This week, every day has been bookended by news of the Jian Ghomeshi trial. The commentary on the previous days’ proceedings greet me on Facebook when I wake up and the live-tweets recounting the newest events are there for me to read before bed. Today, the articles on why women don’t (or shouldn’t) testify inspired by the Ghomeshi trial were accompanied by Zoë Quinn‘s blog post describing why she “dropped charges against the man who started GamerGate,” GamerGate being a harassment campaign she has been one of the main targets of for the last year and a half.

Keep in mind, I am quite dedicated to following these stories. My research interests in feminist activism and online narrative archives have been largely inspired by the ongoing conversations about GamerGate and the Ghomeshi trial. There is a value in having these conversations be so public and accessible (being able to follow the Ghomeshi trial from Montreal metro) that I do not think should be ignored and I am so grateful for the articles, blog posts, tweets, and flourishing online conversations that bring attention to the complexities of our legal system. But, at the same time, it is impossible to ignore the amount of vitriol and misogyny that will (or has) erupted in response.

This afternoon, I was lucky enough to hear from Emer O’Toole, a feminist social media activist and professor of Irish Studies at Concordia University, in my course on “feminism and pop culture.” She told the class about how her and some other activists got together to get Facebook to improve their approach to online harassment on their site. Because Facebook was ignoring their requests, O’Toole and her collaborators screenshotted the ads of major companies beside graphically violent and/or misogynist Facebook group posts and tweeted those pictures to the companies in question. (This is one of the things I love about social media–quick access to previously inaccessible corporations!) One by one, the companies started asking for their ads to be removed from Facebook unless they changed their policies. O’Toole’s elation when she described the success of the campaign was palpable.

But she did not skirt over the disadvantages of social media activism either. She was completely upfront about the torrent of misogyny online feminist activists face, no matter their gender. She did not present online activism as flawless, but she also made it clear that she was willing to use social media to her advantage in any way that she could. I loved the way she embraced this paradox without trying to simplify its complexities.

I am beginning the think that the reason social media is such an interesting space for feminism to grow and speak is because it is so complex. Just as there are many different feminisms, there are many different online platforms, each with their own politics. Feminisms are inherently flawed (see Roxanne Gay‘s book Bad Feminist) as are social media (try reporting abuse on Twitter), but at least there is a conversation taking place–a conversation where, as O’Toole shows us, changes can happen.

As difficult as it can be, at times, to follow and critically engage with the Ghomeshi trial, or GamerGate, or any of the numerous online testimonies of sexual assault that have taken place in the last few years, I am so glad to know that there are progressive conversations taking place on social media, despite and because of the subsequent harassment. These difficult networks help us navigate difficult territory and, however flawed they may be, I remain optimistic.

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About Eileen Holowka

Eileen Mary Holowka is an editor, writer, and master's student at Concordia University. Her research interests include feminism, queer theory, digital media studies, sad girl/sick women theory, narrative studies and trauma theory. She is currently working on a digital poetry collection about the act of narrating sexual trauma online. Her creative writing has been published in Contemporary Verse 2, Lemon Hound, Little Fiction, Headlight, and juice.

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