Why is social media sexist?

Anyone who uses the internet is vulnerable to online hate, so why are women and those with intersectional identities more likely to be targeted? 

A study conducted by Pew Research Center finds that almost half of women say they have encountered harassment online because of their gender, while only 18% of men say the same. In addition, 29% have experienced harassment focused on their race or ethnicity. 

Misogyny and other forms of gender-based violence that occur online reflect a patriarchal or gendered ideology offline. The same factors that drive men to perpetrate sexual violence or harassment in the offline world extend to and are amplified in the online world. 

In addition, cyber violence targeted towards someone’s race is also indicative of racism that takes place offline. A U.S. study found cities with a higher rate of discriminatory tweets reported more hate crimes related to race, ethnicity, and national origin.

The gender imbalance in the tech industry may also contribute to technology-enabling gender-based violence. As these platforms were built from a male perspective, that perspective can be subconsciously embedded in their structure inherently increasing the risk of harm to women. 

Feminist advocacy group UltraViolet’s “Social media fails women” report ranked some of the biggest social media platforms on how they handled misinformation, hate speech, harassment, and misogyny. The information was compiled with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and evaluated Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube’s policies against UltraViolet’s 11 Policy Recommendations. None of the platforms received a grade higher than “C”. 

Wide-spread technology-facilitated gender-based violence reinforces the need for more diversity in the tech industry. 

Informed Opinions will soon launch VIRO, an app that will allow those targeted by online hate to record the impact of abuse in limiting their engagement or making them fear for their safety. VIRO will anonymize and aggregate users in order to demonstrate why new policies and laws are essential. Click here to be notified when the app becomes available.