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.

Photo: Getty
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Labour leadership: Simon Fletcher's resignation is a victory for Seumas Milne

Organisational victory for Karie Murphy means strategic victory for Seumas Milne. 

Simon Fletcher, Jeremy Corbyn’s director of campaigns, has quit the leader’s office.

Fletcher was Corbyn’s campaign manager in his first bid for the Labour leadership, and his chief of staff until 3 June 2016, when he was appointed director of campaigns and tasked with getting the party fighting fit for the election.

This resignation was a long time coming. Some saw Fletcher as a crucial lynchpin of the office, who held things together “through force of will” in the words of one insider. In the early days of Corbyn’s leadership, he operated as chief of staff, press officer, head of rebuttal, chief strategist and speechwriter while the work of hiring a team around Corbyn went on. However, that meant others saw him as responsible for the missteps of the early days.

He and Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s communications chief, were often at odds. Fletcher and Anneliese Midgley, his deputy, both refused to take part in a Vice News documentary about Corbyn which was widely panned and presented an unflattering view of the leader’s office.

But in a signal of where power in the leader’s office lay, Midgley quit in April to take up a post as political director at Unite.

Shortly thereafter, there was an internal reshuffle of the leader’s office, with the abolition of the role of chief of staff and the introduction of a new “flat” structure. Fletcher became director of campaigns and planning, Milne became director of communications and strategy, Andrew Fisher was director of policy and Karie Murphy was director of the leader’s office, responsible for running the leader’s office day-to-day.

In a further confirmation of Milne’s internal success, he made his loan move from the Guardian permanent at the turn of the year, while Murphy has an enhanced role running the leader’s office day to day. In addition, new hires in the communications department - James Schneider and Matt Zarb-Cousin - both came with the Milne seal of approval, in contrast to his previous deputy, Kevin Slocombe, who was a Fletcher hire. 

Opinions of Murphy differ wildly. In the leader's office, she is seen having brought significantly improved organisation and greater intensity to the team. But what call an insistence on high standards, others see very differently. 

Friends of Jon Trickett say that she was instrumental in pushing him out as the party’s election coordinator. The two clashed at one recent meeting and allies of Trickett, now demoted to the Cabinet Office, say that she made his job “unworkable”.

Insiders say that Murphy is “waging war” on multiple members of the leader’s office, with one dubbing her a “control freak”, who was keen to add Fletcher’s role of oversight for the election campaign into her own orbit.

“The thing about Jeremy,” says one senior source, “Is that he can tell people what they want to hear, and then he has to get Seumas or Karie to tell them what he really wanted to say. So you’ll read stories about how Seumas has forced something through or Karie has gone over Jeremy’s head, but actually that’s not it at all.”

But for critics of Murphy's, Fletcher’s exit, they say, will exacerbate the low morale and internal tension in the leader's office. 

Whoever is right about what comes next, the central truth remains: Fletcher’s resignation is a sign of internal victory for Milne and Murphy.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.