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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No economy is an island: why Britain's finances now depend on Europe

Weak growth in Europe turned Britain into a safety deposit box, but that may soon change.

If you believe Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, the Brexit vote has plunged Britain into chaos. The UK, he concluded a few days after the referendum, “has collapsed politically, ­monetarily, constitutionally and economically”. In terms of politics or the constitution, he may well be correct. But monetarily and economically, this view is wrong (or at least incomplete) in one crucial respect. It fails to see that no country’s economic fate is determined unilaterally. What happens next elsewhere – and in the eurozone especially – will be just as important as what happens in the UK.

Money and people have flowed to Britain from continental Europe over the past half-decade. The most cursory glance at the employment roster of any hospital in the country, or at a graph of London house prices, will show you that. The tabloids love lurid stories about Russian oligarchs and Chinese princelings waging bidding wars for Knightsbridge penthouses. Yet the truth is that Spaniards, Italians and Greeks have almost certainly been a much larger and more influential constituency.

This reminds us of something important about the UK’s post-financial-crisis boom and its status as a location for investment and a safe haven for savings – and, in particular, about London’s coronation as the first city of Europe. It is not Britain’s uniquely sound economic policy framework or its stellar growth rate that has sucked in Europe’s best and brightest and hoovered up a lot of European capital. In the UK, relative to economic history, recent growth has been quite weak. Rather, Britain’s post-crisis attractions have owed much to the way that the eurozone has been stuck in a near-depression.

In international finance, everything is relative. So although it is true that one of the crucial factors determining our economic future will be whether the next government can safeguard the UK’s reputation as a sound place to live, to litigate and to invest, another is what the competition will have to offer. And, given the eurozone’s lacklustre performance over the past few years, it is possible – perhaps inevitable – that the competition is about to get a lot tougher.

That may sound like a brave statement, given the consensus that the Brexit vote has pitched the EU into an existential crisis. It is true that the three most important eurozone countries face a succession of tough trials over the next 18 months. The first and most dangerous is the Italian constitutional referendum, to be held no later than 6 November.
The details of the issue at stake – whether to concentrate more power in Italy’s lower house of parliament – are, in a sense, not that important. Given the rising popularity of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the vote will, in effect, be on a motion of no confidence in the government.

Unfortunately, confidence is not running high. Italy’s performance since the crisis has been dismal, with GDP still roughly 8 per cent lower than at its peak. A tentative recovery began in 2015, only for the bad debts heaped up since 2008 to overwhelm the country’s banks again this year. The government has tried to intervene but Brussels has nixed the idea. It is hardly the ideal backdrop to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum campaign; in such circumstances, there is much potential for a protest vote. The Five Star Movement, an unknown quantity in terms of national government, appears well positioned to carry the popular vote in a subsequent general election.

The next important staging post for the eurozone will be the French presidential election in spring. Marine Le Pen, the anti-EU and anti-euro leader of the Front ­National, is a close second in the polls. The Brexit vote has given her party’s platform some credibility: what previously seemed to be little more than the fantasy of cranks has become a reality across the Channel.

Finally, there are the German federal ­elections in September or October 2017. German politics has so far proved more hostile to anti-euro parties – understandably, for the country that has benefited most from the single currency. Nevertheless, even in Germany, the Eurosceptic ­Alternative für Deutschland party is notching up double digits in opinion polls. Only a definitive pro-euro mandate will secure the eurozone’s future.

It all adds up to a year and a half of living dangerously for the eurozone. Renzi may lose his referendum; Le Pen may triumph in France; even in Germany, support for the euro may ebb. If so, the drama of Brexit will come to look like small beer. The UK may retain its attractiveness as a safety deposit box for southern Europe. But the gravitational pull of a eurozone in crisis will be a far more powerful and negative force.

Yet those whose fortunes have waxed with the UK economy over the past half-decade should also think carefully about other possibilities. What if Italy does devise a way to cure its banks and Renzi wins his vote? What if Le Pen, like her father before her, falls at the final hurdle? What if Germany’s adaptable electoral system once again proves capable of accommodating and co-opting the more extreme views from the ends of the spectrum?

Then the wheel of fortune may turn. The UK will be past the peak of its housing and business cycles; the eurozone will at last be on the up. Eurozone investors who snapped up UK property in 2011 will revisit the valuation of real estate across the continent and ask themselves why they shouldn’t sell their flat in London and buy two in Rome instead. The tide of capital will reverse – and the tide of people, too.

The UK faces a changed environment after the Brexit vote yet it is how the cards fall in the eurozone, not in the UK, which will probably make the biggest difference. However things turn out, it is likely to be the end of Britain’s post-crisis economic model. That might be no bad thing. 

Macroeconomist, bond trader and author of Money

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt