opinion

"The onus was on me." Tara Moss on the hardship women face in dealing with online abuse.

 Image: Getty.

The internet can be an enormously intimidating, if not downright terrifying, space for women. This is particularly true for those who have a significant public profile and use it to highlight social issues like feminism and sexual violence.

Tara Moss is among the countless women who have experienced threats and abuse on social media, only to be forced to jump through hoops when calling out this behaviour.

In a column for Sunday Life, Moss detailed the horrendous messages she received on Twitter recently.

“Last year, after being announced as patron for the Full Stop Foundation, which is dedicated to ending rape and domestic violence, I experienced a spike in online threats,” she wrote.

This is an important issue for the author and academic; Moss has previously written and spoken about her own experience with rape. So she was horrified when one man tweeted “Rape the bitch again”, adding, “cuff yourself to deep water.”

The man’s Twitter feed was make up of horrific comments, photos and violent porn.

Watch: Mia Freedman on how she deals with her online ‘haters’. (Post continues after video.)

Any reasonable person would consider this inappropriate content to be displayed on social media. However, when Moss flagged the user’s profile to Twitter, that wasn’t the end of the saga. Far from it, in fact.

“Twitter made it clear that the onus was on me to report him again if the behaviour continued. In order to do that, I’d have to unblock him, expose myself to more of his insults, and record them,” she explains.

After four days’ worth of communications and screenshots and URLs evidencing further abuse, the man’s profile was suspended.

“If I had done nothing, and sat by and had the social media platform do nothing except ask him to ‘discontinue this behaviour’ without monitoring whether he actually did, I would have been condoning his abuse,” Moss explains.

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This is just one example, but it’s symptomatic of a wider attitude about how women are expected to deal with the harassment they experience on the internet.

As she explains, online abuse has become somewhat normalised; it’s just something you inevitably get if you’re a woman who voices her opinion or makes her presence known.

Women are routinely told to just “ignore and block” their trolls, or even to simply cease using social media — as if there’s nothing that should or can be done to stop this abuse from happening in the first place.

When you consider the challenges Moss faced in reporting a man who told her to kill herself, it paints a sad picture of the lack of support and resources to protect women from expressing themselves — not to mention doing important work — online.

Emma Watson has spoken about the harassment she received after her feminism speech at the UN. (Getty)

"This abuse, it must be stressed, is not a matter of free speech. It is a matter of public safety and law," Moss explains in Sunday Life.

"Threats of death, rape or other physical harm are illegal online, just as they are offline. Likewise, it is against the law to encourage a person to harm themselves."

What will it take for these threats to be taken seriously when they happen online?

Have you ever experienced threats online? Did you report them?

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