Online harassment: 2014 was the year of Gamergate, revenge porn laws, and the celebrity nude photo dump.

From the Celeb Photo Hack to Gamergate: The Year People Started Caring About Online Harassment

From the Celeb Photo Hack to Gamergate: The Year People Started Caring About Online Harassment

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Dec. 23 2014 12:00 PM

The Year People Started Caring About Online Harassment

Just because it's on a screen doesn't mean it's not abuse.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

As 2014 comes to a close, DoubleX is looking back on the year that was—the stories we covered and missed that captivated, puzzled, enraged, and delighted us.

XX Factor year In Review

Ever since the first women ventured onto online bulletin boards to seek virtual companionship and share opinions, there have been men ready to respond by saying “tits or GTFO.” But while the problem of internet harassment has been with us for more than two decades now, 2014 was the year that the public at large started to see it as a serious problem. As the divide between “real” life and the internet continues to break down, it’s become difficult to argue that being harassed online has no impact on the increasingly rare parts of our lives that exist completely separate from our laptops and phones.

The year started with “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” a big and buzzy Pacific Standard piece by Slate’s Amanda Hess that alerted a lot of people to a problem they didn’t know existed. But it was the celebrity photo hack that, for good and bad, really galvanized the public, drawing a ton of attention to the problem of “revenge porn,” where someone publishes nude photos of a person without her consent. And even before naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence landed online, some legislators were finally addressing the problem of non-consensual photo-sharing online. A number of states have recently passed laws criminalizing the sharing of nude photos without the subject’s permission. And California has now successfully prosecuted the first person with a revenge porn law, a man who was, in the classic style, trying to regain control over a woman who left him by humiliating her online. In addition, revenge porn king Hunter Moore, who ran a site dedicated to publishing non-consensual nude photos, was indicted early this year on federal hacking charges, and is expected to face trial soon.

But virtually undressing women against their will is hardly the only kind of internet harassment that came to national attention this year. At Jezebel, the writing staff wrote a collective post demanding that their owner, Gawker Media, do something about men who post rape gifs in comments that the writers can’t help but see, and then have to spend time cleaning up. Jezebel’s post helped expose how much grief women who write about feminism have to put up with from online misogynists. But this problem also got some real world exposure when artist Amy Roth created an art installation in Los Angeles called A Woman's Room Online, an 8x10 office space completely plastered with abuse women had experienced online. (Full disclosure: I contributed some ugliness aimed at me.) Even the Supreme Court was forced to think about online harassment, hearing arguments over whether or not Anthony Elonis, who was charged with threatening to kill his ex-wife online, should have his words—which he claims were not aimed at her but just into the internet ether—protected by the First Amendment. 

Then there was the rise and fall of a reactionary movement of angry, anti-feminist video gamers that called itself “Gamergate,” which highlighted how much a devoted group of online harassers can make a woman’s life a living hell. Hearteningly, the public was mostly against Gamergate and the sexism the movement was peddling, and the whole episode was so visible (Stephen Colbert even interviewed harassed gamer Anita Sarkeesian on The Colbert Report), that in the end, it actually helped bring attention to the fact that online harassment is more than a mild annoyance, but a very serious problem for many women who live and work online. So, awareness of the problem has been raised. Hopefully online platforms like Twitter can help solve it in 2015.