Will the Internet ever be safe for women?

While this data might lead one to believe that women are only marginally more affected by Internet harassment than men, Amanda Hess at Pacific Standard puts a more qualitative face on this quantitative data. Nearly three-quarters of people who report harassment to the organization Working to Halt Online Abuse, she notes, are women. Internet “accounts with feminine usernames” also receive “100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day” compared to less than four per day for accounts with masculine usernames. Hess concludes, “the vilest [online] communications are still disproportionately lobbed at women.” For women on the Internet, vitriolic abuse is simply a fact of life.

We are accustomed to thinking that the prevalence of sexist Internet harassment is a problem with people rather than a problem with technology. Accordingly, most efforts to make the Internet a more hospitable place for women are reactive approaches that seek to address problems after they take place, rather than proactive approaches that seek to prevent harassment at its technological roots. The only way the editors of Jezebel could try to stop their “rape gif problem,” for example, was to “individually” and “manually” delete comments and ban commenters. Even then, commenters could continue making new accounts and posting more explicit images. Gawker Media has since stepped in with a back-end fix that hides comments from new users until Jezebel or another approved commenter has approved them.

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