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I was 12 hours into a summer vacation in Palm Springs when my phone hummed to life, buzzing twice next to me in the dark of my hotel room. It was a.m., and a friend was texting me from the opposite coast. A few hours earlier, someone going by the username “headlessfemalepig” had sent me seven tweets. But this guy took it to another level: “I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” And then: “Happy to say we live in the same state.
Reporters who take death threats seriously “often give the impression that this is some kind of shocking event for which we should pity the ‘victims,’” my colleague Jim Pagels wrote in Slate this fall, “but anyone who’s spent 10 minutes online knows that these assertions are entirely toothless.” On Twitter, he added, “When there’s no precedent for physical harm, it’s only baseless fear mongering.” My friend Jen Doll wrote, at The Atlantic Wire, “It seems like that old ‘ignoring’ tactic your mom taught you could work out to everyone’s benefit.... Which means we shouldn’t take the bait.” In the epilogue to her book , Hanna Rosin—an editor at Slate—argued that harassment of women online could be seen as a cause for celebration. Many women on the Internet “are in positions of influence, widely published and widely read; if they sniff out misogyny, I have no doubt they will gleefully skewer the responsible sexist in one of many available online outlets, and get results.” So women who are harassed online are expected to either get over ourselves or feel flattered in response to the threats made against us.
The cop anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, “What is Twitter?
” Staring up at him in the blazing sun, the best answer I could come up with was, “It’s like an e-mail, but it’s public.” What I didn’t articulate is that Twitter is the place where I laugh, whine, work, schmooze, procrastinate, and flirt.
Journalists around the world started writing about the threats.
As more and more people heard the story, Criado-Perez’s follower count skyrocketed to near 25,000.