Today was an absolutely beautiful day. On a day like this, I could never go back to Devon and spend the rest of my life living in one floating room. It was warm, sunny, and I didn’t have the heart to leave it to study on campus, so I stayed put and started to read the DEMOS report I mentioned yesterday.
DEMOS is an independent, cross-party ‘think tank’ that’s published numerous reports since their inception in 1993. When I was hunting for research papers covering the area I’m interested in for my dissertation, I came across one from them that covers exactly what I had in mind to do. The authors basically gathered every tweet from a UK-based twitter account over a few weeks, and analysed them looking for keywords. Here are my initial notes:
Ok, so this is a short report based on an analysis of all tweets, sent between 26th December 2013 to 4th February 2014 from twitter accounts based in the UK.
- Focused on the use of keywords: rape, slut and whore.
- Also looked at what was happening in the general media at the time to try and establish correlation, if not causation. (How would you establish causation – create a fake media story?)
- Considered the use of keywords by men and women. (Why do women use these words as casually as men?)
- Considered ‘rape’ news stories versus ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ conversations.
- Used ‘classifiers’: recall, precision and overall, calibrated against a human classifier.
This is an article I found, published in Wired, at the time the report was made public:
First, online misogyny is not a male-female binary. Many thousands of women are willing to engage in discourses using language and launching attacks that are, fundamentally, derogatory to their own gender. Misogyny online, as with misogyny offline, is an insidious thing. It makes women hate other women, even, perhaps, some women hate themselves.
Second, online misogyny means more than just violent verbal attacks. Underneath the specific use of Twitter to reach, offend, insult, threaten and otherwise demean a victim is another problem. Words like ‘rape’, ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ are part of a new internet vocabulary. They have taken on a huge variety of non-literal, colloquial and metaphorical — indeed conversational — meanings that are (I checked) well outside of our formal dictionary definitions. For Oxford neurologist Susan Greenfield, this is a world of ‘yuck and wow’, where we increasingly produce content that is more and more shocking, more and more taboo-laden. This is certainly desensitising the words themselves, and may be creating a more permissive cultural backdrop against which rape threats are made.
I’ve already suggested that just selecting tweets using keywords is pointless, and what’s needed is a look at everything before coming to any conclusions, which is exactly what DEMOS have done. They were able to identify the gender of the tweeter, and make some links between the tweets and what was happening in the media at the time. This made me think again about what I want to do, and i started to think about the keywords selected. Focusing on words like ‘rape’, ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ are very obvious. The blatancy of it bothers me. Another research paper I found, the wonderfully titled “‘Back to the kitchen, cunt’: speaking the unspeakable about online misogyny” by Emma Alice Jane suggests the use of offensive language (she terms it ‘e-bile’) in comments on forums and blogs was like a game of one-upmanship among commenters: “…a spirited competition to see
who could generate the most offensive declamations.”
Perhaps, then, I should be looking at a more subtle use of language and phrasing? Are there other words and phrases that encode misogyny, but do so in ways that are much less obvious, but possibly more harmful? What about how women use language? Is there evidence of misogyny on, for example, Mumsnet? Is there evidence of misogyny among women who should know better?
At that point, I decided to sit out in the sunshine, have a think, and read a book. I chose this, which I have to say is really good. I’ve already got a load of post-it notes stuck on the walls of Bee, and this is what they say:
Who will read what I do? Professionals (primary audience); general readers via my blog (secondary audience).
My topic will help with understanding a known issue: misogyny online.
My readers will already know my topic so they will be most interested in…. The steps I’ve taken that lead me to my conclusion.
I’m working on: the expression of misogyny online, because I want to find out how extensive it is, so that I (and you) can better understand why it is such an important issue for women, for men, for society and, ultimately, for our social, cultural and economic standing? ….Value? Richness? Sophistication as a species? Why does misogyny matter?
The book has been incredibly helpful so far, encouraging me to clarify my thinking, especially as I have to commit an extended brief and study plan to paper and submit it by the end of next week.