Reclaim the Internet

Over 137,000 subscribers. 159,000+ views. 3,283 comments.

Those are the numbers relating to the person who took one of my YouTube videos about 3 months ago, chopped away at it, and recorded their own narrative over the top.

The most recent comment on the video?

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I can barely remember what the video was about, and I’m not going to watch the Frankenstein version of it to find out. But if memory serves me well, it was about the definition of feminism. It was about how feminism is not about equality but liberation. About how equal pay still does not exist because of the differentiation in opportunities that women get. About how intersectionality was coined by a black woman and therefore should refer first and foremost to feminism’s intersection with race. About how misandry is not a thing, and how it could not possibly be a thing due to our patriarchal society.

About how misandry is a buzzword that gets the Men’s Rights Activists flocking.

Even if they disagree with my other points, they have to admit that they proved that one to be 100% correct.

The edited video had a voiceover that essentially talked about how awful I am and how pointless feminism is, alongside a few insults about my appearance, voice, and so on and so forth. It wasn’t so much that someone had made this video that upset me: it was how I found out. You see, I woke up that morning to the non-stop vibration of my phone. Checking it, I saw that I had tens of emails that all related to my YouTube. “Cool”, I thought to myself. “People are actually watching my videos and commenting on them.” But upon reading the emails I found that comment after comment was horrible and offensive. A few minutes later, I got a tweet linking me to the video. I saw the views, I saw the amount of comments it had already received, and I started shaking.

We have all read the news stories about feminist activists and campaigners getting death threats and rape threats. In April this year, a bake sale that aimed to educate students about wealth disparity in Australia led to death threats to the organisers after news of it reached media sources across the world [x]. Game developer Brianna Wu received serious harassment after she voiced her opinions on equality in gaming, such as “I’m coming to your fucking house right now. I will slit your throat you stupid little fucking whore. I’m coming, and you’d better be fucking ready for me.” Even Caroline Criado-Perez, whose campaign was merely to get a woman on the front of a UK bank note, received horrendous abuse following her operation: in fact, there are two pages of her book “Do it Like a Woman” of examples of the kinds of things she was threatened. “By the end of the first weekend,” she wrote, “the police had 300 A4 pages of threats against me.”

 The comments on the video about me ranged from threats to personal insults. I took the immediate action of privatising all of my social media – I had already received tweets in my direction, and the last thing I wanted was for someone to find out where I worked, which was information easily gleaned from my Facebook page. I tweeted about it with a link to the video and got immediate sympathy from the feminists who followed me, and one person sent out her own tweet asking people to report the video to get it removed.

Three months later and it’s still up, and the comments are growing day by day.

If this infantile idiot really wants to contribute to an end to sex-based violence (i.e., feminism), she should contemplate suicide…”

I’ve also received messages on my Facebook, which immediately went into my “other” folder as the person was not able to access my page. I never responded, or even accepted the message request.

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I started writing this blog post on Wednesday, and I stopped halfway through. It wasn’t that I was upset; I was furious. The internet is an amazing resource for education, communication, activism, and community journalism. It has revolutionised activism, and we now know more about what is happening in other countries faster than we ever possibly could have done in the past. But when such freedom of information and opinion is allowed, it opens the floodgates for the worst people in society to make their voices heard as well. Men’s Rights Activists and anti-feminists are renowned for online abuse, trolling, and making threats. They have their own websites; their own chat rooms; their own Facebook groups. They are everywhere. And because of this, the internet has become just another medium through which men can harass, intimidate, and abuse women.

The fact alone that men feel the right to behave in this way is proof alone of why I do what I do. It is why I write articles, and make videos (although I have deleted all of them now, due to sheer intimidation).  Anyone who opposes the status quo – which in this case is white, male supremacy – is bound to get people lashing back at them. But the internet makes it so that people feel that they are anonymous; that they can get away with anything. They sit behind their screens and feel empowered by their secret online lives of abusing random people who are probably halfway across the world. It could be anyone making those comments. It could be a doctor, a postman, a student, your colleague. Anyone.

On Thursday morning, politicians came together to create a new campaign entitled “Reclaim the Internet”. It was announced by labour’s Yvette Cooper, who was joined at the launch by Labour MP Jess Phillips, former Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson and ex-Tory minister Maria Miller. The aim of the campaign is to stamp out online misogyny and make the internet a safe space for women and girls, and is inspired by the “Reclaim the Night” marches of the 1970s and 80s. It comes after a think tank, Demos, revealed the “staggering scale” of online abuses, with 6,500 UK Twitter users being targeted with 10,000 explicitly aggressive and misogynistic tweets using the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ over the span of just 3 weeks [x].

Forty years ago women took to the streets to challenge attitudes and demand action against harassment on the streets,” Yvette Cooper told The Guardian.

Today the internet is our streets and public spaces. Yet for some people online harassment, bullying, misogyny, racism or homophobia can end up poisoning the internet and stopping them from speaking out.”

The campaign aims to “generate new ideas on the role of the police and prosecutors where online threats and harassment become crimes, the responsibility of social media and publishing platforms, the role of organisations and employers, support for victims including how to deal with internet trolls, and how to educate people around the effects of online abuse”. A website has been set up, http://www.reclaimtheinternet.com/, to collect information on people’s ideas – as well as their experiences.

I’m going to be sending in my experiences – not just with this video, but with the aftermath of a campaign I ran last year protesting a Jack the Ripper musical that was being performed in my city (see here for that blog post). And I don’t know about you, but I am intrigued to see what resolutions the team will come up with when the results of the website are read out during their large conference in July. Because when the state of the internet means that the Revenge Porn Helpline receives almost 4,000 calls in the last year, from those as young as 11, something needs to be done.

Help make the internet a safe space for women and girls. Register at the Reclaim the Internet website, and share your ideas and experiences with online harassment.

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