Hildur's Facebook Album of Everyday Sexism and Death threats

Tue, 27 Nov 2012 14:42:00 +1100

Everyone has friends and enemies online, but what do you do when people online are threatening to kill you? Well-known Icelandic women’s rights advocate Hildur Lilliendahl Viggósdóttir faced this problem last month when she came across the following message on Stefán Heiðar Erlingsson Facebook wall: 'If I "accidentally" ran over Hildur, she is probably the only person on earth that I would back up over, and leave the car on top of her with the hand brake on!!! Put this in your "men who hate Hildur" folder, Hildur Lilliendahl'.

And this is what Hildur did. She took a screen grab of the comment and proceeded to put it in her 'Men Who Hate Women' Facebook album. Lilliendahl's online album documents 'everyday casual sexism' (directed at women and feminists in particular) found on public forums across the web. Hildur says she ‘started the album after hearing ridiculously misogynistic things in the media, even from public figures and politicians'.

But clearly not everyone is a fan of Hildur’s work. After re-posting the comment she was blocked from using her Facebook account. This was because the social network’s terms of service forbid users from taking screenshots of other user’s accounts and then reposting them without the permission of the author. Facebook have defended the decision to censor Lilliendal saying: 'We made this rule because screengrabs are one way that bullies can try to bypass privacy and sharing settings. While the re-posting may have been well intentioned in this case, we need to apply our rules consistently to offer the best possible protection' (The Telegraph).

The question is how can the largest social networking website in the world allow one person to post a message which can be considered a death threat - but prevent anyone else from taking a screen shot and reposting it? What is an appropriate online course of action in response to a threatening comment? Should there be a response from Facebook - one that punishes the perpetrator rather than the victim?

The debate feeds into concerns about online bullying – which itself has serious consequences. But surely this is something other than bullying. In a face to face conversation if someone tells you they want to park a car over you and leave the hand break on you would have every right to report the threat.

Digital spaces have been called unruly and chaotic because the protocols (and behaviour) that are standard offline are just not present sometimes. This wild environment has its advantages, but it also has a number of downfalls. People are less accountable for what they say and do in many instances.

Hildur's album is a way of holding people to account. She says: 'What I’m doing is not radical—I’m just re-posting the internet on the internet. Every comment on the album has already been made publicly. I’m not taking it from a friend’s news feed or a private conversation'.

The rules and limitations of Facebook have not held Hildur back. The internet is a big place. She continues to capture everyday sexism and archive comments and images with a Tumblr account (called: Karlar sem hata konur). This mapping of digital spaces provides an important service, challenging the notion that there is less accountability online, and that everyday sexism will be left to float around the ether without being recognized or confronted.

Are people less accountable for their actions online? Tell us what you think on Twitter @ADRI_Australia. Hashtag #cyberbullying.


Image of Dr Perri Campbell
Dr Perri Campbell
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20th August 2012