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Ashley Judd is hoping to take the high road in her stance against online violence.
“We are talking about human beings — I am a human being and so are the people who commit the abuse, and the underlying problem is the dehumanization of me,” she first told panel moderator Katie Couric at the 2015 Women in the World Summit, held at New York City’s David H. Koch Theater.
The actress, a longtime Kentucky Wildcats fan, was viciously attacked on social media last month after she noted that the Arkansas Razorbacks were “playing dirty” during the SEC championship game. Judd has since deleted the tweet, penned an op-ed on the topic, and hired a social media firm to “scrub” her Twitter and Facebook accounts of the abuse, including, she told Couric, “porn images of me, threatening to ejaculate on my face. … By the way, this doesn’t happen to Jack Nicholson!”
“Patriarchy is a system,” Judd told Couric. “It is not boys and men, it is a system that we all participate in, sometimes even me … but it’s constantly an invitation to challenge my own thinking.”
Judd, who told Couric she is “new to speaking up about this,” noted that she is in the midst of legal action against her persecutors. The law firm she hired is now busy categorizing each piece of hate speech by whether it is pornographic or threatening, and by what aspect of Judd it is targeting — her gender, race, age, family, etc. “I can see which ones are most legally actionable,” she explained. “Saying you want to f— me to death is actionable, and that’s where I am with that.”
Upon receiving the threats, Judd called the police. “I think it’s the first call of its type the Williamson county sheriff department has ever received,” she said, noting that the department’s response was commendable: “It was very gracious and I felt very protected for a change.”
Judd’s fellow panelist, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, called for the wider adoption of technology by the government that will allow it to properly address such cases and be familiar with the spaces in which they occur. “It will not happen quickly enough if it happens organically,” said Harris. “We can’t wait until they figure it out.” Feminist Frequency executive director Anita Sarkeesian asserted, “We don’t have to accept it, and we don’t have to jettison our humanity in order to participate.”
New York Times Magazine staff writer Emily Bazelon explained what tech companies are doing about the matter: Earlier this week, Twitter broadened its definition of a “threat” in order to minimize abuses, and the company is now trying out an algorithm to monitor activity and figure out what punitive action is most effective. “I’ll be really interested to see if Twitter follows through with their promises, and see what kind of pressure is put on other companies,” she said.
Judd, however, isn’t pleased with the platform. “When I was sitting there trying to report to Twitter, the method they gave me was so inadequate, and so underrepresented the experience I was having, and [it was] demoralizing every time I got an automated response from Twitter. By the way, I would like to put pressure on them right now — I’m totally aggravated that they haven’t reached out to me. I am low-hanging fruit.”
Facebook, Wikipedia, Instagram and YouTube were among the other platforms named as spaces of abuse. “You really lose your faith in humanity when you spend a little time online,” said Couric.
Despite her experiences, Judd doesn’t plan on backing away from social media anytime soon. “I want to stay on Twitter because I want to be connected and real,” she explained, her voice shaking while she recalled a specific message that moved her.
“When it was first really pouring down on me, there was one tweet in particular that I got. The woman read my op-ed, ‘Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.’ [The tweet said,] ‘Poignant, courageous, valuable’ — and I wrote it on my mirror,” said Judd. “So whoever she is, thank you.”
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