1-5 Jan 2018

Online hate against women: A problem without a solution?

Women in the spotlight, including journalists, politicians or celebrities, find themselves hit with a wave of sexist comments after an article or a TV appearance.

Julia Sahlender
Julia Sahlender Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Online hate against women: A problem without a solution? - NewsMavens
Woman at the computer. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

women's issues

The phenomenon of online hate is something that sadly has become commonplace with the rise of social media the current political state of the world. It sometimes seems to have taken over the whole internet, especially when so-called "trolls" post hateful or sexist comments to try to derail online conversations.

There are few topics that will set off trolls or hate-spewing commentators  as much as feminism and gender equality -- or in some cases, just women stating general opinions.

Journalists, politicians and celebrities are deluged with sexist comments after they write an article or appear on television. The Guardian looked into the problem on their own website when they checked to see which journalists received the most hate comments. Eight out of 10 with the most hate comments were women; the remaining two were black men.

After dealing with an avalanche of hateful comments and rape threats, a group of female Austrian journalists came forward in 2016 in the Austrian weekly "Falter" to share their experiences of online hate.

The article got a lot of attention, and a "solidarity storm" on Twitter followed. But 18 months later, it seems little has changed.

How much of this online hate echoes real life?

In a recent interview, Sabine Grenz, a professor of gender studies at the University of Vienna, explained how the hate we see online doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion in society as a whole. She found only a small group of people have such vile thoughts and then post them online.

Grenz says these groups are usually connected and exchange information. And while she acknowledges there's a variety of opinions on gender equality in our society, she says the extreme views from these few who post them do not represent the majority of people.

Even if that's the case, it's also clear that more effective tools are needed to deal with this kind of online behavior. With offensive and hateful comments or posts staying online for days or even years, despite complaints by multiple people, it shows this aspect of social media needs more attention.

Details from the story:

  • Online hate against women can often lead to them feeling unsafe in voicing their opinions out of fear of further backlash. It can therefore be a serious threat to free speech as well as limiting the diversity of what's being shared online.
  • Following the "Falter" article, the online initiative "aufstehn" (stand up) started a solidarity storm to support the journalists and fight online hate.
  • A study of hate speech directed at Guardian journalists found that eight out of 10 with the most comments were women; the other two were black men.
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