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Villainous Avatars: The Visual Semiotics of Misogyny and Free Speech in Cyberspace


Turton-Turner, P, Villainous Avatars: The Visual Semiotics of Misogyny and Free Speech in Cyberspace, Forum on Public Policy, 2013, (1) pp. 1-18. ISSN 1938-9809 (2013) [Refereed Article]

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This paper explores a noxious relationship between the emergence of liberal free speech online, and vitriolic sexual violence focused on women and girls. Internet forums provide instant access to expansive audiences. They provide powerful means for anonymous users called trolls, to amplify sexually motivated hate speech. In some cases suicidal deaths have been attributed to vicious Internet denouncements of women and girls. Demands to cease promoting gender violence online are often met with protestations invoking democratic rights to free speech, or that vilification of others simply voices "controversial humor". In 2011 Mary Anne Franks defined this type of liberal view as "cyberspace idealism". Franks has asserted that cyberspace idealism presupposes that the Internet is the ultimate bastion guarding the principles of equality and free thought. In social media such as Facebook and Twitter I examine deeply ingrained cultural meanings of images that vilify women and girls online. Through use of visual semiotics and feminist critical discourse analysis, I argue that the intrinsic mechanism of sexual power play informing gender violence in the "virtual" world, is embedded in "real" world language. It is amplified online at the expense of a woman’s right to dignity, privacy, and free speech. Patriarchal discourses that implicitly legitimate and normalize misogyny on the Internet, can only thwart the possibility of a truly utopian and democratic space existing in cyberspace.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:online gender violence, misogyny, sexism, free speech, cyberspace idealism, visual semiotics, Internet trolls, Foucauldian feminism
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Gender studies
Research Field:Gender relations
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Arts
Objective Field:The creative arts
UTAS Author:Turton-Turner, P (Dr Pamela Turton-Turner)
ID Code:85543
Year Published:2013
Deposited By:School of Creative Arts and Media
Deposited On:2013-07-16
Last Modified:2018-02-17
Downloads:22 View Download Statistics

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