How Can Men Help Women Against Cyberbullying?

As a fairly active user from social media, yes every now and then a troll or comment comes across that raises doubts about the evolution of man. As a white man, this seems rather annoying to me, but I do not shy away from fighting back. I have had to assert myself rhetorically in the past, namely when the second half of my research project for the dissertation underwent a change of personnel at the sponsoring company and suddenly politics took center stage, as well as several times during my military service. There, too, several people tried to get their way through mobbing and bullying. It’s just stupid when you’re sitting in the middle.

Case 1: Women from Culture, Research and Politics

However, this is no comparison to what I observe when women become the victims. For some time now, I have been following – after a call from the German cartoonist Ralph Ruthe, who asked on Twitter which interesting Twitter accounts of women he should follow – a few of those accounts. QuattroMILF, Natascha Strobl or U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are some of these women. The first, Jasmina Kuhnke, is a mother of four with German-African roots and a comedy writer and comedienne who speaks out with a sharp tongue against racism – which she herself experiences firsthand – against racists and Nazis. Natascha Strobl is an Austrian political scientist, author, analyst, publicist and, above all, an expert on right-wing extremism and politics who razor-sharp dissects the logic and rhetorical tricks of right-wing old-boys, politicians, thundering women and other right-wing hacks. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her initials AOC, on the other hand, is the Democratic Party’s youngest congresswoman with Puerto Rican roots, who worked her way up from poverty into politics by working waitress jobs and being valedictorian.

What all three women have in common is that they are very self-confident, experts in their field, eloquent and incredibly smart. I can mostly agree with their positions, arguments and statements, and if not, I find them very interesting in any case. Three very interesting women whose contributions I find very inspiring and enriching.

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Unfortunately, what the three also have in common is that they are continuously exposed to the worst attacks on the Internet from men who insult them in every possible way, want to put them in their place and even do not shy away from threats of rape, violence and murder.

Now I could shrug my shoulders and say it’s none of my business. Not my field, not my fight. But that is not true. It is not only these three women, but a whole lot of others who are exposed to such attacks of the worst kind. Two simultaneous incidents from my field happened a few days ago that show how widespread cyberbullying against women is in the public sphere.

Case 2: Artificial intelligence at Google

First, there was the firing of Ethiopian-born AI expert Timnit Gebru from Google. Her research focused on the problem areas of artificial intelligence, which is dominated by white and Asian males and therefore systematically leads to biases in machine learning data that disadvantage women and minorities. Gebru assembled a team at Google to track, scientifically address, and fix these problems.

What happened was something else. During her vacation in November/December, she was fired, bypassing her direct supervisor – according to the official style, her ‘resignation’ was accepted – and after public protest and Google-internal revolt, specious arguments were put forward that she had not followed internal processes in publishing a new research paper. Which, of course, wasn’t true. No questions were allowed at an internal staff meeting with Google employees of color. Even the US Senate intervened in the meantime and asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai for details about this ‘unusual’ process.

Case 3: Panel Discussion on AI Without Women

At the same time that Timnit Gebru was fired from Google, I became aware of an online panel discussion featuring two women, both AI researchers, one at the California Institute of Technology and the other at Mozilla. The former is CalTech professor Anima Anandkumar, who hails from India, and the latter is a Vietnamese-born AI researcher. They were both on an invitation list to an online panel discussion with AI experts. The event was organized by a certain Zachary Todd Liberman.

Aside from the fact that Tim O’Reilly himself was unaware that his name was being used to advertise, women were simply disinvited as soon as they asked about the lack of female panelists.

When they asked – especially when AI ethics was also on the program, women were simply not allowed in or even actively removed from the running event.

The ensuing discussion on Twitter and email led to threats from the organizer and underhanded attacks from a University of Washington researcher emeritus, Pedro Domingo, against these women.

As can also be seen from almost all cases, especially women with a migration background are exposed to much stronger and nastier attacks.

Case 4: The Doctor-Title of First Lady Jill Biden

If that wasn’t enough, a certain Joseph Epstein, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial staff must have failed mentally as much as the 87-year-old Epstein, chided the wife of incoming U.S. President Joe Biden, namely Jill Biden, for using her doctor title while not being a medical doctor, but ‘only’ having a doctorate in philosophy, which, according to Epstein, who himself has only a bachelor’s degree, is not a real doctorate.

Not only did he disparage Jill Biden’s achievement and the content of her thesis, he belittled and addressed her as “kiddo.” Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant gave the only correct response in a post on LinkedIn. He ‘translated’ Epstein’s column and arguments by revealing Epstein’s own shortcomings, misogyny and bigotry. The effect on Epstein’s column, however, was different than the old man had anticipated: since then, many successful women list their PhDs all the more on LinkedIn and Twitter and at public events.

What can men do to help?

I don’t know any of these women personally, and misogyny is unfortunately nothing new. But I don’t want to just watch it any longer. I think it’s not only a shame that a number of men (and also some women) – more than one would like to think – believe they can verbally attack women in public with impunity and threaten them and their families with violence. I also think it is a shame that this suppresses important voices and opinions of these women. How many women have withdrawn from public discourse because of such hostility that has gone unpunished?

So what can we do? And by that I mean especially men who no longer want to watch the goings-on of such cyberbullies? It’s not enough for only women to stand helpfully by their side; men must also show that they will not tolerate such behavior. But the question is how?

With my help, I don’t want to become a problem for women myself. The way I deal with cyberbullying against me is probably not the same way women want to solve it. Also, I don’t want to give the impression that only men again can solve a problem caused by men. I am looking here for guidelines on how I and other like-minded men can stand by women. What are effective measures against cyberbullies and which ones can and should we men use under the leadership of women?

Let me know, especially women I’d like to ask what help you would expect from someone like me when you become a victim of such an attack, when you do not want to back down, and need support? Thank you!

2 thoughts on “How Can Men Help Women Against Cyberbullying?”

  1. Interestingly, men who speak up and come to the defense of those less fortunate- in this case, women, are men who are already interested in the greater good of humanity. So it is not only important to continue to make your voice heard by your colleagues, males and females, but to encourage them to join you in this discourse. It is imperative to dispel the negative notion that certain people have of women in general and worse, of women of color. Their need to disparage and diminish women by using their positions, their own short- sighted views and their self importance, but in truth their own fears, is what I believe are behind these attacks and bullying. If we look closer to what these bullies are saying, it will show more a reflection of themselves than of the women they are assaulting. They fear the exposure of their lack of knowledge, and superiority and must cover these inferior qualities but bullying tactics. So the best way to help is to continue to call these tyrants out. I don’t believe this to be a cancel culture method but rather a call to the ugly truth behind the people who feel empowered by their gender, their race, and their position. By putting yourself out there, aligning yourself with women to call out bullies is a start. The “me too “ movement did not come about overnight. It started somewhere. This is how.

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