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HuffPo Partnership Fights Cyber Subjugation of Women

June 18, 2010

[caption id="attachment_8612" align="alignright" width="184" caption="Arianna Huffington"]huffington[/caption]

To handle its ever-growing influx of 100,000 comments a day, the Huffington Post yesterday acquired technology startup Adaptive Semantics.  Bringing their semantic-analysis engine JuLiA to the table, Adaptive Semantics cofounders Elena Haliczer and Jeff Revesz will significantly vamp up HuffPo’s ability to effectively flag inappropriate comments, hate speech, and spam.

With this announcement, the Huffington Post maintains its leadership at the forefront of fighting abusive and excessively foul online language.  Previously, the site has maintained a “zero tolerance” policy toward abusive language and employed moderators “24/7” to filter the comments.  With this recent addition of moderation leader Adaptive Semantics, however, the Post’s effective leadership will reach a whole new level.  As Huffington Post co-founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington stated:

“From the beginning, moderating comments has played a pivotal role in helping HuffPost to rapidly expand by ensuring a civil dialogue that nurtured a loyal and passionate community…We look forward to exploring ways in which Adaptive Semantics' technology will help us continue to serve our community while exploring exciting new opportunities in how it can be used to expand and enrich our content.”

Ms. Huffington does not give herself enough credit.  This acquisition accomplishes more than simply further encouragement of the utopian, egalitarian community early online creators envisioned.  In particular, by minimizing the offensive comments posted to the site, the Huffington Post offers women a welcome respite in the fight against sexist cyberbullying and an open forum to strengthen their voices.

Abusive online comments have been, and continue to be, pointedly directed at women.  A 2006 University of Maryland study found that women in chat rooms are 25 times more likely to experience online harassment.  In total, women in the study averaged 163 threatening and/or sexually explicit messages a day.

[caption id="attachment_8613" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Kathy Sierra"]sierra[/caption]

And that same focused harassment carries over into the blogosphere.  As Feministe blogger Jill Filipovic notes, “Men may be told they’re idiots, but they aren’t called ‘whores.’”  Though men certainly receive their fair share of critical comments, women’s criticism is far more sexualized in nature and often threatening.

Violent sexual threats against women bloggers of this nature garnered international attention in 2007 when software programmer and powerhouse blogger Kathy Sierra – whose blog Creating Passionate Users reached No. 23 in the Top 100 list of blogs – shut down her site after being threatened with suffocation, rape, and hanging.

It doesn’t stop there.  Online harassment of women persists to this day.  Just last month, the Women’s Media Center won YouTube’s Video Volunteers contest with this powerful video.  YouTube then featured the winning video on their homepage for one day, thereby garnering the video widespread public attention.  The resulting  disparaging and infuriating barrage of insulting comments left on our video’s page following this mass publicity was enough to make Gloria Gaynor toss in the towel.

As a result of this continuing hostile and abusive environment, women have increasingly shied away from participating and engaging in online public spaces.  For this reason and many more, women continue to be absent from the public conversation.  At the Women’s Media Center, we work to amend this injustice by training women to enter the public forum with confidence and power through our Progressive Women’s Voices program.

With the combined effort of PWV and the trailblazing efforts of blogs like Huffington Post, we will fight back against the abusive subjugation of women online and in the public space as a whole.  Because women have every right to engage with their communities without fear of harm.