FOR THE PAST FOUR YEARS, I have taught sophisticated university students about changes afoot with the internet culture that wraps around their lives. And in each successive year, the web itself reinforces the idea that it's alright to humiliate people online.
Except for women it's worse because revenge porn is an art form now. If you're jilted by a lover, you just photoshop her face onto another's nude body then pass the creation around Reddit or 4Chan and notch up thousands of views and downloads. Or if you're really talented, put the Shop Job on eBay and auction the clip (complete with full personal details, including home address and phone number).
Last week, Utah State University had to cancel a talk by pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian. The university received an anonymous threat to murder everyone who attended the talk. "I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols and a collection of pipe bombs," the anonymous e-mail said. 
"We live in a nation of emasculated cowards too afraid to challenge the vile, misandrist harpies who seek to destroy them," read one threat directed at Anita Sarkeesian on Tuesday. "Feminism has taken over every facet of our society, and women like Sarkeesian want to punish us for even fantasizing about being men. This is why I’ve chosen to target her."
It is not hard finding diatribe just like the vitriol directed at Sarkeesian. The trolls have rounded on me for pointing out the sexism inherent in many mainstream games. When Sarkeesian suggested that gamers might benefit from a small dose of feminism, the same anonymous person who threatened Sarkeesian said he would “write [a] manifesto in her spilled blood.”
In a social media module I teach to sport and conditioning students, I've highlighted the recent abuse felt by Chloe Madeley (in the selfie from @madeleychloe accompanying this post). Madeley is the 27-year-old daughter of television presenters Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. Chloe got slammed with abusive comments on Twitter after her mother suggested violent rapes should be treated more seriously than other kinds.
"Judy's given me her blessing to rape you," one anonymous troll wrote. "Naturally, I have to acquire a paper bag first." Chloe read that tweet while checking her mobile phone in her bed. She felt intimidated.
In England, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling revealed that the maximum six month sentence for internet abuse will be quadrupled in a new crackdown on the 10-year law. 
Chloe, described by the Sunday Express as an "all-around gym bod"  last night welcomed the move and said that the most sickening comments amounted to "online terrorism" and she feels those responsible should be punished.
Prosecuting everyone involved in this kind of "life ruin" behaviour is impossible because it is very simple to set up and then quickly abandon a fake account. Sites like Twitter and Facebook, based in the States, tend to protect free speech and are very resistant to criminalising trolls. But there is strong reason to discuss with young men and women why the sexual humiliation of women is thrilling (even empowering). What I've discovered is that this kind of attitude is not confined to touchscreens. It's actually an attitude well-oiled and endorsed by the Bro Culture that festers in many corners of the internet. Perhaps by spotlighting that culture we might start to arrest its development.
1. Helen Lewis -- "Trolls, hackers and revenge porn" in The Sunday Times, October 19, 2014.
2. Taylor Wooford -- "Who is Anita Sarkeesian, One of the women at the center of #GamerGate" in Newsweek, October 17, 2014.
3. Katy Forrester -- "Chloe Madeley rape threats: Online trolls could face up to two years in jail - after Ched Evans row" in the Daily Mirror, October 19, 2014.
4. Felicity Thistlewaite -- "Chloe Madeley shows off her impressive gym physique" in the Sunday Express, July 21, 2014.
[Bernie Goldbach teaches modules in Computing and Culture to creative multimedia students and Social Media to sports and conditioning students in the Limerick Institute of Technology.]