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TEDWomen 2016

Ashley Judd: How online abuse of women has spiraled out of control

October 27, 2016

Enough with online hate speech, sexual harassment and threats of violence against women and marginalized groups. It's time to take the global crisis of online abuse seriously. In this searching, powerful talk, Ashley Judd recounts her ongoing experience of being terrorized on social media for her unwavering activism and calls on citizens of the internet, the tech community, law enforcement and legislators to recognize the offline harm of online harassment.

Ashley Judd - Actor, activist
Delivering pointedly frank observations with down-home sincerity, actor Ashley Judd is building a committed activist career on intense personal experience. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
[This talk contains graphic language
and descriptions of sexual violence]
00:12
[Viewer discretion is advised]
00:15
"Ashley Judd, stupid fucking slut."
00:16
"You can't sue someone
for calling them a cunt."
00:21
"If you can't handle the Internet,
fuck off, whore."
00:24
"I wish Ashley Judd
would die a horrible death.
00:29
She is the absolute worst."
00:31
"Ashley Judd, you're the reason
women shouldn't vote."
00:34
"'Twisted' is such a bad movie,
00:38
I don't even want to rape it."
00:40
"Whatever you do,
00:44
don't tell Ashley Judd.
She'll die alone with a dried out vagina."
00:45
"If I had to fuck an older woman,
00:50
oh my God,
00:52
I would fuck the shit out of Ashley Judd,
00:54
that bitch is hot af.
00:56
The unforgivable shit I would do to her."
00:59
Online misogyny is a global
gender rights tragedy,
01:04
and it is imperative that it ends.
01:11
(Applause)
01:14
Girls' and women's voices,
01:22
and our allies' voices
are constrained in ways
01:24
that are personally, economically,
01:28
professionally and politically damaging.
01:30
And when we curb abuse,
01:32
we will expand freedom.
01:35
I am a Kentucky basketball fan,
01:39
so on a fine March day last year,
01:41
I was doing one of the things I do best:
01:43
I was cheering for my Wildcats.
01:45
The daffodils were blooming,
01:47
but the referees were not blowing
the whistle when I was telling them to.
01:49
(Laughter)
01:52
Funny, they're very friendly
to me before the opening tip,
01:53
but they really ignore me during the game.
01:56
(Laughter)
01:58
Three of my players were bleeding,
so I did the next best thing ...
01:59
I tweeted.
02:03
[@ArkRazorback dirty play can kiss
my team's free throw making a --
02:04
@KySportsRadio @marchmadness
@espn Bloodied 3 players so far.]
02:07
It is routine for me to be treated
in the ways I've already described to you.
02:10
It happens to me every single day
02:14
on social media platforms
such as Twitter and Facebook.
02:15
Since I joined Twitter in 2011,
02:18
misogyny and misogynists
have amply demonstrated
02:20
they will dog my every step.
02:25
My spirituality, my faith,
02:27
being a hillbilly --
I can say that, you can't --
02:29
all of it is fair game.
02:31
And I have responded to this
with various strategies.
02:34
I've tried engaging people.
02:38
This one guy was sending me
hypersexual, nasty stuff,
02:39
and there was a girl in his avatar.
02:44
I wrote him back and said ...
02:46
"Is that your daughter?
02:49
I feel a lot of fear
that you may think about
02:52
and talk to women this way."
02:54
And he surprised me by saying,
02:55
"You know what?
You're right. I apologize."
02:57
Sometimes people
want to be held accountable.
02:59
This one guy was musing
to I don't know who
03:03
that maybe I was the definition of a cunt.
03:06
I was married to a Scot for 14 years,
03:08
so I said, "Cunt means many
different things in different countries --
03:10
(Laughter)
03:14
but I'm pretty sure you epitomize
the global standard of a dick."
03:15
(Laughter)
03:18
(Applause)
03:20
I've tried to rise above it,
I've tried to get in the trenches,
03:24
but mostly I would scroll through
these social media platforms
03:27
with one eye partially closed,
trying not to see it,
03:30
but you can't make
a cucumber out of a pickle.
03:33
What is seen goes in.
03:36
It's traumatic.
03:37
And I was always secretly hoping
in some part of me
03:39
that what was being said to me
and about me wasn't ...
03:42
true.
03:46
Because even I,
03:49
an avowed, self-declared feminist,
03:51
who worships at the altar of Gloria --
03:55
(Laughter)
03:58
internalize the patriarchy.
04:00
This is really critical.
04:03
Patriarchy is not boys and men.
04:04
It is a system
in which we all participate,
04:07
including me.
04:10
On that particular day, for some reason,
04:14
that particular tweet
after the basketball game
04:16
triggered something called a "cyber mob."
04:19
This vitriolic, global outpouring
of the most heinous hate speech:
04:21
death threats, rape threats.
04:27
And don't you know,
04:29
when I was sitting at home
alone in my nightgown,
04:30
I got a phone call,
and it was my beloved former husband,
04:33
and he said on a voice mail,
04:35
"Loved one ...
04:37
what is happening to you is not OK."
04:39
And there was something about him
taking a stand for me that night ...
04:43
that allowed me
to take a stand for myself.
04:50
And I started to write.
04:52
I started to write about sharing the fact
04:54
that I'm a survivor
of all forms of sexual abuse,
04:57
including three rapes.
04:59
And the hate speech
I get in response to that --
05:01
these are just some of the comments
posted to news outlets.
05:03
Being told I'm a "snitch" is really fun.
05:08
[Jay: She enjoyed every second of it!!!!!]
05:13
Audience: Oh, Lord Jesus.
05:15
Ashley Judd: Thank you, Jesus.
May your grace and mercy shine.
05:16
So, I wrote this feminist op-ed,
it is entitled,
05:20
"Forget Your Team:
05:24
It Is Your Online Gender Violence
Toward Girls And Women
05:26
That Can Kiss My Righteous Ass."
05:29
(Laughter)
05:31
(Applause)
05:33
And I did that alone,
and I published it alone,
05:36
because my chief advisor said,
05:38
"Please don't,
05:40
the rain of retaliatory garbage
that is inevitable --
05:41
I fear for you."
05:44
But I trust girls and I trust women,
05:45
and I trust our allies.
05:47
It was published, it went viral,
05:49
it proves that every single day
05:51
online misogyny is a phenomenon
endured by us all,
05:53
all over the world,
05:56
and when it is intersectional,
05:57
it is worse.
05:59
Sexual orientation, gender identity,
06:00
race, ethnicity, religion --
06:02
you name it,
06:04
it amplifies the violence
endured by girls and women,
06:05
and for our younger girls, it is worse.
06:08
It's clearly traumatizing.
06:13
Our mental health,
our emotional well-being
06:14
are so gravely affected
06:18
because the threat of violence
06:19
is experienced
neurobiologically as violence.
06:21
The cortisol shoots up,
the limbic system gets fired,
06:25
we lose productivity at work.
06:28
And let's talk about work.
06:31
Our ability to work is constrained.
06:33
Online searches of women applying for jobs
reveal nude pictures of them,
06:37
false allegations they have STDs,
06:41
their addresses indicating
that they are available for sex
06:44
with real examples
06:50
of people showing up
at this house for said sex.
06:51
Our ability to go to school is impaired.
06:56
96 percent of all postings
07:01
of sexual images of our young people ...
07:03
girls.
07:07
Our girls.
07:09
Our boys are two to three
times more likely --
07:10
nonconsensually --
07:14
to share images.
07:16
And I want to say a word
about revenge porn.
07:19
Part of what came out of this tweet
07:22
was my getting connected
with allies and other activists
07:24
who are fighting
for a safe and free internet.
07:27
We started something
called the Speech Project;
07:30
curbing abuse, expanding freedom.
07:33
And that website
provides a critical forum,
07:35
because there is no global, legal thing
07:39
to help us figure this out.
07:43
But we do provide on that website
a standardized list of definitions,
07:45
because it's hard to attack
a behavior in the right way
07:49
if we're not all sharing
a definition of what that behavior is.
07:52
And I learned that revenge porn
is often dangerously misapplied.
07:55
It is the nonconsensual
sharing of an image
08:00
used tactically to shame
and humiliate a girl or woman
08:03
that attempts to pornography us.
08:08
Our natural sexuality is --
08:10
I don't know about yours --
pretty gorgeous and wonderful.
08:14
And my expressing it
does not pornography make.
08:19
(Applause)
08:22
So, I have all these resources
08:28
that I'm keenly aware
so many people in the world do not.
08:29
I was able to start
the Speech Project with colleagues.
08:33
I can often get a social media
company's attention.
08:37
I have a wonderful visit
to Facebook HQ coming up.
08:39
Hasn't helped the idiotic
reporting standards yet ...
08:45
I actually pay someone
to scrub my social media feeds,
08:50
attempting to spare my brain
08:56
the daily iterations
of the trauma of hate speech.
08:58
And guess what?
09:03
I get hate speech for that.
09:04
"Oh, you live in an echo chamber."
09:05
Well, guess what?
09:07
Having someone post a photograph
of me with my mouth open
09:08
saying they "can't wait
to cum on my face,"
09:11
I have a right to set that boundary.
09:13
(Applause)
09:15
And this distinction
between virtual and real is specious
09:21
because guess what --
09:24
that actually happened to me
once when I was a child,
09:26
and so that tweet brought up that trauma,
09:28
and I had to do work on that.
09:31
But you know what we do?
We take all of this hate speech,
09:32
and we disaggregate it,
09:36
and we code it,
09:38
and we give that data
09:40
so that we understand
the intersectionality of it:
09:42
when I get porn,
09:44
when it's about political affiliation,
09:46
when it's about age,
when it's about all of it.
09:48
We're going to win this fight.
09:51
There are a lot of solutions --
09:54
thank goodness.
09:57
I'm going to offer just a few,
09:59
and of course I challenge you
to create and contribute your own.
10:01
Number one: we have to start
with digital media literacy,
10:07
and clearly it must have a gendered lens.
10:10
Kids, schools, caregivers, parents:
10:14
it's essential.
10:16
Two ...
10:18
shall we talk about our friends in tech?
10:20
Said with dignity and respect,
10:23
the sexism in your workplaces must end.
10:26
(Applause)
10:31
(Cheers)
10:33
EDGE,
10:35
the global standard for gender equality,
10:37
is the minimum standard.
10:39
And guess what, Silicon Valley?
10:41
If L'Oréal in India,
10:43
in the Philippines, in Brazil
10:45
and in Russia can do it,
10:47
you can, too.
10:49
Enough excuses.
10:52
Only when women have critical mass
in every department at your companies,
10:55
including building platforms
from the ground up,
10:59
will the conversations
about priorities and solutions change.
11:01
And more love for my friends in tech:
11:06
profiteering off misogyny
in video games must end.
11:08
I'm so tired of hearing you
talk to me at cocktail parties --
11:12
like you did a couple
weeks ago in Aspen --
11:16
about how deplorable #Gamergate was,
11:18
when you're still making
billions of dollars off games
11:21
that maim and dump women for sport.
11:24
Basta! -- as the Italians would say.
11:27
Enough.
11:30
(Applause)
11:31
Our friends in law enforcement
have much to do,
11:35
because we've seen
11:38
that online violence
is an extension of in-person violence.
11:40
In our country,
11:46
more girls and women have been
murdered by their intimate partners
11:48
than died on 9/11
11:52
and have died since
in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
11:54
And it's not cool to say that,
11:59
but it is true.
12:01
We care so much geopolitically
about what men are doing over there
12:03
to women over there ...
12:07
In 2015,
12:09
72,828 women used intimate
partner violence services in this country.
12:11
That is not counting the girls
and women and boys who needed them.
12:18
Law enforcement must be empowered
12:23
with up-to-date internet technology,
12:26
the devices and an understanding
of these platforms --
12:28
how they work.
12:31
The police wanted to be helpful
when Amanda Hess called
12:33
about the death threat
she was getting on Twitter,
12:36
but they couldn't really when they said,
12:38
"What's Twitter?"
12:40
Our legislators must write
and pass astute legislation
12:44
that reflects today's technology
12:48
and our notions of free and hate speech.
12:50
In New York recently, the law
could not be applied to a perpetrator
12:54
because the crimes
must have been committed --
12:58
even if it was anonymous --
13:01
they must have been committed
by telephone, in mail,
13:02
by telegraph --
13:06
(Laughter)
13:08
The language must be
technologically neutral.
13:13
So apparently,
13:17
I've got a pretty bold voice.
13:19
So, let's talk about our friends ...
13:21
white men.
13:24
You have a role to play
and a choice to make.
13:27
You can do something,
13:30
or you can do nothing.
13:32
We're cool in this room,
13:36
but when this goes out, everyone will say,
13:37
"Oh my God, she's a reverse racist."
13:39
That quote was said
by a white man, Robert Moritz,
13:42
chairperson, PricewaterhouseCoopers,
13:46
he asked me to include it in my talk.
13:48
We need to grow support lines
and help groups,
13:52
so victims can help each other
13:56
when their lives and finances
have been derailed.
13:59
We must as individuals disrupt
gender violence as it is happening.
14:02
92 percent of young people
14:06
29 and under witness it.
14:08
72 percent of us have witnessed it.
14:10
We must have the courage and urgency
14:14
to practice stopping it
as it is unfolding.
14:15
And lastly,
14:20
believe her.
14:22
Believe her.
14:25
(Applause)
14:26
This is fundamentally
a problem of human interaction.
14:33
And as I believe that human interaction
is at the core of our healing,
14:38
trauma not transformed
will be trauma transferred.
14:42
Edith Wharton said,
"The end is latent in the beginning,"
14:47
so we are going to end this talk
replacing hate speech with love speech.
14:50
Because I get lonely in this,
14:55
but I know that we are allies.
14:57
I recently learned
15:00
about how gratitude and affirmations
offset negative interactions.
15:02
It takes five of those
to offset one negative interaction,
15:06
and gratitude in particular --
15:10
free, available globally
any time, anywhere,
15:11
to anyone in any dialect --
15:14
it fires the pregenual anterior cingulate,
15:16
a watershed part of the brain
15:20
that floods it with great, good stuff.
15:21
So I'm going to say
awesome stuff about myself.
15:24
I would like for you
to reflect it back to me.
15:27
It might sound something like this --
15:29
(Laughter)
15:31
I am a powerful and strong woman,
and you would say, "Yes, you are."
15:33
Audience: Yes, you are.
15:37
Ashley Judd: My mama loves me.
15:38
A: Yes, she does.
15:40
AJ: I did a great job with my talk.
15:42
A: Yes, you did.
15:44
AJ: I have a right to be here.
15:45
A: Yes, you do.
15:48
AJ: I'm really cute.
15:50
(Laughter)
15:51
A: Yes, you are.
15:53
AJ: God does good work.
15:54
A: Yes, He does.
15:56
AJ: And I love you.
15:58
Thank you so much
for letting me be of service.
16:00
Bless you.
16:03
(Applause)
16:04

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Ashley Judd - Actor, activist
Delivering pointedly frank observations with down-home sincerity, actor Ashley Judd is building a committed activist career on intense personal experience.

Why you should listen

In 2015, Ashley Judd tweeted a casual, critical comment at the Arkansas Razorbacks -- and found herself plunged into the world of cyberbullying and violence. But rather than backing off, Judd pushed back, seeking legal action and lending her voice to growing demands for a safe internet free from abuse.

In addition to her acclaimed roles in films such as Ruby in Paradise and Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Judd is the author of a memoir, All That Is Bitter and Sweet. As a humanitarian and advocate, she’s worked with organizations ranging from the United Nations Population Fund (for whom she serves as Goodwill Ambassador) to Population Services International.

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