Social Media Platforms Must Protect Women Online

Britain's media regulator (Ofcom) says women are heavier users than men of most social media platforms, and urges tech firms to keep women safer online. Ofcom says tech firms must do more to protect women online, after a new study revealed they were more likely to be victims.

Their study found that women were more affected by discriminatory, hateful, or trolling content. “Our findings reveal that women are less confident about their online safety than men, more negatively affected by discriminatory, hateful and trolling content, and feel less able to have a voice and share opinions online,” says the report says.

The head of Ofcom, Dame Melanie Dawes says that social media platforms operated by the big technology  and must do more to protect women online.

Ofcom is set to become the regulator of social-media platforms as part of the government's Online Harms Bill, which puts the onus on tech companies to act swiftly to protect users and remove hateful content - or face steep fines.

“Women aged 18-34 were more likely than any other group to disagree with the statement that “being online has a positive effect on my mental health” (23% vs. 14% for the average UK adult, and 12% of men). Notably, nearly a quarter (23%) of Black women also disagreed with this statement, higher than white women (16%) and Asian women (12%),” says the Report.

  • Women are more likely than men to face online abuse or see harmful content, and more likely to be distressed by it.
  • Only 42% of the women in its survey said they felt comfortable about speaking freely online.

In its survey of more than 6,600 adults in the UK, only 21% of people who had reported content to the social networks said it had been removed as a result, and half said nothing had happened at all.

"Look at your algorithms. Too many companies prioritise growth and revenue over user safety and don't actually think about the impact on the front-line user," said Dame Melanie Dawes. "Let's speak to women and make it easier for them to report things. At the moment people don't trust that if they do report things anything will be done."

Dame Melanie Dawes also urged the tech giants to "look in the mirror" and make sure female members of staff were involved in the development of services and platforms. She said it was "much, much harder" to "retro-fit" safety measures.

Every year Ofcom surveys thousands of UK adults and children to build up a snapshot of their media habits. It has  found that in 2021 adults spent an average of four hours a day online. The top four most-used apps all belonged to Facebook's owner Meta. 

  • Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger accounted for a combined average of 42 minutes of internet use per day.
  • Around 35 minutes were spent on Google apps and sites.
  • Overall, people in the UK are spending slightly more time online now than they did in the first year of the pandemic.
  • Of the people in the survey group who had experienced trolling, 60% of the women said they had been affected by it, compared with 25% of the men.
  • Mixed-ethnic and black Internet users were most likely to be exposed to potential harm online, with nearly 75% saying they had encountered it in the past month.

However, overall 67% of Internet users believed the benefits of being online outweighed the risks. 

A survey commissioned by another British government agency, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, found that 22 per cent of online abuse victims said their ordeals lasted for more than two years, with police routinely telling them to simply block their troll.

In terms of the impact on women’s mental health, the researcher also found that women aged 18-34 were more likely than any other group to disagree with the statement that “being online has a positive effect on my mental health”. Almost a quarter (23%) of black women also disagreed with this statement, higher than white women (16%) and Asian women (12%).

Half of adult internet users support further online safety measures, with more women in favour than men (56% vs. 43%). Women also regard the protection of online users as a priority – more so than men (44% vs. 33%).

Ofcom:      BBC:    E&T :   Silicon:     Independent:     Holyrood:     DigitFYI:     CityAM:

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