It's Safer Internet Day! Or, if you want to be very internet-y about it, it's #SID2016. As someone who was introduced to the internet when I was eleven and spent about two years using it to enter chatrooms for divorced professionals, I like to think I'm pretty Internet-y.
I've had the fortunate experience of feeling quite safe on the internet. I've never been trolled or stalked, never received a death threat, and have never received emails purporting to be from my dead father telling me that I'm a useless waste of space. I say this because this is what happens to women on the internet, particularly women who are paid to have opinions on the internet. The fact that it has never happened to me feels like a divine fluke that will soon be corrected.
Most of us know how to be safe on the internet: we know not to believe someone that tells us they are a dishonoured sultan and they need £300 to free up the millions resting in their account. We know not to put our phone number on a social media site. We know not to feed the trolls. But what is the internet doing to make things safer for us? Why is it always us that has to change our behaviour, and not the websites that the ads we look at pay for? Here are some ideas.
Introduce online abuse more comprehensively into the legal system
The problem with our legal system is that it still has no idea how to handle online abuse cases. More often than not, judges dispense the advice that women should "just not pay attention" when women are abused online. "Just don't go on Twitter," they'll say softly, as if the answer was so simple all along.
Aside from the fact that this is deeply condescending and focuses on the actions of the victim rather than the perpetrator, it's also highly unrealistic. I, for one, am on social media as part of my job, as do thousands of other women. If I told my boss that I couldn't go on Facebook or Twitter anymore, it would throw a major spanner in the works of my employment.
Instead, the legal system needs to consider online abuse as they would actual abuse: if we're expected to live our lives online for our work, then why don't we have the same protection that we would in an office?
It's not enough to ban accounts anymore
If someone harasses you online, you're advised to block and report them. Their accounts are suspended, giving them a chance to sit back and think "Aw, well. I sure did learn my lesson, didn't I?"
Feeling like a vigilante, the troll then creates another account. Three more accounts, maybe. You've lit a fire under them: you've turned it into a challenge now. They start harassing you on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn: they've found your personal email and they've started there.
Platforms like Twitter and Facebook need to start blocking IP addresses. An IP is a numerical label assigned to each device that's connected to the internet, and the ability to block this would prevent the troll from even having a Twitter account. It wouldn't stave off trolls completely: but it would certainly help.
Support resources need to be put in place
Online abuse isn't just annoying: it can be deeply psychologically traumatic. And yet when you suffer online abuse, you're largely left to your own devices. You log off all everything and you sit and feel hunted in your own home, tempted to call your parents but unsure they'll even understand.
Just spitballing here, but social media platforms could do a lot more to help the women going through this. They could work with abuse charities, or hell: they could actually give their users a call. Imagine it:
"Hi, Caroline? This is Dan from Twitter."
"Hi Dan from Twitter."
"Look, we've seen some of the stuff that guy was saying to you, and we're taking care of it. We're really sorry you had to go through that. Are you feeling okay?"
"Look, I've got the names of some support charities you can talk to here. Do you want them?"
How easy would this be? How expensive would it be to install Dan from Twitter, or Steve from Facebook? I don't know. All I know is that it would help. Anyway, maybe this is unrealistic, but if I'm going to pour hours and hours into a platform that makes money off of the ads that I look at, I think it's about time they started giving back more than the bare minimum.