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How the Internet Makes It Easy to Attack Moms and Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

Internet misogyny is real, and it's grossly overlooked. Women suffer disproportionately from online abuse, including organized attacks, bomb threats, hate threats and death threats; one study found 72.5 percent of people reporting abuse were female.

We've seen this with Gamergate, a cultural battle over space, visibility and inclusion online and in the gaming community, that has threatened many women's lives. Just yesterday it was reported that Rep. Katherine Clark was targeted in a shooting hoax at her home. The Boston Congresswoman has been pushing Congress and the Department of Justice to pay more attention to the severity of online harassment and abuse.

"No mother should have to answer the door to the police in the middle of the night and fear for her family's safety simply because an anonymous person disagrees with her," Clark said in the statement.

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And we're seeing it now, even in the parenting blogging sphere. Kristen Howerton, the mom behind the popular blog Rage Against the Minivan, has called for support against harassment against her and her kids.

Howerton wrote on her Facebook: "I just discovered a prominent white supremacist 'news' outlet has feature[d] footage of my family (stolen fro my YouTube account, my blog, my TEDx talk and the piece Yahoo did). The result is that since it aired, I've been inundated with racist trolls leaving awful comments about my boy all over social media. I usually have thick skin but this is beating me down."

Howerton, who has two biological daughters and two adopted sons, recently wrote a piece featured on Yahoo titled, "What I've Learned as a White Mom Raising Two Black Sons."

These are just SOME of the Tweets surfacing on Howerton's Twitter account:

Howerton isn't the only example of Internet harassment against mom bloggers. Heather Armstrong, the so-called "Queen of Mommy Bloggers," quit after blogging for 13 years because of the hostile nature of parenting blogging. She's mentioned abusive commenters, people throwing rocks at her residence and one troll even tracked her down to a hotel and slipped a note under her door.

"'Living online' for us looks completely different now than it did when we set out to build this community, and the emotional and physical toll of it is rapidly becoming a health hazard," she wrote on her farewell post on Dooce.

Chicago journalist Amy Guth has also been targeted by vicious online harassment and been told often to pretend it didn't happen.

"The popular narrative around online civility (or, a lack thereof) is to stay away from risky online dialogues and 'not feed the trolls.' Indeed, even as I've started this project, many supporters have expressed concern for me. Which, to me, is only more reason to go forward," Guth said. "By avoiding these conversations, the only thing I've come to fear is that we risk ignoring this widespread issue and allowing it to continue, and we risk continuing to teach women and girls to limit their public voices."

Guth did something about it and launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a documentary series about "harassment and civility in the online world and how it relates to women."

In 2015, John Oliver devoted 16 full minutes to misogyny online and the inefficiencies of responses from authorities (like how there's no federal law against revenge porn).

"I'm talking about the kind of direct threats that can make people fear for their safety," Oliver said. "And if you're thinking, well, come on, that doesn't seem like that big a problem ... well, congratulations on your white penis. Because if you have one of those, you probably have a very different experience of the Internet."

How can we make the Internet a safe space for women—moms and daughters—to vocalize their thoughts? Where is it safe to speak openly about your family, without fearing racist and sexist threats and attacks?

"As it turns out, there's nothing right, at all, ever, that you can do," social media activist Deanna Zandt told In These Times.

Sady Doyle, the writer of the article, further explained, "If receiving harassment is an inevitable part of blogging while female, then harassment itself is what has to change."

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