10 tips for challenging internet-based gender-discrimination and online harassment against women and girls

10 December 2014

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If you know how to use the technology, you can avoid becoming a victim. Before speaking out, it is important to take your time to understand the way the internet works.

1. If you intended to be anonymous, stay anonymous.

In the online world the mere desire of remaining anonymous is not enough to keep your identity safe and hidden. It is not only about avoiding to sign a post or article with your name, many other “clues” can reveal your true identity and thus put you in danger: the website(s) where you posted your story, the social media profiles you used to promote it, your friends who commented on it, the factual information you provided into the story…Staying anonymous is indeed first and foremost a matter of good planning. Think twice about the way you share information and whom you share it with. However, once fully anonymous, don’t be afraid to speak your mind and denounce injustice.

2. If you don’t want comments, there is probably an option to disable them.

Hate speech is annoying but sometimes you can simply turn it off. Read carefully your settings and if you don’t want to know what other people think about your story, simply disable the comments option. You can leave an email address for those who really want to contact you. Turning off comments is not cowardice; it can give you peace of mind and the time needed to come to terms with whatever you have to share with the world. If in doubt about your capacity to cope with hate, turn off comments and turn on sincerity mode. It will eventually pay off.

3. If you didn’t mean to share it, but you did, know what to expect.

Sharing by mistake your story with persons you didn’t want to see it, can obviously lead to a tsunami of remarks and threats. That’s why it’s important to pay more attention before hitting the “submit” button. And don’t be afraid to face those who try to discourage you. Even when it gets tough, it is important to remember there is always an audience: the other internet users. The way you respond reveals your level of maturity and confidence, so always aim for fairness and diplomacy.

4. Don’t bother to reply. Don’t get into an argument.

Insulting the person who insulted you will only wear off the difference between the aggressor and you. Not to mention that what you put online tends to stay online, so a moment of angriness may cost you more than you think in terms of personal and professional relationships. Let the haters talk by themselves and the public will get the message.

5. Expose the abuse.

You can however publish the hateful remarks and even reveal the identity of the persons who made them. You can always contact the media or ask other bloggers to write about it. You can even start a new online campaign, collecting misogynist remarks from several women activists and putting them together in a “Book of Shame”.

6. Don’t rely on words only, especially if you are the target of verbal attacks.

If they spam you with ugly words, look for creative ways to respond. Draw, sing, dance or take it back to the offline world with a symbolic flash-mob or happening. It takes different skills to combat hate, so dare to be imaginative and stand out.

7. Keep your sense of humor.

The unequal power relationship tends to block the victim into an emotional situation where she is no longer allowed to express humor, because she is the one being mocked. Nevertheless, you can be the first to use humor and confident self-irony. It is actually much harder to criticize someone who is funny. New artsy apps and software can help you put together collages, caricatures, manga or digital photos in order to express a whole range of situations from absurd to paradoxical.

Last, but not least, the internet is not everything and it is ultimately the offline world which matters most. Whichever the fails or successes, remember there is always another level to take it to: your surrounding reality.

8. Remember the 99% who are not online.

If you are praised online, think that just around the corner there might be extremists ready to attack you. If you are spammed, remember all those persons who think alike you and would support your cause if they had access to the internet. The online world is but a small fragment of reality. Only real-world action can lead to lasting changes.

9. Don’t hesitate to meet in person your supporters.

Alliance-building cannot and should not be only web-based. Face-to-face meetings make a community stronger and might give you the chance to share effective online activism strategies. Even if it is tempting to count you Facebook likes and feel all-powerful at your desk, do find the time to actually meet the 2-3 persons who showed deep commitment to your cause… especially if they know code!

10. Real-life stories move the virtual world.

Clever opinion pieces and well-researched papers can help a cause move forward, nevertheless busy people tend to begin and end their day by reading diaries, personal accounts and real-life stories. Knowing this, feel proud if your entry awakened many controversial views. It only means a lot of persons read it. Some wrote back, some didn’t. Some said nasty things, some encouraged you. Freedom of speech is a common right we all share, but being listened to is a privilege. So if your story made waves, keep trying to move mountains.

***

A contribution to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence – Take Back the Tech! campaign. “Don’t let violence silence us. Speak out! Take Back the Tech!”

YouAct is a European network of young people, who are active in the field of Sexual and Reproductive Rights. Since its launch in Lisbon 2004, YouAct has grown into a widely recognised youth organisation, undertaking key advocacy, training and awareness raising activities on national, European and International levels.

Brindusa Luciana Grosu, YouAct member from Romania

Luciana is a Romanian psychologist and journalist passionate about gender equality and women and children`rights. She loves writing and over the years won several international prizes in essay competitions.Her dream is to be able to contribute to a real and visible change by combining Activism, Arts and Psychosocial Therapy.

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