Someone once asked me whether or not I thought the internet was “good for women”.
Possibly they were genuinely interested in my thoughts on the subject, maybe they were trying to start an interesting discussion or perhaps they simply had their own views on the subject that they wanted to air.
Whatever its intention, the question itself is fascinating as it is simultaneously ridiculous and intelligent.
So, as it’s more fun, let’s start with the ridiculous part.
I once heard an analogy comparing the internet to the ocean, and I think it works pretty well in this instance so I’m going to stick with it. I’m sure you’re confused, but hear me out.
The internet is like the ocean because it can be a great resource. Civilisations have been built because of the oceans and our ability to harness their power, in the same way that online communities have allowed more than 3.3 billion people to connect to each other and learn from one another. That is extraordinary. If we want to stretch the analogy a little bit, both can be used to feed families and provide employment (although comparing Tesco Direct with sea fishing doesn’t quite sit right with me).
And, like the ocean, the internet is powerful, potentially dangerous and cannot be controlled. As anyone who’s ever witnessed a Twitter mob, or wondered why they know what a Kardashian is can testify, no one can control the internet. Which doesn’t stop people trying.
So trying to have a discussion on whether the internet is “good” or “bad” for anyone is like trying to apply the same phrase to the ocean. It is that powerful and has become that much a part of our lives.
But here’s the intelligent part.
There is no denying that the internet has had a profound effect on women’s rights, as well as the human rights of members of the LGBTQIA community and other minority groups, both positively and negatively.
For the first time it is possible for women to speak to other women they might never meet, and find commonality in the issues they face. And the more people they talk to, the more commonality they find and the more they realise that the issues they are having are not OK. Spread of information has allowed for public shaming of major brands into rethinking policies or gender bias (e.g. Hasbro and the #WheresRey campaign (see tweet below) and various breastfeeding in public incidents). But more than that, it is revolutionary. It has arguably caused a wave of modern feminism which is hugely exciting and creating important conversations across the globe.
The problem is that this ability to share information with people you’ve never met works both ways and can result in personal attacks on those women who do speak out against social injustice, and even some who don’t. This article about comments on the Guardian demonstrates that fact. But it goes further than blocked comments. A feminist bake sale in Queensland, Australia, ended with a series of online rape and death threats, and that is far from being a one-off incident.
The internet, as far as I can tell, is only as good or as evil as the online community and how they choose to use it.
So, maybe the answer to whether the internet is “good for women” is the same as the one to whether the human race is “good for women?
My answer would be: With a bit of effort in the right places it could be so much better.