Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Debate: Women Journalists Bullied, Threatened with Violence, for Opinion Columns

Perhaps if Katie Roiphe were a journalist working online, she would have a better understanding of sexual harassment and wouldn't be asking "what on earth is that?" Because it seems that at the same time Roiphe was having a hissy over the allegations of sexual harassment against Republican candidate Herman Cain, some of here compatriots across the pond were dealing with some serious sexual harassment: bullying, and outright threats of sexual violence for blogging or writing opinions on topics considered sacrosanct by males (I won't refer to them as men because, frankly, their diatribes are very un-manly).

It started on November 3 with a column in the New Statesman by Helen Lewis Hasteley. In "You should have your tongue ripped out: the reality of sexual abuse online" Lewis Hasteley talked with nine female bloggers who detailed some of the abusive, misogynistic comments and the bloggers' reactions.

Most of what I read seemed all too familiar, and hearkened back to comments attacks on tech blogger Kathy Sierra in 2007 that lead to Sierra withdrawing from a keynote speaking engagement at a high level tech conference. I can't say, then, that I was shocked by the accounts in Lewis Hasteley's column. Rather, I was shocked by how this comment quoted by Lewis Hasteley appears to echo some of Roiphe's sentiments:
"Why is it that young females with three names and large hairdos are always haters of large, successful, popular producers, and always buy into every anti-capitalist myth produced by the government subsidized educational establishments? Are they (three-named females with large hair) really the most naive among us, or the most envious of success?" might paraphrase what Roiphe said in her column to echo the above sentiment thusly "why is it that every woman of any reasonable attractiveness buys into the vague descriptions of sexual harassment produced by liberal thinkers? are they really the most naive among us, or do they not get that the guys are just joking?"

Maybe Roiphe should spend some time with Laurie Penny, who penned this poignant column detailing harassment she has received, and stated a clear, compelling reason why it needs to be ended:
"I believe the time for silence is over. If we want to build a truly fair and vibrant community of political debate and social exchange, online and offline, it's not enough to ignore harassment of women, LGBT people or people of colour who dare to have opinions. Free speech means being free to use technology and participate in public life without fear of abuse – and if the only people who can do so are white, straight men, the Internet is not as free as we'd like to believe."

Now, I can't say that the women who claim that Cain harassed them are making valid nor false claims. Yes, there's the "how many years does it take" question, the fact that Cain is running for the Republican nomination (which seems to bring out all the crazies with any kind of complaint) and the fact that high powered celebrity attorney Gloria Allred is representing at least one of the accusers that makes me raise a hairy eyebrow at these particular allegations. People are funny, and there are some who believe that the best time to say something about someone's behavior is when that person becomes a public figure. Which seems totally odd to me, but, hey, I have scruples....

That doesn't mean that sexual harassment doesn't happen, and it certainly happens in spades on the Internet.

In The Guardian, Vanessa Thorpe and Richard Rogers added their voices to the call to halt the bullying, intimidation, violent threats and such that are all forms of sexual harassment leveled against women journalists who voice their opinions. Thorpe and Rogers talked to Lanre Bakare who monitors comments at the Guardian, and attests to how even an article on European finance, with no mention of women's opinions, will bring out the misogynist in some men. Yet it is psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and writer Susie Orbach who calls the spades of sexually bullying comments the crude shovels that they are:
"The deeper question is the disenfranchisement of men who find themselves in such depraved circumstances that all they can do is expel the fury that's inside of them on to women. The reaction these men are having shows they are very, very threatened by something and that threat is to their masculinity.

"With sexual violence, what the victim is receiving is the self-hatred of the individual who is expressing that pain and upset that is inside of them in a very explosive manner."

And that's what it always comes down to: the guys who do this kind of thing, whether it be a comment on a woman's "tits," a grope in the back of a limo, or an horrific scenario spelled out in an online comment, it all comes from a kind of small man syndrome where a man's masculinity is somehow threatened by how a woman looks, what she says, or what she does for a living. I'm sorry for the guys who feel this way, that they are so threatened by women who think, but we shouldn't have to suck it up and shrink back to our little desks in corner cubbies. Nor should we try to beat them at their own sleazy game. The latter is a strategy that never, ever wins a woman any respect, and the former is no strategy at all.

And women need to stop being one another's worst enemies. For Roiphe, rather than berating women for who level sexual harassment complaints based on vague criteria, perhaps a better cause would be served to support women who are genuinely sexually harassed, bullied, threatened with violence or otherwise intimidated. Rather than weigh in on a cause celebre that will be well nigh meaningless by the time the next Presidential Election rolls around, perhaps do something to create a more clear and concise model of what is most certainly not appropriate and that no woman should have to tolerate. And if women like Roiphe don't care for the company or for supporting the voices of other intelligent women, then work with those small men to put their egos in check and just accept they ain't never gonna be the alpha dogs in the lot, no matter how much they intimidate women.

Think about it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mainstream Media Use Twitter as Broadcast Medium (and so do lots of others)

The Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) issued an new report yesterday covering how mainstream media outlets make use of Twitter.

Not surprisingly, 93 percent of mainstream media outlets surveyed--this included print, network television, radio, and online-- use Twitter as another means of broadcasting their own information. The study surveyed 3,600 tweets from 13 major news organizations over the course of a week and found that while many news organizations offer a wide array of Twitter feeds--from one to a total of 98--most Twitter feeds were spewing links back to stories on the news outlets main sites.

Sure, we see tv stations like the Weather Channel and CNN incorporating commentary from Twitter, but news organizations overall do not appear to be making use of the conversational and information-sharing aspects of Twitter (although individual journalists make excellent use of Twitter, and have done so for some time.)

Big surprise? No. Most of us who are news consumers already know that this is how their own local tv affiliates and newspapers use their Twitter feeds. And some individuals use their Twitter accounts as ersatz RSS readers (an article on CNET discussed that as early as 2009.)

Yet do we think of turning to our Twitter newsfeeds during a time of an emergency--say like last week's Snowpocalypse in Massachusetts and Connecticut? Honestly, no. If the power's out, like it was for several days in my town, no one--not even the most tech-savvy among us--thought of checking the Twitter feeds of any of the local stations. Considering the extent of the power outage, many of us could access Twitter only from our smartphones. That being the case, most of us chose to check our Facebook feeds, where the feeds from the local TV, radio, and newspaper stations weren't saying a whole lot. Or at least a whole lot that we could see in our newsfeeds.

I can't, though, get all over the mainstream media for how it uses Twitter. The need to generate traffic to stimulate revenue is easily the main goal of a media outlet having a Twitter feed in the first place. Sure, one might say that it's all about serving a steady stream of current news and information, but really? That's an aspect, but so is driving traffic.

There's another aspect to this that also causes me to not return such a hard indictment against mainstream media for its Twitter use. Over the past 2 years, Twitter overall has been turning into little more than a broadcast medium for marketers, social media types, and others who want to aggressively promote their personal brands. Oh, some will share information, but when you see the same information, the same articles or YouTube videos, or blog posts shared by the same people, ad infinitum, it's easy to conclude that many are looking to establish themselves as in-the-know news and information sources above all others. Yes, there's much linking, and re-tweeting, and so forth, but very, very little conversation. And certainly very, very little in the way of connecting with others.

Twitter has, in many respects, turned into Ultimate Me Broadcast Media. The more followers you have, the more value one has in the Twittersphere because one's brand is more known than the brands of others. Or so it is assumed. The more round-the-clock tweeting one does, the more popular one becomes.

Well, not necessarily so. Popularity in the Twittersphere is a relative term. One may certainly have thousands of followers, but what is the overall quality of those followers? Are those followers really reading all those tweets and retweets and broadcast tweets? If the followers also have thousands of followers, one can hazard a pretty good bet that what is read is highly filtered and you, my dear status seeking twitter maven, may be the last one on the leader-board.

If you think about it, then, does Twitter really have the same relevance for making good connections and growing a productive community that it once had if so many are simply broadcasting to grow a company's brand or their personal brand? Not really.

It makes me wonder how many Twitter innovators and early adopters are now using Twitter. Have many, like me, experienced Twitter burn-out, and use it mostly to share links, thus leaving the conversations to Facebook or other forms of new media (or even old media, like email?) Has the value of Twitter for business marketing use decreased because of the changing ways in which individuals use Twitter? I'd hazard a guess that if there's little interaction, there will eventually be a change.

Then, is broadcast media doing something wrong by not interacting with its Twitter followers? No. Because mainstream media Twitter followers know what they are getting with a msm feed, and do not resent a lack of interaction. And besides, at least it's real information and not continued funhouse mirror self-promotion.

On a personal level, here's what I've seen and do with Twitter: I maintain a small following of mostly valuable individuals and business connections. Some of those individuals, though, have turned into shrill self-broadcasters, while others are still pretty good (esp. the journalists I happen to know.) Some of the businesses have abandoned their Twitter streams (perhaps the interns who started them moved on?) while others are still good to check for a sale from time to time. And do I care about the mainstream media Twitter feeds that I follow? To some degree, as they do indeed give me a heads up as to what's hot on their sites. That then spares me time from going over and having to hunt for stories. The other thing that keeps me occasionally posting are the people I know. Not the self-broadcasters, not the marketing efforts of various companies or public relations concerns, but the individuals who have things to say as much as they have information to share. Can or should mainstream media be like people? No, and we shouldn't expect it to be either.