WAM! continues gynocentric social media harassment

Last summer, Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) put Facebook in a chokehold with an ultimatum, followed by complaints to advertisers. The stated goal was to pressure Facebook moderators into removing content that WAM! felt was hateful or harassing to women, but the criteria seemed to reflect WAM!’s subjective views. Content that was not in violation of Facebook community guidelines and not harassing to women was removed, including content critical of feminism as an ideology.

WAM! then decided that it was time to move on to tweets. Slashgear reports that Twitter teamed up with WAM! right off the bat. The potential political slant to WAM!’s lens is troubling, considering that MHRAs like Janet Bloomfield have been struggling to keep their accounts active in light of excessive flagging by feminist ideologues. In a similar case, Thunderf00t also had his account zapped because he told Anita Sarkeesian that she is about as credible as Steve Buscemi doing a commercial for a cosmetic surgeon.

WAM! released a harassment reporting tool so that users can report harassing tweets and Twitter accounts. WAM! promises to “escalate [the report] to Twitter right away,” as in less than 24 hours. The emergence of the harassment tool has been framed by Tech Times as a correlative response to #GamerGate participants and Zelda Williams’s Twitter experiences after Robin Williams’s suicide. WAM! itself cites the cancellation of Sarkeesian’s UoU talk in links on a post by WAM! director Jaclyn Friedman (even though UoU police have found threats against Sarkeesian to be unsubstantiated).

Friedman says in a press release, “We’re thrilled to be working with Twitter to make their platform safer for women. The disproportionate targeting of women online results in them removing their voices from the public conversation.”

Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) has announced an unprecedented collaboration with Twitter, aiming to cut down on the harassment of women on the popular social media platform. Starting today, WAM! is running a pilot project to support all Twitter users experiencing harassment and abuse on the platform due to their gender.

A new 1-in-4 statistic has also emerged in the meantime:

A recent Pew research study found that fully 25 percent of young women online have been sexually harassed online and 26 percent have experienced stalking. What’s more, Pew found that women overall are disproportionately targeted by the most severe forms of online abuse.

The Pew study was not clearly cited, although a search brings up this report, which is most relevant given the context. The subject matter matches, some numbers Friedman mentioned are repeated, and the report also mentions Zelda Williams. What is concerning about the report is that the operational definition of “harassment” is not stated clearly but is rather intuitively implied through stipulated levels of severity.

Part 1 of the report, “Experiencing Online Harassment,” states areas in which men are more likely to experience harassment, but these figures were not mentioned by WAM! in its efforts to “support all Twitter users experiencing harassment and abuse on the platform due to their gender.” This passage is quoted below for completeness, but this is not to be understood as my endorsement of the report in whole or in part. Note that my emphasis below indicates content that confuses me.

Online men are somewhat more likely than online women to experience some level of online harassment overall. Some 44% of men and 37% of women have experienced at least one of the six types of harassment. Men are somewhat more likely than women to experience certain less severe forms of harassment like name-calling and being embarrassed. At the same time, online men are also slightly more likely to have received physical threats. While the differences are small, women are significantly more likely than men to report being stalked or sexually harassed on the internet. Name-calling and purposeful embarrassment are the most common forms of harassment experienced by both men and women alike.

The language of the boldface portions of the passage suggests that women report harassment more often while the actual number of incidences is different. The below graph shows men as experiencing more of every kind of harassment except stalking and sexual harassment. The passage above also states that men are “somewhat more likely to experience,” whereas women are “significantly more likely to report.” The below graph uses the word experience, but it is not clear where the line is drawn between reporting and experiencing. Why does the graph emphasize the experiences of both sexes while the quoted paragraph emphasizes the experience of men? The language makes it unclear if the graph represents purely the experiences of users or a mix of alleged experiences and actual experiences.

Survey respondents in the study featured open-ended comments such as the following and seem to have been counted as victims of harassment. These are the first three quotes in one list of such comments.

Through social media, and especially when commenting on controversial issues, often my difference of opinion from others would result in those who do not agree insulting and berating instead of arguing their point respectfully.

While commenting on a sensitive religious feminist issue, I was attacked because of my opinion and some of the other commenters (sic) resorted to name-calling in their anger.

On Facebook, a few days ago, I expressed my feelings about present issues and was harassed and called names. Of course there were not substantive arguments—just judgmental, harsh name calling.

Name-calling seems to be considered a form of harassment in the report. Note that normally harassment is understood to be repetitive in nature, but many of the complainants speak as if they experienced isolated confrontations with varying degrees of hostility. One respondent writes:

My Democrat brother chewed me on [a] Facebook political post and I reminded him I’d fight to the death for his right to disagree with me.

Given that some of the incidents do not appear to involve significant psychological or emotional damage, and given the potential inclusion of bickering as “harassment,” it is probably safe to request a more thorough investigation into The American Trends Panel’s (ATP) network and methodology. The panel is managed by Abt SRBI, which is in turn a subsidiary of Abt Associates.

Part 4 of the report discusses not only women’s likeliness to be “upset” by online incidents but also the psychological aftermath of the incidents. Notice that the report only offers levels of how upsetting confrontations were to survey respondents. The report states the following [emphasis mine]:

… 85%, of internet users who have been the target of online harassment have not had an experience that hurt their reputation. Another 15%, however, do feel that their reputation was damaged by their experience with online harassment.

The report does not appear to verify actual damages to character, finances, or psychology. The emotional impressions of the respondents are emphasized throughout most of the report.

I will not prescribe any one particular interpretation of this situation other than to suggest that further investigation is warranted. Given WAM!’s previous conduct with Facebook and the sensationalist means by which gender statistics have been prepared and presented, we need to stay alert to any conflicts of interest in all involved parties. If it is true that men endure hardship as well, and it is possible that men experience more of all but two stipulated categories of harassment, then why is WAM! talking out of both sides of its mouth? WAM!’s press language suggests that women need to be the focus in an effort to support all Twitter users, but it does not mention men. What reason do we have to expect WAM! to provide equitable treatment? Will all of the reports made to WAM!’s tool actually make it to Twitter if they don’t like what the report might say? (#WomenAgainstFeminism may wish to employ WAM!’s tool to report abusive feminists and test WAM!’s political leanings.)

#GamerGate Internet activists have expressed strong concerns regarding censorship and the marginalization of gamers’ voices, and they may take interest in the mention of gaming community perceptions in Part 2 of the report.

No matter what our opinions are at this point, the fact remains that social media is about to see another wave of policing.

Stay on your toes, and create some backup accounts.

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