Phibian, blogging at CDR Salamander, picked up on something I’d missed entirely: the claim that the blogosphere is a haven for misogynists. I don’t know how I could have missed this because, according to Phibian, the august Washington Post, almost two months ago, opined on the subject:
A female freelance writer who blogged about the pornography industry was threatened with rape. A single mother who blogged about “the daily ins and outs of being a mom” was threatened by a cyber-stalker who claimed that she beat her son and that he had her under surveillance. Kathy Sierra, who won a large following by blogging about designing software that makes people happy, became a target of anonymous online attacks that included photos of her with a noose around her neck and a muzzle over her mouth.
As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats. Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms — a trend that was first evident in chat rooms in the early 1990s and is now moving to the blogosphere, experts and bloggers said.
Joan Walsh, editor in chief of the online magazine Salon, said that since the letters section of her site was automated a year and a half ago, “it’s been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men.”
Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post site is among the most prominent of blogs founded by women, said anonymity online has allowed “a lot of those dark prejudices towards women to surface.” Her site takes a “zero tolerance” policy toward abusive and excessively foul language, and employs moderators “24/7” to filter the comments, she said.
Some female bloggers say their colleagues just need thicker skin. Columnist Michelle Malkin, who blogs about politics and culture, said she sympathizes with Sierra but has chided the bloggers expressing outrage now. “First, where have y’all been? For several years, the unhinged Internet underworld has been documented here,” she wrote, reposting a comment on her site that called for the “torture, rape, murder” of her family.
Report the serious threats to law enforcement, she urged. And above all: “Keep blogging. Don’t cut and run.”
But Herring said Malkin is in a minority. “There’s a whole bunch of women who are being intimidated,” she said. They include academics, professional programmers and other women normally unafraid to speak their minds.
I think the WaPo is right. There is a lot of misogyny in cyberspace. There’s also a lot of anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism, homophobia, heterophobia, racism, anti-Conservatism, anti-Progressivism, and just about any other anti you can think of. There is no doubt that many people, writing with the freedom of anonymity, are going to express some of the deeper, darker thoughts that they would normally keep locked away in a face to face situation. Thus, while someone might say to your face, “I think you’re wrong to oppose same sex marriage,” that same person, hiding behind an anonymous email or comment, may well add “you disgusting, slime eating homophobe; I wish you’d die” as the final salutation to that same message.
In other words, I think Phibian had it right when he told his daughters:
[T]he Internet is just like a very large city. You have many great and wonderful things out there, but you also have some of the worst things man can think up. Evil lurks there – and you aren’t going out there without me being with you.
Incidentally, I have to say that I’ve never received threatening or sexually explicit comments at my blog, something for which I’m very grateful. Certainly some people have disagreed with me, and done so strongly. I’ve deleted three posts in almost as many years because they simply had too many obscenities for me to tolerate. I flatter myself that those who come here, whether they agree or disagree, are trying to the best of their abilities to touch upon the merits — and when you’re talking about the merits, there really isn’t room for personal attacks. Even those who like me least, and who fall back most on ad hominem attacks, level their worst slings and arrows at my political views, and not at my sex.
Ultimately, Michelle Malkin is right. You have to have a certain toughness to tolerate the freedom of expression the internet gives to its users. And, just as the attackers hide behind their anonymity, the bloggers can too — I certainly have. Lastly, it’s useful to know that the traditional legal process does give some protection to those whose attackers are genuinely threatening. Blogger Lee Kaplan, who became the victim of a very frightening cyberstalke0r who set up a Blogger site aimed at harassing him, pursued the matter aggressively and won in court. Kaplin is now pushing to have internet service providers act more aggressively to block those who threaten physical violence or who create situations conducive to physical violence. As a lawyer, I would say that site providers would be wise to do as Kaplan asks. Certainly (and God forbid), if any person is ever actually hurt by an internet stalker, and if the service provider knew of that stalker, I think the provider would be a sitting duck for a multimillion dollar lawsuit.