Assistance PLEASE Prompt: With the development of technology, the possibility of altering an image to the point it is unrecognizable from the original one

Assistance PLEASE Prompt:

With the development of technology, the possibility of altering an image to the point it is unrecognizable from the original one

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Assistance PLEASE Prompt:

With the development of technology, the possibility of altering an image to the point it is unrecognizable from the original one is possible on every smartphone. Filters and modified images are mostly seen in social media. These platforms are used to connect with individuals of all the world having the ability to influence the way of thinking of some people. Currently we are bombarded with images of what is classified as “perfect bodies.” Despite knowing these images have been altered, it does not stop the person to try to achieve what is known to be “perfect,” to fit more in a “social media friendly” range. The media has always created and promoted beauty routines to helped achieve the “perfect body” with headlines like “How to lose weight in 10 days,” or “50 ways to get a shiny hair.” Within so, is it possible social media is affecting the masculine and feminine image? If so, to what extent could this issue affect the LGBTQ+ community? Studies have demonstrated that the distorted perception of self may compromise and deteriorated the mental health of a person. Fictional enhances images can lead to unrealistic standards of beauty attributing for creating insecurities in young people. Therefore, could the constant exposure to altered images can lead to an unhealthy anxiety that could cause body dysmorphia behaviors in individuals? In addition, could it be the reason behind eating disorders and low self-esteem? 


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Times New Roman HATERS

Harassment, Abuse,
and Violence Online

Bailey Poland

Potomac Books

An imprint of the University of Nebraska Press

© 2016 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska

All rights reserved. Potomac Books is an

imprint of the University of Nebraska Press.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data

Names: Poland, Bailey, author.

Title: Haters: harassment, abuse,

and violence online / Bailey Poland.

Description: Lincoln: Potomac Books, [2016] |

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifi ers: lccn 2016017213

isbn 9781612347660 (pbk.: alk. paper)

isbn 9781612348704 (epub)

isbn 9781612348711 (mobi)

isbn 9781612348728 (pdf )

Subjects: lcsh: Internet and women. | Sexism. | Misogyny.

Classifi cation: lcc hq1178 .p65 2016 | dd c 305.3— dc23

lc record available at

Designed and set in Minion Pro by L. Auten.

For my mom, who has always been my fi rst and best reader



Why Misogyny Flourishes Online 1


What Online Harassment Really Looks Like 35


Why Advice about Cybersexism Fails 61


Professional, Psychological, and Personal 89


Men’s Rights Activists and Gamergate 123


Current Solutions 159

7 FIGHTING BACK: Remixing Cyberfeminism

and Strategizing to Reduce Cybersexism 201

CONCLUSION: A Call to Action 251

Notes 253

Bibliography 271

Index 293



1 THE MANY FACES OF CYBERSEXISMWhy Misogyny Flourishes Online

Online spaces are fraught with the abuse of women. Th e past few years

have produced one high- profi le case of harassment aft er another, suff using

news headlines with the lurid details of women forced from their homes,

their online and offl ine lives shattered by a torrent of sexist, racist, and

transphobic abuse. Hate mobs like those associated with Gamergate and

individual abusers and stalkers have proliferated online in recent years,

causing women to fear going online at all. Whether it’s organized cam-

paigns of unrelenting harassment, “doxxing,” and violent threats loosely

coordinated on various message boards and social media sites or abusive

spouses taking their violence into cyberspace (once ending up in front of

the Supreme Court), hardly a month goes by when the news isn’t following

yet another extreme example of the price women pay for being visible

online.1 What is it about online spaces that makes abuse so common? And

what can we do to make the Internet safer?

Before we can begin to explore the answers to those questions, it’s

important to understand the core terminology used to describe the online

abuse that characterizes so much of women’s experience with the Internet.

A grasp of how this book talks about sexism and cybersexism is essential.

While other defi nitions of sexism and cybersexism may exist and the defi –

nitions themselves are fl uid, for the purposes of this book the two terms

have specifi c defi nitions that are used as frames for the concepts discussed.

In this chapter I discuss the basic terminology used throughout the

book in discussing sexism and cybersexism. I also explore the prevalence

2 Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism

of offl ine sexism that informs women’s day- to- day lives and how such

attitudes moved online, and then I examine the mindset that leads to

cybersexist harassment.

Sexism is a combination of prejudice against persons based on their

gender, combined with the privilege and power required to cause harm.

In other words, because men as a group hold the majority of social priv-

ileges, such as political and fi nancial power representation, their prej-

udices against women as a group are more likely to hurt women, limit

their opportunities, and cause other diffi culties for women trying to go

about their daily lives. Further, as women do not hold the majority of the

privileges or power that exist, their prejudices against men (frequently a

reaction to already- existing injustices and unequal levels of power and

opportunity) do not rise to the level of sexism.

“Privilege” in this context is oft en misunderstood as primarily class

or fi nancial power; however, the defi nition of privilege used here takes a

more nuanced approach. Privilege is, for the purposes of this book, the

set of social advantages associated with particular axes of identity that

are considered to be dominant. Th ese social advantages are oft en unno-

ticed by those who have them, but they nevertheless carry a great deal of

weight. Privilege is oft en associated with those forms of identity (and the

associated benefi ts) that are considered default by virtue of overrepresen-

tation. While having privilege will not correlate to success or power in all

cases or situations, it simply increases the likelihood that it will. Th e term

“privilege,” therefore, is used to describe the broad social attitudes that

impact power, access, safety, and representation along the axes of gender,

race, sexuality, and more.

Male privilege, for example, is associated with greater representation

in media, business, politics, and journalism, as well as easier access to

positions of power, employment, capital, and so on. Th e same attitudes

that produce sexism in the form of negative stereotypes about women

oft en fi nd footing as positive stereotypes about men— where women are

seen as irrational or overly emotional, men are painted as levelheaded

and logical.






Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism 3

As a result, while sexism is oft en understood solely as prejudice against

someone on the basis of their sex— and, under that defi nition, it is oft en

said that women who push back against sexism are themselves engaging in

sexism against men— the ability to cause harm to a group (women) while

conferring benefi ts on another group (men) is a core part of the defi nition

of sexism used throughout this book. Sexism as it aff ects online life is the

major focus of this work, with the key caveat that online harassment and

abuse are rarely— if ever— linked to gender alone.

Although this book addresses women as a group and uses sexism as the

guiding framework, racism is another key element of online harassment

and one that, as a white person, I discuss but cannot ever fully speak

to. Online harassment of women of color, and specifi cally misogynoir,

requires far more in- depth analysis.2 A call to action for addressing that

issue is a central part of my goal here; while this book is intended to

start a discussion, it is only the fi rst part of a much broader and deeper

conversation that must take place in order to improve the well- being of

online communities.

With that said, cybersexism is the expression of prejudice, privilege, and

power in online spaces and through technology as a medium. While this

book focuses on the verbal and graphic expression of sexism in the form

of online harassment and abuse aimed at women, it’s important to note

that cybersexism can also occur in less overt forms not directly as a result

of ill intent. For example, the design of technology to suit an ideal user

(presumed to be male) or to make it more diffi cult for women to access

and use is also cybersexism. Some examples include making smartphones

too large for the average woman’s hand, health and fi tness tracking apps

that exclude menstruation (or regard the tracking of menstruation as

only for cisgender women and aimed only at pregnancy), or designing a

“revolutionary” heart implant that works for 86 percent of men and only

20 percent of women.3

Th is book examines the use of harassment and abuse aimed at women

in online spaces, with an understanding that cybersexism oft en has a goal

of creating, enforcing, and normalizing male dominance in online spaces—






4 Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism

norms preferred by straight, cisgender white men, primarily located in the

United States. While online harassment is a global problem, the norms

established in the early years of the Internet tend to refl ect Western- centric

patterns of use and abuse. Th e types of cybersexism examined here include

everything from casual sexist harassment to overt abuse, illegal threats,

doxxing, and other behaviors that make online spaces uncomfortable,

unpleasant, and unsafe for women’s participation, along with a discussion

of the justifi cations used for such behavior and women’s ability to respond.

While sexism itself is the overarching focus here, issues of race, sexuality,

disability, and others also play a role in determining which women get

targeted for certain kinds of abuse and how that abuse functions.

Th is book also looks at the ways in which this cyberabuse aff ects women

in their online and offl ine lives— and the increasingly blurred boundaries

between the two. Chapters address the ways women cope with abuse, the

solutions currently in place, and why so many of them fail. Th is book also

attempts to outline possibilities for long- term changes to the way we live,

work, and play online.

Sexist attitudes color the majority of women’s interactions with the

world, from expectations about how— and if— women should talk (online

and off ), to the skewed media representation of women, to male domi-

nance, to violence against women, and more. Stereotyping and gendered

abuse are a common fact of life for women. Th e continued and rapid era-

sure of the lines between online and offl ine activities makes it impossible to

fully separate online and offl ine harassment. Online harassment is rooted

in offl ine beliefs, and those offl ine beliefs are supported and reinforced by

the prevalence of sexist behaviors online. Domination of specifi c spaces

deemed important is, as ever, a central goal for those who engage in sexist

activities. With the Internet the quest for male domination is disguised by

a mythology of level playing fi elds and equal opportunity, and it is backed

by the vicious and constant harassment of women.

Understanding how cybersexism works requires an understanding of

how sexism itself functions in offl ine spaces. Attitudes displayed online—

whether in the form of YouTube videos, Facebook comments, Twitter

replies, Reddit threads, or blog posts— do not occur in a vacuum nor do



Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism 5

they exist only in online spaces. While people may be more comfortable

expressing extreme views online than they would in person, such expres-

sions oft en refl ect the true beliefs they hold. Th ose views, extreme or not,

are also not confi ned to or created solely in online spaces.

Th e United States in particular has a strong set of expectations regard-

ing appropriate gender roles for men and women, and sexist, demeaning

beliefs about women’s roles are still common. Power, money, violence,

and control continue to exist along highly gendered and raced lines, and

taking a serious look at the ways sexism operates in offl ine spaces is key

to understanding how it became so prevalent online.

Th e decision to target women with abusive, gender- based harassment

online is rarely random or spontaneous. While individual actions may not

be impelled by a goal other than disagreeing with a woman and wanting

to put her in her place, as it were, the decision to engage in obviously

sexist harassment to achieve such ends indicates how cybersexists think

the Internet should work. In many ways activities aimed at building and

reinforcing male dominance online are conducted in order to re- create

the patterns of male domination that exist offl ine. In offl ine spaces sexism

occurs in a variety of ways, from the obvious examples of fi nancial and

political control to violence, including almost invisible factors, such as

policing the ways in which women talk.

Political and Financial Power

Offl ine, men remain in powerful positions throughout the world. From

a political standpoint every U.S. president through 2016 has been male

and, with the exception of President Barack Obama, white and male. Th e

114th U.S. Congress consisted of roughly 80 percent men and more than

80 percent white people, regardless of gender.4 Among countries around

the globe, however, the United States is not even in the top seventy coun-

tries in terms of representation of women in political bodies. Th e top fi ve

countries are Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Seychelles, and Sweden; the United

States stands at an abysmal seventy- fi rst place, and the United Kingdom is




6 Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism

thirty- sixth.5 Of the top fi ve countries only Rwanda and Bolivia have equal

or greater numbers of women in a lower or single legislative chamber; no

country in the top fi ve has parity in an upper chamber.

Around the world women are oft en grossly underrepresented within

the legal bodies that govern the everyday lives of citizens. As a result, deci-

sions are made that aff ect women without women’s input. Men’s ability to

control the legal environment in which women live and work is a source

of much confl ict and power. However, this overrepresentation of men is

not unique to the political arena.

From the highest ranks of business, where women occupy fewer than

5 percent of Fortune 500 ceo positions, to the individual level, where

working single mothers are disproportionately likely to be women of

color who are living in poverty, men have signifi cantly more control over

the economic fate of the world and, as a result, most of the women in

it.6 Financial control is an issue from the most senior positions within a

business to the most entry- level role, with men consistently making more

money than women, controlling more resources, and having easier access

to higher levels of power.

Th e wage gap remains a gender issue within the United States and

around the world, with men still making more than women at every

level of employment. Further, it is important to remember that wom-

en’s wages vary widely by race, with white women having the greatest

advantage.7 Although all women are at a disadvantage where fi nancial

impact is concerned, race plays a major role, as do sexuality, disability,

and gender identity. In the United States companies in twenty- nine states

can legally fi re gay employees for their sexuality; in thirty- four states

companies can legally fi re transgender people solely for being transgen-

der.8 In addition, the Fair Labor Standards Act permits organizations

to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage— oft en far less than

minimum wage.9 Th e ability to fi nd and retain work, and to be fairly

compensated for that work, without being discriminated against based on

race, gender, ability, or sexuality continues to be an immense challenge

across the globe.





Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism 7

Media Stereotypes

Beyond the world of fi nance and politics, even something as seemingly

simple as entertainment remains a male- dominated fi eld— on the screen,

at the writer’s desk, and behind the camera. Th e Geena Davis Institute on

Gender in Media found that men still make up 93 percent of directors and

83 percent of writers. Th e Geena Davis Institute also found that there is

a 5 to 10 percent increase in women on- screen when women are writing

and directing media rather than men, who consistently write more male

characters and cast more male actors.10 Movies and tv shows still feature

signifi cantly more men than women, and even when women are pres-

ent they are oft en relegated to supporting roles or are characters whose

existence only matters in relation to a main male character. Women are

more likely to be sexualized than men in entertainment, and degrading

comments about women’s bodies and intelligence are common across all

types of media.

Sexism in media and entertainment is linked to numerous problems

for women and girls. Media and advertisements oft en refl ect unattainable

and deeply manipulated imagery of women’s bodies, and a company such

as Unilever (owner of the Dove brand) sells a version of empowerment

with one hand while selling skin lightening creams that contribute to

racist stereotypes with the other.11 Multiple research reports across decades

have shown that exposure to sexist, racist stereotypes in media— such as

consistently portraying women as irrational and hyperemotional or only

casting people of color as a variety of stereotypes (the nerdy Asian, the

strong black woman, the hotheaded Latina)— can have serious real- life

consequences.12 Eating disorders, feelings of inferiority, reduced personal

and educational goals, feelings of invisibility, and more all result from

people’s limited opportunities to see their lives accurately and intelligently

portrayed on tv, in books and comic books, through music, and even in

the news.13

Although media stereotypes might at fi rst glance seem harmless, as easy

tropes needed to quickly convey information, research has also shown time

and again that the images we see on the screen both refl ect and reinforce



8 Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism

our preexisting social beliefs. While the media do not bear full responsi-

bility for the creation of sexist attitudes and other negative problems, the

representations of casual sexism and racism in media become part of the

way viewers see the world around them. Cybersexists and sexists who

operate offl ine both try to argue that something like a book, movie, or

video game is “just entertainment” and that seeing social patterns refl ected

within entertainment is the work of people who are looking too hard.

Th e refusal to critically examine media or acknowledge its eff ects is

oft en known as the “third- person eff ect”: people who assume that they

are not aff ected by stereotypes in media are oft en the ones who are most

likely to absorb harmful messages and beliefs from it, because they do not

interrogate the messages presented by the shows and movies they watch

and the video games they play.14 A failure to examine something like sexist

messages leads to passive acceptance of them as refl ecting something true

about the world, oft en leading to a reinforcing and strengthening of sexist

attitudes about women.

Th is pattern of behavior contributes to a cycle of reifi cation and reen-

actment of negative social beliefs. People who do not examine the attitudes

implicit in media are less likely to examine their own beliefs and more likely

to absorb those messages from the media they consume— whether or not

the messages are deliberately included. People who go on to create their

own media then unthinkingly perpetuate the same stereotypes, further

reinforcing the validity of sexist portrayals of women for new audiences.


Economic power and the erasure and sexist portrayals of women through

entertainment and media are not the only ways that gender comes into

play. How people interact with one another at the personal level is keenly

shaped by gender, expectations of proper gender roles and behaviors, and

the power structures that uphold men and degrade women. Too oft en

these interactions include violence. Violence remains closely linked to

gender, and its intersections with race, sexuality, gender identity, and

other factors increase the likelihood that certain groups of women will

experience violence.

Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism 9

Even violence against the self is gendered, for while men commit

suicide more frequently, women attempt it signifi cantly more oft en than

men do.15 And while the number of young men with eating disorders

has been rapidly climbing in recent years, women still make up the

bulk of people who develop anorexia and bulimia.16 Eating disorders

are deeply linked to mental health, and their catalyst is oft en an attempt

to deal with the constraints society places on women’s bodies. Th inness

is an ideal, and girls and women starve themselves trying to reach it.

Eating disorders remain the form of mental illness with the highest

mortality rate, and for those who survive it, recovery is an ongoing,

lifelong process.

Violence committed by the state is another aspect of offl ine violence.

Although men of color make up the largest segment of the prison popu-

lation, the incarceration of women of color— especially black women— is

rapidly increasing, refl ecting the racist policies enacted across the country.17

Racism remains all too common offl ine, as it does online. Th e American

legal system disproportionately aff ects people of color, especially black and

Latino men. People of color have signifi cantly higher rates of policing,

incarceration, and death sentences than white people, who are more likely

to receive lighter sentencing for similar crimes.18 Despite the preponder-

ance of men already in the prison system, women are now incarcerated

at nearly double the rate men are, and since 1985 the rate of women’s

imprisonment has increased by 800 percent and has disproportionately

aff ected women of color. Black women are three times as likely as white

women to be imprisoned, and Latina women are nearly 70 percent more

likely than white women to be sentenced to prison.19

Legal and social biases around race remain thoroughly ingrained in

American society, leaving white men fi rmly in the most advantaged posi-

tion. In addition to systemic racism, racist hate crimes remain a fact of

life for many individuals, especially within the United States. In late 2013

the fbi released the collected 2012 hate crime statistics, which showed

that 48.3 percent of nearly six thousand recorded hate crimes were racially

motivated and that a further 11 percent were due to bias against the victim’s

ethnicity or national origin.20 Around the world, xenophobia, racism, and

10 Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism

gender- based violence intersect with government surveillance, control,

and violence.

Intimate partner violence, domestic violence, and rape all occur with

astonishing frequency across the world. While the most readily available

statistics are for the United States, similar statistics can be found for nearly

every country. Within the United States 20 percent of women experience

nonfatal partner violence, compared to only 3 percent of men.21 Addi-

tionally, 33 percent of female murder victims were killed by an intimate

partner, versus only 4 percent of male murder victims. Overall, 84 percent

of spousal abuse victims are women. One in twelve women is likely to

be stalked in her lifetime, versus one in forty- fi ve men, and 87 percent

of all stalkers are male, regardless of the gender of the victim. Further-

more, most people who are stalked know their stalker, who is frequently

a former spouse or boyfriend. While all domestic violence is serious, the

majority of interpersonal relationship violence between adults is directed

at women, and when men experience such violence it’s most oft en at the

hands of other men.

Rape also occurs along gendered lines— 78 percent of rape and sexual

assault survivors are women. Sexual violence is inextricably linked with

domination of women and is frequently committed as an assertion of

masculine power, which is also why most of the people who commit rape

and sexual assault are men. For example, one Department of Justice study

found that nearly 100 percent of acts of sexual violence committed against

women over the age of eighteen were perpetrated by men, as were 92

percent of physical assaults and 97 percent of stalking incidents.22 When

men are attacked, other men commit 70 percent of rapes, 86 percent of

physical assaults, and 65 percent of stalking incidents.

However, gender is not the only factor leading to domestic violence

and rape. Violence against women offl ine, like online violence, also has

a highly racial component. For example, 17 percent of American Indian

women within the United States are stalked, compared to only 8.2 percent

of white women, 6.5 percent of black women, and fewer than 5 percent

of Asian and Pacifi c Islander women.23 Nearly half of all black girls have

been sexually assaulted before they turn eighteen.24 Rapes of American

Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism 11

Indian women are frequently committed by white men and take place

on reservations, a situation in which men abuse women knowing that

they are unlikely to have to deal with the legal consequences of doing so;

in 1978 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision

prohibiting tribes from arresting and prosecuting non– American Indian

individuals who commit crimes on tribal land.25 Race and gender both

provide opportunity and motive for violence, and women of color are far

more likely to be on the receiving end of it.

Violence extends along multiple axes of individual identity, especially

when that identity is seen as deviating from an expected norm. Acts of

violence against lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people are

common, and anti- lgbt violence oft en begins in childhood. A study

of nearly forty European countries found that more than half of lgbt

students reported dealing with bullying in school that related to their

sexual orientation or gender.26 Violence against adult members of the

lgbt community is also common, with verbal and physical attacks being

a regular occurrence for many individuals.

Th e highest tracked anti- lgbt homicide rate that glaad (an organiza-

tion originally founded as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation)

has reported was in 2011; even though 2012 saw a 16 percent decrease, that

year still saw twenty- fi ve homicides directly tied to anti- lgbt attitudes.27

As with all types of violence, violence against lgbt people oft en occurs

along intersections of race and other factors, with lgbt people of color

at a signifi cantly higher risk for hate crimes, suicide, and homelessness.

In 2012, of all anti- lgbt homicide victims in the United States, 73 percent

were people of color.

Transgender women, and particularly black transgender women, face

even higher rates of homelessness and suicide, as well as violent attacks

and murder due to hate crimes aimed at them for their gender and oft en

their race; 53 percent of homicide victims of anti- lgbt violence in 2012

were transgender women, and the high percentage of attacks on people

of color makes it likely that many of the murders of trans people were

also attacks on women of color. In another testament to the inequalities

of the legal system in the United States, few of the people who attack

12 Th e Many Faces of Cybersexism

transgender women of color ever face legal or even social consequences

for doing so; many of the attackers, who tend to be white cisgender men,

face no jail time.

Th e “trans panic” defense, so called because it allows cisgender men to

claim that they found out that a woman was transgender, “panicked,” and

killed her, allows many men to walk free aft er committing violence and

murder.28 In summer 2015 a U.S. Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, was

being investigated for murdering a transgender woman named Jennifer

Laude aft er he discovered that she was transgender. In his defense testi-

mony Pemberton said that he “felt violated and angry,” which was what

led him to strangle Laude and leave her to die.29

In 2002 a transgender teenager named Gwen Araujo died aft er being

brutally beaten for several hours by a group of cisgender men, who used

a similar defense.30 Th e assailants received sentences for second- degree

murder and voluntary manslaughter, but the charges likely would have

been much more severe had Araujo not been transgender. While Araujo’s

murder was a turning point that led the State of California to ban the

trans panic defense, …

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