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Guest blog: Caroline Criado-Perez, on 'the gutless idiots' online who threatened her with sexual violence

(21 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 07-Aug-13 11:47:16

For the past two weeks, campaigner and Mumsnet blogger Caroline Criado-Perez has been the target of a sustained campaign of misogynist abuse on Twitter, following her successful fight to ensure a woman was represented on Britain's banknotes.

Here, she tells fellow MN blogger and novelist Rosie Fiore about the impact of the abuse - and why she won't be ignoring threats of violence, as some have suggested she should.

Read the post, and tell us what you think about the issue of online abuse, here on the thread. And if you blog about it, don't forget to leave your URL.

"Yesterday afternoon, when Caroline Criado-Perez took her dog for a walk in the park, she received a Twitter notification. The message, from a user called @youredead3, said, 'FIRST WE WILL MUTILATE YOUR GENITALS WITH SCISSORS THEN SET YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE WHILE YOU BEG TO DIE. TONIGHT. 23.00.' With admirable calmness, Criado-Perez retweeted the threat, together with the comment, 'Oh for f**k's sake. Change the bloody record.'

Journalist Caitlin Moran received an identical threat, which she also retweeted, adding the comment <birth flashbacks>, and playwright Dan Rebellato was quick to point out: 'Hold on. They're supposed to be doing @caitlinmoran this evening. I hope they haven't double booked.' The responses are amusing and make light of the threats, but Criado-Perez admits the tweet cast a dark shadow over her happy afternoon. 'It's been around 40 hours since the last one,' she told me, 'I was beginning to believe it might have stopped. I know it's probably just some sad git who I should block and try to forget,' she continued, 'But a tiny part of me can't help wondering - what if they've found out where I live?'

There have been thousands of words written about the online abuse Criado-Perez has faced, which then spread into attacks on other prominent women: MP Stella Creasy, historian Mary Beard and several well-known female journalists. Several arrests have been made, Twitter has agreed to address issues with reporting abuse and suspending the accounts of users issuing threats, and the Daily Mail in a rare piece of fierce investigative journalism, identified, named and shamed some of the more virulent trolls.

However, no matter how much I read about this issue, I can't get my head around motivations of the people who actually do the trolling. Academic Claire Hardaker wrote an excellent piece in The Observer, in which she made some educated guesses. With more kindness than I feel capable of, she suggested 'We might start with considering how much trolling is symptomatic of social injustice, economic disadvantage, and political disenfranchisement.' Criado-Perez has her own thesis. She thinks the perceived anonymity of the internet frees people from their inhibitions, and that their sense that they are faceless allows them to act fearlessly, expressing their darkest thoughts, believing that there will be no comeback. When John Nimmo, who has been arrested on suspicion of many of the early and most aggressive tweets sent to Criado-Perez, was confronted by a Newsnight journalist, he claimed someone had hacked into his many accounts to send the 'rape' tweets.

At least in part, Criado-Perez rejects Claire Hardaker's analysis of trolls as disenfranchised, emasculated men - the Daily Mail exposé showed that several of the men who have trolled prominent women have tertiary education, are employed, are in relationships and have children. They don't fit the traditional profile of the loner teenager or, as Criado-Perez puts it, 'the sad angry man sitting home alone in his pants.' Rather, she feels, the trolls are a symptom of a wider misogyny - a sense among some men (and sadly, also, some women), that women who are vocal and argumentative and who are in the public eye, must be shamed, frightened and silenced.

Of course, the fact that Criado-Perez and others have refused to keep quiet has escalated the abuse. It's also become an opportunity for those women who disagree with her response (or the responses of other affected women) to attack one another - witness the very vocal attacks by many feminists on Caitlin Moran's proposed #twittersilence on Sunday. Criado-Perez and other women have been told that by bringing the threats into the public domain that they are 'attention-seeking', and that they would do better just to ignore the abuse. Criado-Perez is understandably angry about this. 'People are policing my reaction to the threats,' she says, 'Telling me how I should think and act about it, instead of taking those threatening me to task.'

The abuse and the reaction to it have understandably raised issues about freedom of speech, and our ability to express ourselves critically on the Internet. To me, it seems pretty straightforward. There should always be room for robust debate and criticism, and there always will be. But threatening someone online remains a criminal act, as it should. It is no different from any other kind of threat. Threats to kill, however they are issued, carry a sentence of up to ten years' imprisonment.

It's also worth considering the role of impulsive behaviour in this trend. The very immediate nature of the Internet carries its own inherent risks. We can now type and send a message in seconds. In times gone by, we would have had to contact someone directly, by phone, or have written a letter, which would need to be posted or delivered. The immediacy of the first or the inherent delays of the second might make many people pause before they take drastic action. A letter can be burned, a conversation, unless recorded, is only hearsay. But something posted online exists forever and can be tracked to your IP address and therefore your computer, even if you delete the message and your account. Even if you're using services like Tor, which is designed to protect online anonymity, recent reports show your actions can still be traced.

There is no doubt that the horrors she has endured in recent days have massively raised Criado-Perez's public profile, and she has no intention whatsoever of keeping quiet on issues she finds important. After the week she's had, she would be forgiven for lying low for a while, but she's spending the better part of her day today campaigning about Neil Wilson, a man who admitted in court to having sex with a 13-year-old girl and possessing a range of child pornography. He walked free with a suspended sentence, because the judge agreed that the girl in question, who was just 13 years old, 'looked older, at least 14 or 15', and was 'sexually predatory'. Caroline and other activists, including some MNers, went online to protest: the suspended sentence is now under review, and the issue of victim-blaming is being widely debated in the news.

As we conclude our phone chat, she sounds almost cheery, admitting that today is the first day she has been able to eat and sleep properly. 'The trolls haven't silenced me,' she says. 'If anything they have made me speak out more. Ultimately, they're a bunch of gutless little idiots who have no impact on me whatsoever.' "

Caster8 Wed 07-Aug-13 19:13:44

Was with it until the last sentence.
They will have an impact I would have thought. An emotional impact, however slight. And it has definitely caused changed behaviour in Caroline Criado - Perez.

No point in stopping the fight now.
Always knew that something had to happen that involved a top celebrity or an MP for anything major to happen to change the status quo.

Am aware that mumsnet is mainly a bunch of women online.
But also, there are bunches of men online, who are no doubt egging each other on in this sort of thing and goodness knows what else.
I personally am of the opinion that women only palces and men only places are not really good ideas for society.

tbh, I think everything online will get worse before it gets better.

And I really think, and cannot understand why successive Governments havent made proper attempts to sort it all out sooner.
The internet should never have been allowed to roam so free for the past decades imo.

KaseyM Wed 07-Aug-13 21:04:45

I think she handled it brilliantly - using Twitter to fight back at them and expose them for the idiots they are.

Darkesteyes Wed 07-Aug-13 21:21:31

But also, there are bunches of men online, who are no doubt egging each other on in this sort of thing and goodness knows what else.

One look at the ARSSE website confirms this.

Caster8 Wed 07-Aug-13 21:24:44

I sometimes wonder where the internet will end up.
Will it be banned altogether?
Men against women?

Or all sort of policed?

blondieminx Wed 07-Aug-13 21:46:30

I think online abuse isn't treated with as much seriousness as it might be; certainly the Police's comments in relation to my ongoing case so far suggests they think Twitter and Facebook are slow to respond to requests for user account details.

I have to make a statement at the end of this week following rape threats made to me and worse, to my daughter angrysadangry.

So far it seems like its low priority, a bit like DV, in that it's a crime against mainly women, where very little resource is allocated.

I agree with CC-P in that I think the trolls are made bolder as they are hiding behind "the Internet" with a made up picture and username. Bet they wouldn't post half that stuff in their real names/with their real pictures.

Saying those sorts of things online should be as unacceptable as saying them in real life.

There are some really vile men out there. The level of "hidden" misogyny reflected in the posts is just hideous. sad

edam Wed 07-Aug-13 22:44:16

Interesting piece.

It may be horrible but at least it's brought something very dark out into the light. Decent men and women can now see what's been happening - the stuff that women have been suffering for ages, but have been told not to make a fuss about. Or have tried to protest about, but been largely ignored.

Claire Hardaker's attempt at empathy for the violent wannabe thugs is mistaken and dangerous IMO. As Rosie says, the bullies and misogynists are not actually victims - they are men who are educated, employed, and have partners and kids.

A lecturer - male - once pointed out to his class, inc. me, that feminism was tricky in that we live with (potentially) 'the enemy'. Unlike other marginalised groups, we don't have the option of separatism. Certainly some of the men threatening to rape and kill Mary Beard or Caroline C-P are in relationships with real women - I wonder if their partners have a clue what goes on in these men's heads? (Disclaimer before any wearisome 'ooh, feminists hate men' shit turns up - of course most men are no more good or bad than most women and we all love our sons etc. etc. etc.)

GalaxyDefender Wed 07-Aug-13 22:54:57

It is 100% true that trolls are made braver by their anonymity - problem there is, the only cure for that is to make people use their real names for everything and that is both impossible to regulate and would cause such a backlash that the entire internet would collapse. Ditto attempts to regulate the internet. It wouldn't be the amazing place it is if it weren't free enough to let the crap stuff through too, sadly.

I've had arguments with trolls before - most recently I was defending a man who had dared to say that a piece of media was unacceptably sexist. Other men jumped on him, calling him a "fag" and accusing him of white-knighting to get sex from women hmm
TBH engaging with them does nothing. Generally they are men who believe, at the deepest core of their being, that they are superior to all women just because they have a penis.

The idea of a woman who is articulate, independent and willing to stand up for herself terrifies them. So they lash out, letting out all their mysogyny in one go - attacking appearance is often top of their list, which says everything you need to know about their attitude to women, no?

KarlosKKrinkelbeim Wed 07-Aug-13 22:58:46

I was listening to a news item today about the poor young girl who hanged herself as a result of online bullying. A young man was talking about how online bullies had tormented him over the death of his brother when he was 8. It truly beggars belief - what on earth could make you want to say such a thing to someone. I think the truth, which makes me very sad, is that a lot of people are just vicious and nasty. the internet makes it easy for them to spread their foulness around.

Darkesteyes Thu 08-Aug-13 00:17:24

Sorry to hear of yr situ blondieminx Thats shit. I hope you are getting support.

Galaxy it would be impossible to regulate And also you would see the Relatiionships board on this and other sites die out.
Women in abusive relationships will not post if they have to use their real name.

Bunnygotwhacked Thu 08-Aug-13 06:03:05

The trolls are something we are all wary and frightened of to some extent. We need to bring them out from under their bridge and take away their power. What they are doing is dreadful and scary and it is criminal behaviour if you were to send someone letters saying these things at this frequency the police would hopefully take it a bit more seriously. Calling it bullying imo diminishes somewhat the full weight of the matter it isn't bullying it is verbal assault with possible intent to cause harm.
What would be brilliant is if we could get the person responsible and make them read out their tweets/posts etc on youtube putting a face to the comments would put many people off but i know that won't happen.
The best thing they can do to police this would be to put a report button in with a team of volunteer mods. The victim then simply has to press report and forget about it.
The report would then be checked out and if held to be valid and to break the rules then the person would be banned usual banning rules apply first offence 24 hours 2nd 72 3rd perma ban. And yes people would reregister with different emails etc but there is ways of finding them out.

Ledkr Thu 08-Aug-13 08:12:40

Yes it makes you wonder if there is a "type" doesn't it?
Do they look normal? Have normal lives, families and jobs?

For me it's an illustration of the hidden crap that's on people's minds which can become a reality at every given moment.

If you actually "think" this kind of thing, then surely you are not sound of mind. Thus anyone who writes such things needs to be arrested so they can be assessed as to whether either other stuff is happening or there is potential for a risk to others.

HandbagCrab Thu 08-Aug-13 10:16:10

I wonder if it's part of a wider issue with some people compounded with the obvious misogyny that these men feel?

Lots of people are bitter and jealous when others are doing well and achieving. It makes these small minded people seem even more angry and impotent when someone they think should be 'beneath' them in the pecking order shines brightly. The Internet then gives a voice to this futile rage and perhaps for the perpetrator they feel they problem shared is a problem halved. To the rest of us we recoil in horror and disbelief at the shit that runs through other people's heads.

I think it absolutely right that we talk and continue to be as we are without worrying about censoring ourselves so we aren't threatened. I also think these threats must be taken seriously and dealt with properly. Women (and men) are raped and murdered by stalkers and harrassers and we don't do anyone a favour by shrugging it off or trying to make light of it.

anklebitersmum Thu 08-Aug-13 10:17:32

The sad truth is that the authorities see this kind of abuse as minor and those who report it are generally treated with an insidious 'sticks and stones will break my bones' and you shouldn't be so sensitive attitude.

Having seen first hand how threats of violence and social stalking escalate unchecked over a few months to an open mob mentality and assaults the 'it's just words dear' approach needs to go. For everyone's benefit.

This sort of person does not 'quietly go away' or 'get bored' if you ignore them, they thrive on the fact that they are beyond reach. They consider themselves untouchable and 'above the law' and the sad truth is that 9/10 times they are.

There was no social disadvantage in the case I refer to.
It was what it was. Bullying and intimidation.

Let's not allow ourselves to be further bullied into silence about it on the basis that we are 'over-reacting', 'just attention seeking' or 'it was meant as a joke'.

Being so scared for your family that you're taping your letterbox shut at night is no joke.

HoleyGhost Thu 08-Aug-13 10:51:46

Bravo to the Daily Mail. Their naming and shaming in the piece linked above may have had more of an impact on trolls than the arrests and petitions.

Wesley Meridith's wife said he had been very careful about the wording of his abuse. Even if he has avoided criminal proceedings, now his employer and every subsequent employer will have evidence of his misogyny. As will his daughter and her friends.

Anonymous threatened to reveal the identities of rapists in one case. Can these trolls ever be sure that their online threats won't come back to haunt them?

stickygotstuck Thu 08-Aug-13 11:48:33

I keep turning over in my head the fact that some of these 'men' have daughters. I mean daughters!

HoleyGhost Thu 08-Aug-13 12:03:25

Barratt Homes have suspended Neil Law pending a formal investigation. Why have the MOD not done the same with Wesley Meridith?

All of these scumbags are bringing their employers into disrepute.

anklebitersmum Thu 08-Aug-13 12:38:21

When you start turning over stones as regards internet bullying you'll find an awful lot of girls and women underneath them too I fear sad

blondieminx Thu 08-Aug-13 13:06:28

Thanks thanks darkesteyes YY I have support smile and I am very much of the view that such idiocy needs tackling head on and people making those sorts of comments need to face the consequences.

I am not clicking the DM link but it sounds like the most useful thing they've written in years grin

worldgonecrazy Thu 08-Aug-13 13:31:25

I really don't understand these internet bullies. They post vile words - suggesting people kill themselves or express a wish to stab/hurt them, or say how they are going to mutilate and rape women. If it were real life, would they stand there and put a noose around the person's neck, or stab them with a knife, would they really tie a woman up and mutilate and rape her?

I'm guessing in a huge number of occasions, the answer to that question would be no. We need to educate our children and ourselvs about the easy dehumanisation that happens when we use the internet. It creates a false sense of intimacy whilst at the same time dehumanising those whom we interact with.

What are we teaching our children? The children saying these things presumably have parents - are these parents teaching children about empathy and compassion? If my daughter ever sends anything like this she will have EVERYTHING confiscated until she learns how to treat other people as human beings.

If I found out my husband had sent any of these vile tweets, his bag would have been packed instantly.

SinisterSal Thu 08-Aug-13 22:56:39

I think you have a point about the paradox of the internet. It fosters intimacy yet dehumanises, worldgonecrazy.

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