BBC journalist Robert Peston this week wrote a brilliant article for the Evening Standard in which he made some pretty shocking claims about the kind of abuse he receives on social media. The most shocking thing of all? It's not as bad as that dished out to his female counterparts, he admits.
Since taking up his role as Business Editor at the BBC in the age of social meida, Peston claims he's been targeted by trolls on Twitter who attack everything from his hair and clothes, even, how he speaks. It has allowed him, he observes, to have 'some understanding of the pressures on prominent women'.
'Hooray, you might think,' he writes, 'there is now gender equality in judging people on all the surface stuff. My female colleagues normally grin and bear the endless sexist commentary in mainstream and social media about their legs, hair, boobs and skirts — or whether they are “strident”, “hectoring” or feisty”.
‘Women are typically subjected to the most brutal analysis on social media of their appearances, language and mannerisms — in a way that is insidiously undermining of their achievements and status.
'For example, men often tweet pictures to female BBC presenters of their genitals or themselves masturbating in front of these presenters on screen.’
Wait - what?
This is a pretty damning indictment on attitudes towards women in the public sphere – and, likely, more widely - and how we conduct ourselves digitally. Someone engaging in such a lewd act in the middle of the street would be promptly arrested, but not so when they do it over social media. Why? Using sex as a weapon, this kind of disembodied vitriol pumped out by so–called ‘keyboard warriors’ hiding behind their anonymity to spread poison and, actually, fear too, as a means to undermine successful women, is appalling. And Peston calling it out just highlights how much more needs to be done to combat it, and have punitive measures be put in place.
Admitting that he gets off lightly by comparison, despite having been sent 'rude and disgusting comments' himself, he says that it's 'definitely the rough that goes with the smooth of having one of the best jobs in the world — which I did not have to take.' Sure – but neither he, nor his female colleagues, or anyone else should have to shy away from taking a job they want for fear of unwanted repercussions online.
He adds: ‘I could have eschewed Twitter, instead of shouting on it several times a day.’
Again, sure. But why should he have to, simply to keep himself out of the way of the venom that a select number of people insist on putting out there for the benefit of no one and to the detriment of many? Plus, how would a working journalist manage to stay off Twitter these days anyway?
One thing’s for sure: as we go further into the digital age, it’s going to be vitally important to ensure women can come and go on the internet as they please and above all, feel safe.
Let us know what you think and have your say @ELLEUK.