Thursday 27 October 2016

Women are responsible for half of online abuse, study finds

Madhumita Murgia

Published 26/05/2016 | 07:46

Social media is an important communication tool and it is here to stay. Stock photo: Getty/NurPhoto
Social media is an important communication tool and it is here to stay. Stock photo: Getty/NurPhoto

Women are responsible for half of all misogynistic Tweets using the words "slut and whore", a new study has found. 

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The study, performed by respected UK think tank Demos, monitored UK Twitter over three weeks and found that found 6,500 unique users were targeted by 10,000 misogynistic and aggressive Tweets.

50pc of the aggressors were women. 

Internationally, over 200,000 Tweets using these terms were sent to 80,000 people in the same three weeks.

The research monitored use of the words "slut" and "whore" used in an explicitly aggressive way.

Special natural language-filtering algorithms were able to separate out Tweets using these terms as obvious abuse, from instances of "self-identification, and those that were more conversational in tone or commenting on issues related to misogyny (ie. referring to ‘slut shaming’, ‘slut walks’)," Demos' study said. 

“This study provides a birds-eye snapshot of what is ultimately a very personal and often traumatic experience for women," said Alex Krasodomski-Jones, a Demos researcher involved in the study.

Extensive previous research has shown that women are subjected to more bullying and abuse online, compared to men. For instance, this Guardian investigation into abusive comments on articles found that articles written by women had consistently attracted more implied abuse than male-authored articles over the past six years.  

In fact, sections read by more men (such as Sport and Technology) had more abusive comments towards female writers, perhaps implying the abusers were male. 

While there is data on the demographic of online abuse victims, it's often assumed that perpetrators must be male.

However, this 2014 study, also by Demos, found that women are "almost as likely as men to use the terms ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on Twitter, and that women are increasingly inclined to use the same derogatory language that has been, and continues to be, used against them."

This research highlights the fact that online abuse is perpetrated by both genders and any behavioural interventions being designed will need to take this into account.

"This is less about policing the internet than it is a stark reminder that we are frequently not as good citizens online as we are offline,” Krasodomski-Jones said. 

The research will be presented today at the Parliamentary launch of the new cross-party ‘Reclaim the Internet’ campaign, hosted by MPs including Yvette Cooper MP and Stella Creasy MP.

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