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Misogyny’s New Home Online

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Technological innovation has had a tremendous impact on our lives.

Thanks to the Internet, we communicate with greater ease, I can do my job with relative simplicity, the hassle of traveling, banking, shopping and running various errands is reduced. Overall, life is better thanks to technology.

But the development of modern technologies and digital tools is not without its challenges, also: An over-abundance of information and people trying to sell you things, the simplification of monitoring personal behavior that some of us would prefer be kept private (see this story for an example of that), and, sadly, unforeseen shifts in personal decorum and social boundaries that are causing real problems for real people. In the realm of social media, the latter of these problems is especially pronounced, and the point has been reached when we need to pause and think about some of what we see taking place.

While I am not one to spend my time complaining about public moral standards, or what some political commentators seeking to avoid fair and legitimate criticism dub “a lack of civility,” it does seem that a rise in social media use by the public at large has corresponded with an increase in people’s willingness to get hostile, aggressive, nasty, and/or significantly creepy at the drop of a hat.

To be clear, before the cries of hypocrisy come rolling in, I’m no stranger to lobbing twitter snark. Hell, I’ve had other bloggers devote entire posts simply to decrying my “accusations” made in jest. And in no way am I claiming that social media is “dangerous.” But people can be.

And for years now, these bad people have had their target on right-of-center women.

As I am married to a right-of-center female writer that contributes to a prominent website; I count among my friends many right-of-center female commentators, bloggers and political figures.

All of them are active users of Twitter, the tool where (voluntarily) in expressing an opinion, you potentially open yourself up to all sorts of horrible commentary, personal and political.

Like most conservatives on Twitter, I have been called a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a warmonger, a bigot, an idiot, and so on, by political opponents. Sometimes it’s frustrating.

But it’s on a much more benign level than what a lot of these women have been subjected to and continue to be subjected to. We’re not talking comments about how someone is a fat, ugly, stupid racist/homophobe/self-hating sexist/bigot. In many cases, we’re talking straight-up misogynistic comments, threats of violence (including sexual violence), creepy tweets that appear to evidence stalking, and continual harassment being directed at these women by liberal, “feminist” haters.

They want right-of-center women to be quiet and go away, and they simply won’t.

So, you get situations like that in which a liberal, male hater of a female friend of mine appeared to be following her around her neighborhood as she undertook routine activities. Or the situation where another woman was threatened with actual rape by a liberal, male opponent. Or that in which right-of-center female bloggers are routinely subjected to descriptions of the various sexual acts that their supposedly “feminist” male “fans” would like to engage in with them, or speculate that they engage in, or ongoing profanity-laced criticisms of them involving female-descriptive four- and five-letter words that the Left goes ballistic about if uttered by a conservative commentator.

We all remember Nickelodeon “star” Jason Biggs’ offensive tweet last year about Rep. Paul Ryan’s wife, herself not nearly as much of a public figure. Last week, some conservatives on Twitter noted that Elizabeth Ailes, wife of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, was apparently expressing frustration at the fact that Gabriel Sherman, a Fox-obsessive reporter writing an unauthorized book on Roger Ailes/Fox (but notably not Elizabeth), was following her on Twitter, despite the allegation that he had previously been told to leave her alone. (The Twitter account in question is not verified, so like others, I’m assuming it really is that of Elizabeth Ailes).

Those things are both on the warm and fuzzy end of the scale, though one is quite offensive and the other certainly bothersome given prior allegations of Sherman “harassing” and engaging in “stalker media” tactics vis a vis Mrs. Ailes (as opposed to her very high-profile and much-scrutinized husband).

But imagine someone threatening you with actual sexual violence. It happens, and like much of the rest of the out-of-bounds behavior we see take place within social media, its apparent objective is silencing dissent through intimidation (See the bottom of this post for examples if you can stomach it).

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of crazy people in society, and the Internet is an attractive place for them. They come in all philosophical stripes, and they can say whatever nutty, offensive, hostile, creepy and even borderline criminal things they want, all with the benefit of anonymity, should they so choose (and they do). We have a First Amendment, which I strongly support. And you can take steps to block them, filter them out, or report them (either to the social network in question or to the police) if a line is crossed.

The vast majority of the women who are targeted with frequently vile nonsense are tough and don’t shut up like their harassers (who supposedly don’t want women compliant and submissive) want them to.

But that doesn’t make it OK for people to engage in this kind of behavior — especially while they preach “tolerance.” Nor does it change the fact that in some people exercising their right to free speech, they abuse it and have a chilling effect on the freedom of others. They disincentivize the airing of dissenting views; sometimes, where the line is really crossed, they make people tremendously uneasy about engaging in politics at all, or walking home from the local Starbucks for fear of being followed and some type of assault occurring.

This isn’t a post about how the weak and feeble ladies can’t take care of themselves (have you met Dana Loesch?). But it is a post to remind people that if the Internet weren’t around and you weren’t “virtually” saying or doing a thing, but actually saying or doing it in real life to the person in question, then it probably isn’t OK to say or do on Twitter, or Facebook, or in blog comments, or on email, either. And yes, that goes for me too.

Free speech isn’t just for the noisiest, angriest, most aggressive, and violent-minded among us. And social media should not become the preserve of stalkers and the crude-minded on steroids.

Look at the tweets below and tell me there isn’t a problem.

WARNING: NSFW EXAMPLES

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