Online abuse explained

Online Abuse is a catch-all term for various tactics and malicious behaviours online. This ranges from sharing embarrassing or cruel content about a person, impersonating, doxing and stalking, to the nonconsensual use of photography and violent threats. The purpose of harassment differs with every incidence, but usually includes wanting to embarrass, humiliate, scare, threaten, silence, extort or, in some instances, encourage mob attacks or malevolent engagements. Some of these tactics are defined below.

Online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV) is generally defined as harmful action by one or more people directed at others based on their sexual or gender identity or by enforcing harmful gender norms. These harmful acts of violence  are committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), such as mobile phones, the internet, social media platforms or email. Both women and men experience gender-based violence but the majority of victims are women and girls.

When exploring online abuse it is important to note that those with multi-intersecting identities will experience online abuse differently and in most cases be disproportionately impacted.

Multi-intersecting Identities refers to social factors such as race, origin, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, class or disability that also influence how different women experience OGBV. For instance, recent research by Amnesty International revealed black women are 84% more likely to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets than white women.

Online Violence Against Politically Active Women

There has been much discussion about the online abuse and violence politically active women face. Violence against women in politics (VAW-P) encompasses all forms of aggression, coercion and intimidation against women as political actors simply because they are women (‘93 UN Declaration on VAW). It is designed to restrict the political participation of women as a group. It is directed at women as civic leaders, voters, political party members, candidates, elected representatives and appointed officials (National Democratic Institute, #NotTheCost Campaign 2017).

Definitions of key terms:

We have adopted Women’s Media Center definitions of tactics and malicious online behaviours. 

Online Hate Speech

Online hate speech has no uniform legal definition but can be found in different statutes. The baseline definition is expressions whether that is written material, action and images of hatred toward someone on account of that person’s colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation, disability or other traits is forbidden.


The act of causing problems on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory messages. It is done with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response


The use of the internet of other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, group or an organisation.


The unauthorised retrieving and publishing, often by hacking, of a person’s personal information, including, but not limited to, full names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, spouse and children names, financial details. “Dox” is a slang version of “documents” or .doc. Causing fear, stress and panic is the objective of doxing, even when perpetrators think or say that their objective is “harmless.”

Cyber-exploitation, Nonconsensual Photography or “Revenge Porn”

The distribution of sexually graphic images without the consent of the subject of the images.

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