Last month, Mic released a short video inspired by Jimmy Kimmel’s “Celebrities Read Angry Tweets,” with a twist: this video featured feminists reading mean tweets about themselves. Whereas Kimmel’s version is humorous and absurd, the tweets shared in Mic’s compilation were violent, aggressive, and downright disturbing at times, which goes to show that women speaking out about important issues are at risk for ongoing harassment and threats.
Mic’s Senior Editor Elizabeth Plank explains that “When it comes to being trolled, many people on the Internet have it bad. But feminists in particular are often singled out for vitriol. The lethal combination of being a woman and having an opinion about the patriarchy is a recipe for a troll cocktail.”
In many of the mean tweets, the women they were directed to were threatened with rape and violence, insulted based on their physical appearances, and basically told that their opinions weren’t welcome in the public, complicated sphere that is the Internet. Julie Zeilinger, Mauren Ahmed, Lori Adelman, and Jaclyn Friedman are just some of the feminists that took part in the video. These women are leaders in journalism, activism, and feminist discourse, and all admitted to experiencing extreme levels of harassment throughout their careers in the public eye.
Friedman is the founder of Women, Action and the Media (WAM), a nonprofit group that hopes to eradicate this kind of gender-based harassment in online spaces. “The harassment of women online is a free speech issue,” Friedman points out. “If Silicon Valley can develop a driverless car, they can invent better solutions to make sure their platforms give everyone an equal chance to speak without fear of abuse and violence.”
All of these women know that online harassment of feminists and powerful, outspoken women is not a problem that will be solved overnight. However, the fact that there is more and more attention being brought to the issue is a small step towards protecting women and their right to have an opinion online.