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Gender Differences in Online Harm Exposure, Fears, and Participation

Core Concepts
Women report being directly targeted by certain 'contact-based' online harms like cyberflashing, cyberstalking and image-based abuse to a greater extent than men, and experience heightened negative psychological impact and fears surrounding online harms compared to men.
The study examines gender differences in experiences of online harms, fears, psychological impact, use of safety tools, and comfort with online participation. Key findings: While overall exposure to harmful online content is similar between men and women, women report being directly targeted by certain 'contact-based' harms like cyberflashing, cyberstalking and image-based abuse to a greater extent than men. Men report being targeted by threats of physical violence, hate speech and trolling more. Women report greater negative psychological impact from online experiences, including feeling sad, angry, and physically unwell. Women express significantly greater fears about being targeted by all 15 types of online harms examined compared to men. Both men and women cite the media and female friends' experiences as the main sources of these fears. As a result of their fears, women report being less comfortable engaging in various online behaviors like expressing opinions and sharing content compared to men. Women are more likely to use a range of online safety tools like blocking, privacy settings, and limiting interactions compared to men. The findings highlight the disproportionate burden women face in navigating online spaces safely and comfortably, and the need to better support women's online wellbeing and participation.
"66% of adults in Britain have seen content which they consider to be harmful online, while for younger adults aged 18-34, this is 86%." "90% of those who have been the victim of non-consensual digital distribution of intimate images (also known as revenge porn) are women." "9 million girls have experienced some type of online violence by the time they are 15 years old, and across the world, women are 27 times more likely to experience online harassment."
"Women are significantly more fearful of being targeted by harms overall, and report greater negative psychological impact as a result of particular experiences." "Perhaps in an attempt to mitigate risk, women report higher use of a range of safety tools and less comfort with several forms of online participation, with just 23% of women comfortable expressing political views online compared to 40% of men."

Deeper Inquiries

What are the potential societal impacts of women feeling less safe and comfortable participating online compared to men?

Women feeling less safe and comfortable participating online compared to men can have several significant societal impacts. Firstly, it can lead to a silencing effect where women are deterred from expressing their opinions and engaging in online discussions. This can result in a lack of diverse perspectives and voices in online spaces, limiting the richness of conversations and potentially reinforcing existing power dynamics that marginalize women. Moreover, when women feel unsafe online, they may withdraw from digital platforms, missing out on opportunities for networking, career advancement, and social connections. This can contribute to a digital gender divide where women are underrepresented in online spaces, impacting their access to information, resources, and opportunities available in the digital world. Additionally, the fear and discomfort experienced by women online can have negative implications for their mental health and well-being. Constant exposure to online harms and the psychological impact of negative experiences can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation among women. This can further exacerbate existing gender disparities in mental health outcomes and overall quality of life. Overall, the societal impacts of women feeling less safe and comfortable online compared to men can perpetuate gender inequalities, limit women's participation and representation in digital spaces, and have adverse effects on their mental and emotional well-being.

How can online platforms and policymakers better address the gendered nature of online harms and support women's online safety and participation?

To address the gendered nature of online harms and support women's online safety and participation, online platforms and policymakers can take several proactive measures: Implement Robust Reporting and Moderation Systems: Online platforms should have user-friendly reporting mechanisms for harmful content and swift moderation processes to address abusive behavior. They should prioritize the safety of all users, especially women who are disproportionately targeted by online harms. Provide Comprehensive User Education: Platforms can offer educational resources on online safety, privacy settings, and reporting tools to empower users to protect themselves from harassment and abuse. This can help women navigate online spaces more confidently. Promote Gender-Inclusive Policies: Policymakers can enact legislation that specifically addresses online gender-based violence and harassment. This can include legal frameworks to hold perpetrators accountable and protect victims from online abuse. Support Research and Data Collection: Platforms and policymakers should invest in research on the gendered impacts of online harms to inform evidence-based interventions. Collecting data on the prevalence and nature of online abuse against women is crucial for developing targeted solutions. Engage with Women's Rights Organizations: Collaboration with women's rights organizations and advocacy groups can help platforms and policymakers understand the unique challenges faced by women online and co-create solutions that prioritize women's safety and well-being. Foster a Culture of Respect and Inclusivity: Platforms can promote positive online behaviors, respectful communication, and inclusivity to create a safer and more welcoming environment for all users, regardless of gender.

What role do offline gender inequalities and power dynamics play in shaping women's experiences and perceptions of online spaces?

Offline gender inequalities and power dynamics significantly influence women's experiences and perceptions of online spaces. These factors can manifest in the following ways: Normalization of Gender-Based Violence: Offline gender inequalities can contribute to the normalization of gender-based violence, which may extend to online environments. Women who experience discrimination, harassment, or violence offline may be more vulnerable to similar behaviors online. Societal Stereotypes and Expectations: Traditional gender roles and stereotypes can shape women's online experiences, influencing how they are perceived, treated, and valued in digital spaces. Women may face additional scrutiny, criticism, or backlash for expressing themselves online, reflecting broader societal norms and biases. Power Imbalances and Online Harassment: Power dynamics that favor men over women in various spheres of life can also play out online, leading to instances of online harassment, cyberbullying, and intimidation targeted at women. Women in positions of influence or visibility may be particularly susceptible to such attacks. Intersectionality and Multiple Marginalizations: Women who belong to marginalized groups based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, or disability may face compounded challenges online due to intersecting forms of discrimination. Offline inequalities based on multiple identities can intersect with online experiences, shaping women's perceptions of safety and inclusion in digital spaces. Access to Resources and Opportunities: Offline disparities in access to education, economic resources, and social support can impact women's digital literacy, online participation, and ability to navigate online risks effectively. Women from marginalized backgrounds may face additional barriers to engaging in online spaces due to limited resources and opportunities. In conclusion, offline gender inequalities and power dynamics are deeply intertwined with women's experiences and perceptions of online spaces, highlighting the need for comprehensive strategies to address gender-based discrimination and promote a more inclusive and equitable online environment.