Negative online experiences can have just as great an impact as the abuse and discrimination people experience offline, says Hilary Watson, the Policy and Campaigns Manager at Glitch, an award-winning UK charity that is working to end online abuse – particularly against women and marginalised people.

Conscious media investment

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to conscious media investment.

We can no longer talk about online hate speech and its impact in the ‘real world’ without first acknowledging both its growing prevalence and the increasing blurring of the boundaries between online and offline experiences. Online abuse is not experienced equally by all:

  • A 2015 study found that women globally are 27 times more likely to be harassed online than men; 
  • Plan International’s 2020 research of 14,000 girls and young women across 31 countries found that 58% of respondents had personally experienced online harassment, including abusive language and cyberbullying; 
  • 2020 research by the Web Foundation and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts found that 84% of young women think the problem of online abuse is getting worse;
  • Black women are 84% more likely to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets than white women in the UK and US
  • In England and Wales in 2018/19 there was a 71% rise in online disability hate crime; in 2019/20 overall hate crime against disabled people had increased by 12% across all 36 regions, with 1 in 10 of all reported disability hate crimes taking place online, an increase from the previous year of 46%; and  
  • 2020 UK research found that 80% LGBTQ+ people have experienced hate crime and hate speech online in the last 5 years.

When BT, the UK telco company found that almost 6 million people were abused online in the UK it launched the ‘Draw The Line’ campaign in 2021 to combat online hate. Developed in partnership with Glitch, we helped to upskill the BT Sport TV channel team (including presenters) to become champions of active bystander interventions online and to no longer let online hate sit on their social media accounts.

The men’s UEFA European Football Championship final in July 2021 has shown the prevalence of online abuse that BT Sport knows all too well, with widely reported racial abuse sent to four of England’s Black players.

BT’s stand against online hate, in solidarity with its commentators and sportspeople it works with is part of a welcome sea change seen across sport, and a move away from brand silence on the issue of online abuse. BT has shown the power that brands have in taking a stand against online hate. By not treating online hate as inevitable, advertisers such as BT can set the standards for social media platforms to act against online hate, or face the commercial consequences of lost advertising revenue.

All too predictably, women’s sport is consistently criticised with sexist abuse online on BT Sport’s social media channels. And online abuse has been getting worse since the pandemic struck. Glitch and End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition’s UK-based report The Ripple Effect shows that online abuse was rife during COVID-19. Our study of 484 UK-based women and gender non-binary people, surveyed in June 2020, found that:

  • 46% of women and non-binary respondents experienced online abuse during COVID-19 lockdown 
  • 50% of Black and ethnically minoritised women and non-binary people said they had experienced online abuse during COVID-19 lockdown
  • 29% said the abuse was worse during COVID-19, up to 38% for Black and ethnically minoritised participants 

Most of the abuse took place on mainstream social media platforms despite tech companies’ commitments to making their platforms safe and addressing gender-based and intersectional abuse.

Graphs from Glitch & EVAW’s The Ripple Effect report (TikTok was not included in the survey). 

In July 2021, technology giants Google, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook announced measures they will take to ensure that their platforms are safer places for women, acknowledging online abuse as a form of violence against women. This marks a huge step in naming the problem, but much more needs to be done before platforms are free from online hate and harm; before advertisements on these platforms do not sit alongside hate speech and abuse. 

Read more articles from the WARC Guide to conscious media investment.

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