There are lies, damned lies and then there are feminist troll-hunters wielding statistics.
For all the foul, threatening talk by so-called trolls online - sending bomb threats to MP Stella Creasy or hurling abuse at Cambridge classics don Mary Beard - few of these trolls ever seem to follow through on their vicious words. Indeed, many of the victims say that they never expect as much, and were hardly quivering in their shoes at lame tweets. Now, however, a report in the Guardian claims to have found a statistical smoking gun. A headline earlier this week said: ‘Online trolling of women is linked to domestic violence, say campaigners.’
The aim of this claim from anti-troll campaigners is clear - to prove that ‘abuse of women on sites such as Twitter should not be dismissed as harmless’. The chief executive of Women’s Aid, speaking before a London-based conference on ‘Cyber Stalking and Harassment’ this week, told the Guardian: ‘It is critical that we make the link between this vicious online harassment and cyberbullying and real-life violence against women.’
In an attempt to prove this critical link, Women’s Aid conducted a survey of ‘domestic violence survivors’ and found that of the 307 who responded, 48 per cent had been ‘harassed or abused online by their ex-partner once they had left the relationship’, with 45 per cent saying their partners had ‘abused [them] online during their relationship’. These stats are significant, the CEO of Women’s Aid claimed, because ‘we need to understand that this is part of a domestic violence spectrum and we have to challenge this type of misogyny because it is the backdrop that allows that violence to take place’.
Except, of course, the survey findings demonstrate no such thing. The headline figure of 48 per cent refers to people who have been harassed online after an abusive relationship has taken place - that is, after domestic violence has occurred. So it cannot be said that online abuse or harassment causes domestic violence. The claim effectively boils down to a simple tautology - that ‘people who have committed abuse have committed abuse’.