The Shocking Ways that Women's Free Speech Is Under Attack

Welcome to the internet, women, where nests of men organize to systematically target women in the most horrific ways for their hobby, under protection of law.

Women who are in the least bit outspoken are subject to threats of rape, racist and sexist epithets, and deeply offensive trolling.

Legally speaking, “you can heckle a speaker but you can’t drown them out,” explains Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer, author and free speech advocate. Drowning out speakers or preventing them from speaking by threatening to create a violent reprisal is called “the Heckler’s Veto.”

The Heckler’s Veto is an ongoing concern for free speech advocates because it’s a live-action attempt to curtail the free speech of a public speaker – one that’s used time after time, year after year.

The Heckler’s Veto hasn’t gone away, it’s gone online. Only now, it’s called trolling.

Encyclopedia Dramatica, a deliberately offensive wiki outlining the worldview and language of some of the people congregating in the forums and chat rooms of, defines “trolling” as “Internet Eugenics.” Trolling is designed to enrage and traumatize targets – especially women and minorities – so that they’ll go ahead and “leave the internet.”

Online campaigns designed to punish particular people are called “lulz,” the phonetic version of the acronym “LOL,” meaning laugh out loud, which describes both the systematic process for chasing people off the Internet as well as the result (maximum amusement!). Lulz has “standard operating procedures” and the first of those procedures is trolling, or leaving a large volume of offensive comments on a person’s blog and tweeting hateful messages to them. Trolling is both a signal and a threat. Shut up and get off the Internet, is the message, or there will be further consequences – such as the publication of your personal details (called “doxing”) so you can be harassed not just online but by phone and at your home, followed by denial of service (dos) attacks on your website or, if you’ve really infuriated them, distributed denial of service attacks (Ddos) against your host provider (which will crash not just your site but thousands of other sites also hosted by those servers).

To recap: 1) trolling, 2) doxing, 3) dos or Ddos attacks. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And repeat they do. Set up only nine years ago, in 2004, Encyclopedia Dramatica contains hundreds of entries documenting past and future victims of a “lollercoaster.”

(Rape, deliberately misspelled as “raep,” can mean a dos or Ddos attack.)

... At one point, McEwan says, Encyclopedia Dramatica “used to feature a campaign offering a financial reward to anyone who could offer proof of raping and/or murdering me.”

So the first and most easily sustained method in the lulz process is the online hate storm ... Criado-Perez began receiving rape threats and death threats via Twitter – sometimes as many as 50 an hour. Criado-Perez told the BBC UK that she had “stumbled into a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women.”

This is a systemic issue, the people doing this, this is their hobby, they just move from target to target, they’re like a roaming gang of some kind,”... places where they were organizing these attacks,” Richards says, and sure enough, “they have scripts, templates.”

... ‘Do not feed the trolls’ is really easy for people to say when you’re not getting 100 rape threats, when you’re not getting 100 death threats.”

Legal consequences for organized campaigns of online harassment are more theoretical than practical. Dos and Ddos attacks are illegal, but unless they’re directed at a large organization (like AT&T, Paypal, Visa, MasterCard, Universal Music, Department of Justice and even the FBI) or related to a controversial, highly publicized crime (such the reaction of Anonymous to the Steubenville rape case), they’re unlikely to be investigated by authorities. Publishing a person’s private information to encourage stalking violates privacy statutes in most states, but even if victims succeed in tracing the identities of their anonymous attackers, they might not have the energy or resources to sue.

... the women – the targets of this speech – only have legal recourse if you can characterize the speech as actual or true threats. And that becomes a very hard factual question, which depends not just on the language being used, but on the context.”

Unless police determine a message to be an actual threat, the content of the trolling – no matter how offensive or frightening – is speech protected by the First Amendment. For each of the three tactics used in organized campaigns of online intimidation, then, U.S. laws either offer de facto protection to aggressors or are rarely enforced to protect victims.

“I’ve spoken to many women who simply stopped engaging,” says feminist activist and author Soraya Chemaly. ... “I’m happy to talk about free speech, it’s very dear to me [...] but the free speech we have to take care of first is the speech that is already lost,” because women are being intimidated off the Internet, out of public life and into silence.

And indeed, the problem is bigger than the Heckler’s Veto. ... coordinated campaigns of trolling, doxing and Ddos attacks are explicitly designed not only to silence you, but also to embarrass you, scare you, harass you, get government agencies to investigate you, vandalize your property, make you move, get you fired, ruin your life. [emphasis mine]

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Replies to This Discussion

Definitely.  I've been impressed by how much louder the misogynists are than the feminists online, how dominated it is by a male perspective, and the viciousness of people online, which is often aimed at women.

It is all at once infuriating, scary, depressing, hopeless. The misogynist are not more numerous than the feminists, they're just more numerous. No matter the defence technique, on the internet, democracy majority rule is power, patriarchy is power. And they fuckin' know it. The only person more infuriating to me after a misogynist, is a female who works against feminism by standing by the verbal campaigns of violence.

A long time ago I spent time reading the Usenet group soc.women.  It was FULL of males posting about how awful their ex-girlfriends were, long rants against women ...

So I went to look at to see if there was the same situation, reversed. 

But no.  There were no women there ranting against men or even posting about abusive ex-boyfriends. 

Why is it like this, when the statistics on domestic violence indicate that overwhelmingly, women are the ones who are beat up on or murdered by men?  Why isn't it overwhelmingly women who complain online about men?

Apparently it's not because women are inherently less aggressive than men.  I read of a study that measured aggression, by measuring the force with which a phone was banged into the cradle.  This aggression could be expressed without any risk of being hurt for it, and it didn't require physical strength.

The subjects were asked to act as telemarketers, and they called people who were offensive.  The women slammed the phone down just as hard as the men did. 

So why is there so much more violence by men against women?  Part of it is simply the male social role and that men can intimidate with their strength and do damage with their fists. 

But as for why men would want to hurt women - I agree with the old psychoanalytic explanation, that the roots of violence against women are in the mother-child relationship. 

The first and most intense relationship a child has is with their mother.  Children are bonded with their mothers in a primal, intense way.  They look to their mother for all their needs. 

And if something goes wrong, if the child isn't happy, goes unattended for a long time etc., it causes an intense, primitive rage.

Also males have to go through a difficult process of giving up their primary identification with their mother and identifying with their father instead, which causes rage when something goes wrong.  They try to escape from their mother's control.  So males who feel controlled by a woman, or that she isn't satisfying their emotional needs, often lash out. 

I've met many many men, especially older men, who seem to feel that women are there to service them.  To cook for them, to nurture them, to flatter them.  If a woman criticizes them instead, she becomes a target. 

Right-on for most of the post. The mother-child, in a one-on-one format, has only existed since patriarchy +/- 5500 years ago. Before males decided they were going to control female wombs and offspring, females raised infants in groups. It is the patriarchal arrangement of monogamy, of proprietorship of our lovers, marriage (and the expectation of) which are IMO the fundamental flaw.

The inherent violence of the institution of marriage is aptly demonstrated by the well studied stats on domestic violence in homosexual relationships. Same-sex couples are no less hierarchical than heterosexual ones. Monogamy is a power structure. And as long as females are brainwashed to "feel the need" to be associated for their entire life to one single male, there will be violence against females. 9/10 violent deaths of females are domesticity related (post-domesticity or pre-domesticity). Being single (life-mate-free) is statistically the safest behaviour.

I would love to see females boycott breeding... it could be the strongest fight we could put up against patriarchy.

It's absolutely to be expected that males have the expectations you mention, they are the fundamental reason for the institution of marriage.

I've read that married men live longer than single men - and single women live longer than married women! 

Perhaps because married women get stressed caring for their husband and now, having a job too.

Indeed, marriage was created as female servitude to males.

I've been sheltered enough not to see that personal, vicious targeting firsthand -- A|N and very selective Twitter are the extent of my "social media" use -- but I'm not surprised. Even in abstract settings like discussing the idea of "Atheism Plus", there's plenty of misogyny rearing its ugly head.

Trouble is, any technique social media corps use to counteract with technological strategies get co-opted by by males who then use that very new tool to call women "haters". It's already happened all over the radical feminist movement, females getting banned all over the place for saying

"Feminism is for women", the female who posted that got banned from Facebook because a bunch of wealthy males who'd had their genitals cut off to cure a mental condition organised massive attacks on all the feminists who did not agree 100% with them.

The simple fact is this, there is such a large majority of male (genitals or not) internet addicts with lots of money and time who totally control the internet volume, that the few of us who care about this topic are left powerless.

Because we can't spend our life on the internet launching mass attacks on people, because most females are underpaid and have to work twice as hard as males to earn 75% of male incomes.

The internet is a highly male dominated place, so to expect the internet to be open to feminists speaking up is nearly utopian.

Even my favourite movie site, is 90% male, so any conversation, any vote, any decision, is 90% male dictated.

With the internet, we live in an illusion of fairness and equal access... but it's not, the internet is male, everywhere it matters.




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