Covid-19: The Online Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed both the amount of time and the way individuals communicate online. Since the pandemic, many aspects of our lives have moved online. Imposed lockdowns has led to Internet usage more than doubling in the UK. There is concern that such a drastic increase in people spending time online, for both professional and personal use, coupled with long-standing issues about the harmful impacts of online abuse, means that online spaces are at risk of becoming even more rife with new and existing forms of abusive content.
From an increase in cyber-stalking to ‘zoom-bombing’, we have seen new forms of online harms emerge during lockdown yet, there has been very little discussion, data collection or interventions to address the rise and risks of online abuse in this context in the UK.
Prior to COVID-19, multiple reports shed light on the extent of online abuse in the UK and beyond. Research published by Girlguiding in 2019 showed that 33% of girls and young women aged 11-21 had received mean or abusive comments on social media and an online poll by Amnesty International found that 22% of women have experienced abuse or harassment on social media platforms.
As living rooms, gardens and kitchen tables are have turned into workplaces for millions of people, Glitch is concerned about the well-being and online safety of employees and their ability to access support and expert advice if they face online abuse in this new work environment and the lack of guidance for employers on how to respond to such situations.
COVID-19 has led to a proliferation of conspiracy theories and misinformation online which in turn has helped fuel targeted abuse and harassment online. Since the beginning of the pandemic, misinformation have thrived online with the UK government investigating around 70 incidents a week. Such misinformation has spread rapidly online and has resulted in both online and offline attacks against specific communities including online abuse and harassment and the scapegoating of specific marginalised communities for its spread.
What we are doing to tackle online abuse in times of COVID-19?
Glitch will continue for both the government and technology companies to urgently and adequately tackle online abuse in all its forms and make the internet a safer place for everyone to use. We will also continue to provide digital citizenship education in order to equip those most at risk of onlie abuse with the skills they need to better protect themselves online.
We have also launched a survey about women’s experiences online since the beginning of the pandemic, to further understand the proportion of women facing online abuse and harassment and building case studies that will inform our training response and resources, and our policy and advocacy work.
Our call to the government and tech companies
- Urgently undertake research about the heightened risk of abuse in online spaces, any new manifestations and patterns of abuse online, and the increased proliferation of harmful content online as a direct result of increased Internet usage and the COVID 19 pandemic.
- Consult with diverse women’s organisations and include women in the COVID-19 response and recovery decision-making.
- Educate citizens about digital citizenship, how they can report online abuse, and how to access related help and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Provide guidance to employers on the measures they must take to ensure employees are protected from online harassment in remote and online workplace environments. Measures to protect employees from online harms remain at the discretion of companies but national guidance on best practices to protect employees online are urgently needed.
- Implement ILO Convention 190 on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.
- Include “hatred by sex” in definition of online harms in the Online Harms White Paper.
- Provide greater transparency about their content moderation in the current coronavirus context by allowing researchers and civil society organisations to access anonymised data about content removals and complaints submitted to the platforms.
- Provide support to civil society organisations working to tackle gendered and other types of abuse and harassment online by providing increased funding for digital citizenship education initiatives and providing greater visibility to organisations seeking to prevent online harms.
Staying safe online
Glitch has also produced resources to help you stay safe online and report abuse.