4 Women On Death Threats, Abuse Online & What They're Doing To Stop The Trolls

Photo: Lauren Maccabbee.
The internet notoriously emboldens people to behave in ways they wouldn't dream of doing in real life, and in our patriarchal society, it's women who bear the brunt of this unfortunate reality. Misogyny is rife across all social media platforms, from Twitter to Instagram to Reddit and beyond.
Abuse can also take place in many forms across these platforms, whether it's sharing explicit photos of an ex (aka revenge porn), rape and death threats or even negative tabloid headlines, which makes it particularly difficult for the police and ordinary do-gooders to rally against it.
A new campaign aims to raise awareness of the damage trolling can cause and is lobbying for it to be considered a public health issue. Over the last week, BBC Radio 4's daily show Woman's Hour has been exploring the issue in the mini-series, #TakeBackConTROLL, in which women have divulged the harrowing abuse they've experienced.
The women were given the chance to develop a creative solution to the problem, and they've since created (and feature in) a tongue-in-cheek campaign to reclaim their online personas. Save Our Trolls, a spoof charity campaign song, takes on the dark side of the internet and seeks to open dialogue with trolls, public health authorities, politicians and internet platforms to create change.
Photo: Woman's Hour.
Here the four women at the centre of the campaign explain what it is really like to be trolled online and how it can affect your life...


Charley, 23, discovered in 2016 that her half-brother had been posting her selfies and images of her getting ready to go out on an American porn website and urging users to write obscene comments about her. Her brother was given a suspended sentence, community service and was made to go on a course by the police, which Charley says doesn't feel like justice.
"When I was scrolling through the feed, one of my pictures was blown up and put onto a white wall by a projector and there was a male standing next to it, naked, masturbating to my picture. Reading what people wanted to do to me and actually seeing it baffled me. There were people who had taken the time to print the pictures out to masturbate on just to show [my brother] what they'd done to me. It scared me that [the pictures] were out there for so long and all these people were looking at [them] in a way that they weren't portrayed on Facebook and I had no clue any of this was happening.
"The photos are still there. No one can take them down [because it's an American website]. It's just scary that even after all this there's still nothing they can do to [take them down]. People I meet in future could be like, 'I googled your name and it came up with the website you're on'. I'm going to be replayed the situation constantly if anyone were to come across it. If you google me now, whereas before just my Facebook, Instagram and a couple of pictures of me would come up, now it's just flooded by 'revenge porn'.
"It's made me more cautious [online]. I'm supposed to be enjoying my life. I don't want to hide my life in the fear that people will take that and make it something ugly. I haven't thought about coming off the internet completely. I don't want [my brother] to take that away from me."


Secondary school teacher Jackie, 33, went viral in early 2016 following a heated Twitter exchange with Katie Hopkins. She had attended an anti-Donald Trump protest in London and responded directly to Hopkins, who had compared the protesters to mongrel dogs and called for them to be sterilised. Newspapers picked up on their exchange and it led to Jackie fearing for her job and legal action.
"I responded to [Hopkins] emotionally, without thinking, and said I'd been to the protest and taken a banner made by some of the students I taught, then I insulted her and said the students had more compassion and intelligence than she did. I didn't have any hopes or plans for the tweet – it was thoughtless. I didn't think anything of it. It was only when she retweeted it and accused me of brainwashing children that there were real effects from the tweet.
"My Twitter notifications were going crazy and all of it was abuse. People were saying that I was brainwashing children, some of it was personal about the way I looked, some people threatened that if I taught their children they'd kick me or throw me out of the classroom. I responded to some of the tweets to make clear I'd done nothing wrong but that had no impact... so I wrote an article [for the Guardian]. Katie Hopkins then wrote a follow-up article [containing multiple falsehoods].
"It was a rollercoaster of a week. In the immediate aftermath of the Twitterstorm I was panicking because I didn't know what to do. Then I wrote the article and felt like I'd taken back some control. Then [after Hopkins' article and LBC radio show] I was really concerned, a mix of anger and panic. I felt helpless because I didn't have the platform to correct her lies. I thought it was possible I'd lose my job. It was clear action would be taken if there were repercussions. But I didn't want to give in to the bullies on Twitter.
"Any association with Katie Hopkins is not a good thing and my name is tied [to hers]. It could have negative consequences... Because there are no repercussions for the people abusing you, you end up not saying what you'd like to or expressing yourself freely to avoid that... I don't use Facebook anymore, I'm not on Twitter, I engage with social media less than I did before. I have concerns about having to explain this in future job interviews."

Journalists camped outside my family members' houses to find 'juicy gossip'... I got negative, abusive, vitriolic messages on Twitter and death threats.


In 2015, barrister Charlotte, 29, found herself at the centre of a sexism row when she accused a fellow lawyer of inappropriate behaviour on Twitter after he commented on her Linkedin photo. He called her picture "stunning" and said she "won the prize" for the best photo. She received rape threats, death threats and newspaper front pages labelling her a "feminazi".
"The Daily Mail turned up at my law school trying to meet colleagues and even professors to find out about my personal life. Journalists camped outside my family members' houses to find 'juicy gossip'... Negative, abusive, vitriolic messages on Twitter, death threats. Quite a lot of them didn't comment on what I'd done but were about who I am or who they thought I was.
"At the time I managed to distance myself from it so it felt like I was on the outside looking in on it happening. I was obviously very upset by it and the most difficult aspect was the intrusion into my private life. Contacting friends and family and involving them in a story which had nothing to do with anything related to my private life. It was about sexual harassment in the workplace... My story has shone a light on the fact that this is going on.
"I decided to delete Twitter. Being a barrister, it didn't seem professional to be tweeting in a personal capacity and I didn't want to focus on [the abuse], to hear someone threatening to rape me or cut my head off, hating me or calling me a slag. I didn't want it to occupy my mind and have those negative messages draining my positivity."


Kelly was a victim of revenge porn. A stranger contacted her on Facebook with a message containing intimate photos of her, which had been taken by her ex and sent to family, friends, others within her community and even her daughter's Facebook account. She reported the crime and her ex-partner was found guilty of sharing the sexually explicit images, and now says she trusts no one.
"It's just as devastating [to have intimate photos of you circulated among people you know] as it is if they went viral. It's harder when it's people you know who have seen them, people your partner knows and sees on a daily basis, when I go to my local shop I wonder if they've seen them.
"I wanted [the story] to go public. It wasn't just about naming and shaming [my ex], people needed to see what he was like. So many other people suffer in silence and don't think there's a law, so I wanted to raise awareness that if someone does this to you the police will take it seriously and they will get done for it."
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