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Women need protection online as well as in the real world

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Women are less confident than men about their online safety and are more affected by harmful content. As such, tech firms need to do more to protect them, the communication regulator says.

Ofcom research revealed women are less confident about their online safety and are more negatively affected by discriminatory, hateful and trolling content. They also feel less able to have a voice and share opinions online.

This is despite women being heavier users than men of seven of the top 10 social media platforms. They spend more than a quarter of their waking hours online, and an extra 30 minutes a day more than men.

Ofcom’s study found that the majority of people said the benefits of being online outweighed the risks but women are less likely than men to agree (63% vs 71%).

At the same time, they’re less confident about not coming to any harm online and less likely than men to feel free to be themselves online (33% vs 39%).

Its Online Nation report also found that in the past four weeks, women who go online are more likely than men to have seen or experienced content relating to negative body image, excessive dieting or eating disorders; misogynistic content which objectifies, demeans or negatively portrays women, and content relating to self-harm or suicide.

Men who go online are more likely than women to have seen or experienced scams, fraud and phishing content, misinformation and content depicting violence.

Ofcom said that overall, men are more likely than women to have experienced potentially harmful online behaviour or content in the last four weeks but women are more negatively impacted by the harmful content they encounter.

Two in five women said they felt bothered by harmful content, compared to a third of men. For 85% of women, they find discriminatory and offensive online content particularly concerning, compared to 70% of men.

And Ofcom found that ethnic minority women are more likely to be troubled by a negative online experience – 52% compared to 42% of white women.

They are also more likely to have experienced at least one potential harm in the last four weeks (67% vs 61% of white women).

Given this, half of adult internet users want to see further online safety measures, with more women than men calling for this (56% vs 43%). A third of women (44% of men) also said the protection of online users is a priority.

The future Online Safety Act will place duties on tech firms to better protect users against online harm.

Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: “The message from women who go online is loud and clear. They are less confident about their personal online safety, and feel the negative effects of harmful content like trolling more deeply.

“We urge tech companies to take women’s online safety concerns seriously and place people’s safety at the heart of their services. That includes listening to feedback from users when they design their services and the algorithms that serve up content.”