How Constant Online Harassment Is Affecting Women And Girls
Social media can be a really taxing place for women and girls because of the amount of targeted abuse and harassment they face.
Researchers are saying that these problems can’t be ignored anymore because they’re driving women and girls off social media.
So, What Are The Biggest Problems We’re Seeing Here?
And What Can Social Media Companies Do To Respond To This Really Basic Call For Equality?
The conversation about online harassment and bullying was really brought into the spotlight recently when US President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19.
Twitter responded with this message telling users that any Tweets wishing or hoping for death or serious bodily harm against anyone would be removed.
The stance came across as a double standard for a lot of users who have previously experienced online harassment or abuse, and didn’t see Twitter acting against it.
Harassment and abuse can happen to anybody online but the abuse that women receive is really targeted because of their gender.
Sexual harassment, abuse, rape and death threats are really common and girls as young as 8 are reporting that it’s happening to them on social platforms.
We spoke to Susanne Legena about this. The organisation she heads up recently ran a massive study asking over 14,000 young women and girls about their experiences online.
Susanne Legena: “I think there is a kind of perception that what happens in the online world is not like the real world. But what the research says is actually, there is no space where girls and young women are free of harassment, of gender based violence. Whether they step outside their door into their street, or go onto a social media platform, they are being targeted.”
Nearly 60% of young women and girls said they’d been at the receiving end of abusive language and about 40% said they’d been threatened with sexual violence.
Those statistics get even worse for LGBTIQ+, women of colour, or women who consider themselves activists.
Susanne told me the problem is also being exacerbated by the pandemic, purely because people are spending more time on social media.
SL: “We’re living online at the moment. We have to because we can’t go anywhere, but it has to be a place that’s safe for everybody to be a part of.”
So, What Are The Biggest Problems When Online Harassment And Abuse Are Allowed To Continue?
Susanne said that there are obvious emotional and psychological impacts for people receiving cruel messages.
But there are also bigger social ramifications when people are being pushed off social media platforms because of the abuse.
SL: “The idea that half your population might be either taking themselves offline or self-censoring to keep themselves safe … to protect themselves is a bit of a worry to me.”
Plan International have published an open letter on behalf of those 14,000 women and girls they surveyed from around the world, addressed to social media platforms demanding change.
They want to see social media companies work with people who have experienced harassment to try and build better systems against it.
Susanne told me a lot of the response from these platforms is also just going to have to be data collection – because right now, they’re not paying enough attention to what’s happening to women and girls online.
Most platforms don’t even disaggregate their complaints to see if men or women are being harassed more.
But even beyond what the apps can do, Susanne wants to see the basic normalisation of online harassment broken down because, for a lot of women and girls right now, receiving abuse is just seen as being an everyday part of being online.
SL: “It’s not all on girls to fix this up or on women to fix this up, it’s on the men and the allies and the colleagues and the friends around us to also be calling out that behaviour.”
Abuse and harassment against women and girls is incredibly commonplace, and social media platforms need to take more responsibility for what’s happening on their watch, to build more effective systems against it.
But to get that to happen, users also need to take on a zero-tolerance policy, and break down the idea that online abuse is natural or expected, because it really shouldn’t be.