Why saying “Get off the internet” is terrible advice for victims of online harassment

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I spoke with actor, writer, and intimacy coordinator Michela Carattini about her film “Remote Access,” which she cowrote and coproduced with screenwriter Leanne Mangan. Penelope Berkemeier directed the film. Michela, the daughter of a Panamanian-American military intelligence officer and an Australian ballerina, grew up in Germany, where she developed an interest in languages, obscure autobiographies, and criminal behavior. Michela’s award-winning storytelling is driven by her search for world’s compassion and intelligence.

Stills from the short film “Remote Access”

MICHELA CARATTINI: It was really two films that got me off my butt to improve the situation in the world and in the Czech Republic; one of them was “Hotel Rwanda” (2004) and the other one was the Lifetime movie “Human Trafficking” (2005). Those movies influenced me greatly and caused me to take action when without them, I probably wouldn’t have. There’s one line in “Hotel Rwanda” and it will stay with me the rest of my life, when the main character asks, “Don’t people in the rest of the world know this is happening?” And the other character answers, “Yes, they see it on TV, and then they think, ‘Oh my god, that’s awful,’ and then they go back to their dinners. They go back to eat.”

Something inside me was like, “I can’t do that, I can’t be one of those people.” I believe in the power of film to move people, to take action, to influence the way that they think, and to help change the world. So I haven’t really stopped trying to make the world a better, more intelligent place; I’m just going about it in a different way than when I was working directly with survivors.

This is my second short film, “Remote Access.”

REBECCA MARTIN: Great film!

CARATTINI: It just had its world premiere in New York at the Girl Power Film & Media Summit. It won Best Short, which was an amazing surprise. We’re really excited about its festival run. This was cowritten by myself and Leanne Mangan, and also coproduced by the two of us, and directed by Penelope Berkemeier, so very much a female-led project. We didn’t sit down intending to write a feminist film or intending to write a female-driven film. We were brainstorming, Leanne and I, about what we wanted to write about, what we were interested in, and she mentioned Gamergate. And if you’re not familiar with Gamergate—

MARTIN: I’m not, unfortunately.

CARATTINI: Okay, it’s an incident, in the US, where a bunch of male gamers started attacking female gamers because there weren’t that many in the industry, and many of them believe that there shouldn’t be any women creating games, or women in tech in general. Two of the most famous victims of Gamergate are Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. I went and read Zoe Quinn’s book “Crash Override.” It opened my eyes to the fact that cyber harassment can reach out into a person’s real life, and to the fact that the advice “Get off the internet,” which is the advice given by the criminal justice system around the world, is actually potentially bad advice and dangerous advice and comes from a lack of understanding of the internet and how it works.

The things that were going on from doxxing to swatting, you can look those terms up if you don’t know them, but they are incredibly frightening, they are life-threatening. They can ruin an entire person’s life, even if they never get on the internet again, which, let’s be honest, never getting on the internet again isn’t really a realistic option for most of us these days. And it’s frightening.

And Zoe Quinn, she’s my superhero, because not only was she the most famous victim of this, and just really let down by the criminal justice system, but what she did in response to that was to start an entire network, crash override network. If you go to the website, it has a ton of resources about cyber harassment and what to do. First of all to prevent it, and to make yourself less of an easy target, and also what to do if it’s happening to you. And I have no connection to Zoe Quinn or any of those people. I’m just in incredible admiration of what she’s done, and how she’s taken something horrible that happened to her and found a way to help other people so they don’t have to go through what she does. She’s now consulted by the biggest corporations, industries, and governments in the world because she—

MARTIN: Wow, that’s good to hear!

CARATTINI: —is an expert now. In a world where unfortunately our judges are not required to know what the internet is.

MARTIN: That’s sad. I’m really glad you made this film because I don’t think I’ve seen a film before where they explore that aspect. Where you get the thriller, and you get the abusive husband, but you don’t get the whole internet aspect. Or at least I haven’t seen anything like this where there’s an internet spin on it, if that makes sense. I like how you brought the story and internet side together. Can you share more about that?

CARATTINI: Thank you. That’s a great compliment coming from you because I know you’ve seen a lot of films.

MARTIN: Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of movies. Your film is original.

CARATTINI: We wanted to make it as cutting edge and up-to-date as possible. Again, we didn’t set out to make a film about domestic violence, but when I look back at the film, it is a film about domestic violence. But how that has evolved in today’s world, what that looks like; it’s not only just hitting somebody with a club. That’s not what it looks like anymore.

We really wanted the character, the guy’s character, the boyfriend’s character Ben (played by Tom Dalzell), we wanted him to be the proverbial nice guy. The guy you never see doing something like this, he never sees himself doing something like this. But somehow the fact that it was one step removed from a human, being on the computer makes it easier to hurt somebody, they’re not really there. We put him in a vulnerable situation, he’s just been through a breakup, he’s feeling really upset, and it was so easy to cross that line. That was something we wanted to show. It was much easier to cross that line typing something mean on a computer than it is to actually hit somebody. That may be a harder line to cross.

So we wanted to look at how easy it was to do, but what a difference it made to write it on a computer versus writing it on a piece of paper or even shouting it at somebody. Because there’s an audience when you write it on the internet. There’s an audience waiting. In some cases, if you are from a minority group, which cyber harassment  disproportionately targets women and minority groups. They’re often waiting for their next target. “Please hand us our next person to go after.” They’re very organized. They’re all over the world. They have the capacity to go after somebody 24/7 because they are organized in a very intelligent way. Just last month there was an article published here in Australia, one of our big news editors, Osman Faruqi, was doxxed, so all of his private information was published online and he went to the police, and they said, literally the words in the film, “Just get off the internet.”

MARTIN: Trolls are not going to stop; that’s their whole thing, they keep on the going. Even if you’re on or off.

CARATTINI: They have access to your phone number and your address and we’re not talking about the internet anymore. So it was interesting that even after we made the film, there was this incident, and it’s happening all the time of course, but a very public one, where the exact same thing happened—well obviously not the end of the movie, we won’t talk about that. But in terms of the victimization and the interaction with the criminal justice system, almost word for word what happens in the film. That was really validating in terms of the importance of the film and the message. The fact that this has become a new weapon.

Here’s a statistic, it’s an Australian statistic; it’s from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare from 2018, but the American statistics aren’t that far off. Intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability, and deaths than any other risk factor for women age 25 to 44.

MARTIN: Oh wow.

CARATTINI: That blows me away; that’s our number one risk factor.

MARTIN: Thank you for sharing that.

CARATTINI: And that gives me pause, and I think that it should give us pause to think about why that is, because it doesn’t have to be, it doesn’t fall in the same category as disease or car accidents or natural disasters, things that we have a lot less control over. I think getting those people in power to understand that this is something real in the lives of most women today, and it needs to be taken seriously. My hope for this film is that it helps people to see that, and it also helps people think before they write something online, who maybe weren’t intending to hurt somebody else the way that they possibly can.

Learn more at michelacarattini.com and @MichelaCarattini.

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