Kit Steinkellner
August 12, 2014 7:21 am

Jezebel, the feminist website dedicated to making the world a better place for its lady base, has recently been dealing with the straight-up worst of Internet problems. No, I’m not talking about a slow Wi-Fi connection (but yes, completely valid contender for “worst Internet problem.”) I’m talking about Internet trolls.

So, for the past several months, an anonymous individual (or individuals, Jezebel doesn’t know because, right, the anonymous part) has been using an untraceable burner account to post GIFs of disturbing and violent pornography in the comments section of their stories. The images arrive in loads, like an army of grossness, and the staff of Jezebel are forced to delete this mountain of messed-up GIFs one by one—which means staring at this violent porn for a long time.  Because the troll’s IP address is not recorded on burner accounts, nothing can stop them from posting offensive GIFs all the live-long day.

This has become an untenable situation for both Jezebel’s readers and their staff, who recently issued a statement which informed the world they are “. . .by default, now required to view and interact with violent pornography and gore as part of our jobs” which was immediately followed up by the hard truth: “None of us are paid enough to deal with this on a daily basis.” Damn straight, you’re not. I doubt ANYONE is paid enough to deal with sexual harassment from the Internet on a daily basis.

The Jezebel staff has complained repeatedly to their parent company Gawker Media about this problem and, according to staffers, their employers haven’t taken action.

“Nothing has changed,” the statement reads. “During the last staff meeting, when the subject was broached, we were told that there were no plans to enable the blocking of IP addresses, no plans to record IP addresses of burner accounts. Moderation tools are supposedly in development, but change is not coming fast enough. This has been going on for months, and it’s impacting our ability to do our jobs.”

The straight-up guts it took these editors to go toe-to-toe with their parent company and to shame Gawker (a male-run company) in the public arena is a Herculean feat of bravery and deserves a standing ovation. Or, since we’re all at our keyboards, I guess we could just hit our exclamation button key a bunch of times.

This is not just about Gawker ignoring the voices of so many of its employees (which would be bad enough), this is about how the company is allegedly disregarding the safety and emotional health of its female employees and readers, which is messed up to the highest degree. That’s not a problem that can sit around remaining unsolved, it’s just not.

But these are uncharted territories. The rules of the Internet, and an employer’s responsibility to protect its staff and readers from trolls, is still a new concept. It’s also not a problem relegated to a few sites or individuals. Over the past year, sites like Twitter have come under fire over the rampant cluster of trolls who harass women using its social media platform. While Twitter apologized and promised to make reporting these threats easier for users, anyone who uses social media (or reads websites, for that matter) is aware that the problem of sexual harassment on the Internet very much exists. And it’s a big problem.

In the comments section under Jezebel’s call to action, editor-in-chief Jessica Coen addressed the issue directly.

“It honestly breaks my heart a little bit that this post even needs to exist — but the manner in which this has been handled (or not handled, really) by HQ is pathetic. Not reporting on it feels hypocritical, so here we are. I want to apologize to all of our readers. Everyone deserves better. This is a damn shame.”

There’s a lesson for all of us in this story. In order to take a stand against an authority figure, the nerves in your body have to be made of steel—but that’s the deal, when it comes to doing the right thing, you just got to figure out how to be a woman of steel. So, steely ladies of Jezebel: We applaud you for being so brave and for taking action against an issue that’s been plaguing women on the Internet for too long and needs to be addressed before it gets even worse.

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