Amnesty’s Latest Research Into Online Abuse Confirms What Black Women Have Known For Over A Decade

Yesterday, Amnesty International has further proved that online abuse is a violation of our human rights with the launch of its latest report on women in politics and journalism. Results from the global crowdsourcing project, named TrollPatrol, support what women, particularly black women, have been reporting for over several years. The research revealed that women in the US and UK face a staggering level of abuse – every 30 seconds on Twitter – and that black women are 84% more likely than white women to face abusive or problematic tweets. Organisations like Take Back the Tech, Women’s Media Center and The National Democratic Institute’s Not the Cost Campaign were one of the first to address this pandemic and we pay tribute to their dedication.  Now that we have intersectional data, it’s time we all help fix the glitch and end online abuse.

Last year I experienced a tidal wave of misogynoir, which is abuse that’s both misogynistic and racist, after a speech I made went viral. As a young black woman in politics observing how other women were publicly treated on social media platforms, experiencing abuse first hand was the final straw. This is why I founded Glitch, a not-for-profit organisation that exists to end online abuse. Our workshops centre on digital self care, self defence and digital citizenship and were recently recommended as best practice in a recent European Parliament Report.

According to the report, 1 in 10 tweets mentioning black women is either abusive or problematic, compared with 1 in 15 directed at white women. We strongly agree with Amnesty, social media companies such as Twitter must be more transparent but they must also engage and support many more diverse activist groups using their platforms. For so long, research, policies and Government interventions to address online abuse have focused on children and women, as if the two are homogenous groups. By doing so, we are ignoring the real drivers behind a lot of online abuse and online bullying, affecting women and girls on a daily basis. Amnesty’s research is a welcome step towards a more nuanced, intersectional critique of online harms.

It’s important to understand that while women experience all different kinds of online abuse, the overall impact has a silencing effect that represents a potent threat to gender equality, human rights and democracy. It causes anxiety and, in very sad situations, has resulted in girls self harming and taking their own lives. Amnesty’s Write for Rights Campaign has inspired thousands of people around the world to write to Jack Dorsey, asking him to take serious action. I’ve also received so many messages from people sharing their own experiences of online abuse and losing loved ones.

So, how do we begin to address online abuse?

The current online/offline dichotomy is unhelpful and hides much of the violence that women and girls face online. Founder of Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates’ book Misogynation is a collection of essays talking about the importance of joining the dots between the different forms of violence that women and girls face. We can already see patterns emerging between domestic violence and terrorist attacks and in individuals who are violent offline also, sending abusive messages to women online. Even with these cases we again see social media platforms failing to enforce their own rules.

Having presented at the United Nations Human Rights Council this summer, it was very online abuse towards women in politics was far too common. On a personal level, I strongly urge all political parties and membership organisations to develop a code of conduct for their members and be crystal clear about the support they will provide to their candidates and members when standing, campaigning or representing the organisation.

Moving forward, we need to amplify the experiences of women in public life, campaigners, councillors, candidates, activists, founders of charities, Youtubers, artists and bloggers. We also need to amplify the everyday woman who may use #blackgirlmagic, #blackhistory or #metoo and face abuse from those who are hijacking hashtags and derailing them for their own racist, sexist (or both) agendas. We must have more, frequent and visible conversations on online abuse and the diversity of experiences women face.

I hope we continue to see responsible data-gathering on women with intersectional identities like black disabled women and black muslim women. However, civil society groups cannot combat online abuse alone; tech companies and governments must also be involved. We therefore need new money, resources and training to understand and appropriately educate, enforce and empower society against online abuse. We also must see sufficient resources to support diverse media groups such Black Ballad, Media Diversified and Gal-dem Magazine who are mentioned in the research, as well as diverse academics, technologists, law enforcement and civil society groups to continue their vital work.

Finally and arguably most importantly we need to see more men be effective allies to women online and certainly must see more white women be effective allies to black women. Last year, the BNP created a racist and sexist Christmas card, which well-meaning Twitter users then forwarded on to Diane Abbott MP when sharing their outrage. Abbott, who receives almost half of all online abuse directed at female MPs, need to see the offensive card over and over again? Glitch’s digital citizenship workshop, aimed at all online users but specifically young people, encourages participants to under with digital rights comes digital responsibilities and adopt an ‘active bystander’ attitude when engaging in activities online. Black women have been talking about their negative experience online and thanks to Amnesty, we now have the data to prove it. But it’s up to all of us to make lasting change.


First appeared in the Huffington Post

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Glitch is a UK registered charity. Charity number: 1187714
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