Recently I had the opportunity to attend a workshop about online abuse and it impacts, which formed part of the 17th University of Chester Diversity Festival. Established in 2006, the Diversity Festival gives attendees an opportunity to investigate, question and debate issues around diversity and equality in Britain and in the world at large. Each year the festival provides a focus through which the university actively promotes, challenges and develops an understanding of equality, diversity and multiculturalism. This year the theme was ‘Rebuilding and Rethinking Equality’.
The session was funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire and run by Glitch, an award winning UK charity aiming to end online abuse. Glitch provide training, research and workshops, with the aim of building an online world that is safer for all and to encourage people to use the internet in appropriate and responsible ways. Their work has a particular focus on women and marginalised people and in three key areas namely:
Using campaigns and collaborations with partners, including universities, corporates and other charities.
Working closely with the major social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, to influence their policies and hold them to account when needed, as well as helping public institutions create better legislation to prevent and address online abuse.
Believing everyone needs to feel confident when navigating online and offline spaces, especially women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by discrimination and taking action through educational work to break down complex topics including online hate speech and online gender-based violence.
What is online abuse
Online abuse is any type of behaviour that is intimidating or violent online, whether that be hate speech, targeting marginalised communities, racism or sexism. It includes a range of tactics and malicious behaviours ranging from sharing embarrassing or cruel content about a person, to impersonation and stalking, child pornography, copyright infringements, data theft, defamation, emotional harm, libel and privacy infringements. The purpose of online abuse differs with every incidence but usually is done embarrass, humiliate, scare, threaten, silence or extort.
During the workshop I learned how to:
- define online abuse and online gender-based violence
- recognise types and tactics of online abuse
- describe the impact of online gender based violence for different groups.
Online harms bill
The workshop was timely as the UK Government is currently proposing new legislation to keep people safe online with the Online Harms Bill, which will seek to tackle access to harmful material online. Proposed measures include criminalising the sending of unsolicited sexual images to people using social media, known as cyber-flashing, giving people the right to appeal if they feel their social media posts were removed unfairly, preventing online scams, such as paid-for fraudulent adverts, investment fraud and romance scammers and requiring pornography websites to verify their users’ ages. It would also give Ofcom the power to fine firms or block access to sites that fail to comply with the new rules. However, the bill doesn’t even mention women and girls, who experience abuse disproportionately online. You can learn more about the bill and add your voice to the call to change by visiting the Change.Org website and signing the petition.
Reporting online abuse
Seen something online that makes you uncomfortable? Online abuse can be reported to social media and webhosting providers. It can also be reported to the organisations below.
- National stalking helpline
- Rape Crisis
- Revenge porn helpline
- Stop Hate UK and Stop Hate UK BSL
Further information and sources
- University of Chester Diversity Festival
- BBC: Giving names to online harassment
- BBC: Online Harms Bill: Cyber-flashing added to proposed legislation
- BBC: Websites to be fined over ‘online harms’ under new proposals
- Refuge: Refuge launches ‘Unsocial spaces’ – a report on the online abuse of women
- Rights of Women: Rights of Women survey reveals online sexual harassment has increased, as women continue to suffer sexual harassment whilst working through the Covid-19 pandemic
- Women’s Aid: Online and digital abuse
- Women’s Media Center
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