A study recently conducted by think tank Demos found that 50% of misogynist tweets are actually written by female users. Unfortunately, participating in online misogyny may be more about being human than being a man. Demos defined a misogynist tweet as one that contains two particular words. Given this parameter, it found that there were 6,500 unique users targeted by over 10,000 abusive tweets over a three-week period in the UK alone.
Twitter boss Jack Dorsey has stated that tackling abuse on the online forum is a major priority for the company, though they’ve come up against some philosophical issues regarding the line between countering cyber bullying and violating people’s rights to free speech.
These results have sprung up in the midst of the Reclaim the Internet campaign being launched by Yvette Cooper, Maria Miller, Stella Creasy, Jess Philips and Liberal Democrat minister Jo Swinson. The movement is being launched as a response to growing public concern regarding the negative impact of hate speech and bullying online.
The campaign began by launching a forum where people could discuss how to limit the aggressive, sexist, racist and homophobic rhetoric that can be found in every corner of the internet. In launching the campaign, Yvette Cooper said the following:
“The truth is nobody knows what the best answers are. There is more when there is criminal abuse, for example rape threats, that the police should be doing but what is the responsibility of everyone else? What more should social media platforms be doing?”
Cooper stated that the campaign was being seen as an opportunity for the public to “put forward their proposals and demands for the changes we want to see.”
Twitter’s head of trust and safety Kira O’Connor had the following to say regarding the study: “Hateful conduct has no place on the Twitter platform and is a violation of our terms of service. In addition to our policies and user controls, such as block, mute and our new multiple tweet reporting functionality, we work with civil society leaders and academic experts to understand the challenge that exists.”
Neither the discovery of abuse on the internet nor the fact that women are contributing to it are revelations. In 2014, a study conducted by cosmetics giant Dove found that over five million negative tweets were posted about beauty and body image, four out of five of which were sent by women. Unfortunately women tend to be both victims and perpetrators in systems that are disadvantageous for them.
Police have started to take the issue of online harassment more seriously over the past years.
Demos used algorithms that helped to determine whether a tweet used the words aggressively or in a more conversational tone. According to researcher Alex Krasodomski-Jones, “This study provides a birds-eye snapshot of what is ultimately a very personal and often traumatic experience for women… While we have focused on Twitter, who are considerably more generous in sharing their data with researchers like us, it’s important to note that misogyny is prevalent across all social media…”