Essays on Technology and Culture

Online Harassment and Street Harassment are the Same

When the verdict was announced last week, some of Elliott’s supporters were claiming the crux of the case was defending freedom of speech, that Elliott was being punished merely for disagreeing with women. What’s lacking in this argument is that there’s a difference between disagreeing with someone and disagreeing on a loop, using veiled threats that target a specific group. A differing opinion is one thing; a sexist remark, or a racial slur, or a warning masked as a different opinion is harassment, and it’s fucking terrifying.

— Scaachi Koul – “There’s No Such Thing As Digital-Only Torment”

There’s two things that people continue to get wrong about online harassment. The first is that it is does not exist in a vacuum. Whatever outdated advice, along the lines of “don’t feed the trolls” people trot out fails to acknowledge the scale of most online harassment. A rape threat, or a “kill urself bitch” on Twitter today can turn into a SWATting tomorrow.

The second is that this is yet another symptom of the ongoing gendered harassment that women—as well as minorities and LGBTQ individuals—risk by simply existing in a public space. It doesn’t matter whether that space is physical or digital. The very act of existing as a woman, as a person of color, as a queer person, or simply not conforming to the “standards” of gender makes a person an open target for abuse in a way that cisgendered white men rarely are.