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Sue Ontiveros: How women are silenced today

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That didn’t take long.

Just 30 minutes into Amy Guth’s Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary on the online harassment of women, she started getting harassed. Online.

To the uninitiated, that may sound like a few people disagreeing with the Chicago journalist’s project. Oh, no. That’s not how this works. Here’s a sample:

“Shut this down before I shut you up.”

That’s one of the nicer comments. It goes downhill from there.


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Look at those words. They are not voicing an opposing opinion. These eight words are an anonymous threat warning of something ominous happening if she keeps speaking out on this subject.

This doesn’t surprise Guth, who WGN-AM radio host who previously managed social media for the Chicago Tribune newsroom. Like many others, she has long thought someone should “do something” about devolving online “incivility.” She just didn’t think it was going to be her.

Her project comes at a time when harassment does seem to be getting worse. Women online are threatened with rape and other acts of violence. Their personal information is shared publicly (doxing), Guth says, and through organized gang-stalking others are told, “Hey, get her.”

Guth has experienced it firsthand. One comment resulted in seeing personal information about her being tweeted out while she was on the air. Google maps were sent out of her parents’ home. Her bank account was hacked into and frozen, leaving her once to walk miles through a snowstorm because she had no cash for transportation.

“I certainly felt hunted,” says Guth.

All of this happening because a woman voiced an opinion.

You think about the way people tried to shut up suffragettes and other women in history and this looks like “the way we’re being silenced in this era,” says Guth.

The advice from law enforcement can be disappointing. She’s heard: “Well, then get off Twitter. It’s a game, right?” (No, it is not. Today social media is an integral part of any journalist’s work.)

Others, though well-meaning, put the onus on the victim, too, with advice like “don’t feed the trolls” or ignore the comment section.

There’s a ring of familiarity, isn’t there? It’s so similar to how rape or domestic violence situations have been treated, putting the responsibility on the victim rather than the perpetrator.

“The narrative is dangerous and perpetuating,” says Guth, “… instead of saying you have the right to a safe online experience.”

Seeing what is happening has had a chilling effect on some, according to Guth, also a senior facilitator at The Op-Ed Project’s Public Voices Fellowship. She’s seeing “self-censorship a lot and that concerns me.”

So, she’s hoping the Kickstarter campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/amyguth/documentary-about-women-and-online-harassment), which ends Nov. 13, starts a much-needed conversation. (As of Monday morning, Guth had 302 backers for a total of $20,816. Her goal is $48,000.)

She plans to do an episodic documentary, with 11 to 13 pieces per season, each about 22 minutes long. They’ll deal with everything from incivility and teen bullying to gang-stalking and doxing as well as tell the stories of those who have been physically assaulted after an online harassment situation.

She’s gathering personal stories mainly from the United States and Canada, but already those from Europe and Asia “are coming at me.”

She’s aware once the documentary gets funded she’s in for more online harassment. Is she worried?

“I’m not … A lot of people have shared powerful stories with me. … It’s not about me.”

Email: sueontiveros.cst@gmail.com

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