The internet is a dark place for women

To say that hatred flourishes in social media is by no means groundbreaking. However, a new study by Amnesty International shows that consequences of "online abuse" are especially hurtful to women.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
The internet is a dark place for women - NewsMavens
A woman by the computer. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

The ambience on social networks and online forums can be rough. Emotions run high because we don’t have face-time with other users. Insults, hate speech and threats are the bread and butter of virtual reality.

Therefore, online hatred is no longer an individual problem of those affected but a social one. On top of the fact that it affects mental health, it also influences the freedom of expression -- concludes a new Amnesty International study.

The organization has interviewed 4000 women aged 18 to 55 from Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. They spoke about their experiences with hate online.

The research shows how drastic the consequences of "online abuse" are for women. According to the study 23% percent of respondents who described themselves as “occasional to active internet users” had experienced abuse and harassment on social media at least once.

In the survey, "online abuse", is defined as a direct or indirect threat of physical or sexual violence. It could mean sharing private images or content with the intention to put the affected people under pressure. Hate speech referring to gender  is another form of online abuse.

“The particular danger of online abuse is how fast it can spread -- one abusive tweet can become a barrage of targeted hate in a matter of minutes,” Azmina Dhrodia, the New Technologies and Human Rights expert at Amnesty International, explained in the introduction to the publication.

As for the psychological consequences of online abuse, the women affected suffer from reduced self-esteem (61%), sleep disorders (63%) and concentration disorders (56%). More than half of the respondents also reported increased levels of stress and anxiety, as well as recurring panic attacks (55%). Just under a quarter of the women (24%) feared that online harassment can influence the safety of their families. Last but not the least, the majority of respondents considered the governments' schemes for protecting women online to be inadequate.

"The Internet can be a dark place for women," concluded Azmina Dhrodia. “This is why social media companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression. They need to ensure that women using their platforms are able to do so freely and without fear.”

Details from the story:

  • Amnesty International has interviewed 4000 women about their experiences with online hatred. The women, aged 18 to 55, came from Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • 23% percent of respondents who described themselves as “occasional to active internet users” had experienced abuse and harassment on social media at least once.
  • 41% of the affected women felt physically threatened by these experiences.
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