not unique to feminists. Gay teenagers are killing themselves because of unpunished harassment.

There should be provisions that deal specifically with online harassment in our civil and criminal law. It should not come down to defamation or libel, because that can be extremely hard to prove in court.

We need to publish harassing comments. Whether one responds to them or not is a personal choice, but refusing to let harassment make you feel ashamed is a start.

Finally, we need to lose the idea that someone is "asking for it." Just because you share your opinion online does not mean that you deserve to be abused. Hate is hate, even in the Wild West.

thumb McNeely copyAlison McNeely is a Calgary-based writer and editor. She also co-hosts Calgary's only feminist/women's radio program, "Yeah, What She Said."