In this clip of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he describes how severe the online harassment is for women. After making jokes about how John Oliver himself has been made fun of online for various ridiculous reasons, he quickly points out how online harassment can be seen as a direct threat that can make people fear for their safety. Then he makes a witty remark, “If you still do not think this is serious, congratulations on your white penis!” Although Oliver uses intentionally comedic and blunt language, this statement carries a significant message. He assumes that white male experience privileges in the internet world and that they lack the means to understand seriousness of online harassment. John Scalzi, in his metaphor of gaming, points out how straight, white men tend to have better ability to win. Further, people tend to be defensive about the idea of privilege because nobody gets to choose the difficulty setting when playing games. It is true that you can lose a game despite having more privileges or an easy setting. I not only grew interested in ways in which women have been further marginalized in online community but also was intrigued by how much white male, presumably the privileged group, can relate to online harassment, or the experience of losing the game.

To delve into the kinds of online harassments women deal with, John Oliver discusses women in gaming industry, female writers and public figures, as well as victims of revenge porn. This can be shown from to 3:00 to 9:30, roughly. Showing clips of interviews and talk shows, he delivers the level of emotional suffrage as well as incompetency and inadequacy in compensating for the enormous emotional loss. First, women in gaming industry have dealt with constant threats to bomb, rape, and even death. One example that John Oliver brings out in the clip is with the interview with one female gamer. She says that one harassment that has stuck with her is when she received a message, “I’m going to stick an egg in your vaginal canal and punch it.” I wonder if there are certain characteristics in culture of gaming community that makes these kinds of serious harassment so frequent. It may be that people tend to make bolder statements because everything is virtual and it is as if you exist with a different identity separate from one in real life.

Female writers as well as public figures also suffer enormously from serious online harassment. Amanda Hess, a writer, confesses how she has experience threats to life. Writers and public figures are more prone to getting their private information exposed online. When an unknown person can easily access your address and phone number, the bombing and death threats become even more real, easily leading the victims to a place of extreme emotional instability. Amanda also shares her experience when she tried to file a report and sought after help from the police officer. Police officer wasn’t able to give any help because he didn’t know what Twitter was. He was ill-equipped to help, because he didn’t understand the exact medium through which the crime happened. It is interesting how legal procedures and effort from various societal institutions to fight online harassment lag behind the serious losses that victims experience.

Lastly, the revenge porn is another serious issue. An English professor realized how her personal information as well as solicitation for sex have been all distributed online after she broke up with her boyfriend. Not only through porn websites but also through various social media, her reputation as a teacher and a dignity as a human being have all been ruined. After such happenings, she also confessed that she has had some dark thoughts and implemented suicidal attempts before. What’s even more shocking is how things were handled when she tried to seek proper legal assistant. They told her to either get a better boyfriend or pay $5000 upfront retainer with cost varying from ten to fifteen thousand. The legal institutions seem to further marginalized those who already became powerless.

In closing, it is clear that women in online communities have been mistreated in ways that not only take away their dignity but also threaten their lives. Just like how Kathy Sierra discusses her experience in online harassment, women in technology is often seen as a target in online community. We can start to think about the characteristics of online community and how whether the value of free speech online is still worth retaining despite all of the tragic happenings. Does there need to be more regulations to free speech online? For me, there certainly needs to be more serious efforts from various participants in the society to compensate for the losses that victims have experienced and prevent further happenings.

Discussion Questions:

What are the characteristics of online community that prolongs or even worsen the marginalization of women?

How can we compensate for the serious losses that these female victims have experienced?

Is the idea of free speech still valuable for the society if there is so much harm from abuse of it? How do we systematically evaluate the pros and cons of free speech online?

How do we build a platform and online culture for anti-harassment? What can social engineer, legal and political experts as well as normal participants of social media do?

Advertisements