John Oliver Speaks Out Against The Ridiculousness of Online Harassment

by Alexa Salvato

In his recent episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver traced the Internet from its humble AIM-ing origins to its central role in our lives today—with a concentration on how it’s become a “haven for harassment” of women specifically over the past 20 years. Oliver focused on Gamergate and revenge porn as particularly awful examples of sexist harassment, but also notes that “[Online harassment] can potentially affect any women who has a thought in her mind, and then vocalizing it.” 

There are so many issues particularly with prosecuting online harassment. Writer Amanda Hess, who had many terrifying threats Tweeted at her (one is pictured above), said that when she reported to police in California, “The police officer who came to my door had no idea what Twitter even was.” Oliver remarked in response: “The police cannot investigate a crime if they genuinely don’t understand the medium in which it happened.”

He also discussed the victim-blaming nature with which the mainstream media discusses online harassment involving nude photos, specifically revenge porn. He showed interviews with one woman, an English professor, who had nude photos posted on a porn site by someone pretending to be here. The photos came along with her full name, employer, and city of residence.

Oliver noted that there’s no federal law against revenge pornography, and only 23 states have state laws against it. Sites won’t always take the pictures down because, even if it’s your body, you probably don’t own the copyright. And if you want to acquire it, you have to take dramatic measures sometimes; the most drastic thing you’d have to do is send nude pictures to a federal office in D.C. to prove that your body is yours. Um, no way!  

(Although we are pumped to see Google’s helping out victims of revenge porn.)

But most significantly, the English professor above said her first response when seeing these pictures was to attempt suicide. People forget that the Internet does not exist in a bubble. It has tangible implications. Oliver summed it up best himself at the end of the segment: “We all know the Internet is an incredible tool, but like most tools, it can be used as a weapon. And we’ve allowed things to get to a place where women can fear for their lives for something they said online.” 

Watch the clip in full here:

Images via Shutterstock, and video via Last Week Tonight

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