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.
Her followers were quick to respond and offer their support.
Twitter user @Vidyut hasn't shied away from publicising the daily hate directed towards her, either.
Oftentimes, her followers, too, step in to help.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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).
In a bizarre turn of events, Facebook deleted her post, citing that it violated their Community Standards pertaining to ‘nudity content’.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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 tables turned, and Jasleen started being criticised
and attacked for ‘just wanting five minutes of fame’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
storify by Katherine Cross on the ethical (or not so ethical)
landscape of GamerGate.
then there’s this super informative one by @a_man_in_black about
GamerGate’s misogynistic origins.
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.
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 February 2015, Sunitha Krishnan launched #shametherapist in response to viral rape videos that were doing the rounds on WhatsApp and text message. (It’s unfortunately becoming increasingly common for rapists to record their assault, and then use the threat of the video being made public as a means to silence survivors.) When Sunitha was personally directed to a couple of these clips, she edited them to blur out the bodies and faces of the victims and released them online on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
This effort to mass-shame abusers online spread far and wide across social media and TV. While not everyone felt it was ethical to have released the videos without the consent of the survivors, a month and a half later (because, unbelievably, that’s the speed law enforcement works at), the CBI made their first arrest.
In an interview with Women in the World, Sunitha says:
I don’t believe in vendetta, but I think it’s time to use their own weapon on them. Technology can help rape survivors to tell their truth too.
The campaign received a ton of support – even from rape survivors themselves. Between February and April 2015, more than 90 survivors sent Sunitha links to similar videos, hoping that it would lead to a CBI investigation of their cases, too. Sunitha pointed out that this wasn’t a long-term solution, and proposed a national agency with the jurisdiction to act on such offences.
In February 2015, Sunitha wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India, requesting the court to institute measures that would curb the spread of rape videos and child sexual abuse material via the Internet. Acknowledging this letter, the Supreme Court opened a case and directed the government and several of the big, well known intermediaries – to arrive at a collaborative solution for the problem.
The most significant and concrete result of this court case so far has been the creation of a national online portal by the Ministry of Home Affairs, to make it easier to report cyber crimes involving child sexual abuse material and material depicting rape and gang rape. Complaints can be filed by individuals or by NGOs, and there is also an option to do this under the cloak of anonymity.
(Note: while the substantial contribtuion of this court case to the fight against technology-enabled gender based violence can't be denied, it's also true that Sunitha's anti-trafficking NGO, Prajwala, itself came under intense scrutiny for potential human rights violations in 2018. Here is her response.)
Sharing abuse can be an effective tool leading to legal action. If you are sharing someone else’s experience of violence, it is a good idea to first check how they feel about it, though.