Brianna Wu on Online Harassment

Brianna Wu posted a piece yesterday that ought to be required reading for anyone who wants to use the Internet. Especially men.

This weekend, a man wearing a skull mask posted a video on YouTube outlining his plans to murder me. I know his real name. I documented it and sent it to law enforcement, praying something is finally done. I have received these death threats and 43 others in the last five months.

She goes on to discuss what life has been like as a target of the nearly endless harassment from Gamergate. We discussed this on the podcast last night and we were so upset by it that we basically had to stop our recording.

What is striking about this is how foreign an experience it is for me. I have not experienced this kind of abuse online. Ever. Not once. The online altercations I have had – and they have been few – never escalated beyond a brief name calling. I have never once been threatened with physical harm.

You would think that as a gay man I would have encountered at least something like this. But it seems that man – or at least cisgendered man – trumps all else. It’s an inherent privilege to not be endlessly harassed for the crime of having an opinion. I can honestly say that even one of these incidents would likely have me on the brink of closing down my social media accounts and this blog and unplugging the network connection from the wall. I seriously do not know how she manages this, it is nearly inconceivable to me.

So what can be done? I am not a harasser. Most men are not. But what we nearly all do is contribute to and help maintain a culture that belittles anything feminine. We use female anatomy as a synonym for weakness. “Throw like a girl” is an insult. Gay culture specifically has fetishized masculinity to the point where anyone with even mild feminine characteristics is shunned. We are all guilty of this. Me, you, everyone.

These are the steps we all can take. Stop this. Call it out. Shame it into irrelevancy. We have done this before. Racist speech was once widely accepted. Now it is a one way ticket out of civilized conversation. We are seeing it happening right now with homophobia. Even Roy Moore in his Wallace standing in the doorway moment felt compelled to pull the “I have gay friends” canard. Disingenuous yes, but it signals a cultural shift that is nevertheless a net positive.

We need to stop treating an entire gender as weak, as unworthy, as ridicule fodder. In the same way you would socially shun a racist friend, you must shun a sexist one. Call them out. Don’t let it go unchecked. We need to stop allowing this to be a “guy thing”. And start with yourself. Whether we want it to or not, it feeds this monster.

We also must demand that those who threaten be held accountable. Owners of public forums need to take better care to keep this kind of behavior out. The law must be applied to its fullest extent to send a clear message that we do not tolerate this kind of abuse. If you choose to partake in it, you will be removed from society.

No one should fear for their life for simply existing online. After the attacks in Paris last month the world declared “Je suis Charlie”. I want to declare I am Brianna. But the truth is I am not. But what I can be, what we all must be is vigilant. We must not sweep misogyny under the rug. We must demand that those who threaten women online are treated like the criminals they are. It is nonsensical to me that Aaron Swartz faced decades in prison for hacking a server, but threatening rape and murder is shrugged off as just how the Internet is. Don’t stand for it. Don’t feed this monster.

Brianna Wu on Online Harassment was last updated February 12th, 2015 by Michael Truskowski