Have you ever been trolled for vaguely feminist views on Twitter? If you haven't then, regardless of whether you're male or female, all you have to do to see what it feels like is use a hashtag such as #everydaysexism in one of your tweets and the trolls will come to you. There are various different degrees of trolling but there's no doubt that feminism is a topic that attracts some pretty vicious voices. We've seen plenty of high profile cases of women who have been subjected to vile tweets and digital hatred, often from anonymous accounts where the person isn't even brave enough to stand by their inflammatory view. Trolling might range from derogatory comments to rape threats, none of which helps perpetuate the creative, innovative community the internet was supposed to be. Given that today is International Women's Day, it seems as good a time as any to bring the trolling of women online into the spotlight - in the hope of ending it for good.
Unless you've been trolled yourself then you probably don't really understand what all the fuss is about. Some Twitter exchanges get nasty on both sides and topics can be inflammatory - social media is a platform where views of all colours should be aired and a lot of positive, constructive change can come from this. However, the trolling of women is something quite specific - there are accounts out there that exist purely to locate a feminist view, or a woman speaking out, and then try to squash or bully into submission. And this isn't just something we can dismiss as harmless online behaviour. Sadly there's a lot of evidence that suggests this has real world consequences too - in 2013, following the rape threats against MP Stella Creasy and feminist writer and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid said, "it's is critical that we make the link between this vicious online harassment and cyber bullying and real-life violence against women."
Why is it so difficult to deal with trolls?
No matter whether you're male or female the problems of trolling primarily come from the anonymity that Twitter offers. If you're trolled by one account then you can report them to Twitter to get that account shut down and they may simply pop up via another, newly established account. Laws relating to what we say online are relatively underdeveloped when it comes to protecting people - it's possible to prosecute where criminal offences have been committed by the sending of a communication via social media but if you can't identify or track down the perpetrator then what can you do?
However there is hope...
Times are (hopefully) changing and a range of new responses are developing to this hateful phenomenon, from celebrities such as Emma Watson shining a light on her trolls and being supported by widespread public outrage as a result, to those fighting anti-feminist trolls with #lovemail and sarcastic Emojis (more effective than you might think). What this has certainly served to do is show that we need to accept that issues stemming from backward views about women are real, they exist and are something women face every day, both online and off. As today is International Women's Day, it seems a good time to celebrate the strength women all over the world show in fighting the issue, and the hope that one day we won't have to.