Hate Speech Strategies

Women with visibility on the internet receive a disproportionate amount of hateful comments and threats because the internet remains a male-dominated space. Women's visibility in online spaces challenges gender inequality and male privilege, and those interested in preserving the status quo believe that violence will silence women and drive them offline.

Everyone needs to speak up about the discrimination faced by women online. More than 2,000 game developers — the majority of them men — signed an open letter calling for an end to discrimination in the gaming industry following death threats made against feminist gaming reviewer Anita Sarkeesian.

You may feel helpless, but you can take action and know that it's not your fault. The following strategies have proven useful for other survivors, with some come from experienced bloggers and journalists.

Various approaches

Since not all situations are the same, different strategies have worked for different people. It's important that you recognise your comfort level and trust your instinct.

  • Ignore them: Journalist Dawn Foster decided not to engage: "In the end, I discovered the best way to combat the abuse was to ignore it. If someone writes a derailing comment, delete it. Someone wishes rape upon you on Twitter, block them. Someone emails you self-righteous bile, don't reply: forward it on to your friends to amuse them during their coffee break. Nobody's entitled to a reply, contrary to what the trolls may think."

  • Report them: Columnist and fiction writer Bina Shah uses all the tools at her disposal, including reporting: "Be ready to report them if they threaten you with violence. Expose them. They expect you to cower with fear. Don’t do it. Show them who’s boss."

  • Expose them: Blogger Cath Elliot wants to make sure abusers are seen for what they are: "I think it's imperative that women who write online continue to speak out about the abuse we're subjected to, and that we expose the Internet misogynists at every opportunity we get."

  • Engage them: Journalist and radio host Emma Barnett used her show to interview two trolls, eliciting a positive response from listeners and internet users: "I’m hopeful that the huge reaction his unfathomable comments provoked will have shamed him into realising how awful his approach is. "

  • Seek support: You're not alone in this, and getting others to witness and support you is important and can help you feel more secure in taking action: "[Critic] Anita Sarkeesian tweets just as much of the #lovemail she receives as the #hatemail, and that must be one of the things that keep her going."

  • Go anonymous: Human rights activist Vani keeps her real name quiet: "I voice my opinions on a range of topics. But, I remain faceless and nameless. It helps me distance my life from my opinions because I know how crazy it can get there."

  • Stay online if you can: Feminist writer Sady Doyle won't be stopped: "The best way to 'stay safe' online may simply be to stay online. After all: If there’s no one left willing to complain about the harassment, what are the odds that it’s going to change?"


Protecting your personal details

  • Use an alternative address to register a domain name. When you register a domain name, your contact information is made public and available for anyone to see. This is a transparency requirement in many countries. While domain proxy services exist for a fee to protect privacy, these have proven unreliable in the face of legal or public pressure to reveal registry information. You might use an organisational address and phone number or one that does not reveal your home location. Create an email account exclusively for managing the domain.

  • Don’t post your email address. Instead, create a simple contact form where the person can submit THEIR information in order to contact you. If you are a journalist with a public email address, talk to your employer about a system that will filter out abusive emails.

  • Protect your location. If you are journalist who travels to report, don't post photos that can be used to identify your exact location at any given moment and don't tweet about what hotel you are staying in or where you are headed for lunch.

  • Consider blogging anonymously. In extreme cases, you may feel more comfortable blogging anonymously. Some bloggers use a pseudonym or simply write under a last name that does not match the one on their mailbox.

Dealing with hate speech

  1. Look for relevant policies. Make sure that your internet service provider (ISP) and other services have policies that prohibit hate speech and protect your privacy. If they do not, switch to a provider that is more responsive to user privacy concerns and complaints.

  2. Establish a comments policy and delete the comments that overstep the boundaries of your established criteria. Feministing's policy is a good example to get some inspiration. For journalists, request that media outlets follow this and other strategies in this section.

  3. Require accounts in order to post comments. You can also activate the option to track IP addresses of commenters.

  4. Subject comments to approval before they are posted publicly or establish a protocol for checking comments regularly and deleting those that do not meet your established criteria.

  5. Enlist friends and colleagues to unpublish hateful comments. Save your energy for what is important and have trusted friends moderate the crap.

  6. When writing for a platform that you don't own, report hate speech to the editor or publisher. If it continues to be a problem, they should consider closing the comments section on certain pieces or removing comment sections altogether.

  7. Familiarise yourself with the terms of service or community guidelines of each platform you use so that you know when someone has violated them and how to report.

  8. Reach out to your support network to encourage them to tweet or post support for you whenever they notice hate speech on your social media accounts.


Engaging authorities

If you are being repeatedly attacked, consider seeking redress. Use the Related Rights section when going to authorities and familiarise yourself with laws in your jurisdiction. Be sure to bring all the evidence you have collected and any information about the abuser's potential identity and location.