Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms


Cite this article as:
Yasmin Curzi and Terri Harrel (17/12/2021). Harassment. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio.

Authors: Yasmin Curzi and Terri Harel

This entry presents: (I) a brief history of the concept of harassment; (II) some of its variations – e.g., harassment in the workplace, in the streets; and (III) the concept of online harassment or cyberharassment.

(i) The initiative of feminist lawyers in the US, in the 1980s, for the typification of harassment as a sex discrimination act, under Title IV of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, was a novelty that made it possible for women to bring cases of abuse and harassment in the workplace to the courts. It was seen as a ‘feminist invention’ because of the deep naturalization of violent behaviors against women and LGBTQI+ people in society. The deconstruction of such violence is still an issue, but women have achieved their legal recognition (Honneth, 1996)1 in many countries, and can demand reparation.

(ii) Naming experiences of suffering and turning it into a matter of litigation has not only given legitimacy to the victims’ demands but has also opened doors for further echoes of abuses that minorities face in their everyday lives. Such is also the case of street harassment, which was increasingly highlighted in global movements of the 2010s, thanks to transnational feminist awareness-raising campaigns that use the Internet as its main channel (Kearl, 2015)2. Harassment in public spaces has a fundamental characteristic that differentiates it from harassment in workplaces: the perpetrators are almost always anonymous to the victims, making it difficult for punitive institutions to address it or even for the law to typify it properly in most cases. Both harassment in the workplace and ‘street harassment’ are seen by the literature (MacKinnon, 2018; 1986)3 4 as a form of power expression of the privileged against minorities, taking advantage of situations of vulnerability that exist because of several inequalities within society.

(iii) As a means of communication, the Internet is not free of inequalities that permeate society and generate abuse. ‘Online harassment’ or ‘cyberharassment’, as pointed out by Mary-Anne Franks (2011)5, “has existed as long as the internet itself has existed” (2011:678). 

‘Online harassment’ is an umbrella term that refers to a set of specific, damaging behaviors and tactics. Tactics include, but aren’t limited to, coordinated behavior, coordinated attacks, cyberstalking, dogpiling, dog-whistling, doxing, vile and hateful comments, mob harassment, and other harms. It occurs through several techniques (Jhaver et al., 2018:15)6, and has as its main victims those who diverge from the ‘conservative status quo’ (Fladmoe, Nadim, 2017)7. The degree of violence in the comments also grows according to the race, gender identity, and sexuality of the target. 

Franks (2011)8 differentiates cyberharassment from mere insults or juvenile behavior by pointing out that it targets, in most cases, individuals that belong to subordinate groups and profoundly affect their lives. The study “O Reino Sagrado da Desinformação” (The Sacred Kingdom of Disinformation), has pointed out that the far-right agenda has been pushed on social media in Brazil aimed at manipulating public opinion with disinformation.  The study, developed by the Brazilian independent news organization “Gênero e Número” (2019)9, further points out that this agenda preferentially attacks female journalists and politicians by producing ‘gendered disinformation’, i.e., disinformation that has, at its core, stereotypes which diminish their female targets (such as the ‘mad’, ‘crazy’, ‘ugly and resented’ woman). Caplan and Marwick (2018)10 dubbed the networks of masculinists that often lead these anti-feminist campaigns the ‘manosphere’.


  1. Honneth, A. (1996). The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. Mit Press.
  2. Kearl, H. (2015). Stop global street harassment: growing activism around the world: growing activism around the world. ABC-CLIO.
  3. MacKinnon, C. A. (2017). Butterfly politics. Harvard University Press.
  4. MacKinnon, C. (1986). Sexual harassment. New York: Petrocelli.
  5. Franks, Mary-Anne. (2011). Sexual Harassment 2.0. Md. L. Rev. v. 71.
  6. Jhaver, S., et al. (2018). Online harassment and content moderation: The case of blocklists. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 25, 2, 1-33. Available at:
  7. Fladmoe, A., Nadim, M. (2017). Silenced by hate? Hate speech as a social boundary to free speech. Boundary Struggles. Contestations of Free Speech in the Public Sphere. Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk, 45-76.
  8. Franks, Mary-Anne. (2011). Sexual Harassment 2.0. Md. L. Rev. v. 71.
  9. Gênero e Número. (2019). O Reino Sagrado da Desinformação. Available at:
  10. Marwick, A. E., Caplan, R. (2018). Drinking male tears: Language, the manosphere, and networked harassment. Feminist Media Studies, v. 18, n. 4, 543-559.

Leave a comment