Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


15 October 2021

Credible threat: Attacks against women online and the future of democracy

Presented By Professor Sarah Sobieraj for the CRCC Seminar Series
  • 2pm - 3pm BST
  • Microsoft Teams

About this event

Activists. Journalists. Elected Representatives. Public Intellectuals. When women are vocal about political and social issues, too-often they are flogged with attacks via social networking sites, comment sections, discussion boards, email, and direct message. Rather than targeting their ideas, the abuse targets their identities, pummeling them with rape threats, attacks on their appearance and presumed sexual behavior, and a cacophony of misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic stereotypes and epithets. Identity-based attacks are particularly severe for those women from racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups or who work in domains dominated by men. Feminists and women who challenge traditional gender norms are also frequently targeted. This toxicity comes with economic, professional, and psychological costs for those targeted, but it also exacts societal-level costs that are rarely recognized: it erodes civil liberties, diminishes our public discourse, thins the knowledge available to inform policy and electoral decision-making, and teaches women that activism and public service are high-risk endeavors to be avoided. Sobieraj traces these underexplored effects, showing that when identity-based attacks succeed in constraining women's use of digital publics, there are democratic consequences that cannot be ignored.

Sarah Sobieraj is an award-winning teacher and researcher with expertise in US political culture, extreme incivility, digital abuse and harassment, and the mediated information environment. Her most recent book, Credible Threat: Attacks Against Women Online and the Future of Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2020), examines the impact of identity-based digital abuse on women’s participation in social and political discourse. She is also the author of The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility (Oxford University Press, 2014) with Jeff Berry, and Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism (NYU Press, 2011). Professor Sobieraj edited (with Rob Boatright, Danna Young, and Tim Schaffer) A Crisis of Civility?: Political Discourse and Its Discontents (Routledge, 2019). Additionally, she is currently co-editing the Oxford Handbook on Sociology and Digital Media with Deana Rohlinger, which is due out in 2021. Professor Sobieraj’s most recent journal articles can be found in Information, Communication & Society, Social Problems, PS: Political Science & Politics, Poetics, Political Communication, and Sociological Theory. Her work has also been featured in venues such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Politico, Vox, CNN, PBS, NPR, the American Prospect, National Review, the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, and Salon. Sobieraj serves on the advisory board of the Social Science Research Council’s Disinformation Research Mapping Initiative, is a member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse Research Network, and is a faculty associate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. In her free time, Professor Sobieraj enjoys listening to storytelling podcasts, talking politics, hiking, playing cards, and indulging in a good binge-watch.

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