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Platform vulnerabilities: harassment and misogynoir in the digital attack on Leslie Jones

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In the summer of 2016, racist, misogynistic harassers attacked comedienne Leslie Jones on Twitter and on her personal website, which they hacked and flooded with sexist and racist imagery stolen largely from her personal accounts. Through a multiplatform discourse analysis of the Leslie Jones attack, this paper examines the connections between platform vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities of women of color, as well as the links between the rise of the alt-right and an increase in explicitly racist, misogynistic behaviors. Three key themes emerged from the analysis: messages of support and affirmation; the need for intervention; and the connection between this incident, systemic racism and sexism, and the rise of the alt-right. These themes serve as a bridge between the vulnerabilities of platforms and of women of color in those digital spaces and beyond. The supportive awareness campaigns and calls to action that issue publics launched online attempted to discursively ‘patch’ two perceived vulnerabilities – of Twitter as a platform and of Jones herself. However, in response to these ‘patches,’ members of the alt-right condemned Twitter and mainstream media for marginalizing their conservative voices, using this discourse to bolster their performance of victimization and oppression. Overall, this case study provides insight into the dynamics at work in the rise of the alt-right and online harassment, with particular attention to the significance of digital media, celebrity, and popular feminism in the ongoing political shifts in the United States.
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Keywords: Gender; celebrity; harassment; platforms; race

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Communication Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Publication date: June 3, 2018

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