Digital Harassment

I went to see the talk by Sara Perry from the University of York about how we must be wary about what we post online. I thought it was very interesting that she brought up the topic of how, just because we are allowed to voice our opinions at all times, doesn’t mean we necessarily should. Unfortunately, she learned this lesson through personal experience. Anonymous sources are usually at the hub of online harassment, but Sara’s case proved that this is not always what happens.

Sara received online abuse not in the form of anonymous comments, but through her own professional space, and by people who gave their names freely. This definitely indicates how the Internet is slowly evolving. Things are becoming less anonymous with the introduction of popular social media and easy to use search engines. The fact that people feel more inclined to speak their mind through the web, because there is no real face behind the words, isn’t going away despite us slowly losing our anonymity. Many people still continue to be more ruthless online, even when their real name is now associated with those words. Communicating through text feels very different from face to face communication because you can’t see or hear whom you’re communicating with, and they can’t hear or see you either. All personalization is lost, and people tend to forget there’s a real human with real emotions on the other end of the screen. As shown in Sara Perry’s research, women tend to receive a large portion of this harassment.

The threats that women receive online are primarily of a sexual nature, while men often are victims of attacks on their professional lives. When this kind of harassment takes place in a professional setting, it’s often found that the workplace has no policies protecting their employees against online abuse. As our world evolves, we must evolve with it and realize that just because the web isn’t causing physical harm or discomfort, doesn’t mean it cannot affect someone mentally and emotionally. Workplaces must amend their policies to include written abuse and threats to be just as serious as threats that are made in person.

The fact that threats to women, even in the workplace, are primarily of a sexual nature is very bothersome. Online or simply walking down the street, women can’t ever seem to get away from being sexually harassed. My hope is that one day we can end all harassment, especially that of a sexual nature, by educating those who commit these wrongdoings. Sara Perry, Anita Sarkeesian, and many others are doing a wonderful job of spreading the word and educating the public about how awful online harassment really is, and if I had it my way, I’d make it mandatory of everyone in the world to sit and listen to these women talk about their experiences.

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