Women’s voices are necessary in every part of the public debate but even more so when it comes to speaking up about the challenges we face. From everyday sexism, to violence against women, to reproductive rights, it’s imperative that women have a seat at the table. Increasingly, however, women’s platforms – specifically online – are being hijacked by misogynists, meaning we’re having to fight even harder to have our voices heard. According to Amnesty International, 1 in 5 women in the UK have faced online abuse or harassment, with 27% saying that it threatened sexual or physical assault.
The same recent study by Amnesty International found that of the women studied, over 60% facing harassment online said they had trouble sleeping, felt a sense of powerlessness, and suffered from low self-esteem as a result of receiving online abuse. Over 40% suffered from an inability to concentrate, and found making day to day decisions difficult. To twist the knife even further, over 40% of women said that Twitter’s response was inadequate in dealing with the abuse and/or harassment, and even more terrifyingly, over 45% said that the current laws surrounding harassment and abuse are inadequate. So along with women having to experience such abuse, very little is being done about it. Similarly to many abuses and harassments that women have to deal with, the blame often falls on women; I know that in my experience of dealing with online harassment, Twitter’s response was to tell me not to be so provocative, and I know I’m not alone in this, either. “[Twitter] only started suspending those accounts, pulling those accounts and deleting those tweets after the London Tonight show. So if not for London Tonight, I am not sure what would have happened,” says Seyi Akiwowo, a councillor for the Forest Gate North Ward in London who received a torrent of online abuse after a video of her speaking at European parliament went viral. “I never heard, ‘we have seen that you have reached out to us…’ they only responded to some of the reports I made. But I had to send reports like three or four times. To the point where they were now trolling my colleagues,” she continued.
There’s a lot of apprehension amongst women to start freely blocking and reporting people who send them hate, but your mentions are not a public forum. You’re allowed to curate your online experience, especially when for so many women, it feels like their comments sections are permanently under siege. The rate at which these comments happen demands a shift in what we constitute a danger for minority groups online. Sure, an abusive comment online might pose no imminent threat to the person receiving it, but it still can feel very real. So real in fact that nearly 40% of women do feel their physical safety is threatened. With the use of social media actually posing a psychological risk to many women, it isn’t and shouldn’t be a surprise to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook that so many are calling for protection online. Online abuse is a human rights issue that contributes to the wider pool of oppression that women face. Every little bit adds up, and it is a shame that for many people the safest way to be online is to not be on it at all, especially when many use the internet as a vehicle to make their voices heard.
Written by Rochelle Asquith