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Caroline Criado-Perez forces social media to wake up

British feminist Caroline Criado-Perez became a target on Twitter when her campaign to get Jane Austen on to the £10 note was successful.

British feminist Caroline Criado-Perez became a target on Twitter when her campaign to get Jane Austen on to the £10 note was successful.

Threats of rape. Threats of other violence. ''People'' telling me that I was so ugly no one would ever f--- me. Or that a good f---ing would fix me. When I became involved in an online campaign, Destroy the Joint, to stop sexism and misogyny, well, dammit if it didn't unleash a torrent of sexism and misogyny.

Look, by my judgment, I've had lots of knee-trembling sex in my life and it hasn't much altered my politics (OK, I'm a little tougher on road rules but that may have more to do with being a parent than with having a good shag).

But what I did discover is that if I wanted to complain about online threats and harassment to anyone, no one seemed to ever take any responsibility.

Illustration: Karl Hilzinger

Illustration: Karl Hilzinger

Not the sites where the threats are made. Not the social media companies where the sites are hosted. Not the police. Not the government.

So I was astonished when I discovered on Monday that a British man was arrested on suspicion of harassment offences. Astonished, envious, delighted. Someone is taking online threats of violence and harassment seriously. It may be Britain but it also may be contagious. Responsibility can often work that way.

The story? British feminist Caroline Criado-Perez became a target on Twitter when her campaign to get Jane Austen on to the £10 note was successful; the abusive tweets began on the day of the announcement.

About 50 violent tweets an hour. Every hour. It continued for 48 hours. And when she tweeted a senior manager on Twitter, his response was to lock his account.

He is so lucky she is not dead. A more senior person from Twitter told her someone would get back to her on Monday. Because violence takes the weekend off, right?

Locally, the administrators of the Facebook page Babyology finally came to the conclusion on Sunday that its community could not stand the level of abuse of some contributors, so has taken the decision to ''remove at our discretion any negative or abusive comments made on our Facebook page''.

And when it posted the new policy, the crowd went wild. Most were of the ''well done'' variety but it's hard to go past this childhood reference from Melissa Drysdale: ''I think some people need to revisit their childhood and relearn a lesson from Thumper in the great movie Bambi. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.'' Here are some of the things I learnt from being part of Destroy the Joint.

A good Facebook community is highly interactive. And every interaction requires attention. That attention pretty much needs to be 24 hours a day. I've had a few requests from companies asking me if one of the DtJ admin group could give lessons - and my response is that most companies would not be interested in having to pay people to monitor Facebook pages overnight. Our group does it for free because we pretty much share the same values.

If someone is antisocial, we try to be polite first. If that doesn't work, we card them. Just like in football. Repeat offenders go to the judiciary. And sometimes they never come back. Think of online violence as an eye gouge. Why would you want that person on your team?

It's now become much easier to report bad behaviour to Facebook itself - and I'd have to say that after dealing with the Australian arm of the company, it now appears to have a genuine commitment to safety. Slightly disorienting. I can't actually believe I'm saying that because six months ago, I had trouble getting them to remove a fake profile of me which had changed my name, rather unimaginatively, to Sick C---.

These days, and in my experience, Facebook deals swiftly with those who threaten violence and incite rape. I can block and report and I know that even if those who look at the reports don't share my values (they often don't), someone is actually checking. Facebook feels safer than Twitter, although the microblogging site, in response to the attacks on Criado-Perez, says it will now make reporting abuse much easier.

A few months ago, I was sick to death with one bloke in particular who was attacking me on Twitter and tried to take matters into my own hands. I tracked him down (don't ask, don't tell). I called him, identified myself; and then told him off. I also told his wife.

Please don't do that. He renewed his attacks on me but when I started using his real name in my responses he disappeared. Into nothingness.

Bravo to Caroline Criado-Perez for facing off her demons. And for making at least one social media site recognise its responsibilities.

The thing is, we are all part of those communities now. All networked. All connected. Of course I want Facebook and Twitter to monitor the playground. But we need to do it ourselves, too.

Twitter @jennaprice

or email jenna_p@bigpond.net.au

8 comments

  • I stopped looking at Julia Gillard's Facebook page many months ago because of the level of vicious, violent, personal, misogynist abuse posted on there. (Her admins were partly to blame for not removing the vilest comments immediately, which would have discouraged the offenders from continuing.) I'm afraid it all goes to prove there are some deeply mentally disturbed people out there (mostly, but not all, male) who get their kicks from threatening women they don't like from behind a screen. You can only hope they're nowhere near as brave in real life.

    Commenter
    maisiegarland
    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 10:47AM
    • Your hopes aren't in vain. Anyone posting threats online is as gutless as they come. One can only wonder how these pathetic specimens got their jollies before the internet gave them an anonymous voice. They must be completely friendless or gather in small rancid groups of self-loathing. No bloke worth his salt would tolerate that sort of vile abuse spoken out loud, but that's the point, isn't it? A computer screen to hide behind. No balls, no brains, no life.

      Commenter
      Mutt
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 4:56PM
  • Outside of the abuse, which is ghastly, it seems to me that Ms Criado-Perez was pushing for a woman to be on the bank note for the reason of her being, well, a woman.

    Jane Austen is as worthy a person to be represented as any who have held the (admittedly posthumous) honour but I can't help but wonder what the thought process was. Was it: "we want women to be represented - let's find one" or was it: "Jane Austen should be represented regardless of her gender"?

    From a feminist standpoint, I would have thought Mary Shelley or her mother would have been more suitable authors to choose. Or perhaps Millicent Fawcett or Frances Buss before her, both of whom helped to increase the social standing of women and give the next generations a better footing to claim their rights as equal citizens.

    By comparison, Jane Austen, though an exceptionally important writer today, was not overly influential in her own time and owed much of her nature to the open-mindedness of her father, who believed it important for his daughters to not be restricted to needlework but to embrace learning in all manner of subjects and discussions which might otherwise be the domain of men. Through his liberalism, Austen was able to immerse herself in any topic that took her fancy, including those which to greater society would be deemed inappropriate for a woman. He taught her to think for herself and to analyse situations from multiple points of view, including those she did not necessarily agree with herself.

    So, to me, the choice of Austen is a bit odd for a feminist group. Like I said, I would have made a different choice.

    Commenter
    RG
    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 5:28PM
    • And missed the point completely.

      Commenter
      Opinion, not cash for comment
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 10:00PM
  • Not mentally disabled, they are morally disabled. The shield of anonymity gives people reckless courage to do what they know they could never do face to face. Surely there is a way to identify and track all these trolling accounts? Ip accounts?

    Commenter
    Anon
    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 5:34PM
    • Dangerous.

      Well, I think so. I get that this is abuse and should be policed but the argument you are using is by-and-large the same one used by the US Government with their all-pervasive monitoring or the Australian Government with their perennial web filter and data-retention proposals.

      It might seem far removed but it really isn't. Set a precedent for twitter to start handing over these details and you open a box you just can't close. There'll be the usual chorus of "if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide" but those people simply miss the point.

      That sentiment is how you move from a liberal democracy to the big-brother state that the US has become and the UK and Australia (and others) are keen to emulate. Anyone who is not wary of giving the government an excuse (or worse a mandate) to increase their intrusion into our lives has utterly failed to heed warning the US has unwittingly provided.

      These people are indeed vile but be very, very careful what you wish for in the heat of your anger.

      Foil hat off now.

      Commenter
      RG
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 6:12PM
  • 'Well, I think so. I get that this is abuse and should be policed but the argument you are using is by-and-large the same one used by the US Government with their all-pervasive monitoring or the Australian Government with their perennial web filter and data-retention policy'

    Not really. Twitter is optional, if your civil liberties are being crushed through you having to relinquish anonymity then so be it. Find another avenue.

    Commenter
    Anon
    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 6:38PM
    • "Twitter is optional, if your civil liberties are being crushed through you having to relinquish anonymity then so be it. Find another avenue."

      Slightly ironic that your comment is signed "Anon", no?

      Why the hell should the victim be forced to close her account, which presumably she uses to good effect to engage with the 99.9 percent of normal people out there? How about they close the sickos' accounts instead?

      Commenter
      maisiegarland
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 8:43PM
Comments are now closed
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