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Being a Chick in Cyberspace

As the end of Women’s History Month approaches, I am excited to share a blog post I wrote earlier this month at The Digital Leadership Network. I am a founder of this group, which is

Digtial Leadership Network LogoA collaborative network of working educational professionals who have an invested interest and curiosity in social communication technologies, and their influence and impact on students, educators, and society.

Our goal is to unify and collaborate with other higher educational professionals interested in the intersection of Leadership and Digital Communication Tools.

Find us blogging at DigitalLeadershipNetwork.com, and if you’d like to be involved reach out here.

Part of this blog is also rolling out a new program I am offering at college campuses – even using the name of this piece – Being a Chick in Cyberspace!

Being a Chick in Cyberspace Promo

Program Description: Women ages 18-29 are more likely to experience online harassment. At the same time, countless efforts are flourishing in digital spaces for women that build community, professional development and more. This session will lay out the realities of being a chick in the digital space, through the lens of digital identity, wellness, reputation, and leadership. 
Learning Outcomes:

  • Participants will learn four stories of young women that have had positive and negative experiences with digital communication tools.
  • All participants will download three tools for privacy, safety, and emergency communication if ever faced with online or face to face harassment, bullying, or sexual assault.
  • Engage with at least one other participate in sharing digital experiences as a female gender identified student.
  • Learn three ways to build other women and girls up through social media.

Learn more about this program and all my student program offerings here.

Being a Chick in Cyberspace

*A note from the author. I write this as a cisgender white woman. This post reflects some experiences and statistics of other female gender-identified users.

I write this post in light of women’s history month, which in preparation got me thinking about the unique experiences that women and girls experience especially in digital spaces. Digital communities have afforded me many networking, branding and outreach opportunities – but not without drawbacks.

Being a chick online can rock – it can also be rough.

This post shares some of these tough circumstances, but also will leave you with way more resources, communities and tools for empowerment in virtual spaces.

This past year we have seen examples of women, especially on Twitter harassed such as Ella Dawson, Dana Schwartz, and Leslie Jones. I know there are countless others. I dare you to read the comments on their Twitter feeds: from comfortable support to complete shock.

In the fall Twitter rolled out a new harassment reporting tool. As the Twitter blog details,

“The amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we’ve seen across the Internet has risen sharply over the past few years. These behaviors inhibit people from participating on Twitter, or anywhere. Abusive conduct removes the chance to see and share all perspectives around an issue, which we believe is critical to moving us all forward. In the worst cases, this type of conduct threatens human dignity, which we should all stand together to protect.”

Digital Icon CloudAbuse is seen and experienced across the digital landscape. In 2014, Pew Research Center published a harassment study finding that 70% of adults have observed online harassment and 40% have personally experienced harassment online.

Examples include being called offensive names (27%), someone purposefully embarrassing them (22%), physically threatened (8%), Stalked (8%), harassment over time (7%) and sexual harassment (6%). Age increased these statistics, with 18-29 reporting harassment at 65% (Pew, 2014).

When looking at gender, men were more likely to be called names but by far women, especially those 18-29, had experienced severe harassment including sexual harassment and stalking. The other main difference between men and women is what Pew reports as, “they (women) do not escape the heightened rates of physical threats and sustained harassment common to their male peers and young people in general” (Pew, 2014).

I have had two major experiences with online harassment. The first was a YouTube video that used my name along with a number of expletives, including calling me names that started with “b” and “c.” Interesting enough, some high-profile YouTubers had also received this same video. I reported the video, and the account and the entire channel was deleted within a day. But by far, most of my struggles have been on Twitter.

Twitter Troubles

Frazzled Woman to Happy WomanThe other experience continues to happen, as my Twitter account has been ‘stolen’ or impersonated over 200 times. At one point there were 50 of me on Twitter. Thankfully, these accounts haven’t tweeted anything offensive and going through Twitter’s (slow) reporting process will eventually get them taken down.

Twitter’s new tool allows users to take back their accounts, not just reporting users but the ability to block harassing words, phrases or entire conversations. This is not a new idea – as YouTube settings allow for similar filtering.

What hopefully will re-focus Twitter’s efforts acting on harassment comes from the new hateful conduct policy that, “prohibits specific conduct that targets people by race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.” If you report a tweet or user under this policy, it goes to the top to be reviewed.

But how bad can it really get? There are countless stories to share, but the most recent that got public attention – including causing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to respond directly involved Leslie Jones.

Twitter is known for having a troll problem, accounts that only seek to harass users and stir up controversy. The peak of Leslie Jones harassments came at the release of Ghostbusters late summer. Tweets that mentioned or were directed at her called her a primate, included pornography, resulted in the production of fake Leslie Jones accounts that tweeted hate, and more. One user, in particular, Milo Yiannopolouls – part of GamerGate who is known to support harassment of women – took to Twitter to attack Jones.

Yiannopoulos reacted with even more ammunition. One tweet calling her “barely literate.”

Leslie Jones supporters fired back, using hashtags just as #LoveforLeslieJ.

Even educators reached out to Jones. Amma Marfo, a prolific tweeter, writer, podcaster and leadership speaker posted the following:

Amma describes what transpired next, “I came to her defense with a tweet about how I loved that she was strong, but she shouldn’t have to be- people should be nicer. It got WAY more attention than I expected. Lots of re-tweets, likes, and messages of agreement came in, but lots of vitriol and hate came with it. I was called naive, stupid, unrealistic, and told to shut up…and those are just the comments that are fit to print.”

She went on to share,

Insults were hurled at me based on gender, but also based on race. The deluge became so unsustainable that I had to activate the Quality Control mechanism that Twitter had deployed only days before. I appreciated it for the peace and space it created, but it does make interacting in that space different from how I used to.

Finally, Amma reflected, “Quality control only allows you to see responses from people you follow- which is a nice way to reduce noise but also limits my ability to find new people who may have found their way to my feed via a friend or other referral. Further, it quiets dissent in an odd way. I don’t want to exist in the sort of echo chamber that a Quality Control filter creates, I just want people to be civil and constructive. And for standing up for a fellow woman creator, I lost the ability to make that distinction.”

The quality control filter that Twitter implemented still exists, but like Amma’s original tweet beckons, “Terrible people should stop being terrible.

Milo ended up being banned from Twitter – as many alt-right/white supremacy accounts have since. Twitter received both praise and criticism for this.

Laura Pasquini, Lecturer in Learning Technologies in the College of Information at the University of North Texas and Researcher with The Digital Learning and Social Media Research Group at Royal Roads University, shared another detailed example to Leslie Jones and #GamerGate. She shared how Twitter trolls took over, “who thought it was great to flame me way too early in the morning before having my coffee.”

She went on to state that, “I think it is something we need to talk about and bring awareness about, particularly since some of us work in areas where trolling and attacks happen for work and research.” She shared a fantastic guide called the Best Practices for Conducting Risky Research and Protecting Yourself from Online Harassment.

Taking Back Tools for Chicks in Cyberspace

Woman on ComputerThe likelihood of being a chick in cyberspace, and encountering harassment are real. What I find that keeps me engaged are people and organizations that use those same tools to bring women together.

For example, Laura Pasquini is also a founder of a fantastic podcast, #3Wedu: Women Who Wine in Education. The show is described as, “designed to uncork ideas and thoughts of what is happening with women in education.” They chat about barriers, mentorship, recognition, leadership, mentorship and empowerment all over the delight of a glass of wine.

More and more of these positive examples are “pouring” in across the interwebs. Below lists a few, but I have started a google doc to crowdsource even more. Please jump on and add even more!

No matter your gender identity – everyone deserves to be treated as a whole person, both physical or virtual locations. With statistics rising of bullying of all kinds, I implore you to take action especially if you see harassment happening to someone and report the behavior if it is happening to you. Watch out for your fellow cyber chicks.

Twitter, the company, can only do so much. It is the collection of users that want to take back the tool for real constructive dialogue which will make a difference.

Duggan, M. (2014). Online Harassment. Retrieved from https://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/


Non-Education Specific 

  • Digital Communities

Amy Poehler Smart Girls

Summer Virtual Connection Circle – Facebook Group

The Lady Project

Girl Boss – Twitter Page

I am That Girl – Twitter Page

Girls on the Run

Malala Fund – Twitter Page

Women for Women International – Twitter

Women in the World 

  • Hashtags




Women 2.0



















  • Podcasts

Call Your Girlfriend

The Imposters

Girl Boss Radio

Black Girls Talking

Women of the Hour

The Guilty Feminist


Stuff Mom Never Told You

  • Organizations

Women 2.0

She Started It

Her Agenda

National Organization for Women

Actually She Can

Boss Babe

National Council for Research on Women


National Women’s History Project

Movemeant Foundation

Women for Women International

Keep a Breast Foundation

International Women’s Forum

Higher Education Pro Specific

  • Digital Communities

#3Wedu Podcast: Women Who Wine in Education

Women’s Leadership Institute Participants & Friends – Facebook Group

ACUHO-I Women in Housing Network – Facebook Group

NASPA – WISA Women in Student Affairs – Facebook Page

African American Women in Higher Education – Facebook Page

Oregon Women in Higher Education – Facebook Page

Women in Higher Education – Facebook Page

Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) – Facebook Page

ACPA – Coalition for Women Identities – Facebook Page

Women of Color in Student Affairs – Facebook Page

  • Organizations/Conferences for Higher Ed Professionals

Women’s Leadership Institute

American Association University Women


ACPA Coalition for Women Identities

Manicur Symposium

Advancing Women

Women Leaders in College Sports

National Asian American Pacific Women’s Forum

International Leadership Association (ILA) – Women & leadership Affinity Group

AAWCC: American Association for Women in Community College

The Institute for Research on Women & Gender (IRWG), University of Michigan Office of Research

  • College Student Women Digital Communities

Students Stand with Malala

Girls in Tech – Twitter

Girls Who Code – Twitter

Girls Incorporated

Movemeant Foundation – Twitter

She’s The First Campus Organization





  • Organizations/Conferences for college student women

AAUW’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders

Actually She Can

She’s the First

Girls Write Now

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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