It was a bad week for Sari Botton.
First, the candidate she passionately wanted to be the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), didn’t perform well on Super Tuesday. And on Thursday, she dropped out of the race.
Since then, she says she’s been getting harassed aggressively on social media. The editor in Kingston, N.Y., was shocked at the amount of vitriol she says was hurled at her on Facebook specifically, considering it’s an audience of people she knows.
“People were brutal to me from every angle … the Biden people, the Bernie people, the ‘feminist men’ who are not anything resembling allies,” Botton said on Friday. “I felt attacked on every angle.”
The end goal, she posits, was “trying to get me to speak less. I think it was a unconscious reaction to a woman speaking out — first Warren speaking out and then me speaking out,” Botton said.
For digital harassment experts, stories like Botton’s are not surprising. A confluence of factors typical of online harassment came together for an uptick in harassment of Warren’s supporters who are women.
“There’s a lot of reasons why it could seem worse,” Jessica Vitak, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Communities and Information at the University of Maryland, said.
“Women are more subject to more violent harassment, sexual assault and violent threats, and doxing. And we know women and people of color are more vulnerable to these kinds of attacks,” Vitak said.
Vitak noted that while men and women are both harassed online, “men are harassed for their behavior,” such as a poor performance on online games, while “women are harassed because they are women.”
“Women were vocalizing how hard this was to see after such an amazing start in the presidential campaign on the Democratic side early on. That just opened the door because people are putting themselves in vulnerable positions talking about how let down they feel,” Vitak said.
For Sara Goldrick-Rab, a former adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the founder of the Hope Center for College Community and Justice in Philadelphia, the hostility is somewhat quantifiable. In the past month, she said she had to mute about 3,000 people on Twitter and in the past week, about 500.
“The overarching theme has been you can’t be a real progressive if you support her, she’s a terrible person for not dropping out and supporting Bernie from the get go,” Goldrick-Rab said. “God forbid you suggest she was just the best person for the job.”
Shireen Mitchell, the founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women, also noted an uptick in demands being made of Warren supporters once she dropped out of the race.
“They’re basically telling them if you believe in this that and the other, there’s no way you could vote for Biden and you have no choice but to vote for Sanders. Sanders has not won the black vote for a reason and to go to black people, especially black women, and say all of a sudden we need to just come over to your side, the rationale is not logical,” Mitchell said.
“So when I watch these supporters try to tell black people what to do right now, I get into firestorm mode about that.”