A conversation about Online Harassment.

For many teens, online is one of their 3rd places where they can find community and celebrate their various interests. These were safe places where they could find support outside of their physical community, especially if they were being harassed by peers.

Lately though many female content creators have been sharing their experiences which aren’t positive. Female YouTube personalities have sexually suggestive comments posted. Many women in the gaming industry have come under attack, with their personal information being released publicly, forcing at least 3 to have to leave their homes. A female researcher’s survey about sexism was corrupted by false data .We must also not forget the hundreds of celebrity photos that were released earlier this year.

Sadly, harassment isn’t anything new, but according to a new report from Pew Reserach Center

“Young adults, those 18-29, are more likely than any other demographic group to experience online harassment, and Young women, those 18-24, experience certain severe types of harassment at disproportionately high levels: 26% of these young women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment.”

The survey only included adults, so we have no data for teens, but even this information is concerning. Online harassment fell into one of two categories: personal attacks from someone you know and anonymous people on the internet (aka trolls).

There is a saying online don’t feed the trolls, but what do you do when they release your personal information as a way to silence you?

I decided to have a conversation with the teens at my regular programs about online harassment, and discovered that no one else was talking to them about this subject.

We talked mostly about GamerGate, and how this group is attacking women gamers and critics. GamerGate claims that they are doing this because they want ethics in games journalism, yet they don’t seem to be targeting men who speak out against them, or talking to the largest review websites in gaming journalism.

It allowed us to talk about censorship, how to properly argue, and gender equality. We discussed why someone would try to prevent someone from posting opinions online, and why arguments become personal attacks. We also discussed the wrong ways to convince someone that you are right. Specifically does attacking women improve ethics in games journalism, and what could GamerGate supporters do instead? One of my teens pointed out these excellent videos about common fallacies created by PBS Idea Channel’s Mike Rugnetta. We took a moment to watch them, and a few of the teens decided to take a break from gaming and were talking about Ad Hominem and trying to figure out whether you can separate a person from what they believe.

Pew Research indicated that 70% of adults have witnessed harassment online. Talking with my teen group revealed that all of them had experienced or known someone who has experienced harassment. While you can talk to a parent, teacher, or an adult about bullying, they shared the difficulty in reporting and stopping anonymous comments. Even the Internet Safety resources from NetSmartz and Onguard online have few resources to help with the large volume of attacks that have been targeted at some woman from individuals of GamerGate.

While the actions of some members of the internet are negative, I hope we can take this opportunity to have a conversation about anonymous harassment, and help give teens the tools to civilly interact online. As Emma Watson recently pointed out in a speech to the UN, equality for women is an important issue for EVERYone!

About Jami Schwarzwalder

Currently a teen librarian with the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA.She is passionate about technology, making, and learning. See what I'm up to at https://about.me/jamischwarzwalder

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