In a report released yesterday, entitled “Cyber Violence Against Women And Girls: A Global Wake-up Call,” UN Women, the group behind last year’s risible “He for She” campaign, called on governments to use their “licensing prerogative” to ensure that “telecoms and search engines” are only “allowed to connect with the public” if they “supervise content and its dissemination.”
In other words, if search engines and ISPs don’t comply with a list of the UN’s censorship demands, the UN wants national governments to cut off their access to the public.
So, what sort of content does the UN want to censor? ISIS recruitment videos, perhaps, which lure women into lives of rape and servitude? Live-streamed executions from Syria? Revenge porn or snuff videos? There’s no shortage of dangerous and potentially traumatising content on the web, after all, much of it disproportionately affecting women.
Alas not. The UN is hung up on “cyber violence against women,” a Kafkaesque term that is apparently shorthand for “women being criticised on the internet.” At least, that’s how at least two attendees at the launch of the UN report, published by the United Nations Broadband Commission, explained it yesterday.
According to feminist culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, who spoke at the event, online “harassment” doesn’t simply consist of what is “legal and illegal,” but “also the day-to-day grind of ‘you’re a liar’ and ‘you suck,’ including all of these hate videos that attack us on a regular basis.”
Unable to prove that they are the victims of a wave of “misogynistic hate” – no bomb threat against a feminist critic of video games has ever been deemed credible and there are serious doubts about threats supposedly levelled at transsexual activist Brianna Wu – feminists are trying to redefine violence and harassment to include disobliging tweets and criticisms of their work.
In other words: someone said “you suck” to Anita Sarkeesian and now we have to censor the internet. Who could have predicted such a thing? It’s worth noting, by the way, that if Sarkeesian’s definition is correct, Donald Trump is the world’s greatest victim of “cyber-violence.” Someone should let him know.
Sarkeesian’s comments were echoed by former video game developer, feminist activist and professional victim Zoe Quinn, who told the United Nations: “There are individuals on YouTube who have made a living off of [sic] abusing Anita and I.” Quinn does not name any specific YouTubers, and we are left guessing as to who these mysterious “abusers” really are.
Hmm. Quinn makes more than $3,000 a month on donation site Patreon as she travels around the world talking about her “harassment” story. If anyone is turning a profit from alleged “online abuse,” it’s not the YouTubers.
The message from the UN seems to be: “cyber-violence” against women, at least according to their invited guests, is somehow equivalent to getting thumped, or bullied, or abused in real life, and it’s worth clamping down on basic free speech provisions to insulate these delicate first-world feminist wallflowers from the consequences of their own purposefully provocative statements.
The UN ignores the fact that both of their high-profile invitees are professional wind-up merchants who have capitalised on a media environment in which it has become acceptable to say almost anything about “straight white males” and which women, no matter how preposterous their opinions, can get column inches for saying they’ve been “threatened.” (No journalist will ever check their claims.)
Sarkeesian and Quinn are perhaps the finest living examples of what I call quantum superstate feminism, whose figureheads are at once aggressor and victim; trolling, provoking and ridiculing their ideological opponents while at the same time crying foul when their provocative language is returned in kind.
Somehow, I doubt women in actual peril outside Europe and the US will have much time for this self-regarding baloney.
Ridicule and criticism are not harassment. What your guests have done on the internet is harassment. @googleideas
— Milo Yiannopoulos (@Nero) September 23, 2015
The UN report itself contains a number of bizarre attempts to equate critical tweets on the internet with physical violence. “A cyber-touch is recognised as equally as harmful as a physical touch” says the report. In their press release, UN Women claim that “cyber violence … places a premium on emotional bandwidth.”
It doesn’t tell us what “emotional bandwidth” means, so we are left to guess. It sounds like “emotional quotient,” which girls say their boyfriends are lacking despite their higher IQs. Nonetheless, the concept of “emotional bandwidth” raises interesting questions. Is it a crime when Netflix starts buffering during a romantic comedy?
Inventing nebulous terms is a speciality of the UN. It allows them to “take action” (that is: issue reports no one reads) on something that doesn’t exist, which disguises their impotence when dealing with real human rights abuses. Needless to say, not everyone agrees that “cyber-violence” and “emotional bandwidth” are urgent humanitarian issues.
Hahahahahahahaha How The Fuck Is Cyber Bullying Real Hahahaha Nigga Just Walk Away From The Screen Like Nigga Close Your Eyes Haha
— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) December 31, 2012
Tyler isn’t alone. As the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey points out, the UN’s grand plan to censor the web fights against the rising tide of cultural libertarianism. If UN Women think they have civil society on their side, they are mistaken. Everyone from academics and Hollywood actors to gamers and reddit users are sick of mendacious, sinister and profoundly anti-intellectual attempts to attack free expression with bizarre concepts like “cyber-violence” and “safe spaces.”
Even Dewey, a critic of unfettered free speech on the web, thinks the UN’s recommendations are “several steps too revolutionary.”
The UN report’s ham-fisted attempt to equate unwelcome words with violence isn’t its only problem. Its explicit focus on women is never justified, and runs contrary to the data. Research from the Pew Centre has found that “men and women are equally likely overall to have experienced “severe” [online] harassment.” (The research also found that women are twice as likely to be upset by online harassment, but that’s a separate question.) Yet the U.N. group appears to think women’s online harassment merits a special focus. Why?
The UN report’s explanation of the causes of “online cyber violence” echoes the tired language of 1990s moral panics, and in some cases even relies on outdated research from the same period. It blames the “mainstreaming of violence against women” on “popular music, movies, the gaming industry, and the general portrayal of women in popular culture.”
As an enterprising redditor has discovered, the UN’s source is an article from 2000, describing the theories of former Army psychologist Lt. Colonel David Grossman, which accuses Nintendo of manufacturing “equipment for satanic video games.” In the aftermath of the Columbine school shootings, Grossman appeared on TV alongside the evangelical moral crusader Jack Thompson, where he supported Thompson’s argument that video games “trained” school shooters.
The report also has a strange preoccupation with pornography, which it accuses of causing “aggressive behavioural tendencies” as well as “increased interest in coercing their partners into unwanted sex acts.” Their citation is a link to “Stop Porn Culture,” a campaign group chaired by the militantly sex-negative and widely criticised feminist Gail Dines.
Other citations in the report are dead links to old blog posts. One has to wonder if the UN expected anyone to fact-check it at all. Given that most of their “reports” are boondoggles, I suspect they’re surprised by all the attention.
You’d think UN Women would have more pressing concerns than porn, video games, and “cyber violence.” After all, Saudi Arabia, a country with a real violence against women problem, was recently selected to chair a key human rights panel elsewhere in the sprawling UN ecosystem. But ethical priorities don’t seem to be the UN’s strong suit.
It can be pointless and pedantic to play what some of us call “Oppression Olympics,” but in this case the discrepancy between this UN group’s complaints and the real suffering of women is too great to ignore. In a world afflicted by female genital mutilation, forced marriages and acid attacks on girls whose only crime is wanting an education, the UN has chosen to focus on the professional whinging of privileged and mendacious western activists.
The UN has always been a joke, but in this case, by providing a platform for such ludicrously entitled windbags, they have provided us all with the punchline themselves.