This is what online harassment looks like

Obscene images, hate sites and a game where people are invited to beat you up have been inflicted on Anita Sarkeesian.

When I first wrote about the sexist abuse of women online, collating the experiences of nearly a dozen writers, the response was largely positive. Many hadn't been aware there was a problem; they were shocked. Others had assumed that they were the only ones whose every word on the web was greeted with a torrent of abusive, threatening comments.

But a few reactions stood out, among them that of Brendan O'Neill, the Telegraph blogs section's resident contrarian. He wrote that feminist campaigners pointing this out was a "hilarious echo of the 19th-century notion that women need protecting from vulgar and foul speech". We were, he said, "a tiny number of peculiarly sensitive female bloggers" trying to close down freedom of speech.

The best response to that argument, incidentally, comes from Ally Fogg, who wrote recently:

What you fail to understand is that the use of hate speech, threats and bullying to terrify and intimidate people into silence or away from certain topics is a far bigger threat to free speech than any legal sanction.

Imagine this is not the internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there's a free speech issue there. But not the one you think.

I couldn't have put it better myself. As the months have gone on, and more "trolls" (or "online bullies", if you're a semantic stickler) have been exposed, the perception that what we're talking about when we talk about online harrassment is "a few mean comments" or an insult or two has grown.

On 12 June, I wrote about American blogger Anita Sarkeesian, who launched a Kickstarter programme to raise $6,000 to research "tropes vs women in videogames". Donating was - and I really can't stress this enough - completely voluntary. There are Kickstarters for all kinds of things: for example,  a "dance narrative featuring some of NYC's most compelling performers that celebrates the pursuit of love and the joys of imperfection" doesn't sound like my kind of thing, but God Bless Them, they are 89% funded towards their $12,000 goal. 

But a big swath of the internet wasn't prepared to live and let live in Sarkeesian's case, and began spamming her YouTube video comments with a pot-pourri of misogynist, racist and generally vile abuse. Each one individually was grim; together they constituted harassment. (You can read the full story in my blog here).

Since then, Anita Sarkeesian has been subjected to a good deal more harassment. Let's run through the list for anyone who still thinks this issue is about a few mean words.

Image-based harassment

 

This is the kind of stuff people have been sending to Sarkeesian's inbox, repeatedly, and posting on the internet in an attempt to game her Google Image search results. There have also been drawings of her in sexually degrading situations:

Both these sets of images are taken from Sarkeesian's blog post documenting the harassment (and are reproduced with her permission). They have been posted on the web generally, and also sent specifically to her Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel. The second set show, in her words:

The first image depicts a woman drawn to resemble me who is tied up with a wii controller shoved in her mouth while being raped by Mario from behind. The second image is another drawing (clearly sketched to resemble me) featuring a chained nude figure on her knees with 5 penises ejaculating on her face with the words “fuck toy” written on her torso.

Hate sites

These take a couple of forms: either the creation of specific sites dedicated to trashing you (and again, to come up in Google searches of your name) or posting your details on established forums where haters like to hang out. In Sarkeesian's case, that has involved posting her phone number and address. It's hard to see that as anything other than an attempt to intimidate her: "We know where you live".

The interactive "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" game

This one is so incredible I had trouble believing it existed. 

It's an interactive game, inviting players to "beat up Anita Sarkeesian".

As you click the screen, bruises and welts appear on her face.

I find this fairly disturbing - the idea that somewhere out there is a man - a 25-year-old from Sault Ste Marie, a city in Ontario, Canada, who was offended enough by Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project that he made this.

In the description accompanying the games, he adds:

Anita Sarkeesian has not only scammed thousands of people out of over $160,000, but also uses the excuse that she is a woman to get away with whatever she damn well pleases. Any form of constructive criticism, even from fellow women, is either ignored or labelled to be sexist against her.

She claims to want gender equality in video games, but in reality, she just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path.

Some of the commenters on the game have expressed disgust, but not all of them. One wrote:

You are so right, sir. It's the execution which lets this game down.

Wikipedia Vandalism

I wrote about this in the initial post, so I'll be brief here: Sarkeesian's Wikipedia page was repeatedly hacked with crude messages and porn images, until it was locked. This went hand in hand with...

Hacking/DDOSing

Hacking is gaining entrance to someone's private data or website, while DDOSing - using "denial of service" attacks - involves sending a website's server so many requests to load the page that it crashes.

That's what happened to Sarkeesian's site as her story got shared around the world. This image was posted as a way of bragging about taking it down:

 

Personal Life

Sarkeesian is rare in sharing so much of the harassment that she has been subjected to -- and it's a brave choice for her to make. Every time I write about this subject, I get a few emails from women who've been through the same thing (and I'm sure there are men, too). They tell me much the same story: this happened to them, but they don't want to talk publicly about it, because they don't want to goad the bullies further. 

If you were Anita Sarkeesian, how would you feel right now? She's somebody with a big online presence through her website, YouTube channel and social media use. All of that has been targeted by people who - and I can't say this enough - didn't like her asking for money to make feminist videos. 

I think Sarkeesian has been incredibly courageous in sharing what's happened to her. Those obscene pictures are intended to shame her, to reduce her to her genitals, and to intimidate her. 

I'm sure there's plenty here which breaks the law - both in the UK and the US. But the solution here probably isn't a legal one: it's for everyone involved to have some basic human decency. This isn't just a few rude words, and it isn't OK. 

An online game invites players to "beat up Anita Sarkeesian".

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Nigel Farage is still King Ukip - but Paul Nuttall is learning fast

The new Ukip leader found his audience when he promised "Brexit means exit". 

It’s been a tricky week for Ukip, but you wouldn’t guess from the way Nigel Farage came to the stage at the party's spring conference. 

With the Game Of Thrones theme booming across the hall in Bolton’s Macron Stadium, the former leader strutted down the aisle buffeted by security detail and photographers, stopping to warmly shake hands and beaming all round.

It turned out that the grand old man of Ukip has no need for the leadership title which Paul Nuttall now wears - to his fanbase, he was already the star. 

But it seems like there may be room for both men at the top. The reception for each scaled dizzying heights of excitement in a hall pumped up on post-Brexit fervour.

First out was would-be UK Ambassador Farage, his ruddy cheeks aglow with the praise of US President Donald Trump.

Introduced by party chairman Paul Oakden as “a man who has changed and continues to change the course of history", the larger-than-life character of the Brexiteer-in-chief has only grown bigger in the last seven months.

“It’s remarkable to think that 2016 is one of those years that children will read about in history books in 100 or 200 years’ time," he declared. “They will read that 2016 was a year of political revolution. And it was all started by Ukip.”

Farage also clearly relishes the part that he has played, by his own declaration, in the election of Trump. In his speech, he touched on his own special relationship with the new Commander-in-Chief.

“People like myself or Trump have been held up to hold the most outrageous political views,” he said. He cited Chatham House figures suggesting more than 50 per cent of the population in eight European countries said they wanted a “total end to all immigration from predominantly Muslim countries”.

“Far from leading public opinion, we now find ourselves firmly on the left of public opinion," he declared. Karl Marx no doubt turned in his grave. 

Next up was present Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, who stormed onto the stage to the Lightning Seeds’ Marvellous, his face shining in the flashing lights of masses of press photographers.

Where Farage’s speech featured his own place in the sweeping political changes, Nuttall zeroed in more closely on manifesto affairs. He demanded that the government repeal the 1972 European Communities Act.

“We have nothing to fear, Project Fear has failed," he claimed. "Manufacturing is up, unemployment is down, we are the fastest growing economy in the G7.”

Nuttall also elaborated on a plan to slash Vat on everything from domestic energy bills to hot takeaway food "so we can return to the days when things were cheap as chips".

Where Farage and Nuttall had the same message, it was for Labour - Ukip is coming for you. 

“Ukip will eventually replace the Labour party as the voice of the patriotic people of Britain - starting on February 23,” Nuttall declared, referencing the Stoke by-election in which he is standing. Both men tried to present it as being in the bag.

He did offer an apology for erroneous information which somehow ended up on his website suggesting he had lost close friends at Hillsborough (he hasn't), but also claimed there was a smear campaign against him. 

Still, for all the discussion of policies and personality, the new leader clearly understands what the Ukip party members' catnip is. 

"We must hold the government’s feet to the fire and ensure that Brexit means exit," he said. The last lines of his speech could easily have been transposed from Farage, who has been chanting the same refrain for decades. 

“We want our country back and we’re going to get it,” Nuttall roared, and applause in the hall rose again.