Can we make the Internet safe for young women?

I first learned that things were heating up at Reddit when I got a call from KCBS radio asking for an interview about Reddit’s new community standards. That was in mid-June. By the middle of July Reddit CEO, Ellen Pao, who had been leading the drive to clear the site of hate speech and harassment, had resigned.

Pao is not shy of controversy. Earlier this year she brought a claim for discrimination against California venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. By then she had moved on to Reddit where she was attempting to clean up five controversial Reddit forums including r/transfags and r/fatpeoplehate. Reddit users mobilized to drive Pao out, calling her Chairman Pao and reportedly sending death threats her way. Pao said in last month’s resignation statement that she has seen “the good, the bad and the ugly on Reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity”. For all her idiosyncracies,

Ellen Pao is one more target of a disturbing pattern. Over a third of women say that they have been stalked or threatened on the Internet. Young adult women, especially those of color, are the most likely people to be harassed online. Once you have been targeted, the attacks can spiral exponentially, as Internet trolls smell blood and swarm around the latest victim. There is almost nothing you can do in these situations to rescue your reputation unless you have significant resources, such as Jennifer Lawrence whose lawyers mounted a worldwide copyright action to recover and prohibit online publication of revealing photographs of the actor.

These differences in gender based harassment start in adolescence. According to Pew Internet, girls are twice as likely as boys to be the target of cyberbullying: 21 per cent versus 9 per cent. We know from longitudinal studies that the boys involved in bullying in the middle grades of school have a greater likelihood of perpetrating sexual harassment and dating violence as they move in to high school and beyond. Its one of the reasons we invest so much at No Bully in partnering with schools to bully-proof their elementary and middle grade students.

The interview I gave for KCBS back in mid-June was a no brainer. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, had already redflagged Reddit as a place of serious concern. Social media companies can no longer get away with the defense that they are merely the platform for free speech and are recognizing the need for more or less active moderation. f you come to my house, is it reasonable for you to expect that you can stand on my porch and shout at people on the street? Of course community standards are needed.

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