Online abuse during Covid: Almost half of women have experienced abuse online during pandemic

New survey and report by Glitch and EVAW reveals increased abuse during Covid and calls on tech companies and Government to act

READ the full report here: Glitch and EVAW, The Ripple Effect, Online abuse during COVID-19, Sept 2020

Call on Government and tech companies to step up on content moderation, transparency, investment and education;

Women reveal the impact of online abuse and how complaints are ignored;

Black women and non binary people experience highest victimisation

Glitch, the UK’s leading charity against online abuse, and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, (EVAW), today (8 September) publish a new report and survey results which include the largest dataset yet gathered on the gendered experience of abuse online during Covid.

As people have moved their working and social lives online over the last six months, the charities found that almost half of women and non-binary people have experienced online abuse since March 2020 – and, a third of these say the abuse has been worse in this period. Black women and non binary people experience even higher rates of victimisation.

Glitch and EVAW also found that most of the abuse is taking place on mainstream social media platforms – especially Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – and that women and non-binary people say they can feel these places to be hostile and modify their behaviour in these spaces.

Key findings include:

  • Almost 1 in 2 (46%) women and non binary people reported experiencing online abuse since the beginning of COVID-19
  • 1 in 3 (29%) of those who had experienced online abuse prior to the pandemic reported it being worse during COVID-19
  • 84% of respondents experienced online abuse from strangers – accounts that they did not know prior to the incident(s).
  • Most of the abuse took place on mainstream social media platforms (Twitter 65%, Facebook 29%, Instagram 18%) despite tech companies’ commitments to making their platforms safe and addressing gender-based and intersectional abuse
  • Gender was the most often cited reason for online abuse, with 48% of respondents reported suffering from gender-based online violence

The report includes testimonials from women and non binary people impacted by online abuse:

“Nothing ever changes. I report lots of violent images and sexist abuse. It feels like the moderators are sexist too, as they allow it…There’s so much porn and violence against women and girls that it feels like a place where women aren’t treated as humans. We’re guests in a male space.” 

Another stated: 

 I definitely feel my performance at work has suffered and I feel at risk of sanction or not having my contract renewed due to the impact on my ability to focus and my mental health,”

One respondent wrote “I felt afraid and vulnerable.” Another said “It does make me anxious and angry,”.  “It’s made me so anxious, I am still on anti-depressants and if [social media] wasn’t used to connect to some good voices and work, I would leave.”

The full survey findings have been published in their new 77pp report, The Ripple Effect: Covid-19 and the Epidemic of Online Abuse. Glitch and EVAW are also writing to tech companies and Government ministers with recommendations and asking to meet and discuss action plans soon.

Call on tech companies, Government and employers:

Glitch and EVAW are calling on the tech companies, whose profits have increased dramatically during the pandemic, to massively step up concrete efforts on content moderation, transparency about the complaints they receive and what they remove, and to invest in digital education programmes and research as well as a public health approach to tackling online harms.

The charities are also calling on the Government to get online harms policy development back on track, and make a higher priority of this area of real harm and its impacts; and on employers to take their responsibility to workers’ health and safety seriously even when they are working from home.

Glitch founder and director, Seyi Akiwowo said: 

“The shocking results detailed in our Covid-19 survey highlight how important it is for everyone to play their part in making online spaces safe for all our necessity to respond. To effectively tackle online abuse there needs to be interventions in three key areas. Firstly, the Government needs a comprehensive public health approach to address online abuse. Secondly, there is an urgent need for greater financial investment from government, tech companies and employers in research, digital health and safety and digital citizenship education programmes and research. Thirdly, tech companies need to be more effective and transparent in their content moderation methods and policies.

“We’ve seen bedrooms and kitchens turn into offices. With many likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future, it’s crucial that online abuse, which disproportionately impacts women and non-binary people, is taken seriously.”

Marsha de Cordova MP, Shadow Women & Equalities Minister who will speak at the launch of the report says:

“I welcome this report from Glitch and the End Violence Against Women coalition although it is deeply concerning to see yet more evidence of the abuse women face in mainstream online sites, especially those from Black, Asian and minority communities. Online abuse is always unacceptable, that it rose so sharply during the lockdown – while not surprising – is deeply worrying and more should be done to ensure that these levels of abuse do not become the accepted norm.”

EVAW Director Sarah Green said:

“People understood from the early days that lockdown and covid isolation are a terrible context for domestic abuse and that this has needed special attention. There is still a long way to go here.

“What our survey findings show is that women have sadly also been targeted for abusive treatment online through the pandemic. Women have talked about a strong sense of online spaces being male spaces where they are either tolerated guests or experience hostility.

“The survey findings should be a wake up call now as to what Covid has led to online for women and what needs to change. During the pandemic millions of have moved our working and social lives ever more online. Are we really going to replicate the way physical public spaces for centuries were constructed as men’s spaces? No. And it is on the tech companies principally to radically intervene in and disrupt this, and on the Government to insist on this expectation.”

Rosie Carter, Senior Policy Officer, HOPE not hate said:

“This important report from Glitch highlights the intersectional nature of online abuse. HOPE not hate charitable trust’s research has shown how the overlay of white supremacy with male supremacy has gained traction over recent years, particularly among young men, with many rejecting feminism as an ideology that ‘suppresses men’.

“The anti-feminist movement has crept beyond the anonymous, dark and strange corners of the internet, with a mixture of free speech, race and gender science, misogyny and anti-feminism serving as an effective platform for recruitment for young, predominantly white, men. Many young men feeling insecure or voiceless are pushing back against a drop in the status of the one asset they feel entitled to be secure in – their male identity, with BME women most likely to be on the receiving end.”

Dame Heather Rabbatts, Chair, TIME’S UP UK said:

“Once again, as this vital research from Glitch so starkly shows, women, particularly those most marginalised and disadvantaged, are at the sharp end of abuse not only in the home but in the virtual online space too, black women and non binary people experiencing the highest victimisation. At TIME’S UP UK we are dedicated to finding ways to stamp out abuse of all kinds and so we support the recommendations put forward from the report and call on Government and tech companies to step up on content moderation, transparency, investment and education to address these inequalities.”

Bryony Beynon, Managing Director, Good Night Out Campaign, said:

“As the pandemic has forced our leisure time and nightlife online, it’s unfortunate but unsurprising that harassment has followed suit. As this report demonstrates, online abuse has a devastating impact on those who are targeted, and that people who are already marginalised see the harshest forms of trolling as punishment just for existing on the internet.

During lockdown, we partnered with Queer House Party, an online party run by the Outside Project who provide LGBTQ+ youth homeless shelter and domestic violence refuge, to create a toolkit to challenge and prevent ‘Zoombombing’ during online parties. There are lots of simple ways to reduce access, but we must also challenge the attitudes underpinning these behaviours. Everyone deserves a safer space to party, whether physical or digital, free from the risk of Covid and online harassment.”

Adrian Lovett of the Web Foundation said:

“We join this urgent call for companies and governments to take action against online gender-based and intersectional violence, and believe strongly in the need for tech companies and governments to consult women’s organisations in developing solutions. The Web Foundation is pleased to work closely with Glitch on closing the digital gender gap, and support this report’s efforts to measure the true extent of the harm done by online gender-based violence during the Covid pandemic.”

LAUNCH EVENT:

Online launch and discussion event with Shadow Sec of State, TUC, HOPE not hate, Glitch and EVAW will be holding a report launch on 8th September 12-1pm via zoom to discuss the report’s key findings. Speakers are:

  • Marsha de Cordova MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities
  • Sian Elliot, Policy Officer, TUC
  • Rosie Carter, Senior Policy Officer, HOPE Not Hate
  • Sarah Green, Director of EVAW
  • Seyi Akiwowo, Director and Founder of Glitch

This is the result of a survey conducted from 12th June 2020 to 12th July 2020 which received nearly 500 contributions from women and non-binary people into how Covid-19 had impacted their use of the online space.

Other key figures from the report:

  • Gender was the most often cited reason for online abuse.
  • The experience of online abuse had a strong impact on respondents’ behaviour and feelings towards using online technology and social media. 77% of respondents reported modifying their behaviour online as a result of the abuse, and 72% reported feeling differently about using technology and social media. This increased for women and non-binary individuals of colour.
  • 83% of respondents who reported one or several incidents of online abuse during COVID-19 felt their complaint(s) had not been properly addressed. This proportion increased for Black and minoritised women and non-binary people.
  • Only 9% of respondents received updated training from their employer on how to stay safe online while working from home, and 64% of those who did not receive any training felt that appropriate training would have been useful.

 

Support us

Donate

With your support, we lobby and campaign for strategic approaches to ending violence against women and challenge the wider public attitudes that tolerate and condone violence against women.

Follow us

Follow us on Twitter for more information and updates

Subscribe

Join our newsletter mailing list to receive updates about the work of our coalition.