Harassment

Online Harassment is a Constant Problem for Feminists

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Courtney Loiacono

A feminist activist in Brooklyn that consumes pop culture and podcasts at an alarming rate and enjoys beer and feminism with a bite.

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People often ask my why I use my full name, Courtney Loiacono, as my username on social media — particularly with my Twitter handle, @CourtLoiacono. Isn’t it dangerous? Am I worried about future employers seeing my tweets? Why is it important to me?

Tweeting #feminism, #sexualharassment, or even just mentioning feminist themes in 140 characters or less puts feminist Twitter users at risk for a slew of online abuse and harassment. And while many feminists know that we will receive criticism and backlash because of our views, harassment on Twitter can become dangerous to our mental health and safety because of certain details we potentially post, such as full name, school, address, etc.

Over the past few years, a consistent line of abusive tweets has been waiting for me when I open the Twitter app. Misogynist users have detailed their desires to “rape the feminist out of me,” or “rape me in the face with a hammer,” and gang rape me until I die. Receiving rape and death threats has become normalized in my online experience. Whether I engage with abusive users or not, chances are a threat is coming my way. The fact that these users found me by trolling the #feminism hashtag made me feel oddly safe — these users did not know me personally and their threats did not carry much weight.

A few months back, this harassment took a personal turn; for three weeks, a Twitter account followed me and consistently popped up in my mentions, at least a few times a day. This user would condescendingly question any feminist or social justice content I shared, trying to get a rise out of me. One day I tweeted about victim blaming and the NYPD, an issue I am passionate about, and this user immediately tried to engage with me.

Maybe it was the issue, or the weather that day, or what I had for lunch, but I chose to engage with this user, knowing it would most likely end in a threatening manner.

Long story short, this user not only attacked me, but created a hate account inspired by my existence, titled @CourtneyAntiMan. I realized that this user was someone who knew me personally because the only two people this account followed were the abusive user harassing me and my former partner of 3 years, whom I no longer followed on social media and had not been connected to for some time.

Seeing that this abuser knew me and was using personal details about my life to torment me brought on a panic attack in the bathroom at work. Why would someone create not one, but two fake accounts to threaten and harass me for my feminism?

In response to this, many people’s knee-jerk reactions were “Why not just use a different name or make your account private?” or “Have you considered not using your full name?”

This rhetoric stung. Of course I have considered using a pen name or username detached from my identity! I consider it every time I receive a rape threat that hits a little too close to home. While the choice would potentially make me feel safer, the harassment would still continue, regardless of changing my Twitter handle to @CourtAnn or @DolphinLover18 instead of @CourtLoiacono. Activists on Twitter have shown the impact of keeping accounts public and identities true online. Keeping my content accessible and attached to my identity is something I value.

Other users have blamed me for the harassment I receive. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t world of online harassment, where if you don’t engage with the harassers, you worry you are being forced into silence or are not taking the opportunity to educate them and other followers about the harassment. Whereas if you do engage with them, you risk being blamed for instigating or asking for the harassment to occur. And what have we created? A space where victims of online harassment are the ones blamed and left alone and confused.

As Twitter celebrates its 10 year anniversary, I have a message for those in power at the company who have not taken online harassment as seriously as it should be:

It is my choice to engage with online harassers or not.

It is not my responsibility to stop online harassment–it is the job of policy makers to create a safe space, which could potentially be through policies that reprimand harassment and protect users.

It is not my job to silence the harassers, to stop posting such “inflammatory” (read: social justice) content, nor is it my job to figure out how to best approach these situations. That is the job of the policy makers, the designers and the people monitoring content on Twitter. I should be free to use my identity online without the fear of receiving violent, personalized threats. We must reprimand and stop the online abusers, not the victims that are using the platform for good.