Making Abuse Public

Making-Abuse-Public

Facing online abuse can be an isolating experience. Most of the time it’s just you, your keyboard, and a lot of awfulness coming your way. It can be scary, and can make you feel really alone.

One way to deal with this is to make the abuse public. On highly public platforms like Twitter, this might entail retweeting or quoting an abusive tweet. On semi-private platforms like Facebook, it might involve screenshotting a hateful message or comment and publishing it on your profile page. Or you might blog about your experience, sharing examples and pictures of abuse.

What's more, publicising incidents of abuse in these ways – with a tweet, a post, a list, ... – can also help to gather support from an online community.

It may occasionally even lead to the abuser(s) being publicly shamed, or action being taken against them.

Because whether you’re calling out a harasser within your own online community, or sharing your story as part of a massive cultural wave like #LoSHA or #MeToo, making stories of harassment public is often the first step in exposing the structures of power and entitlement that make up our everyday lives.

I retweet the abuse because people should know that kind of misogyny exists. They [misogynists] need to be called out.

– Sumona, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand

***CONTENT WARNING*** Threats of violence

On platforms like Twitter, the majority of abuse is public to begin with. Retweeting that abuse (often with some added commentary – outraged or funny, depending on the occasion and your mood) is a way to alert your followers and the wider Twitter community to what’s going on.

Writer Sandhya Menon, for instance, often wields the 'quote tweet' tool against trolls. Here, she publicly responds to an abuser who had viciously heckled her appearance as part of his targeted harassment.

Twitter user Sandhya Menon responds to someone trying to shame her for her looks by quote tweeting their abusive tweet.

Twitter user Sandhya Menon responds to abusive tweet by quote tweeting it and asking sarcastically if they would like her to make them a sandwich.

Her followers were quick to respond and offer their support.


Tweets of four supporters commanding her patience and saying pleasant things.

Twitter user @Vidyut hasn't shied away from publicising the daily hate directed towards her, either.

Twitter user quote tweets an abusive tweet that is misogynistic and islamophobic by saying 'Welcome to #SwachhTwitter" and shares the form to report abusive tweets.


Twitter user Vidyut quote tweets a user trying to shame her by drawing similarities to others. Vidyut responds by saying 'Too arrogant to give a fuck either way'.

Oftentimes, her followers, too, step in to help.

Four twitter users supporting Vidyut and denouncing the abuser.

Takeaway

Making public abuse even more public can be an effective way to shame harassers for their behaviour, and even for survivors to get support online.

Ah, the world of unsolicited dick pics. A.K.A. sexual harassment. A.K.A. a pretty horrific and traumatising picture to find in your inbox. When ScoopWhoop editor Sonali Mushahary received a photo of a penis in a Facebook message, she wrote an article sharing a screenshot of her inbox, providing readers with the option to view the picture itself.

Poster saying "If he wasn't ashamed to show me his bare private parts, I believe I shouldn't be ashamed to publish it either. Why should I care for his privacy when he clearly doesn't? But I respect your choice to view what you want to. Click here to see the message Sachin Jain sent me."

Credit: ScoopWhoop

Obviously, this poor guy feels lonely and craves… human attention. He wants friends who will love and support him through the ups and downs of life. So, I've decided I'm going to introduce everyone to this needy dude and make him famous, so that he can make friends and get a life.

She went on to share a picture of him and the personal details on his Facebook profile.

The results? Well, the abuser didn’t show his penis – sorry, face – again, and hopefully other potential dick-pic-senders who read her piece felt at least a tiny bit deterred from harassing anyone else.

And then there's the case of journalist Dhanya Rajendran, who received heaps of abuse when she tweeted this:

Twitter user Dhanya Rajendran tweets "I watched Vijay's Sura till interval and walked out. #WhenHappyMetSejal has made me break that record. Could not sit till interval."

Credit: The Ladies Finger

Weirdly enough, the cause of the uproar wasn't even the actual subject of her tweet, i.e., the film, When Harry Met Sejal. Oh, no.

It was because the tweet also happened to mention her lack of interest in an earlier movie, Sura, starring Vijay – a Tamil actor with a notoriously fervent fanbase.

As far as completely unprompted Twitter spats go, this one was wild.

Twitter user responds with description of sexual acts.
Twitter user tweets with expletives.

But Dhanya had receipts.

She shared screenshots and trend maps of the abuse that exposed the shocking scale of and organisation behind the vitriol she was receiving. She even exposed the abusive and planned hashtag, #PublicityBeepDhanya (which ended up trending in many parts of India).

Dhanya posts a shot analysis of tweets targeting her, looking at the time at which they started. She tweest that the trolling was organised.

Credit: Dhanya Rajendran's personal Twitter

Dhanya tweets a screenshot of a visualisation of the trending hashtag #PublicityBeepDhanya.

Dhanya was active on Twitter throughout the entire ambush, constantly highlighting attacks made on her digital space. Crucially, her efforts ended up getting even actor Vijay to finally notice and rein in his fans.

I respect women in society. Anybody has the freedom of expression to criticise anybody’s film. In my opinion, whatever the circumstances, no one should reveal contemptuous or disgraceful comments on woman. I urge everyone not to post anything on internet with the instinct that harms women.

Takeaway

Making abuse public on your own terms can shift the power away from abusers and put control over the situation in your hands.

In May 2015, Prerna Singh received a sexually harassing message in her Facebook inbox from a man she’d never met. When she took a screenshot of the abuse and made it public, she received a ton of support online, including from the Delhi Police. In turn, her harasser posted an apology status saying that his account had been hacked (yeah, right).

Facebook user receives an unsolicited message in her Facebook inbox, which quickly turns vulgar. The Facebook user responds with a long telling off.

Credit: The Indian Express

Person sending unsolicited messages posts on his profile saying someone misused their account.

An onlooker posts a message of encouragement to the Facebook user.

In a bizarre turn of events, Facebook deleted her post, citing that it violated their Community Standards pertaining to ‘nudity content’.

Credit: The Quint

The only thing that came close to nudity was the harasser’s use of the Hindi equivalent of ‘cunt’ which is widely considered to be vulgar and often used as a swear word.

Women and gender minorities from different parts of the world have been trying to get Facebook to recognise abuse that happens in regional languages – with little success so far. But mysteriously, Facebook had no trouble reading this particular Hindi word when Prerna re-posted it.

Or maybe none of this is very mysterious in light of Facebook’s famously unreliable policies.

In any case, Prerna Singh wasn’t going to let it stand, so she released this kickass video in collaboration with The Quint, explaining what went down and why we should not sit back and ignore messages from creeps.


Oh, and this might shed some light on why Prerna’s tweet was deleted. In July 2015, Kavitha Ravindran, a fitness trainer from Bangalore, posted a screenshot of lewd messages from a stranger.

Facebook user receives lewd messages asking her questions about her genitals and her contact details, among other things.

Credit:Buzzfeed

Facebook user bemoans the state of content moderation on Facebook where the messages unsolicitedly asking her to show her pussy were not taken down by Facebook.
Twitter user says "Its ok 4 men 2 send abusive text 2 randm women but if U share D same TEXT, Facebook deletes it. #Facebook #Shameonyou."

Facebook deleted her posts, explaining that, ‘Sharing private conversations and naming and shaming, as per our standards, violates our bullying policies.’ Go figure.

But naming and shaming her abuser still kinda worked. Kavitha was flooded with messages of support, and three days later, her harasser deactivated his profile.

And maybe the latest community guidelines released by Facebook do provide some hope. In an attempt to make the content removal process more transparent, Facebook has, for the first time, made public the criteria for removal of content that qualifies as ‘harassment’. Additionally, a ‘review’ option has been introduced, which allows users to call for a review of any content of theirs that has been taken down.

Takeaway

Many people are appalled by the kind of abuse taking place online, and will support those who make that abuse public (#ProTip: if you receive abuse on Facebook, try (also) sharing it on other social media platforms so that Facebook’s ‘Community Standards’ don’t get in the way).

Making abuse public rests on the belief that people will support you. But this is contingent on who your online communities, friends, and followers are, and sometimes also on how well-known your online presence is.

If you have a big account, your followers tend to take care of you.

– Sharada, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand
If I am retweeting abuse and nobody responds, then I feel really bad because I am retweeting for a reason.

– Vishakha, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand

You may also be aware of contradictory dynamics amongst your followers or friends online.

I don’t always retweet the abuse because I am followed equally by people who hate me and by people who like me. The problem of putting it out in the open is that I won’t just get support. It will spread more than I want to. There is no point. It will increase the problem.

– Nidhi, interviewed for Don’t Let It Stand

And in some cases, making abuse public can unfortunately backfire. In early 2015, San Francisco-based developer Adria Richards called out two guys for sexism at a tech conference, which led to one of them being fired.

Twitter user tweets: "Not cool. Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and "big" dongles. Right behind me #pycon"

Credit: The Guardian

But after he wrote a post about it online, Adria received a ton of hate mail, death threats, and was eventually let go from her own job. The consequences of things going viral are often difficult to predict, and though this is an extreme case, it’s always possible that things may not go the way you plan.

Here’s a similar story closer to home.

Jasleen Kaur called out a guy who decided to serenade her with some colourful language at a traffic signal. She took a picture of him (which he arrogantly posed for) and posted it on Facebook.

Facebook user posts with an image of a man staring defiantly on a bike, that he made 'obscene comments' and challenged her to complain about it.'

Credit: The Quint

She received an enormous amount of support and eventually the perpetrator, Sarvjeet Singh, was arrested. Jasleen also received a Rs. 5,000 cash award by the Delhi police for her bravery.

But then it dawned on Sarvjeet that he had a Facebook account too – and that’s when things started going downhill for Jasleen. Sarvjeet wrote a post, sharing ‘his side of the story’, a.k.a. how he was wrongly accused. According to him, it was just a small tussle over a red light, and though no abuses were hurled, Jasleen had decided to take a picture of him anyway. He did generously acknowledge that ‘women are often harassed, but that does not mean an issue should be made out of something like this’.

The person in the photo presents their side of the story, saying that it was an argument about the traffic and the directions in which the vehicles were going.

Credit: Hindustan Times

Soon the tables turned, and Jasleen started being criticised and attacked for ‘just wanting five minutes of fame’.

Facebook user comments saying "its just a "Publicity stunt" which is very well executed...feeling sad for you sister."

Also, like all things in India that have nothing to do with politics, Jasleen’s harassment claim was positioned by haters as a stunt by Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, which Jasleen supports. She was further discredited on that basis.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweets in support of the person who initially posted about the incident, and another user responds asking him to consider what the accused weighed in.

Jasleen took to Facebook again to debunk all the rumours surrounding the incident. Later, she pointed out how society was always ready to side with the guy over the girl, and that this is why so many cases of sexual harassment go unreported.

Person who initially posted about the incident follows up, remarking about the nature of criticism and says that she has gone to the police and will pursue a legal course of action.


Credit: Jasleen Kaur's personal Facebook

Takeaway

In an unfair but not uncommon twist of Internet fate, sometimes those who speak about abuse get positioned as abusers themselves. But hopefully for every person who discredits your claims, there will be someone who supports you too.

It’s true that one problem with sharing abuse on a very interactive platform is that you might become the target of even more abuse. Or at the very least, it might give abusers the opportunity to attack your explanation of how things went down.

Enter Storify.

Storify was a social network that let you create stories using content from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. And for the time that Storify was active, folks found it to be a super useful way to archive stories of abuse. You could, of course, also use Storify to document your own community’s fight back against abuse.

While it’s true that abusers could still comment on your storify, as with comments on a blog, they’d be all the way at the bottom of the page. Your story would remain intact and uninterrupted: just the way you think it should be told.

Storify became a pretty popular platform for archiving abusive behaviour by GamerGate supporters.

(At this stage, if you’re like, ‘GamerGate who?’, do read this handy article. Long story short, GamerGate went down in 2014 when several women in the gaming industry were attacked by men who claimed to be defending ‘ethics in gaming journalism’. In reality, GamerGate supporters stalked, harassed, and abused a lot of women, and continue to perpetuate similar hatred today.)

Here’s @effNOVideGames’ storify on how GamerGate has always been a spin.

Poster saying: "#StopGamerGate2014. It has always been a spin. From the very first, the movement that became GamerGate was never about "ethics". Trigger warning for threats, slurs, homophobia, mention of suicide and so much misogyny.) Document will likely be updates." This is followed by some tweets tracing its history.

A storify by Katherine Cross on the ethical (or not so ethical) landscape of GamerGate.

Main banner reads "There is no virtue without terror. On the ethical landscape of GamerGate" followed by descriptions of the harassment by the GamerGate community.

And then there’s this super informative one by @a_man_in_black about GamerGate’s misogynistic origins.

Main banner reads "The He-Man #gamergate-rs Club. #gamergate isn't a new misogynistic movement. It's the latest outburst"

Storify shut down in 2018, but there's still something to be learned from its short but useful time on the web: if every time you share abuse you’ve got a bunch of people telling you to be quiet – or trying to disprove you – take your story to another platform where it can be told on your terms, in full detail, with no interruptions.

Since Storify, unfortunately, is no more, an alternative you could try is Wakelet, recommended by the creators of Storify themselves and having almost the same functionality.

Takeaway

Storify (RIP) and Wakelet are platforms that can help - or have helped - archive abuse. This is very, very cool because it puts you in the driving seat when it comes to how your story is told, while still making it possible for you to share that story with the world.

In Summary

Making Abuse Public

  • Sharing abuse publicly can help you feel less isolated and find support from an online community.

  • Abusers often count on their targets to be ashamed and stay silent, so breaking that silence is an important step towards ending abuse.

  • When you make abuse public on your own terms, this can help in shifting power and control over the situation back to you.

  • Facebook doesn’t allow you to share a private message publicly, so when you do so, be prepared for it to get taken down at some point; or share an abusive Facebook message on another platform.

  • Occasionally, in an unfortunate turn of events, those who have made abuse public have been positioned as abusers themselves! But there will always be people who support survivors too.

  • As there will always be people who side with your abuser, it’s important that you have an online community that supports you.

  • Making abuse public can sometimes lead to legal action being taken, but it’s a difficult process.

  • If you’re sharing someone else’s experience of abuse, do make sure you have their consent first.