Article title: Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States
From New Media & Society
Some 25 years after the advent of the World Wide Web, online abuse, especially of women who speak publicly online, has become a major problem. It is perhaps the most visible and worrisome symptom of a global society in which online and offline communication coexist and intermingle. Women have asserted themselves publicly online using the tools the Internet provides, yet women remain vulnerable when doing so. The author in this article argues that understanding online abuse requires including incidents that occur offline due to someone’s online postings or presence online.
For analyzing the experiences of women bloggers, qualitative methods were best suited to provide “rich, detailed descriptions of human experience, dialogic encounters between self and other specifically in-depth semi-structured interviews and textual analysis. Women who blogged at least partially about feminisms, sexual politics, and family, based on the concept of minimal politics were interviewed. In this study 109 bloggers from 4 countries who write about feminisms, family, and/or maternity politics were interviewed.
The most salient finding was the high level of negativity and abuse that bloggers said they experienced: 73.4% (80 of 109 women) recalled an unpleasant encounter. Simultaneously, interviewees demonstrated a high level of resilience and sophistication facing online abuse. The most frequent negative experience interviewees noted were, by far, abusive or insulting comments: 69 of 80 women with negative experiences said they had received hate mail (rape threats and death threats were counted separately. Of the 80 women with negative experiences, 26 said they faced trolls and/or so-called shit storms. The latter involve a large number of insulting and/or outraged online comments to/about a blogger in a short period of time. The most common response to online abuse was to “moderate” comments. Nine of 80 women with negative experiences said they contacted police because they felt seriously threatened online or because a stalker crossed into offline harassment via phone or personal encounters. Law, police, social media, and society do not yet fully acknowledge the seriousness and frequency with which women are targets of online abuse. In conclusion the author calls for more systematic empirical work on global recognition of online abuse as punishable crime.
Women who blog about politics or identify as feminist in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States face great risks of online abuse. In-depth interviews with 109 bloggers who write about feminisms, family, and/or maternity politics revealed that 73.4% had negative experiences due to blogging and/or social media use. Most of these negative experiences involved not only abusive comments but also stalking, trolls, rape threats, death threats, and unpleasant offline encounters. Response strategies included moderating comments, exposing abuse, adaptation, and solidarity. I argue that the democratic potential of social media in democracies remains haphazard because online abuse is not fully recognized as entangling online and offline communication, constituted and constructed through technological, legal, social, and cultural factors. Using the theoretical approaches of digital feminisms, I call for more systematic empirical work on global recognition of online abuse as punishable crime.
Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States
First Published January 29, 2017 Research Article
From New Media & Society