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.

Show Hide image

Promoted

Why might you invest in Europe?

At Henderson we believe the European market is a fertile hunting ground for investment opportunities. The market’s depth and breadth, with its regional variations and, at times, political uncertainty, means our fund managers have plenty of choice when it comes to picking stocks. Two of our investment trusts with a European focus include Henderson European Focus Trust, managed by John Bennett, Head of European Equities, and Henderson EuroTrust, managed by Tim Stevenson, Director of European Equities. Here we explore some of the factors that make the continent attractive.

1. The ECB’s continuing support

The euro area could claim only but a few fans a year ago. Investors fretted over deflation and depression, spurred, ironically, by the collapse in oil prices. What followed was a European Central Bank (ECB) showing willingness to explore extraordinary monetary policy measures, beginning a massive quantitative easing programme, initially involving monthly injections of €60 billion into the system and recently increasing to €80bn, through the purchasing of government and corporate debt with the aim of driving down interest rates, stimulating bank lending, getting the Eurozone economy moving again, boosting investment, creating jobs, and fighting off the spectre of deflation.

While not the saviour of Europe’s underlying structural problems, Europe’s markets appear set to benefit further from the ECB’s continuing loose monetary policies, with inflation well below the central bank’s target of 2% and QE likely ending in 2017, coming right at the point when the US and UK are on course to diverge and tighten theirs.

2. Currency weakness is helping all round

The ECB’s action has coincided with a substantial fall in the value of the euro. The chart demonstrates the Euro’s value against the dollar:

Chart 1 – The value of the euro against the dollar remains low relative to history

Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream, as at 18 April 2015

This is a great stimulus for European exporters, whose products and services become cheaper and more competitive in overseas markets, boosting exports to the US and UK at the same time as insulating others against the downturn in emerging markets. Ultimately this should feed through to better sales and profits.

3. Low oil prices

A sustained period of low oil prices would be a major positive for most European economies, putting more money into the pockets of consumers, while also helping to reduce the region’s notoriously high energy costs – Europe is the world’s largest net importer of oil and related products (approximately $406 billion in 2014). There are concerns, however, that lower oil prices could fuel a deflationary trend, while falling oil prices have had a negative impact on oil producers and oil services companies based in Europe.

Chart 2 – Falling oil prices - good for businesses and consumers, but possibly deflationary

Source: Datastream, Brent crude oil price, US dollars per barrel, as at 18 April 2016

 

4. Valuations remain relatively attractive when compared to the US

As mentioned, Eurozone stock markets have had a great run, and they’re certainly no longer as cheap as they’ve been in recent years. However, says Jason Hollands of broker Tilney Bestinvest, they remain “relatively attractive compared to US shares”.

Stock-picking remains key. The prodigious appetite for alternative income amid low yields and low interest rates, not-to-mention also quality stocks, means price ratios, a measure of how expensive stocks are relative to history, are being propelled ever higher. Rising share prices also mean fund managers need to be increasingly selective in building their portfolios – so it makes all the more sense to channel your money through a highly regarded European manager with a reputation for successful stock-picking.

Indeed, John Bennett, European fund manager at Henderson Global Investors, believes stock-picking is set to become all the more important in coming months.

“2016 has already seen a significant pick-up in volatility, so investors should brace themselves for difficult markets”, he says. “That is why I think stock picking is so important. By understanding a company’s strengths and weaknesses, we can seek to be better positioned than the general market both in good times and bad.”

 

5. Companies have reach beyond Europe

The global reach of European companies is evident in the breadth of their sources of revenue, with European-listed businesses deriving just over half of their revenues from overseas. This allows European fund managers to pick the companies with exposure to the regions with the most compelling opportunities – both domestic and global. It means that if the businesses are well managed ones – which our fund managers aim to pick – they can continue to outperform in falling as well as rising markets.

 

6. Companies are buying one another

Merger and acquisition (M&A) activity picked up steadily in 2015 and has continued into 2016, with Europe registering its highest level of deal activity since the 2007/2008 financial crisis. CEOs tend to open-up their corporate wallets when they’re feeling more confident about the business environment or the economy or when finance is cheap. In Europe deal volumes have been boosted by a combination of low oil prices, the strong US dollar and optimism about Europe’s economic prospects - a positive sign.

***

Before investing in an investment trust referred to in this document, you should satisfy yourself as to its suitability and the risks involved, you may wish to consult a financial adviser.

The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the amount originally invested.

Nothing in this document is intended to or should be construed as advice.  This document is not a recommendation to sell or purchase any investment. It does not form part of any contract for the sale or purchase of any investment.

Issued in the UK by Henderson Global Investors. Henderson Global Investors is the name under which Henderson Global Investors Limited (reg. no. 906355), Henderson Fund Management Limited (reg. no. 2607112), Henderson Investment Funds Limited (reg. no. 2678531), Henderson Investment Management Limited (reg. no. 1795354), AlphaGen Capital Limited (reg. no. 962757), Henderson Equity Partners Limited (reg. no.2606646), Gartmore Investment Limited (reg. no. 1508030), (each incorporated and registered in England and Wales with registered office at 201 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3AE) are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority to provide investment products and services.