Are Women Welcome On Social Media?



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Apart from LinkedIn, women make up the highest percentage of users on all of the main social media sites. Whether this is due to the fact that women are more heavily targeted by social media marketing (as they are in real life) or because social media is genuinely more suited to women is unclear. What is clear is that women’s relationship with social media is complex and fraught with difficulties.

On the one hand, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have given women a voice that they have always had, but that has not always been taken notice of in the public sphere. The chance to come together, to share stories of #EverydaySexism, to campaign, to launch their careers by marketing themselves and creating personal brands, to question the existing social order and have their voices heard while doing it.

However, on the other hand, women face more severe harassment, death and rape threats and abuse on social media that puts their personal safety at risk and has the effect of silencing their voices. The Pew Survey published in October 2014 shows that women face more harassment than men on social media sites. The report shows that 40% of web users have experienced harassment, with 73% having witnessed harassment. The worst of this is directed at women.

Women who dare to put themselves in the public sphere are shouted down on social media. The message being that women should not be heard and do not have a place on the Internet, on social media or in pubic life. Writer and activist, Laurie Penny, writes in her book, Unspeakable Things, “Any woman active online runs the risk of attracting…hate-jerkers, or worse” (p.174). In a talk hosted by the New Statesman last year entitled, “From the Roman Forum to Twitter: why are we so afraid of outspoken women?”, Laurie Penny spoke about the number of letters she receives from young women seeking the courage to speak out online. They seek courage because they are afraid of the backlash, threats and abuse that they will receive. Whether it’s judgement on your appearance in your Instagram selfies, or anger at daring to share your opinions on Twitter, the effect and indeed the intention of trolling women on social media is to silence them. The well-known phrase ‘don’t feed the trolls’ is the same as saying, be quiet and don’t speak.

The misogyny and sexism seen on social media (not to mention the homophobia, transphobia and racism) is a reflection of society as a whole, but that doesn’t mean that social media sites don’t have a responsibility to try and prevent it happening online. Following the harassment of Caroline Criado-Perez and others in 2013, Twitter introduced a ‘report’ button. But two years on, the culture of social media harassment doesn’t appear to have changed. Sara Baker, a campaigner against online harassment against women, said that sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube simply do not do enough to protect women against online violence.

Social media sites and society as a whole need to work to make the Internet a safe place for the largest percentage of social media users so that we can answer yes to the question, are women welcome on social media?

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