Online Safety Bill report finds 62% of women face online abuse

online safety bill report, women online abuse
© Sirin Suttithawil

According to evidence in the Online Safety Bill report, 62% of women aged between 18-34 experience online abuse and harassment – with 50% of 11-16 year old girls also facing these issues online

The report, compiling evidence given to the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, was discussed in parliament today (13 January) as part of backbench business. The evidence creates a compelling picture for the adoption of this Bill.

Data from Refuge finds that 62% of women aged between 16-24 experience online abuse and harassment. Following this overwhelming majority, 50% of children aged between 11-16 faced online hate speech in 2020 and 2021. A quarter of them were harassed or threatened.

“Being a woman online is an inherently dangerous act”

Nina Jankowicz, Global Fellow at the Wilson Center speaking to the Online Safety Bill report, said: “Being a woman online is an inherently dangerous act.

“That is the long and short of it. It does not matter what you do. You are opening yourself up to criticism from every angle … Many women are changing what they write, what they speak about, what careers they choose to pursue because of that understanding that it is part and parcel of existing as a woman on the internet.”

When it comes to online abuse and harassment, various communities are highly vulnerable to discrimination and violence. The internet, while creating new forums of democracy, has also provided a forum for societal regression. The ever-evolving example of what women and transgender people face online is a sobering one, exemplifying how individuals can create violence when given anonymity and opportunity.

Online Violence Against Women (VAWG) “includes but is not limited to, intimate image abuse, online harassment, the sending of unsolicited explicit images, coercive ‘sexting’, and the creation and sharing of ‘deepfake’ pornography.”

When giving evidence about the online landscape, various groups explained that existing online was enough to create abuse and harassment. For LGBTQ communities Stonewall said that online harms can range from being “outed” – leading to the loss of their homes and livelihoods. Digital hate is a contemporary ground of racism too, with anonymity again as a factor emboldening racial abuse.

Imran Ahmed, CEO and Founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), commented: “When it comes to racism against footballers, the point that I have made to their representatives and to others is that the abuse of Marcus Rashford matters not because he is a wealthy footballer, but because if they can call Marcus Rashford the N-word, imagine what they would call me or my mum or anyone else from a minority, a woman, a gay person, anyone else.”

For MPs, the racial abuse accounts for 165% of recorded online hate, in one study carried out by a research team at the University of Surrey and King’s College London.

What is the Online Safety Bill?

This bill, proposed in 2018, has been delayed for four years.

The Online Safety Bill was created in response to the suicide of Molly Russell. She was a 14-year-old, who made the decision to die in 2017, after participating in Instagram self-harm and suicide communities. The bill was proposed to dismantle those communities, to force tech companies to be more responsible for content and to streamline child protection legislation in the nebulous arena of the internet.

The Online Safety Bill has been waiting since then, with a series of delays, amendments and dilutions that leave it less powerful against the social media giants which are responsible for moderating content that children can see.

At one point, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even proposed plans for an Instagram that targets children under the age of 13. This was shot down by charities, but illustrated how tech giants are currently completely unchallenged by existing UK legislation.

Currently, the bill is still being discussed.


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