Monday 24 October 2016

Social media - the one area where women dominate men

Barbara Scully

Published 26/05/2016 | 02:30

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

Social media gets a bad rap, some of which is justified and some of which is exaggerated and often peddled by those who are irregular users of the various applications many of us enjoy on a daily basis.

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There is no doubt women get a disproportionate amount of abuse online - especially opinionated women. A lot of the abuse is deeply misogynistic, extremely aggressive, threatening and personally hurtful. No matter how much we console ourselves that the senders of this abuse are probably 'saddoes' in their jocks, living vicariously through some anonymous online profile, coming up against such violent hate can come between a woman and her night's sleep.

So I would not for one moment either justify or minimise the awful behaviour that can exist online, but I am completely against any calls to have social media policed or censored. Social media is an important communication tool and it is here to stay. But it is particularly valuable for women.

Just like the anonymous 'saddos' in their jocks, women have equal and free access to the social media space - unlike the broadcast or indeed print media. On social media, there are no gatekeepers, no editors (editors are very nice people of course), no producers - so everyone is free to build a platform from which to showcase their work, voice their opinions or just have a chat with someone they would not otherwise be in contact with.

And women dominate social media (wow, that's a refreshing sentence to write). Studies show that women are more frequent users of most social media platforms than men, which doesn't surprise me at all. It's a perfect medium in which women can communicate, share experiences and connect with other women. And with smartphones we can access our accounts sitting in the car waiting for the kids, while cooking dinner or during coffee breaks at work. For women, harnessing the enormous power of social media platforms such as Twitter can be deeply and positively transformational.

I know of women who have set up businesses and without a budget for marketing have used social media to successfully promote their kitchen table business from tiny start-up to a visible brand. I know women whose writing skills have been noticed online which have resulted in book deals. Indeed, my own use of Twitter and of blogging led me to finding my voice and getting published in this newspaper and others.

It also brought me to the attention of broadcasters so that I am now a regular radio contributor.

Many feminist campaigns have been born and taken off on Twitter and Facebook long before they are given life on the airwaves or in newsprint. Hashtag activism is a real thing and it works. #everydaysexism began as a way of women recording and calling out, well, everyday sexism they experience. #askhermore was used to get American broadcasters to ask women at the Oscars about more than just their dresses. #wakingthefeminists began as a call to arms in the arts world when our national theatre was called out for only including one play by a woman in their list of 10 to mark the centenary of 1916.

The voluntary organisation promoting more women on radio and TV, 'Women on Air' was born out of an online, late night conversation between a journalist, Margaret E Ward, and a radio producer, Helen McCormack.

And there is more good news. Researchers at Rutgers University and the Pew Research Centre in the US earlier this year published research that showed women who text, frequent social media sites and send regular emails scored 21pc lower on a stress test than women who don't interact online.

And I think that is because women crave connection and social media provides us with the ability to satisfy this craving.

Social media is the one space where we women dominate, although the research also shows that men are catching up with us.

Could that be because women are put off by the online bullying and abuse?

Whatever the reason it is vital that we hold our nerve and hold onto our foothold on applications such as Twitter.

Threats of violence of course should be reported to gardaí; but in general, most of the abuse is best ignored and the user blocked. Deprive the 'saddos' of the oxygen of attention they crave.

But every time a high-profile woman leaves Twitter because of the abuse she has received online, I sigh, because although I understand why they feel they have to leave, I really wish they wouldn't.

Real change can happen, both personally and collectively, by harnessing the incredible power of the internet.

It is the one media space where we actually outnumber men, where our voices are heard, where we can connect with other women, and where we can make a difference.

Irish Independent

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