Clementine Ford combats online violence against women


Social media was busy last week. Australian feminist writer Clementine Ford created a storm when she cited examples of online harassment she regularly receives. Clementine rightly classified the comments as online violence, an observation supported by a September 2015 report by the United Nations Broadband Commission in its paper ‘Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call’. The report is calling for better education, the creation of technical solutions to create a responsible internet structure and the development of laws to deter perpetrators from committing online violence.

When Michael Nolan, an employee at the Meriton Group, Australia’s largest residential apartment developer, added to the conversation by calling Clementine a “slut”, Clementine took screenshots of this comment and other racist and offensive comments Nolan had made on his public Facebook and sent them to his employer. The Meriton Group acted swiftly and fired Michael Nolan.

It is then that social media got cyber-busy, actually cyber-crazy. People, the large majority men, flooded Clementine’s accounts with vile messages of hatred – suggesting rape, murder and other sick threats to her safety. She was vilified for causing Michael Nolan’s sacking, even though she had not specifically called for his dismissal. You can see the comments here but it’s doubtful that you will get through to the end because it’s such uncomfortable reading and such offensive language.

There’s no question that Clementine Ford speaks her mind, but if the world doesn’t have differing opinions we run the risk of social debate becoming as bland as a parliamentary session. Reasoned opinion can fuel discussion and create change for the good.

But those who believe they can personally attack individuals online seem more attuned to a Lord of the Flies style free-for-all. As we experience more and more cyber bullying, are we likely to land in the anarchic and chaotic world that author William Golding created when “the world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away”? It seems that internet trolls can bully to their heart’s content without retribution and practise the same recklessness Jack exhibited in Lord of the Flies.

“The rules!” shouted Ralph, “you’re breaking the rules!”
“Who cares?”
Ralph summoned his wits.
“Because the rules are the only thing we’ve got!”
But Jack was shouting against him.
“Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong — we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat.”

The rise in online violence is depressing but in the social media space there are also some people breaking the cycle with progressive ideas. In 2013, young teenager Trisha Prabhu was distressed to learn that an 11-year-old girl had taken her own life following cyber bullying. After extensive research Trisha created the app Rethink, which gives teenagers who are about to post cruel messages a chance to reconsider. As they hit ‘Post’, a message pops up saying that what they’ve written may be hurtful to others and asks if they are sure they want to proceed with the message. The research results were astounding with the average adolescent’s willingness to post a hurtful comment reduced from 71% to 4%.

Trisha is one of 15 women Fairfax’s Daily Life has profiled as “real life superheroines who fight trolls online”. One of the other women nominated is Dr Susan Carland who recently tweeted she will donate $1 to UNICEF for each hate filled tweet she receives. She has nearly reached $1,000 and although this is a great result for UNICEF, let’s not forget the reality that she has had that number of bullying comments sent to her. You have to be strong to cope with such an onslaught.

We can all contribute to this debate by contributing opinion pieces to media, newsletters and our own blogs. A collective voice is needed to create awareness and legal repercussions for those who have become the modern “beasts” of the online world.

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