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Topics

First, what exactly is online abuse?

Tactics

Cross platform harassment

Cyber-exploitation, nonconsensual photography or “revenge porn”

Deadnaming

Defamation

DOS

Doxing

Electronically enabled financial abuse

False accusations of blasphemy

Flaming

Gender-based slurs and harassment

Google bombing

Grooming and predation

Hate speech

Identity theft and online impersonation

IRL attacks

Mob attacks/cyber mobs

Rape videos

Retaliation against supporters of victims

Sexual objectification

Shock and grief trolling

Spying and sexual surveillance

Stalking and stalking by proxy

Sexting/abusing sexting

Slut-shaming

Swatting

Threats

Trafficking

Unsolicited pornography

First, what exactly is online abuse?

Online abuse includes a diversity of tactics and malicious behaviors ranging from sharing embarrassing or cruel content about a person to impersonation, doxing, stalking and electronic surveillance to the nonconsensual use of photography and violent threats. The online harassment of women, sometimes called Cybersexism or cybermisogyny, is specifically gendered abuse targeted at women and girls online. It incorporates sexism, racism, religious prejudice, homophobia and transphobia.

The purpose of harassment differs with every incidence, but usually includes wanting to embarrass, humiliate, scare, threaten, silence, extort or, in some instances, encourages mob attacks or malevolent engagements. Back to Top

Tactics

Tactics are wide ranging. They are sometimes legal, but harmful and consequential. They may legal, but violate a particular platform’s guidelines and terms of service. Some, but not all, are illegal, including, but not limited to Child Pornography, Copyright Infringements, Data Theft, Defamation, Extortion, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Harm, Libel, Privacy Infringements, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Surveillance, Stalking and True Threats. Back to Top

Cross platform harassment: When a harasser, or group of harassers, deliberately sabotages or invades multiple online spaces for the purposes of harassing a target. Cross-platform harassment is very effective because users are currently unable to report this scope and context of the harassment when they contact platforms, each of which will only consider the harassment happening on their own sites. Back to Top

Cyber-exploitation, Nonconsensual Photography or “Revenge Porn”: The distribution of sexually graphic images without the consent of the subject of the images. The abuser obtains images or videos in the course of a prior relationship, or hacks into the victim’s computer, social media accounts or phone. Women make up more than 95 percent of reported victims. The unauthorized sharing of sexualized images is still not illegal in the majority of US states. Twenty-two states now have laws on the books and proposed national legislation is being drafted. (You can check your state here). is defined as the non-consensual distribution and publication of intimate photos and videos. Back to Top

Deadnaming: A form of direct harassment in which a target’s former name is revealed against their wishes for the purposes of harm. This technique is most commonly used to out members of the LGTBQIA community who may have changed their birth names for any variety of reasons, including to avoid professional discrimination and physical danger. Back to Top

Defamation: Coordinated attempts at defamation take place when a person, or, sometimes, organized groups deliberately flood social media and review sites with negative and defamatory information. Back to Top

DOS: DOS stands for “denial-of-service,” an attack that makes a website or network resource unavailable to its users. Back to Top

Doxing: The unauthorized retrieving and publishing, often by hacking, of a person’s personal information, including, but not limited to, full names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, spouse and children names, financial details. “Dox” is a slang version of “documents” or .doc. Causing fear, stress and panic is the objective of doxing, even when perpetrators think or say that their objective is “harmless.” Back to Top

Electronically enabled financial abuse: The use of the internet and other forms of technology to exert financial pressure on a target, usually a woman involved in intimate partner abuse. This might include, for example, denying access to online accounts, manipulating credit information to create negative scores and identity theft. Back to Top

False accusations of blasphemy: Women face online threats globally, but they run a unique risk in conservative religious countries, where, in blasphemy is against the law and where honor killings are a serious threat. Accusing someone of blasphemy can become, itself, an act of violence. Back to Top

Flaming: A flood of vitriolic and hostile messages including threats, insults, slurs and profanity. Back to Top

Gender-based Slurs and Harassment: Name-calling is common online. Gendered harassment, however, involves the use of words, insults, profanity and, often, images to communicate hostility towards girls and women because they are women. Typically, harassers resort to words such as “bitch,” “slut,” “whore,” or “cunt” and include commentary on women’s physical appearances. Back to Top

Google Bombing: The deliberate optimization of malicious information and web sites online so that when people search for a target they immediately see defamatory content. In 2012, for example, Bettina Wulff, the wife of Germany’s then president, sued Google because the company’s autocomplete search function perpetuated rumors that she was once a prostitute. Back to Top

Grooming and Predation: Online grooming is when a person using social media to deliberate cultivates an emotional connection with a child in order to sexually abuse or exploit that child. Back to Top

Hate Speech: Hate speech has no uniform legal definition. Online, this means that every social media platform has it’s own unique definition . As a baseline, however, hate speech is language or imagery that denigrates, insults, threatens, or targets and individual or groups of people on the basis of their identity – gender, , based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hate speech usually has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in history and usually employs words, action and the use of images meant to deliberately shame, annoy, scare, embarrass, humiliate, denigrate, or threaten another person. Most legal definitions of harassment take into consideration the intent of the harasser. This, however, fails to translate usefully in the case of cyberharassment, the use of the Internet, electronic and mobile applications for these purposes. In the case of technology enabled harassment and abuse, intent can be difficult to prove and diffuse. For example, most laws do not currently consider third party communications to be harassing. So, whereas the law understands sending someone a threatening message for the purposes of extortion, it does not understand the non-consensual sharing of sexual images to someone other than the subject of the photograph illegal or hateful. Back to Top

Identity Theft and Online Impersonation: As defined by the Department of Justice, identity theft includes, “crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.” The law applies to any person or entity who impersonates another person on the Internet with the “intent to obtain a benefit or injure or defraud another.” Many states distinguish this from impersonation, in which a person creates an account, website or ad using a person’s name and address with the intention of harming another person. In 2013, for example, a jury convicted 32-year-old Michael Johnson of more than 80 counts related to his having impersonated his ex-wife online. He had purchased online ads and connected with would-be johns, posing, as his wife. He posted rape fantasies inviting men to kick down her door and have sex with her. In addition to sharing prices for sex with her, he also included sex with her three daughters, and with the toddler boy that the couple had together. The abuse continued when he contacted one of the daughters’ school, posting a message to the school’s website in her name, reading, “I will have sex with the teachers in return for passing grades.” As many as 50 men a day showed up at the woman’s home. She eventually moved her family to another state. Other cases similarly involving impersonation, involving false fantasies of violent gang rape, are commonly used as part of ongoing intimate violence. The difference between these two tactics is that identity theft benefits the perpetrator, while impersonation results in a distinct harm to another person. Back to Top

IRL Attacks: In Real Life Attacks describe incidents where online abuse either moves into the “real” world or is already part of an ongoing stalking or intimate partner violence interaction. IRL trolling can also mean simply trying to instill fear by letting a target know that the abuser knows their address or place of employment. Back to Top

Mob Attacks/CyberMobs: Hostile mobs include hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, systematically harassing a target. #Slanegirl, a hashtag that was used for the trending global public shaming of a teenage girl filmed performing fellatio, is one example. Attacks on public figures like Anita Sarkeesian or Caroline Criado-Perez have been conducted by cybermobs. Back to Top

Rape Videos: Videos of rapes in progress that are subsequently used to shame or extort, or are sold as nonconsensual porn. These images are sometimes used to populate online spaces created for sharing them, cyber-cesspools whose sole purpose is to deprive people of dignity by humiliating, and harassing them. In India, rape videos are part of what law enforcement has described as a thriving “revenge porn economy.” They are used to blackmail, shame and extort. The US and UK have seen multiple publicized cases of teenage girls, whose rapes were filmed and shared, commit suicide. Back to Top

Retaliation Against Supporters of Victims: Online abusers will often threaten to or engage in harassing their target’s family members, friends, employers or community of supporters. Back to Top

Sexual Objectification: Harassers frequently objectify their targets, including through the use of manipulated photographs and sexually explicit descriptions of their bodies. Girls and women’s photographs are often used without their consent and manipulated so that they appear in pornographic scenes or used in memes. Back to Top

Shock and Grief Trolling: Targeting vulnerable people by using the names and images of lost ones to create memes, websites, fake Twitter accounts or Facebook pages. Feminist writer Lindy West has described how harassers set up Twitter accounts using a stolen photograph of her recently deceased father. The name on the account was a play on his name and a reference to his death. “Embarrassed father of an idiot,” the bio read. It cited his location as, “Dirt hole in Seattle”. Back to Top

Spying and Sexual Surveillance: Most people think of spying and surveillance in terms of governments spying on citizens, however, women are frequently illegally (and legally) surveilled. This happens in their apartments; in changing rooms; department stores; supermarket bathrooms; on public stairways and subway platforms; in sports arenas and locker rooms; in police stations and in classrooms while they teach. The minimizing expression, “Peeping Tom,” is particularly insufficient given the impact of the nature, scale and amplification of the Internet on the power of stolen images and recordings to be used in harmful ways. Back to Top

Stalking and Stalking by Proxy: Justice Department records reveal that 70 percent of those stalked online are women and more than 80 percent of cyber-stalking defendants are male. Back to Top

Sexting/Abusive Sexting: Sexting is the consensual electronic sharing of naked or sexual photographs. This is different, however, from the nonconsensual sharing of the same images. While sexting is often demonized as dangerous, the danger and infraction is actually resident in the violation of privacy and consent that accompanies the sharing of images without the subject’s consent. For example, while teenage boys and girls sext at the same rates, boys are between two and three times more likely to share images that they are sent. Back to Top

Slut-Shaming: A form of gender-based bullying often targeting teenage girls. Slut-shaming, stalking, the use of nonconsensual photography and sexual surveillance frequently overlap, amplifying impact on targets. Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons, Audrie Potts, Felicia Garcia, Tyler Clementi, Rachel Ehmke, Steubenville’s Jane Doe and Jada are people who were targeted by combinations of these tactics. Back to Top

Swatting: Deliberately tricking authorities into responding to a false emergency situation at a specific address. The term comes from “SWAT” (Special Weapons and Tactics), a branch of the US police that uses militarized techniques, equipment and firearms to breach targeted sites. Harassers will report a serious threat or emergency, eliciting a law enforcement response that might include the use of weapons and possibility of being killed or hurt. Back to Top

Threats: Rape and death threats frequently coincide with sexist, racist commentary. While online threats may not pass current legal tests for what constitutes a “true threat,” they do generate anxiety and alter the course of a person’s life. Back to Top

Trafficking: While not traditionally thought of as a form of online harassment and abuse, trafficking involves multiple types of electronically-enabled abuse. Social media is used by traffickers to sell people whose photographs they share, without their consent, often including photographs of their abuse of women as an example to others. Seventy-six percent of trafficked persons are girls and women and the Internet is now a major sales platform. Back to Top

Unsolicited Pornography: Sending unsolicited pornography, violent rape porn gifs or photographs in which a target’s photograph has been sexualized. For example, in 2003, the website for UNIFEM, the United Nation’s Development Fund for Women, was stolen online by a pornographer who populated the site with violent sexual imagery. More recently, editors at Jezebel, an online magazine, reported that an individual or individuals were posting gifs of violent pornography in the comments and discussion section of stories daily. Writers at Jezebel, almost all women, were required to review comments sections daily. Women politicians, writers, athletes, celebrities and more have their photographs electronically manipulated for the purposes of creating non consensual pornography and of degrading them publicly. Back to Top

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