I will not rape her on a plane, I will not rape her on a train, I will not rape her on a car, I will not rape her on a star. Jess Phillips MP
Contrary to virtually every newspaper headline on the matter, Jess Phillips MP did not receive between 600 and 5,000 written rape threats, over a 24 hour period, via the very public medium of an open source micro blogging site called twitter.
But as the saying goes ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on‘, which goes some way to explaining how this #FakeNews headline traveled as far as Australia and why, months later, respected journalists like Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman were still under the impression that an MP had been sent over 600 rape threats in one day.
In her book #everywoman Jess Phillips confirms that the truth about that infamous day in May is that she received a grand total of no rape threats.
But from her perspective she experienced something just as bad: ‘thousands of messages about the different way that people from all over the world would not rape’ her.
It is of course illegal to make a credible threat of sexual assault against a person and Phillips suggests that the men and women were pledging not to rape her was simply a wily way to talk about actually raping her without getting arrested. Either that or they just wanted to tell her that they thought she was ugly.
Unlike Phillips, I don’t presume to understand the very definite reasons why a relatively small number of people took to twitter to pledge not to rape a Member of Parliament, although one transgender kid did subsequently take to social media to explain what was going through their head at the time.
Even so, anyone who was paying the slightest bit of attention, it clearly had more to do a piss tacking response to Phillips’ own over the top response to one person’s question and more generally her hypocritical, out of touch and biased views on freedom of speech and gender equality.
That and probably a ironic, albeit childish, wink at the popular myth that fanatical followers of the feminist ideology tend to believe that all men are rapists.
Personally I not going to condone people tweeting someone to pledge never to rape them but even so, and unless we are factoring in messages of support by people like fellow #ReclaimtheInternet campaigner (and former Equalities Minister) Jo Swinson, then it seems unrealistic to suggest that there really were ‘thousands of messages’ discussing ‘the different way that people would not rape’ her.
My estimate comes in at less than one hundred, but whether it’s one, one hundred or one thousand, and childish and in poor taste as those pledges may be, it does strike me as possible that cognitive dissonance might explain how Phillips could conclude that this was a coordinated attack intended to intimidate her into silence.
It is not the viciousness of attacks I get on the internet that bothers me. People talking about raping me isn’t fun but has become somewhat par for the course. What is a real pain is the thousands of tweets or Facebook notifications that join in. I think my record is 700 people blocked in one night.
The ultimate irony about the entire affair is that the individual who’s tweet (ahem) triggered the incident was specifically commenting on Phillips’ extraordinary claims about the level of abuse she receives. Responding to her claim that she had heroically blocked 700 people in one night, his observation was that in all likelihood the MP was simply blocking people who disagreed with her policy positions and that most of those 700 odd tweets were ‘probably not even rape threats’.
The nuance of the joke subsequently repeated by a procession of not rape pledges popping up in the #everywoman’s feed after she responded was clearly lost on her and practically every journalist who put their name the sort of headlines that could be enough to scare a girl scout off the internet.
Then again, for a Member of Parliament with two degrees, Jess Phillips can sometimes be extremely ignorant.
Image credit & Quotations: Jess Phillips / Penguin / Hutchinson Fair Use (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act): Criticism, Education & Parody