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Social Networking: Letters and Other Responses to Our January/February 2014 Issue

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(Photo: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock)

(Photo: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock)

Amanda Hesscover story on the harassment women face online prompted the biggest reader response we’ve ever received, including letters, thousands of tweets and Facebook shares, and an extensive discussion in other media outlets. Here’s a small sampling:

Hess predicts Internet harassment might become a civil rights agenda. I’m a psychiatrist and, believe it or not, psychiatrists also get harassed online by anti-psychiatry groups. I would add that this is a public mental health problem. Threats can be traumatic, and the vulnerable can be pushed into suicide. Notable is how the story ends: “My anxieties are harder to organize.” Mental health professionals need to join the battle against cyber-bullying. The Internet, at its best, can be a source for self-help, but at its worst, a source of group harm.
H. Steven Moffic, M.D.
Board member, American Association for Social Psychiatry

I have enormous sympathy for what Hess has been through. I have endured similar abuse. But I would suggest that expanding the application of civil rights and harassment legislation is the wrong way to go. Such legislation can be used against voices like Hess’ and mine. Consider the recent case where Patti Adler, a sociologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, was investigated for harassment in her methods of teaching students about prostitution. Since the Internet has only recently reached a critical mass of usership, I think it’s reasonable to predict that greater informal injunctions against personal abuse are emerging which will keep this kind of activity at bay.
Graham Peterson
Doctoral student, Sociology University of Chicago

It is a stereotype that nerdy men have trouble finding girlfriends, but the problem of verbal abuse appears to be mostly from actual feelings of sexual frustration among men. Frustrated men are not going away, no matter how many laws are passed.
Bill Creasy
via email

In the media:
Over at The New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat called for “a more compelling vision of masculine goals, obligations and aspirations,” and argued “forging this vision is a project for both sexes. Living up to it, and cleansing the Internet of the worst misogyny, is ultimately a task for men.” New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, speaking on CNN’s AC360, said: “Women get a level of abuse on the Web that men don’t, and that’s something frankly that I didn’t know.” But Amanda Marcotte adds, at The Daily Beast: “While Internet harassment is, relatively speaking, a novel and often overwhelming problem,” it is merely “an extension of the constant drumbeat of harassment and violence that women around the world face.”

In the Twitterverse:
“Re: Cyber Civil Rights and Internet harassment—so, do we want tone-policing, but with actual police?” wrote Harvard law student @SarahJeong. “That piece could have been much better if you’d spoken to & included women of color & trans women,” tweeted @DrJaneChi. But @SarahJeong thought this criticism was beside the point: “I object to the perp/ victim male/female dualism of the narrative. It’s unhelpful and obscuring.” In perhaps the most pointed move, Jennifer Smith at The Wall Street Journal (@smithjenBK) tweeted the article to her own harasser in response to his Tweet, “go kill yourself Jen.” And writer A.V. Flox tweeted Hess’ article to her local police department, noting, “When I lived in L.A. I tried to report such an incident, but was dismissed because I write about human sexuality.” The department, though, had already read the story, tweeting back: “Provoking; grt reminder to lean on us when you need help. #ToServeAndProtect.”

And online:
At press time, nearly 7,000 people had signed a petition directed to Thomas Nee, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations, demanding police training in online harassment.

Editor John GravoisJanuary/Februaryfeature about Giulietta Carrelli and her San Francisco coffee shops prompted nearly as much response as the Hess article—including a song:

“Make your own little world / Let your friends lend a hand / But build your own damn house,” wrote Doug Millaway of the Gackle Trucker Band. Of the thousands of tweets about the story, this one sums it up: “Spoiler Alert: It’s supposd 2B a funny story about pretentious toast but then it makes me cry in public. Good trick :(” lamented @sharp_eddie.

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This post originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Pacific Standard as “Social Networking.” For more, subscribe to our print magazine.