Amnesty International has furthered its efforts to identify online abuse as a violation of our human rights, with the launch of its latest report on women in politics and journalism.
The results support what women, particularly black women, have been reporting for over a decade. Women face a staggering level of abuse – every 30 seconds on Twitter, according to the findings. But black women are 84% more likely than white women to face abusive or problematic tweets. Now that we have a bank of intersectional data, it is time for action; to fix the glitch and end online abuse for good.
Last year, I experienced a tidal wave of misogynoir abuse online in response to a speech that went viral. As a young black woman in politics, observing how other women were treated online on public platforms, this experience was the final straw. Soon after, I founded Glitch – a not-for-profit organisation that exists to end online abuse.
For so long, research on online abuse has focused on women and children, as if the two are homogenous groups. By doing so, we are ignoring the real drivers behind a lot of the abuse and bullying that takes place. This research is a welcome step towards a more nuanced, intersectional attitude to critique and data. In 2019 and beyond, I hope we continue to see responsible data-gathering on women with intersectional identities: black, disabled women; black, Muslim women, as well as sufficient resources to support black academics and researchers to conduct this vital work.
According to Amnesty’s report, one in 10 tweets mentioning black women is either abusive or problematic, compared with one in 15 directed at white women. Clearly, we need to have a serious conversation about how men can be more effective allies to women online and how white women can be more effective allies to black women on the same platform.
Last year, the BNP created a racist and sexist Christmas card, which well-meaning Twitter users then forwarded on to Diane Abbott. Did Abbott, who receives approximately half of all online abuse directed at female MPs, need to see the offensive card that she had already received, directed at her over and over again?
Female politicians, journalists and, any woman who is visible, will face online abuse. It is important to understand that the online abuse experienced by women is diverse but its impact is generally devastating. It has a silencing effect, which 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. So how do we begin to address the problem?
Firstly, the current online/offline dichotomy is unhelpful and hides much of the violence that women and girls face online. It is so important to join the dots between online and offline abuse. We can already see patterns emerging between domestic violence and terrorist attacks, we are also beginning to see patterns between those who carry out “offline violence” sending abuse to women online. Even with these cases, we again see social media platforms failing to enforce their own rules.
Second, over the last 18 months there have been a number of reports on online abuse of women in politics. In 2019, we need to continue to amplify the experience 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 hashtags, and face abuse from those who are highjacking these communities for their own racist, sexist (or both) agendas. We must have more, frequent and visible conversations on online abuse and diversity of experiences women face.
Third we need new money, resources and training to understand and appropriately educate, enforce and empower against online abuse. Civil society groups cannot combat online abuse alone and tech companies and the government must also be involved. Twitter needs to be more transparent and engage with as many diverse activist groups as possible, particularly in the run up to the Brexit deadline.
On a personal level I really 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 their candidates and members when standing, campaigning or representing the organisation.