Social Media can be a toxic place for women who are getting more online hate than ever, while companies such as Facebook prefer to profit from this trend rather than protect the female victims, and the police lack the expertise (or the resources/ willpower) to do anything about it either.
This is based on research outline in a recent Panorama documentary fronted by Marianna Spring – BBC’s disinformation and social media reporter.
Social media platforms such as Facebook direct people who show an interest in it to hateful content in order to increase their profit margins.
Why do men think it’s oK to send women hateful messages online?
The extent of online hate against women
The documentary consists of Marianna’s own experience, interviews with very minor celebrities and politicians and some more quantitative analysis, so all in all not a bad mix of methods.
Marianna herself has been keeping an 18 month video diary about the online abuse she’s been receiving – which include rape threats, frequent use of C and F word and lots of sexualised commentary – much of it is too explicit to publish on the BBC!
DEMOS analysed more than 94 000 posts and comments about Love Island and Married at First Sight.
Women received more abusive comments that men and the abuse was focused on their gender – with women being accused of being manipulative and sexual while men were accused of not being masculine enough.
Ethnic minority women also received more abuse than white women.
Women MPs also receive a disproportionate amount of hate – the show features Ruth Davidson who used to be an MP who got a lot of online abuse and who thinks men might target such women as they don’t like powerful women voicing their opinions.
The UN asked over 700 women prominent on social media – 1 in 5 women said they’d experienced harm in the real world and that this was linked to their online activity. Women who reported on disinformation were more likely to be targeted in real life.
Ineffective policing of online hate against women
In Spring 2021 Marianna started to receive more violent comments, one possibly by someone with a prior conviction for stalking.
She reported this to the MET in April – but by the shooting of the documentary (late summer I think this was) nothing has been done – she had been passed around liaison officers who seemed to lack the ‘expertise’ to do anything about it, her latest doesn’t know how to use Instagram for example.
There has been more than a 100% increase in women reporting online hate in the past four years, but only a 32% increase in the number of arrests.
New research suggests that 97% of accounts reported to Twitter and Facebook (Instagram) for posting hate messages about women are not taken down.
Facebook spreads Online Hate against women
The final section of the documentary involved an experiment in which a fake profile was set up with the same interests as some of the accounts well known for posting abusive comments against women.
The account didn’t post anything itself, it just followed other accounts and got recommendations based on that.
TikTok and Twitter didn’t recommend any misogynistic content, YouTube recommend some but not too much.
But Facebook and Instagram were the worst- they directed the new account towards a whole online world of hate against women.
Relevance to A-level sociology
The evidenced outlined in this documentary is an unfortunate reminder that women are still more likely to be victims of abuse than men, in this case, online abuse in the public realm.
This is most relevant to the gender and crime topic studied as part of the Crime and Deviance module, usually taught in the second year.
It’s also a warning to stay away from Instagram and Facebook where you can – use TikTok and Twitter instead.
Facebook may change its ways, but clearly it’s set up to put profit before ethics, this won’t change.