I’m so pleased that Newsweek allowed me to write such a long piece on cyber-stalking, which you can read at :http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/22/how-law-standing-cyberstalking-264251.html.
I’m also honoured that so many survivors of this crime talked to me about its aftermath – not only those mentioned and written about in the article, such as Leandra Ramm, who has done so much to campaign against this crime – and whose book, Stalking A Diva, is well worth a read, and Alexis Bowater and Ann Moulds, who have campaigned to change the law in Europe, but other survivors, whose stories must remain anonymous, for now, because their cases are still on-going, or they just don’t feel safe enough to go public.
I would also like to thank the Roma, Gypsies and Travellers who are also cyber-harassed and whose cases I was unable to tell, because of length reasons, in the piece. The communities face endemic levels of prejudice online, says Damian Le Bas, an English Gypsy and editor of Travellers Times. Planning disputes raise hundreds of objections letters, sometimes with racist epithets all over the UK, are all visible online. Mr Le Bas observes: “The vast majority of statements about us on the internet are offensive and stick to racist terminology; anything that even comes close to neutral in its tone is a rarity.” The communities tend to ignore the harassment, although recently the Traveller Movement and individuals have challenged some examples of questionable online harassment. Facebook has been particularly responsive in removing anti-Roma pages.
It’s also worth noting that other groups also get harassed on the Internet – Muslims, Jews, and other minority ethnic groups and faiths.
Indeed, at times, it can seem as if social media is full of bile. But I am optimistic that this is a snapshot of social media at the moment, in certain countries – and with the right tools, things can change for the better. Indeed, as younger people privatise their use of social media, things are already changing.
And survivors of cyber-stalking and harassment have already put in place protective measures that are making the Internet a safer place for people to work and socialise. It doesn’t have to be a place where people who feel different are routinely harassed. The measures that the Council of Europe have taken, on cyber-harassment, will make European citizens safer – they will be able to demand more action of local criminal justice systems, and cross-border action too. So this is not a time for pessimism – but I think it is also a time for personal responsibility. We can, for instance, all take action ourselves to maintain a certain etiquette on the Internet, in our dealings with other real people. This is, of course, as well as putting pressure on platforms to do their bit.