Misogyny only a part of online abuse problem, and ‘sorry’ isn’t enough

Online abuse that can reach extreme levels is rife online, in New Zealand and internationally. Some label it things like misogyny or sexism or racism or anti-religious or political – any of these things can be involved, but the motives can vary, and can often be difficult to define.

Abuse can be nasty, it goes to the extent of threatening the well being and even the lives of targets – and to an extent reflects awful levels of real life abuse and violence.

In part abuse is an attempt to discredit people, to shut them up, or to drive them off public media platforms.

Most of the abuse comes from people acting anonymously.

Anna Connell (RNZ) ‘I am sorry you can’t freely express yourself’

I feel that same frustration and anger about what Lani Wendt Young has gone through. An LGBT rights advocate and author, and survivor of child sexual abuse, she has used social media to openly discuss these issues. She has also filed over 800 screenshots of abuse and threats she’s received for doing so.

Despite going to the police and asking Facebook to remove these comments, there haven’t been any real consequences.

Theoretically, those on the receiving end of online abuse are offered some protection here under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Netsafe is the approved agency responsible for dealing with complaints made under the Act but are not an enforcement agency.

After a complaint is investigated, a court order can be sought. In response to Ms Wendt-Young’s complaints, New Zealand police said they took the issue seriously. However, based on her experience, it seems they feel pretty powerless in the face of the swelling volume of online abuse.

Facebook has made noises about wanting users to feel safer and have reportedly hired 10,000 more moderators to review reports of abuse – but they don’t have a great track record on this issue.

Facebook is one of the worst platforms for abuse, largely due to the huge number of people using it and the ease with which anonymous people can use it.

It seems no one is resourced or equipped to deal with the speed and volume at which abuse can be hurled and threats laid bare online. Not the creators of the platforms, the agencies tasked with investigating complaints, the police, nor the courts.

It seems an insurmountable problem – perpetrators can number in the thousands and, in many instances, hide behind anonymous or fake profiles. It seems beyond regulation and the reach of the law.

It is largely beyond regulation and the reach of the law. Vexatious and malicious litigation is used as a form of attack, as I have found out with no misogyny or racism or sexism involved, it was just nasty arses taking a misconstrued grudge against me and abusing legal processes. One of them was recently convicted of other abuses (criminal harassment) but that took over three years to get through the courts, and attacks and harassment continued against myself and others while they faced charges.

For a long time people used to say, ‘It’s all about the conversation,’ on social media. Many of us had an idealistic view of the force for good it could be in our world. But I think we’ve laboured under that misapprehension for too long now.

When presented with a smorgasbord of opinion and content, and given the tools to say what we like, to whomever we like, when we like, we can’t behave or control ourselves. We can’t conceal our hatred because we have been enabled by an almost unstoppable juggernaut to express it without thinking.

I object to the use of ‘we’. Like in offline life, most people don’t hate on others and don’t abuse others. There is a minority who abuse the openness and easy of online communications. As is common in many things, a small minority can spoil things for the majority.

It is made worse when prominent people engage in online abuse – especially when the president of the United States abuses his power and media reach in attacking people he disagrees with. This extremely poor example is widely condemned, but it is also fervently supported by a large minority.

To Ms Wendt Young, I say sorry.

I am sorry you can’t freely express yourself without being subjected to a torrent of hatred and abuse. I am sorry the law can’t protect you adequately. I am sorry a force exists in our world that now seems impossible to regulate. I am sorry for not having something more constructive to say. Most of all I am sorry that when asking our fellow humankind to regulate their behaviour, they cannot.

Saying sorry may make Anna Connell feel like they are at least providing support for a solitary victim of online abuse, but it will take far more than that to confront the levels of abuse that are rife online.

In part I was attacked because I confronted abusive behaviour – in response they turned on me. Eventually it has backfired on them in a number of ways and they now face some repercussions – sentenced to home detention, bankruptcy and other financial costs – but it has been costly for those who have stood up to them, It took some up to eight years to get the legal system to deal to the worst abuser only, and that has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But for online abuse and abuses to be dealt with it takes a lot more than saying sorry. Despite an inadequate NZ legal system – an appeal I’m currently involved in has just been adjourned, which favours the abuser – people who can have to make stands against the abusers.

What isn’t happening yet to any extent is for the legal system to make appropriate signals of disapproval of online abuse. In my case the abuser hasn’t said sorry, he is not only unrepentant, he (and associates) continues his ‘lawfare’.

A review of the New Zealand legal system was recently initiated. Getting involved in that is one way of trying to deal with the problem. It’s better than just saying sorry.

26 Comments

  1. Gerrit

     /  August 19, 2018

    When you have parliamentarians setting a standard off etiquette at a very low level (Hipkins “chauvinist pig” example is but the latest), why do you expect the general population to act differently?

    From https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/106305102/when-the-minister-of-education-sets-a-low-bar-for-rudeness

    “Hipkins piping up the way he did, and hundreds of politicians before him using their tongues to deliver personal lashings, sends a signal to people there’s no need to conduct robust discussions with a base level of respect.

    Politicians should be leading the charge and setting the example on how to treat your adversaries.

    If our leaders cannot operate with respect for one another while disagreeing, how can it be expected of anyone else? Especially during strikes.

    Furthermore, we are all going to get it wrong at some point, and when we do if we are given the opportunity to apologise, we should leap at it, not make some belligerent stand akin to a five-year-old who is upset over a chocolate bar.”

    When the supposed leaders act like buffoons, the tone is set for lower standards in society.

    • PartisanZ

       /  August 19, 2018

      @Gerrit – ” … why do you expect the general population to act differently?”

      Because so-called ‘Leaders’ don’t dictate and probably don’t even much influence how the general population behaves, leastwise not in terms of surface etiquette?

      They and their policies influence behaviour on a much deeper level of ‘collective psyche’ and communal/group self-image, ‘tribal’ identification and so on, but it’s more likely that bad language and behaviour is an attempt by so-called ‘Leaders’ to emulate (what they see as) the general populace, rather than the other way around …

      To deny the influence of family and, to a lesser extent learning institutions and workplaces on language and relational behaviour is to effectively declare Aotearoa NZ a Socialist State where the government is entirely responsible for these things …

      But in the sense of ideology like dog-eat-dog capitalist individualism and its associated policies, the government is largely if not entirely responsible …

  2. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  August 19, 2018

    I’ve reposted your post on Kiwiblog…. still a habitat for anonymous abusers.

    • Griff.

       /  August 19, 2018

      Yess maggy
      You take part in the attacks on stethieboy and others regularly.
      Your Concern for decorum is nothing but Concern trolling as we have seen many times from you in the past……….

      • Maggy Wassilieff

         /  August 19, 2018

        That is a lie.
        Stephieboy is a notorious troll on KB, much as you were.
        I don’t abuse people.

        • Gezza

           /  August 19, 2018

          Grif expects to be excused because he is an aspie & therefore exempt from the need to display any social graces.

          • Maggy Wassilieff

             /  August 19, 2018

            I’m well aware of Griff’s excuses.
            He spent years abusing me relentlessly on KB.
            He seems to have been given the arse card when he stated that David Farrar was party to the abuse.

            • Griff.

               /  August 19, 2018

              Oh dear
              Maggy I can rejoin KB at any time .
              I chose not to as the level of discourse is not worth the effort.
              In other words you are making up shite to attack me with.
              Graphic illustration that your frequent concern trolling is empty rhetoric.

          • Gezza

             /  August 19, 2018

            Seems to have found a hole to go with the card.

          • chrism56

             /  August 19, 2018

            Be correct there Gezza. Griff says he is Aspergers, probably self diagnosed from one of the Internet polls.

          • chrism56

             /  August 19, 2018

            Interesting doing a bit of research using Google. Clinical psychologists (the only ones who could diagnose Aspergers) don’t do it nowadays. Haven’t since 2013. Now it is just somewhere on the Autistic Spectrum. Disorder. Many people claim to have it – the condition de jour – they seem to want others to think they are bright or artistic, rather than just an obnoxious arsehole.
            And that link between intelligence and Aspergers just isn’t there. https://www.quora.com/Do-people-with-autism-or-Asperger’s-score-higher-on-IQ-tests/answer/Martin-Silvertant
            https://psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/10855/why-does-aspergers-syndrome-seem-to-overlap-with-high-iq

            • Gezza

               /  August 20, 2018

              And that link between intelligence and Aspergers just isn’t there.

              Hmm. What about the link between Aspergers & Google?
              Is that there? o_O

        • Griff.

           /  August 19, 2018

          ROFL
          Just because Stephieboy doesn’t follow the party line does not make him a troll .
          You might not resort the the usual empty name calling but you do frequently attack him over nothing and add to the general behavour towards him and others who do not share the political position of the commenters on KB .
          You have now called me a troll.
          Self awareness is not your strong point. I am a troll in as much as I point out the gibbering fuckwittery some post about climate change.
          How many thousands of honest scientists have you accused of incompetence, fraud, conspiracy and worse ?

          As soon as we see you defending every one not just those you agree with we might take your concern trolling over the state of discourse seriously .
          Until then its just another example of your mental inability to examine your own behavior.

          • Maggy Wassilieff

             /  August 19, 2018

            Any one can refer back to Kiwiblog to see that in relation to my scepticism about NZ’s temperature record the anonymous commenter Griff/ (and versions of that name)over a period of some years accused me of:
            being menopausal,
            suffering from sexual jealousy,
            possessing saggy little tits,
            being a witch and
            being a piece of shit.
            He also implied that I must have got my Ph.D by dubious means (sex with supervisor/ bribery).

            He carried out a least a 1year campaign of calling me deranged, mentally ill, etc after I had ( in relation to other folks’ comments about suicide) mentioned my mother had shot herself.

            Many of the abusive comments were delivered late at night or in the weekend when regular commenters weren’t on line.

            Yes, I am an easy target because I post under my own name and do not resort to personal abuse.

            It is extraordinary that he carries on his anonymous attacks/abuse onto another blog.

            • Griff.

               /  August 19, 2018

              whatever
              I note you have failed to address your lie above instead do a big sob story about your poor hurt feelings. .
              Ever single time I called you something I clearly pointed out why .
              Every time you replied you ignored what I carefully pointed out instead only focused on the part of the comment you disliked.

              Here is niwa eleven station series that is totally unadjusted.

              Here is the seven station series that you claimed repeatedly had been fraudulently adjusted .

              New Zealand temperatures independently analyzed from Berkley earth.

              Gee they are almost identical.
              You called a scientific organizations work fraudulent based on rubbish you get from cranks .
              Guess what that makes you?

      • Trevors_elbow

         /  August 19, 2018

        Oh Griff.. Maggie asks Stephie questions in response to his/her/its slanders and abuse

        Just because Maggie doesn’t back down to your climate arguments doesn’t mean you should support Stephieboys ongoing abuse campaign… poor form chap, poor form

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  August 19, 2018

    Yes, the law needs to act against abuse of process and the ways it facilitates that.

    • The laws allow for acting against abuse of process, but current practices don’t use the law as they should.

      In my current situation:
      – the intended appellant sought leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal out of time (he didn’t abide by current law)
      – he was required by a judge to submit support for being granted leave to appeal out of time by 26 July but still hasn’t done that
      – he was required by law to submit on his original application seeking leave to appeal by last Monday (10 working days prior to the scheduled hearing) but failed to do so
      – the court advised him on Tuesday he was overdue and should submit ‘urgently’ – but remarkably also invited him to alternately apply for an extension of time
      – so he applied for a one week extension, saying he ‘could’ file on Monday – which is the same day I am supposed to file my submission in response
      – then on Friday the court advised that things were adjourned due to “scheduling requirements”

      I think by law there is no change to my needing to file by Monday, not knowing what the indended appellant’s arguments are.

      This is a repeat of numerous other debacles. I think this is the thirteenth hearing I have been involved in over three years in a lay litigant private prosecution that was never justified in starting. The original allegations that convinced a judge that charges could be laid (after police declined to act) were never substantiated or even argued.

      It’s not the law that’s an ass here, it’s the way leniency on repeated failures to follow the law are continually allowed.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  August 19, 2018

        I’ve had a friend suffer similar abuse of process in the Maori Land Court. We need a law that enables the courts to be sued for damages and costs incurred by their multiple failures to enforce due process.

      • Maggy Wassilieff

         /  August 19, 2018

        What is the role of the A-G and S-G in this sorry debacle?

        Have you approached David Parker about getting the Courts to enforce their time requirements?

  4. Kitty Catkin

     /  August 19, 2018

    I dislike the way that misogyny is being weakened to mean sexism (against women) when it is so much more serious than that. Misogyny is pathological hatred of women generally and a perceived sexist comment at a council meeting (recently described as misogyny) is hardly that.

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  August 19, 2018

      Well said. Common left wing tactic to change means of words so they can be used as cudgels to intimate

      • Blazer

         /  August 20, 2018

        I thought it was a right wing tactic…correspondent from London often resorts to..it.

  5. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  August 19, 2018

    In part abuse is an attempt to discredit people, to shut them up, or to drive them off public media platforms.

    Most of the abuse comes from people acting anonymously.

    QED

  6. David Eagle

     /  August 20, 2018

    I really appreciate your approach to this. Not doing what most people with political agendas do and play up the victim card, but really take a pragmatic approach and actually moving forward to instigate change. This isn’t a left wing issue, or a right wing issue, or a feminist issue, it’s a free speech and legal issue, the legal system needs to protect us when we say things that people don’t agree with and not allow threats of violence to be acceptable no matter where you sit on whatever spectrum of whatever debate. We need to rally against anyone who tries to shut us up with violence and have the full support of the law behind us. Everyone should be behind you on this, because it’s for all our sakes.

  1. Misogyny only a part of online abuse problem, and ‘sorry’ isn’t enough — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition