Why We Need To Ignore The Misogyny And Recognise The Internet As A Place For Women’s Activism To Thrive

It's time to change the dialogue about one of the greatest innovations and women


by Emma Barnett |
Published on

Last August, just before I left the office for the day, I received a bomb threat on Twitter. Like you do. ‘A bomb has been placed outside your home. It will go off at exactly 10.47 on a timer and trigger destroying everything,’ it read.

My reaction? A roll of the eyes, a quick block of the user and a dash to the tube to meet my mate down the pub.

I tell you this story not to prove how thick my digital skin has become, more to prove my credentials to you in what I am about to advise.

Being a radio presenter and journalist, I have had a fair share of online abuse lobbed my way. It ain’t pretty, but it is petty. More importantly though, it’s never convinced me that the internet isn’t anything but the most incredible tool to have at our fingertips.

READ MORE: Is The Internet Intrinsically Sexist?

It seems everyday we are confronted by news stories of Twitter trolls and virulent sexism on the internet. I am not belittling the torrid rape threats made against Chloe Madeley last month. Nor am I playing down the fact that a feminist video games critic couldn’t attend Utah university three weeks ago, after an army of digital haters threatened to come and kill her if she gave her intended lecture.

Nor am I meaning to dismiss just how vile the digital playground can be towards women – if you still need evidence, look no further than the Labour MP Stella Creasy’s moving account of how she will never get the last year of her life back even after her web troll was jailed.

But what I still firmly believe is that – even in this sea of hate – women must never lose sight of how much power and goodness the internet really gives us. And most importantly, young women should not be unduly influenced by the fear I can only imagine these stories induce and allow themselves to be ejected from a space that’s their right to share.

For centuries men have managed to silence women and keep them out of key forums for debate, influence and change. History cannot repeat itself in this way with the internet

For centuries men have managed to silence women and keep them out of key forums for debate, influence and change. History cannot repeat itself in this way with the internet – a platform which sets both information and its users totally free. This is why we need to change the dialogue about one of the greatest innovations and women.

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Last month, in the same week women on both sides of the Atlantic received death and rape threats, we also witnessed how a brother’s heart-rending campaign for the release of his imprisoned British-Iranian sister Ghoncheh Ghavami went viral. The law graduate was jailed more than 100 days ago in Iran for simply trying to watch a volleyball match – still unbelievably a criminal act for women in her family’s country. And this week she was finally sentenced to a year in jail.

Another campaign to stop the convicted rapist footballer Ched Evans from being reinstated by Sheffield United upon his release has also made national headlines.

Regardless of outcome, these are just two examples of how the influence and democratic nature of the web are being used to help women and give the voiceless a voice. They are also two stories that would have probably made it onto my new radio show, The 5 Live Hit List, starting this weekend.

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Every Sunday evening I will be counting down the top 40 stories that have been shared and interacted with across social media from the past week. A team of top sociologists and computer scientists from a cross-section of universities have developed an algorithm to analyse keywords and hashtags in order to rank the impact of each story.

With echoes of the music Top 40 (ah, how I miss taping that show for my school bus soundtrack), it’s the first time a UK radio station has created a news chart and totally handed over the agenda to the listeners.

In preparation for the first programme, I’ve been scanning some dummy charts and have been heartened to see how many times stories or hashtags featuring feminism or campaigns started by and for women have ranked. This is empirical evidence of how good the internet can be – and is – for us women. And it’s this positivity I want to shout about a bit more – to remind my fellow females that amidst the gloom of threats, there are brilliant shafts of sunlight.

The internet is an equal playing field, which millions of women use daily to campaign, communicate, build businesses and do anything else which takes our fancy.

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And while the anonymity of the web can lead to terrible societal ills coming to the fore with menacing consequences, it also enables women to have a voice they may not have anywhere else. This means when they face an injustice they can mobilise the global troops and guess what, send their problem viral.

A sexist advertising campaign or product rarely lasts 24 hours in the digital age – this is why I am expecting women and their passions to play a big role in The 5 Live Hit List. In the digital world, we really do reign and that’s something to hold onto. It’s never been a better time to digitally engage.

Finally, poor behaviour online is starting to have offline consequences, with the police starting to take trolling seriously. In short, the internet is slowly civilising and we are just at the beginning of that process.

So as it begins to reflect the societal norms of the real world – you know that place where you can’t just scream ‘die slut’ repeatedly at someone in the street without some consequences – I say to all women everywhere: now’s the time to harness the full-fat power of the internet.

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Dr Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline, who continues the brilliant campaigning work of her family in Ethiopia, always says that if her feminist ancestors had had the internet at their fingertips, they would have been at large on it, demanding the vote for women. She is cheered by the resurgence of women’s rights online and sees it as one of the key forces in reinvigorating an entire generation of women trying to fight for what they believe.

It is hard to doubt that the internet has definitely been instrumental in a fourth wave of feminism taking off, slactivist criticisms aside.

Like her, I see the internet, in all of its technicolour glory, as a hugely positive place for women to be seen, heard and reckoned with – even in the face of bomb threats.

So let’s change the tone of this conversation about women and the web. And let the news chart commence.

The 5Live Hit List begins on 9 November at 7.30pm.

**Like this? Then you might also be interested in: **

Sexism, Trolls and Rape Threats: What It’s Really Like To Be A Female Gamer

Think Sexism In The UK Is Bad? You Should See Australia

Post Viral Syndrome: How It Really Feels To Get Trashed On The Internet

Emma Barnett is the Women’s Editor of The Telegraph and a broadcaster. Follow her on Twitter @emmabarnett

Picture: Eylul Aslan

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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