Jessica Valenti: Violence Against Women Online

By Jessica Valenti

It is sort of hard to know where to begin, because it has been going on so long. I think Twitter is the worst [of the social media platforms], just because of the quickened and masked flow [of abuse] that happens. The abuse on Twitter feels like a constant stream. It can include general nastiness or name calling (you b*tch, slut, c*nt). It can be more targeted harassment or can be more direct threats – which [in the past] I have had directed at my daughter. I’ve had my address released, my tax information released as well as my phone number released - and phone calls from people who found [my details] online.

Twitter has this thing where you can turn off notifications from anyone who you don’t follow back. It’s a good and a bad thing. It vastly improved my day to day experience, but it’s bad in terms of I don’t get to hear from my readers. So that sucks. The connection with my readers was a big part of my work for 10 years. The reason I am are online is to connect with people, so it does feel like a big loss to me. I do worry that not seeing Twitter notifications from people I don’t follow puts me in more danger because I don’t see threats against me but I had to weigh that against my everyday mental health and that’s what won out.

What’s hard about online harassment is the response that you tend to get will be, “just don’t be on that platform. Just don’t be on Twitter, etc.” Which is really akin to saying to someone “well just don’t walk alone on the street at night”. These are public spaces, this is the new town square. In order for women to fully participate in life we need to be in these spaces. Often times, especially if you’re a writer, it’s almost informally required. To tell women to just not be there is absurd.  

Knowing what I know now I don’t know if I would have choose to write under my real name. I think I would have not have. The abuse doesn’t just impact me, it impacts my family. On a really bad day when I’ve gotten a lot of threats it’s not like I can just go to the police and report it. I can’t get out of bed, I’m devastated and my husband has to take care of me. It has a ripple effect that goes beyond your Twitter account.