By Suzie Vyletel
Unfortunately, I had to give a speech in another class today so I missed Anita’s presentation. However, I stayed after and listened to a few very interesting presentations. The first was Sara Perry’s Gender and Digital Culture. She opened by telling us about her personal experiences with digital harassment from her own professional colleagues, and how this inspired her to delve into the topic further. Through a series of surveys, studies, and policy scans, Perry uncovered some shocking and unnerving information about digital communication in the workplace or among professional colleagues.
Some people have a cyber-utopian viewpoint that obscures or belittles the effect of online media on social interactions and structural inequalities. Like we have discussed in class, our tendency is to sometimes hyperbolize the democracy of the digital age without critically considering all of the ways that it furthers inequality. Professional digital interaction requires trust and transparency, but can also lead to hyper-exposure. A survey revealed that 1 in 3 people have experienced professional digital interaction of an inappropriate or uncomfortable nature by someone they know offline. It is interesting to note this because when I think of online harassment, I tend to think of anonymous cyberbullying, not someone you know acting this way toward you. Men tended to receive professional attacks, while the majority of women received attacks of a sexual or racist nature. Less than 3 out of 5 people took action in response to these threats; the most common response was to ignore the interaction altogether (Perry sees this as a form of action, rather than inaction). Those who sought institutional or official support received little to none. The laws and policies governing the online world are lax at best.
So where does responsibility fall? The service providers? Workplaces? The individual? There is clearly a problem, but the solution is sticky. Of course, if people were just not such jerks in the first place, this wouldn’t be an issue. But I don’t see that changing any time soon, so we must consider what to do when these people happen. I don’t think it is up to an individual to just ignore it and walk away, but must admit that I am at a loss for what can and should be done to most effectively empower victims against these attacks.