Anyone can become a victim of online abuse and indeed, many have been. But recently the question has been raised as to whether social media has misogynistic tendencies, and research suggests that, yes, it does. Of course, both men and women have their share of negative experiences online but for the purpose of this post I’ll be focusing on attitudes towards women and the knock-on-effects of these attitudes on society. Here, we’ll take a look at the research and explore what this means for the next generation of girls and boys online.
Social media presents distinct challenges for each of the sexes. In fact, research by the Pew Centre shows that men and women experience different varieties of online harassment, with more women being stalked and sexually harassed online than men. To add to that, in April/May this year, Twitter found that, internationally, more than 200,000 aggressive tweets using the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ were sent to 80,000 people in the space of just three weeks. The thing to note here is the use of derogatory and gender specific language. This type of language also appears in the younger community but can be prevented if it’s nipped-in-the-bud early, creating a generation of respectful men and women.
‘The web we want’, a research project by the Guardian, revealed that of the 10 most abused writers featured on their website, eight were women,implying that females receive more online abuse than males. In response to this research, Yvette Cooper MP initiated the cross-party campaign ‘Reclaim the Internet’ to tackle the rising threat of online abuse, paying particular attention to misogyny. In an article for the Guardian, Cooper spoke about scientist and public figure, Emily Grossman, and how she was forced to take a break from social media after she received an overwhelming number of aggressive and sexist tweets when she spoke about sexism in science. Cooper explains that if instances of abuse like this continue to happen, there’s real danger of female voices dropping out of online debate. She also emphasises that it’s not just public figures who bear the brunt of this toxicity but has also heard of teenage girls who stopped going to college after targeted online attacks – which, in the 21st century, is deeply troubling.
A study carried out in 2015 by the Department for Education showed a rise in numbers of school-age children affected by cyberbullying via social media and mobile phones, with the majority of cases taking place outside school. The research indicates that girls are more at risk from cyberbullying, with 15% reporting that they had experienced it during the previous year, compared with just 7% of boys. It also suggests that girls are twice as likely to have suffered name-calling than boys.
What About the Kids?
Here’s the thing: in order to change the online world, we need to change the offline world, which is to say we need to prevent misogyny from manifesting in children. We need to raise girls and boys to be conscientious and respectful men and women and wipe it out of their everyday vocabulary. And who’s responsibility is this? It’s all of ours. Social media companies, policy makers, parents, carers and educators. Because social media and the internet are now integral to the lives of children, we must teach them online safety, to treat one another with respect and how to use technology positively. We must educate girls and boys in what misogynistic language and behaviour is, and teach that instead of insults, respectful debate is the best way to challenge a view they may not like or agree with. On top of this, we must also teach children how to effectively report online bullying and abuse, and not to suffer in silence. Through combined effort we can make the internet an enjoyable and safe place for everyone, and free the next generation of women from misogynistic abuse.
What About SayFriends?
At SayFriends, the online safety and enjoyment of children is our number one priority. Our parent app provides the tools to ensure their children are having a positive experience on our platform. We have an effective alert system where children can easily report bullying, triggering a conversation between parents and kids in order to resolve incidents efficiently in a way that encourages learning.
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