Dawn Foster has written a brave, gut-wrenching, important piece about online misogyny and abuse.
The majority of men are not like this, but unbidden, I find myself more on guard than I ever was before. Too many men have proudly sent lengthy pen portraits of my imagined rape, murder or maiming, glutted with detail, and have expended plenty of energy on these dreams. These men aren’t easy to spot on public transport, and now I’m warier than I have been at any other point in my life.
I have only experienced a tiny fraction of what women like Foster have experienced. But even then I find myself thinking about online abusers when I’m on public transport, or in a crowd. Can I tell which of these people are hateful bastards just by looking at them? Is it him? Or him? Or her?
As Foster writes:
The internet is still seen as the Wild West – a consequence-free zone where normal social mores can be cast off as cumbersome shackles.
We’ve been played. The tech firms told us that we needed free speech, but what they really meant was they needed freedom from taking responsibility for the shit being pumped through their servers. YouTube has become a radicalisation machine. Facebook is implicated in genocide – genocide! – in Myanmar. Twitter has become a megaphone for bigots of all stripes.
Online spaces are no different from real world spaces. We decide what’s acceptable, and what isn’t. For too long we’ve been accepting the unacceptable. And the longer we shrug it off, the worse it will become.