A violent Twitter message depicted in NETIZENS.
NETIZENS delves into the lives of three women whose lives have been transformed by online harassment. Carrie Goldberg is an attorney in New York City, who launches an internet privacy and sexual assault law firm in the wake of her own cyber harassment. Tina Reine, in West Palm Beach, is a successful businesswoman whose career is derailed after an ex-boyfriend creates numerous reputation-harming websites. San Francisco-based Anita Sarkeesian is the creator of a popular web-series, “Feminist Frequency,” critiquing representations of women in video games, who is the target of a cyber-mob’s ongoing campaign of rape and death threats.
Through an intimate, vérité approach, NETIZENS depicts the many forms digital abuse can take: non-consensual pornography, cyber-stalking, threats of violence, privacy invasions, impersonation, character attacks. The film challenges the notion cyber harassment is “only” online, showing the repercussions on targets’ lives: lost jobs, thwarted educations, damaged reputations, offline harassment and stalking, and countless hours devoted to containing attacks against a backdrop of mounting legal fees and psychological distress.
While law enforcement lags far behind the crimes, the film’s subjects seek justice on their own terms. Carrie's law firm takes off in the midst of the #MeToo movement; Tina speaks out about her experiences and breaks back into the finance industry; and Anita creates a new series about race, gender and inequality in America. NETIZENS bears witness as a courageous wave of individuals transform the web as we know it.
NETIZENS also features
SORAYA CHEMALY – She is the director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project, advocating for women’s freedom of expression online and working with tech companies and policymakers to reduce internet violence against women.
DANIELLE KEATS CITRON – She is a chief legal scholar on cyber civil rights and author of the groundbreaking book, “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace,” exploring how the law can be used to prevent and redress cyber harassment.
MARY ANNE FRANKS – She is a law professor at the University of Miami and is the Tech and Legislative Policy Director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, helping to craft state and federal anti-harassment legislation.
WESLEY HSU – As the Section Chief of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Unit, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Wesley Hsu’s team is at the forefront of prosecuting high-profile federal internet privacy cases.
JAMIA WILSON – She is a journalist and the the executive director and publisher of the Feminist Press. As the former executive director of Women, Action and the Media (WAM!), Jamia is a leader in social justice and women’s rights, advocating for gender equality in tech to reduce gendered online harassment.
Director's statement from Cynthia Lowen
The web is perhaps the most important public space in our communities, integral to expression, employment, education and opportunity. But as a result of gendered cyber harassment, women are signing off blogs, shuttering social networking profiles, withdrawing from professional circles and limiting their participation in a range of ways. And what happens online has profound ramifications offline: many women have their home and work addresses posted, presenting threats to their safety. Many receive violent messages that radically proscribe their freedom of movement and daily routines. Others face the humiliation of explaining to potential employers why reputation-harming material surfaces in Google searches of their name. Women in abusive relationships are under constant surveillance by abusers equipped with location data, stalking tools and a plethora of “revenge porn” websites.
My primary goal with NETIZENS is to powerfully and cinematically depict online harassment and the immense impact it has on its victim’s online and offline lives. Through an intimate window into the ways in which harassment has changed each woman’s life, I hope to challenge attitudes that minimize or normalize digital abuse, and to debunk the notion that online harassment is “not real,” or only online. By spending time in my subject’s homes, workplaces and environments, we witness how every aspect of their personal and professional lives are affected. Through a strong vérité approach to the subject matter, NETIZENS breaks down the false divide between our online and offline lives.
At the core of my practice is the belief that we can transform the world through storytelling. Therein, NETIZENS is also about women relentlessly pursuing justice and inspiring the next generation of journalists, scientists, activists, artists, and engineers to continue their work in the face of intimidation. As the internet is flooded with accounts of sexual assault and harassment under the hashtag #MeToo, real change is underway; we are witnessing the power and potential of women's voices online to transform our communities and workplaces offline. At a time when cyber harassment is being recognized as a barrier to all that the internet offers, and a huge dimension of intimate partner violence, it’s my hope NETIZENS will take part in catalyzing justice and equality online.
– Cynthia Lowen