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We Have to Talk About Harassing Women on the Internet

By Zoe Trager

The internet is so powerful because it is one of the few places with truly free speech. Many modern day movements wouldn’t be possible without the internet and its limitless, unmoderated space. However, because of this, communities of like-minded individuals can quickly turn on those they deem outsiders. Harassment can be swift and unrelenting, it can happen to anyone, and it happens more often to women than men. Alessandara Lucia (@LuciaAlessandra on Twitter) knows this first hand.

Lucia is a member of the sneaker community, an active twitter subculture that tries to buy as many sneakers or other pieces of “hyped” clothing as possible and resell it to turn a quick profit. If you’ve ever seen a t-shirt with a Supreme logo, priced for upwards of thousands of dollars, it is most likely a reseller.

The community thrives off younger males, most still teenagers, who have been reselling since “the early days.” It is full of inside jokes and faceless names.

So when Lucia stumbled into the community, completely by accident, she felt like an outsider. However, she didn’t expect to become one of the most hated people on “sneaker twitter.”

What had Lucia done to anger this community?

After posting a picture of herself in some Supreme clothing, a fairly well known account in the community retweeted it. After that, accounts flooded her Twitter DMs, offering her free products. She decided to take up one man’s offer of a free bot license.

A bot is an automated system that many in the sneaker community use to order as many shoes as possible. The bot will go through the checkout process, selecting sizes and putting in card information for you, so a user can use one computer and one bot to get many pairs.

What Lucia hadn’t realized was that Kodai, the bot she was offered, was one of the most coveted in the sneaker community and was valued at around five thousand dollars. People were furious with the fact that this woman had received such an item, for doing seemingly nothing.

The hate was swift. Not just for Lucia’s lack of knowledge on the subject of reselling, but for everything from rumors about her big feet (she wears a size nine, if you’re wondering) to her not answering DMs to people calling her a whore.

“People shoot their shot a lot. They’ll get mad if you don’t answer, they’ll call you a bitch,” she said.

When the hate kept coming, Lucia got angry. 

“I just felt like because of what I was perceived as on the internet, everyone hated me,” she said.

She responded to every hater, in an effort to get it to stop.

“After receiving so much hate throughout the day, you get angry,” she said. 

Lucia’s story is not uncommon. Throughout the internet, many women express concern that they aren’t welcome in certain circles.

According to a 2017 Pew Research Study, 40% of people said they had been harassed online, with 70% of women agreeing that online harassment was a major issue.

According to the same study, young women are harassed online at a disproportionate level and often the harassment is severe. 26% have reported being stalked online and 25% have reported being sexually harassed. Compare this to men, where 7%  report being stalked and 13% report being sexually harassed.

Women being harassed online has roots in a general societal understanding of gender, according to feminist scholars E.A. Jane and B. Perry. Both argue that repeated harassment of women on the internet is meant to show the dominance of men, as they perceive their power to be lost. 

The difference between online misogyny and “real life” misogyny relies on two things: the anonymity of the internet and the longevity of comments made there. Multiple anonymous platforms such as ask.fm or Sarahah have been linked to teen suicides after bullying. The other problem is that nothing on the internet is ever really gone, even if it is deleted. The longevity of comments made means that whenever someone Googles a person’s name the harassment can be seen, whether by a peer or someone like an employer. 

Female harassment often varies wildly from the harassment men face online, with women more likely to face sexaul harassment, including things such as sexual comments made about their body, revenge porn, and stalking. 

Women often feel unsafe in their own communities on the internet, forcing them to create female-only groups, which in-turn often receive critique for being “exclusionary.” Yet, for many, it is necessary to simply have a conversation without worrying about what the person behind the screen might say or do.

Lucia says that she’s thankful for the female only groups she’s encountered.

“It is scary when you’re the only girl. Some of the chats are filled with sexist, sexual things,” she said.

Half of all internet users are 35 or younger. In many communities, the average age is even lower. Lucia hopes that because many people in the sneaker community are younger that as they mature, the community will mature as well. 

“I just hope this turns into a more positive community,” she says.

The truth is that women simply face more harassment on the internet than men, especially when it comes to comments based on their looks. In Lucia’s case, her ongoing harassment stemmed from a single picture she took and the attention she got from it. 

As the internet continues to age, there is hope that moderation, especially on popular websites, becomes more prevalent. Twitter recently issued a sweeping ban on thousands of accounts, saying “We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm.” Even though this has come with critics, Twitter has stood by its decision.

However, the real change must come from the individual communities themselves. They have a duty to their participants to be open and welcoming to those looking to join; it is the only way to grow. 

We are at a critical turning point where a growing number of internet users are children and teens who have not grown up without it. It is up to this generation to help their own communities mature and grow, in order to make a lasting change. 


Sources

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/07/11/online-harassment-2017/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/272365/age-distribution-of-internet-users-worldwide/

https://www.npr.org/2020/07/21/894014810/twitter-removes-thousands-of-qanon-accounts-promises-sweeping-ban-on-the-conspir

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0894439319865518#bibr29-0894439319865518

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