The Impact of Online Abuse

Online abuse is a serious and potentially life-threatening issue with real repercussions for victims as well as their family, friends and local communities. Common consequences:

  1. Online abuse tends to cause harm to a person’s mental health and wellbeing and has led to increases in self-harm, anxiety and suicide.
  2. Online abuse may threaten someone’s physical integrity or could encourage others to carry out a physical attack.
  3. Online abuse has a “silencing effect” on all its victims, but particularly on marginalised groups like women and girls. Social media platforms are often critical spaces for individuals to exercise the right to freedom of expression. However, according to Amnesty International, online violence and abuse are a direct threat to this freedom of expression and access to information. Upon suffering online abuse, many women and girls may be forced to abandon their profiles and 76% of women who experienced abuse or harassment on a social media platform changed to the way they use the platforms. Many of them (32%) even stop posting content that expressed their opinion on certain issues.
  4. Online abuse ends up preventing women and girls from accessing relevant information, expressing their opinions and participating in public debates which in turn negatively impacts on both progress towards gender equality and our democracy.

PROTECT + REPORT: HOW CAN WE BE SAFER ONLINE AND HOW CAN WE REPORT ONLINE ABUSE?

Talking about safety measures may seem overwhelming or difficult for many people, especially if they haven’t talked about this before or don’t know a lot about online safety. So try to introduce the topic broadly to begin with, rather than immediately going into detailed, technical specifics about digital security. Remember to talk about how we can support friends and family online.

3 Top Tips on Online Safety and Privacy:

  1. Strong passwords for your social media and email accounts should be long, difficult and changed frequently. Set a regular reminder and you can use secure websites like LastPass to store your passwords.
  2. Where possible, set two-step verifications on your social media and email accounts. Two-step verification asks for a code from an app or texts you a number to enter when you or someone else tries to log in to your account from an unfamiliar browser or computer.
  3. Familiarising yourself with privacy settings. Privacy settings should be set so you are  not inadvertently sharing personal information with strangers or potential perpetrators. Sharing of personal information on social media should be well thought through.

Who can you report online abuse to and how? :

This point of the conversation is where discussion partners can share who they can report online abuse to. It’s important to note that some online abuse tactics may be civil and some may be criminal.

  1. To the social media company. Most online social media platforms have their own reporting tools, which allow users to inform the companies if online abuse takes place. However, most social media platform policies on online abuse have yet to be implemented effectively. This means that while reporting to them is an important step in highlighting OGBV, the appropriate measures may not always be enforced.
  2. To your local police team. When it comes to reporting to the authorities or taking legal action documentation of harassment via social media, email or messaging app will be needed.  
  3. The UK Safer Internet Centre has a new tool on Reporting Online Harmful Content
  4. To your line manager or trusted adult, it is important not to deal with online abuse alone.

 

Online abuse explained

Online abuse is a relatively recent phenomenon that many people may struggle to define precisely. In our case this uncertainty is a good way to ease into the topic. To start, ask your group how they would personally define online abuse .

Definitions of key terms:

  • Online Abuse may include a diversity of tactics and malicious behaviours ranging from sharing embarrassing or cruel content about a person to impersonation, doxing and stalking, to the nonconsensual use of photography and violent threats.

 

  • 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 which 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.

 

  • Multi-intersecting Identities refer 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.

 

WHAT IS ONLINE GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE ?

OGBV is a relatively recent phenomenon and so many people may struggle to define it precisely, in fact, this uncertainty is a good way to ease into the topic in the first round. To start, ask your group how they would personally define OGBV. Key terms:

  • Online Abuse may include a diversity of tactics and malicious behaviours ranging from sharing embarrassing or cruel content about a person to impersonation, doxing and stalking, to the nonconsensual use of photography and violent threats.
  • Gender-Based Violence can be 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. Both women and men experience gender-based violence but the majority of victims are women and girls.
  • Online Gender Based Violence is generally defined as acts of violence which are committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of ICT, such as mobile phones and smartphones, the Internet, social media platforms or email.

Multi-intersecting Identities other social factors such as race, origin, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, class or disability may 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.

 

Sources:
1 https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/11/amnesty-reveals-alarming-impact-of-online-abuse-against-women/
2 IBID
3 IBID
4 IBID
5 https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/11/amnesty-reveals-alarming-impact-of-online-abuse-against-women/
6 http://www.womensmediacenter.com/speech-project/online-abuse-101/
7 https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ICRW_TFGBVMarketing_Brief_v8-Web.pdf
8 https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/women-abused-twitter-every-30-seconds-new-study
9 http://www.womensmediacenter.com/
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