The current debate on gendered sexual violence, abuse and harassment in Australia has predictably ignited damaging cyberabuse against those who reasonably and evidentially voice their concern or lived experience. Perpetrators have little respect, empathy, decency or humanity for those they target.
The Australian e-safety website defines cyberabuse as behaviour that uses technology to (publicly or privately) threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate someone - with the intention to hurt them socially, psychologically or physically. Cyberabuse goes well beyond taking the Mickey, losing control or an innocent brain snap.
Perpetrators, irrespective of their gender, have for too long used social media to viciously take-down any one whose opinions they dislike. It's often a free swing. A coward's punch. Without consequence and relentlessly delivered. Federal and state government statistics on gendered violence are simply dismissed. Free speech. Fake profiles. It's my legal right. I can, I will and I am. That's my defence. Nothing you can do. I enjoy impunity. My privacy is protected.
I anonymously attack from the shadows. Deposit my vitriol and hate onto others, to embarrass, shame, humiliate, threaten, injure, marginalise and silence. I demean, denigrate and defame. I don't care. That's how I sanctimoniously roll. Words are my weapons. Abuse my stock-in-trade. I incite others. I am an elite keyboard warrior. An online insurgent. Get over it. Harden up. I'm never going to stop. This is Australia. I am Australian.
Most Australians abide by reasonable standards of conduct, however there is a significant minority whose behaviour towards others on social media is predatory, damaging and potentially dangerous.
The death by suicide in 2018 of Northern Territory teenager, Dolly Everett, should remind all Australians of the devastating impact that dogged cyberbullying can have on one's mental wellbeing. Enough is enough.
Journalist, Anne Hyland, recently reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that prominent women in media are routinely subjected to online sexism, explicit abuse, extreme hatred, rape and death threats.
Such conduct online is reminiscent of some perpetrators' hard line attitudes toward women - "my fist, your face" and "she was gagging for it". Threats online to harm one's family can also occur. A terrifying thought for any mum or dad.
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Cyberabuse has escalated during the national conversation on gendered sexual violence. Female journalists reported they had received defaced pics of themselves, unsolicited sexual images, and offensive comments about their appearance, sexuality and race.
Speaking out invites further cyberabuse. A society where perpetrators create fear, endorse humiliation and undermine people's safety, to silence mainstream voices. The tail is wagging the dog.
I recently wrote two commentaries about Brittany Higgins and gendered sexual violence that were published in the Newcastle Herald. These stories soon appeared on another online platform.
Changes to the original publications (including presentation) trivialised gendered sexual violence. "Assassination" and "Walton, fraud" were inserted as key words, although these descriptors were neither mentioned nor relevant. Key words are used in peer-reviewed journals, to facilitate searches of published content.
The journalist's name was also listed on another story published on that platform, "Scott Morrison, Senator and AFP talk about historic rape allegations against the Prime Minister. Banner and side ads ran on the three stories, which advertised a new government rebate of $3700 for NSW homeowners and featured PM Morrison's face.
Social media users should never have to question their personal security. It's the responsibility of federal government to safeguard Australians from perpetrators who use social media to threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate others.
Seriously harmful content shouldn't permeate social media, without transparency, accountability or significant consequence for either its author or host digital provider.
The federal parliament house of representatives committee report "Inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence" has included as one of its 88 recommendations that users of social media platforms such as Facebook, are required to upload 100 points of identification to establish and maintain their accounts. Driver's licence, passport and Medicare card, for example.
Privacy concerns exist about the capacity of social media companies to protect users' personal information. However, the prevalence of cyberabuse from anonymous perpetrators should no longer be accepted in Australia.
The identity of offenders who generate harmful content should be accessible to victims, to deter rather than reinforce wilful cyberabuse.
Politicians criticise regimes who exercise restrictive state control of their country's social media. However, unfettered free speech involving seriously harmful content is also damaging.
Ironically, the dichotomy of either state censored or unfettered free speech corrodes the expression of mainstream voices at its centre.
For help regarding cyberabuse contact the e-safety commissioner online at www.esafety.gov.au.