Harassment of women online is so common that the phrase “online while female” is sometimes used (a play on the phrase “driving while black”).
A woman online is considered a target for harassing behaviours such as threats and ridicule. The goal of the harasser is to tell women that they either have to repeat what men believe or they’ll be silenced, or to exercise power over women through threats and sexualized language, or to tell them they aren’t welcome in professional life by denigrating their skills and achievements.
While one would believe that most fair-minded people would ignore this conduct, the reality is this is not the case. Employers don’t want to take a chance on someone who’s been harassed online for fear of attracting that negative attention their way. Many women will gang up with the harasser to target the person being harassed, because they want to identify with a more powerful group and divert negative attention away from themselves. Many more people will stay silent and avoid getting involved.
The results are much different for the harasser, of course, because normally they stay anonymous, and even if their friends know who they are, they are more likely to get a pat on the back for their aggression than they are to be criticized.
In my case, the person harassing me clearly worked at the Vancouver Courier. I met with the publisher, now retired, who was very polite. She claimed that the reporters didn’t know who was responsible for the anonymous blog. I didn’t really believe her, because as soon as the anonymous bully left a post, they were all over it commenting. She gave me a book about the history of Vancouver. She Googled me and told me she could only see good things, such as my bio and articles I’d written. However, she was sitting on the other side of the desk, so I couldn’t see her screen. She told me that in time, the result would be buried and I shouldn’t worry about it.
However, I thought about it for about a week, and called back. I still thought that it was clear that it was Courier employees involved, the behaviour was unethical for journalists to engage in and the newspaper should do something about it.
However, by this time the nice publisher had retired and Dee Dhaliwal had taken over. All she did was argue with me and insist that she wasn’t going to do anything about it. Her level of hostility clearly indicated that she knew it was her employees involved and instead of dealing with it she was trying to silence and intimidate me.
At first I thought it was the editor because he never returns his phone calls and doesn’t appear to have too much to do. In fact, you’re not even allowed to leave him messages. That’s right: you’re not worthy to have your voicemail ignored and must submit to having your email ignored.
However, having been exposed to a number of articles by Mike Howell, I’m more inclined to attribute it to him. The reason is that the anonymous blog and Howell’s articles for the Courier are written in the same style, which is an unusual style for a journalist covering city hall – first person with a strong helping of sanctimonious judging.
My experience covering City Hall is that if you want to have real stories you should maintain an air of objectivity so you don’t burn bridges. If you do burn your bridges, all you are left with is, well, the ability to sit in meetings and judge sanctimoniously.
I decided it was a waste of time to focus on his sanctimonious judging and decided to take up yoga instead. The world is a much happier place when you don’t read what aggressive men have to say about you or anyone else for that matter.
However, I also realized that I have to get this story out there, because the role of the Human Rights Tribunal in creating this unhealthy situation cannot be understated. By lying about my case and diminishing me as an editor and journalist, the chair of the Human Rights Tribunal, Bernd Walter, fed the jerks-on-the-Internet beast and should be held accountable. These are our tax dollars that are going to an organization that cannot even tell the truth about women at work.