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Tor Project takes a stand against anonymous online harassment

It's the first step in an ongoing commitment to protecting women.


Selena Larson


Posted on Dec 14, 2014   Updated on May 29, 2021, 11:51 pm CDT

Tor’s software lets people browse and communicate anonymously and bypass censorship on the Internet, but the Tor Project has acknowledged that sometimes that anonymity can do serious harm.

In a recent blog post, Tor Project leader and researcher Roger Dingledine condemned online harassment and spoke out against the anonymous abuse one of its female staffers—and women across the Internet—received.

We work on anonymity technology because we believe in empowering people. This empowerment is the beginning and a means, not the end of the discussion. Each person who has power to speak freely on the net also has the power to hurt and harm. Merely because one is free to say a thing does not mean that it should be tolerated or considered reasonable. Our commitment to building and promoting strong anonymity technology is absolute. We have decided that it is not enough for us to work to protect the world from snoops and censors; we must also stand up to protect one another from harassment.

Dingledine doesn’t give information about the woman or the type of harassment she’s experienced, but, as the post reads, “women who work on Tor are targeted, degraded, minimized and endure serious, frightening threats.”

Online harassment toward women has reached horrifying levels in recent months, especially surrounding Gamergate, the controversial Internet “movement” ostensibly about journalism ethics that devolved into a misogynistic manhunt. Women have suffered rape and death threats, and some have been forced out of their homes by Gamergate harassment, much of it anonymous.

Dingledine said that while Tor provides a way for journalists, activists, law enforcement officials, and diplomats to communicate safely, other people use it to mask their identity and abuse others, including members of the Tor Project.

The organization said it will not tolerate online harassment and abuse, and will work to support people who face anonymous harassment.

Tor’s statement received significant praise from its community and high-profile privacy advocates. Gabriella Coleman, art history and communications studies professor at McGill University and author of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower Spy: The Many Face of Anonymous, called Tor’s move “the best thing to happen this week in the world of tech & hacker-dom.”

The blog post concluded with a massive list of Tor staffers and supporters who have signed on in solidarity to take a stand against harassment. 

Tor joins a growing list of technology companies, including Twitter, seeking to make the Internet a safer place for women, and for people to express themselves freely without the threat of abuse. 

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Dec 14, 2014, 3:57 pm CST