How to Stop the Online Harassment of Female Journalists

“Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” That’s a tweet Slate writer Amanda Hess received from her stalker. Unfortunately, Hess’ situation is not uncommon. In fact, female journalists being harassed and threatened online has become an epidemic.

Hess recently wrote a lengthy piece on the subject for the Pacific Standard. She discovered that of all the people who reported being stalked and harassed online from 2000 to 2012, 72.5 percent were female. “No matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment — and the sheer volume of it — has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet,” Hess argued.

How can we change this situation? Ann Friedman has some ideas. Friedman, a columnist forNew York, among other publications, often espouses on controversial topics (gender, politics, sex) and has had her share of harassment online. 10,000 Words spoke with Friedman about trolls, Tumblr and the true meaning of masochism.

“My first online home was at, and nothing has managed to come close to the amount of hate mail I got for writing for that site,” Friedman said. “I had a guy who would come to events, who was clearly mentally ill and thought everything we were writing was about him. At Feministing we had an appointed FBI agent, who we forwarded all our hate mail to. So I wrote this guy and told him I was forwarding his info to our agent. He backed off after that.”

We asked Friedman what she thought of Hess using the term “civil rights” to discuss women’s sexual harassment online. Friedman said she understands why Hess used the term, but that it’s actually more complex.

“There’s a bunch of different layers here. There’s people, most of them men, who publicly try to silence women. There’s also private communication,” she said. “A lot of the stuff isn’t really a threat. Obviously, Amanda’s situation is horrifying and many pro-women sex writers I know have been threatened at some point in time. But the bulk of it is just hate mail… supremely nasty reactions that are gendered and disturbing.”

We asked Friedman what she thought of Tumblr’s new and improved terms of service, which gives a detailed overview on what is and isn’t acceptable on the blogging platform.

“It goes a little further than a lot of sites’ community guidelines do in terms of what we expect from our users,” Friedman said. “Twitter, [on the other hand] isn’t active in policing users on any number of things. I use the block button reflexively. I feel like having those types of settings is absolutely imperative. Women [need to] be able to get the attention of Twitter or Tumblr to get that person’s access revoked when it comes to communicating with them.”

What about taking away the comments sections on articles altogether, as some publications have recently done? Will it just make the trolls angrier?

“I don’t really care about their feelings,” Friedman said, laughing. “I write for lots of different outlets. If you asked me which have active comments sections [and] which don’t, I would not be able to tell you. I don’t read them. I think it’s just masochistic to read the comments at this point. No site really has the [ability] to the do the kind of super-involved moderation necessary to create a really awesome dialogue. I would say the one exception to that rule is The Hairpin, where my pie charts run. I will look at the comments there because it is a small community. It’s not like writing for a major site.”

Friedman said one way to stop trolls and harassers from taking over the comments section is to make it harder to sign in.

“I think it’s worth having a conversation about how sites can have more accountability in comments,” she said. “I do think that sites where you have to sign in through Facebook, so your real identity is showing up next to the comment, has a pretty good effect. Or even if you have a sign up barrier. That’ll weed out a lot of people who are just there to troll. There are some low-level things that sites can use to decrease hate speech.”

What do you think? Is there an effective way to prevent the harassment of women journos online? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Aneya Fernando on January 31, 2014 10:00 AM. This post was originally appeared on 10,000 words   


Tips for pitching yourself your own story ideas

Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out. 

Sell yourself on your own ideas, learn from Michael Lewis’ writing habits, think before you type, and embrace “clickbait.”

Pitching yourself: If Internet articles about writing are any indicator, the hardest parts about being a scribe is actually finding the time and motivation to write. The next hardest part, then, has to be the most important: having something to write about.

In a given week, there are probably 15–20 topics that I consider writing about but dismiss because I’m not convinced they’ll be good posts (or because there’s not time). Sifting through these ideas to find the best can be paralyzing. (“If I begin writing that, then I won’t have time to write this.”)

Blogs without Blah, a consultancy in the U.K., offers tips on pitching yourself each of your stories to determine the pieces worth publishing. If you’re already indecisive, being the writer and the editor may not be the right solution, but it might at least help you figure out some headlines.

Michael Lewis on writing: Michael Lewis released his latest book, “Flash Boys,” this week about high-frequency trading to some debate. Whatever you think of the issue, you can bet it’s a good read because above all, Lewis is a writer and storyteller. He talked with Bloomberg this week about his approach:

You’re just trying to get your particular vision down on the paper. You learn something in the world, you try to explain it to a reader and do it in your voice.

Writing is thinking: This piece from The Huffington Post is about how writers are the heroes of our time because, unlike science and technology, writing provides lasting stories with recognizable character traits. There are a lot of things writers feel at the keyboard. It’s unlikely that heroism is one of them. What struck me about this piece was something Richard Vetere mentioned on the way to making his point:

And writing never ends, meaning writers are always writing even when they are not doing it physically. Their entire being is directed toward working out in their minds and in their hearts the story they want to tell.

So much of writing happens when you’re walking around, eating lunch, reading. By the time you’re ready to type, you know how your piece is going to look, or at least how it’s going to start.

“Clickbait” is not new: This piece falls outside the seven-day window I try to stick to, but because it addresses something I highlighted last week, writers’ getting paid for clicks, it’s worth including here.

It’s not all that surprising to hear that editors have sought to entice eyeballs through headlines for a lot longer than the Internet has been around. This piece from Deadspin focuses on the negative connotation placed on “clickbait” headlines, explaining why they’re not only not bad, sometimes they’re completely necessary. Old-school journalism—say, before 1960—was very much the same as what we’re seeing now.

It’s any way of presenting a story that doesn’t follow the dreary precepts that prevailed in high-end U.S. newsrooms over the last half-century—a period, incidentally, of widespread newspaper consolidation that allowed those newsrooms to be just as self-serious as they liked in the absence of any real competition. It’s anything anyone might actually want to read.

In other words, competition breeds the necessity for strong language and imagery, and in the end, people need to read what you wrote.

Writing headlines is an art form. Measuring clicks is just technology.

Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He’s on Twitter at @evanmpeterson

(Image via)

The first version of this story appeared on via @PRDaily