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In 2006, researchers from the University of Maryland set up a bunch of fake online accounts and then dispatched them into chat rooms.Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. There are three federal laws that apply to cyberstalking cases; the first was passed in 1934 to address harassment through the mail, via telegram, and over the telephone, six decades after Alexander Graham Bell’s invention.
Reporters who take death threats seriously “often give the impression that this is some kind of shocking event for which we should pity the ‘victims,’” my colleague Jim Pagels wrote in Slate this fall, “but anyone who’s spent 10 minutes online knows that these assertions are entirely toothless.” On Twitter, he added, “When there’s no precedent for physical harm, it’s only baseless fear mongering.” My friend Jen Doll wrote, at The Atlantic Wire, “It seems like that old ‘ignoring’ tactic your mom taught you could work out to everyone’s benefit.... Which means we shouldn’t take the bait.” In the epilogue to her book , Hanna Rosin—an editor at Slate—argued that harassment of women online could be seen as a cause for celebration. Many women on the Internet “are in positions of influence, widely published and widely read; if they sniff out misogyny, I have no doubt they will gleefully skewer the responsible sexist in one of many available online outlets, and get results.” So women who are harassed online are expected to either get over ourselves or feel flattered in response to the threats made against us.
Her supporters joined in urging British police and Twitter executives to respond.
Under the glare of international criticism, the police and the company spent the next few weeks passing the buck back and forth.
The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases.
There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection.